How much does an iPhone cost in Asia? Very affordable (compared to North America) [Update]

I was helping my mom consider whether or not to buy an iPhone in Macau, China, this afternoon and I was blown away by the cost differences for mobile services in Asia.

Here’s a quick comparison of the bottom-tier plans from Bell in Canada and 3 Mobile in Macau (I’ve converted Macau patacas at today’s rate of 0.128446).

Bell Canada 3 Mobile
iPhone 3GS (16 GB) Cost
Device status
Contract deposit (refunded monthly through contract)
Contract term
36 months
18 months
Plan Name
Combo 50
Monthly fee
Local calling (minutes)
Additional calling (per minute)
Additional same-network local calling (minutes)
Data (MB)
Additional data (per MB)
15¢ each
MMS messages
$2.50 each
10 included

Four things strike me about this:

  1. up-front costs are higher in Macau;
  2. you get an unlocked device in Macau;
  3. the contract term in Macau is only half as long as in Canada; and
  4. monthly fees are lower in Macau, but service levels are higher.

The “contract deposit” is an interesting phenomenon. My mom and I chatted about this and we figure that’s it’s a contractual defence again the cultural difference of a highly transient population in Asia. In Canada, (well, in North America in general, actually) that cost is somewhat hidden; it only applies if you try to exit a contract early.

In Macau (and perhaps other parts of Asia, I’m not sure) that’s the deposit that’s held to make sure you stay in the contract. And if you don’t, well, then it saves 3 Mobile having to chase you down to collect the fee.

To be honest, I’ve heard so many horror stories in Canada of people being bitten by that early-departure fee, I prefer this Asian way of collecting it up-front as a form of incentive to make you stay in the contract. Much more logical and open.

[Update] So my mom has reported that you get the contract deposit back in equal monthly portions over the term of the contract. So it is, in a sense, a permanent discount on the monthly fee. For the above plan, for example, you’d get $11.70 back every month, effectively dropping your monthly fee down to $12.45.

That’s $12.45 per month for an iPhone with 500 MB of monthly data, 20 minutes of talk time, and unlimited text messaging. Just let that sink in a minute.[/Update]

Just for fun, I also did a quick comparison of the highest-level device and plan from both companies.

Bell Canada 3 Mobile
iPhone 3GS (32 GB) Cost
Device status
Contract deposit (refunded monthly through contract)
Contract term
36 months
18 months
Plan Name
Combo 100
Monthly fee
Local calling (minutes)
Additional calling (per minute)
Additional same-network local calling (minutes)
Data (MB)
3 GB
Additional data (per MB)
MMS messages
45 included

The cost-to-service-level ratio is just crazy here. [Update]And, once again, consider you’d get a monthly repayment of the contract deposit, effectively dropping your monthly fee to $29.43.

That’s $29.43 per month for the best iPhone (unlocked!) with unlimited monthly data, 1,400 minutes of talk time and unlimited text messaging. I’m drooling here, people.[/Update]

When things go truly out of whack, however, is when you look at the gross cost of the contract to the iPhone consumer.

At the low end, with the 16 GB iPhone 3GS, here’s how that compares.

Company Contract Total Cost
Bell $1,999.95
3 Mobile $843.19

And then on the high end, with the 32 GB iPhone 3GS, it’s really ugly.

Company Contract Total Cost
Bell $3,899.95
3 Mobile $1,251.65

That’s a huge difference. On the lowest-end iPhone contract, Bell is netting over $1,100 more than 3 Mobile. On the high end it’s over a $2,600 difference. These numbers almost make it worthwhile to fly over to Macau just to buy an unlocked phone so you can engage with Bell on a non-contractual basis.

Bell’s pricing is not atypical of other North American carriers. So it makes you wonder: what’s the fundamental economic difference that drives those North American carriers to charge so much more and push for such longer contracts?

As I wrote this my mom called and let me know she’d received about a $150 discount on the cost of the iPhone, plus a bottle of gin (WTF?!?!). It all makes me wish I were an Asian, rather than North American, iPhone user.

How much is that song worth to you?

In an age when our Canadian currency flirts with US dollar parity, the abstract qualities of value reveal themselves.

It shows that how we measure the actual worth of anything is difficult to explain in a coherently logical manner.

Take currency, for example. Its value is based on some arcane mix of commodities prices, interest rates, economic performance, and pixie dust.

But at the end of the day the buck stops with the consumer.

The Canadian dollar is only worth more than the US dollar if people believe it is.

