Category Archives: iPhone

Roaming an iPhone on Data Only

Since 3 relaunched their free roaming Feel at Home scheme we’ve been a little spoilt when traveling – we went on a trip to the USA and used our iPhones pretty much as we would do in the UK. It was therefore a bit of a shock when at short notice we had to do a trip to Canada, and we took a look at the roaming costs over the border… Calls across the board are £1.40 a minute, and data, for which I have unlimited in the UK is £6 per MB – definitely not a Feel at Home destination…

In the past we’ve got hold of a local SIM for Canada. HolidayPhone do a Canadian SIM card but they’re not cheap, and they wouldn’t be delivered in time for our trip. Canadian company Similicious have better prices, but on a short notice trip they also wouldn’t be able to get the SIM card to us in time, as international shipping would be about fourteen days.

The other option was to get an international SIM, but looking through the options they’re all primarily focused on voice calls and texts, you can get an international SIM with data, but that adds to the cost even more.  However looking at what we use day by day, the vast majority of the use we now make of our phone is data, not calls. Our phones are essentially handheld computers that just happen to make calls. Quite often we’re communicating through chat apps like Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger. On the ground in Canada apps like Citymapper and Uber would be essential for getting around. If we wanted to make voice calls we had FaceTime and FaceTime Audio to talk to other iPhone users, and apps like Skype can also be used to call conventional phone numbers for fairly minimal costs. So it seemed like we could get by with a data only SIM – so would those be any cheaper.

Having a search around I came across the Love2Surf card on next day delivery with Amazon. It comes pre-loaded with 100Mb of data, and has a website that allows you to add more, so we thought we’d give it a go.

In the UK the card runs on the EE network, so we swapped out the normal 3 SIM before leaving for the airport, and were able to give it a test run whilst still in the UK. On arrival in Canada it hooked up to the Rogers network and it quite happily made a FaceTime call from the baggage claim hall.

The main issue we had on the trip was a hiccup when we added data to the card part way through, which was a technical issue at the Love2Surf end, that left us with the card unable to connect to any network for a few hours, but it came back and we were able to carry on. There were a couple of occasions when we forgot we couldn’t make voice calls, but you’re not going to end up with a big bill from doing so as the card is only authorised to roam data. All in all it seemed like the little bit of convenience was worth it for the cost saving.

Comparing the prices for Canada if you’ve got enough notice it won’t beat the cost of a local SIM from Similicious but if you’re visiting multiple countries touring around the Love2Surf card is certainly cheaper than buying a local SIM for each country.

Taxi

Recently I’ve been playing around with taxi apps on my phone.

For a while I’ve had Hailo on my iPhone for when I am in London, which is an app from a London startup that allows you to hail a black cab from your phone, but whilst that has expanded to other cities worldwide it doesn’t work in the UK anywhere outside the capital, so for day to day it’s not much use when I’m at home in the depths of Berkshire.

Since Hailo appeared, other competitors have turned up, the biggest and most notorious being Uber. The Moovit app that I have had on my phone for a while also for keeping track of buses and trains I’m using has had an Uber link up for a while, but again it hasn’t been that much use because Uber really only operated in the capital, however recently I noticed that rather than saying no cars available it would more frequently come up with availability for a car, particularly when I was in Reading. Whilst the company hadn’t officially expanded to Reading, they had expanded west along the M4 from London into Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead, and what I was seeing was cars who had carried passengers to Maidenhead becoming available when they had dropped their passengers in Reading and were heading back.

That caused me to take a look again and see whether any of the multitude of apps were usable for someone who didn’t live in the capital.

Hallo was definitely still only working with London black cabs, but GetTaxi, an Israeli startup with a similar concept to Hailo was now operating with the black cabs that operate in Reading. The only downside is that their service doesn’t operate outside Reading so whilst I could order a cab from Reading to home, I couldn’t request one in the reverse direction.

IMG_5766Uber would very occasionally offer me a ride even at home, but not often enough to rely on, so it looked like maybe there still wasn’t a viable option. However I came across another alternative thanks to a blogger I’d come across who worked as a minicab driver. There is lots of interesting stuff on his site, but the main point is that he lives in Brighton but operates mainly in London. He has worked for a variety of operators, including Uber, but is now working for large mini cab operator Addison Lee – the post where he discusses why he has gone to Addison Lee and is no longer working for Uber is well worth a read, but it also highlighted their investment in technology so I grabbed the app. I had seen Addison Lee cars operating around Reading so I knew they had expanded coverage to Berkshire – indeed since their sale to the Carlyle Group and the departure of their frequently controversial founder and CEO they are covering the whole country.

The app seems just as good as the equivalent apps for Uber, Hailo and GetTaxi, but unlike all of those it will offer me a taxi at my door, and allow me to book one at any time. Of course the on demand is not the five or ten minute wait you’d get in London – usually between thirty and sixty minutes at home – but booking an airport pick up or drop off the rates are comparable with any of the other cab firms I’ve used over the years, and they will also offer me a home to work, or work to home booking at a reasonable cost. The app also allows me to pay with Apple Pay or PayPal, and even retains the option to pay the driver cash (although one of the advantages of Hailo has always been that I never carry much cash these days, certainly not enough for a reasonable length cab journey). Certainly I’m going to give it a go next time I’m booking a cab, certainly can’t be as bad as some of the experiences we’ve had over the years.

