The “desktop” is an outdated concept

In terms of productivity, yesterday was a write-off – and it looks like today will be too. My company-supplied notebook PC is unusable and I need to get it fixed.

Understandably, a loss of service for one user is not allocated the highest priority and at least a desktop services technician can see me when I make it into the office this morning, for which I’m very grateful.

I hope he has a stock of hard disks though, as I’m not convinced that a simple PC rebuild will be enough – this machine, despite having 4GB of memory and a reasonably-capable Core 2 Duo processor, has been getting slower and slower to the point that, yesterday, it took 15 minutes to send an email and after a restart it wouldn’t even get past the Starting Windows screen. The hard disk light is almost never off, and the diagnostics I’ve run suggest that the disk is about to fail completely.

I did, thankfully, manage to get Windows running in Safe Mode, and managed to copy off the files I’ve updated in the few days since my last backup, but with data transfer rates of around 40 KB per second, across Gigabit Ethernet (security restrictions preventing access to USB disks), something was not right…

So, it’s a PC, these things go wrong from time to time, get over it, right? Yes, I will. It looks like I have my data and I’ll be up and running again in a day or so. But at what cost?

2 to 3 days of my time has a not insignificant price and, with a modern IT infrastructure, I could have been working on another device over that period. Unfortunately, I live in a world where mandatory full-disc encryption inhibits recovery tools, where VPN access is required for internal websites and applications, and where emailing documents to my personal account and working on an alternative device is a breach of security.

Some people would suggest a hosted desktop as an answer. After all, with that, I could just log in from another device and get on with my work. But that’s just applying old-world thinking in a new way.

First up is the VPN. What? HTTPS access to key applications ought to be the norm these days – and it is, inside the firewall. Time to open that up to other locations, surely? Thank goodness I had ActiveSync access to email from my phone (which is a step in the right direction and I should be grateful for small mercies).

Then there’s the full-disc encryption. Firstly, it’s a third party product (for complex reasons involving Microsoft licensing and the need to support a dual Windows XP and Windows 7 estate) but really, surely an encrypted volume (Trucrypt-style) would suffice? Then I could swap out the disc and, providing I can supply the necessary details to access the encrypted data, use it on whatever device I like…

Which leads me to devices. Working for an OEM does present some challenges when it comes to implementing BYOD policies (it doesn’t look good if your staff choose another vendor’s kit) but, if the data is secured, rather than the device, I should be able to use anything I like to access it when things go wrong.

I know the guys who create our standard builds, and I know the effort that goes into creating a standardised PC estate that works for all, even when half the users are technical and want to break things. But the cost of supporting a plethora of devices is tiny compared to the cost of lost productivity, particularly if the support is limited to application and data access, making any device or operating system issues an end-user concern.

In a bring your own device (BYOD) world, I would have bought a new disk (probably an SSD) and been up and running in a few hours. Instead, I’m looking at two or three days total loss of productivity, plus travel costs to see a desktop support technician. Now who thinks BYOD will cause more chaos?

Of course, BYOD is no panacea. I’d suggest that many of the answers to my issues may be found in architecting an IT estate (and supporting processes) where application access is not dependant upon the device or operating system – and that takes time, money and effort. But one thing’s for sure: thinking about “the desktop” (hosted or otherwise) is an outdated concept in 2012.

How does your organisation handle IT for its mobile knowledge workers?

Microsoft (finally) gets its mobility act together – but cuts loose early adopters of the Windows Phone OS

Last night, Microsoft announced plans for the next version of its Windows Phone operating system – Windows Phone 8. In many ways it was a great announcement. Windows smartphones will have a “common core” with desktop Windows. The Windows ecosystem is converging, maybe a little late, but I said Windows 8 could be a turning point for Microsoft and Windows Phone seems to be a part of that.

Tom Warren had a great post up almost immediately at the Verge on what what was announced for Windows Phone 8. But Tom also highlighted, as did Simon Bisson at ZDNet, that there was a sting in the tail. A very big sting. And its target is the very people who adopted Windows Phone 7 – arguably the community that Microsoft needs in order to make Windows Phone 8 a success.

Current generation Windows Phone (Mango) devices will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 (Apollo).