Value is therefore in the eyes of the beholder. This is an important thing to keep in mind when we consider the future of digital media. Continue reading

Racism in the UK ≠ racism in the Yukon

From “‘Racist’ job ad sparks investigation” on The Register today.

The ad, placed on, said: “Minimum six years of experience in IT … The person should be a UK citizen with security clearance from the UK Government. Preferably of Indian origin.” … Tory MP for Monmouth, David Davies, said the ad was clearly racist …

From an ad in the Yukon News on February 19, 2010.

“…preference will be given to First Nation applicants…”

My position on anonymous comment posters

Several of my posts lately have attracted comments from people posting anonymously or under obvious pseudonyms. I haven’t published those comments.

I put my name on this blog, and my thoughts and comments are my own. Therefore, you know who I am. If people compelled to respond to the information I publish aren’t brave enough to attach their real identities to their thoughts, then their words are worthless and I won’t publish them.

If you want me to publish your comments, attach your real name. Don’t hide behind a pseudonym or the “anonymous” tag.

If you want to know more about how I feel about this subject, read my post from last August, “Anonymous is Just Another Word for Chickenshit“.

One offensive loose end in ‘The Cove’

I finally got around to watching The Cove last night and, yes, it is as shocking and thought-provoking as I had anticipated it would be.

One argumentative strand, however, very much served to undermine the entire film’s message.

(On a quick aside here, that’s not to say that I in any way condone the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. I don’t.)

The filmmakers revealed their American-centric, manifest-destiny perspective a bit too heavily at one point in the film and they lost, to my mind, almost all credibility.

It’s when Ric O’Barry tells us that one of the the Taiji peoples’ arguments is: “This is our culture. You don’t understand us. You eat cows, we eat dolphins.”

This, from the perspective of someone living in the Canadian North, is an excellent point.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers dismiss it nearly out of hand.

O’Barry’s logic on the matter goes like this: “The truth is, that’s the big lie. How can it be their culture, their tradition, if the Japanese people don’t even know about it?”

Stating a “truth” and calling something a “lie,” that’s a huge claim, especially when it deals with a cultural issue. You’d better back that up. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t.

The filmmakers don’t investigate the validity of O’Barry’s claim by looking at Taiji’s history or its cultural food consumption practices.

No, they just hit the streets of Tokyo and ask a few people if they eat dolphin meat. Of course, they get the response they expect. (Or they just didn’t include the interviews with the people who do eat dolphin meat–this is where the credibility of the film begins to fall apart and the viewer begins to wonder just how heavily massaged the message truly is.)

The street-interview approach to supporting a major accusation was just so simple-minded and spin-ridden that it’s insulting to the viewer.

And it got me wondering: imagine an American film crew hitting the streets of Toronto or Vancouver and randomly asking passersby: “Do you eat caribou meat?”

The response would be, as the filmmakers would expect, a resounding, “no.”

Then imagine those filmmakers capturing footage of hunters on the Dempster or in Old Crow harvesting caribou and butchering them.

Just like that, you have The Flats instead of the The Cove.

Because the filmmakers so flippantly and ignorantly dismissed the cultural argument in The Cove, it left a gaping hole in their credibility. They researched and presented so many other arguments so effectively, but they left this one hanging out there.

As a result, I’m left wondering: is there a cultural tradition related to the consumption of dolphins in Taiji that we are left not knowing about? Because if there is, it would present an incredibly strong counter-argument to The Cove.

And maybe that’s why the filmmakers chose to ignore it.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t explore those questions. It should have. Then, if there was no cultural relationship and this is, indeed, just a purely economic venture that’s based on cruelty, their argument would be that much stronger.

As it stands, the film’s dismissal of the cultural claim is American ignorance at its best. It’s a McDonald’s mentality: stop eating dolphins, eat Big Macs instead. Our cultural perspective is right, and your cultural perspective is wrong.

And this severely undermines the argument of the film as a whole.

It’s too bad. In general, The Cove is a brilliant piece of persuasive documentary filmmaking. But that one loose end is just too offensive, to the point that the film overall is significantly less effective.

Whitehorse is a dog town, and that’s never gonna change

I was amused to read the CBC North story, “Whitehorse dog owners, ATV drivers face fines on trail“, the other day.

The story opens:

“Whitehorse city officials are promising to crack down on … dogs running loose on the Millennium Trail along the city’s waterfront.”

My first thought: I’ll believe it when I see it.

