For years, my cell phone was a variation of a Motorola contractor’s phone. This was the most basic, but tough-built phone in the Motorola line, mostly intended to be on construction sites and in the hands of very rough-handling computer historians. The most recent one of those I owned was a i530. An i530 looks like this:
It’s ugly, bright yellow, and tough, like my conscience.Â
It was also such a basic data plan that when people would SMS me with information, it would not tell me who SMS’d me. I spent some time trying to figure out why this was the case, and it comes down to a Rube-Goldberg-Like relationship with the data plan and my phone, meaning that it literally would play a game of telephone until it reached my phone and let me have the bulk of the message, although the identifying information would be stripped off. Â I had a couple years there where I’d get a message like “So, up for dinner?” and then be loathe to call most likely persons. Also, as the image suggests, I went with a nice dull black-on-green screen that didn’t have color photos, pretty web browsing.. or much of anything. I lived like this for a very long time.
My day job recently changed, and is, shall we say, a little more demanding. (It’s what’s delayed my documentary, by the way.) Among the whoppers that went by was a 48 hour service call. Let’s cover that again, a two-day solid service call on the phone. No, that’s not big enough. I WAS ON THE PHONE FOR 48 STRAIGHT HOURS, SLEEPING NEXT TO THE MUTED PHONE IN CASE I WAS NEEDEDÂ all right, I think that works.
The fun of that and many similar calls was not enough for the universe, and so it was with great surprise I got a cell phone bill for $800. A quick call to the provider revealed that I had gone over my “unlimited” plan (which was in fact a different plan that wasn’t unlimited) and jammed up charges into the hundreds of dollars. We struck a deal: they dropped the $800 charge and I switched to an actual unlimited data plan for $100/month.
This changed things. Now I could make unlimited data and phone calls with the phone, but the phone I had, as tough and yellow as it was, was no longer able to do everything allowed to it. I knew then I had to get a new phone. So I got a Blackberry. It looks like this:
So what you have is a guy who has come up through home computers and a time when mobile phones were only the realm of the rich, the powerful, and the stupid, to this situation.
Naturally, I latched onto the web-browsing, network-kafuckery, and the ability to actually know who was SMSing me. The camera is crap, the keys are a little weird to get used to, and I do feel like a bit of a tool when I whip this thing out. But once you get this enjoyable additional set of abilities, you don’t want to go back. I installed an SSH client on the phone, and the ability to read my e-mail through alpine on my freeBSD box has been a convenience, as has been the ability to use things like Google Maps to not get lost. Again. For hours. All of this has been very good.
But what really worked for me was the installation of Vlingo. Let me explain what Vlingo is.
In a nutshell, Vlingo turns your mobile device into a voice-activated and interfaced voice device. Once it loads, you say things to it, literally speak unto itÂ phrases like “take a note: Remember to get the milk” and it will put a note “remember to get the milk” into the right application. You can say “Open Google Maps” and it will open Google Maps. You can say “Call Voice Mail” and it will work. And you can SMS people by speaking out full sentences and prefacing it with the person’s name. How much this changes the relationship to the phone is legion, so far a jump that it’s the same length as the jump from my contractor phone to my Blackberry. It is, in all ways, a 21st century communicator/hitchhiker’s guide/companion computer I can ask all sorts of things and have it respond.
I have been fascinated at how much voice recognition has improved in the last decade – it can’t be played down. The ability to use services like TellMe and GOOG-411 have been great, and TellMe was the secret weapon that made the BBS Documentary production go a lot smoother – I’d be stuck in the back of nowhere and then desperately call 1-800-555-TELL and beg the machine for directions. I will never forget the ability to just speak into my phone and have it “work”. I remember when this was an assumed given for the distant future but nothing I’d be walking around with. Now I do.
You might wonder why there’s no links to Vlingo on this site. That’s because they’re cocks. Let me explain.
I have a strong memory of being at CompUSA on two separate occasions where the kid at the cash register “did stuff” for me. I would be buying something, like a hard drive, and he would throw something into my bag and start ringing it up. I would then form a question along the lines of “What the fuck did you just throw in my bag” and he would explain that by adding this item, I was saving money, because it would cause a rebate or some hoo-hah. But here’s the thing. He’d just fucking assume it. To him, he was doing me a favor, likely because he had such a low opinion of the cattle-like customers that he wouldn’t even bother to tell them what was going on, like you don’t sit down for a long conversation with a cat about the possible allergic side-effects to their rabies shot. You just do it because you knew what was best. Twice, I had cashiers do this. Twice, I brought this up, was given the explanation, and cancelled the transaction right there and left and drove over to another place to get a hard drive. I don’t care what the kid thought was “right” for me; he’d taken me out of the mix.Â
Similarly, it must never be forgotten what assholes Real Networks have been on the user interface and customer service front. The Real media player, during installation, would do things like hide the e-mail sign up boxÂ deep down underneath things and buried in scrolling, so you would naturally sign up for their spam. They’d also make the player take all sorts of advantage of your machine, using it as a launch point to hit you up with advertisements, pitches, and unwanted crap, just for installing a video player. Eventually better solutions came and ate their lunch, but for some people Real was the big game in town and they took this advantage to the fullest.
Vlingo has successfully blended that idiot CompUSA kid and Real. That’s a shame.
When you install Vlingo (I ultimately installed Vlingo “Plus”, but it’s the same program with a few things added), it needs to rape your system. You get to watch or not watch, but rape will happen. They tell you that it’s coming, that a page will come up in which Vlingo will ask for full access to every last aspect of your phone, from low-level networking up through every application, calling log, and phone function. It does it in the same tone as the kid did: just trust us, it says. And then it just blows itself into every last nook and cranny of the OS. It nearly filled my memory doing so. And it had to hard reset, so that it would be totally, completely installed. I did this, and essentially my phone became a Vlingo phone. Now, I happen to likeÂ the Vlingo Phone for the moment, since it’s voice activated and all. But like a slick lawyer, it made a lot of jumps so I wouldn’t be bothered by the “little stuff”.
As soon as Vlingo is installed, it then turns into Real: it asked me if it was OK to mail every contact on my e-mail list about itself. I said “fuck no”. It then added itself as a signature to my twitter feed and e-mails. It did notÂ ask. It took. I had to go in and undo these default settings so I wasn’t a big fat Vlingo ad.
The application, in its menu, has “tell friends about Vlingo” as the second option, pushing “Help” and “Options” down to some sort of second-class position. This is what it considers a priority – self promotion.
Oh, sure, this is all something some genius person at Vlingo thinks is the bees knees: we can put up ads for ourselves all over the place on this phone we got full admin access to!Â Â But to me, this is the difference between a painter having his truck in your driveway with his information on the side and the painter sitting in your kitchen and answering any phonecalls coming in with the news that they’re painting your house. Stop fucking doing that. Vlingo does this, and for that reason, my deal with them is similar to Real’s. I will use them and will get the hell away from them at the first (and inevitable) sign that something better or equal comes along that does not inject a sales office into my phone.
The future is awesome. Except for the parts that suck.
Categorised as: jason his own self
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