How To: Deal With a Missing Phone

How To: Deal With a Missing Phone

Showed-Us-What-Do-When-You-Lose-Your-Cell-PhoneYou’ve checked your pockets, the car, retraced your steps twice – but it seems your phone is missing. Cue the panic that sets in once we realize our partner in crime is gone. It’s hard not to imagine some stranger holding your beloved, trying to gain access to your accounts, and invading your personal space.

However, if you know some simple tricks and steps to recovering lost phones or even remotely wiping your device, you may be better off than most in the unfortunate event of a missing phone*.

If you haven’t read our tips to prevent the ultimate aggravation of not being at all prepared in the event your phone is lost/stolen* go back and read our article here.


How to choose: iPhone or Android?

Anytime I talk to people about mobile phones, I always get  the question – “which is better, an iPhone or an Android device?” I could evade the question and say, “it depends” (because it does), but that’s taking the easy way out. Unfortunately, there’s not a simple answer for this question, but here’s what I generally tell people.

Coke vs Pepsi

The sad truth of the matter is that despite what loyal fans of each platform will tell you, it doesn’t really matter. Over the last five years, Apple and Google have copied so many features from each other that the platforms are nearly identical. Sure, there are differences in the design elements, the user interface, and hardware options, but the overall functionality is virtually identical. It’s much like the debate between drinkers of Coke vs Pepsi. Serious fans of each soda will tell you that their favorite is much better than the other, but most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two in a blind taste test. (Anyone remember the Pepsi Challenge of the eighties?)

The same can be said when comparing the iPhone with Android. Serious fans of each side will be quick to point out what features makes their choice superior, but at the end of the day, both will get the job done for you. It’s really a matter of personal preference and how important branding is to you. As with Coke, Apple has the more iconic brand with the iPhone, but that doesn’t mean that Android isn’t as good.

Recommendations on making a choice

There comes a time when you need to decide which type of phone you will choose, or if you want to make the switch from one platform to the other. Here’s what I tell people when I get pressed for an answer:

You should use an iPhone if…

  • You already use a lot of Apple products
    iPhone 5s
    If the inside of your house looks like a miniature replica of an Apple store with Macs, Apple TV, iPads, and iPods lying around, then using the iPhone is the smart thing to do. It will seamlessly integrate with all of your other Apple products as well as with your iTunes account. Consider yourself locked into the Apple ecosystem as switching to Android would not be the smartest thing to do.
  • You’re easily overwhelmed by too many choices
    The nice thing about the iPhone is that Apple take more of a one size fits all approach to their phone design and features. You don’t need to spend a lot of time stressing over device features. The biggest decision you’ll need to make is what color you want the phone to be, the rest has already been decided for you.
  • You just want something that works and don’t want to tinker with technology
    Another great feature of Apple products is that they just work, at least most of the time. There is usually very little tinkering you need to do with an iPhone outside of the basic settings that they walk you through on startup.
  • You don’t plan or want to do much customization to the phone
    Outside of some background and ringtone choices, there isn’t a whole lot of customization options available for the iPhone. If you’re good with that, then you’ll get along fine with an iPhone.
  • Your network of family, friends, and colleagues use the iPhone
    While it’s always fun to be different, inevitably you will run into problems with your phone. If you’re immediate circle is made up of iPhone users, then they can offer a helping hand or share tips and tricks to get the phone to do what you want. Plus, you get to share back and impress them with your technical skills and knowledge!

You should use an Android phone if…

  • You’re heavily vested in the Google ecosystem
    Nexus 5If you use lots of Google tools such as Gmail, Google Calendar, Hangouts, and Google Docs, then an Android device will provide better integration. Sure, you can access all of these tools on your iPhone, but there is a noticeable difference in the integration with an Android device.
  • Handset choice is important to you
    One of the beauties of the Android ecosystem is that you can change from a wide variety of handsets. You can choose large, over-sized phones or small ones. Phones are available in every price range from free (on contract) to over $700 (unlocked). Basically, there’s a lot of choice so you can get exactly the type of phone that you want that fits your budget.
  • You’re not afraid of technology and like to tinker
    While it’s gotten a lot better over the last five years, there are still some nuances with Android that may require you to look under the hood and adjust a setting or two to get something to work the way you want it to.
  • You want to be able to customize your phone
    With Android, there are all kinds of wallpapers and widgets that you can choose from to customize your phone.
  • You don’t mind the occasional “crap-app”
    Since Google’s app approval standards aren’t as rigorous as Apple’s, more low quality apps exist in the Google Play store than in Apple’s App Store. If you don’t mind having to weed through an occasional bad apple to get to the good stuff, then you’ll be fine.

