It's open season for federal employees as well as many privately-employed people to change their health plan selection for next year. We speak with experts for tips and will take your questions about how to make the right choice for you and your family.
Guest Host: Marc Fisher
Verizon is ditching all-you-can-eat data plans. Apple is moving away from Google maps. LinkedIn and Last.fm are scrambling to clean up and minimize damage after a major data breach. When big tech companies shift policies or alter services, consumers often find themselves scratching their heads. With lots of change looming, Tech Tuesday gets some personal tech advice.
- Rob Pegoraro Freelance Technology Writer, USAToday.com and Discovery News
- Wayne Rash Editor-in-Chief, FierceMobileIT; columnist and Washington Bureau Chief, eWEEK
MR. MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, it's a compromise built on the promise of saving money: the two-year cell phone contract. We want the latest, greatest version of the iPhone, Android or Windows smartphone, but we balk at that $600 price tag.
MR. MARC FISHERSo we sign on the dotted line, agree to stay with Sprint, AT&T or Verizon, and we've got a cool new phone for a fraction of its price tag. But some say that that two-year cellphone contract is really built on faulty math and flawed assumptions. In fact, consumers can actually save money by paying the higher price for the phone and then taking advantage of new cheaper pay-as-you-go services.
MR. MARC FISHERWhen big tech companies shift policies or roll out new services, consumers often find themselves scratching their heads. We're going to unscratch today. With this Tech Tuesday, we're getting a consumer perspective on the latest tech news with Wayne Rash. He's editor in chief of FierceMobileIT. He's a columnist and Washington bureau chief for eWEEK. And Rob Pegoraro, freelance technology writer, who writes columns on gadgets and personal technology for USAToday.com and Discovery News, he also writes a weekly post about tech policy for the Consumer Electronics Association.
MR. MARC FISHERAnd welcome to both of you. I have to say anyone who is even bringing the slightest possibility of escaping from these two-year contracts that cellphone providers corral us into is a hero in my book. And, Rob Pegoraro, how legitimate, how real is this as an alternative way to construct your cellphone life?
MR. ROB PEGORAROIt is realistic. It is possible. Usually, the tradeoff is being you have to give up getting the latest, the got-to-have-it phone. But the weird thing that's happened in the last two weeks, two prepaid carriers -- Cricket Wireless and Virgin Mobile, which is Sprint's prepaid brand -- they both got the iPhone, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S. With Cricket, you pay more than you would pay for a subsidized phone. The rate is a little cheaper with Sprint -- sorry, Virgin Mobile. You'd pay a lot more than you would pay for a subsidized phone, but you can save quite a lot over time.
MR. WAYNE RASHYeah. The difference is that you get a slight subsidy from Cricket. The price of the Virgin Mobile phone is exactly the same as the price of an unlocked GSM phone. That's the type of phone that will work on AT&T or T-Mobile. That type of phone has actually always been available from Apple, or at least for the last year or two. And both of those carriers are perfectly happy to sell you a prepaid SIM card to use in your iPhone, and there's no contract involved. It's been available now for some time.
FISHERAnd, Wayne Rash, is there any downside to that pay-as-you-go system? Am I missing any services that I would get under that contract with the big provider?
RASHThere's a possibility with some companies under some plans, especially a prepaid plan, that you may not be able to use your phone outside of the U.S. with a U.S. SIM card and a U.S. number. However, you can buy a SIM card in any country in the world and use it there, and it will still save you money.
FISHERHave you tried to go without a contract? Let us know. Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850 or email us at kojo -- K-O-J-O -- @wamu.org. You can also get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow. And so these subsidized phones, do they -- that the big companies are offering us, obviously they think that is still the way to go as far as business model for them.
FISHERBut they obviously also believe that we're going to continue to buy those subsidized phones simply because the price of entry is that much lower. Is that it? Is that the only thing going for them?
PEGORAROYou can't say the business model hasn't been working for them. I mean, it does work in the sense that you get what are pretty expensive miniature computers for way below selling price. What you have to watch out for is as the prices escalate. I've been looking at Verizon's new price plans. There's been changes with AT&T. Sprint added a $10 fee. So you have to do the math, which is something we're all bad at doing, especially when we're in the store or at the website thinking, oh, this phone does all these things, and it's only $100. But there's the math.
FISHERWell -- and the math, I guess, has gotten much more complicated as companies are now beginning to put us on a diet when it comes to data. And so we really have a whole different set of -- a whole different calculus where we have to figure out how -- what am I really getting for this? Whether it's pay-as-you-go or a contract, what am I really getting? Is that a computation that the average consumer can make? Or is it just too complex?
RASHWell, it's like anything else. You need to know what you normally use in terms of data, so that means you have to go look at your cellphone bill. Now, looking at your cellphone bill is not an activity most people enjoy. But they will tell you on your bill how much you've been using. And you can go back and look over several months and find out that, oh, my goodness, I've been paying for unlimited data, and I'm using 150 megabytes per month on the average, which would be far below the cheapest data rate available.
RASHAnd a lot of people do that. I just found out that I do that. I'm paying for a lot more data than I'm using. On the other hand, I have an unlocked phone. Even though it is the latest of its type, it's still an unlocked phone, and I don't have a contract. So I can change this any old time the spirit moves me, which means I have to sit there and spend nine years on hold while I'm waiting for (unintelligible).
FISHERWell -- and fact that you haven't done that -- and you're the expert -- leads me to wonder whether the average person or the below-average person, like me, has any prayer of finding a good deal.
