Ok, You can Unlock ’em Again

If you want, you can unlock your cellphone in the US again

When the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) came into play a few years ago, it changed the way many people looked at not only their websites, computers, books, etc., it changed the way they looked at their digital phones, too.  While it was ok to unlock cell and smartphones that were tied to one specific carrier, before its implementation, afterwards, you had to get specific permissions.  That was fine until about 18 months ago. After a January 2013 decision by the Librarian of Congress, it became a violation of copyright, and therefore the DMCA to unlock your phone.

unlockcell

Recently, with the passing of the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act in both the House and the Senate, President Obama signed the rapidly passed law which reverses that decision, until January 2016, that is.

The Librarian of Congress will again at that time review the DMCA, its previous decision to ban the unlocking, the law recently put into place by Congress and signed by the President and rule again if cell phone unlocking should be banned.

This effectively gives you an 18 month hiatus on unlocking your phone. If you want to do it, now is the time.  After that, it could become illegal again.

Congress wasn’t prepared to deal with the underlying issue of copyright that makes it otherwise illegal to unlock your cell or smartphone.  The issue is largely who owns the hardware and how owns the license to the software that runs on that hardware.  The problem stems from the way that cellphones are sold here in the US.

With subsidized phones, argument can be made that until the contract term is up and the phone is “off contract,” that the phone carrier really owns the hardware and holds the license to the software that runs the device.  In that case, making any kind of modification to any subsidized phone would be considered illegal until title for the device passed to the account holder.

With contract-less, financed phones (like those sold by T-Mobile USA), the issue isn’t any clearer.  There’s no clear sense of who actually holds the title to the device while it’s being paid off.  Like a car or any other financed property, the account holder may physically hold the device, but the title to the property is held by the lien holder until the note is paid in full and the lien holder relinquishes title to the property.  While the user may cancel service at any time, in order to do so, they must first pay off the remaining balance to the phone.  After that, the account holder can do what it wants to with the device, as the license for the software running the hardware passes to the account holder. At least, that’s the popular thought…

The problem here is that there’s no clear definition of who holds that title or when it is relinquished and by whom.  If those terms exist in anyone’s wireless contract, no one has brought them to light at this point.  And then there’s the possibility that the wireless carrier could maintain the license to that software even if ownership of the device passes to the account holder. Since the licensee can assert specific rights to protect their license (and therefore have some kind of hold over the condition of the hardware), they could theoretically prevent the account holder and owner of the device from making modifications to the hardware.  At that point, you have to consider who’s rights are more enforceable – the software licensee’s or the device owner’s; and that’s the rabbit hole that Congress doesn’t want to debate and get caught up in.

While the Librarian of Congress can reverse his earlier decision and allow cell and smartphone during the next DMCA review, I’d be surprised of that happened.  The review – as I understand what he does per the DMCA – is review the law, his previous decision(s), and if anything in the law has changed. Since there have been NO changes to the actual DMCA; and this temporary override expires before the January 2016 review takes place, I see no reason why the Librarian of Congress would reverse that decision, leaving us where we were before President Obama signed this temporary exemption.

For any permanent change to the process to come about, Congress would have to change the DMCA. If they did not do that here, then I see little chance of that changing.

This may be an interim election year where some Congressional seats change hands, but I don’t see this becoming a big issue.  While it might be a blip on the 2016 Presidential Campaign Trail, I don’t see this issue gaining enough steam to become big enough to be a huge campaign issue.

How big of an issues is this to you?  Are you a chronic iOS jail breaker or Android rooter?  Is unlocking your phone something that you need to do due to travel or are you just trying to figure out what carrier is the best deal for you without having to buy another cell phone? How important is this to you?  Why don’t you join me in the Discussion area below and give me your thoughts on this as well as the DMCA?  I’d love to hear what you have to say. If it’s compelling enough, I’ll expound more on the issue in a separate column and get your name up in lights.

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Apple Rumors – What to do? What to do..??

There are a number of Apple rumors floating around.  Here’s how you should interpret them…

I’ve been covering the tech industry for almost 20 years. If there’s one thing I know to do – and can do well – its keep my ear to the ground and listen for the whispers.  After a while you get a Jedi like sense about some of this stuff, and like Michael Keaton in Johnny Dangerously (you know your last name’s an adverb..?), you learn to interpret the grape vine and can divine the truth out of the many tech rumors you hear.

Apple-question-markMost of the time with companies like Blackberry, it’s totally easy – especially over the past few years. You know the industry, you know the trends and you know the product.  You just KNOW what their chances are – slim to none.  With Microsoft, it’s not quite as easy. Under Ballmer, yeah… after covering MS under Ballmer for 20 or so years, you can dope it out.  It’s still early with Nadella, so, it’s a bit more difficult.  Apple however, is a completely different story.

