I remember getting my first ever phone with a data plan. It was 3 years ago and I remember looking through nearly every carrier’s offerings to see where I could get the best deal. I wasn’t going to get a contract since I change my phone at least once a year (thank you FBT exemption) and I was going to buy the handset outright, so many of the bundle deals going at the time weren’t available to me. I eventually settled on 3 mobile as they had the best of both worlds in terms of plan cost and data, totaling a mere $40/month for $150 worth of calls and 1GB of data. Still when I was talking to them about how the usage was calculated I seemed to hit a nerve over certain use cases.
Now I’m not a big user of mobile data despite my daily consumption of web services on my mobile devices, usually averaging about 200MB/month. Still there have been times that I’ve really needed the extra capacity like when I’m away and need an Internet connection for my laptop. Of course tethering the two devices together doesn’t take much effort at all, my first phone only needed a driver for it to work, and as far as I could tell the requests would look like they were coming directly from my phone. However the sales representatives told me in no uncertain terms that I’d have to get a separate data plan if I wanted to tether my handset or if I dared to plug my sim card into a 3G modem.
Of course upon testing these restrictions I found them to be patently false.
Now it could’ve just been misinformed sales people who got mixed up when I told them what I was planning to do with my new data enabled phone but the idea that tethered Internet usage is somehow different to normal Internet usage wasn’t a new idea to me. In the USA pretty much every carrier will charge you a premium on top of whatever plan you’ve got if you want to tether it to another device, usually providing a special application that enables the functionality. Of course this has spurred people to develop applications that circumvent these restrictions on all the major smart phone platforms (iOS users will have to jailbreak unfortunately) and the carriers aren’t able to tell the difference. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking action against those who would thwart their juicy revenue streams.
Most recently it seems that the carriers have been putting pressure on Google to remove tethering applications from the Android app store:
It seems a few American carriers have started working with Google to disable access to tethering apps in the Android Market in recent weeks, ostensibly because they make it easier for users to circumvent the official tethering capabilities offered on many recent smartphones — capabilities that carry a plan surcharge. Sure, it’s a shame that they’re doing it, but from Verizon’s perspective, it’s all about protecting revenue — business as usual. It’s Google’s role in this soap opera that’s a cause for greater concern.
Whilst this is another unfortunate sign that no matter how hard Google tries to be “open” it will still be at the mercy of the carriers their banning of tethering apps sets a worrying precedent for carriers looking to control the Android platform. Sure they already had a pretty good level of control over it since they all release their own custom versions of Android for handsets on their network but now they’re also exerting pressure over the one part that was ostensibly never meant to be influenced by them. I can understand that they’re just trying to protect their bottom line but the question has to be asked: is tethering really that much of a big deal for them?
It could be that my view is skewed by the Australian way of doing things, where data caps are the norm and the term “unlimited” is either a scam or at dial-up level speeds. Still from what I’ve seen of the USA market many wireless data plans come with caps anyway so the bandwidth argument is out the window. Tethering to a device requires no intervention from the carrier and there are free applications available on nearly every platform that provide the required functionality. In essence the carriers are charging you for a feature that should be free and are now strong-arming Google into protecting their bottom lines.
I’m thankful that this isn’t the norm here in Australia yet but we have an unhealthy habit of imitating our friends in the USA so you can see why this kind of behavior concerns me. Since I’m also a firm believer in the idea that once I’ve bought the hardware its mine to do with as I please and tethering falls under that realm. Tethering is one of those things that really shouldn’t be an issue and Google capitulating to the carriers just shows how difficult it is to operate in the mobile space, especially if you’re striving to make it as open as you possibly can.
So I’m sold on the tablet idea. After resisting it since Apple started popularizing it with the iPad I’ve finally started to find myself thinking about numerous use cases where a tablet would be far more appropriate than my current solutions. Most recently it was after turning off my main PC and sitting down to watch some TV shows, realizing that I had forgotten to set up some required downloads before doing so. Sure I could do them using the diNovo Mini keyboard but it’s not really designed for more than logging in and typing in the occasional web address. Thinking that I’d either now have to power my PC or laptop on I lamented that I didn’t have a tablet that I could RDP into the box with and set up the downloads whilst lazing on the couch. Thankfully it looks like my tablet of choice, a wifi only Xoom, can be shipped to Australia via Amazon so I’ll be ordering one of them very soon.
Initially I thought I’d go for one of the top of the line models with all the bells and whistles, most notably a 3G/4G connection. That was mostly just for geek cred since whenever I’m buying gadgets I like to get the best that’s on offer at the time (as long as the price isn’t completely ludicrous). After a while though I started to have a think about my particular use patterns and I struggled to find a time where I’d want to use a tablet and be bereft of a WiFi connection, either through an access point or tethered to my phone. There’s also the consideration of price with all non-cellular tablets is usually quite a bit cheaper, on the order of $200 with the Xoom. It then got me thinking, what exactly is the use case for a tablet with a cellular connection?
The scenarios I picture go something along these lines. You’re out and about, somewhere that has mobile phone reception, but you don’t have your phone on you (or one not capable of tethering) and you’re no where near a WiFi access point. Now the possibility of having mobile phone reception but no WiFi is a pretty common event, especially here in Australia, but the other side to that potential situation is you either can’t tether to your mobile phone because its not capable or you don’t have it on you. Couple that with the fact that you’re going to have to pay for yet another data plan just for your new tablet then you’ve really lost me as to why you’d bother with a tablet that has cellular connectivity.
If your reason for getting cellular connectivity is that you want to use it when you don’t have access to a WiFi hard point then I could only recommend it if you have a phone that can’t tether to other devices (although I’d struggle to find one today, heck even my RAZR was able to do it). However, if I may make a sweeping statement, I’d assume that since you’ve bought a tablet you already have a smart phone which is quite capable of tethering, even if the carrier charges you a little more for it (which is uncommon and usually cheaper than a separate data plan). The only real reason to have it is for when you have your tablet but not your phone, a situation I’d be hard pressed to find myself in and not be within range of an access point.
In fact most of the uses I can come up with for a tablet device actually require them to be on some kind of wireless network as they make a fitting interface device to my larger PCs with all the functions that could be done on cellular networks aptly covered off by a smartphone. Sure they might be more usable for quite a lot of activities but they’re quite a lot more cumbersome than something that can fit into my pocket and rarely do I find myself needing functionality above that of the phone but below that of a fully fledged PC. This is why I was initially skeptical of the tablet movement as the use cases were already aptly covered by current generation devices. It seems there’s quite a market for transitional devices however.
Still since nearly every manufacturer is making both cellular and wireless only tablets there’s got to be something to it, even if I can’t figure it out. There’s a lot to be said about the convenience factor and I’m sure a lot of people are willing to pay the extra just to make sure they can always use their device wherever they are but I, for one, can’t seem to get a grip on it. So I’ll put it out to the wisdom of the crowd: what are your use cases for a cellular enabled tablet?
This morning was unlike any other. With our successful conquering of the New York metro yesterday we had successfully covered more distance in any of the previous days without the hassle of walking from one place to another. This in turn meant that my foot had ample time to recover and this morning had it feeling like it was as good as new. This made everything else look better by comparison and with our breakfast worked out thanks to a tip from Nick I was feeling good about this day, even though we hadn’t given much thought to what we would do. We went down to one of the Pret a Mangers and ordered ourselves up a couple lattes and some misc breakfast things before sitting down to plan our day.
It might’ve just been the store we went to but the coffee was unfortunately atrocious, with that distinct burn taste that has plagued many of the other places we had visited. Still the breakfast bits we had picked up were fresh and quite good so overall it wasn’t terrible. The walk to this particular store had brought us past some places we had past on a previous day whereby we had spotted Midtown Comics. We wandered over there to check out their stock and I was instantly surprised by the large collection they had, many times that I had seen in any comic store in Australia. The second floor also stocked a large collection of comics with a good selection of figurines and models. Despite their incredibly cheap prices I still didn’t end up parting with any cash to grab them as I could get them online if I really wanted. Still I was in the minority there with most people there having several comics under their arms. Had I actually read any comics in the past decade I’m sure I would have too.
After Midtown Comics we started walking back towards to the hotel when we noticed Madam Tussauds Wax Museum and decided it was well worth a look in. It’s unfortunately not a part of the New York City ticket book we had bought the previous day nor is there any deal there for having the book but I had wanted to see this place anyway so we bought ourselves some tickets. The first room was set up as a celebrity after party and there was one person in particular I wanted to get a photo with:
That particular photo got quite a few laughs from the onlookers even from those in Miley’s target demographic. We spent the next couple hours posing with dozens of the other wax figurines getting some good and not so good pictures. There was also a Wizard of Oz “4D” experience which was the old film redone to use 3D with some added effects like air jets in the seats and water jets in the roof. It was pretty mediocre and highlighted all the reasons why 2D movies should never be redone in 3D, especially if you’re going to be as half assed about it as they were. In essence most scenes had 2 planes of view with everything either being in focus or out adding little to the movie itself. Unfortunately it seems like Avatar is still the only example I can point to of where 3D can be done to add something to a movie, rather than dollars to the ticket price.
After exiting the museum (and getting a compliment on my shirt from a dreamy eyed attendant) we headed back to the hotel to figure out what our next move was going to be. It seemed like the last few days caught up with us all in one go and we spent the next hour or so lounging on the couch in our hotel room. With daylight fast disappearing most of the attractions we wanted to knock off our list would only be open for an hour or less so we decided to hit the gym before heading out for dinner. I found us a nice little Japanese restaurant only 5 minutes walk from our hotel where we enjoyed a great dinner of ramen, kimchee and gyoza.
Once we got back to the hotel I went back to fiddling with the iPhone tethering problem I had been stumped on for the past couple days. After hitting the same road blocks again I decided to jailbreak my phone to get it over and done with. A quick Google search however turned up a section of the Apple Developer Agreement that said should I decide to go down this path I could be kicked out of the program. Not wanting to put that at risk I decided against jailbreaking my iPhone and set about finding another route. A few more searches turned up a little known fact about tethering in OS X, you need to hit apply in network settings after connecting for tethering to work. Once I did that instantly I was greeted with the blue bar that I had been longing for all this time. Even though its only EDGE it’s still very usable, as I’m using it to post this (and the previous) blog post right now.
We’ve only got a few more days here before we head for better weather in Los Angeles but there’s still more than enough to keep us entertained here in NYC. Tomorrow will probably be spent knocking off 2 of the museums on our to do list with maybe a bicycle ride through central park. Who knows though it could easily end up like today where we get distracted and spend hours doing something else, but that seems to be part of the beauty of this bustling metropolis.
I have to admit whilst I admired the spectacle of New York I didn’t much care for the fast paced city. The consent hard sell from street merchants, the inattentive people on the streets that would make no attempt to give way to anyone else and the constant unpleasant smells hadn’t really endeared it to me. Couple that with constant pain and I had a rather grim view of the city, slowing my rise from slumber this morning. Still I’m not about to waste my time over here so after spending way too much time getting ready we headed out for a really late breakfast at a nice french restaurant with an art deco finish.
We were still without a proper internet connection in our hotel room even after I had found a good plan on T-Mobile that would solve all our problems. For some reason it was refusing to tether to my laptop meaning that the lovely unlimited Internet connection I had acquired was trapped inside the confines of my iPhone. One solution was to get a wireless broadband modem that I could put my SIM card into and I saw that Office Depot stocked them. We headed over there to see if they had one but all I could find were the contract ones, leaving me to try and track one down somewhere else. We hopped over to a Radioshack to see if they had one but it was pretty much the same deal so I decided to leave it for now.
Wanting to tick off a couple of the attractions we’d bought into we had set our sites on the statue of liberty. Not wanting to trek the entire way down there on foot we tried to figure out the maze that is the New York subway system. After plotting the route on Google maps I noticed that it had a train option which did both the train transfer as well as the departure times. 20 minutes later we were at our destination and heading towards the dock that would take us out to the island. Before we could board we had to go through an airport style security scan where they announced we’d be the final boat for the day. We knew we’d taken our time getting here but we thought we’d still have some time up our sleeves, obviously not. The trip over and the island itself were pretty uneventful but it’s still immensely popular with the island teaming with people even this late in the afternoon. I got some choice photos of the monument before sitting down to enjoy the sunset on our boat ride back to Manhattan island.
By the time we got back it was almost night time so we decided to go to the Empire State Building so we could see New York City lit up at night time and get some good pictures while we were at it. It didn’t take us long to find it after exiting the metro station we came out of with the building tower over everything with its electric blue luminescence. The book had told us to come back after 9pm to beat the crowds but no less than 20 minutes later we were up at the top level. From every side of the building we could see city lights stretching out to the horizon, providing a stunning canvas for me to work my camera on.
With that out of the way we set about looking for a place to have dinner. I had found a korean barbecue place on Yelp that we started walking to but no less than 2 minutes into the walk did we find a microbrewery with an attached restaurant. The prices were good and the food sounded amazing so the estimated 15 minute wait was well within our limit. Whilst we waited I grabbed us some drinks from the bar with Rebecca selecting a long island iced tea and I grabbed one of their oatmeal stouts. It was a nice thick beer with a distinctly coffee aftertaste providing an ample distraction whilst we waited for our table. The dinner that followed was well worth it too with Rebecca getting exactly what she expected (doesn’t happen often) and I enjoying a 12 oz new york strip steak with a blue cheese dressing. Our walk back to the hotel was one of satisfaction and happiness without the pain I had suffered the day before.
I opened this post saying how I hadn’t really cared much for this city but that all changed today. Whilst anything mired in pain will always have a grim look to it today proved that there were many redeeming features for all the small bothers that got to me. Once I solve the small problem of tethering my iPhone I will have worked out all those little problems that have been gnawing at me since I landed here and hopefully I can get that done early tomorrow morning. With us mastering the subway system (thanks to Google) so much more of the city has opened up for us and I can’t wait to take advantage of it.