RASHNow, I usually have to have patience. I need to have time on the phone when I can spend time talking to somebody at the -- in my case, T-Mobile -- say, hey, look, I want a different plan because, you know, quite honestly, I'm not taking advantage of what I could be taking advantage of. That's really my fault. It's not anybody else's fault. It doesn't take rocket science. It just takes free time and the decision to spend it using it on the phone with the people in the phone company.
FISHERSo, Rob Pegoraro, take us through this sort of idiot's guide, step by step. What would I actually do if I wanted to find the data plan at the lowest possible cost?
PEGORAROOh, yeah, first thing, like Wayne said, you can look at your bill. A lot of phones will tell you how much data you're using in the current month. It's in the settings app in the iPhone. If you're among the very small number -- I think 7 percent of Android devices, or in the current version of Android, there's a neat little gauge, data usage, that shows not just how much data you use, but which applications hog all of it. So you can look at that.
PEGORAROThe other advice I'd give: I think most people overestimate how much time they talk. If you look at most cellphone plans, they're sold with the idea, you know, oh, my God, I don't want to go over and pay overage fees. No one does that. You have free calling at night and at weekends to other mobile phones. It's really hard to actually pay an overage fee on minutes. It's easy to pay it on texts. It's frighteningly easy to do it if you leave the country where you suddenly get drilled for $1 or $2 a minute.
FISHERAnd it's even easier, I would imagine, if you are using it for music, movies, et cetera.
PEGORAROMusic is not that bad. Video can be an issue, especially on a larger screen device. If you have an iPad with a 3G or 4G connection, you really want to lay off the Netflix unless you're on your own Wi-Fi network.
FISHERLet's hear from Steve in Bethesda. Steve, it's your turn.
STEVEYeah. I have a simple cellphone. I pay $100. I get 1,000 minutes. And I use, like, $200 for a whole year, and I talk and have no problem. Now, I don't do data. It's just a simple phone. I also get text messages, but I don't really use that. But I spend $200 a year, and I got a cellphone. And it's great.
FISHERTwo hundred dollars a year sounds significantly better than $100 a month.
RASHYes, it does. It sounds a lot better than $100 per month to me too.
PEGORARONo arguing that math.
FISHERSo is -- but what is a smartphone really worth? I mean, they tell us that they're giving us this incredible deal on a machine that should cost six or $700. But it's not really worth that much, is it?
PEGORAROOh, it costs a fair amount. I mean, you look at -- I mean, the iPhone first was sold without a subsidy attached. And somewhere on the Internet, there's a clip of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laughing at the thought that someone would pay $500 for a phone. I think he'd like to remove that clip from the Internet now. They're complicated little machines that have to be designed to -- they take a lot of abuse, even more than laptops.
FISHERLet's go to Peter in Arlington, Va. Peter, you're on the air.
PETERHi. Yeah. I just want to say that I recently was going to switch to AT&T, and the thought of saving $95 a month was just too much. And I went with Straight Talk Wireless. And it's $45 a month for unlimited talk, text and messaging. I guess it's nominally unlimited data, according to what I've read in the Internet. If you top about two or three gigs a month, they might cut you off, but it's a great plan. I love it so far.
RASHWhat they generally do is actually throttle you back so your data speed drops, which means you're not going to have any problem with messages. You're not going to have any problem with email. But you might find it hard to get movies.
FISHERBoth of you wrote recently about a company called Cricket, which we suddenly see all over the place. What do they offer, and is it any good?
PEGORAROSo with Cricket, their deal with the iPhone -- you know, the iPhone normally, as AT&T sold it, as Verizon and Sprint sell it, the SIM card slot on it is locked. So you take it to another country. You can't use any other carrier. AT&T, for years, they would not unlock it under any condition, which I thought was kind of a little bit of not so polite. And, finally, they said we'll unlock it once you're out of your contract.
PEGORAROVerizon has some complicated rules to unlock it. Sprint, it's a little simpler. Cricket, they say they're going to have it internationally unlocked. So you buy it. You activate it. You get on a plane, get off the plane, buy a prepaid SIM in the airport. You're set. There's no activation, no asking permission. So that's kind of attractive.
RASHAnd it saves a lot of money. I travel outside the U.S. on a fairly regular basis. And you can save a substantial amount of money buying a SIM card in the place where you are. It also means the people who live there can call you on the phone and not have to pay overseas calling charges. When I went to Russia, you know, it's $5 a minute to use my U.S. SIM card. It's $5 as far as I can tell forever if you use a Russian SIM card. I never did run out of time.
FISHERHere's an email from Mark. He asks what -- "My wife and I are taking a three-week vacation in France this summer. How do I find the best deal to call home a few times to check up on our grown children and call restaurants and hotels in France? By the way, we don't need a smartphone in France."
RASHWell, I can tell you the easiest way to do it, and this is something that one of my colleagues at Fierce did while we were at (unintelligible), was go by a phone store and pick up an unlocked feature phone from Nokia or Sony or something. It will cost you about 90 euros. It will give you a lot of time, that you could always add more to it, and you can use it in any country you travel into.
RASHOr if you are a customer of T-Mobile, or potentially AT&T, you can get them to unlock your phone for you and then buy a local SIM card. Depending on the country you're in, the SIM cards can costs between five and $30. And you get a local number, and you can call home with that.
FISHERRob Pegoraro, what's the best phone on the market right now?