There will be an update for Windows Phone 7, taking it to 7.8 (extending Microsoft’s marketing abuse of version numbers) but it’s little more than a few cosmetic changes. Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 but not vice versa (exceptions being those that are not compiled to take advantage of new Windows Phone 8 functionality, or Siverlight apps for Windows Phone, themselves sidelined for XAML/C#). Given that we’re starting out from a fairly limited pool of apps, that pool is likely to get smaller as apps are updated; and it pretty much kills the current Windows Phone market stone dead.

I switched to Windows Phone because I thought it was fresh, different, and because Microsoft positioned it as the future of their smartphone story. The big reset happened when Windows Mobile was killed off two years ago in favour of Windows Phone. I thought (still do think) that iOS has become stale, its UI is tired and has become clunky in places (in fairness, so is Windows Phone at times) but at least the aging iPhone 3GS that my employer provides runs the latest version of iOS. Meanwhile, Android is fragmented and has its own problems around security and an incoherent tablet story (don’t write it off just yet though). I didn’t buy an HTC HD2 because I knew that Windows Mobile 6.5 devices wouldn’t be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 (that much was already known long before Windows 7 appeared). Instead, I waited for Nokia to release some (semi-) decent hardware for Windows Phone and, just 7 months later, they made it obsolete – and I simply don’t buy that they were unaware of Microsoft’s roadmap for Windows Phone. I know that technology adoption is a risky business but I expect my device to at least last as long as a standard mobile phone contract (2 years) and my Lumia 800 has a limited future ahead of it.

So my few months old Nokia Lumia 800 is EOL'ed in a few months. Gee thanks Microsoft.
Jon Honeyball
Several people making the very valid point that Microsoft is rewarding its early adopters by cutting them adrift. Goodwill evaporates.
Barry Collins

Some say that users will always complain: either that there’s no legacy support; or that legacy support is bloating the OS – but a published roadmap that allows consumers to make informed choices (together with N-1 version support) should really be the minimum acceptable standard.

Microsoft owned the roadmap. Microsoft controlled the reference architecture. Microsoft prevented OEMs from increasing the hardware capabilities of Windows Phone devices (screen resolution, adding multiple cores, etc.) and now Microsoft is preventing even recent hardware from running its latest phone OS. In short, Microsoft is screwing its early adopters.

I really do hope that all those consumers that Microsoft and Nokia have been (knowingly) marketing dead-end Lumia devices too of late have an opportunity to force support for Windows Phone 7-class hardware to continue until Windows 9 comes along (giving users 2-3 years of current device support). Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen (unless there are some very smart lawyers involved).

One thing’s for sure. This Windows Phone user will be thinking very, very carefully before committing to any future mobile device purchases running Windows. Once bitten, twice shy.

@ +1 And brand trust will become more important as more and more personal stuff is inside your phone
carolina milanesi

Microsoft Surface: my attempt to cut through the hype

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve watched the hype build about Microsoft’s mysterious mystery event (thank goodness I missed the build-up last week as I was still on holiday in France…), watched the news break, and watched everyone either go ooooh, ahhhh, or hrmmm…

I couldn’t stand it any more and decided that I too should weigh in with my comments on some of the comments I’ve seen about Microsoft Surface. I may even come back and add to this list over the next few days:

