Saturday, April 25, 2015

Google is On the Ball with Wear and Mobile

Google recently announced changes to Android Wear and their new mobile service Google Project  Fi. In previous posts, I have mentioned my experiments to forego standard mobile voice and text services, relying instead on mobile data services to carry voice and text via Google Voice.

Of course, it is not a clear-cut separation. My job requires that I travel to areas where mobile service is spotty, let alone data services. Therefore, I must have a backup voice service at hand to make and receive phone calls if necessary.

Where Android Wear comes in is that I had also considered leaving a tablet at home, a tablet at work, and an Android handset in the car. In this way, I can utilize Android Wear anywhere I go without having to schlep a tablet of phone with me. As it turns out, Google has enabled WiFi on Google Wear devices, making it so that you do not have to carry your mobile device with you to take advantage of all the features of the Wear timepiece. Wear will soon allow you to leave your paired device far away from your watch and still maintain a connection.

Project Fi also accomplishes the same thing that I have been trying to do by piecing together services. To recap, Project Fi will use WiFi and LTE services by both Sprint and T-Mobile to carry your voice and text services. If neither of these is usable, then it will fall back on standard mobile services.

This is the same thing I have been doing by relying on a prepaid T-Mobile phone using LTE to carry my Google Voice calls. Recently, I unlocked the phone and put in a Truphone SIM card, which gets free incoming calls and text messages.

The reason I chose Truphone SIM is that I can enable LTE data and disable it as needed for 9 cents per MB. This is expensive, if you are looking at Gigabytes of data. However, I shut off the data service most of the time and sync ony at hotspots. Most of the other times, I am with clients or driving, which require my full attention, thus no need for data.

It is not only Google who is trying to change the mobile market. Republic Wireless recently announced their Maestro lab, which also plans on refunding unused bandwidth. In addition, they are also looking into the possibility of using multiple carriers rather than sticking to the Sprint network.

Of course, I am betting on Karma to provide me with pay-as-you-go mobile data that does not expire, as soon as they finish production and ship out. They keep delaying their deployment; but, I've already prepaid several GB in anticipation. Once Karma ships, I'll have tremendous mobile liberty.

Exciting days are ahead because of the success of LTE, which makes all kinds of communication possible with its higher speeds and seemingly greater coverage. Exciting times are ahead. We are only seeing the beginning with Google Fi, Republic Maestro, and Karma LTE.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Android As Stationary Interface With Wear

The other day I had an idea that may not be practical nor practicable with the current state of Android Wear technology. The idea is to have Android devices installed at all your main destinations. By this I mean, you could have an Android device at home, another Android device at work, and yet another Android device in the car. You could then have your Android Wear watch sync at these locations and provide you with basic updates.

The reason I had this idea is because I typically schlep an Android phone, Android tablet, and my Windows tablet around. .This is in addition to any paper notebooks and a WiFi hotspot.

I figure that I could eliminate some schlepping weight if I leave my Android devices put in their various locations and use Android Wear as the common interface. After all, while I am driving, I do not need to make phone calls, text, email, or browse the web, according to all the busy-bodies crying about putting their precious lives in danger. Wah wah wah. Fine. That means driving time is me time.

Even so, one needs to stay current on time and appointments. According to Android Wear support, these features are available without a paired device. I think that should be sufficient while driving.


The biggest drawback to my idea is that Android Wear can only sync to a single device at a time, requiring a factory reset to pair again:


It would be awesome if I could pair multiple devices to Android Wear. Wait, apparently there is a way.


Some Backstory

Why go through all this trouble?

Well, I'm rebelling against the high cost of communication to some extent. I am using my Google Voice number as my main phone number, which forwards to my tablets and a +Truphone prepaid phone number.

At home, I have WiFi that enables me to make and receive phone calls through the Google Hangouts dialer.

At work, I also have WiFi that enables me to make and receive phone calls via Google Hangouts.

That just leaves the in-betweens. That is where Truphone fills in the gaps. I can receive calls and SMS at no cost, and make calls and send messages for 9 cents per minute/message. I eliminate a fixed monthly cost and maintain a low variable cost. Apparently, I'm not supposed to talk on the phone while driving anyway, and I should also not take calls when dealing with customers. This leaves very little time in-between for me to actually use my phone.

As soon as +Karma WiFi gets it together, I'll have pay-as-you go data too. My main need for mobile data is +Waze, which is surprisingly good at getting me around bad traffic. I love how Waze takes me through different routes even as I am going to the same destinations. But, that's a subject for another blog post.

Before moving on, however, I did notice that one limitation of using Waze is that it lives on a mobile phone, which becomes a phone when somebody decides I should become a risk to humanity. Thus, my driving "degrades" and I no longer have access to my awesome navigator. This is when multi-purpose really bites.

More Importantly

All this brings me to the main point of all this. Technology made it possible to cram email, web browsing, productivity apps, fitness apps, and all manner of entertainment into mobile devices. Now we are seeing a bit of a backlash against this multi-purposeness by venturing into wearables like Fitbits and Google Wear, which only present you with the essentials.

The aim of Wearables, whether stated or not, is to take your damned phone out of your hand so you can have an eye to eye conversation with people. Wearables do this by focusing on very few functions and providing you with minimal information, just the essentials. This way, your mobile device stays in your pocket or purse; and, by extension, it means you can focus on a few key things rather than venture down every rabbit hole that comes into your path.

The only thing holding all this back is that you're still carrying your mobile device with you everywhere. So, you're free-er; but, not really.

 It makes more sense for your watch to have itinerant syncs rather than constant, real-time syncs. Research shows that multi-tasking is simply awful to your intelligence and productivity. Having a wearable focus on time, appointments, and tracking your fitness may actually be sufficient.

Ultimately, the ability to walk away from our electronic leashes may be our biggest innovation in terms of mental presence and productivity. All we would need to do is stop at one of our sync stations at work, at home, or in the car when we can actually do something with the new information.

Syncing at different locations makes sense in terms of context. The sorts of information I need at work has little use at home, and vice versa. When I am in the car, there are certain actions that are simply impractical. Why do we burden ourselves with context-agnostic data?

There is data that makes sense on a wearable.

There is data that makes sense on a phone.

There is data that makes sense on a tablet.

There is data that makes sense at a desktop.

There is data that makes sense at work or home.

There is data that makes sense when you are on the road.

Having access to all our data regardless of context clutters up things and is a burden on our psyche. We can and should only focus on one thing at a time. To do this in our increasingly connected world, we should filter information into what is actionable in our current circumstances.

To circle back to the beginning, I think comedians refer to it as a callback, all of this thinking began because I don't want to schlep a bunch of items back and forth between home and work every day. I should just show up and have it work for those things that I can do at that location.

And, when you think of it, before digital, you had work notes, which stayed at work, and you had home stuff, which stayed at home. If you traveled, you carried the essentials.Physical limitations imposed a context-aware limit on our focus. If we need ubiquitous access to information, we should impose some context-aware limits for our own sanity and effectiveness. Otherwise, it is unnecessary exuberance of our technical capability. Just because we can does not mean we should. It becomes a waste in so many ways when you you try to fit information into situations that do not lend themselves to any action.