PEGORAROOh. I was hoping you weren't going to ask me that. I'm going to have to wuss out with the answer, it depends. The Apple iPhone 4S is a really good device. The screen -- I've -- at first, I complained about larger screens in Android phones, and I do think, like, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5.3-inch screen that I can barely wrap my hand around, that's too big.
PEGORAROBut the iPhone feels a little small. If you spend a lot of time getting directions, Android is better than iOS. The app selection is better on iOS than it is on Android. Your carrier may depend a lot, and Wayne and I talked about this. T-Mobile is the only one who covers your home, right?
RASHYeah. My home and office only have T-Mobile service, so I have -- if I want to use an iPhone, I can buy an unlocked one from Apple, and it will work on T-Mobile. But it won't get high-speed Internet. But, of course, nothing else gets high speed where I live either, so it almost doesn't matter. I'm...
FISHERIs there a way prior to signing up with a company to know whether they actually do serve your home and your office and all that?
RASHThere are theoretical maps, but the maps...
FISHERBut they're very broad and vague, aren't they?
RASHWell, you can allegedly zoom in and actually find out. Now, I will tell you that these maps are mostly fantasy. However, what you can do is, if you read the fine print, generally you've got two weeks in which you can return the phone after you find out it doesn't work. You're going to have to pay for whatever time you used or whatever calls you made. But beyond that, you can return it if you find out it doesn't work there.
FISHERAnd, Wayne Rash, I'll put you on the spot as well. What -- if you had to pick a phone right now on the market, which one would it be?
RASHI like the Black Verizon one with the round thing in the middle that you dial because it's absolutely 100 percent reliable, and you have no dropped calls.
RASHFailing that, you know, there is no best phone. Every phone is suitable for somebody and does a great job for them. I use a BlackBerry because my life with a phone is heavily oriented toward email. I don't browse the Web on it. I don't look for pictures on it. I don't watch movies on it. For me, it's great for email, and that's what I do. But other people don't do that. I'm one of these people who lives an incredibly boring life in which I don't watch movies.
FISHERAnd, Rob, you have a particular test that you do when you're checking out a phone, and that's your battery test. Tell us about that.
PEGORAROYeah, a couple of things I do. I used to test the talk time and then realized people aren't actually talking on the phone all that much. So one of them -- I've seen a lot of Android phones that aren't so good with standby battery life, so I'll just put it on a desk, set it to check a couple of email accounts and leave it there, come back 24 hours. What's the battery life? And it varies. I've seen some that were down to, like, 57 percent, 55 percent.
PEGORAROAnd the most recent one I tried, the Sprint EVO 4G LTE, that was in the high 80s. iPhone is the mid-90s in that test. And the other is I set it to play Web radio with the Pandora app, set the screen so it stays on. So the worst case, I really hate this phone. I want to make it suffer test. See how long that goes.
RASHAnd a lot depends on whether your carrier is, and it depends on what kind of phone it is and the way they use it to check email, so there is pretty broad differences in there. I've had phones that don't last through a business day under normal use.
FISHERAbsolutely. I have seen that, especially if you're running Pandora.
FISHERPandora is a huge battery suck. So here is Patricia in Washington. Patricia, you're on the air.
PATRICIAYes, gentlemen. Thank you for taking my call. I did not have a contract with -- I'm not going to call my carrier's name, but for quite a few years...
FISHEROh, go ahead.
PATRICIA...they had allowed me to negotiate what my rate time was. And then, most recently, I wanted to get the Lumina (sic) 900 'cause I held out. I didn't get the iPhone, and I eventually -- 'cause I borrowed a friend's iPhone when I was in London last year. And I didn't -- you know, 'cause every couple of months, they're coming up with a new one. But I did get the Lumina -- the Nokia Lumina. And so I called them up, and I said, well, you know, what's the better deal, if I buy the Lumina from Nokia, or I get the Lumina that you're having?
PATRICIAAnd they gave me a deal which kept my bill at $70 a month for unlimited talk, text, data and what should normally cost me a $100 a month, and they're crediting me $20 a month for the next two years. So the fact that I held out for as long as I did allowed me the leverage. And, lastly, I would say, I'd like to add that I believe that the Lumina -- the Nokia Lumina is the best phone out there.
PATRICIAIn fact, the iPhone, not too long ago, when asked that question, had said, you know, you can ask the iPhone a question, and it said that the Lumina was the better smartphone. And then they had to change that 'cause they didn't want the iPhone telling people that.
FISHEROK. Thanks, Patricia. Rob?
PEGORAROFirst of all, with your negotiating skills, I think we all might want you to have us take a look at our mortgages, see if we can optimize them a little bit.
PEGORAROIt sounds like you're talking the -- there's that Windows phone, so the Nokia Lumia 900?
RASHIt's Lumina 900. I actually reviewed that phone for...
PEGORAROIt's a good phone. It's -- the camera, I thought, could've been a little better. There were some weird settings with that, but pretty good battery life. It's responsive. The Windows Phone 7 -- if you use the Windows Mobile software Microsoft used to have, which was terrible, trying to put the Windows interface on the screen the size of your hand, awful. Windows Phone 7, it's really nice, smooth. Microsoft likes it so much they're making it the -- pretty much the desktop interface for Windows 8.
RASHRight. In fact, if you watched the news reports on the new Microsoft tablet that was announced last night, you'll see that it looks very much like what you're used to seeing on your Lumina 900, which, by the way, I liked very much when I did the review. It was a very, very nice phone, very slick, very responsive, very intuitive. It's a nice phone.