  • Microsoft is too late to the tablet game: Maybe they are. There’s the iPad, and then there’s… well, no-one really. But there’s still plenty to play for. Maybe back in 2007 someone asked for a tablet and got a table instead? Seriously, the device we previously knew as Surface was rebranded PixelSense last year, but we don’t seem to get the PixelSense screen tech in the Surface tablets.
  • It looks good: it does – really good. But we don’t yet know enough about the Surface hardware – if this is underpowered, or battery life is poor, or the screen is unresponsive, then it will fail, just like all the other iPad wannabes.
  • The keyboard in the cover is a gimmick/great idea/an admission that soft keyboards don’t work: horses for courses, I’d say – there are times when I use my iPad keyboard and times when I elect for a physical version – this way we get both.
  • Microsoft is cutting OEM’s throats? Are they really? My view (personally, not as an employee) is that it’s saying “come on guys, this is what can be done when you put your mind to it – stop letting Apple run away with the tablet market and design something that’s just as good, now that we have (finally) got an operating system (nearly) ready for you”. But there is an issue when (presumably) Microsoft doesn’t charge itself $85 per device for a copy of Windows.
  • This will undermine Ultrabook sales: perhaps it will, but however big the marketing push, they would have been niche anyway. Do IT Managers really have money to spend on “sexy” laptops when functional ones cost half as much? It might have killed off the Windows tablet market though, except that Surface will only be available from Microsoft Stores and online, which limits its availability somewhat, and makes it a consumer-only purchase. OEMs don’t really need to worry too much (sure, PC sales are in decline… but there are many factors behind that and mobile devices have been expected to surpass PC for a while now). And for those of us outside the US… we might not even get a sniff.
  • Ah, so it’s for consumers, so it puts Microsoft back in the game when it comes to consumerisation? Hrm Not really. On BYOD, there seems to be a shift towards choose your own device (CYOD) – i.e. we’ll give you more choice, maybe even let you contribute to have a better device, but it needs to run Windows. CIOs do need to re-architect applications to embrace cloud, mobility, big data and consumerisation – but that’s a big ask and it’s not happening overnight. Until then there’s life in Windows 7 (and 8) for a while. And laptops/tablets are only one side of the story; Microsoft is still struggling for smartphone market share…
  • Two versions of Windows, both on Surface devices, one that runs Windows RT and one for Windows 8 Pro – what gives? On this I agree, it will confuse the market. Maybe the x86 hardware should have been a reference platform for OEMs to sell in the business market, with ARM to consumers?
  • Analysts say… Really. There is some really good insight there, seriously. But now what do CIOs say? How about: where will this help me to deliver business value; what’s the impact on the rest of the IT environment; how can I transition to become a competitive (internal) IT service provider who no longer cares about devices and operating systems? Having said that, I think Forrester’s Sarah Rotman Epps is correct to highlight issues with the way Windows is marketed and sold, and IDC’s Crawford Del Prete (@Craw) is right on the money:
MSFT Surface must win the hearts of consumers before the minds of CIOs. Good start #surface
Crawford Del Prete

For some time now, we (geeks, tech journalists and IT types like me) have lambasted Microsoft for being unimaginative, lacking innovation, and for being late to market. This time they have something bold, exciting and that could really shake up the way that PCs look and feel. They’ve also kept it secret and created a buzz (albeit a little too early, some might say) perhaps a bit like another company that seems to get credit for everything it does…

Let’s give the Surface a chance to get out of the door before we write it off, hey? It could actually be really good.

Now, what are they doing about smartphones?

Consumerisation think tank panel at Dell Technology Camp 2012 (#DellTechCamp)

Yesterday afternoon, I took part in a panel discussion on the evolution of consumerisation as part of a Dell Technology Camp and in advance of the publication of the third part of Dell/TNS Global’s Evolving Workforce research.  It was the first time I’ve taken part in an event like this and I have to admit I was pretty nervous but it was also an enjoyable experience – particularly given the wonderful surroundings of the Saatchi Gallery in south-west London.  I only wish I’d been able to tweet during the event (I did scribble some notes but was focusing so much on the conversation that tweeting would have been a step to far for this Gen-Xer who isn’t so great at “partial attention”!)

Evolving Workforce Think Tank @ #DellTechCampChaired by Stephen O’Donnell (@stephenodonnell), the discussion examined a number of topics related to consumerisation, including: the generational divide myth; recruiting and retaining talent; new working practices; technology choices; security;controlling costs and driving profit; and the impacts of geography and market sector on progress.

Dell have produced a Storify story about the whole day (not just the panel discussion) – and you can catch the recording of the live stream – but, for those who don’t have a couple of hours to spare, I thought I’d blog the highlights… I guess you could think of them as the tweets that never were:

  • Stephen Yap, TNS UK: It’s a myth that only generation Y gets “social” and consumerisation; TNS’ research finds that older generations are more accepting of IT as a transformation agent (and younger people are more sceptical).  [Something that one of my Baby Boomer colleagues, Vin Hughes, suggested over a year ago in a blog post about the digital world and generational labels.]
  • Alexis Lane, The Head Partnership: Organisations need a element of control to stay within the law, including open communication of policies.
  • Stephen Yap: IT is not just a utility – get it right and it can be a motivator for employees.
  • Mark Wilson (@MarkWilsonIT): The IT department is just a provider of “stuff” in our personal clouds – just like our bank, supermarket, email provider, etc. [Credit is due to Joe Baguley (@JoeBaguley) for that one… also see my post on the rise of the personal cloud, inspired by David Gentle (@DaveGentle).]
  • Helen Calthrop-Owen, Axicom: Consumerisation is part of a bigger change regarding how people work together.
  • Tim Weber (@Tim_Weber), BBC: Policies alone are not enough – citing Joshua Klein (@JoshuaKlein) he says that we need to “hack our work“, noting that it could get you fired, or you could be a big winner.
  • Bryan Jones (@BryanAtDell), Dell: It’s not “lazy IT” that holds us back so much as cultural challenges – the key is to create “competitive differentiation”.
  • Mathias Knöfel (@MathiasContext): Consider the cost factors and end user benefit – given a choice users will pay for flexibility.
  • Mark Wilson: Get under the surface of BYO and you’ll find it’s more about choice – giving users the ability to trade up to a “sexier” device [credit due to Garry Martin (@GarryMartin).]
  • Stephen Yap: Emerging markets see employer-provided devices as attractive (they tend not to have PCs at home); meanwhile in the US/Canada it’s about Bring Your Own Cloud [what I called the personal cloud] – questioning the need for corporate IT. Not so much about the choice of device but working in the way in which we have become accustomed to.
  • Alexis Lane: Increasingly difficult to draw lines of ownership (intellectual property and corporate data vs. life) – often old questions arise in a new context (e.g. the ownership of a contact database cf. LinkedIn profile).
  • Stuart Collingwood, Nivio: Enterprise-grade social media does exist; devices are more emotional and entitlement can create friction (i.e. who is entitled to what); light touch integration is required for end users to access corporate IT.
  • Bryan Jones: There is no silver bullet (in terms of technology); what’s required is a “portfolio discussion” about on premise IT; extrenal service provision (e.g. cloud) and how to bridge the gap.
  • Stuart Collingwood: Employee expectations for IT performance are “brutal”; tolerance of “corporate lethargy” and inflexible applications has dropped.
  • Tim Weber: Users tend to blame devices or applications but may be other issues; legacy holds us back (e.g. network performance).
  • Mark Wilson: Returning to issues of cost – tax implications with benefits in kind – need clearer advice from government.
  • Bryan Jones: The consumer knows what is possible – consumerisation is not solely an IT issue but raises business functional questions. The trick is to simplify IT, to become more responsive – and innovation is occurring whether we like it or not – there’s an opportunity to embrace it and to listen across the organisation, not just to IT.
  • Stephen Yap: There’s a shift towards outcome-based working with an unspoken contract between freedom and blurred boundaries [i.e. no more 9-5] and digital natives find this easier to understand.
  • PJ Dwyer, Dell: Flexible working is popular, but some employees dislike the remoteness/don’t feel part of the team.
  • Tim Weber: In addition to recognition issues, some roles require collaborative working and presence; interesting to see that Twitter (distributed by nature) has triggered Tweet-Ups – the Human Being is a social animal and companies are social organisations; consider team dynamics (e.g. in a large team, others suspicious that they are carrying the load) – management becomes a task of ensuring everyone knows what their colleagues are doing.
  • Marie-Christine Pygott, Context: Communications occur in many ways – if employees are not present, they are not on the mind of others (you can’t walk over to their desk for a chat).
Evolving #Workforce: Does a flexible working policy turn you into a flexible but virtual.. hermit?
  • Stephen O’Donnell: We need a virtual watercooler, do we need to use social media to highlight work milestones [or even, “I’m taking the kids to school, I’ll be back in 20 mins”]?
  • Stuart Collingwood: Expect to see that scenario become more common as future generations enter the workplace (and we’re already seeing changing literacy styles, such as use of “text speak” in written English).
  • Carly Tatum, Dell: Communications work in different ways; bringing people into a group situation from social media context can induce a different dynamic [one that doesn’t always work].
  • Mathias Knöfel: Often, meeting people face to face changes the relationship from that point onwards.
  • PJ Dwyer: Emerging markets have different perspectives, due to different stages of development.
Emerging countries leapfrogging with tech as no legacy technology. Getting best tech, big incentive #DellTechCamp
Margo Smale
  • Stephen Yap: In BRIC, for example, skipping PCs and moving straight to smartphones; also leapfrogging legacy in the workplace – not as encumbered.  It will be interesting to see the change as security, etc. become bigger issues in developing nations. Also cultural differences as in some geographies work and technology may act as motivators.
  • Alexis Lane: When talking about the security of information, we need to understand what it is we are protecting. It’s not realistic to say “everything” – what can we be more relaxed about?
  • Tim Weber: The “castle/moat model” makes less sense as we become more mobile and blast more holes in the walls – need to look at data level and see what can be done to protect it; requires clever thinking, supported by technology, to understand how to protect the things that are critical to your company.
  • Stuart Collingwood: We have to think differently about how we build systems – it’s hard (and expensive) to retrofit so we need to re-architect from the ground up.