There have been a number of rumors about the iPhone 6 – launch dates, release dates (they’re usually a month apart, so you divine one, you have the other…), model types, form factors, components, etc. The list goes on and on.  However, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after covering them for nearly 10 years – it’s don’t even try.

Apple is the most secretive tech company without a US military contract in the country, if not the world.  Sure… checking the Magic 8 Ball and getting the rumors right is real easy the night BEFORE an Apple Press Event, but that’s nothing and not very impressive at all. Any good rumor monger with at least an OK source or a bit of experience can do that.  I don’t know of many people at all that can do that months and months before the event and get it right.  Many have tried. Nearly all have failed. Those that have gotten it right have been merely lucky.

So what should you do with the rumors that you hear about on the internet regarding any unreleased Apple product?

That’s simple – smile, nod your head and move on.

Apple rumors are fun to read. Apple rumors are fun to talk about… but unless you get Tim Cook drunk AND are able to get him to spill his guts (which, by the way will never, EVER happen, because Tim is just NOT that way; but I’m trying to illustrate a point here, so work with me for just a sec…), and can get it on video with some kind of certificate of authenticity, I would treat any Apple rumor you hear as nothing more than a rumor.  Enjoy the story, hope for the best, but in the end… smile, nod your head and move on.

The latest rumors include not only the release of a 4.7″ iPhone 6, but also a second 5.5″ iPhone 6.  One, the other or both are supposed to have a saphire-glass touch screen.  The screen yields of one, the other or both models are said to have good yields, bad yields or other manufacturing problems that may delay the release of either model until late this year or early next year.

OR

We could get the 4.7″ model with or with out a saphire-glass touch screen as early as mid-September.  Or, we could also get the 5.5″ model at the same time, or after the First of the New Year. Maybe… MacRumors is also reporting an iPhone 6 release date of October 14, 2014, based on a rumored press event thought to take place sometime in mid-September.

And what happens in the background at Apple..?  Nothing.  They sit back and smile, basking in glory of the massive amounts of free publicity and hype that will likely send initial sales of the newest (and rumored to be the biggest) iPhone into the tens of millions in the first quarter of sales after its announcement, if you believe all the rumors, that is…

The point, kids is that you should treat these rumors as nothing more than what they actually are… a rumor.  Enjoy them. Talk about them.  Spread the living schtako out of them if you like; but don’t put any stock in them what-so-ever.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned about covering Apple over the last 10 years, it’s that you aren’t going to be able to figure out which way they’re going to go until you get there.

Apple is very good at keeping secrets, and divining what they really WILL do with this, that or the other product has proven to be next to impossible.  So again, enjoy the rumors… have fun with them; but don’t buy into them at all.  You’re likely not going to do anything else other than confuse yourself and your friends if you put any stock in them.

So, move along… these aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for…

Have you heard any new Apple rumors?  Any of them fun or exciting?  If you’d like to share them or have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear about all of them.  Why don’t you meet me in the discussion area below, and tell me all about it?

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Facebook is Killing Me

This whole, “splitting-off-FB-Messenger-into-a-different-app-thing” is making be bang my head against a wall. Here’s why…

facebook-messenger-transparent-300x300It started with Apple, I think.  I think… and it was in early 2012 with the release of Messages Beta.  I published an article on InformationWeek about two years ago that covered this.  I also wrote a feature length review of Messages, which was new at the time.

While others may disagree and provide other info and stats, (and I welcome that in the Discussion area, below…) sending text messages via IP instead of GSM/CDMA has started a huge in-flux of messaging and texting apps to hit the market.  Now, Facebook is tossing their hat into the ring with Facebook Messenger.

Facebook has somewhere in the neighborhood of, like, one billion users. If each and every one of them send just one message a day, to just one of their friends, that’s one billion messages exchanged via their social network each and every day. That’s seven billion a week and 30.44 billion each month.

That’s a lot of messages (and only if each user sends just one message a day).

Facebook has been saying for months that it would be breaking the messaging function out of its mobile app and would be moving it to a separate app all together.  I find this very painful.  I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to my mobile experience.  The last thing I want on my phone is yet ANOTHER mobile messaging app.

I’ve been reviewing software for Windows, Mac, Pocket PC/ Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, Android and iOS for almost 20 years. I’m a software QA manager/ director and I can tell you with 100% accuracy – there’s a great deal of crappy software on the market.  Installing and uninstalling apps on to my mobile phone – a mission critical, communications tool for me – isn’t something I really like to do.  It tends to clutter up your device and trashes its performance, stability; and in many cases requires a wipe and reconfigure when its performance tanks and it acts buggy.    The LAST thing I want to have to do in order to keep current functionality, is install two apps to provide the current functionality I have in just one.