FISHERWhen we come back with Wayne Rash and Rob Pegoraro, we will talk more about all these all-you-can-eat data plans and why they're starting to go away. And we'll talk about the new Microsoft tablet called the Surface. That's all after a short break. I'm Marc Fisher. Please stay tuned.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And on this Tech Tuesday, we are talking about cellphones and other aspects of personal tech with Wayne Rash, editor-in-chief of FierceMobileIT, and Rob Pegoraro, a technology writer who does columns for USAToday.com and Discovery News.
FISHERAnd one of the things that is changing the cellphone landscape is this increasing sense that we're not going to be able to get all-you-can-eat deals from companies going on into the future. And, Rob Pegoraro, why is Verizon, for example, ditching their all-you-can-eat data plan?
PEGORAROWell, they're running into capacity issues. The weird thing is you would think all these carriers would have the same issue. But Sprint is not only sticking with unlimited data, they put it in their ads so many times at this point, they really can't pull back from that. Now, there are some exceptions. T-Mobile, it's unlimited with a large asterisk where if you get past a certain point, it slows down.
PEGORAROAT&T sort of pulled that stunt surreptitiously. People who had grandfathered unlimited plans -- I read about this in USA Today -- they suddenly found they were getting throttled down to painfully slow speeds 'cause they were in the top 5 percent of users in a given market.
FISHERAnd apparently that's that top 5 percent that uses some enormous percentage of the data.
RASHYeah. There are a lot of people who use their smartphones instead of a cable box to watch TV. And they use up a significant amount of data. And that's ones that the carriers are trying to slow down a little bit. So if you're going to get cable TV, they should get cable TV from a cable company.
FISHEROK. Let's hear from Paul in Leesburg, Va. Paul, you're on the air.
PAULYeah. Hi. Thanks for taking my call here. I'm sitting in the dental office of all things. So my question is this -- I use Sprint right now. There's a company called clear or Clearwire. They were in Alaska. I think they cut their plans down. They were throttling. For a person that is looking for other alternative carriers -- some are here to stay, some are going away -- what is the scoop on clear or Clearwire? Can you help me out as a current Sprint user? Thank you.
RASHWell, Clearwire is the name of the company, and they are Sprint's primary partner for 4G both WiMax and LTE, and they do the unlimited data thing for Sprint just like Sprint does. They are mostly owned now by Sprint, so, effectively, it is Sprint that you're using. It's just a (word?) subsidiary. They are building out their LTE network, and Sprint's LTE phones that are coming out will work with Clearwire as well as Sprint.
FISHERThere's a post on our Facebook page from Mike, who says, "I've heard that U.S. cell carriers will begin white listing certain apps and having activity on those apps not count toward your data usage plan. For example, color.com which is an app that allows people to share pics and video with others, has recently struck a relationship with Verizon." He also says that, "Facebook has white listed -- is white listed from some carriers in Africa." Is this something you're seeing elsewhere?
RASHWell, it might happen in Africa. It doesn't seem to be happening here.
PEGORAROThe FCC, the net neutrality rules they're proposing are pretty loose for wireless, but that seems pretty egregious where I think they would, you know...
RASHYeah. I don't think that makes the cut in the...
PEGORARONo. Plus colors a pretty obscure app. It's one of these companies that got an obscene amount of money 'cause they had a great business pitch, and the app turned out to be really unimpressive in the first version, and I haven't looked at the second one. Sorry...
RASHYeah. The FCC's net neutrality rules are such that I'm not sure that one's going to make it through.
PEGORAROHere's Lisa in Charlestown, W.Va. Lisa, you're on the air.
LISAYeah. Hi. I'm trying to simplify my gadgets and only have to carry maybe one around, and I was thinking, as soon as my current plan is up, looking again everywhere 'cause all the different carriers, all have problems in western Loudon and Charlestown and anywhere out of the main areas. I was wondering about Bluetooth, with just using a Bluetooth with maybe a -- like an iPad or, you know, some sort of a tablet device and just getting rid of the small handheld phone completely.
RASHThat's only going to work if you're planning on using Skype as your carrier. Most tablets -- there are exceptions. Most tablets don't make phone calls.
PEGORAROAnd then they're going to have the same coverage issues as whatever smartphone you might be using.
RASHRight. Maybe more -- maybe worse coverage because, in a lot of cases, voice will still work when data doesn't.
RASHSo I don't think you want to go with the tablet. Unless you're just planning on doing it entirely with Wi-Fi and you've got the ability to use Wi-Fi for voice, which you can do with Skype. That's pretty much your only option in that case.
FISHEROK. Thank you. There's a email from Adrian asking -- saying his home base is Washington, D.C., and, "I visited friends living in my building who are unable to use their T-Mobile phones. I know of others who live here who have trouble with Sprint. Many Verizon users brag about their superior reception over AT&T. And I've been an AT&T customer since they took over from Cingular and the phones weighed three pounds."
FISHERAnd he says that his coverage and reception here and everywhere has been nearly trouble-free for several years. He's worried about switching to Cricket, T-Mobile or Virgin via Sprint but would love to cut the contract noose which is on the brink of choking me.
RASHWell, Virgin mobile is Sprint. So if he's using Sprint successfully now, it's not going to make any difference. Cricket, I think, is also Sprint, but I can't remember.
PEGORAROCricket, they have their own network in some parts of the country, and they roam on Sprint in others.
PEGORAROYou'd have to check their coverage. I mean, it really does depend building by building. I guess some of these, they have different frequencies that go penetrate better into structures than others.