Graphic Recording from Evolving Workforce Think Tank at #DellTechCamp

Key takeaways

For those who find even that list too much to work through – here are the key takeaways from around the table:

  • Stephen O’Donnell: Consumerisation is happening, it won’t stop – indeed it will accelerate; employees like it, it frees them up from coming to the office as well as from Victorian-style employment contracts; work is becoming more outcome-based; difficult to draw line between work and home; requires serious management – need to think, plan and come up with new ways of thinking.
  • Tim Weber: There is no single solution; every company needs to look at legacy – not just productivity and happy employees but the underlying stategic business model – suss that out and have clarity of thinking to drive company forward; remain flexible as things will constantly change on the roadmap.
  • Mathias Knöfel: BYOD gives opportunities for flexibiity with the right incentives but also risks that need to be thought through more carefully (e.g. legal/risk).
  • Mark Wilson: From an end-user perspective, don’t just think about the “Digital Natives”, also consider “Digital Pioneers” who have seen previous waves of IT transformation and those with no time/inclination too (Digital Luddites); from a management standpoint we need to develop new attitudes to work – become more trusting and results oriented; and the IT department needs to address issues around legacy, removing barriers through innovation and avoiding stagnation; finally, we can’t close lid on this box!
  • PJ Dwyer: It’s happening now; organisations need to be proactive and it affects not just IT but also HR, legal – indeed the whole business. Flexibility and choice are key to success and aspirations vary by market and geography.
  • Marie-Christine Pygott: There are pros and cons to consumerisation – it changes the dynamic of an organisation – the way people work, their flexibility, work/life balance but also who teaches whom – employees suggest more about the technology used; there is no single solution and we need need integrated strategies; communication is vital; also differentiation in different parts of the world.
  • Stuart Collingwood: Consider company culture – not just policy and structural issues – need to instil communications protocols, sensitivities and context within company culture – requires a top down approach.  Culture is safety net and policy handbooks are not enough. People will use technology more responsibly than you might give them credit for.
  • Alexis Lane: Embedding culture of the organisation and taking a decision as to what the company needs to be is important. It’s exciting to consider technology as a motivation – and from a legal perspective we need to get to heart of data issues.
  • Bryan Jones: Not just a technology discussion – people and process too; competitive advantage downstream is enormous; culture is critical to changing the dynamic in a company; it permeates, into how we communicate internally and how we interact with customers.
  • Stephen Yap: Enterprise IT has ever been more exciting than now; we’re at a tipping point, elevating the significance of IT within the organisation and to our lives; not just about IT professionals but it makes a difference to all – in how we work and how we live; not just happy and motivated workers but new business models, new ways of doing things. And the conversations that we’re having are more strategic than 10 years ago; IT is making a bigger difference than ever before.

tl;dr view

Stephen O’Donnell’s summary: there is an enormous opportunity for businesses to adopt and drive the socialisation and consumerisation of IT; to really make a difference in driving down costs, improving agility and improving employee/customer communication. On the other side, there is a risk that we “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, that we don’t follow the processes because it’s all new, that we under manage employees, don’t deal with security appropriately, don’t invest in the underlying infrastructure and so don’t achieve the benefits.

Image credits – Dell’s Official Flickr Page, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Visual communication/storytelling by Creative Connection.

