Android Tablets are getting cheaper. Lots of stuff under $200, which is cheaper than a laptop or desktop.
The PhoneBoy Blog
Simplifying Telecom, Mobile Phones, Gadgets, and More!
11 May 2013
Android Tablets are getting cheaper. Lots of stuff under $200, which is cheaper than a laptop or desktop.
16 March 2012
I often think about the rather abysmal battery life in my mobile devices. You know, the Smartphones, the Tablets, the laptops, what have you. There are several ways to look at this, but two are useful:
If you think about it, both statements are absolutely true. Bigger batteries mean more absolute power is available for use. On the other hand, more efficient power use allows you to do more with the same absolute quantity of power.
Look at successive generations of Apple’s iPhone. Each handset does more faster than the previous generation handset did with roughly the same overall battery size (and life). This is accomplished by a combination of greater efficiency and marginally larger battery.
This thought has occurred to me again as I read about T-Mobile USA’s plans to use their anemic spectrum holdings differently, which will allow them to deploy an LTE as good as their competition with only a modest increase in spectrum–spectrum they received from AT&T as a consolation prize for the failed AT&T/T-Mobile merger.
It certainly makes me question AT&T’s statements about mobile bandwidth scarcity. Or Comcast. Or any other ISP or Telco for that matter.
Back in the days of dialup Internet access, I listened to streaming audio thanks to technologies like RealAudio and TrueSpeech. They made excellent use of the very limited bandwidth to allow me to hear audio streamed over my dialup modem. Technology allowed me to make the best of our limited bandwidth, turning my scarcity into abundance.
And then I think about areas outside of North America and Europe where traditional desktop and laptop computers are common. I’m talking about places like Nigeria where most the closest thing many people have to a computer is a mobile phone–a phone through its limited interface and even more limited data networks that many people access the digital world.
Which makes me think we are trying to bridge the digital divide in the USA all wrong. Rather than bringing expensive Internet with expensive, complex computers to the poorer masses, why don’t we bring them capable mobile phones backed by a strong wireless network with compelling mobile services? What do you think?
4 February 2012
I’m just going to come right out and say it: most of my personal computing is done on a mobile device. A mobile device being a tablet or a phone either with WiFi or some kind of mobile Internet connection. This is despite being surrounded by more conventional laptop and desktop computers. Note this does not count my work-related use of computers, which, unfortunately, is still tied to a more conventional laptop.
It’s hard to know when the tipping point happened for me. Likely when I started getting more capable smartphones from Nokia, whom employed me at the time. Surely I had experienced the various Communicator-style devices (I had a 9210, a 9300, and a 9500). However, the two most pivotal devices for me: The Nokia E70 and the Nokia N95, which is the middle of 2006. I still have (and occasionally even use) the Nokia N95, even though by today’s standards, it’s only marginally more functional than a featurephone.
Of course in those days, Smartphones were not entirely accesible to the masses. Sure, they were obtainable in the sense you could go to any operator and buy one. But then what? Most people had no clue how to use them. Why else do you think the US operators had no problem selling unlimited data packages? Because no one was really using them (except for a few of us).
Then something changed: the iPhone came on the scene. While the first iteration of the iPhone OS (now called iOS) was arguably less functional than smartphones of the day, it quickly became the smartphone that everyone in the developed world wanted. It raised the bar for what the user experience should be on a phone.
Then Google-backed Android came on the scene and, after a few iterations, became a credible alternative to the iPhone. Microsoft, being a bit late to the party, completely redoes their mobile operating system. Nokia’s Symbian, the long-time leader in the smarphone space, could not keep up with the level of innovation Google and Apple were cranking out and, eventually, Nokia announced their plans to sunset the operating system and go with Windows Mobile. RIM, maker of the Blackberry handsets, have also struggled to keep pace and have stagnated.
It’s pretty clear to most industry observers (and even lay-people) that Android and iOS are the dominant phone operating systems. But it’s more than that: it’s now mobile computing. The same popular smartphone operating systems are now available in a different form factor device: tablets. And, as a number of industry analysts are saying, tablets are the new personal computers.