My second thought: it’s too little, too late.

Promising to crack down on off-leash dogs in Whitehorse is like promising to prevent Vancouverites from drinking coffee, or like telling an American he can never watch another baseball game.

Whitehorse is a dog town, plain and simple. No amount of enforcement will get dog owners to respect the law. From their view, they now exist above the law.

The reason that vast amounts of dog shit blanket every corner of the city and you can barely walk more than a block without getting accosted by a K-9 has nothing to do with enforcement; it has to do with culture.

To Whitehorse dog owners, leaving your dog off-leash is a fundamental right. Leashes are for wusses or, worse, city folk.

And clean up its excrement? Whatever. This is the Yukon for God’s sake. We don’t have to clean up shit in this bountiful wilderness paradise. Heck, I don’t see anybody cleaning up moose droppings.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s very nearly impossible to go for a walk in Whitehorse and not be bothered by some slobbering, filthy mutt that’s just sort of wandering on its own.

Of course, if the owner happens to be nearby and she happens to notice the fact you don’t appreciate her dog sticking its nose up your butt, she’ll just sort of coo and laugh and say, “Oh, don’t worry. He’s harmless.”

Every dog owner in Whitehorse seems to truly believe that their dog is harmless.

Even the one that nipped my ankle when I was out running a few years back, sending me sprawling.

The owner, several dozen metres down the trail, just waved his arm at me and yelled, “Sorry!” Then he called his dog to follow him.

Yeah, a bleeding, twisted ankle and a bloodied knee, that’s harmless.

Even the dog that ran up to my friend’s on-leash rottweiler and mauled it a few years back. As my friend fought to keep her leashed dog under control, the owner of the off-leash animal stood back and had a laugh at her expense.

That’s harmless.

Even the dog that nipped my son’s hand when he was just 2, down at Rotary Peace Park, that dog was harmless, too.

“I don’t know why he did that,” the owner said. “He never bites anyone!”

We didn’t hang around to test the truth of her claim, since even then she left it off-leash.

And just last year there’s the dog that chased my son around Rotary Peace Park as he screamed in terror.

The owner was nowhere in sight so I beaned the animal with a soccer ball to make it stop. When the owner finally arrived, she had the nerve to accost me for throwing a ball at her dog.

Because, couldn’t I tell, “He only wanted to play!” Yeah, tell that to my son as he lays in my arms sobbing.

It’s gotten that way in Whitehorse. You simply can’t go to a public space anymore without encountering dogs that are wandering free, off-leash.

As if that’s not bad enough, the owners expect you to indulge their animals.

And heaven forbid if you should remind them about the bylaws. When we arrive at playgrounds and there’s a dog off-leash running around, I used to spend some time identifying the owner and then politely ask them to leash their dogs.

Half the time the owner refused with a snarky retort. The other half of the time they just cast me a dirty look and left.

So my son and I don’t even visit parks much anymore. Dealing with the dog people is just too stressful.

Instead, we have taken to hanging out and playing at home.

But as the Whitehorse dog culture grows stronger, even that’s not safe anymore.

I live in Takhini North and the dogs roam free here. There are a very few local owners who leash their dogs when they go for walks, but not many.

In general they absent-mindedly stroll down the street as their animal roams the yards of neighbours, pissing and shitting at will.

I don’t own a dog (obviously) but every week I’m cleaning 5 or 6 mounts of shit from my front yard.

Three neighbours I’ve observed don’t even bother to walk their dogs. When they get home from work they just open their doors and let the animals roam free.

These animals seem to have a regular shitting patterns on various neighbours’ yards. Mine is one of those yards on their regular route.

And so it’s to the point I don’t even let my son and his friends out to play in our own yard. I’m sick of cleaning dog shit off his boots when he happens to step in it or off of his coat when he falls in it.

Sure, I could talk to those neighbours. But my experience with such dialogues has not been successful in the past.

For the most part, when you talk to dog owners who let their animals run free, reminding them of bylaws and common courtesy, they are offended. In some cases, they are aggressive.

It’s been my experience that dog owners who let their animals roam free play by an entirely different set of rules. Like I said before, they view it as a right to let their dogs roam free. The bylaws and common respect for neighbourliness, these things don’t apply to them.

Even if you do manage to get through to a dog owner who lets their animal roam free, it never lasts longer than a week or so. Then they’re back to their old form and there’s dog shit in your yard again.

