Zombie peripherals / changes to the dock connector

So the popular blogs are all talking about what the future holds for the new iPhone. To summarise they basically all agree that the 5 is going to have a bigger screen, along with a redesigned dock adaptor and the headphone jack moved to the bottom.

Lots of people are focussing on the screen, but it’s the change in dock that interests me. I don’t know how much I trust the rumour mills – Apple keep their cards notoriously close to their chest. Looking at the photos the dock looks about half the size of the current one.

What are Apple thinking?

There are so many peripherals that rely upon the dock. So many companies that are going to have their market disappear within the next 4 years. In effect the head has been chopped off the peripherals you have, turning them into zombies.

I already own one zombie peripheral in the form of a speaker dock. This suffered from the switch away from the FireWire pin providing power. Ok, it still works, I can still play music on it, but it won’t charge anything younger than my 5th gen iPod.

This change in dock is going to completely obsolete this one, and my other speaker dock that I have.

There are of course alternatives to playing music through a dock. There’s Bluetooth audio from the phones now a days and also AirPlay. Theres also third party solutions such as Sonos and Squeezebox. Apple’s not shy of getting rid of old technology from their hardware. Look at the floppy, an more recently the cd drive on the MacBook air.

This is where I’ve seen a gap in the market that could be huge. I’m putting this idea out there in case anyone can actually act on it. If you do, make all the money you want from the idea, just send me some for free.

What we need is something to breathe life into the zombie peripherals. My idea is a little dongle that effectively blanks out the dock connector. There are two dongles that you could build, and they are, surprise surprise, Bluetooth and AirPlay.

Ok, why not buy the airport express? Because its expensive, more than I need, uses a plug, the list goes on.

I want something that goes over the old dock and allows me to carry on using it. Is that too much to ask for?

Think about it, the dock provides all the power it would need, and there is obviously audio there. It all makes sense to me.

I don’t know how difficult it would be, but I’m sure it’s possible. I’m fairly sure that if this exists even people with a current iPhone would buy it for convenience. The key would be in the price. Anything above £30 would be too much.

Needless to say, I’m nervous about this change. I don’t want to have more useless tech hanging around my house. I’m not against change, it’s just the sheer depth of this change that makes me twitch.

Mobile networks cash cow / Switching to GiffGaff

O2 pissed me off one too many times, so I left, and joined O2 GiffGaff, and I have to say, I am very impressed so far.

Let me set the scene.  I used to be a Pay as You Go user with O2.  I’m not a heavy user of  my phone, other than to use the data.  I would top up £10 each month, and this would purchase my bolt-on so that I could call family for free, and leave me with a little left over.  O2 would also throw in 500MB of data and 300 text messages. All good, or so I thought.

My change in job has meant that I spend a lot more time on my phone than before due to the commute.  This in conjunction with not having wifi at work means that my data consumption has gone up.

I remember when O2 dropped their data packages down to 500MB, there was a lot of complaints, and I didn’t quite understand why. I do now. It got to the point where I would end up having to not have data as it was costing me too much, as I was forever going over the 500MB limit. The straw that broke the camels back was when I went over my limit and O2 started to charge me. They didn’t alert me to this until after they had charged me and their was nothing that I could do about it.

Of course, I complained via twitter (how else does anyone complain these days?) and I got this response:

Seriously! That’s their response?! How quickly can you use data on your mobile phone? If I’m using data fast, maybe you should change your notification boundary, so that the notification gets sent with plenty of time.  I don’t know what they are set to, but up it. Make it 10MB before the limit rather than 1MB.

Anyway, I looked around for a better deal, not wanting to go on to contract.  Both mine and my wife‘s phone were bought direct from Apple and so are unlocked, so we could switch provider if needs be.  I have friends who have been on GiffGaff for a while, and upon looking into it I can understand why.

GiffGaff, for those who don’t know, is a community run network, so doesn’t have the expensive overheads. It therefore passes its savings onto its customers. It also operates a simple pricing structure: 6p per text, 10p/min calls, 20p for 20MB per day, and GiffGaff to GiffGaff calls and text are free so long as you topped up in the last 3 months. Here is a comparison of costs: http://giffgaff.com/compare-pay-as-you-go-tariffs (in summary GiffGaff costs 50% of the competitors)

Rather than go fully PAYG, I decided to try out one of their Goodie Bags. The one I chose costs £10 (same as I was paying), gives me unlimited data, 250 minutes to anyone, and unlimited text. A much better deal as far as I am concerned.

The one stipulation from my wife was that she got to keep her number.  This is where GiffGaff surpassed my expectations completely.  After going through the hard sale from O2’s retention department, I had our PAC‘s in hand.  Last time I moved network (a long time ago now), I had to wait a week for the number to change over. With GiffGaff, so long as you enter the PAC before 3pm they can do it the very next [working] day.  Less than 24 hours of having the wrong number, big win!

So far, I am really pleased with GiffGaff, and don’t plan on going anywhere any time soon.

Anyway, enough of the hard sale, the point behind this post is that the mobile networks have been very clever to manoeuvre themselves into a position where mobile data is going to be a cash cow for them.  I am not the first person to be stung by data limits, nor will I be the last.  What I am fearful off it the rate at which people are going to get stung is going to increase.

