AT&T adds $0.61 mobile phone fee, loophole may let you cancel contract

Hacker News user tzzz has made an interesting discovery after AT&T has added a $0.61 fee to all mobile phone services that may let you cancel your AT&T contract.

According to AT&T’s Wireless Customer Agreement, subscribers may be able to cancel their current contract without an early termination fee as stated in section 1.3 of the agreement.

1.3   Can AT&T Change My Terms And Rates?

We may change any terms, conditions, rates, fees, expenses, or charges regarding your Services at any time. We will provide you with notice of material changes (other than changes to governmental fees, proportional charges for governmental mandates, roaming rates or administrative charges) either in your monthly bill or separately. You understand and agree that State and Federal Universal Service Fees and other governmentally imposed fees, whether or not assessed directly upon you, may be increased based upon the government’s or our calculations.

IF WE INCREASE THE PRICE OF ANY OF THE SERVICES TO WHICH YOU SUBSCRIBE, BEYOND THE LIMITS SET FORTH IN YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE SUMMARY, OR IF WE MATERIALLY DECREASE THE GEOGRAPHICAL AREA IN WHICH YOUR AIRTIME RATE APPLIES (OTHER THAN A TEMPORARY DECREASE FOR REPAIRS OR MAINTENANCE), WE’LL DISCLOSE THE CHANGE AT LEAST ONE BILLING CYCLE IN ADVANCE (EITHER THROUGH A NOTICE WITH YOUR BILL, A TEXT MESSAGE TO YOUR DEVICE, OR OTHERWISE), AND YOU MAY TERMINATE THIS AGREEMENT WITHOUT PAYING AN EARLY TERMINATION FEE OR RETURNING OR PAYING FOR ANY PROMOTIONAL ITEMS, PROVIDED YOUR NOTICE OF TERMINATION IS DELIVERED TO US WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS AFTER THE FIRST BILL REFLECTING THE CHANGE.

If you lose your eligibility for a particular rate plan, we may change your rate plan to one for which you qualify

Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Get out your rollers. It’s time to do some flattening.

With Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference just a month a way, rumors continue to surface that iOS 7 could see a major UI overhaul. Word on the street is that Jony Ive and his team at Apple are going for a very “flat” look. Since then, many designers have put together some interesting mock-ups and concepts together speculating on how a flat iOS 7 might look. Some are a bit radical, others seem more realistic. Here are a few of our favorites.

ios 3 icons flat Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

The first is a possibly one of the more dramatic changes we’ve seen. In this design, Dámaso Benítez elects to go with three icons per row, rather than the current four. If we’re being honest, we think this is very unlikely. With that being said, the design aesthetic has a nice playfulness to it.

flat lockscreen ios 7 Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Kyle Adams offers his version of a “minimal and flat UI” for the lockscreen. Compared to the current lockscreen, not much has change functionally, but a lot of the UI chrome found in iOS 6 is gone. Clean.

iosswitcher large Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Jesse Head re-imagines the app switcher allowing users to see more information. Rather than just seeing an icon, his concept introduces previews that allow users to see what they were doing in that app last. He’s even put together a video showing the concept in action.

ios 7 flat homescreen Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Alex Iv puts together something that we think is more realistic by simply de-chroming iOS. Though he takes away the text labels, it still retains a fresh, clean look without changing much of iOS.

flat messages ios7 Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Pieter Goris offers his take on the Messages app by stripping out the messaging bubbles we’ve all come to know with both Mac OS and iOS. He also replaces they keyboard with a darker, more subtle look. Very clean.

flat ios 7 simple Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Anton Kovalev‘s mockup looks very much like a flatted iOS 6 without any gloss. Some of the icons have a slight drop shadow giving them a bit of depth, too.

ios7 homescreen concept Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

This rendition by John Menard remind us of Windows Phone and looks very much like Dámaso Benítez‘s concept above, but with sharp corners. The big, bright boxes offer a different approach that’s not very iOS-like. Probably the most radical concept we’ve seen.

flat ios concept bright Eight iOS 7 flat UI mockups

Finally, this concept by Manu Gamero, which is also remisant of Alex Iv‘s, takes a lot of the current iOS look and feel and removes the glitter. It actually looks similar to what we saw on the WWDC invitation with the brighter colors.