Short takes: Flexible working and data protection for mobile devices

It’s been another busy week and I’m still struggling to get a meaningful volume of blog posts online so here are the highlights from a couple of online events I attended recently…

Work smarter, not harder… the art of flexible working

Citrix Online has been running a series of webcasts to promote its Go To Meeting platform and I’ve attended a few of them recently. The others have been oriented towards presenting but, this week, Lynne Copp from the Work Life Company (@worklifecompany) was talking about embracing flexible working. As someone who has worked primarily from home for a number of years now, it would have been great for me to get a bit more advice on how to achieve a better work/life balance (it was touched upon, but most of the session seemed to be targeted how organisations need to change to embrace flexible working practices) but some interesting resources have been made available including:

Extending enterprise data protection to mobile devices

Yesterday, I joined an IDC/Autonomy event looking at the impact of mobile devices on enterprise data protection.

IDC’s Carla Arend (@carla_arend) spoke about how IDC sees four forces of IT industry transformation in cloud, mobility, big data/analytics and social business. I was going to say “they forgot consumerisation” but then it was mentioned as an overarching topic. I was certainly surprised that the term used to describe the ease of use that many consumer services provide was that we have been “spoiled” but the principle that enterprise IT often lags behind is certainly valid!

Critically the “four forces of IT industry transformation” are being driven by business initiatives – and IT departments need to support those requirements. The view put forward was that IT organisations that embrace these initiatives will be able to get funding; whilst those who still take a technology-centric view will be forced to continue down the line of doing more with less (which seems increasingly unsustainable to me…).

This shift has implications for data management and protection – managing data on premise and in the cloud, archiving data generated outside the organisation (e.g. in social media, or other external forums), managing data on mobile devices, and deciding what to do with big data (store it all, or just some of the results?)

Looking at BYOD (which is inevitable for most organisations, with or without the CIO’s blessing!) there are concerns about: who manages the device; who protects it (IDC spoke about backup/archive but I would add encryption too); what happens to data when a device is lost/stolen, or when the device is otherwise replaced; and how can organisations ensure compliance on unmanaged devices?

Meanwhile, organisational application usage is moving outside traditional office applications too, with office apps, enterprise apps, and web apps running on increasing numbers of devices and new machine (sensor) and social media data sets being added to the mix (often originating outside the organisation). Data volumes create challenges too, as well as the variety of locations from which that data originates or resides. This leads to a requirement to carefully consider which data needs to be retained and which may be deleted.

Cloud services can provide some answers and many organisations expect to increasingly adopt cloud services for storage – whether that is to support increasing volumes of application data, or for PC backups. IDC is predicting that the next cloud wave will be around the protection of smart mobile devices.

There’s more detail in IDC’s survey results (European Software Survey 2012, European Storage Survey 2011) but I’ve certainly given the tl;dr view here…

Unfortunately I didn’t stick around for the Autonomy section… it may have been good but the first few minutes were feeling too much like a product pitch to me (and to my colleague who was also online)… sometimes I want the views, opinions and strategic view – thought leadership, rather than sales – and I did say it’s been a busy week!

Giffgaff gotcha

A few months ago, I wrote about Giffgaff – and I’m still very happy with paying less for a mobile service on the O2 network than I would from O2 (and earning credit for referrals, answering questions, etc. in the process).  Unfortunately I fell foul of a little complexity in the service this week and I think it’s worth mentioning.

Giffgaff account detailsAfter getting cut off a call mid flow, I logged into the Giffgaff website, under My giffgaff, looked for the My account panel, and saw that my credit had reduced from around £5 to just 16p.  The reason was that my “Goodybag” (a bundle of calls, text and data) had expired and that the “Auto Top-up” only applies to my “credit” balance (a separate pay as you go balance for chargable services that are not included in the Goodybag, like 0845 numbers).

It is possible to buy your next Goodybag to pick up where an expired one has left off (as you can see, I’ve done this now) – but that’s not the same as Auto Top-up.  (Quite why my Auto Top-up didn’t trigger is anyone’s guess but I’m kind of happy it didn’t as I would have carried on chatting and surfing, thinking I was using my included minutes/megabytes, but actually spending money…)

Get a free giffgaff SimAs I recommended Giffgaff to readers of this blog (indeed, I still do recommend them), I thought I should highlight this potential source of confusion, in case anyone else trips up like I did!

[Update 18 June 2012: Giffgaff have announced that they will launch recurring Goodybag topups on 20 June 2012)

Just bought the latest smartphone? Your old “brick” might come in useful somewhere too!