IMG_5767As an experiment, having found a cab app that covered me at home, I then wondered how much their claim to cover the whole country really extended, and as yet, I haven’t found anywhere in the country it hasn’t offered me an estimate for an on demand request, or for a pre-booking, as long as one end of the journey or another is somewhere close to their main area in the south-east of England. This for example is a pickup request for the big hotel in the centre of Portree on the Isle of Skye, for which the app is quoting 295 minutes – whether they’d actually turn up if you made the on demand request is another matter as from experimentation 295 minutes seems to be some sort of maximum and is what it quotes in a number of places I’ve tried, but the app certainly suggests it will take a booking – an eye watering £1770 to come back home!

Do You Need a Digital Camera Any More?

Apple and other mobile phone companies have been pushing how good the cameras in their phones have become for a while now, and certainly because most people have their phone with them a lot more often than they have a camera, people are taking many more pictures on mobile phones. However have the cameras on phones now got so good that you really don’t need a separate camera?

Certainly they’re not as good as a digital SLR, but could they replace a digital compact camera?

Until now, despite having had a mobile phone capable of taking pictures if I’ve been going on holiday I’ve always taken a separate camera. Over the years the pictures from the phones have been getting steadily better, but they were still noticeably better from the camera than the phone. However that has changed with my most recent upgrade to an iPhone 6 Plus where I have been regularly impressed by the quality of the pictures even in situations where previous phone cameras have struggled. So this year, as an experiment when we went on holiday I left my digital camera, currently a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10, at home. You can take a look at the album of pictures we took on Flickr by clicking on the image below. The album contains pictures from two phones, my iPhone 6 Plus, and also pictures from the iPhone 6 used by my wife.

Devon Holiday 2015

Certainly they are a pretty good set of pictures, including some that my regular camera just wouldn’t be able to produce such as the panoramic shots. However there are some shots that the Panasonic would have made a better job of – anything that is zoomed for example as the Panasonic has an optical zoom whereas the phones are zooming digitally. A good example is this picture of a train arriving that used the digital zoom on the iPhone 6.

There are also some practical issues, a big one being battery life. A digital camera can quite happily run on a single set of batteries for significantly longer than a multi-purpose device like a phone, indeed on the holiday there was one occasion where the iPhone 6 couldn’t be used because the battery was getting too low. Getting an emergency charge battery like this Anker unit can help if you get caught short on battery, but it would still be better not to have to worry. One big practical issue is that it is one less device to have to carry – more and more the smartphone is becoming a single multi-purpose device replacing still camera, video camera, sat-nav, handheld games console, and even the holiday paperback.

Ultimately though as phone cameras continue to improve, the market for the digital compact camera is going to continue to diminish, especially as the other advantages of photography on a phone such as being able to easily edit and share those pictures straight from the device are taken into account. With services such as Google Photos, Flickr or Apple iCloud Photo Library allowing you to synchronise and share edits, the days of taking pictures on a separate camera and importing them to a computer via USB cable or a card reader will increasingly be in the past

UK Wide Public Transport – What About Google Maps or Moovit?

When I published my post about whether anyone could bring the level of flair Citymapper has shown in London to UK wide travel I not surprisingly got some comments back about services I had missed. To be fair I deliberately didn’t list off all the many public transit apps, as there are absolutely loads out there, however I thought I’d discuss two which came up, Google Maps and Moovit.

If you believe the Daily Mail Google Maps now has real time data for the whole of the UK, unfortunately like a lot of articles that appear in the paper, or on their website that is total rubbish. If you read the actual Google Press Release what the said is this:

We’ve added every single transit route in Great Britain to Google Maps—making it easier to get anywhere from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

They then say that they’ve added real-time information for Vancouver and Chicago, they don’t say anywhere that they have added real-time information for the UK. If you click through to the post by their GB product manager this explains that they’ve taken schedule information from National Express and Traveline so essentially what they’ve added is a much nicer interface to the existing UK wide travel planners. Basically somebody at the Daily Mail can’t actually read a press release properly, and certainly didn’t bother to check the actual site to see what is going on.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 22.19.27Doing what the Daily Mail didn’t bother to do taking a look at Waterloo Station in Google Maps, for the Underground station they list the scheduled times of the trains, which might be a bit of surprise to most travellers on the tube, that there is actually a timetable!

Screenshot 2014-07-05 22.19.00Swapping over to Citymapper we have the actual departures in real-time, as they have for stations all across London.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 21.59.45Things are even more sparse when it comes to National Rail – although route planning from Waterloo will bring up accurate times, there are no departures on the Google site.