However, that’s what Facebook is doing.

In a recent note to its customers, Facebook states, “We wanted to let you know that messages are moving out of the Facebook app to our Messenger app, a free app that’s faster and more reliable for everyday messaging…. Soon, we’ll start guiding you to get started with Messenger. After a few days, you’ll also see a reminder notice in the Facebook app, where you’d normally see your messages. At that point, we’ll ask you to install Messenger or go to the Facebook website to view and send messages. You’ll still see new message notifications in the Facebook app, and it’ll be easy to switch between Facebook and Messenger.”

In short, if you do any PM-ing in Facebook on a regular basis, you’ll have to start using FB Messenger if you want to PM someone from your mobile device, from within Facebook. Facebook states that the swap to their Messaging app from the Facebook mobile app should be seamless, or nearly seamless. These changes won’t affect functionality experienced on the FB website on any platform or in any browser.

I’m not certain how Facebook monetizes all those messages people send and receive; but you have to think that there must be some financial angle for them to pursue this.  Perhaps they’re planning on implementing an ad supported app. I’m not certain… Any way you cut this, though, it’s another messaging app that I HAVE to install (if I wish to trade or view PM’s sent to me while I am using the Facebook mobile app). I hate that. I’ve got enough junk on my phone as it is with Angry Birds and Candy Crush… I don’t want to have to install another app, despite the messaging experience it’s supposed to provide.

Do you communicate via Facebook messaging with your friends a lot?  Will you continue to do so on your mobile device after Facebook removes its messaging functionality from its mobile app?  Will you install Facebook Messenger on your mobile phone and use it, or is it something that you’re just going to HAVE to install to keep all your current functionality?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the discussion area, below. This is just killing me.  I hate installing separate apps for this stuff.  How about you?

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OS X Yosemite Beta 4/ Public Preview Beta 1: Apple Core Apps

Beta 4 of Yosemite was recently released to the public as a Beta 1 public preview. In part 3 of this 3 part series, I’m going to talk about some of Apple’s Core Apps and I’ll wrap everything up, too.

yosemite

If you remember last time, I talked about Yosemite and iOS 8 integration. Here, I’m going to talk about some of the changes to some of Apples core apps, and will wrap everything up with my opinion of the current state of things in OS X Yosemite Beta 4/ Public Preview Beta 1.

Apple Core Apps
I’m going to hit these very quickly. Most of what you will see here shouldn’t be a surprise. Most if not all of Apple’s Core Apps are in flux and need work.  These should be considered usable for the most part, but also represent a work in progress. Things are still a bit bumpy here…

·    Safari
Everything that I’ve seen of the new Safari is pretty cool. It has a tool streamlined toolbar, and makes better use of screen real estate. The app is also faster and gives you more control over your privacy.  I haven’t had any issues with the app, and I use it for banking on my Mac.  I’ve been pretty pleased with what I’ve seen of Safari so far. It is perhaps the most usable of all the apps that I’ll cover, here.

·    Mail
Mail is one tool that I don’t use very much, if at all.  I could use it with my Gmail account, but since I have Chrome installed on my Mac and use it to work with all of my Google Services (read: Google Apps and Google Drive), there hasn’t been much need to do so.

The new features in Mail, however, let you send larger attachments more easily.  You can annotate documents, fill out forms, etc. right in a Mail message. The app is also supposed to be quicker, too.

The thing that gets me here is that sending attachments, even large ones is not so much mail client dependent, its mail SYSTEM dependent.  This means that regardless of how big of an attachment my mail client may support, the thing won’t send if either my mail service or the recipient’s mail service rejects that large attachment.  Sending any kind of attachment via email is also not secure, so if you send accounting info, or any kind of document with sensitive data, unless you’re using something like PGP on both ends to encrypt and decrypt mail, anyone sniffing packets between you and the destination can intercept and steal your data.

I like that Apple is making improvements to Mail.  I just don’t know how valuable they are in the larger picture of the whole, new, OS.  If you have an opinion here, I’d love to hear it as a comment in the Discussion area, below.

·    Messages
I’ve already given you the lowdown on Messages. You can see that in Part 2 of this series on Mac and iOS 8 Integration.  Messages is a great service and I use it quite a bit. Once Apple gets the inter-OS connectivity issues fixed, things will be much better.  This is going to be a huge gain on the Mac and OS X side of the fence… once things are working, that is.

