Review: Vonage's Time to Call App#
Post By Steve "fyiguy" Hughes

Back in the day I used to be a Vonage customer, due to its free national and international calling we had for both a home business and personal use. At the time for us it was the best and cheapest phone service to use, but as we sold off our business we no longer had a need for the business line and we were offered free IP service via our Comcast bundle. I still miss the ability to make international calls and Vonage now offers an affordable alternative to make international telephone calls without having to be a Vonage customer, but as a pay as you go customer. One of the downsides of having an iPad or iPod Touch is that there is no way to make a phone call, unless it was via Skype or or some other application that just didn’t quite have the sound quality of an actual phone call and most calls experienced buffering and dropped calls. Vonage’s Time to Call App for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad offers that alternative.

1-TTC-Overview 

Using Time to Call

The way Time to Call works is similar to a pay phone (you remember those) in that you purchase 15 minute blocks of calling time via an in-app purchase with the Apple iTunes store(instead of inserting coins) so you don’t have to give Vonage any of your credit card details or personal information. You basically select the country you wish to call and then you are given a rate to make the call which varies from country to country. You then dial the number on the keypad given much like the phone dialer on any modern smartphone today and you should then be connected to any phone number as if you were calling directly from your phone.

2-TTC-Country-Initial-Purchase3-TTC-Plan4-TTC-Calling

The app works both over WiFi and 3G (if you device has the capability) remarkably very well and surprisingly very clear. When I tried calling several a few family members via the Time to Call app that are located in various countries throughout the world, each call was as clear as if I had the call on my standard telephone line. In fact, the quality was very good with no dropped calls, in my opinion and those I was conversing with on the other end said that the call was much clearer than the many Skype calls I had with the same family members in the past with out any of the normal delays or buffering we usually experienced when using Skype.

If you travel a lot internationally using this app is much easier and cheaper than purchasing calling cards or SIM cards at airports, kiosks, or hotel lobbies. In the past, that more than likely would have deterred me from even make the phone call. Now as a traveller with the Vonage Time to Call app I now have a very easy to use and affordable option.

Features:

  • Pay per call and talk up to 15 minutes to 100 countries for $1.99 or less
  • For an additional 90+ countries, talk up to 15 minutes for $2.99 to $9.99
  • Works on Wi-Fi worldwide
  • Also for use on high quality 3G networks² in the U.S. and Canada
  • Significant savings over mobile carrier rates
  • FREE download
  • For a limited time, each download includes a FREE call of up to 15 minutes to landlines and mobile phones in any one of 100 countries. Activate your FREE call to take advantage of this offer. No purchase necessary.**NO PURCHASE REQUIRED!

When I first tried the Vonage Time to Call app I was a bit skeptical, but after using it I was thoroughly impressed with the call quality and ease of use. Another thing is if you are good at monitoring your time on your calls, unused minutes are usable for additional calls. I also like the fact that you know how much the call will cost you when it ends and you won’t be surprised when you monthly bill comes around and a few expletives fly as well as an unexpected a hit on your finances.

The Time to Call app is free and is available now in the iTunes store here.

TTC Info

For more information on the app you can head directly to the Vonage page here.

An Android version is coming soon and if you are a Facebook users there is also another option available to you called Vonage Talk Free on Facebook worth checking out.

We will also be giving away an Apple iPad 2 as part of the Vonage Time to call contest with 75 other technical blogs.

** Limited time offer for first calls placed to landlines and mobile phones in any one of 100 countries using the Time to Call iPhone app. You must activate your free call before this offer ends by clicking the “Try it for Free” button on the country plan page within the app. Free call expires one year from activation. Eligible countries include: American Samoa, Angola, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bermuda, Bhutan, Brazil, Brunei, Burundi, Cambodia, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, French Guiana, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guadeloupe, Guam, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Malta, Martinique, Mexico, Mongolia, Montserrat, Mozambique, Nepal, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Nigeria, Northern Mariana Islands, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Reunion, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Trinidad And Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, US Virgin Islands, Uzbekistan, Vatican City (Holy See), Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia.

iPad | iPhone | Reviews
08/21/2011 19:44:00 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Calling All Boston-Area Windows Phone 7 Developers! Startup Weekend Boston Mobile#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

This weekend (November 12th – 14th), there is a great event happening – Boston Startup Weekend! The event will focus on mobile application development and is focused on brainstorming and building mobile applications.

Logo&Banner Template

Startup Weekends bring about 100 people that are interested in starting companies together for the weekend – developers, designers, business people. On Friday night, people pitch their ideas and startups form around the best of the ideas pitched. On Saturday & Sunday people actually create their startups. For this upcoming weekend, the focus is on mobile startups – so all of the discussion, planning and development will be around mobile applications. For more information and to register, visit the Startup Weekend Boston web site.

The folks organizing Startup Weekend Boston are also looking for area developers with Windows Phone 7 experience. In addition to the great content you can learn from and the networking opportunities, you can help to share your Windows Phone 7 development knowledge and assist others interested in learning about and developing for the platform. If you are interested in participating, simply visit the link referenced above for more information.

