I Feel Claustrophobic

I have been using the iPad for a few months now and the best way to describe the feeling it evokes when I use it to do work is claustrophobic. Every app is its own tiny kingdom where access to data from other apps is sealed off by the operating system. And that's very claustrophobic [...]

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How to Stop Twitter From Tracking You on the Web

A couple of folks in my RSS feed linked to Dustin Curtis’s blog post titled “Twitter is tracking you on the web”. That post seems to be making rounds around the blogosphere right now. My first thoughts were “isn’t this common knowledge.” Perhaps not.

All three social giants — Twitter, Facebook, and Google — have buttons on many websites. Any site with a social button present is being tracked by one of these companies. If you’re always logged into your social accounts, this information is most likely linked to your account. I cannot say how long these giants keep that information on file, it’s not something I could dig up from their privacy policies.

The good news is there is an easy way to stop being tracked. You can use the following add-ons to stop all three sites from tracking you. I use Firefox myself, but all of these add-ons are avaliable in Chrome as well.

    • Ghostery – Blocks all three giants, as well as hundreds of other networks. If you need to disable one of the trackers for whatever reason, you can do it easily and quickly. Recommended. Link for Firefox, Google, Safari, IE, Opera.
    • ShareMeNot – Blocks all three giants. Easy to enable the buttons on demand. Works well. Link for Firefox and Chrome.
    • disconnect – Blocks all three giants as well as Linked In and Yahoo. I’d recommend ShareMeNot over disconnect, at least on Firefox. Link for atleast Firefox and Chrome.

These sites also have a bit more details about the tracking process and privacy problems that arise from it. Definitely read their about sections to get a better grasp of the information.

First Impressions of an iPad from an Android Phone User

I recently bought the Retina Display iPad. It also happens to be my first tablet device. Until now I’ve been using Android phones for the past two and half years. I’m more than familiar with Android—I know most of the tricks, rooting, installing custom ROMs…the whole nine yards. I also had an iPod Touch a while back, so I’m moderately familiar with an iOS device firsthand as well. Of course, I’ve played aplenty with friends’ iPads, iPhones and stay abreast with technology news, so I have a good idea about the differences between the two platforms and ecosystems. However, this was the first time I was an owner of an iPad so I thought it would be interesting to jot down my first impressions of the device and platform coming off the Android phone ecosystem. It’s important to point out that these are observations before I started meddling with third-party apps. Things of note in no particular order:

Proprietary cable

The good thing about Android devices is the use of the standardized micro-USB cable. I’ve never needed more than one cable. This has been particularly useful when I travel: I don’t need to bring an extra type of cable to charge my Nook Simple Touch. With the inclusion of an Apple device, the cable count goes up. A minor, but needless annoyance.

Mail’s threaded inbox

I use Gmail as my primary email account. I think the conversation view is the best update to emailing in the past decade. The Mail client that ships with the iPad has a conversation view. But I noticed that emails that are not in the same folder aren’t added to the conversation view. For example, my replies (that are cached/ synced in the ‘Sent’ folder) don’t appear in a conversation that sits in my Inbox. Bit of a downer, but it’s something that can easily be fixed. The PC/Mac application ‘Postbox’ also has a similar conversation view, and it includes emails in different folders in a thread. It’s nice when things work as expected. iPad’s Mail should fix that soon. I should point out that the iPad Mail client’s conversation view works with any email account. Android’s non-Gmail mail client does not (the last time I checked).


I think the keyboard that ships with the iPad could use some serious work. I think this is where Android does something much better. First of all, the default Android keyboard (from ICS) has a better error correction mechanism than the iPad’s mechanism. Instead of one choice that is automatically accepted if you hit space, you can choose the prediction, or two other choices. It’s very aggravating to spell names then look up to realize something completely different being displayed. It’s easy to fix in Android, not so much on iOS.

Another thing I like about Android, which won’t happen in iOS is the ability to use any other keyboard. I’ve been using SwiftKey for a while now, and it’s fantastic. I don’t want to talk about why it’s so great, but one thing that I miss is that it has this feature where if I swipe across the keyboard, I can delete the previous word. I often find myself swiping the iPad keyboard before realizing that doesn’t do anything.

