Thursday, August 23, 2012

The only word you need to remember is 'Apple.'

I recently purchased an iPad and, like most users, now spend every waking moment perusing the online App Store, randomly purchasing applications that I will use religiously for about 30 minutes, roughly the shelf life of an app before an upgrade becomes available.

The good people at Apple have helped me navigate the half-million apps by grouping them into categories. If I'm feeling out of shape, I can search "Health and Fitness." If my entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, there are thousands of business apps available. Lazy? Just tap "Productivity" apps.

They also have created something called "push notifications." That's the technical term. The nontechnical term is "alerts." The even more nontechnical term is "too lazy to lift a finger to actually open the app." Which is why, when I turn on my iPad, the home screen shows my flight status courtesy of the United Airlines app, while the USA Today app posts Olympics results before I've even had a chance to set my DVR. Thankfully, push notifications can be disabled.

Other companies have jumped on the alerts bandwagon, as well. We can tell our bank to alert us, via email, when mortgage and car payments are due. Or we can just use the automatic withdrawal feature and let the bank remove funds from our accounts once a month in case we forget to read our email.

My wife, an avid jogger, recently purchased a Nike sport watch that tracks every tedious step of her daily journeys. That's a useful feature, but the watch also alerts her that she hasn't run in awhile, even taunting her with messages like, "Ready for another run?" and "Are we running today?"

Nike wisely chose not to include a keyboard on this watch, thereby eliminating the user's desire to type a truthful reply like, "Yes! Running to hardware store to purchase sledgehammer for u."

Personally, I don't need new technology to tell me I'm neglecting exercise. My 20-year-old bathroom scale does that just fine, thank you. But developers hoping to create the next great app for the Apple's App Store seem to think we need alerts to help us remember even the most basic tasks. A great example is Basic Baby Feedings, containing a feature called "Feeding Reminder."

I ask you, who is FORGETTING to feed their baby?

My wife and I have two children, both of whom were born PIP ("pre-iPad" or "pre-iPhone" . . . you choose). Still, we had an app that told us when it was time to feed the baby. It was called THE BABY!!! Our infant offspring faithfully told us when they were hungry, via their lungs. This feature never failed. And the best part? Our kids didn't need to be hooked to the Internet for the alert to function.

Even more strange is that Basic Baby Feedings allows the user to send baby information to Twitter or Facebook. How nice to be able to tell the entire social networking community that yes, you remembered to feed your baby. I can only imagine the responses.

"Congratulations! You are truly an amazing parent!"

Speaking of parents, for couples who are struggling to conceive a child, there's hope thanks to numerous apps that actually alert you when a woman's body is right for conception. However, it might be wise to turn off any sound feature associated with these apps. How embarrassing to have your iPhone ding loudly at a dinner party and then have to explain why the two of you must leave immediately.

Apple customers also quickly learn that being informed often comes with a price. iEarthquake alerts you that an earthquake, tsunami, flood, tornado, cyclone or other cataclysmic event may be bearing down on your area. The app costs $2.99. Or, for free, you could download iEarthquake Lite, which does everything mentioned above with one minor modification: no alerts.

That leaves users with a choice: spend three bucks or get the free version and wonder why everybody in the neighborhood is boarding up their windows and fleeing to higher ground.

As I age, I know I will have to rely on these push notifications more than I care to admit. Just recently I needed the calendar app to alert me to a radio interview that had completely slipped my mind.

Yet even if my memory fails completely, I can say one thing with absolute certainty:

I will NEVER, EVER download Bowel Mover Pro.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Repair My Cell Phone, Repair My Life

I used to think the Department of Motor Vehicles was the best place to find a collection of individuals in catatonic states that cannot be broken, even when an employee says, "it will just be a few more minutes."

Then I visited a cellphone repair store.

The latter occurred while on a business trip to Las Vegas. My loyal Blackberry Bold suddenly turned into the Blackberry Timid. Calls dropped, keys became stuck and the Trackpad was neither tracking or padding. Eventually the Bold froze completely, prompting me to use my lonely in-room phone at the Bellagio to make a 90-second call to a local Sprint store and set up an appointment. Bellagio personnel termed that a "long distance call" and charged me $12.98 even though the store was two miles away. The next time you see the breathtaking and gloriously expensive dancing fountain show at the Bellagio, please silently thank me for my financial contribution.

Once inside a repair store, it's very apparent that all the customers have two things in common: NOBODY dropped their phone and ABSOLUTELY NOBODY had their phone near water. Even if a technician removes the battery and a smallmouth bass swims out, the phone's owner will insist that somebody must have stolen the phone during the night, tossed it in a lake, retrieved it and set it back on the nightstand before morning.

I handed my faulty Bold to an employee, explained the problem and was told to wait a few minutes while a Sprint technician did a "quick diagnosis." That means, "Find out if the customer is lying." I passed that test, as the employee returned shortly and confirmed that no, my phone did not come in contact with water.

But we already knew that, didn't we?

Now it was time to do nothing but wait as the employee said the phone would be fixed within 90 minutes. I took a seat with other customers, some of whom looked like they had been sitting there since Bugsy Siegel ran Vegas. Like Department of Motor Vehicle patrons, nobody leaves because we are all waiting for something we SIMPLY CANNOT DO WITHOUT! In the case of the DMV, it's a driver's license; at a phone repair store it's the ability to play Angry Birds and update our Facebook status from anywhere.

I spent the time eavesdropping as other customers explained their problems. I quickly realized that cellphone owners can be divided into three groups when they enter a repair store.

Group One is the phone "experts" who feel they should be working at an Apple Genius Bar and have the vocabulary to prove it. They recount how they tried to fix their balky phones themselves, dazzling the repair staff with phrases like, "hard reset" and "removed the microSD card." Their problems are almost always fixed when the technician turns the phone off and turns it back on, something the owners neglected to do when they were "upgrading the firmware."

Group Two is the perplexed individuals, almost all senior citizens, who inadvertently opened some program that caused the phone to go haywire. They are still using their cellphones for their original intended purpose -- making phone call s-- and have no idea who Siri is and why she keeps asking questions. Their "broken" phones work fine; what they need is a four-hour class called "Welcome to the Magnificent Age of Technology!"

Group Three is the furious customers, who arrive muttering semiaudible profanities and vowing never to purchase another product from their current carrier. All have made multiple repair store visits and all are demanding to terminate their contracts early. Ironically, all spend their wait time tinkering with the latest and greatest phones in the display area, eventually summoning a sales rep and inquiring about price and activation fees. Most leave with a new phone and a new three-year agreement.

True to Sprint's word, a technician appeared from the mysterious room behind the counter 90 minutes later and proclaimed my phone fixed, without telling me what ailed it in the first place. I eagerly snatched the device and began scrolling via the now-functioning Trackpad, opening 87 emails that had accumulated in the past 15 hours. True, most were touting performance enhancing drugs and stock tips, but it was nice to have the power to delete them.

I left despondent knowing that a cellphone controlled my life, yet relieved that I was once again free to email, text, social network and surf the Internet whenever and wherever.

Good thing. My driver's license is up for renewal.