Are Tablets the Perfect Computer?

Laptop computers took 12 years to reach 50 million people. That same milestone was reached by smartphones in 7 years. Tablets, which is to say the iPad, got there in just 2.

Many analysts predict that by the end of next year, total tablet sales will completely eclipse traditional computers.

But does it mean that the tablet is the “perfect” computer? Or is it just another gadgetstop on the neverending geek highway?

Most likely the tablet is just the first step in an evolution to something better that embraces a broader range of our natural communication behaviours. Continue reading

Northwestel Exploits a Loophole

About a year ago the CRTC issued a requirement that internet service in northern Canada get faster. Like a lot of other people, I made the assumption that this meant Northwestel would have to improve their service overall. I was wrong. I missed the loophole that Northwestel exploited this week: service only has to get faster, not necessarily better.

A couple of days ago, Northwestel increased the upload and download speeds of their highest-level consumer cable internet “Extreme” package, to 2 Mbps and 50 Mbps. The company also introduced a very moderate decrease in price of $10, or about 7.5%.

That’s nice, but it’s shadow play, an adroit marketing sleight of hand that satisfies the CRTC and fools us into thinking the company might actually be improving something. The real value of this package didn’t change at all.

Namely, data transfer caps didn’t budge an inch. The “Extreme” package still includes a measly 100 GB of data for the new price of $120 per month. Compare that to Shaw’s offering down at the end of the Alaska Highway, in Dawson Creek (population: 12,000). For $10 less per month there, you get 1 TB of data (that’s 1000 GB) and download speeds of 250 Mbps. Bump your account cost up to $130 and your data is unlimited.

There’s no real value in speed increases because Northwestel’s speed ratings are, at best, theoretical to begin with. In the real world you’ll never, ever download anything at 50 Mbps through Northwestel’s service. Not even close. The company readily admits that (at least its CSRs do). Increasing data speeds is a foil, a dupe. Or, more plainly, it’s BS.

I tested my internet connection to Northwestel’s local office yesterday. Repeated tests yielded results of barely 35 Mbps. That’s a test of a local connection to a service provided by Northwestel. To a server in Vancouver I got just 16 Mbps.

Assume for a moment, however, that 50 Mbps was a realistic data transfer rate through Northwestel. Then increasing speeds on an internet package without also increasing volume is a cruel joke to play on customers. You can download the same amount of stuff from the internet twice as fast. What’s the point?

In simpler terms, Northwestel has has increased the speed limit on the highway, but we’ve still only got half a tank of gas to drive with. True, we can travel twice as fast as we used to, but we won’t get any further down the road. Unless, of course, we fill up at Northwestel’s gas stations where fuel sells for $50/l, which the company certainly hopes we’ll do.

In that view, Northwestel’s data speed change can be accurately construed as a play for more money from heavy internet users. We’re now more likely to exceed the company’s data caps and be punished by the company’s over-use fees. It’s a significant increase in risk for us.

Northwestel’s “Extreme” account adjustments this week are at best a tease and at worst a taunt. Almost certainly, however, they’re an indication of what’s to come for the rest of their internet packages: speeds will be increased, but data caps will stay the same. That way the company can exploit a loophole in the CRTC’s requirements to make the internet faster, but not necessarily better. While it’s true that we’ll be able to download content in less time, we’ll also be drawn more quickly beyond Northwestel’s minuscule data caps where the company will be able to extract significantly more money from us.

Are Subscription Music Services the Future?

It’s been almost 2 years since I wrote about the subscription music service called Rdio when it first arrived in Canada (Whatever music you want, whenever: $5 a month).

I’m a lot more bullish on it now than I was then. It’s clear to me that subscription services are the very best way to discover and enjoy music.

That said, I’m wondering whether Rdio and other services like it represent the future.

Our wont as consumers to “own” music might just be too strong.

Continue reading

Time To Turf That Northwestel Email Address

Internet competition is coming.

Maybe not today, or tomorrow.

But it’ll be here soon. And you need to make sure that your options are open when it arrives.

Your first step in preparing for internet competition is to ditch that tired old Northwestel email address you have.

You know the one I mean. It ends in “@northwestel.net”.

That address is the chain connecting you to the ball that is Northwestel.

Until you get rid of it, you’ll be hogtied to that company’s services.

So it’s best to get started on turfing it now.

Technically, getting a new email address is easy.

The hard part is moving away from your old one. That takes time and effort. And it shouldn’t be rushed. You should give yourself a few months for the whole process to take place. Continue reading