11/09/2010 09:15:13 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Understanding “Customization” and “Personalization” and The Differences Between The Two#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

With the Windows Phone 7 launch now behind us and the arrival of devices either days (Europe) of weeks (North America) ahead, there is a lot of discussion around the new platform and the mobile phone space in general. One area of both discussion and debate that seems to be popping up quite frequently, both in personal discussions and on the Internet, concerns me a bit. It’s not the discussion per se that concerns me; it’s the use (and often time misuse) of two words that play an important factor in user satisfaction around mobile devices (and technology in general) – customization and personalization. Understanding what these concepts really mean and how mobile devices are designed with regards to the two concepts may make all the difference in determining which platform and specific device best fits your need. As a result, I thought it might be good time to talk to these two concepts in a bit more detail and try to eliminate some of the misrepresentation via interchangeability some have used.

Customization
Let’s start with the the concept of customization. At its core, customization deals with the look and feel of the device. Not necessarily the hardware, mind you, although you can customize what hardware buttons do when pressed. Customization is largely about the aesthetics of the device. It’s changing the layout of screens, the colors of screens, the sounds the device makes. It’s what appears or doesn’t appear on screens and how it appears. Customization is something that, first and foremost, needs to be enabled by the operating system. Those capabilities, in turn, have to be allowed by both the the hardware manufacturer and the mobile operator. Third party software vendors can also potentially play a part in customization, depending on how much access to customization is provided to the developer.

Customization has been either a strong point point or a weak point for mobile platform providers. The Windows Mobile operating system has had a long history of being a very customizable platform. Android has quickly developed this reputation as well. Apple, on the other hand, has taken its proverbial lumps on this front. Customization is, of course, a user preference. For many people, it is simply not that big a deal. Those who desire customization typically are considered to be more of the “power user” of mobile devices. In addition to desiring customization, they often tend to desire more out of their device in terms of ability and functionality.

Customization by and large affects how the device looks and sounds, and to some extent may affect the way the user interacts with the device. There is another level of interaction, however. This leads us to the concept of personalization.

Personalization
It can rightfully be argued that personalization is a form of customization, to stop there would be quite wrong. Personalization goes far deeper into the user experience with the device than customization. If we were to look at the depth of user experiences as an onion, customization largely makes up the outer layers by focusing on sight, sound and basic device navigation. The concept of personalization goes to the next level – it focuses on trying to answer the question how do I make the user experience throughout device usage truly my own.

Like customization, personalization that has to start with the mobile device operating system. Unlike customization, however, the effort involved in enabling personalization is far more complicated. To be successful in this area, in-depth research and knowledge of understanding how a user may work with a device is required. Actually developing a user experience is often the final step in a more time-consuming process of identifying target users and (for lack of a better term) “getting inside their heads”. It is about understanding how people think and behave when interacting with a technology and providing the tools to mimic most closely those behavioral patterns. Finally, it is about enabling the user to tailor those core experiences in ways to make the device more like the user in the way that they think – in this way the device is an extension of the user, a facilitator and truly personal. Perhaps the best way to think of this is through an example.

Suppose I want to get together with a couple of friends before a user group meeting for a bite to eat. From a human thought process, I would probably want to -

  1. Decide on a place to get together;
  2. Determine the appropriate time;
  3. Let just those friends know about the get together.

Seems simple enough, right? Now, try to map those steps to interactions on a mobile device. You likely will end up with something like -

  1. Navigate to a browser or application that allows me to find a proper meeting place. Depending on the application and its ability to recognize and remember your preferences, searching could be either easy or difficult.
  2. Once selected, either remember the location or use some sort of cut and paste mechanism to save the details in memory.
  3. Navigate out of the previous application and into a calendar application to pick an appropriate time. If you don’t share calendars, by the way, the time may just be an educated guess.
  4. Once a time is selected, you will need to paste the location information into a meeting invitation.
  5. Now you will need to find your friends in the contact management application. Depending upon the abilities of the application and search capabilities, this could be difficult (if not impossible). What if your friends aren’t in the default contacts application? What if they are not in any contact application, but are stored in a location on the Internet (Facebook, for example)?
  6. After the searching, you send off the invite.

Even in a simple example, you can see how human thought may not map quite well to device interaction. Most who respond to this example with “well, that isn’t so hard” are people who are very comfortable with technology in general and (through experience) are comfortable in performing this task. They are the “power user”. Mobile phones, however, need to address the more casual user much like other technologies have had to adjust. Think of the our evolution with something as commonplace as the VCR (and subsequent DVD and BluRay). Early user experiences were difficult for all but the most tech-savvy. They evolved, however, to make using the technology easier for the average consumer. Mobile devices are now moving into this same realm. More people then ever are purchasing sophisticated mobile phones, and most are not power users. As a result, the user experiences need to evolve as well.

Moving back to our example, personalization would need to focus on a few areas in order to create a more human, or “natural” experience -

  • The device/application would know and/or learn more about your preferences for things like food and use them to help with searching.
  • The device/application would be aware of location in aiding with search selection. Not only your current location, but perhaps the location of your friends.
  • The device would allow you to know more about your friends – where their information can be found and how that information (back to location, for example) will be used.
  • The experience of selecting a location and inviting friends would be more integrated, requiring less navigation and behaving more like the user thinks.