I bought my first mobile phone in 1995 (a Nokia 2140). At the time my friends thought I was “yuppie” and there was a bit of a social stigma attached (to be fair, I was a bit of an idiot about it) but, within a couple of years mobiles were starting to become universally accepted…

Fast forward almost two decades and, a couple of weeks ago, I was at an event where Telefonica O2’s vice president of research and development, Mike Short, mentioned that there are now 6 billion mobile devices in our world and that’s still growing at a phenominal rate. The telcos count this based on subscriptions (which includes feature phones, smartphones, tablets, mobile payment systems, and more) but have you ever thought about the uses that old mobile handsets can be put to?

I have a Nokia 6021 that I keep as a spare handset (it’s pretty dumb, but makes calls, has Bluetooth, battery lasts a while, and it’s almost indestructable) but most of my other handsets have been sold or recycled over the years.

O2’s recycling scheme supports their Think Big programme but I’d like to think there’s a fair chance that old handsets can find a use in the developing world too. Because mobile commerce is not just about smartphones – the Mobile Internet and NFC – but, in parts of the world where bandwith is more scarce, there are many examples of mobile projects using SMS, or even a missed call:

So maybe it’s time to dig out that old mobile that’s gathering dust somewhere and send it for recycling? Even if there is limited financial reward for you, it might still have a life elsewhere, or, at the very least the components can be recycled for environmental purposes.

Giffgaff – why did no-one tell me about this before?

Get a free giffgaff SIMOver the Christmas holidays, I completed my new year rationalisation of mobile contracts by switching my mobile phone from O2 (£16.50 for 200 minutes and a 500MB data bolt on, monthly rolling contract) to Giffgaff (£10 for 250 minutes and “unlimited” data). Having done so, I really don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner (apart from the fact I didn’t know about it!) – especially as Giffgaff not only runs on O2’s network but is actually owned by Telefonica/O2! Indeed, O2’s own careers website describes Giffgaff like this:

“Giff-what? Yes, we know it’s a funny name. Giffgaff is a brand new mobile network that doesn’t play by mainstream rules.

Instead, the company’s customers help run the company in return for cash rewards. Hence the term ‘giffgaff’, which means ‘mutual giving’, as any ancient Scot will tell you.

Customers can earn rewards for helping other customers with queries, designing marketing materials or by recruiting new members.

The business runs a tight ship – it has no call centres, high street shops and doesn’t splash out on expensive, glossy ad campaigns.

The result of this is that giffgaff keeps its costs low and and is able to pass the savings on to all its customers.

Although giffgaff is owned by O2 it is run as a separate company by a small group of passionate, full-time employees based in Beaconsfield just 8 miles north of Slough.”

This sounded good – and with a referral code that earned both me and the referrer a £5 credit I signed up. If you’re interested in signing up then we can both earn a fiver too!

So, what’s the catch? Surely there has to be one? The only difference that I can see is the support framework if things don’t work as they should. There is community support and you can “ask an agent” from the Giffgaff website but there is no call centre (which, depending on your view of call centres, may be A Good Thing).

Once I received my SIM, I activated it, including adding a £10 Goodybag to my account and then started to plan for transferring my number. I’ve had the same mobile number for a long time (10 years or more) and I didn’t want to lose it but there was clear guidance on the Giffgaff website setting out  the steps I needed to take to transfer my number and setting my expectations for the day of transfer (although I did panic a bit when the number still  hadn’t ported at the end of business hours – it finally became live in the early evening). I also needed to cut down the Giffgaff SIM to fit my phone (most phones use the standard SIM but my Nokia Lumia 800 uses a micro SIM) – there’s a template for this but I bought a SIM cutter for a few pounds on the Internet.

With my voice services transferred I needed to set up the APN for mobile data access on my smartphone, set up mobile messaging, and set up voicemail. All of this was covered in a handy Giffgaffer’s guide to Windows Phone 7(.5) – I’ve sure there are similar guides for iOS, Android, etc. too.

All in all, I’m really pleased with my switch to Giffgaff. If you’re not happy messing around with SIMs and entering a few settings in your phone, it may not be for you, but for anyone who is out of contract with their current mobile provider, is happy supporting their own technology, and who can get an O2 signal (the O2 status checker provides coverage details for a given postcode) then Giffgaff might be worth a try.