RASHAnd sometimes it depends on exactly where the cell tower is and how the antennas are positioned and any number of other factors as far as what your reception is going to be like in your particular space in a particular building. It's not really necessarily carrier-related.
FISHERWell, we have lots more calls and emails about phones, and we'll get back to that a little bit later in the hour. But I wanted to, before time gets away from us, take on this question of the Microsoft Surface, just announced yesterday by Microsoft. It is a tablet and a PC at the same time. How different is this from the tablets we've seen thus far? And is it too little too late for them to break out and really capture a significant market share, Wayne?
RASHOK. Well, the Microsoft Surface is a Windows 8 tablet. When you're using a touch-based tablet with Windows 8, there is no indication to you that this is a PC. The Windows 8 tablets that I've used have been extremely intuitive, very, very responsive, very easy to use, and, quite frankly, it's very clear that Windows 8 was designed as a touch-interface tablet-based system first. You don't have any way to know this is Windows, except for the little Windows logo on it.
RASHIt works really well. Now, as far as the Surface is concerned, well, you know, obviously, the only people who have used that seem to all work for Microsoft and plus whoever got the demo while they were in California, which does not include either me or Rob, so we're -- we were horribly left out of that. I don't know why these people didn't see that and invite us out there...
PEGORAROSuch poor taste on their part.
RASHObviously, it is.
PEGORAROOr good taste. I don't know.
RASHWell, in any case, you know, it's only a PC when you think of it as using the keyboard that comes attached to the cover.
FISHERAnd that's the big design difference, right?
RASHWell, no, not really. Because my wife has an iPad, and it's got a cover that's got a keyboard on it. I mean, the only difference between her keyboard and the one that comes with Microsoft is Microsoft's is thinner. Her keyboard is in a expensive -- believe me I know 'cause I bought it -- leather case that looks very snazzy and, in my opinion, makes it the same size as a laptop that's bigger than the one that Rob has there. But she loves it, and she types on it. I wouldn't have one in a million years, and I'm kind of dubious about the cover for the one from Microsoft.
FISHERAnd it's not clear yet whether this cover that includes the keyboard will be standard or optional, right?
RASHYeah, they didn't really say. I think what may happen is that it's one of those things you can buy for $39.95, and it snaps on just like the Smart Cover does for the iPad. And it snaps on magnetically, covers it up, turns it on and off when you open and close it. This one has an accelerometer built into it. So it knows when you fold it back, it turns off the keyboard to keep the battery from running down.
RASHBut -- and so it's not really a PC exactly. It's a tablet that has a keyboard. And it's also got that little thing that flips up in the back that let's it prop at a reasonable angle for viewing, which I think is a great thing because my iPad cover has the same feature to it at about the same angle when I'm on an airplane and I want to read a book, it is perfect.
PEGORAROWell, so we haven't mentioned the three big uncertainties about Surface. You know, usually when somebody introduces a product, they say it will sell for this many dollars on this date. And it's also nice when they say it'll last this long in battery. Those are all mysteries. The closest Microsoft has said -- they said it will be priced competitively with other tablets. There's two versions of the Surface. This is where it gets complicated. One is going to run on what's called an ARM processor. It's in a lot of other tablets.
RASHIncluding the iPad.
PEGORAROYeah. And that's going to run the simplified version of Windows 8 called Windows RT -- as in real time, not as in retweet -- that -- it'll run apps for the Windows 8 Metro interface we've been talking about but not traditional Windows apps. Then there's the Windows 8 Pro model, which they say will be priced competitive with an Ultrabook, which is, say, $800, $900 and up.
PEGORAROThat's going to run regular Windows apps, although you may not want to on a screen that's 10 inches wide. There's a bit of a muddled message. And they say the RT version will ship when Windows 8 ships, which they haven't said when that'll happen, but I'm assuming sometime this fall. Is that what you're hearing?
RASHYeah. I -- my understanding is Windows 8 is going to ship around the end of October. And you can expect to see the RT tablet at that point. You can expect it will cost at the -- it'll be the same price as the ARM-based Xoom for Motorola and as the iPad itself, which is $499. And you can expect that the Intel-based, full Windows 8 version will sell for the same price as your average Ultrabook, which is going to be, yeah, around $900.
FISHERThe New York Times is out this morning with a -- not quite a review but a first look at this Microsoft Surface. And basically, they're saying that it's too little too late, that the market is reasonably well established, that this is not different enough to make a huge dent in market share and that, you know, the tablet market is kind of reasonably set in stone.
PEGORAROWell, it's interesting when you look at how there are these two different flavors of Surface: the one that's sort of more the tablet tablet and the one that's heavier. I guess it'll have lower battery life. Who knows? It's going to run real Windows. So maybe the Microsoft is placing one bet on competing in the hind of the tablet market for people who have a lot of Windows apps and they want that seamless connectivity 'cause getting documents on and off of an iPad from, say, Microsoft Office to an iPad is not so easy sometimes.
PEGORAROAnd then they have the one that's more competing with laptops, and that's where it gets awkward because, for the first time, Microsoft is -- designed its own computer. It's essentially sort of sticking a large, you know, fork in the eye of the companies that already make Windows laptops.
RASHYeah, I don't think it's really as bad as that. I think, first of all, that the RT version is going to find its own market. There are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, do not want to buy an iPad. It may be because they want to use Microsoft Office, which you cannot get on an iPad. It may be because they want to be able to get to an actual network resource of some kind, which you also normally cannot do an iPad.
