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Telestial News

September 29, 2015


Hot off the back of the launch of their latest iPhone, Apple have released a new operating system, iOS 9. Among the new features are updates to the Maps App (featuring public transport information for a select few cities) and a very welcome ‘low power mode’, which will disable some features to lengthen the life of your battery. However, there’s one new feature that you will want to disable almost immediately – WIFI Assist.

In principle, WIFI Assist seems like a good idea. Previously, if you found yourself in an area where the WIFI signal was a bit patchy in places, web pages would fail to load and would get stuck until you closed the page down and tried again. WIFI Assist is an attempt to fix this problem, by turning on your cellular data connection when it detects that the WIFI is struggling. However, initial trials have shown that it determines that you need a great deal of assistance. Even people using their home WIFI have found that, at the end of the month, the amount they have spent on mobile data has risen dramatically, up to a third more than usual. Irritating when in your home country – potentially ruinous if you are abroad.

Perhaps the least helpful part of this new feature is that it is enabled as standard the moment you download the update, without telling you that it has done so. Fortunately, it is quite easy to disable: go to SETTINGS > CELLULAR and scroll to the bottom of the page, where you’ll find a slider for WIFI Assist. Simply turn this off, and your phone will behave like it used to.

August 28, 2015


The Pew Research Center released an exhaustive study this week of US smartphone user habits, with a particular emphasis on etiquette. The findings are interesting, particularly when compared to a similar study from two years ago. Comparing the two, it’s clear to see what the trends are, and how things that we have previously found unacceptable are now creeping their way toward legitimacy.

For example, the amount of people who feel that using your phone while waiting in line is rude has fallen by approximately 15% in the last two years. This is broadly the same with people using their phone in a meeting or during dinner. Using your phone while walking the street, on public transport or while driving a car has also become more acceptable (though the Mythbusters have recently provided evidence that talking while driving, no matter how you do it, is really unsafe).

There are a few areas where we have become more intolerant. Using your phone in church, for example, has become a huge no-no. Of those asked, 95% agreed that it should not be done, which is another 15% rise on two years ago. Using your phone at the movie theater has also become less acceptable – though it’s not quite as bad as using your phone at the stage theatre, an issue raised by Benedict Cumberbatch in London recently.

This study was carried out in the USA and only reflects US habits, and travelers might find that what is acceptable in one country is frowned upon in another – and vice versa. An experienced traveler (such as one who has taken advantage of Telestial’s excellent rates) will take the time to check these unspoken rules in the countries they are visiting, so as to avoid embarrassment or discomfort.

August 25, 2015


There are an awful lot of smartphones out there. As well as numerous handset manufacturers, there are dozens of different operating systems too. But in terms of market share and popularity, there are two names that keep coming up, over and over again: Apple and Android. The key differences between these two brands are to do with exclusivity and usability, and it is this which is responsible for both their huge success, and the problems that they are to face in the near future.

Apple have become the world’s largest brand in recent years, due to the extraordinary success of the iPhone. Despite only controlling 20% of the smartphone market, Apple reaps an extraordinary 92% of the profits. This is partially because Apple control almost everything about their own products. They make their own phones, which run on their own operating system, and they jealously guard their innovations. For Apple, this is very much a closed system that begins and ends with them. Their focus on stylish design and interesting new features are part of the reason why they are able to charge higher prices for their products and still succeed (despite the occasional embarrassing misstep). It is for this reason that there have been only 10 iterations of the iPhone (with another two due to be announced next month).

Android, on the other hand, is happy to share itself with other phone makers. First released by Google in 2008, the Android operating system has surpassed Windows, Blackberry and others to become Apple’s only true competition in the market. It is not, however, restricted to one single handset manufacturer, and therein, as the Bard would tell you, lies the rub. You can buy, at present, well over a thousand different types of Android handset, from manufacturers such as Lenovo, Motorola, Sony and Google itself. Telestial’s own smartphone handsets run on the Android system.

While this proliferation may seem like a good thing for competiton on the surface, it is starting to become apparent that this highly fragmented market will cause problems in the future. Take HTC, for example. Voted ‘Device Manufacturer of the Year’ in 2011, HTC used to occupy third place behind Apple and Samsung in terms of market share. Just four years later, HTC’s stock is basically worthless, because they failed to innovate sufficiently in this incredibly fast-moving market.

This is a problem for consumers, for if you’ve bought a mid-range or specialist Android handset from a small manufacturer who gets into financial difficulty; there may suddenly be no one available to help if you run into a technical problem. There is an additional problem, one that has been illustrated by the recent upheaval on the global stock markets – not only is China currently the world’s biggest smartphone market, it is also where all but a few manufacturers make their phones (though some are moving into India). If the Chinese economy gets into further trouble, as seems likely, not only will the Chinese consumer appetite for smartphones wane, but it could also cause problems for the makers as wages for factory workers may rise and the cheap resources that made China the place to have these things built become more expensive.  If life wasn’t already hard enough for a small smartphone manufacturer, it’s about to get a good deal worse.

August 13, 2015


In a few years from now, kids are going to have a whole set of new and surprising questions. Imagine a child playing with a smartphone. Some of the icons make sense. There’s the clock, which is for telling the time, and the calendar is obviously an event planner. That little shopping bag icon is for buying things, and the great big ‘F’ against a blue background – well, everyone knows that one. But what’s this strange green icon for making phone calls, the one that has what looks like a tilted smile?* And while we’re on the subject, why do we call it ‘hanging up’?

Like so many other things – the Walkman, the personal organizer, even the good old wristwatch – Smartphones have replaced almost all other types of phone. With employers starting to get rid of voicemail because it’s no longer necessary, and the FCC suggesting that getting rid of your landline is the best way to avoid robo-calls from politicians, even the desk  or home phone at work is on borrowed time. But it would be a mistake to think that because it has replaced these other options, we’re all just yakking away on our mobiles. The truth is, we’re talking less than ever before.

It’s not a question of saving money, either. While there are a bewildering array of VOIP messaging apps, regular text messages are still the most popular choice. This is because not everyone has the same configuration of apps, or the same access to WIFI – or even a Smartphone. Text messages are efficient and reliable.

Why is this happening? Are we becoming more antisocial? After all, there have never been more opportunities to talk to people now that people can be gotten hold of just about anywhere at any time. We can even talk face-to-face! But that’s certainly not something I do on a regular basis, and nor does anyone else I know. Perhaps it’s a question of design. Smartphones are designed to be carried, not to be talked into like that old-fashioned receiver. With touchscreen technology dictating everything from phone navigation to dialing, perhaps it just feels more natural to continue using the screen to type a message rather than holding it to your face. Either way, the Smartphone, possibly the most impactful piece of technology in human history, is continuing to change our habits. If we’re not careful, it will even change the way we walk.

* No need to look so smug, text message icon – after all, you look like a handwritten letter, and we haven't seen one of those in forever.

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