Making an “ordinary” O2 3G data SIM work in an iPad without a tariff change

The history of my various mobile telcommuncations contracts is a long one, so I’ll spare readers the details but after my recent customer service debacle with Three, I’ve cut them loose (they tried to offer me an iPad 2 for “free” to stay with them… the sort of “free” that involves a 2 year contract… no thanks…).

I planned to use an O2 SIM that was already activated for mobile data in my iPad so I cut it down to micro SIM size, using a cutter that I bought on the ‘net for a few pounds. After booting the iPad with the new SIM, it found the O2 network but told me that I didn’t have a data contract and gave me a number to call O2, and a reference to quote (the identifier for my SIM).

O2 told me that it would require a tariff change and that iPad data is different to mobile broadband. I’m sure they meant that it’s billed differently, rather than that it’s different in any other way (special Apple “iTCP/IP” or “iHTTPS”?) but Tim Biller (@Timbo_Baggins) suggested I look at the Access Point Name (APN) settings.

It took a while to find the right ones – googling for APN O2 iPad told me to change from (username/password: browse/password) to (username/password: vertigo/password) but they didn’t work. I needed to think of this the other way around: my SIM works in a 3G dongle so I googled APN O2 dongle and found an extensive list of APNs for UK mobile network providers. Changing the APN in my iPad to (username/password: web/web) did the trick, as tested by browsing the ‘net (albeit only GPRS where I live) with Wi-Fi turned off.

The advantage of this approach is that the same SIM now works in my iPad or in my dongle (using an adapter) allowing 3G data access from either device, on the same bill, but only one at a time (that’s fine).

Next step is to switch my phone over from O2 (£16.50 a month including 500MB data) to Giffgaff (£10 a month with unlimited data, same network…). I already have the SIM, just waiting to get Christmas out of the way before I try to transfer my phone number!

[Update 16 January 2012: Some time over the last few days, this stopped working for me. The SIM is still active and works in my 3G dongle, but I guess O2 have made some changes in the network that stop this simple APN change from working with an iPad – madness, as my iPad must place less load on the network than a dongle with a Windows PC, albeit more than a smartphone would…]

A workaround for iPad users/Three UK subscribers to access their mobile broadband bills on another device

Three UK (3) has just been added to my list of mobile operators who haven’t got a clue about customer service.

For the last few months I’ve been using Three’s mobile broadband service on my iPad. The in-store service when I joined the network was pretty lousy but today that got a whole lot worse. I needed to store a copy of my bills and found that the My 3 portal was only available to me over Three’s 3G network from my iPad. Access from a PC, or over Wi-Fi needed a password. And resetting that password needed the ability to receive SMS, a capability that my iPad does not have…

So I called Three. Actually, I rang several numbers for Three, trying to avoid paying for the call (I can’t use their free number because I don’t have a phone on their network…) and I spoke to someone who understood the issue but couldn’t help because they were in the mobile dongle department. He transferred me to someone in the iPad team (approx. 10 minute wait…) who confirmed I could only access my bills on my iPad and when I asked how I could download them he suggested either dragging and dropping them to my email (what?!). At this point, I think he was well off his script and just making things up but he asked me if I have an iPhone 4S. I don’t, so he suggested going into store, putting my SIM into the store’s iPhone 4S, and getting the password sent by SMS to it…

[Thinking about the situation as I write this post, I don’t have an iPhone 4S but I do  have another phone that can take a micro SIM… but Three asked if I had an iPhone 4S]

My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.

I did find a workaround though, for anyone who has Dropbox installed on their iPad…

  1. Disconnect from any Wi-Fi networks and open the My 3 portal on the iPad (My 3 loads in Safari without asking for credentials if you are connected to the Three network with a 3G connection).
  2. Navigate to Recent Bills and press/hold the PDF icon to open a bill.
  3. Once loaded, open the PDF in Dropbox – it will be saved as a file called viewInvoice.nocache, which is a PDF file, but without the correct file extension.
  4. Rename viewInvoice.nocache to add a .PDF file extension and open it as normal on any device you like.

Interestingly, O2 (whose incompetence caused me to switch my mobile broadband to Three in the first place, but who did later take steps to address the issue) still send me an email every month to say that my mobile broadband payment has failed… that suggests my account is still live… maybe with 5GB of data still loaded… perhaps I should search for that micro SIM and try it again…