Apple led the way again here by introducing the iPad, using the same OS used on the insanely popular iPhone. A number of other hardware manufacturers have tried (and failed) to duplicate the success that Apple has had with the iPad using Android. The only manufacturer having any success is Amazon, who introduced the Kindle Fire at the end of 2011. Even their numbers are anemic compared to what Apple sells, but they have something the other tablet makers don’t have: a thriving ecosystem on which to use the device. Remember, Amazon sells all kinds of digital goods in much the same way Apple sells them through iTunes and the App Store.
Why do people prefer to use mobile devices rather than traditional computers? For me, it’s always been: because the device is always with me and connects me to what matters most. Even if it’s not a full experience, it’s often good enough.
For other people, it’s that these mobile devices are easier to use than traditional PCs. This is partially due to the easier-to-use touch interfaces on the current generation smartphones and tablets. There is also less for the average person to “screw up” as well, making for a less intimidating experience.
For another class of people, it’s because they can’t afford the PC and everything it takes to make it operate. This is certainly true in less affluent nations, such as Nigeria.
I had an interesting conversation over Twitter with Yomi Adegboye AKA Mister Mobility (he’s well worth following at @Mister_Mobility). It confirmed this hypothesis. Of course, during the 10 years I worked at Nokia, I took every opportunity to read up on everything Nokia was doing, including how they were developing phones for places like India and Africa. My hypothesis was already well informed.
In these less affluent nations, many people don’t even have electricity. Or if they do, it is supplied by a generator of some sort. Wired phone service may or may not exist (if it does, it is surely expensive for voice service, much less data service). The infrastructure needed to operate a PC may be entirely out of reach.
Meanwhile, while even a basic mobile phone is out of reach for some, that, a SIM card, and an occasional source of power is all one needs to compute and stay connected. For these folks, their mobile phone is their only computing device. Not because they prefer it, but because that’s what they are able to obtain.
There is no doubt in my mind that computing is going mobile. Will more traditional computers go away? While I expect my children won’t even need to own a traditional computer when they are young adults, the traditional computer will likely never go away entirely.
There is always going to be a need for bigger screens and more horsepower than you can pack into a device that lives in your pocket. Especially by people who generate large amounts of content. Will that be the norm for the average person, however? No.
10 December 2011
Every laptop comes with some method for hooking up to a computer monitor. On PC laptops, it’s a VGA connector. On Macs, it’s whatever version of DisplayPort Apple is using these days. Some might have HDMI ports–heck, phones and tablets certainly do.
25 March 2011
The MacBook sleeve, in this case, is a 17″ SeeThru Satin case made by Speck that GearZap sent me. It’s black and covers my mid-2009 era MacBook Pro quite nicely. It feels good, is “see thru” in the sense that the glowing Apple shows through on the top and the blinking power light. I haven’t battle-tested it with a trip anywhere, but I suspect it will hold up quite nicely.
Meanwhile, I also got a TypeTop Swivel Mini Keyboard for iPhone4 from Mobile Fun. The tiny keyboard, about as thin as an iPod Touch and as big around as an iPhone 4, comes in a case that can carry both the iPhone and the keyboard together. The case can swivel around so that it looks almost like a mini laptop!
Unfortunately, I still don’t have an iPhone 4, so I cannot try this case as was intended. However, I can say the keyboard paired nicely with my iPhone 3GS. The lack of instructions on how to pair the keyboard was annoying, but it didn’t take long to figure out. Just a little tiny button at the top of the keyboard by the blue light.
Even without the case, the keyboard, which can be easily removed from the case, is small enough that it could easily go in my travel bag. It charges with an included MicroUSB cable.
29 January 2011
A PR firm representing Cisco asked me if I wanted to review the Cisco Valet, which is a line of “surprisingly simply home wireless” devices that, I have to say, does what it says on the tin. It is by far the easiest setup process I’ve seen.
The first thing I noticed was the packaging. A complete lack of technical jargon or marketing about how this router compares to the others they sell. There most technical things on the box are in small print and are just basically a list of system requirements and a warning that, due to a number of factors, your wireless speeds and range may vary.