With broadband speeds on the up, web developers have gotten lazy. Remember the good ol’ days when we had to listen to the gentle chirp of a 56k modem before we could surf. Before YouTube, and Facebook existed. Whilst Yahoo! was still a viable competitor for the search engine market and all of your friends had a Geocities site (OK, maybe that last one was just me). You had to keep your site small, or people wouldn’t visit it as it took too long to load.

It has just been announced that the average web page is now over 1MB in size. Whoa! This is seriously bad news for mobile users if you are on a capped tariff. The networks might as well be stood next to you emptying your pockets as you browse. Ok, so most sites offer mobile friendly versions, but some dont. Combine this with the larger size of images due to the retina display on modern i-devices, we are entering the perfect storm.

In my opinion, the networks should raise their baseline for the tariffs. Their argument is that their cap is high enough it wont effect most people, well, its about to.  React now, or lose loyal customers like you did me.  The lure of the unlimited data is going to become enough to pull people across.

If you want to switch to GiffGaff then click the banner in the footer of the site and I will get a referral, it would be much appreciated.

Why is everyone hating on Southeastern?

So I’ve been using the train network for a few months now and I really don’t understand why so many people are so critical of Southeastern trains.

I’m not going to defend their perfect record and claim their never late, but they are nowhere near as bad as everyone makes out. All I ever read about or hear from people is how southeastern have ruined their day or left them stranded.

I don’t have any hard or fast facts, but I don’t hold any grudge against them. I don’t know if it’s because I live early enough on the line, but I am always able to get a seat on the train. The morning train is on time virtually every day. I can only remember it being late once in three months.

The evening trains are a bit different. I pick up the train at its second station, so it’s always pretty full by then, but even so I can usually get a seat. I would say maybe once every fortnight the evening train may be late, but often no more than 10 minutes.

Once in nearly 4 months has their been a significant delay, and that was when there was a lightning strike that took out most of south londons train network. On this occasion I was 40 minutes late. Annoying but eased by the fact that southeastern run a “delay repay” scheme which will refund you part, or all of your train ticket depending I the length of your delay. On this occasion I knew people in the office who took 3 hours to get home rather than their usual 35 minutes. As they were with a different operator they were not entitled to any refund as they don’t operate the above scheme.

There is the occasional time when the train will be made up of only 8 carriages rather than the scheduled 12, and whilst this is annoying I’d much rather arrive on time, but slightly cramped, than be delayed.

On the whole I’m happy with the service I get, and would just like to thank southeastern for the good work. They’re not perfect, but can a train network really be perfect? From what i hear they’re one of the better. My car isn’t perfect, it breaks down sometimes, there are accidents which shut roads, yet we still put up with that.

My only real complaint is the cost, works out about £15 per day. Why can’t I buy a season ticket on direct debit? Just stupid in my mind. If you did this it would enable more people to buy season tickets (thus saving 2 months in cost) and might get rid of some of the bad feelings over the hefty cost. Can someone sort it out please.

Life’s too short

I don’t know if it’s that I’m now sat on a train for too long each day and it’s allowing me to think too much, or that I’m just fast approaching that age where you turn grumpy, but recently I’ve started to think that life is too short.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do something.

This is something that I am more and more coming to appreciate.

As a web developer, and all round geek, I know far too many ways to skin a cat (figuratively speaking). I’m also capable of doing anything web related, and up until recently I have been. The phrase above very much applies to me, and it has taken me a while to appreciate it.

My skill set lies very clearly in the coding of web applications and the functionality they offer. I can do the visual side of things, but I’ll never win any awards for it. I’m no designer. I’m envious of people who can, I just don’t have that spark.

I can tell the difference between bad UI and good UI, and I can create an Ok UI, but I will never create a great UI.

Anyway, I digress. My big revelation came when i was working on a WordPress installation for a family member. It’s cheaper for me in the long run to buy a theme then create one from scratch. Especially when there are such marketplaces as elegant themes, WooThemes, and themeforest. This time saved can then be spent with my family and not sat in the office working.

These themes are usually < $40, and are to a standard that I could never meet. The time saved (many many hours) cost so much more than the money I have to pay for the theme.

I’m notoriously tight, and won’t spend money unless I have to. My wife constantly makes fun of me for it. For many years I refused to buy an off the shelf theme as I had to pay for them. If I just put my hand in my pocket I would save hours of my time which costs much more than the cost of the theme. I can then spend my time working on the functionality and deliver the site sooner.

Another thing that is worth thinking about when making this decision between buy or build, is the professionalism that will be gained from buying a service and not doing it yourself. Say you’re building an app; you’ll need an icon. You might have Photoshop on your computer, but there is significant skill involved in icon design. Buying an icon for a small amount may be the difference between your app going viral (it wont be) and being lost in the thousands of apps out there. People’s first impressions are priceless and a dodgy looking icon may put them off. I know it does me.

This revelation extends beyond the world of the web. How much does your time cost? It’s worth me paying a gardener to come in and now my garden than it is for me to do it. They will do a more professional job, in a shorter amount of time, and for less money than it would cost me if I did it myself.

This doesn’t mean that you should get someone in, or pay for everything and not do it yourself. If you enjoy doing the task, and it gives you pleasure, then it is most likely worth your time to do it yourself.