RASHAs far as the higher end version of its concern, I mean, that's going to be used by, I think, primarily businesses who need to have something where they can actually have the control over -- they have with the Windows laptop. Does it stick a thumb in the eye of the OEMs? Well, I haven't noticed too many OEMs out there building Windows tablets. I've seen a couple. The only one that I have actually used and worked with is one that is a very ruggedized version that is -- was designed to use on the International Space Station. I don't think this is going to be a problem for them.
FISHERHere is Jeff in Manassas, Va. -- I'm sorry -- yeah, Vince in Manassas. Vince, you're on the air.
VINCEThank you. My question is -- I'm getting ready to open up a -- like a food truck style business, and I want to be able to buy a phone that I can take credit cards with. So I keep looking at these smartphones and the iPhones. And I'll be perfectly up front with you. My mobile phone is for taking calls. I don't text or anything like that. So I'm kind of flying in the dark here, looking for some advice.
RASHWell, you don't have to use a phone to take credit cards. There are a number of credit card readers that work on cellular networks that are not phones. And they work wirelessly. You run a card through them. You get your reply back from a credit card company with authorization and so forth, and it isn't your phone. But if you want...
VINCEYeah, but it's cheaper to use the phone.
RASHWell, it is. And there are credit card apps and credit card readers for -- I know of them for the BlackBerry and for the iPhone.
PEGORAROWell, this is getting a little techy. It might be -- so you already have the phone. You just want to use, like, a Square Card credit card reader. It might be cheaper just to buy an iPad, get a little Wi-Fi only MiFi or something like that, maybe prepaid, have your iPad connect to that over Wi-Fi, put the Square reader in the iPad, process the credit card. That way you're not paying for a second voice plan you don't need.
FISHERMore of your calls for Wayne Rash and Rob Pegoraro coming up after a short break. You're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo. Please stay with us.
FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi on this Tech Tuesday. And we are talking with Wayne Rash, editor-in-chief of FierceMobileIT, and Rob Pegoraro, who writes columns on gadgets and personal technology for usatoday.com and Discovery News. And, gentlemen, the idea of owning music and -- or movies is changing almost by the year. What -- what's the latest on that, Rob? And have we entered a new era of sort of play anywhere content? What does that mean?
PEGORAROWe're getting that way. I mean, with music, it's funny. It used to be -- the advent of the iTunes Store was a great thing. You could buy pretty much anything you wanted, except for a long time for The Beatles and a few other bands. But now you have something like Spotify where you can listen to anything you want -- bandwidth willing -- pretty much anytime. So it ends the whole issue of I hear this new album is great. How am I ever going to wait to hear it?
PEGORAROBut I don't know. Music, I think, there is still an ownership culture. You go back and listen to the same albums over and over. Movies are interesting. With Netflix, the streaming selection changes, but there aren't that many movies you want to watch over and over again. Plus the ones you can buy as downloads have this digital rights and management restrictions, which means you may not be able to play it on the hardware of your choice. So you don't really own it that much in the first place.
FISHERAnd are we now -- I mean, the history of music ownership over the last several decades is that new formats come out and you have to start all over again, whether it's from eight-track to cassette or from CD to iTunes. And are we now at another one of those transition points where people who have spent the last years collecting music on iTunes are finding that that's not really what's going to serve them best?
PEGORAROWell, no, 'cause that's the great thing that happened with music downloads. After a few years of it getting sold with DRM, Steve Jobs posted this letter, saying, like, we never wanted to do this. The record labels made us do it. Amazon came out with an MP3 store. So now everything you buy on Amazon, on iTunes, on any other store, it's a plain, old MP3 or AAC file that'll play on whatever you want.
PEGORAROYou can buy a song off iTunes, play it on a Zune player, if you can find one these days. You can buy a song off Amazon, throw it on your iPod, your iPhone, your Android device, and it just works 'cause it's just standard. You're not treated like a criminal. It's kind of nice.
RASHYeah, it really is. Of course, you have to remember that the story all along has never been that you actually own any of this music. I mean, even back in the days of vinyl, you always had a little disclaimer that all you owned was the vinyl, not the actual music on it.
PEGORARODo we have the (unintelligible) ?
FISHERWell, tell me about iTunes Match. What is that? How does that -- does that change the game at all?
PEGORAROSo that's an interesting feature Apple added last year. People have talked for a long time: How are we ever going to make any money off all these people who downloaded songs for free in the good old days off Napster or whatever? So iTunes Match, it's kind of a neat little amnesty program that makes the labels money, pay 25 bucks a year, right.
PEGORAROAnd you get -- if Apple has the song you got from wherever and it's catalogued, you get what is usually a higher quality version of it -- not DRM'd, yours to keep. And so it's a neat little trick where this revenue that was, in theory, lost forever to the label, the musician, the lawyers, everyone else suddenly comes back.
FISHERAnd what does the consumer get out of that?
PEGORAROWell, usually you get a better quality copy. Even when iTunes first came out with what was sort of what now seems like a low-resolution audio file, I noticed that songs I downloaded for research purposes off somebody's file sharing services really sounded kind of crummy next to what I'd bought off iTunes or Amazon or the various Microsoft stores that I tried. Well, now it's an even better level of quality. It's that -- you know, there's no more guilt. It's sort of indulgences for the digital music age.
FISHERAnd is there a similar thing -- theory behind this new Wal-Mart service called VUDU?
