Joe Wilcox

Google Store sent me kicking and screaming back to Apple

Google Store's bureaucratic ineptitude is beyond belief. My recent, unresolved customer crisis is an experience in artificial unintelligence. For a parent company whose core competency is supposed to be indexing, crunching, and disseminating information, it's inconceivable that something so simple as fixing a single order error could escalate into a tragically comic Catch-22. I should have abandoned all efforts long before reaching the point of penning this post and looking back to the Apple Way.

To summarize: I received the wrong Pixel phone nearly a month ago. Google Store struggled to process a return authorization, because the device in hand didn't match the one in the order. I eventually agreed to keep the thang, so long as the retailer could transfer the extended warranty -- so-called "Preferred Care" -- that I had paid for. But the process proved to be complicated, then necessity, after I unexpectedly needed to file a damage claim. You'll have to read on for the sordid punchline, but suffice to say it all ends in a comedy of compounding errors.

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Goodbye noisy neighbors, I quit Nextdoor

Six days ago, Facebook notified me that my personal information had been pilfered in a recently revealed hack affecting tens of millions subscribers. Lovely. Why don't you kick me in the head, too, Mark Zuckerberg? Perhaps you would prefer a baseball bat, so you can beat me to death instead? I responded by removing most of the same information from my FB and started a content purge ahead of possible account deletion.

Since then, I have been on a social media account rampage, which turned my sights to Nextdoor, where I joined on Aug. 29, 2017 (my Facebook is 12 years old, for comparison). When checking privacy settings, I discovered that the social network lists your actual address (presumably by default) for locals to see. The only other option is the street where you reside—what I switched to. Do I really want cranky neighbors coming up to my door and rap-rap-rapping? Or provide would-be burglars a place to break into, after observing my habits and schedule online and off? Eh, no! I appreciate that someone had to invite me to Nextdoor, which verified my residence to be part of the local network. But sharing my street or actual address is too public for me. Late yesterday afternoon, I deactivated my account. But reasons are bigger, with the privacy thing being but one.

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The price you pay Apple for (so-called) iPhone innovation

Trendsetter Apple has done it again! Just when you thought there was no innovation left in the smartphone market, CEO Tim Cook delivers the wildly price-disruptive iPhone XS Max 512GB for heart-stopping $1,449. Smartphones simply don't cost this much. What other company would stoop so low by reaching so high? This thing is a monster with its 6.5-inch (nearly) edge-to-edge display; 2688 x 1242 resolution at 458 pixels per inch (less than Google Pixel 2 XL at 2880 x 1440 and 538 ppi); and dual-SIM support (so telemarketers can ring more often on two numbers).

For anyone whose hands aren't too small to hold the new thang, iPhone XS Max is sure to draw maximum attention, letting all the little people know just how big a deal you are. Praise be Mr. Cook. Only the privileged can afford this beautiful, beastly slab, short of taking out a second mortgage or cashing in their 401K.

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Google's Two Pixel Problems

Like unwanted mushrooms popping up after rain, Pixel 3/XL rumors are everywhere. Google gets gravy from all the free fan- and blog-post hype. Am I imagining, or is there even more buzz than for the next iPhone(s), which presumably comes soon (Apple sent out invites yesterday for a September 12 product event).

Buzz is the measure of interest—and while iPhone has commanding market share, Pixel's mindshare is formidable. Someone tell me: Is Google's new device really going to be that good? The leaked photos aren't that inspiring with respect to design (little is different). Or perhaps expectations about iPhone X (and its companions) are low—and maybe for good reason.

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Apple replaced my butterfly keyboard

Yesterday, the local Apple Store emailed that my wife's former 13.3-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar was ready. We picked up the laptop hours later. If you haven't heard about specks of debris causing MBP keyboard failure, I can confirm from our experience that such problem occurs. In mid-June 2018, Apple initiated a free repair program, which we used last week with surprisingly positive results.

