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Internet Connections Abroad
America: Definitely not the most wired or wireless country

Wow, I’m sitting here at 11:45 at night (PST 1/30/2009) with no Internet [this post has been delayed going live until an Internet connection was established]. The hotel we are staying at (The Anaheim Park Hotel at Harbor and 91 in Fullerton) had advertised when reservations were made much earlier that they had free Internet. Alas, they do not. I called the front desk and asked about this, and they told me their free Internet was broken and that they have been trying to fix it. I told them I was a networking expert and might be able to help, to which they replied something to the extent of “we already have networking experts who have been working on it for a few days, but thanks”. This was an obvious lie because it would not take any “networking expert” more than a day to fix this kind of problem, but I did not feel like pushing the issue.

The pay for wireless-Internet service for the hotel is done through Wayport, and it has been very finicky. When I tried to get on earlier tonight the process was breaking after my credit card was submitted for processing. I submitted it 5 or 6 times over a period of time and it broke at the same place each time with an error message something to the extent of “there was an error processing your request. Please try again”. Later on, I couldn’t even get past the main Wayport page to any other section. All pages were returned as zero byte files with no header, which was confirmed through packet sniffing.

0030                    48 54  54 50 2f 31 2e 31 20 33         HT TP/1.1 3
0040  30 34 20 4e 6f 74 20 4d  6f 64 69 66 69 65 64 0d   04 Not M odified.
0050  0a 45 78 70 69 72 65 73  3a 20 53 61 74 2c 20 33   .Expires : Sat, 3
0060  31 20 4a 61 6e 20 32 30  30 39 20 30 37 3a 35 33   1 Jan 20 09 07:53
0070  3a 33 37 20 47 4d 54 0d  0a 4c 61 73 74 2d 4d 6f   :37 GMT. .Last-Mo
0080  64 69 66 69 65 64 3a 20  57 65 64 2c 20 31 31 20   dified:  Wed, 11 
0090  41 70 72 20 32 30 30 37  20 31 34 3a 33 32 3a 34   Apr 2007  14:32:4
00a0  34 20 47 4d 54 0d 0a 4d  49 4d 45 2d 56 65 72 73   4 GMT..M IME-Vers
00b0  69 6f 6e 3a 20 31 2e 30  0d 0a 44 61 74 65 3a 20   ion: 1.0 ..Date: 
00c0  53 61 74 2c 20 33 31 20  4a 61 6e 20 32 30 30 39   Sat, 31  Jan 2009
00d0  20 30 37 3a 34 38 3a 33  37 20 47 4d 54 0d 0a 53    07:48:3 7 GMT..S
00e0  65 72 76 65 72 3a 20 41  4f 4c 73 65 72 76 65 72   erver: A OLserver
00f0  2f 34 2e 35 2e 30 0d 0a  43 6f 6e 74 65 6e 74 2d   /4.5.0.. Content-
0100  4c 65 6e 67 74 68 3a 20  30 0d 0a 43 6f 6e 6e 65   Length:  0..Conne
0110  63 74 69 6f 6e 3a 20 6b  65 65 70 2d 61 6c 69 76   ction: k eep-aliv
0120  65 0d 0a 0d 0a                                     e....            

I blame the fact that the server is “AOLServer” :-).

So, anyways, I called the front desk who had a “technician” come up and he told me to call Wayport. He also told me they did not provide free Internet anymore, and hadn’t for a while, directly contradicting the front desk representative....

So I called the provided Wayport tech support number... which gave me a beeping error signal. I think it was an invalid phone number beeping, but it could have been a busy signal. I tried multiple times, and got the same error response each time, so I couldn’t get through to technical support that way. I tried the general Wayport phone number, and went to the tech support section that way, which asked me to leave a voice message. How crappy and unprofessional :-\. I am giving up for the night in hopes that I can get online in the morning.

I had contemplated getting a Verizon Aircard (wireless Internet for computers over wireless phone waves) for this 10 day trip, but decided I probably wouldn’t need it as most places would provide wireless. How wrong I was. I wish I had now, as it would have been especially helpful at airports and many other times. I have had previous experience with using Verizon Aircards over many months and was very very pleased with the service. Even an iPhone might have been nice... if only it wasn’t only AT&T >:-(.