As a wrinkle on the last (and perhaps most important) point listed above, the order in which I perform the task may be different. I may wish to identify people first and then pick a location. Ideally, the device should support that order of interaction in a seamless fashion as well. This level of interaction is what personalization is really all about.

Historically, mobile devices have not been successful when it comes to personalization. The disjointed user experiences contained within Windows Mobile made for a constant sore point for new and less experienced users. Ironically, I am hearing some complaints from new and less sophisticated users of Android devices as well. They are not as bad as Windows Mobile complaints (things like Google integration help in some respects), but they are still there. A couple of years back, the iPhone took the first steps towards improving the user experience and personalization (this has always been an Apple strong point). However, little has evolved from Apple in this are in the last couple of iterations of iOS. Then there is Windows Phone 7.

For those that watched the Microsoft press event on October 11th (if you have not seen it, it is available on demand from the Microsoft PressPass site), a lot of the feedback I have received relates to the integration of applications and the seamless flow of some of the common tasks for a phone user. Ladies and gentlemen, I propose to you that -I wondered if I would ever be able to say this – Microsoft is starting to get user experiences and personalization on a mobile device. While I am a stereotypical power user, I now crave a Windows Phone 7 device. Why? – because customization is superficial; personalization, however, makes things easier. Customization may fulfill an impulse, but personalization males a difference for me in the long run. Honestly, Microsoft has not achieved “personalization nirvana” with Windows Phone 7. They have, however, taken a huge first step in this first release. When you see how fundamentally different the personalization aspect of Windows Phone 7 is, you can better understand why this operating system was a complete departure from Windows Mobile down to the very core of the operating system.

There is nothing wrong with making customization a priority over personalization, or vice-versa. It is, of course, a personal preference. It is a mistake, however, to say (accidentally or intentionally) that customization and personalization are one in the same. These two distinctly different concepts can make all of the difference between satisfaction and success when selecting a mobile device. Just remember to ask yourself what really matters the most.

10/16/2010 10:58:18 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

Is Steve Jobs Sending a Message To ALL Cross-Platform Development Vendors?#
Post By Don Sorcinelli

By now, many may have heard about or read in full Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” statement released yesterday. While much of what was written in the statement (and discussed around the Internet) was specific to Adobe and Flash, a statement by Jobs in the section entitled “Sixth, the most important reason”, can have a far broader effect on mobile device development -

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.”

While the context in which this is spoken is in relation to Flash, the term “cross-platform development tool” can also be aimed at cross-platform development platforms as well. Many of you may not be aware that there are development platforms oriented towards developing in one language and deploying across mobile devices. These tools are becoming extremely enticing for enterprises in two scenarios -

  1. A business desires to build consumer-facing applications (mobile banking, for example). In these cases, where the business has little to no control over what devices their customers are using, developing separate versions of a single application to support a variety of mobile phones can be a very costly endeavor.
  2. A business supports multiple mobile device platforms and wishes to deploy line of business applications. Different cause than #1, but same net effect; having to consider multiple versions of the same application or applications.

For these scenarios, a multi-platform mobile device development tool/technology can greatly reduce initial and ongoing development costs. Is Steve Jobs saying, however, that these types of tools should not make it to the iPhone and iPad? The reason I ask this question is – some already are there today.

There are several companies that currently support the iPhone as one of the mobile devices to target with their development platforms. Based on Jobs’ rationale, these types of applications have no business on the iPhone. the same risks he describes with Flash apply with these platforms as well. Do these platforms run the risk of future exclusion based upon Jobs’ stance on Flash?

I have always been a major proponent of developing in “native code” when it comes to mobile devices. The benefits are obvious, as Steve Jobs points out. However, I am also a realist. The real world of mobility consists of more than just the iPhone, contrary to some popular beliefs ;-) From a business perspective, there are often times when you cannot choose to develop for just one platform without hurting your business. At the same time, developing natively for multiple platforms is simply not economical, be it for time or resource reasons. In such cases, the only effective solution is to have a platform that allows for one application developed, multiple platforms supported.

I can see taking the position of rigorous testing and certification for applications written for multiple platforms to ensure meeting acceptable performance and usability. Actually, I thought that was the purpose of the iPhone application submission process. Taking a rather Draconian stance on the issue, however, puts a few vendors and a lot of enterprises in quite a bind. Ironically, this may result in some companies choosing to support a lot of mobile devices… except for the iPhone (at least until such time as an iPhone version of the application can be developed and maintained apart from the “everyone else” version of the application).

Maybe I’m causing a bit of a “tempest in a teapot” here. Maybe the arguments Steve Jobs brought forth in his “letter” are really only intended for Adobe and Flash. If that is the case, though, it would be a bit of a double-standard. If Jobs is serious about third-party multi-platform development tools and the iPhone and iPad, the ramifications could be pretty large. It will be interesting to watch how this develops in the coming months.

04/29/2010 14:35:58 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00) #     |  Trackback

 

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