I purchased the custom-configured MBP in mid-November 2016, and right out of the box the spacebar occasionally skipped. The malfunctioning worsened over time, and, coincidentally (or not), reached crisis a few days after Apple admitted to problems with the Butterfly keyboard. The spacebar became stiff to touch, requiring considerable pressure to push, sometimes working but more often not.

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Two months later, switching to Google from Apple

Doubt disturbed my commitment to give up the Apple Way for the Google lifestyle two months ago. Preparing to pack up my wife's 64GB white iPhone X, I was taken aback by how pretty it was. She kept the thing in a case, which protected from damage but also obscured beauty. For fleeting seconds, I wondered why switch. Product design that generates joy is another benefit—and one transcending any, and every, feature.

But the moment passed, and I boxed up her smartphone along with my 256GB black iPhone X. Google gave great trade-in values, which dispatched the hassle of reselling the devices on Craigslist. Eight weeks later, writing this post on Pixelbook, I don't regret the decision. Confession: The transition isn't quite complete, but we're getting there. 

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I declare independence from Apple (and mean it this time)

Six years ago today I penned my personal Declaration of Independence from Apple, nearly a month after pledging to boycott the company's products and services—and I did, only to quietly stop six months later. They say history repeats, eh? On this July 4th, I forsake the fruit-logo company once more. From Apple I return to Google, choosing one digital lifestyle over the other—and not for the first time, as some commenters will be quick to argue.

Past to present: By summer 2012, I viewed various patent assaults by Apple against Samsung and others as competition by litigation, not innovation. Weighing on my decision in 2018 is a newer—and more aggressive—attack against Qualcomm, which headquarters are in San Diego (my city of residence). While a Qualcomm customer, Apple also is a fierce chip competitor that seeks to bolster margins by paying less for patents—and by invalidating or diminishing them, destabilize competition from the Android Army.

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What's wrong with this picture?

Earlier today, I needed to get Skype onto my iPhone X to receive an overseas call. So I hauled over to the App Store, like any sensible iOS user would do. I was shocked—absolutely floored—to see an advert for Google Duo taking up about half the screen, and appearing above Skype.

You got to ask how many people end up downloading the upper one instead. I don't often go to the App Store and wonder: How long has been this kind of aggressive placement?

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Invasion of the dog-poop phones

A few days ago, BetaNews Managing Editor Wayne Williams emailed asking if I could contribute content after being silent for ages, especially as the site's 20th anniversary approaches. He doesn't fathom the potential terror that request will unleash.

I have written a total of two tech stories for BN in 2018—surely to the delight of my many commenter critics. Reason: Joe Wilcox is on a self-imposed writing hiatus as he looks distrustfully at the many so-called innovations that he championed during a 25-year technology reporting career. He is disgusted to see how we have become commodities stored in the pantries kept by Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and most every other advert-licking,  AI-snorting, location-tracking, tech purveyor of promises looking to consume us for profit. Burp.

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Apple HomePod: 'wow' but 'uh-oh'

HomePod arrived yesterday at 9:40 a.m. PST; thank-you UPS for prompt delivery of my preorder. My initial reaction: Wow and uh-oh. The wow harkens back to the original iPod, which Apple released in October 2001. The company's design ethic treated the overall experience as the user interface: Attach FireWire cable to Mac and device, music syncs. iTunes manages music on the Mac; for iPod, a simple scroll-wheel navigates tracks displayed on a small screen. The uncomplicated and understated approach defied the UX of every other MP3 sold by all other manufacturers.

HomePod is a defining, roots-return that's well-deserving of the portion of name in common with its forebear; both share in common emphasis on music listening as primary benefit.

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7 things you could do instead of CES

The annual scourge is upon us, as tens of thousands of attention seekers descend on Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. Nowhere else can you watch bloggers and journalists in a constant chase of their public relations foibles, who desperately hunt for all the attention they can get their clients. Think a thousand kids in a small room, calling for mommy and groping her dress. Then multiply ten times.