PEGORAROThe VUDU Disc to Digital. Some of that is -- you know, the idea is there are two things you can do. You can take your DVD or your Blu-ray Disc into a Wal-Mart store. They will scan it, and then, once you have an account set up, you go home, log into it. You see there's a version you can download and stream.
PEGORAROFor Blu-ray, it's the same quality. You can pay two bucks for a same quality copy of the DVD, which is not that great 'cause you can copy the DVD yourself with certain software the Motion Picture Association of America does not approve of. But you can pay $5 for a high-def copy of the DVD. That, I think, is kind of neat. That sort of gets you something you didn't have before.
FISHEROK. Let's hear from Greg in Washington. Greg, you're on the air. Greg, are you there? I think we've lost Greg. Is there -- changing topics from movies to cars, Zipcar has made a big imprint in Washington and other cities around the country. But there's a new business model that takes advantage of technology called car2go. Rob, what's that all about?
PEGORAROYeah. I was introduced this when I was in Austin in March for the South by Southwest Interactive festival. Basically this Daimler subsidiary puts a fleet of Smart Fortwo cars in a city. All the cars have GPS and 3G, so they know where they are. They tell the network that. And, unlike Zipcar, Flexcar before that, City CarShare in San Francisco, it's point to point. You don't need to return the car back to where you got it.
PEGORAROAnd the other thing they do, which was really smart, they work out deals with each city to basically prepay for free parking in the city. So car2go paid the District $578,000 for a year of free parking, which meant that the first time I tried it, picked up a car in Georgetown, drove it over to Nats Park, parked it a block from the ballpark, left it without paying. It was like I was in the mob.
FISHERAnd that's in one of these zones where they've spiked the...
FISHER...parking rates and it's like 25 bucks for three hours.
PEGORAROYeah. And you pay per minute, which can escalate. But when you get to an hourly where, I think, $13, that caps. When you get to a day, it stops at $72. But, really, you should hand the car over then because it is a somewhat uncomfortable ride. It's a very little car. You feel every single bump. The transmission is a little bit jerky.
FISHERThere's one parked right outside the studios today. I think it's a Smart Car. Is that right?
PEGORAROYeah, Smart Fortwo. Yeah, actually, I do have my car2go card, so I -- maybe I can just take that downtown when I get out of here.
FISHERAnd so you simply pick it up wherever you find it...
FISHER...and drop it wherever you want to go. Is this the model that Zipcar would have chosen had the technology been around when they first designed their service?
PEGORAROWell, the other thing, Zipcar has a choice of vehicles. You know, if you want the truck, you can reserve that. And some of those are more useful to keep around. I think car2go -- the Smart Fortwo is sufficiently inconvenient for more than running around town. You don't really want to keep it around and have what they call a stop-over where you keep it overnight or at a place for more than...
RASHYeah. The nice thing about the Zipcar, too, is you know where it's going to be. So if you're coming in from out of town, you get off on the subway stop or the veteran stop or whatever and you've reserved a Zipcar, you know it's going to be there in the Metro lot, and you can get into it and go. You don't have to wonder and say, gee, I wonder if somebody got in and drove it off.
FISHERSo you basically have to have a smartphone in order to use car2go.
PEGORAROWell, actually, if you see a car on the street and no one has gotten there first -- I haven't yet seen people running to reach the same car2go at the same time.
PEGORAROYou just walk up to it, tap your card on the screen, it lights up, and then it's yours.
FISHERWow. And they are in several cities around the country at this point?
PEGORAROYeah, they came to Austin first, then D.C. I think at Portland, I think they just announced. It might have been Miami. When they get to New York, we'll know they've hit the big time.
RASHLike you'd want to drive in New York.
FISHERLet's go to Jeff in Silver Spring. Jeff, you're on the air.
JEFFHi. One reason I haven't renewed my Verizon contract and gotten a new phone is because of the practice of adding on a lot of that extra verbiage at the end of the voicemails, apparently so they can, you know, charge for extra airtime. I know Verizon does this. I think Sprint might be even worse. I don't know. Do you know, like, who the worst offenders are and if anything's going to change in that area?
PEGORAROIf you hate voicemail, you should check out Sprint. One thing they do very well and hardly ever talk about, they integrate Google Voice. So if you have an Android phone, Google Voice becomes your voicemail where there's no press 1 to leave a message, as if we have no idea what to do, when that recording stops.
PEGORAROYou get your messages transcribed somewhat amusingly inaccurately. You can playback them on any device in any sequence you want. With other ones, there are ways to disable those annoying prompts like press -- isn't there some prompt where you can have it converted into a fax or something?
RASHThey have an expert mode on some carriers. Some carriers do other things. And I -- I've never been a Verizon customer, so I don't know what they do.
PEGORAROYeah, it's kind of a mess when the -- press another button to have this person paged. Whoever does that?
FISHERWe've got a lot more people who want to talk about cellphones. Here's an email from Erin, saying, "I went without a contract with T-Mobile for two years out of the four that I was with them and paid full price for my phones. I thought in the long run this would be better because I'd be free to leave without any fees.
FISHER"When I finally did leave because I bought an iPhone, I was charged a port-out fee because I left in the middle of a billing cycle. I was charged an extra month of service that I did not receive. I was told they cannot prorate bills once you leave, and I don't understand how this applied to me since I was no longer under contract." Did she get taken?
PEGORAROIt sounds like the woman who got that great deal on the Nokia should have negotiated on her behalf.
PEGORAROThat would have solved it.
