Posts Tagged 'mobile'

The app hell of the future

Just over 5-years ago, in April 2011, I wrote this post after having a fairly interesting exchange with my then boss, Michael Dell, and George Conoly, co-founder and CEO of Forrester Research. I’m guessing in the long term, the disagreement, and semi-public dissension shut some doors in front of me.

Fast forward 5-years, and we are getting the equivalent of a do-over as the Internet of Things and “bots” become the next big thing. This arrived in my email the other day:

This year, MobileBeat is diving deep into the new paradigm that’s rocking the mobile world. It’s the big shift away from our love affair with apps to AI, messaging, and bots – and is poised to transform the mobile ecosystem.

Yes, it’s the emperor’s new clothes of software over again. Marketing lead software always does this, over imagines what’s possible, under estimates the issues with building in and then the fast fail product methodology kicks-in. So, bots will be the next bloatware, becoming a security attack front. Too much code, forced-fit into micro-controllers. The ecosystem driven solely by the need to make money. Instead of tiny pieces of firmware that have a single job, wax-on, wax-off, they will become dumping ground for lots of short-term fixes, that never go away.

Screenshot_20160524-113359Meanwhile, the app hell of today continues. My phone apps update all the time, mostly with no noticeable new function; I’m required to register with loads of different “app stores” each one a walled garden with few published rules, no oversight, and little transparency. The only real source of trusted apps is github and the like where you can at least scan the source code.IMG_20160504_074211

IMG_20160504_081201When these apps update, it doesn’t always go well. See this picture of my Garmin Fenix 3, a classic walled garden, my phone starts to update at 8:10 a.m., and when it’s done, my watch says it’s now 7:11 a.m.

IMG_20160111_074518Over on my Samsung Smart TV, I switch it from monitor to Smart TV mode and get this… it never ends. Nothing resolves it accept disconnecting the power supply. It recovered OK but this is hardly a good user experience.

Yeah, I have a lot of smart home stuff,  but little or none of it is immune to the app upgrade death spiral; each app upgrade taking the device nearer to obsolescence because there isn’t enough memory, storage or the processor isn’t fast enough to include the bloated functions marketing thinks it needs.

If the IoT and message bots are really the future, then software engineers need to stand up and be counted. Design small, tight reentrant code. Document the interfaces, publish the source and instead of continuously being pushed to deliver more and more function, push back, software has got to become engineering and not a form of story telling.

YesToUninstallAnUpdate[1]

Mobility Forecast: BYOD and EMM in 2016

Tom Kendra from Dell Software Group, VP of Systems Management sits in the next isle over from me in Round Rock, such is the way of cube life, from time to time I overhear him on calls and meetings. This is a great summary on cio.com of what I’d heard him say, and the urgency he’s been driving our team.

Pre-pay America?

[Update: added expiration reason]

The NY Times ran an article by Brian Chen “Prepaid Cellphones Are Cheaper. Why Aren’t They Popular?”  Brian points out that less than 25% of mobile/cell phones in the US are pre-paid and pre-paid work out to be the best choice from a cost perspective and wondering why more people by don’t use them.

Based on my experience, I currently have a t-mobile USA Contract phone;  2x UK pre-pay SIM cards, a t-mobile USA pre-pay SIM and a Virgin Mobile India pre-pay, here is what I can say about pre-pay in the USA

  • Pre-pay in the USA is way, way more expensive than anywhere else in the world. For an example, to get a unlimted 4G plan from t-mobile, I pay $70 per month. Here in the UK, with the O2 network I can get effectively the same for UKP 10 per month, plus a UKP 10 per month “The Web Works” bolt-on(total at $1.5632 per UKP, $31.27); In India, its about a 3rd the cost of the UK, effectively $10 per month(the data was much slower though).
  • Friend and retired IBM Fellow Mike Cowlishaw pointed out one major reason why US pre-pay are a poor deal compared to at least UK, you pre-pay for a US phone and you typically pay a set amount, that amount expires after a set period. For example, for my current US t-mobile pre-pay, I paid $70 and that will be gone by Aug 13th. Compare that to my UK O2 pre-pay. I paid 10 UKP, then added additional credit as needed. Provided I keep at least 10 UKP it never expires and I don’t get charged for incoming calls.
  • Phones are locked so that you can’t put any SIM from another network, but you can get this removed depending on the network. In my case t-mobile refused point blank to remove mine when requested as I’d not had my pre-paid account for 60-days. Despite the fact that when I bought it, and told them I’d need to put a UK SIM in the phone, they said t-mobile UK could handle it. They couldn’t, nor would t-mobile USA. It’s not my first time at the rodeo, I got an unlock code from an Internet supplier.
  • Phones, especially smart phones are deliberately incompatibe between networks. See the picture. My t-mobile USA an Samsung Galaxy S3 (SGH-T999) with an O2 SIM, compared to my friends O2 Samsung Galaxy S3. Right next to each other, his gets an HSDPA(4g) connection, mine doesn’t. This is common and works both ways, buy a unlocked phone in Europe, take it to America, no go. While the networks claim compatibility, the drivers for the radio’s inside the phones are always optimized/proprietary and you never get the best network speed. Again, you can, and I have, get the network radio drivers from the Internet and install them. This is not a job for the faint hearted.
  • Bandwidth limits for data are mostly imposed, on pre-pay you get the contract when you buy more network, not once when you take out the contract.
  • The is little or nor clarity about contracts and tie-ins with wifi access for pre-pay customers; most contracts include some form of wifi access, however increasingly US networks are enjoing GSM and wifi network data limits, which is really just nonsense and a deliberate fraud of mobile customers.
O2 Samsung S3 Galaxy

OS Samsung Galaxy S3 gets HSDPA

All the US Networks are the same, this is to some degree a cartel. They all have the same things to lose, and given the incompatible networks, nothing to gain by having a free market. Compare that to Europe where the EC has mandated compatibility, and roaming charges. If you are considering a pre-pay phone, don’t expect to buy a cheap phone off the Internet, unless its a new phone for the network you are going to use.

At some point, Apple, and/or Samsung/Google are going to break the network hold, it’s not clear though that it will be better the devil you know.


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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