Free Internet. What’s that supposed to mean? Well, the homeowner’s association at the place I’m renting made a deal with a cable company, accessmedia3, to give everyone in the development free broadband and mostly free Dish Network. It’s not even a luxury home; it’s close in price to some of the manufactured homes (wide trailers essentially) available in this area.
For most people, it’s perfect. It happened because, typical of many housing developments, a cable or telecom provider contracted to install the wiring when the homes were being built. What that means is the presence of Ethernet jacks in most rooms, or the capability of installing them in the same wall plate as the F connector jack, which is used for the cable TV hookup. Each house has a wiring panel, usually in a closet. In my case, the installer who brought the Dish DVR “borrowed” one of my Ethernet switches to allow for four connections: in the bedrooms, kitchen and living room.
So should I plan to luxuriate with all the extra amenities, which the rental agent didn’t even tell me about when I chose this place? Well, partly. But with free, how do these companies make it pay for them? Well, they do offer options for broadband, such as a static IP number. VOIP phone service is $30 per month. It’s on the high side, and the service doesn’t include all the amenities of cheaper plans from such companies as Phone Power and Vonage, such as free or cheap international calling. If you want something more than the very basic Dish set-top box, you pay a monthly fee. Additional fees also apply to HD, more channels, and premium content. So you could still pay between $50-$100 per month if you want more than the midrange Top 200 package that comes as standard issue. So profits are undoubtedly made, and the rent also includes the HOA fee, such as it is, which covers the cost of the basic service.
This isn’t the first complex in which I’ve lived that offers a basic cable package. Unfortunately, allowing one provider to wire the place limits a resident’s options. So if Cox installed the wiring, you cannot switch to CenturyLink in this area, or vice versa. Same for accessmedia3. In theory, FCC rules state that an HOA cannot block satellite dishes, but they can. They can set difficult requirements, such as not drilling holes in anything, and staying away from the siding and the roof. I actually tried to set up DirecTV here, but the restriction on keeping the dish below the fence made it impossible, though they are sending a supervisor over to see if there’s another way that won’t infringe on those restrictions.
As to broadband, right now it’s 15 megabits down and 3 megabits up. That’s almost adequate. Speed is consistent at all times of the day or night, even when I try different test servers a few hundred miles distant. But I cannot install anyone else’s broadband. There’s the vague promise that accessmedia3 does periodic updates, and maybe someday I’ll get more speed.
That said, finding any affordable housing in the Phoenix area these days is almost impossible. Rental prices have soared in the last year or two because it’s a seller’s market. This complex also caters to “snow birds” who only live here a few months each year, which is the primary reason for the freebies. I should feel lucky not to be in the street, so I have to tolerate the restrictions on my online freedoms.
In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented columnist and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” During this session, Gene described the free Internet service he’s received and how its speed and reliability compare to the services you have to pay for. Kirk discussed his article on the iPhone’s schizophrenic store numbers, where you get different figures on how much space you have available on your device. He also talked about mastering and remastering techniques for music recordings.
You also heard from commentator Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. Bryan talked about the information leaks from the supply chain and what they might tell you about forthcoming Apple gear, whether there is reason to freak out over reports Apple plans to ditch the headphone jack on the next iPhone, incremental improvements in battery technology, his concerns over the lack of a Mac Pro refresh since 2013, and possible Apple products in the future and how they might be even more significant than Apple’s present-day gear, including the Mac and the iPhone.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: When it comes to cutting-edge speculation about the paranormal, nobody does it better than Greg Bishop, of “Radio Misterioso,” so we’ve asked him to return to The Paracast for an open “shop talk” agenda. His latest book, “It Defies Language,” illustrated by Red Pill Junkie, is collection of essays about the UFO subject and related phenomena. During this session, Greg will talk about newly discovered exoplanets, and what form an intelligent race from outer space might take. The discussion moves to different species on Earth and their surprising displays of possibly advanced intelligence. Chris delivers an update on the San Luis Valley Camera Project, the paranormal event detection network.
Certain tech pundits — people I don’t actually regard as terribly well informed — will tell you that the iPhone 6s is now way behind the curve because of newer Android gear, such as the Samsung Galaxy S7. They will list chapter and verse of specs that appear to overpower Apple, and features you cannot find on an iPhone. They don’t bother to explain whether those features work very well, or even if they are needed.
Whenever the argument is raised, I merely cite the Samsung Galaxies that offered a feature called Tilt to Scroll, which supposedly did what the name implied. You tilted the device to engage an automatic scrolling feature. When it worked, it was dead slow, and when it didn’t, you just sat there looking foolish.
For me, it always seemed to work when I set the scrolling speed, but never when I tried to actually use the feature. This hasn’t stopped such publications as Consumer Reports from rating the Samsung superior to the iPhone mostly on the basis of features. CR also suffers from the careless or deliberate inability to evaluate operating systems as to responsiveness, reliability, and security.
If CR was as concerned about a smartphone user’s security as you’d expect them to be, I hardly think they’d ever recommend Android. After all, there are still serious security lapses that remain unfixed. Even if Google issued those patches the very day the vulnerabilities were discovered, it would leave hundreds of millions of Android users unprotected. That’s because there is little likelihood that most users will receive those patches in a timely fashion — or ever.
The subject of Android fragmentation has been mentioned before. Google plays lip service to the problem, promising to do better every so often. That will never happen so long as patches first have to be processed by the handset maker, and, if that even happens, it goes to the wireless carrier for final approval. At the end of this three-step chain (Google, manufacturer, carrier) you may or may not have the “privilege” of downloading that patch. This also explains why people even with new Android handsets are running operating systems that are at least two years old.
Now about those comparisons: Despite having far beefier specs, the fastest Android gear usually has trouble keeping up with iPhones with lower specs. A main reason is that Apple controls the design of the processor and other components, and thus better integrates the hardware with the operating system. In turn, Android, though better than it used to be, requires more CPU horsepower to deliver a reasonably snappy interface. A recent test between an iPhone 6s and a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, the latest and greatest, ended up with Apple’s smartphone in the lead. This particular test measured such things as responsiveness in launching apps.
Google’s problem, other than the limitations of Android, is that it has to deliver a system that is compatible with thousands of models. Apple merely has to support a relative few, and thus can produce far more bang for the buck. As one report concluded, the iPhone 7 will be even faster.
If you can believe published reports, the official launch of the next iPhone is less than two weeks away, with a media event expected a day or two after Labor Day. That nasty fact won’t stop some tech pundits from doing preliminary comparisons, and explaining why the top-line Android handsets must be better.
It’s a sure thing the expected loss of the headphone jack will be a major issue. But that, to me, is a relatively minor and short-term inconvenience, similar to previous efforts by Apple to dump legacy ports. Unless someone in authority lost their senses, there will likely be an adapter included in the box, so there will be, at worst, a minor inconvenience when you want to use a headset with the ancient headphone jack. In a few months, the issue will be forgotten. It’s not an argument not to buy the next iPhone.
I’ll still be curious how Apple plans to deal with this change. No doubt there will be all sorts of reasons that include greater flexibility, possibly superior audio, and greater resistance to water. Indeed, one possible feature of the iPhone 7 — or whatever it’s called — is some level of water resistance or waterproofing. This comes at a time where the Samsung Galaxy 7 Active — supposedly resistant to water — failed the requisite dunking test when evaluated by CR.
When it comes to Samsung, nothing surprises me.
When it comes to prejudging a forthcoming Apple product, before Apple reveals product features and specs, that doesn’t surprise me either.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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