The IPod Touch
And IPhones

So I decided to go over to the evil side recently and get an IPod Touch. I originally wanted to just try it out in The Apple Store, but I just couldn’t find out all I wanted to about it there, and was getting highly annoyed by the completely ignorant sale reps, who couldn’t answer any of my questions anyways, hovering over my shoulder. And, yes, I asked them a few questions and neither they nor their managers had a clue. >:-(

However, all the sales reps I’ve been talking to lately at different stores about the IPod Touch and other electronic products I’ve been interested in buying have been pushing me to just buy them, and return them if I’m not satisfied. This sales tactic is a bit new to me, and I don’t like buying something and returning it needlessly, but they suggest it, so I decided what the heck! I guess it’s assumed most people will buy it and either decide they like it, forget to return it, or are too lazy to return it! So I decided to go to Fry’s to grab one (IPod Touch 2G v2.2) for testing and possibly keeping if I liked it because The Apple Store were really uncool about a lot of things, and also charged a hefty restocking fee on return... jerks. The jury is still out on if I’ll be keeping it or not, but I decided to share some of my findings.

When I talk about the IPod Touch here, I am also talking about the IPhone, because they are basically the exact same product. The IPhone just has the camera and the phone features, but the rest of the software is all the same (they run on the same OS). I also have a few IPhone specific comments below, as a good friend of mine got one for XMas and I helped him out with setting it up and found out a few things about it at the same time. Whenever I refer to the IPod Touch from here on out, I am referring to both IPod Touches and IPhones.

First of all, as is advertised and highly touted, The IPod Touch has style. The design is wonderful, it has a lot of nifty features, and has lots of useful applications in the App Store, many of them free. The product itself is by far better than anything else I’ve tried on the market for music playing and general PDA (personal digital assistant) purposes.

The Blackberrys I’ve tried out at a Verizon store (the Storm and Curve IIRC) weren’t even in the same league as the IPod Touch. I also tried out a G1 (Google phone) at a TMobile store, and initial impressions were not spectacular. However, I can’t make a solid judgment on the G1 because I didn’t spend as much time with it as I could have, as I knew I couldn’t use it anyways. This is because I refuse to switch from the Verizon network because the signal quality and customer support I have received from them are worlds better than what I had ever received from Cingular (now AT&T), AT&T, and Sprint.

Now that I’ve gotten the initial information out of the way including why the IPod Touch is nice; on to all of the problems I’ve found with it.