The other peculiarity I noticed was that the keys are always in caps. SwiftKey changes from small to caps when I hit shift key. It’s an easy visual cue as opposed to a small indicator on the shift button on the iPad keyboard.

Figure 1: The iPad keyboard alongside the SwiftKey keyboard. Notice that by default, SwiftKey’s keys are not in caps. Also note the spelling correction mechanism, similar to one found in default Android ICS.

I do like the ability to split the keyboard in landscape view. It’s great for typing whilst holding the device and walking, or propped up in bed.

You can’t put Newsstand in a folder

I just didn’t like all the apps splayed across the desktop (home screen), so I put them all in a folder. I can put everything inside a folder, expect for Newsstand. I found that to be curious. At first I thought it was because the Newsstand magazines are downloaded from the App Store, so it’s just a specialized folder for magazine type apps. But the Newsstand magazine apps can’t be removed from Newsstand either. So the entire thing is a bit of anomaly.

Twenty to a folder

As I was dumping all my applications in one folder, I hit a limit at 20 apps. I guess it’s limited by the amount of screen space. Would have been nice to not have a limit or an option to disable such limit (Yes, to the curious among you, I was trying to recreate the Android App Drawer). I can see that Apple set it up just so that folks don’t have to scroll at all. Oh well.

Apps get added to second screen

This one actually annoyed me as I downloaded new apps. Although my first screen is almost completely devoid of apps, all new apps are added to the second screen. Why? They should just go to the first open space in the first screen.

No sorting by ratings

I think the App Store as well as Google Play (and amazon.com) could learn a lesson from the fantastic Newegg.com store. You can sort by anything and everything based on specifications. But more to the point, you should be able to sort reviews by ratings, versions, length of ownership, etc. I did like that you can choose to view ratings for the current version and all versions. It’s a step in the right direction.

Back, done, setup, and other navigation cues on top

I’m very fond of the four buttons on an Android device (three persistent buttons on ICS). That’s three extra buttons than an iOS device. I absolutely love the ‘back’ and ‘search’ button. I love the ‘back’ button because it’s always there, and mostly every app uses it properly: you press it and expect to go to the previous screen. Apple alleviated the need for a back button by enforcing good habits in programmers I suppose. In iOS apps, the back button is always found on the top left of an application. I think it works well for a phone, but it’s probably a lot more convenient to have that ‘back’ button on the bottom panel in a large tablet. Regardless of how I held the device, I had to move my hands to the top of the device (and sometimes across the screen) to hit that button. Either by chance or good planning, Android tablets have the ‘back’ button on the bottom, which makes it much more accessible.

I miss the search button as well. I usually just treated the search button as a launcher like Launchy for Windows, or the search field in Windows Start Menu. Everything gets indexed (documents and music as well) so it’s one access button to almost everything. iOS and Android ICS don’t have that search button, which is a bit of a bummer. iOS does have a very good search feature on the left of the home screen, but because of having only one button, accessing it is a two-step affair at a minimum.

The third Android button not found in iOS is the ‘menu’ button. It might have been a good idea when Android started—I liked it initially as well—but really no one knows how to use it so it leads to a very confounding user experience from one app to another. I’m okay with it being removed in Android ICS. iOS apps usually have a settings button on the top bar in an application; just like the back button, it would be nicer for this to be in a panel along the bottom.

You can’t change defaults

I downloaded the browser ‘Dolphin HD’. I wanted it to be default handler for links. There is no system setting to make that happen. It’s another nice feature in Android that I don’t expect Apple to be bring to their platform.

Device name

You can name your iOS device. It shows up on the network. It’s a nice change from the random strings of numbers that an Android devices identify with. As far as I know, I couldn’t even change the device name with Cyanogenmod ROM on my Android phones.