·    iCloud Drive
When Apple announced iCloud Drive at WWDC, many thought Craig Federighi was describing a service that was very much like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. It’s not.

iCloud drive is similar in that you can store any kind of files you wish to store on it, not just a file that was created by any iCloud compatible app.  You could conceivably store ALL of your documents there, and access them on your Mac, or any of your iDevices. You can even add tags and such, so it supports Finder related functionality for documents stored there.

From what I’ve seen so far, however, documents are transferred there, and then the local copy is removed. With services like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive, that’s not the case.  The local copy remains to allow you to make changes when you’re off line.

If someone out there is having a different experience than I am, please leave me a comment in the Discussion area below. I’d like to hear your experience and perhaps try to troubleshoot a bit…

·    iTunes 12 Beta
I was seriously disappointed here.
The functionality of iTunes hasn’t changed, but the UI has slightly. Getting to the Store is now done via a number of different links available with each media type you are working with in your library as opposed to the current way of crossing a line between your library and the iTunes Store once.  The whole experience is more local library focused, regardless of where you media is actually stored – on your hard drive or in iCloud.  I can see where it makes sense; but it is something to get used to.  Again, you have to think “media type” and not “my stuff” vs. “stuff in the iTunes Store.”

The problems I’m experiencing with iTunes 12 Beta aren’t due to the new interface, however. Again, Apple seems to be optimizing and changing code.  The app often freezes and has issues during synchronization with my iPhone 5.  I’ve had to hard reset my device (wake/ sleep button + home button until the Apple logo appears, then release) a couple different times due to either iDevice freeze or iTunes freeze or both.

The only way to get the app to come back on my Mac at that point is to force quit. Even without an iDevice burp, iTunes can still unknowingly lockup. I’ve noticed that the app can prevent my Mac from either restarting, logging out or shutting down if my iPhone is connected via USB cable and I try to do any of those three activities.  Even if you pull the iPhone before actually starting any of those processes, if iTunes is running, it can freeze when you try to restart, log off or shutdown.

You won’t know anything is wrong until you try to do one of those and your Mac just doesn’t do it. There’s work to be done here, and this is one area where I’m certain both developers and consumers will see an update before the app is ready for final release.

·    Spotlight
This is one area where I am really going to have to make a bit of a paradigm switch before I get used to new functionality here.

Spotlight has gone through a number of really big changes.  You click the magnifying glass and you get a spotlight bar in the middle of your screen. When you search for things, you now not only search your Mac, but you search Wikipedia, Bing, Maps and “other source” simultaneously.  This is huge, as Apple has effectively brought the entire internet to your desktop. Instead of having to open Safari or another browser to search for something, you just… search.  Spotlight goes out and fetches everything for you and then presents the results on your desktop.

I’ve never been much on Spotlight. I’ve used it in a pinch here or there, but I come from the old MS DOS 1.x – 6.x days, and I’m used to searching my document store folder(s) for content on my own. I’m very meticulous about how I organize my 3-4 NAS devices (I have over 12TB of storage on my home network) and can figure out where I have things pretty quickly.  However, I am a HUGE exception to the rule.

Apple doesn’t want you to do what I’ve done. That’s why they designed iCloud as they originally did.  They don’t want you to think about where you’ve stored stuff in iCloud (or anywhere else on your Mac, for that reason), they want you to use the right tool to do the job you need done, and your Mac will manage the data.  Spotlight complements this paradigm as it (truly) finds what you need (URL, document, text message, media, etc.) regardless of where it is now.

Conclusion
Here it is in a very clear sentence or two: OS X Yosemite is clearly still in beta at this point. With previous consumer previews from Microsoft for both Windows 7 and Windows 8, the OS was a little more consumer ready in my opinion.

That doesn’t mean that Yosemite isn’t usable at this point. However, the current state of things has me seriously considering reactivating my OS X Developer’s account.  Yes… I installed Yosemite on my only production machine; and yes, I did NOT install it as a VM.  This is what I get when I turn my Mac on and try to use it.  I don’t have an alternative Mac to install this on, and I don’t want to run anything in a VM at this point. That’s not a true use case for me, and honestly, I wouldn’t have gained as much insight as I’ve regurgitated here.

This is not what Apple recommends.  They don’t want you to lose or jeopardize your productivity or your data. I’m a big boy and decided to wing it, anyway. Unfortunately, that means I have to put up with all of Yosemite’s pitfalls and growth points until it’s more stable.

In my opinion, Yosemite Beta 4/ Consumer Beta 1 isn’t ready for the average consumer just yet. If you’re curious, wait for the full release.  Most of the cool stuff isn’t even available yet because it requires an iDevice running iOS 8.  In the meantime, I’ll have updates as things progress.

If you have questions, or are curious about something, leave a comment in the Discussion area, below, and I’ll do my best to answer it or write a full response as a column.

Go back to Mac and iOS Integration

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