  • Apple has horrible draconian policies regarding what can be put on an IPod Touch. Applications can only (legally) be put on the IPod Touch from the App Store, and Apple specifically regulates what is in the store, only allowing in it what is “best for their interests”. This, of course, includes denying any application in the App Store that “duplicates functionality” of an Apple product. This is bad for many reasons.
    • First and foremost, it’s not Apple’s place (though they argue that it is) to say who can develop and what can be developed for the IPod Touch, as long as it is not malicious in any way.
    • Apply very specifically blocks, quite often, products that would be excellent with great functionality because it “competes” with their generally inferior applications. Of course, one can unlock older IPod Touches, and I’m sure newer ones will be unlockable soon enough, so this problem can be bypassed. When a phone is unlocked, it can be theoretically used on a compatible network (not AT&T), and you can install any application you want to on it for free (as long as you can find it). The legality of this is questionable, but it’s not really risky.
    • This can force developers who have spent their time and effort to build a good product to not be accessible to the market, thereby completely screwing them after the fact. Apple is not specific on what can be put on the store, and is very subjective about the whole matter. Unfortunately, many developers have found themselves in this position after submitting their application to Apple for inclusion in the store.
    • Apple can decide to block a product after it has been released and people have bought it, deleting it from their phones without refund. I believe (but have no proof) that this has already happened when a product “duplicated the functionality” of a new application or feature in an application of theirs that was added after the fact.
  • The SMS (texting) interface on the IPhone is horrible. It only allows you to see part of the message that you are typing at any time (40 characters as a hazy guess). This could easily be fixed through a third party application, but Apple blocks any application that has SMS as it is “duplicating” the functionality of something they built. See the above bullet for more information.
  • The keyboard correction on the IPod touches leaves much to be desired, and there is no text prediction (suggesting words you are typing).
  • The virtual keyboard itself, while far ahead of any other virtual keyboard on a cell phone I have tried as far as usability goes, also leaves a lot to be desired, and can be quite annoying. I did get used to it pretty fast, but mistakes were very often and easily made, and I do not believe one could ever type as fast on a virtual keyboard, like the IPod Touch’s, as a physical keyboard, though I haven’t spent near enough time practicing on it to confirm this. The Google phones (at least the G1) solves this problem with its flip-out keyboard interface.
  • No multitasking. Period. The IPod Touch can do a few things at the same time (mainly play music), but 2 applications cannot run at the same time, and trying is against their developer agreement. Apple did this to control the user experience, so that a user doesn’t try running too many things at once, creating a bad user experience on the product from lag, which they would blame on Apple. Granted, the IPod Touch isn’t that powerful and it would be easy to bog down the system if too many things were running, but some things need to continue running in the background, with minimal processor time, to create a good experience.
    One of many examples of this is AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). When you start the application, it signs you on, and it keeps you online AIM until you specifically sign off (or perhaps if you turn off the phone, but I doubt it). This means that if you exit the AIM application after signing on, it shows other people that you are still online and receiving messages, even if you aren’t getting them. When you open the application back up, it retrieves all of the queued messages that were sent to you while the application was not opened. How hard and taxing would it be on the system to pop up a message informing the user a new message has come in while they are in other applications? Apparently too much, as Apple has to be black and white about the multitasking issue instead of allowing developers to petition for the right. Further, this queued AIM message system also tips one off to the fact that ALL AIM messages are sent through their servers to get to your IPod Touch, instead of your system directly connecting to the AIM servers, which is essentially an invasion on your private conversations.
  • Crashing. The IPod Touch itself has crashed on me twice within the first 2 hours I used it. When this occurred, I could not even start most all of the applications, even after turning the IPod Touch on and off (all the way, not standby mode). The only way I found to fix this was installing a new application from the App Store, or updating an application that had a new version ready. Go figure.
  • The IPhone can only take pictures, and not video. While there are products that allow taking video on the IPhone, they can only be installed by unlocking the phone, as Apple will not allow them on the App Store (see the top bullet for more information).
  • No searching for text on the current page in the web browser (Safari). This really bugs me as it is an essential feature I need in my web browser :-(.
  • I don’t trust installing Apple applications on my computers. I actually ended up using VMWare to use ITunes for this reason >:-(. ITunes likes embedding itself in your system in lots of places it shouldn’t, much like AOL since version 5.0. I do not believe it uninstalls itself completely either if you try. Also, when I tried uninstalling bonjour (an Apple communication protocol, which the program that runs it is also named, It used to be called Rendezvous) it didn’t even TRY to uninstall itself from my system. It just took the program off of a few lists and left all the files there. Even worse, I noticed that Bonjour was hooking a bunch of other processes it shouldn’t have been *sighs*.
  • I’ve saved my biggest complaint for last. All music on the IPod Touches (all IPods actually, and Zunes and Zens too) organize music by the MP3’s ID3 tags into genre/album/artist/etc, and do not allow organizing the music in folder based structures. While for most people this is not a problem, it is a big one for me. This is not a problem for people “new” to the MP3 player scene that buy their music straight from the ITunes Store, as that music is already organized for them with proper tags how they want it. My, and many other peoples collections, that have been being built for well over a decade (from CDs myself or friends have ripped ourselves for the most part), are not all tagged very well, as it never mattered. While I could go through my whole directory and tag everything properly, this would take upwards of hundreds of hours to do, and would be a waste of my time. Even so, I feel being able to organize by directory can be easier to navigate and organize then straight up genre/album/artist listings. This is a very basic functionality of all MP3 players I have had up until this point.
  • The above problem is actually solvable by playlist folder structures. Unfortunately, these are only available on some of the IPod types (for example, the Classic and Nano, IIRC) but not on IPod Touches or IPhones :-(. Further, building these nested folder playlist structures is also a minor pain. I started writing a script to do it for my music collection until I realized it didn’t work on my IPod Touch. ITunes transfers each folder to the IPod Touch as a flat playlist of all the songs in the playlists under it, but again, this is not a problem on some of the other IPod Systems. Unfortunately, if I was to spend the money on an IPod, I would like it to be a PDA too with much more functionality, which the IPod Touch satisfies, and the others do not.

As previously mentioned, I might not be keeping the IPod Touch, as I cannot justify the cost of it mainly as an MP3 player while I’ve already had other solutions that are almost as good for a number of years. I was one of the first adopters of MP3 players (of the MP3s on CD variety) back in 1998, I believe, and they still work great. However, I would probably get an IPhone were I able to use it on the Verizon network because it combines all the features I like on the IPod Touch with a phone. I would love to be able to use its excellent web browser (as far as cell phone browsers go) anywhere, not just when an accessible WiFi network was handy. The cost of an IPhone is more proportionate to what I’d like to spend since I’d be getting a phone and a music player out of it. Unfortunately, when unlocked, IPhones (and G1s) cannot work on Verizon, like it can the other networks, because Verizon uses a different kind of technology for its carrier signals (CDMA instead of GSM). Alas :-\.

Oh, yes, one more thing I wanted to mention. Apple was originally turning a blind eye to the unlocking IPhone market because most of them were going oversees to markets untapped by Apple, which is good for business for them. However, when Apple started expanding into other countries and this practice no longer served their needs, they added on a section to the AT&T contract you are forced to sign up for when buying the phone. It basically stipulates that if you cancel the AT&T contract (which incurs a fee after the first 30 days anyways) that you have to return the IPhone too. This way Apple is guaranteeing people can’t use the phone outside of AT&T.