A.J. Feather

Journalist, Developer

I'm a Missouri native currently seeking a dual masters in computer science and journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Every week I also host an awesome podcast called "Integrate" with my friend Mikah, which you can find at Integrate.FM.

Before moving to New York, I obtained undergraduate degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In Columbia, I hosted a weekly show called "Talking Politics" for KBIA, the local NPR member station and produced, wrote and anchored video for Newsy.com way too early in the morning.

There has never been a political column I did not enjoy reading or an Apple product I did not enjoy using.

Filtering by Category: tech

How to Purchase an iPhone (The Right Way)

Since the first iPhone was released, we have seen the same cycle.  Every year Apple releases a new iPhone.  For the first four models, this happened in June.  Since then, it has been in September.  They make no official announcements as a company, but if you google “new iPhone” anytime after Memorial Day, you will have more information at your fingertips about the new phone than you could possibly want.

Apple tends to also follow cycles for the release of iPads, laptops, desktops and presumably the Apple Watch. Do yourself a favor and bookmark MacRumors’ Buyer’s Guide.  It will tell you when to buy and not buy.

So what does this mean?  How can you exploit this information to make yourself happier and your bank account larger?  I’m glad you asked.

Rule #1: Always buy an iPhone the day it comes out

Yes, it seems appealing in mid-June to upgrade your one-and-a-half-year-old phone. Don’t.  Just because you have an upgrade available doesn’t mean you should throw money into a fire.  Undoubtedly the new phone will be available before the end of Summer, and the phone you currently wish to purchase will cost $100 less. Moving your contract off-cycle is silly.  It basically guarantees you will always be several months out of date for the exact same cost as it would take to have an up-to-date phone.

Rule #2: Understand the ACTUAL price of the phone you are purchasing.

I know the price says free.  It’s actually $450. Allow me to explain...

Your two-year contract is worth many, many dollars to AT&T or Verizon.  (This is why T-Mobile’s plans are often much cheaper, but I digress.)  It used to be easy to tell how much of a premium your carrier charged you because they charged more for an iPhone data plan than other generic data plans.  Now, it’s more difficult.  But regardless of how much they actually make on your two-year contract, the number is more than $450 because that’s the amount of money they are knocking off the phone price.

                                                With Contract / Without Contract

iPhone 6 Plus (base model):        $299        / $749

iPhone 6    (base model):              $199        / $649

iPhone 5S    (base model):             $99        / $549

iPhone 5C     (base model):              $0        / $450

When you decide which phone to buy you may decide the 5C is all you need.  But you also need to consider that the price options are not $0 and $200. They are $450 and $649.  You pay that $450 no matter what you do.

The additional $200 in this case score you:

  1. The ability to pay with your phone anywhere Apple Pay is accepted

  2. A fingerprint reader

  3. A camera that is much, much better

  4. A larger screen

  5. A better screen

  6. More memory

  7. A much faster processor

  8. One to two more years of good use out of a phone that supports new operating systems

Now which phone makes sense to purchase?

Rule #3: Only use AT&T ‘Next’ if you want to pay full price for the phone.

AT&T released their ‘Next’ program in 2013.  It allows customers to pay an extra $20-$30 per month depending on what model of phone they purchase to upgrade once every year (or every 18-months in some cases).

This isn’t a terrible deal, especially if your employer pays your cell phone bill. However, you are going to pay full price (or close to full price) for the phone you’re buying with an early upgrade.

In most cases, it’s not much different from buying an unlocked phone from T-Mobile, and if you only count the amount AT&T is charging you extra, it can be a better deal.  However, you are still paying more for your cell service than you would at T-Mobile, so AT&T will ultimately take more of your money.

Rule #4: Sell your old phone.

I cannot tell you how many times I run into people who tell me they still have old iPhones sitting in a desk drawer at home.  Sure, a first-generation iPhone will become a collector’s item in a few decades, but what do you need that 3GS for?  Does it possess a certain aesthetic you like to look at from time-to-time?  Does its lack of HSDPA+ & LTE inspire you to be something better than yourself?  Of course not.  You just never sold it on eBay or mailed it to Gazelle.  This harkens back to earlier when you were throwing money into a fire while buying a new phone in June.

Do yourself a favor.  List your phone on eBay or go here and sell your phone.  You can currently pull about $240 from Gazelle on a working 5S.  On eBay, the number is a little bit higher, but you have to go through the trouble of waiting on the auction, getting the address, making sure the customer pays, etc.

So the next time your friend tells you they are thinking about buying a new iPhone in mid-August before the new model is announced, do them a favor.  Send them a link to this post.  Help them become a smarter consumer.

Apple’s Largest Acquisition Ever - An Overpriced Headphone Brand

Apple is unofficially purchasing Beats Electronics next week, which seems odd.  Why would Apple, the top brand in the world, purchase another highly-ranked brand with a seemingly mediocre product?

The answer appears to be profit margins and branding, not audio technology, patents, frustrating Samsung or another Apple pastime.

WHY IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TECH

When I first heard about the acquisition, it did cross my mind that maybe Beats had some secret recipe for audio equipment or design.  But that’s not the case.  One piece Beats’ business they may be after is its streaming service, which was launched as recently as January.  Though going after a streaming service also seems odd because Apple has relationships with record companies that would (potentially) allow them to build a similar service without spending $3.2 Billion on an existing one.  Though an actual subscription streaming service (versus Apple’s current a la carte model) is something new to the company,  9to5mac points out Tim Cook and Eddy Cue previously met with Beats’ Jimmy Iovine to discuss streaming music.

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We Will Be Fine Without Net Neutrality

The F.C.C. once again added fuel to the Net Neutrality fire this week by releasing preliminary rules that would allow internet service providers to create special, faster lanes for online content companies to reach consumers if the companies pay extra to access those lanes.

The New York Times points out the commission only released these rules after a federal appeals court struck down the commission’s rules banning these types of agreements for a second time.

The F.C.C. had previously warned against those types of deals, saying they could unfairly discriminate against companies that could not or were not willing to pay. But after a federal appeals court struck down, for a second time, the commission’s earlier regulations, the F.C.C. is trying again.” (Via NYT)

The Verge voiced concern, saying the new proposal would destroy the Internet as we know it.  Though they have since softened several of their claims following FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s statement.

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Microsoft Office Comes to the iPad

Microsoft Office finally made its way into the Apple App Store this week as a subscription service.  It runs $99.99 per year or $9.99 per month.  Of course, this actually includes a full Office 365 subscription.  So users can utilize Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Drive cloud storage, etc. on 5 PCs, Macs, iPads or Windows Tablets.  But who would want to run out and pay that much for office applications?

The products’ adaption to the iPad platform aren’t likely to explode the number of subscriptions Microsoft sells, but they do extend the features of 365 for business and home users.  As I write this in Google Docs, I’m having trouble reasoning why a home user would exist.  However, I’m assuming they do because Microsoft sells the product, and I was once in their position.  After all, I owned a first generation Zune.

Let’s talk about some alternatives to the Microsoft Office Suite.

iWork

Apple sells the iWork suite as an Office alternative.  (Pages v. Word; Numbers v. Excel; