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Samsung and Android: Out-of-box failure

I learnt a new term recently while doing research related to configuring my Samsung/Android tablet: Out-of-box failure. The current definition (as of this writing) on Wikipedia that applies in this case is as follows: “Out of box failure … is a negative experience a user has when installing and/or performing initial configuration on a piece of hardware ….”

In a nutshell, I am mightily disappointed in my Samsung/Android tablet.

While I have damn nearly two decades of experience being the go-to guy for computer problems among some of my friends (not to mention providing technical support to paying clients for almost that long), managing a tablet (or smart phone) is a new experience for me. I expected to run into challenges, but I didn’t expect to be let down so severely.

I remember learning about Android years ago — long before it was even released — and at the time I was excited. (Well, as excited as I get anyway.) Here was a new operating system (albeit based on an old [and good] OS, UNIX, with which I have almost as much experience as I do with Windows) that was going to allow people to turn their “dumb phones” (akin to the one-trick pony sitting on your kitchen counter: the toaster) into handheld, portable computers, just like their bigger cousins sitting on laps or desks. Not only that, it was going to create competition for the monopoly at that time — Apple and iOS — giving its users the freedom to manage their devices as they saw fit rather than as the dictatorial manufacturer saw fit. Besides the fact that I am a fan of competition, I have no love for Apple or their products. I specifically dislike the control they exert over the consumers of their products, the people who put ridiculous amounts of money into Apple’s coffers. Either you do it Steve Jobs’ way, or you can suck wind:

And yet, here I am — definitely not an “early adopter”! — with a new Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, running Android of course, and I find that I’m being railroaded into having to do things according to the Gospel of Google:

  • First, if you want to do anything useful with your tablet (other than read reams and reams of dire legal agreements as you run each app for the first time), you have to sign up for a Google/NSA account. If you don’t want to do that, you might as well return your tablet or use it for a paperweight, frisbee, coaster, or for skipping on a lake like you would with a stone.
  • Then, if you want to dump crap like Dropbox … well, you can’t! It’s a “system app”, so you can’t uninstall it. You can disable it, but only after you roll back the updates that were installed after you finally broke down and gave your name and email address to Google and the NSA.
  • The other thing I have found my Samsung/Android tablet is useful for is spam. Not sending spam or stopping it, but reading it. The fucking thing is always whistling at me or interrupting what I’m doing to ask me if I want to sign up for one Google service or another, or to remind me that I haven’t yet set up yet another “system app” (Peel Smart Remote in this case) that I also have no intention of ever using. Plus I’m now getting spammed by YouTube (“Happy dances around the world” for fuck’s sake), even though I keep clicking the “unsubscribe” link and even though the link takes me to a YouTube page that tells me that my “current setting” is “off”. Let me give you arseholes a tip: If you want me to use your software or service, hijacking my email account and the device for which I paid a couple of hundred dollars and generally pissing me off is a guaranteed losing strategy. This kind of shit is why, in the desktop world, the first thing I do with a new computer is “format c:” and install a fresh and unadulterated copy of the operating system to get rid of all the “crapware” cluttering the desktop and hard drive that companies have paid to have added to the system, but which is generally of little or no use to any thinking user. I suspect that once I get the hang of this, I will similarly root any future new Android device I buy (or work on) immediately.

OK, so as I think I understand it (I’m just guessing at this point in my learning experience, actually), it’s the decision of the device manufacturer to decide what apps are “system apps”, so I need to blame Samsung for that … and they (and Google) are starting to look more and more like Apple to me. This isn’t even a cell phone attached to one of the evil members of the cell phone cartel, who speciously claim that they must control what software runs on my phone — it’s just a tablet, which to me should be no different than a desktop computer when it comes to installing what I want on it — so I fail to understand why I am forced to keep apps that I have no intention of ever using, such as Dropbox and Peel Smart Remote. (Hasn’t Google learnt from Microsoft’s experience about bad behaviour like this in the latter’s various anti-trust lawsuits launched by the American and European governments?) To me this is like being forced to live with a slovenly neighbour from down the street, because the Communist Party Housing Authority said so. No thanks.

Although I have had this tablet for almost three months now, it has taken me this long to get over my feelings of loathing and dread (for all of the above reasons) and find the time to get this far in the experience, where I have finally installed my choice of web browser (Firefox, which crashes daily for no apparent reason) and anti-virus (Avast), and a crashing (because it wants to use the now disabled Dropbox) KeePassDroid so that I can actually access useful services that I use for which I need to log in. (Two out of three apps crashing; not what I would call “out-of-box happiness”.) I don’t have all the time in the world to screw around with this crap, as educating as it is, so time will tell whether or not this tablet turns out to be a productive and useful tool, or another listing on Craigslist.