RASHI think so. I've never -- you have to look at your cellphone contract to see what they can charge you for. I've never noticed that on my cellphone contract, but, you know, I mean, you've got to look at the contract. If it -- if you've signed it and you agreed to it, well then, yeah, they can do it.
FISHERAnd here's an email from Kohn (sp?) saying, "I totally agree with your experts, the point about the inconvenience of not being able to use the U.S. SIM card abroad. Using U.S. SIM cards abroad is stupid, even if it's possible. People should buy SIM cards abroad for two reasons. One, foreign countries don't chare you minutes for incoming calls, and, two, this way, you save on roaming that the U.S. company would charge you as if they were doing you some favor."
RASHActually, you can use U.S. SIM cards in foreign countries if you're a post-paid customer, in other words, one who's got a normal $100-a-month bill. Then you can use them. If you're a prepaid customer, you may not be able to. And I agree. I always buy a SIM card when I, like, leave the United States.
FISHERSo hardly a week goes by without another data protection scandal or issue of some sort, and LinkedIn and Blast FM are now scrambling to clean up and minimize damage after a major data breach. What can be done proactively to make sure that we protect our data? And are big tech companies doing enough to protect our data?
PEGORAROYeah. It always helps to have a password that is, you know, not too short. It doesn't have to be complete gobbledygook. The longer characters, the better. But if you just string together words out of the dictionary, you know, throw in a number or two, and -- I've never done this before -- you don't need to change the password every 90 days. That's just a waste of everyone's time. Either the system is secure or it's not.
FISHERYes, that's -- that is a bug-a-boo that Rob and I shared at The Washington Post where they change your password unilaterally every now and then quite frequently, and it certainly plays tricks with people's minds and memories.
RASHAnd the situations where you hear there is data breach, like on LinkedIn, well, you just go in and change your password. You know, that -- even if they did get your password, they would then have the old one and...
PEGORAROAnd you knew not to use the same password at every site, right?
RASHYes. One would think that you would have that -- would not do that.
FISHERAnd I could see why you would -- shouldn't do that with, say, your bank. But why not do that with a hundred of the less secure or meaningful sites that you...
PEGORAROWell, it's all the vulnerability. If the password only controls, you know, can you post comments or can you read a story at a site, yeah, you know, you're probably OK. If it's banks accounts, if you can move money around or see where money is going, then you should pay a little more attention.
RASHAnd you should also be really careful about putting actual personally important information on sites that are not designed to handle it. So, yes, it's great to have your bank account information at your bank. It's not OK to have it, say, on, oh, I don't know, Facebook.
FISHERRight. Here's Margaret in Arlington. Margaret, you're on the air.
MARGARETHi. I have an older iPhone and was grandfathered in on my AT&T plan without a data portion to my plan. And I understand that if I was to change carriers, I would possibly be forced to pick up the data portion of the plan. Is that true, and if so, why?
PEGORAROIt's all part of the subsidy. You know, I guess if you bought it originally, you had a choice of things. But now the idea is you get -- it's -- think of the cellphone as more like you're entering into a disguised loan. The carrier loaned you the money to buy this phone at a cheap rate, and you pay it back month for month. And even the prepaid ones. Somebody asked, if I have an unlocked phone, can I bring it to Cricket? Cricket said, no, you need to buy it from us. And the answer there is just, I guess, they have some profit built into that $55-a-month rate they charge.
RASHYeah, because their rate is higher than -- if you look at the prepay rates from Virgin or T-Mobile, or even AT&T, they're all lower than Cricket. Now, if your phone that you had for quite a while is out of contract and you want to go to a different carrier -- let's say, for example, you had an AT&T phone and now you want to go to T-Mobile, I think, because it's a smartphone, you have to have some minimal amount of a data contract, but their rate is so cheap that I'm not sure it really matters very much.
FISHERHere's a question from Chris in Olney, Md. He asks, "Will using the anti-virus software for my PC work on my Android phone?"
FISHERIt will not.
RASHNope. You can buy anti-virus software from the same maker for your Android phone, however.
PEGORAROThat's probably if you're just very choosey of what you download 'cause there is an app store, if you stick to developers you know who have a good track record, you're not just blindly downloading something off the Internet. It's not the same thing as a PC.
FISHERApple is, I guess, I gather, ditching Google Maps. Why are they doing that?
PEGORAROThey don't like Google. There's really a bit of a family feud going on there. The weird thing is how they've done it. There's been a lot of uncertainty 'cause Apple, of course, isn't saying. But, apparently, the new non-Google Maps app on iOS 6, it will have walking directions. But transit directions, you're going to get sort of thrown into other apps, which seems a lot less elegant than simply saying, I'm here, I want to get here. Is it going to be faster to walk, bike, drive, take the bus, take Metro?
RASHYeah, it's just one of these things where, you know, Apple has one characteristic that other companies don't always have, and that is they take some things more personally. And so they'll kill Google apps -- Google Maps, rather, just because they don't like Google.
PEGORAROThey like to control the stack is the phrase (unintelligible). They want to control the whole experience so they're fine tuning it.
FISHEROK. That's Rob Pegoraro, he is a freelance technology writer, writes a column on gadgets and personal technology for usatoday.com and Discovery News. He also writes a weekly post about tech policy for the Consumer Electronics Association. We're also joined by Wayne Rash, editor-in-chief of FierceMobileIT and columnist and Washington bureau chief or eWEEK. Thanks both for joining us on this Tech Tuesday. I'm Marc Fisher, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks so much for listening.
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