All-in-all, we’ll have to wait a month to find out what Apple has in store for the next version of iOS. If the rumors are true, it should be pretty exciting.

Viber is the new Skype

Skype’s failure to innovate and execute properly has allowed Viber to become a viable replacement.

I’m impressed. I’ve been using Viber for quite some time and, by the looks of it, it will continue to be my application of choice to keep in touch with friends and family. Especially since it went on desktop.

You’ve probably already heard the news: 200 million users strong and counting, Viber just launched a beautifully simple app for PC and Mac.

viber desktop Viber is the new Skype

Viber’s desktop app is everything that Skype used to be before Microsoft took charge. It gives you a truly minimalist, very usable interface that’s focused on one simple thing – staying in touch with those that matter.

Some five or six years ago, I absolutely loved Skype. It was the best way to communicate with my friends. They all had it. Messaging was cool. Voice calls were free and reliable. Even video calls were kind of good.

Then everything went completely wrong. Each update of Skype seemed to have more bugs and glitches than improvements. Someone decided to ruin its interface and clutter the app with stuff that nobody wants. The quality of both voice and video calls dropped noticeably.

Skype failed computers even before it tried going mobile.

viber Viber is the new Skype

Viber, on the other hand, went head-first for mobile. With its apparent focus on simplicity of communication, all my friends and colleagues loved it – and, more importantly, started using it all of the time.

Being less intrusive than Facebook when it comes to your privacy and countless times more user-friendly than Skype, it grabbed the perfect market share, necessary to go on desktop. Mobile first, desktop later.

Viber’s story bears some good morals for developers. The bold facts are that nowadays, computers are on their way to become an extension of mobile – and not the other way round, as it previously used to be.

Things have changed.

iOS 7 needs to be more than a design upgrade

The supposed “flat” look of iOS 7 needs to be much more than a change in appearance.

This seems to be a popular opinion that the primary objective of the on-going redesign of iOS that will culminate in iOS 7 is to get rid of the skeuomorphic illustrations. Many even go on to imply that skeuomorphism is the major problem with iOS today. Though we are yet to see any glimpse of iOS 7, I think the suggestion that skeuomorphism is its bane is nothing but a fallacy. Yes, iOS in its present form is outdated and is a bit of a mishmash but suggesting that skeuomorphism is the reason behind its almost archaic nature will only serve to portray a lack of understanding of user interfaces and user experience. Unfortunately, many others have also adopted this reasoning.

Personally, I have no problem with the skeuomorphs in iOS. I actually like some of them. I should point out they have absolutely nothing to do with the way iOS works; they are simply ‘decorations’, wallapers and backgrounds. Sure, some of them can be distracting but they are not integral to the structure of the OS. It’s simply a matter of preference and is akin to preferring one background picture over another. In my opinion, the unconfirmed reports of Sir Jonathan Ive going for a “flat” look have been misinterpreted. The oft referred flat look of Windows Phone is a bit of a misnomer. What many are calling the flat look in Windows Phone is nothing but a visual style. i.e. the look and feel of the Metro Modern UI.

ios 7 flat messages1 iOS 7 needs to be more than a design upgrade

Image credit:  Pieter Goris

Though I can only speculate what Ive intends to do, a flat approach goes way beyond the look & feel / visual appeal of icons, etc. I would say it refers to eliminating and simplifying some of the methodologies of the platform. The chief concern should be about offering quicker access to some parts of the UI. And this is what I hold to be the major problem of iOS today. Simple and mundane tasks require far too many steps to accomplish. iOS’s settings menu is heavily multi-nested. Switching on Bluetooth and Wi-Fi require a trip to the home screen, then the settings icons and so forth. This is what makes iOS outdated, not its skeuomorphic associations. If the skeuomorphs are all excised and iOS still retains its present idiosyncrasies and menu structures, then it would make no real difference. There are of course other problems with iOS such as the lack of Mass Storage Mode, non-implementation of a full Bluetooth stack. And like I said, not all the skeuomorphs are bad. The page turning animation when reading ebooks is a very good implementation of skeuomorphism.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4: The gimmick smartphone

The latest flagship smartphone from Samsung, the Galaxy S4, takes gimmicks to a whole new level.