The bottom line

If you’ve already selected a platform, the best and easiest thing to do is to stick with what you know, unless there is a compelling reason to change. For example, you might want an iPhone for a particular application, or you may want an Android device in order to get a bigger screen. Otherwise, switching platforms will just create friction in your daily workflow as you adjust to the subtle differences between them, which can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks to get used to. On other hand, if you’re making the choice for the first time, the best thing you can do is to use each platform for a week or so, take advantage of the carrier return policies, and then choose the phone that you like best.

Above all, don’t get caught up listening to the extremists on either side, as my favorite animated GIF illustrates. Either platform will get the job done, so choose the one that you like best.

iPhone vs Android

Full disclosure

In the interest of full disclosure, my daily driver is currently an Android device – the Moto X. I switched from a BlackBerry to the Nexus One in 2010 and haven’t looked back. While I’ve also used iPhones at times over the years, I enjoy the stock Android experience and have chosen to stick with the Nexus line of Android devices, or those that run as close to a “stock” version of Android as possible. In my opinion, there are very few differences in the user interface between a stock version of Android and the iPhone.

(For more information on the “stock” version of Android, see this article I wrote last year – What is stock Android?)

App review: QR code readers

QR code app reviewIf you’ve been driving around town, watching television, shopping in a big-box retailer, or flipping through a newspaper or magazine (do people still do that these days???), you’ve probably seen something that looks like a Rorschach test – you know, the inkblot images you find in a psychiatrist’s office. No, advertisers are not trying to perform a psychiatric evaluation on you, at least not yet. They’re trying to get you to scan their code with your phone so you can learn more about their product through a web page, text message, or email.

What is a QR code?

A QR code, aka Quick Response code, is a two-dimensional bar code. The QR code “picture” is an encoded representation of the information that is contained within the code. In other words, every unique combination of text, numbers and characters generates a unique QR code. They can be a bit of a marketing gimmick, but when used properly, they can be an effective way to engage consumers. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s the link to an article about using them effectively for real estate – click here.

(For example, the QR code on this page is a direct link to this article. So if you have a QR code reader installed on your phone, you can scan it to read this article on your device.)

What do you do when you see one?

In order to access the information in a QR code, you can’t just take a picture of it with your phone’s camera. You have to have a special app on your phone that reads the QR code. It’s called a QR code reader, or a bar code scanner more generically since QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes (as mentioned above).

In order to get the information from the QR code, you’ll follow these steps:

  1. Open the QR code reader app on your phone.
  2. Follow the app’s instructions to read the code, which will involve pointing your phone at the QR code. You should see an interface in the app that feels as though you’re going to take a picture.
  3. Some apps will automatically scan the code once it’s in the viewfinder. Others will require you to perform an action like taking a picture.

At this point, the QR code is read. The app will ask you if you want to take the action suggested by the QR code. Common actions include going to a web page, sending an email or text, making a phone call, or adding information to your address book or calendar.

RedLaser for iOSiPhone QR code readers

There are many options for QR code readers in the App Store. I did a quick search using the term “QR code reader” and came up with over 25 of them, most which are free. There’s really no reason to pay for a QR code reader, most free ones will do the job.

Of the readers I tried, my favorite for iOS is RedLaser. It’s geared a bit more towards comparison shopping than generic QR code reading, but that’s what I like about it. It’s a 2-in-1 app! It’s also very easy to use. Simply open the app, tap the viewfinder icon in the upper right hand corner, point your phone’s camera at the code, and RedLaser reads it.

If you’re scanning a UPC symbol, RedLaser will immediately bring up a price comparison list (very handy), and if you’re scanning a QR code, it scans the code and then lets you decide if you want to take action or not. Overall, it’s very fast, and it’s very handy if you like to do a lot of comparison shopping.

If you’re looking for an alternative to RedLaser and something that’s a bit more bare bones, you can try the QR Reader app instead.

Android QR code readers

As with iOS, a search for QR code readers in Google’s Play Store will turn up many options. Of those, Barcode Scanner is my personal favorite, although I’ll occasionally use RedLaser for Android as well.

The reason that I like Barcode Scanner is for its simplicity and slim user interface. To read a QR code, you simply open the app and point it at the code. Barcode Scanner reads it, and asks you if you’d like to take the action. Just like RedLaser, it also doubles as a UPC reader and can launch a Google search to find the best prices on items. So in addition to being a great QR code reader, it can also be a money saver!

Barcode Scanner for Android

RedLaser is an excellent alternative to Barcode Scanner, and you can even use Google Goggles. Google Goggles also does a lot more than read QR codes, including business card scans. So it is another multi-function app that you may want to check out.

What’s next? Go download a QR code reader for your phone and test it on a couple of QR codes and barcodes lying around (including the one above). You’ll quickly get the hang of it and be a barcode reading expert in no time.

Happy scanning!


