Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Problem With Free

Recently I have doing more on my iPhone. This is, of course, relative to me only. So by “doing more”, I mean getting a screen protector and buying an app. But even then, I cannot do that without frustration. Let me begin with some clarification. I am not one those people who go through the App Store and buy an app just because it looks appealing, saying, “eh, it’s just $0.99.” I know myself well enough to know how much I really use my phone. If I purchase thirty apps, about twenty-five of them will be forgotten and rarely used. So every app I buy has to do exactly what I think it will do and not be annoying in any way since I would potentially be using it every day.

If you browse through the App Store, you will see that there are two broad categories of apps—paid and free. Many paid apps have a free or lite version. The idea behind having a free version is to give the user hands on experience with the app and to make the user dependent on the app enough to purchase the full paid version. There are two things that follow because of that. The first is that the free app version will have limited functionality. That should be obvious. The second is that the free app will have advertisements. Some combination of the two is required. You can have no advertisements but very limited functionality, or many advertisements and more functionality. Up to now, I understood the logic of it, until this past week.

There is a game made by Skyworks named Arcade Bowling. It is a neon laced version of skee-ball. When it first came out it was a pretty good game. The only advertisement was a banner ad at the bottom of the screen, which was odd given the simplicity of skee-ball. I mean, what else is there to skee-ball other than rolling a ball up the ramp? In other words, how much difference could there be between the free and paid versions? Apparently not much difference. You can throw in progressive play (whatever that really is) and high score tracking, but it is hard to jazz up skee-ball because it is already quite basic. Thus, I was quite happy with my Arcade Bowling Lite for quite some time.

Then one day there was a notice that some of my apps had updates available. Arcade Bowling was one of them. When you read the description of the upgrade, it simply says something along the lines of, “iPhone 4.0 bug fixes” or something of that nature. That should have been my first lesson—do not update a game app with which you have no problems. Note that I did not say any app, just game apps. After the update, I tried to play the game. I was met with a loud obnoxious movie trailer for Resident Evil. You could not skip this trailer for several seconds. And after I got past the trailer I was met with a page of advertisements. And trying to get past those advertisements resulted in the app crashing half the time. Needless to say I deleted Arcade Bowling after ten minutes of that nonsense. I went online and found Skee-Ball, a simple app that does what I expect it to do—let me play Skee-Ball, and nothing else.

The interesting thing is that I paid $0.99 for Skee-Ball. I could have paid $0.99 for Arcade Bowling and perhaps gotten rid of that ridiculous advertisement fiasco, but there was no guarantee of that. The descriptions in both the lite and paid version made absolutely no suggestion that buying the app would purge the advertisements. Now while it probably would have (since the reviews of the paid version lacked the poison pen of the lite version), after seeing what the company thinks of its lite version users I decided they could look for my $0.99 up their asses.

Skee-Ball has no free version that I have encountered. And though it turned out to be a better game for me overall, I might not have ever purchased it, since there was a free version made by Skyworks. It was only after Skyworks crapped all over their free version that I went and bought Skee-Ball. I have no doubt that many users upgraded to their Arcade Bowling Lite to escape the excessive advertisements, but I believe they did so only because the App Store search engine is still in its infancy was unable to pull up Skee-Ball and Arcade Bowling on the same search page. But once Apple’s search engine evolves, companies like Skyworks will either have to change their business model or start losing money.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


I finally missed a week of posting. It was a good run, but it had to end sometime. I would like to say that I did not post anything last week because I was on vacation, which I was. Unfortunately, that would not be the true reason for it. The true reason I did not post anything last week was that I was lazy. Plain and simple.

Now laziness comes in varying degrees and thresholds. For me, sleep is the final barrier that I cannot break. As a younger person I could pull an all nighter or at least stay up until 3 am without difficulty, but now it is impossible. In my recent week of laziness, however, I have observed that Americans have slowly lowered their laziness threshold over time. This is evidenced by three very common examples which also only serve to perpetuate and further lower the threshold.

The first example of laziness is the elevator phenomenon. Whenever I have taken the elevator and other people have gotten in as well, someone has taken the elevator one floor. I am not talking about one floor in a casino or a hotel at night, when it actually makes sense to take the elevator one floor. Nor am I talking about people with strollers or disabilities or wheelchairs who actually need to take the elevator. I am talking about the museum, or the sports arena, or even the mall. And there are escalators in the mall, for goodness sake! Again, I am talking about one floor. Just one floor.