To be honest, I don’t talk to those neighbours about the issue because I can no longer expect myself to be civil in the discourse. Over a decade dealing with this matter has left me somewhat angry about it.

I’ve just sort of resolved to the fact that I’m a non-dog person living in a dog town. The predominant local culture has elevated the value of dogs to a level greater, I would say, than even children.

I have changed my lifestyle to focus on avoiding dogs owners and their leashless kin. I don’t walk or run the trails anymore. I don’t walk on suburban streets. I rarely take my son to outdoor playgrounds anymore and if we see a dog off a leash when we arrive at one (and we almost always do), we leave.

It’s getting sort of ridiculous, though. There are fewer and fewer places you can go to enjoy Whitehorse’s outdoor recreational areas without stepping in poo or having a strange mutt hump your leg.

Unless you’re a hardcore dog person, Whitehorse is an ever more unpleasant place to live.

And, like I said, enforcement is very unlikely to change that. The dog situation has been left unchecked for far too long in this town, to the point that it’s now an integrated aspect of the local culture.

Yes, Whitehorse is a dog town. And there’s no changing that now.

Microsoft (and HP, and Adobe) still don’t get it

So, I was watching this video co-produced by HP, Adobe, and Microsoft yesterday…

…and I was struck by one thing: they still don’t get it.

And by it, I mean the iPad specifically, but in a more general sense I mean humans.

Like, check this screen shot:

This is how Adobe, HP, and Microsoft imagine that you want to edit photos on a mobile device.

The problem is, there’s hardly any photo on screen to edit. Look at all that surrounding interface! A browser bar, a browser tab bar, a massive tool panel, scroll bars (that aren’t even required!), and then big, fat, black bars on either side of the photo.

There’s more interface here than photo!

For comparison sake, I snagged a screen shot of Adobe’s Mobile iPhone photo editing app:

Like, oh my gawd — it’s a big photo!

Not as if that makes sense or anything; I mean, filling the screen with the photo you’re editing and kicking the interface to the curb?

Even though these two screen shots demonstrate the exact same application – Adobe’s – they clearly demonstrate the difference between Apple’s approach to mobile computing and the approach that just about everyone else is taking.

While it’s true that Adobe is responsible for the user interfaces in both screen shots, it’s important to examine the constraints that they experienced in designing each.

For the interface demonstrated in the first screen shot, on the HP device, Adobe was limited only by what its own proprietary media platform, Flash, could do. In other words, that’s Adobe’s version of an ideal mobile photo editing environment.

In the second screen shot, for the iPhone app, Adobe had to conform to Apple’s iPhone human interface guidelines. That’s why such a different app was produced.

I think of it this way: there are two parts to every sentence in the English language, the subject and the predicate. Apple’s mobile philosophy focuses on the subject – the person or thing which the sentence is about. In most cases that would be the person using the device or the material on the device they’re dealing with.

The other guys focus on the predicate aspect of mobile computing. They focus on the aspect of the situation that modifies the experience of the user. In most cases that is the software or the device itself.

So if I write a sentence like, “Sue edited the photo on her mobile device,” Apple would be concerned with the primary subject, Sue.

On the other hand, Adobe, Microsoft and HP would clearly focus on the mobile device and its software.

The result in the latter approach is an overabundance of technology. In the first screen shot, there’s definitely too much interface. The app has decided not to consider the needs of the user and instead just sort of pukes out everything it’s got in terms of functionality, cluttering the screen with a distraction of visual detritus.

Apple’s iPhone, on the other hand, provides the user with what he or she wants, as he or she requires it. Toolbars disappear off-screen when they’re not required for use. They don’t hang around to distract in perpetuity.

In many iPhone apps, there is literally no interface. Consider this screen shot from the acclaimed iPhone writing app, WriteRoom:

That’s it. Just you and your writing. Nothing else.

Compare that to Microsoft’s take on mobile word processing:

I’ll skip past the horrid green skin and just point out that, even on a miniscule screen, Microsoft believes you need as almost as much interface as subject area. And that’s just wrong.

The point of the matter is that, as Apple continues to release revolutionary new devices, first the iPhone and soon the iPad, competitors continue to miss the point. It isn’t about the device at all. That’s why Apple’s physical design is so minimalist, and it’s why they don’t pump the tech specs in their ads.

It’s about friction. Apple is all about reducing the friction a person experiences when they interact with a technological environment.

Until the other guys figure that out and quit drowning us in over-designed user interfaces and dramatic device forms, Apple’s just going to continue kicking their collective ass.