With the Samsung Galaxy S4 now available on most major U.S. carriers, the company has started marketing its smartphone with commercials aimed at its arch nemesis: Apple.

This isn’t the first time that Samsung has poked fun at Apple. The company had several commercials for its previous flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S3, which, like today, focused on making fun of both the iPhone’s “lack of features” and the people who use them. For Samsung, the goal is simple: Do whatever it takes in a minute or less to woo potential smartphone buyers (or those looking to renew) into thinking that the iPhone is the “lesser” of the two. And to Samsung’s credit, they’ve done an amazing job.

When I originally watched the ridiculous Galaxy S4 keynote, I formed a realization about the Korean-based smartphone maker: They focus on creating great demo-able features you’ll almost never use. I’d even go as far as to say that this strategy makes up a significant part of their marketing efforts. They don’t really focus on long-term feature-sets. Instead, they focus on quick, short-term “look at what the S4 can do that your phone can’t” strategies.

Of course, the only problem is that once you buy a device like the Galaxy S4, you’ll almost never use the features they showcase in their commercials. Why? A few reasons.

For one, a lot of people don’t care to use these features in the real world. One example is their finger-hover technology that senses when your finger is close, but not touching the actual display. If my finger is 1-inch away from the screen, why wouldn’t I just touch it? Another reason you’ll likely never use these features is because they’re not very well executed. Read the majority of in-depth reviews out there and you’ll find that in many cases these features aren’t fully baked.  The sad reality is that you won’t use them all that much. They’re gimmicks built to persuade you into buying the device. David Pierce from The Verge sums it up perfectly:

Much of what Samsung offers seems to be just for show, designed to give sales clerks something to demo that makes the GS4 unique.

Regardless of how I feel though, these marketing tactics have clearly worked, and for that I have to give Samsung props. They went from being mostly a smartphone supplier in 2009, to being the the largest smartphone maker in just 4 years.

samsung vs apple shipments Samsungs Galaxy S4: The gimmick smartphone

However, my gut tells me that this won’t last very long. If Samsung wants to leave a lasting impression on their customers, they need to create and market features that people really want and love to use. Loyalty is hard to buy in this industry, and if the recent data is any indication, Samsung may be in trouble.

In the end though, Samsung has done a remarkable job in marketing its last two flagship smartphones. But make no mistake, when you dig deep, many of the features you see in their commercials are not ones you’ll likely use in your everyday life. So, when buying a smartphone, take into consideration what features are practical versus what features are gimmicky. For some, the Galaxy S4 will still fit the bill. But if you’re skeptical, like me, take the time to research and find the smartphone that provides you with features and services you’ll actually use. It’ll save you from the pain you’ll have to deal with for 23 1/2 months after your purchase.

Google Now for iOS highlights the sad state of Android

With Google Now just being released for iOS, Android’s fragmentation issues continues to be one of the platforms long-standing problems.

A few days ago, an update for the Google Search application on iOS was released by Google and along with it came Google Now for iOS. The predictive search feature has been available on Android for just under a year, but in that time, it’s only been able to reach a peak of 25% of all Android devices.

Unfortunately for Google they’ve had a fragmentation problem since the beginning of time with Android, making it hard to reach users when a new service is only available for Jellybean (4.1+). By releasing on iOS, they’ve effectively made the service available for up to 500 Million devices on day one.

google now for ios sad state android1 Google Now for iOS highlights the sad state of Android

Comparing that to Android shows a sad state of affairs. Eric Schmidt stated late last year that there were around 480 Million Android devices out there at the time, meaning that if we assumed those numbers were current and Jellybean made up 25% of that install base, Google Now only had potential to reach 120 million customers. It’s still a high number, but Google’s managed to potentially quadruple that install base in a single day.

It’s sad that Android is still plagued by issues with fragmentation and I’m not sure it’ll ever be fixed, which makes iOS much more appealing than their own mobile OS to a company like Google who needs as many eyeballs as it can get.