Figure 2: Naming devices! As any self-respecting geek, I name my devices properly. The Android device shows up as <unknown>. The printer shows up as BR…

Multitouch gestures

If there’s one thing that PC users are missing out on, it’s gestures on Mac OS X. From two finger scrolling to four finger mission control, it’s just fantastic. The iPad has the four-fingered gestures for app switching, and it’s great. iPhones and Android phones should figure out how to implement it. The Dolphin HD browser has some gestures, and it works well on Android phones, but aren’t particularly convenient on the iPad (Probably because the gesture button is not towards the bottom, unlike the placement in Android phones). I think gestures in general would be a great boost to any platform, let alone four, or five-fingered gestures.

Battery life

It’s great. For the first few days I didn’t have too much time to play with the device (work!) but after four—four—days the battery life was at 30%. Yes it was basically standby, but good luck getting a Windows PC last on instant-on standby for four days with still plenty of battery to spare. Just great.

That’s it as far as first impressions are concerned. There’s obviously more to talk about, the fancy display, the apps, the syncing… I plan to talk about all those things in greater detail one I’m more familiar with the device and place it somewhere in my workflow.

How To Minimize Tracking On The Web

These days a lot of web activity occurs behind the users’ back. Any link we click, any site we visit, is tracked and recorded by companies that we are completely unaware of. However, using some tools made by folks who are worried about our privacy and security, we can see and minimize the amount of tracking that is done as we traverse the web.

The web works on advertising. Most websites have some sort of advertisement. Closely associated with advertising is the concept of tracking cookies. These are small text files that an ad company leaves on users’ computers to collect information about them: the sites visited, the articles clicked on, etc1. These tracking cookies allow advertisers to build a personalized profile of any user based on their browsing behavior to tailor ads according to their apparent preferences.

It’s not just advertising companies that like to track users’ movement across the web. Data collection companies use cookies to track movement across the web for analytics. Data collection by analytics companies can be used for two purposes. The first purpose is to provide website developers with more information about their audience: how a visitor landed on the page, what keyword search landed them there, was it through Facebook, etc. An example would be the service provided by Google Analytics, something I have deployed myself. The second purpose is to track the user himself: just like an ad company, tracking user movement across the web can be valuable data. An example would be the tracking done by Facebook on any site where a “Like!” button can be seen.

In and of itself, this behavior seems like a fairly reasonable compromise. A person visits a set of sites, and an ad company or data company collects some information that helps both advertisers and the end-user: the user might see ads relevant to their interests, and the ad company might attract a better click-through rate. However, one can quickly see how this behavior can be exploited by any company. If the collection company (ad or analytics) chooses to keep the data for long-term usage, it can become a privacy and security risk for the user. And that is exactly what has happened.

Companies — like Facebook and Google — have pushed the pendulum a bit too far towards their side by trying to collect every possible iota of user information on the web. They already have a lot of user data: emails, private messages, favorite bands, TV shows, etc. In one sense or another we as users have given them explicit permission to take and use this data. However, the practice of collecting data through a user’s browsing behavior seems a bit more sinister: most users are unaware of the practice, no one really knows how long the information is kept, or who this information is sold off too — of course it’s being sold, that’s why information is collected, to be sold to the highest bidder. I’ve only pointed out Facebook and Google, but there a plenty of other, less well-known companies that are in the same business.

The good news is that as users we can take some simple steps to minimize this tracking. The (more) bad news is that we have to be proactive about it. There are plenty of browser add-ons that claim to reduce tracking and increase privacy and security. Using a Firefox add-on called Collusion (by Atul Varma) we can actually visualize this tracking behavior, and see if these add-ons provide any tangible benefit.

Visualizing Tracking

In order to do these tests, I visited particular articles on 18 fairly common sites2 using Firefox 10.0. I set up separate profiles for each configuration, and repeated each run 3 times. The Collusion add-on uses information on known trackers from privacychoice.org to construct a connectivity map showing sites that collect and store your information. Known trackers are shown with red dots, other connected sites are shown in grey; it’s unknown whether they collect and store information. I visited the websites using several different settings and add-ons in Firefox to see how the tracking behavior is modified.

My first run was using the default installation of Firefox 10.0. The results can be seen in Figure 1 below. There were an astonishing 66 trackers collecting information from the 18 visited sites. The largest tracker (largest red dot) was ‘Scorecard Research’ with 28 connections, followed by ‘doubleclick.net’ (Google) with 25 connections, and ‘Nielsen Netratings’ with 21 connections. I was expecting a large number, but 66 confirmed trackers are still a bit too much from just 18 sites.

Figure 1: Connectivity map of the default Firefox 10.0 installation.

As most of the trackers were associated with advertisement firms, I decided to use the popular add-on Adblock Plus (by Wladimir Palant) for my next run. As Adblock Plus prevents the actual third-party site code from loading, I assumed that it would suppress tracking cookies. And that’s exactly what happened. Loading the same 18 sites/ articles produced a very different connectivity map this time. Only 9 trackers were detected (Figure 2, below). The largest tracker was again ‘Scorecard Research’, followed by ‘Nielsen’ and then ‘Quantcast’. The number of connected sites for each was 14, 9 and 7, respectively. So just using Adblock Plus drops tracking by seven fold. Quite impressive results from just one add-on.

Figure 2: Connectivity map of Firefox with the Adblock Plus add-on.

After installing Adblock Plus, I installed a spate of add-ons that don’t target non-advertising networks in particular, but are still useful for privacy and security. They were HTTPS-Everywhere, Beef Taco, and Better Privacy. HTTPS-Everywhere (by the EFF) forces a secure connection on sites that provide that option. Better privacy deletes ‘supercookies’ on exiting the browser. Supercookies can be a number of different things, but Better Privacy deletes Flash based objects (called LSO). One caveat though, by default it deletes all stored Flash objects, so if you play Flash games, you’ll have to manually whitelist that site. The last add-on, Beef Taco (by John Hobbs), sets permanent opt-out cookies for ad networks. Because it doesn’t target other types of tracking cookies, I didn’t run Collusion to visualize how it changes the connectivity map. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea.

The next anti-tracking add-on I installed was Disconnect. It’s a fairly new add-on compared to the rest and I had heard good things about it, but it was a bit disappointing. As it can be seen below (Figure 3), the number of confirmed trackers increased to 12. The top three trackers were the same as Adblock Plus, but their connected sites were now read 12, 8, and 6. It seems that Disconnect only focuses on social networks in particular, and perhaps that’s why it isn’t particularly effective. Maybe Disconnect interfered with the above mentioned add-ons and caused an increase in trackers from 9 to 12.

Figure 3: Connectivity map of Firefox with the Adblock Plus, HTTPS-Everywhere, Beef Taco, Better Privacy, and Disconnect add-ons.

For my next run, I used an older add-on called Ghostery (by David Cancel) instead of Disconnect (the other add-ons were still in place). Ghostery has a very large blacklist of third-party cookies that isn’t enabled by default. I enabled the entire blacklist, some 850 sites or so before visiting the same 18 sites. The results were fantastic. Only 1 confirmed tracker remained. It was outbrain.com, connected to cnn.com. So a 66 fold decrease from the default Firefox installation!

Figure 4: Connectivity map of Firefox with the Adblock Plus, HTTPS-Everywhere, Beef Taco, Better Privacy, and Ghostery add-ons.

After the Ghostery run, I did another run with all the aformentioned add-ons enabled simultaneously (the “kitchen sink” if you will). The results were similar to that of of the Ghostery configuration: only 1 tracker remained. My last run was with a very old piece of software, something I’ve been using since the dinosaur days called SpywareBlaster. It’s a blocklist that stops many browsers from loading known malware. It didn’t affect the connectivity graph either, but in this case that just might be because the 18 sites I visited were well maintained, safe sites. It’s blocklist is probably very useful when visiting the dark corners of the internet (I’m sure everyone ends up at a strange unheard link every now and then).

Here’s a sumary of the results:

State # of Trackers
Default Installation 66
Adblock Plus 2.03 9
Disconnect* 12
Ghostery* 1
*With other add-ons installed (see text)

Conclusions and Recommendations

For most of my recommendations to actually work, you’ll have to be using Firefox. I’ll come back to other browsers in a bit.

Based on my results, at a minimum, I’d recommend installing the following add-ons for blocking tracking cookies: Adblock Plus & Ghostery. Installing Adblock Plus comes with a warning though. After installing it, the amount of ads you’ll encounter will drop pretty close to zero. In alot of cases this improves the browsing session greatly, but it directly affects the money the site owners make. As such I’d recommend whitelisting sites that you visit frequently. It can be done by clicking on the adblock plus icon in the menu as selecting ‘Disable on sitename…’:

Figure 5: How to whitelist frequently visited sites in Adblock Plus.

By default Ghostery just shows the trackers, it doesn’t actually disable them. This can be changed by going to the ‘Firefox’ button > Add-ons > Ghostery > ‘Options’ button. In the general tab, click the ‘3pes’ tab and check all the categories to disable all third-party cookie communcaiton with their respectve servers. In practice, I keep ‘Google Analytics’ and ‘Disqus’ enabled as I use those services often. Most folks would probably want to enable (keep unchecked) Facebook and Twitter plugins as well. These social plugins are found in the ‘Widgets’ category under the ‘3pes’ tab. More astute folks will notice a ‘Cookies’s tab next to the ‘3pes’ tab. This has similar functionality to the earlier mentioned Beef Taco add-on. I haven’t experimented with it, but I expect it to serve the same purpose. You can choose to disable all the cookies, or install Beef Taco to accomplish the same goal. While in the Options menu, you might as well hit the ‘Advanced’ tab and change the ‘Show Alert Bubble’ to less than 5 seconds from the default 15 seconds. I find the default setting a bit too long for my tastes:

Figure 6: Ghostery Advanced Options.

Adblock Plus and Ghostery do a very good job of blocking tracking cookies by themselves. Browsing will be much safer just with these two add-ons installed. The other add-ons I used in this post’s runs provide other benefits that are useful, but not necessary for blocking tracking cookies. I’d still recommend installing them, but for other reasons.

Lastly a note on browsers. I’m partial to Firefox myself, and I think it holds up well against most other browsers. The only other browser worth using (at least in Windows/ Linux) is Google Chrome. In my opinion it has two great features that Firefox doesn’t: sandboxing and individual process per tab. On the other hand, it gives the user much less control, and it’s a bit of a laggard in add-ons for privacy and security. It does have Adblock Plus3 and Ghostery add-ons, which is great. But I’d still say use Firefox. Either way, install some of these add-ons, and start browsing safely!



1. It’s actually a two way process: first a cookie is left on the computer, then it can communicate with a server. A good summary is on Wikipedia (link). back up ↵

2. Well the definition of common depends on where your interests lie I suppose. Either way, they are popular sites: amazon.com, apple.com, cnet.com, cnn.com, cricinfo.com, espn.com, facebook.com, gmail.com, huffingtonpost.com, imdb.com, lifehacker.com, microsoft.com, nyt.com, rottentomatoes.com, slate.com, si.com, theverge.com, twitter.com. You can download the links to the exact articles by downloading this html file if you want to reproduce these results. back up ↵

3. The Chrome version is not exactly the same as Firefox’s version. It might affect tracker blocking; it’s something I don’t know. You can download it here (link). back up ↵

Buying a Good Phone

Buying a good phone is really frustrating these days. It seems that most manufacturers just go for the shotgun approach, hoping something will stick. And unsurprisingly, really nothing works. It’s just absurd.

“They put a 4.3” screen? Put in a 4.5” screen.”
“Oh, someone did that two minutes ago, okay make it 4.7.”
“Oh they did that? Forget it, 5.0”! Bigger is always better.”

These phones are being made by the marketing department; to sell, not to use. Pick any feature. Size?

“Thinner is always better!”
“But boss, then there will be a bump twice as large on one side.”
“Doesn’t matter, we can advertise it as thinnest ever anyways.”
“But sir, the battery will be too small.”
“It’s okay, they can recharge it twice a day.”

I could go on with how most feature sets of current “top tier” phones make the phones impractical, or in a lot of cases, utterly useless for consistent, enjoyable, long term use. There should be minimum usability criteria that every phone should meet before someone should even consider purchasing it. By someone, I don’t mean these are things that my next phone must have. These are the minimum requirements that everyone’s next phone must meet. They are:

  • The phone must be capable of comfortable one-handed operation.
  • Flagship phones cannot use last generation hardware.
  • The phone must be as symmetric as possible.
  • The phone must be shipped with the latest operating system version.
  • Core software tools must be flawless.

Those are the minimum criteria that every phone should meet. The order doesn’t matter. All of them must be met. I have clearly left out a lot of important considerations here: application and entertainment ecosystem, customizability , “value-added” software, local and cloud syncing, etc. The phone landscape is so bad that I think there needs to a minimum threshold before anyone starts considering all the higher level features. Thus the five minimum requirements. The reasoning behind each requirement:

The phone must be capable of comfortable one-handed operation.

The phone is not a tablet; you shouldn’t need a bag to store it. Yes, I know, a lot of women put their phones in their purses. It’s because the phones are too bloody big. The tight jeans don’t help either I suppose. I guess hipsters are in trouble as well. But these new phones are going to outgrow everyone but the biggest men’s pockets very soon. But all this is circling around the point, not quite making the point.

The phone is the quintessential mobile device. It’s with a person everywhere they go. It must be pocketable. It must be usable for hours on end comfortably. A phone must be capable of comfortable one-handed operation. Something meant to be used “on the go” can’t be used like that if both hands are needed to operate it. These new phones from manufacturers, the ones with 4.7” screens, 5.0” screens, are completely, utterly, dysfunctional. They can only be comfortably used by a minority of the population.

Let’s do a quick back of the envelope calculation here. My hand size is average according to Wikipedia. If I try to reach for the top of my 4.3” phone, my grip becomes loose and uncomfortable—I would easily drop the phone if someone gives me a gentle but unexpected push. This is not subjective; anyone with my hand size (or smaller) will have trouble reaching the opposite side. This means that, assuming a normal distribution, half the male population can’t use the phone easily. I cannot find a hand size distribution for women, but I found height distribution data, and if I assume height is somewhat proportional to hand size, 95% of women in the US cannot comfortably use a 4.3” or larger cell phone1. That’s basically three-fourths of the market being neglected for a pointless numbers game. This means a usable mass-market phone must not be greater than 4.3”. Ideally two sizes, 4.3” and 4.0” for large and small hands, respectively, will probably cover the entire market2. There’s an idea: actually useful differentiation!

Flagship phones cannot use last generation hardware.

I’m a geek; I love looking at all the specifications and benchmarks when phone reviews come out. But practically, any decent phone will perform adequately for most folks. A difference of five to ten percent in benchmarks isn’t something to worry about. What is unacceptable is developing flagship phones with last generation specs –this means if the market is flooded with a dual core, 8 megapixel, high-resolution displays, the manufacturer should make sure not to use outdated3 components. Typically a consumer is buying a phone for two or so years. They shouldn’t spend $200 to buy an already outdated phone.

The phone must be as symmetric as possible.

I must admit, this is a strange “minimum criteria”. But I think it is still important for a good user experience. I don’t expect phones to be completely symmetric. I do expect them to be something people enjoy using. A symmetric (or as close to possible) design goes a long way in doing just that. Phones today usually half ass the design to get some useless differentiation for marketing—usually it’s for the dubious “thinnest phone” distinction. The most common annoyance is the unseemly “hump” on the top or bottom. A few phones taper from top to bottom as well. These design flaws usually lead to several usage problems.

Firstly, once you get over the marketing speak, you realize the phone is really as thin as its thickest point. If the phone has a “hump”, it just makes the phone uncomfortable to hold with the hand wrapped around the “hump”, not just because there is a discontinuity, but also the weight distribution gets skewed. If the phone tapers, it becomes awkward to grip the phone in landscape orientation, usually while watching videos, playing games, or even typing.

All the problems can be minimized by trying to keep the design symmetrical. I might compromise on the hump. A small hump is tolerable; I’m feeling generous; let’s say anything less than twenty percent thicker is tolerable. As for tapering? Taper symmetrically around all the edges. It looks fine, tricks the eyes, and doesn’t cause problems in any orientation.

The phone must be shipped with the latest operating system version available.

This one is a no-brainer. Ship the latest version of the operating system. One should never buy a phone on promises of upgrades “coming soon”: that can be anywhere from months to never. As this is a list of minimum criteria, I’m not even demanding immediate updates once newer versions of an OS are released. Just ship the latest version at the time of release. This guarantees that the consumer is using the best feature set possible, and given the pace of improvement these days, that can be a substantial improvement from the previous version. It’s really not hard. If manufacturers change their goals to keeping customers happy instead of selling phones, they might be pleasantly surprised to sell the same customers a new phone two years later4.

Core software tools must be flawless.

This also seems to be a simple concept. The basic functions of a modern phone—for example, unlocking, dialing, texting, contact syncing, emailing—should function flawlessly. This means that I should never find myself cursing at the phone because these basic features require anything more than a fraction of a thought. Scratch that. These things shouldn’t require thought. I should be able to do these things as easily as I breathe.

So far I’ve intentionally avoided examples. But in this case, examples are necessary. I’ve used the Google Nexus One, circa 2009. It was flawless in all the above aspects. I logged into my Google account, and for the next eighteen months, I didn’t have to think of any of the above mentioned functions. It was glorious. Then I had the misfortune of using a couple of devices—one from Motorola, and one from HTC –that failed to do at least one of the above. Both devices have their modifications—a topic for another day5—that actually break the core functions of the phone.

In both cases, the easiest example is the contacts management system. In Motorola’s case, they use their proprietary, and far more importantly, needless, redundant syncing system just to force the user to use their tools. When the phone needs to be reset—it happens—you have to go through a long unintuitive process through Motorola’s portal to restore the contacts. This is ridiculous for two reasons: it’s needlessly circuitous, and Google had a flawless mechanism built into Android on day one.

HTC, on the other hand, uses their own contact manager (and syncing)6. Its fatal flaw is that it automatically combines different contacts—say a contact’s Facebook and Skype ID. It’s a good feature, but it is completely useless because the matching algorithm repeatedly fails. Which would have been okay if it just failed. But it actually combines several unrelated contacts into one contact. When you need to look up a number on the fly, this is aggravating. Looking up someone’s information for your own bloody contacts list should be as easy as breathing. It’s not. This cannot happen. As consumers, we must demand flawless operation from basic functions. It’s as simple as that.


There you go. Those those are the absolute minimum requirements a phone should meet before a consumer even considers buying it. I leave it as an exercise to figure out the only flagship phone in the market that meets all the above criteria.



[1] The data is from the US population, provided by the CDC (PDF). The 95th percentile of female population is the height that matches my height, which is about median for the US male population. I couldn’t find any reliable source showing strong correlation between hand size and height, but it is a rough calculation to begin with. back up ↵

[2] Of course, the 50% of men with bigger hand length might prefer a larger phone, but I’m just laying out a minimum sensible path. Folks in Asia will probably have an even smaller sweet spot. If manufacturers really want a large screen with a comfortable body, they can minimize the bezel around the screen. That will probably shave off 5-8mm off most phones. back up ↵

[3] This rule really only applies to flagship phones. For the sake of this post, a flagship phone is any phone that costs greater than $200. So, a $100 phone or budget phone using old components is perfectly okay. Oh, and let’s say outdated means a year old cpu, gpu, camera sensor, etc, etc. back up ↵

[4] In the US, it’s a two-years contract. back up ↵

[5] I really wanted to focus on what I think are the minimum expectations from a phone. I won’t go into custom skins, hardware locks, software bloat in this post. back up ↵

[6] The other problem arises from carrier meddling with syncing (and in general), but that’s beyond the scope of this essay. back up ↵