It will also determine what new cell phone I buy shortly, ending my one-man, seven-year boycott of the anti-competitive cell phone industry, and a “dumb phone” (also known as a “feature phone”, although I can’t figure out why when it has only one feature!) or continuing with no phone is starting to look like a mighty attractive option right now.

Stay tuned!

Cell phone carriers coincidentally raise prices at the same time

Within the last few days, two of the “big three” cell phone companies in the uncompetitive Canadian cartel/oligopoly (Bell and Rogers) “coincidentally” raised their prices at exactly the same time by exactly the same amount! Telus jumped the gun by doing the same in January, apparently. Wow, what are the chances?! What an incredible coincidence — and I mean “incredible” 100% literally. Should Canadian consumers rush out and buy lottery tickets, or (more likely) look skyward and prepare to dodge lightning bolts?

Probably neither, actually. The proper response is to adopt the position — i.e., bend over. As Michael Geist writes, Why Are Canadian Wireless Carriers Increasing Prices? Because They Can. And because they have nothing but contempt for their customers.

Can anybody say “collusion”? I knew you could.

Thieving bastards.

Possible arrival of Verizon in Canada

I’m not a big fan of multinationals, and quite frankly I’m dubious about the possible entry of Verizon into the Canadian cell phone market — the market with the highest prices and least competition in the world. (Third World countries like Somalia and Zambia have better service and lower prices than Canada.) I’m also not happy about the way the scheme to encourage new entrants and more competition in the market has been co-opted by the Big Three (Bell, Telus and Rogers).

But if companies like Bell are willing to take many of their customers’ hard-earned dollars out of their overflowing coffers to buy full-page advertising in major newspapers to convince the same customers they’re already screwing that Verizon’s entry into Canada is a bad thing, then on that basis alone I say we should roll out the red carpet for Verizon.

Think about it. Things can’t get much worse for the consumer, and one can only hope that things get a little tougher for the incumbents, even if only temporarily.

Update, 30 July 2013: And now Telus is spending your money suing you via the federal government!

Sticker shock on Canadian cell data rates

I had to do a double take after I put myself back into my chair and fastened my seatbelt when I saw the price of data transfer on the Virgin Mobile Canada website: $51 200 per gigabyte! Holy shit Batman! Are you kidding me? (See the “Canada Rates” tab at “Long Distance and Roaming“.) On a low-end high-speed Internet connection for a residential customer, that would translate into a bill of $6.4 million per month if you used your full bandwidth allotment! How is that justifiable when other packages on their site are advertised at a “mere” $15 per gigabyte, less than three ten-thousandths of the price? How is it justifiable, period?!

Virgin Mobile Canada data rate of $51 200 per GB!

Virgin Mobile Canada data rate of $51 200 per GB!

Virgin Mobile Canada data rate of $15 per GB.

Virgin Mobile Canada data rate of $15 per GB.

It just highlights what is common knowledge among any Canadians even vaguely aware of cell phone rates outside of Canada. We have among the highest rates (on voice and data) anywhere in the world — the absolute highest according to some surveys. Even Somalia, a Third World country in the thrall of pirates and warlords that has been without a functioning government for over two decades, has better and more competitive cell service than Canada. Why we put up with this, and why our government continues to allow the cell phone companies to gang together and collectively bend us over and screw us, is beyond my comprehension.

So having braved looking at a cell phone company’s website again, I’m going to retreat back into my Luddite cave as I head down the home stretch of my fifth year without the financial millstone of a cell phone hanging around my neck.

Some more links for your consideration:


Update, 14 March 2012: A glimmer of hope on the horizon: Ottawa opens telecom to foreigners, although the announcement is a bit of a mixed bag. Not that I think that “foreigners” are Canadians’ salvation, but our own countrymen (and -women) are quite happy to screw us. However, with Canada being the most expensive place on the planet to own and operate a cell phone, there is only one way for prices to go … assuming the tendency will be to head towards the middle of the pack, and not into the stratosphere! It’s competition and a smashing of the oligopoly that’s needed, and if that means that it takes Europeans, Asians or even Africans owning cell phone companies 100%, then so be it.

Bell Canada thievery

An open letter to Bell Canada:

Your charge for a one-minute phone call from Ottawa to Vancouver of $11.27 is nothing short of thievery. It’s no wonder that people despise the “big” phone companies like Bell. This level of daylight robbery is what colours one’s opinions of other services offered by your company, such as cellular telephone services. If you will use one of your services to rob customers blind, you’ll probably do it with other services too, and so I will ensure that I avoid doing any type of business with Bell in the future based on this one extremely distasteful experience.

BlackBerry/RIM. Going, going, gone?

A couple of years ago my company had a major server outage on a primary server that brought down websites and email for almost two and a half hours. Such outages are rare, but they happen, and they happen to small hosting companies like NinerNet as well as the giants. After that outage I wrote about the lessons learnt and, without trying to deflect attention or criticism away from us, I pointed out an extensive list of major service outages experienced by the likes of Google, Amazon, YouTube, Barclays Bank, MySpace, Facebook, PayPal, Microsoft, eBay, and so on.