My last CES pilgrimage was 2008. That's right, I haven't gone in 10 years. No-o-o-o regrets. Nothing important ever comes out of the show, even though each year the hype suggests otherwise. Most new unveiled products won't ship until second half of the year. If ever. There's more vaporware at CES than hot air—and that's no easy feat. Surely the Las Vegas Convention Center installs extra carbon dioxide scrubbers so that participants don't asphyxiate. If there was an alarm for toxic babble, it would sound incessantly.

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Something you gotta know about iPhone X

I consider myself lucky, although some commenters (you know who you are) will disagree, by successfully ordering from Verizon Wireless the iPhone X for delivery on launch day—November 3rd. A FedEx driver brought the anticipated package to my door yesterday afternoon. I hauled down to Apple Store to purchase AppleCare+ before my grubby paws caressed the steel rims (vroom)  and generous glass (screen measures 5.8 inches diagonally).

Replacing iPhone 7 Plus, which features and benefits greatly satisfy, is a bit extravagant. But I wanted the X to review and for its smaller size but larger display—understanding caveats: Home button's removal changes fundamental interaction and means adapting habits (oh my aching muscle memory).

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Google Store flubs Pixel Product Preorders

I would like to thank Google for saving me thousands of dollars in needless spending. Near the end of today's gangbuster hardware event, I was ready to order two new Chromebooks and smartphones, one each for me and my wife. But "error 500" pages on the company's store website and long-lead new product availability dates prompted me to cancel the one order successfully made and to delete the others in process from my shopping cart.

For a company whose product managers droned on this morning about all the reasons why artificial intelligence is so right, Big G got the store selling experience all wrong. I have waited through most of 2017 for a new Google-branded Chrome OS laptop. While hardly a fresh hardware design concept, Pixelbook is nevertheless tempting enough to bring me back to the AI and voice-assistant contextual future from the Apple rotting on the overly-obsessed touch-UI tree. I was willing and ready but instead walked away angry.

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Ouch, that hurts! Verizon's new Unlimited plans throttle customers

I should have known better. Once burned is supposed to be twice as wary. Right? Disgruntled by pricing and other policies, in autumn 2015, I took my family from Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile, which cut our monthly bill by more than one-third. But in May of this year we made the trek back in part because data speed is so much faster from my apartment than it is with Magenta. Better Red than dead, eh? Wrong. Oh, dumbass me. Un-carrier's aggressive pricing, and Verizon's first-ever quarterly loss of post-paid subscribers, compelled the nation's largest carrier to respond—by, starting in February, to offer comparable unlimited plan that for my family of five lines would cost just $20 more a month while delivering superior, speedy service. But what Red gave, it now takes away. I regret the decision.

Today's unlimited cellular service plan changes suck some of the most important value from all that extra bandwidth. What good is having something you can't use? Henceforth, Verizon will offer two consumer options—one (Go Unlimited) that throttles streaming video to 480p on smartphones and costlier option Beyond Unlimited that reduces quality to 720p. Go is essentially priced the same as the older unlimited plan, and it takes away even more: Tethering (e.g. Mobile Hotspot) is capped at 600kbps. There's no 4G LTE for you, baby!

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The iPhone Legacy

Steve was right, and I don't refer to Apple cofounder Jobs, but to an iPhone buyer I met 10 years ago today. He was among the eclectic group of people waiting outside Apple Store Montgomery Mall to spend $499 or $599 on the fruit logo company's first smartphone. The amount was outrageous at the time for a locked, unsubsidized handset. "I think this is a day that you’re going to see a change in how computers, how handheld computers are done", he told me. "I think we’ll look back in 10 or 15 years, and like on that day the gadget came out...it changed the game". Could anyone realistically disagree a decade later?

But you had to be a believer in June 2007, with iPhone launching on a single carrier (newly rebranded AT&T) in a single geography (USA) from a company with no cellular device experience going against hugely established competitors—with Nokia, the smartphone's inventor, standing atop the heap. By every sensible measure imaginable, Jobs and his team took nothing but risks, making Steve the customer's prediction all the more remarkable.

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