Apple's Lost Opportunity

It would be foolish for me to argue Apple’s success with iPhone. With well over 100,000 apps, a rabid and loyal fan base, and millions of units sold, it has been a blockbuster product and cash generation machine for the company. However, Apple has missed the biggest opportunity – the opportunity to dominate the US smartphone market.

By signing a long-term contract that could last into 2012 according to Engadget, Apple has left the door open for its competitors by failing to service 75% of the US market, especially when surveys show that nearly half the people on Verizon would buy the iPhone if it were available.

The potential pitfalls of the exclusivity became evident today in an NPD research report showing Android as the number 2 smartphone OS behind RIM, the makers of BlackBerry. What do RIM and Android have in common? They are available on all four carriers and have handsets that come in multiple form factors at prices ranging from free to $299 on contract. By contrast, Apple is available on one carrier, has one model, and starts at $99, with the most people having to pay at least $199 to gain access.

While the AT&T arrangement may be a sweetheart deal for Apple, it could become the Achilles heel for the iPhone. As Android continues to proliferate the mobile landscape, Apple could find itself in an uphill battle when the exclusivity finally ends for the following reasons:

1. Mobile phones are bought on contract
People get locked into their phones for two years, at least. Even if the iPhone AT&T exclusivity ended tomorrow, many people would be forced to wait until their contract expired to get access to the handset

2. The gap between the iPhone and its rivals has narrowed
The Android Marketplace is rapidly catching up to Apple’s App Store. In fact, nearly all major productivity apps are available on both platforms, as well as most good games. In addition, the Android hardware is nearly equivalent, if not better than the iPhone. If you don’t believe it, then you have not put your hands on Verizon’s latest Droid model, the HTC Incredible.

3. It’s all about mindshare
Android is proliferating in much the same way rabbits multiply. The shapes, sizes and price points are out there to fit anyone’s taste. While I will never bet against the Cupertino propaganda machine, mindshare is shifting to the new game in town. Couple that with the fact that Android is migrating to devices other than phones like tablets, set-top boxes, TVs and appliances, and you begin to envision a world where it’s better to have an Android device over an Apple device.

Would marketshare be different without iPhone exclusivity? Results in countries where the iPhone is available without an exclusive carrier have demonstrated just how dominant the iPhone can be. Apple has turned away from that opportunity here in the US.

To give credit where credit is due, Apple is printing money these days. While you can’t argue the strategy to this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple is lamenting its decision to tie itself to AT&T two or three years from now.

Is Apple Killing the Golden Goose?

At the end of February, a friend of mine wanted to update his old BlackBerry. I urged him to consider Android. He chose the iPhone. When I asked why, his response was “it’s all about the apps at this point”.

Clearly, Apple’s biggest advantage with the iPhone is the App Store. Without a doubt, it attracts people.

Well, about a month ago, MG Siegler over at TechCrunch wrote an interesting piece entitled “The iPhone’s Peephole“. She wrote it in response to Apple’s new policy toward sexy apps in the App Store. Apple decided it was time to rid the App Store of so-called suggestive apps without providing any warning or notice to developers. Developers of those apps were miffed, and helpless.

Her underlying premise was that with the progress of HTML5, web apps have become viable – in some cases better than their desktop cousins, and that developers could avoid Apple’s whimsical and subjective App Store policies by designing in HTML5 for the mobile web. It got me thinking that Apple could eventually kill the App Store as developers frustrated over Apple’s App Store policies move their developments to web apps.

Fortunately for Apple, the lure of quick cash from the App Store is strong, and developers continue to develop for the iPhone. I almost forgot about the issue until Apple’s iPhone OS 4 announcement yesterday.

Overshadowed by the iPhone OS 4 accouncement is a statement Apple buried in the iPhone OS 4 developer’s agreement that prohibits you from developing apps “that link to documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool….” (more in-depth analyses can be found Engadget and TechCrunch).

A number of vendors, most notably Adobe, have developed tools to help developers build apps for multiple platforms: iPhone, Android, WebOS, etc. With this simple statement, Apple is effectively squashing these avenues that make it easier for developers to port their work across multiple platforms.

I expect this latest policy change to drive more developers to open platforms and web apps. As more and more people develop in HTML5, the apps will progress and get better. As more web apps become available,Apple’s advantage with the App Store will wane. In other words, is Apple slowly killing the biggest advantage they have over other mobile platforms today – their App Store?

My take is that the siren song of the App Store is still too strong, at least today. There are just too many iPhone users who are willing to pony up cash for apps. Developers would be foolish to walk away.

However, as Apple continues to strengthen its hold over the App Store and slowly suffocate its golden goose with more restrictive development policies, developers will walk. There have already been defections of high profile developers. And now that there are better mobile hardware options available, Apple could be heading toward repeating the same mistakes they made with the MacIntosh product line 25 years ago. It’s amazing how history repeats itself and how we are doomed to repeat our same mistakes….