Also in that list was BlackBerry/RIM, and this is what I wrote at the time on them in particular:

Have a Blackberry? Do you realise that all Blackberry emails in the whole world go through one data centre in central Canada, and if that data centre has a problem, you can still use your Blackberry for a paperweight? Nobody is immune; nobody gets away unscathed.

I’m under the impression that, since then, RIM expanded that single point of failure to create multiple points of failure (often under threat of sanctions by governments who want access to their citizens’ communications), and fail they have — worldwide — in the last few days. And for several days, not just a couple of hours.

Without wanting to gloat over a mortally-wounded about-to-be corpse, RIM’s problems weren’t that difficult to predict. Unfortunately for them they are, at this time, the victim of a perfect storm that includes (among other things) poor sales and share performance, product failures, the almost simultaneous (to their technical troubles) launch of a new messaging system on the iPhone to rival BlackBerry Messenger, and these latest technical troubles. But this perfect storm is of RIM’s own making, and their problems go deeper than that anyway; they go to the heart of their core philosophies.

Now, I’m no Apple fanboi (and in the wake of the death of Steve Jobs I commend to you What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs), but at least an iPhone more resembles a “proper” computer like the one you have on your desk than the toaster in your kitchen that can only do the one or two things its manufacturer decided in its infinite wisdom it needs to do. Mobile computers (aka “smartphones”) like the iPhone and those running on the Android operating system rely on open standards when it comes to things like email. In short, open standards and systems win. (That said, Apple is not the poster child for open standards and systems, and needs to change that.) There is no central super-server somewhere handling all email for all iPhone or Android users worldwide, just waiting to fail. With BlackBerry there is … or was. End of story.

If you swallowed RIM’s mantra about their system being de rigueur for business and the iPhone being “not for business”, you’re paying for that today.

Sorry for that.


Update, 30 May 2012: Seven months later and Roger Cheng at CNET finally comes to much the same conclusion.

Bizarre Virgin Mobile Terms and Conditions of Service

Occasionally I feel that I really must address my insomnia by reading the mounds of legalese shoved in my face every time I want to do anything in this modern society of ours. This is particularly important where money is involved, of course, which means all of the mindless EULAs (end user licence agreements) that I’m presented with when installing software generally get skipped. Fortunately I have an old computer that I try out new software on first, so if I missed the part in an EULA that says the software manufacturer can install viruses on my computer, it’s not a big deal because the old computer is just for testing, doesn’t contain any sensitive or important data, and can be reformatted at a moment’s notice without any hesitation.

Anyway, back to legal agreements involving money. Back in 2007 I bought a Virgin Mobile Canada cell phone. I stopped using their service a few months later because I cancelled my planned move to the new area code where I got the phone, and I gave the phone to a friend. At the time I noticed some rather bizarre wording in their “Terms and Conditions of Service”. However, as we all know, you either bend over and agree, or go and live in a cave.

Fast forward a couple of years and I bought a cell phone as a present for someone, and I decided to go with Virgin again. Another year later and I’m again looking at the “Terms and Conditions of Service”. The bizarre wording has survived at least three years, unchallenged (I assume) by anyone with the time, interest and money to pursue what surely must be a serious privacy issue. (I have the interest, but neither the time nor the money.)

Here’s the bizarre wording (which I have truncated and annotated), from the “About Content Provided By You” section:

Any Content transmitted through or to the Services by you will be considered non-confidential and non-proprietary. [Fair enough, I suppose. This is a cover-your-arse sentence in case someone manages to intercept your “content”. If I was a government spy, I’m sure my employer would give me a super secret phone that would ensure that my “content” remained confidential.] … Virgin Mobile, its Suppliers and designees will be free to copy, disclose, distribute, incorporate and otherwise use the Content and all data, images, sounds, text, and other things embodied therein for any and all commercial or non-commercial purposes. [Whoa! Seriously?! So those naked pics I sent my girlfriend are fair game, and I can expect to see them published by Virgin in a glossy magazine at some point? And what about those steamy phone conversations when I’m away from home? Broadcast on radio and television?!] You agree to grant to Virgin Mobile a non-exclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual license, with the right to sublicense, reproduce, distribute, transmit, create derivative works of, or publicly display any Content submitted, transmitted or posted by you through or on the Services. [Hey, if you’re going to make me a reluctant porn star, at least cough up some of the dough you’ll be making off of me!]

Now, I think it’s safe for any reasonable person to assume that no sane company is going to start trawling though billions of their customers’ inane text messages — and, I might add, the “content” sent to the “services” by non-customers who have not consented to these terms — collecting the more salacious ones to make into a coffee table book. However, if Virgin were to go insane and do so, guess what? You (and I) agreed to it!

Welcome to the modern, civilised world.