Screenshot 2014-07-05 21.57.26Taking a look at the same station in Citymapper you get a complete list of realtime departures. Citymapper being London focused has live departures for key commuter routes outside the capital, for example they have departures for Reading station.

The situation is much the same when you look at the smartphone applications – no real-time data on Google, loads within London for Citymapper.

IMG_4133Moving on to Moovit, once again the issue is real-time data. They are a bit better than Google, in that they do have some real-time data, specifically for some buses, but once again they don’t have the real-time data fields for National Rail. Looking at Reading this time, this is an example of what Moovit might show – note the message at the bottom mentioning that real-time departures will be highlighted in Orange.

IMG_4132This iPhone screenshot is from the app of an excellent site called Realtime Trains that is a trainspotters paradise in terms of the , so that app is telling me platform numbers, whether a train is running late, and interestingly has a different departure time than Moovit is presenting.

That also highlights another problem, the quality of the data in Moovit. One of the app store reviews comments that all the bus times on the reviewers local route were ten minutes out. It’s also remarkably difficult to find London Euston station on Moovit – it has Euston Square station and the Underground station, but the only way to actually get to see the scheduled departures from Euston using the app is to find the station on the map and click on it – it doesn’t come up in searches at all. Reading departures can equally be problematic when searching by hand as the app retains the historic split between the old Reading Southern Region station and the Reading Great Western station even though physically they’ve long since become one station. This means that there are two icons for Reading station almost on top of each other and two separate lists of departures.

I have to say, I really want to like Moovit – as an avid user of Waze crowdsourcing public transport data seems a great idea. The developers seem to have come up with a way of tracking journeys that doesn’t decimate your battery level, but without accurate schedules and using all the available real-time data that is available for buses, trains and the Underground it is pretty useless, where Citymapper excels is that it tells me what is actually happening, not what should be happening. There is also a split between Scotland and England which none of the other route planning apps have which makes it impossible to plan a trip that goes over the border – whilst it may be argued that they are splitting by country, the actual underlying data they’re using for the schedules is UK wide resulting in the trains for Scotland apparently only being available on the English area, so it seems a slightly arbitrary split that renders Moovit even more problematic and unnecessarily so.

So my initial conclusion remains, even taking into account Google Maps and Moovit, there is still no UK wide multi-modal public transport application with the flair of Citymapper – who is going to produce one? Will Google introduce real-time data? Will Moovit sort out their schedule data and add in more real-time? Or will Citymapper expand out to cover the whole of the UK?

Can Anyone Bring Citymapper Flair to UK Wide Travel?

Screenshot 2014-06-29 21.38.12I’m a real fan of Citymapper – for travelling around London it does a great job integrating all the trains, buses and the underground together in an easy to use app, a trick they’re repeating in other major cities across the world.

However there is one big issue, whilst I go into London, I don’t live in London, I live out in Berkshire. The app includes train services out as far as Reading, but if I want to take a bus to the station I need a different app like one of the Bus Expert apps to get me to the station. The only buses in Citymapper are those run by Transport for London, so even connections for the outer reaches of the London Underground aren’t included for where I grew up around Rickmansworth.

That’s not to say that there isn’t the real time data around, Citymapper make use of data feeds from Transport API, and their data covers a much wider area than just London, indeed you can find example sites and example applications that use their data on a wider level.

There is also the government backed Traveline websites which have a set of regional travel planning applications, each working and looking different and having been developed by different suppliers appointed by the various regions, and then Transport Direct offer a national route planning service, along with a mobile web site, but no equivalent app. All of the government apps and sites work, but they aren’t exactly the kind of modern web and app experience you get from an app like Citymapper.

Screenshot 2014-06-29 21.36.38One of the better UK wide route planning apps is a cut down version of the Rome2Rio app called UK Transport Search, it’s got a small footprint and is pretty quick to produce reasonable routes, however it lacks any of the realtime information that Citymapper has.

You can certainly plan trips and navigate around the country using a combination of apps, but nobody seems to have produced the kind of multi-modal public transport application that Citymapper have produced for London on a wider scale. We have all the bits, but nobody has actually pulled the whole thing together, so who is actually going to do it?

Apple fires head of mapping team after backlash from customers

20121127-110307 PM.jpgThe Apple management cull as a result of the iOS Maps debacle continues…

Richard Williamson was manager of troubled maps division that has been dogged by glitches since dropping Google Share Email Rory Carroll in Los Angeles guardian.co.uk , Tuesday 27 November 2012 16.44 EST The mapping bungle also led to the ousting of mobile-software chief Scott Forstall in October. Photograph: Joseph […]

Click here to view original web page at www.guardian.co.uk

Apples Newton MessagePad PDA at Twenty

Apples Newton MessagePad PDA at Twenty | Techland | TIME.com.

Before the iPhone, before the iPad, Apple had a first foray into the mobile device market, and it didn’t go all that well…

Great article by Harry McCracken reviewing the original Apple Newton Message Pad. Whilst the product may be considered a failure, the technology and trends it started can be tracked directly to devices and software we use today.