When I did the initial setup, I used my Mac–usually a stumbling block for these so-called “easy setup” programs. The Easy Set Up key is little more than a Flash drive that contains some documentation and the Cisco Connect application. Launching the Cisco Connect gives you a screen that tells you to do do three things:
In less than the five minutes it tells you it could take, I had a screen that told me my router was set up and I was connected to it. Sweet! You could, of course, do some additional configuration of the router. A very simple interface is presented for doing this (click image for larger view):
The add device option gives you the settings you need to configure a device. Obviously, it’s going to vary by device manufacturer. Once it has detected the device has connected, you can then “name” the device for later. Handy!
I didn’t mess with the parental controls–I almost never find them granular enough for my tastes. However, it appears they do some category-based URL filtering and allow you to blacklist sites. The problem is the restrictions are per-host, meaning you have to select the individual hosts that you wish to restrict. You also can’t whitelist sites or create a default URL filtering policy that applies to all connected hosts. That said, it’s more functionality than I’ve seen in a typical consumer router.
The guest access feature is quite handy as well. Cisco Valet creates a second (open) SSID that your guests can use to access the Internet. It is segmented off from your regular wireless network and presents a captive portal to your guests, whom must enter a password before they are allowed access to the Internet:
Of course, you can disable this feature as well.
When the router is first configured, the SSID is set to a random adjective-noun word combination and the password is set to a 10 character random string. In the Valet Settings, you can change these things to something. You can also save this to the Easy Setup Key (or create a new one using any standard USB thumb drive) that will allow you easily configure other Mac or Windows computers in your house with the correct wireless settings.
And, of course, there’s the Advanced Settings, which fires up a web browser with a typical Linksys-style web interface for configuring the router (though it is entirely Cisco-branded now). This is where the geek settings are, of course, and are, “advanced.” I’m sure given the relatively ease through which computers can be added and the basic settings can be configured, there will rarely be a reason for most people to ever visit the advanced settings.
But Is It Secure?
Most reviews stop here. They are quite happy that someone has finally come up with a wireless router that almost anyone with even rudimentary computer knowledge could configure and use. That is a feat worthy of praise, no doubt.
I am not most people. I wonder, in the back of my mind, does Cisco make this device easy to use, yet actually make it secure? The answer is not surprising–to me at least.
First, it’s probably worth pointing out that I work for a competitor to Cisco: Check Point Software Technologies. We don’t compete in the consumer market, really, but we certainly in the enterprise network security market. That doesn’t affect my opinions here, but I figure I should disclose that since some might consider it a conflict of interest.
Prior to proceeding with the setup wizard, I saw what the router was broadcasting by default–a WPA-protected access point named CiscoXXXXX (where XXXXX corresponded to the last 5 digits of the device serial number). My guess is the router is preconfigured with some default WPA password that the Cisco Connect software then changes to something else, which it then tells you after the setup is complete.
Cisco gets props on a number of things security related:
All three of these things are good. By choosing a random SSID and a random password, it makes it harder for someone to brute-force (i.e. guess every possible password) access to the wireless access point.
While these are far better than what I’ve seen from others, it’s, unfortunately, not enough. To be relatively safe from a brute-force attempt, the passphrase needs to be at least 20 characters–random ones at that. Also, it defaults to WPA/WPA2 mixed mode, which allows you to use the TKIP, which may be needed for some legacy hardware, is not the most secure. You can change to WPA2, which only supports AES. It would be nice if you could change the rekey interval, but I don’t see a way to do that from the advanced settings.
There are a couple of other dangerous settings enabled by default:
The Nintendo DS Factor
One rather common WiFi-enabled device in any household with children is the Nintendo DS. This device does not support WPA at all. Even the newer DSi, which does support WPA, doesn’t support it for DS games. This means, if you want your kids to be able to use the WiFi features of their DS games, they won’t be able to use them unless you use WEP for your wireless security, which is not recommended.
This is, in my opinion, one big disappointment with the Cisco Valet. There is no way to allow a Nintendo DS to use the Guest wireless without using WEP. They could very easily allow the whitelisting of certain MAC addresses to be allowed to access the Guest wireless (which is open, unencrypted, and will work with the DS) without requiring web-based captive portal authentication.
Other Minor Gripes
The Cisco Connect software allows you to configure items that cannot be configured with the Advanced Settings interface, namely the Guest wireless access. I would like to be able to change the default IP range used for the Guest wireless and, possibly, whitelist certain machines as I described above.
By default, the router administration password the same as the WPA password. This does make it easier for end users, but I think you should be able to set them independently in the Cisco Connect software.