The second example of laziness is unemployment. Now I want to be perfectly clear in that I am not saying that all people collecting unemployment are lazy. But more and more I have heard stories about people who are more than happy to sit back and collect unemployment without looking for another job. This is a variation on the welfare trap, which states that the benefit of working may not outweigh the benefit of living off welfare, driving people to remain on welfare. There are two solutions to the welfare trap—increase the benefit of working or decrease the benefit of remaining on welfare. Neither solution is easily implemented in real life. While the welfare trap or unemployment trap would sound reasonable financial terms, it suggests a broader problem. That is, the lack of drive to succeed. Without true work, there can be no advancement in career, no raises, no increase in benefits, and no possibility of improving your station in life. That is true laziness.

The third example of laziness is the seemingly new phenomenon of the temporary CEO. It is not a coincidence that more and more we are hearing of CEOs coming and going like the ocean tide. And in every circumstance the CEO leaves with a ridiculous golden parachute worth millions regardless of the shambles in which the company is left. Each time this happens the public asks themselves, “What exactly did that CEO do?” The answer is usually, “Nothing impressive.” I would bet that everyday more and more Americans believe they could be CEOs of major companies because of this. And whether the logic is or is not syllogistic, people come to believe that you do not have to do anything to make money. That money does, indeed grow on trees.

So kick back. Life does not have to be challenging at all. We have taken care of your hardships at every level, including going up a flight a stairs. Pretty soon even you will get paid to have your ass wiped like a CEO.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My iPhone4 Gripes

The iPhone4 has been out for several months now, and it has already had a good share of criticism. The most striking critique of the iPhone4 was the fact that it could drop a call if you held it the wrong way, like some sort of fickle telephone mistress. This fact alone led Consumer Reports to not recommend the iPhone4. This then led to the discovery that the iPhone OS (iOS) was calculating your signal strength incorrectly all along. A software update corrected this issue so you now know how utterly crappy AT&T's coverage truly is in your area. I recently received and activated my iPhone4, upgrading it from my iPhone3G, and I do like it very much, But I do have some gripes about it, and now it's my turn on the soapbox.

First off, I have noticed to change in signal strength for the 3G network and wifi when I hold the phone covering the gaps on the side. And it does affect my usage of the phone. And I do find it annoying. And I did order my free case courtesy of Apple. So I do not have a gripe about that. What I do have a gripe about is the reduced sensitivity of the the sensor near the ear speaker. Normally, when you turn on the phone and dial a number, you put the phone up to your ear (when you are not using speakerphone, of course). The phone senses that it is next to your ear and the screen blacks out to save energy. When the move the phone away from your ear, the screen lights up again. On my iPhone4, the screen blacks out only if the phone is actually touching your ear or temple. If you move it just a quarter of an inch from your head, the screen lights up again. Usually not a problem, right? But if you are cradling the phone with your shoulder to have both hands free, the phone does wobble next to your ear. If the screen lights up while the phone is wobbling next to your head, your ear could actually end your call, since the "End" button is the largest button on the screen during a call on the iPhone. I have actually lost calls because of this on many occasions. Of course, that is not the only thing that can happen. Your ear could easy "press" the Contact button and cause you to dial another person while you are on the phone. I have also had this happen. In fact, once I pressed the home button after making a call so at the very least I would not accidentally hang up on my friend. When the call was over I looked at the screen and my ear had opened my email and started composing an email. The text was jibberish, of course, but the point is made. If I could just have that sensor sensitivity turned up it would save me a lot of annoyance.

The second gripe I have is that while the iPhone4 boasts a better battery and longer (up to 40% more, they tout) life, It is easily squandered because the screen no longer dims and then turns off after a set amount of time. The only available option is screen lock after X amount of time, which only prompts you for a password and does nothing with screen dimming. This means that I could accidentally turn my phone on before putting it in my pocket or while it is in my pocket, and it would just sit there draining battery life. I am not asking for a full out screen saver. Just something to help me not waste the battery life accidentally.

My last gripe about my iPhone4 is the shake-to-undo. Seriously, what the hell is this? Shaking your phone to do anything that is not part of a game is just silly. Even the shake-to-shuffle for the iPod app is silly. But to undo something? When am I ever doing something on the iPhone that requires me to undo something? I suppose I must be composing a long email and accidentally delete an entire paragraph?Or writing some gigantic note where I would not could not redo any changes manually? I do not understand this function because I do not do that kind of computing on my iPhone. If I need to write a long message I use my computer. And seeing as how iTunes decided to "lose" all my notes from my iPhone3G when I upgraded, I also no longer write long notes on my phone. Now I can see a shake-to-refresh function. That might actually make more sense.

So that is all the griping I have about my iPhone4. I still love it, though, since it was a vast improvement over my iPhone3G, which is now relegated to entertaining my children on long car rides.