I also do not see a way through the Cisco Connect software to upgrade the firmware for my router. This is a necessary, sometimes daunting task, especially given the number of hardware variations that can exist even with the same model. There’s no reason Cisco couldn’t have made this process as simple as they’ve made everything else–push a button and it takes care of the rest.
And, of, course, my security gripes above. While they went a lot farther than I’ve seen other manufacturers go, they could have gone just a little farther in choosing more secure defaults, possibly with an optional “security settings” page so you don’t have to hunt in the Advanced Settings interface to make the wireless connectivity more secure.
All in all, though, I am very impressed with the product. I could easily see myself recommending this product to my non-technical friends and family as a dirt simple way to share their Internet connection and create their own personal wireless hotspot.
The only people I cannot recommend this product to are Linux users who lack a Windows or Mac machine on which to run the Cisco Connect software. Since the initial setup of this router cannot happen without the Cisco Connect software, which does not run on Linux, your “out of the box” experience will be less than fulfilling. You only need the software the first time, of course, but you might be better off with a Linksys-branded router.
So yes, Cisco did it. They made WiFi easy for normal people to set up. Using the Easy Setup Key, I set up four different Windows computers with my Cisco Valet settings in a matter of minutes. It was drop-dead simple. I wish they spent a little more time on the security side of things, but this is a tough one to do without making things more inconvenient for users. Given what Cisco was aiming for here, I think they nailed it.
28 January 2011
IPv6 is the next generation of IP–the protocol by which most of our computers, phones, and other related devices talk to each other and to the Internet. Today, everything generally talks using IPv4, which has a 32-bit address space, or roughly 4 billion possible addresses. Both because of the sheer number of devices and the number of “reserved” addresses within the IPv4 space, the number of globally available IP addresses is running out.
To put it in perspective, as I write this, there is still a few /8 addresses unallocated by the IANA, which are distributed to regional registries, which are then responsible for distributing the IPs to ISPs, whom in turn distribute them to you. A /8, in IPv4, is 16,777,216 IP addresses. That seems like a lot of addresses, until you realize that, depending on how those IPs are allocated, the number of usable IPs ends up being a bit less.
Even so, once IANA runs out of /8s, the individual registries and ISPs still likely have caches of IPv4 addresses. The problem of address space exhaustion probably won’t show any acute symptoms immediately, but the lack of IPv4 addresses (and the lack of wide deployment of IPv6) will start causing problems soon, creating pockets of servers that can only be accessed by one protocol or another.
We’ve actually been working around the problem of address exhaustion in the IPv4 space for some time now using network address translation. That router you get from your local consumer electronics store has been masquerading all of your computers behind a single, public IP address, providing you both a level of protection and connectivity.
Enterprises do much the same thing, except their boxes are significantly larger and they also might provide services accessible on the Internet, which means: they need more than one public IP. Also, some enterprises have so many connected systems that they have, quite literally, run out of available private IP addresses (some IPs in the IPv4 space are set aside explicitly for private, non-Internet connected use).
In any case, the pressure is mounting to switch to IPv6. Given that some of my customers are asking about IPv6, I figured I’d get myself educated. I happen to have access to one of the people who helped define the IPv6 standards in the IETF (he works at Check Point), but there’s really no better way to learn about it than to just get it set up.
Of course, part of the problem right now is that my ISPs at home (Comcast, CenturyLink) are still serving me IPv4 addresses. Fortunately, there are ways of tunneling over IPv4 to the IPv6 networks. One such service is TunnelBroker, run by the folks at Hurricane Electric. They tunnel IPv6 packets inside of IPv4 packets (more specifically using IP Protocol 41, designed for this purpose).
I had it working on an old Linksys router I had flashed with TomatoUSB and hacked a bit. I had IPv6 flowing through my network and was able to reach a few sites over IPv6. Then I had the realization that I was no longer protected by my router. I was now directly reachable–without a firewall! While I could fix that, I think that’s enough experimentation for now.
I guess the point is: I can make it work today. However, few people are going to want to do what I had to go through to make it work. Every hop in the network has to be IPv6 friendly and IPv6 enabled. For the home user, it’s going to have to be as simple as plugging in a router. We’ll get there, but it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next few years.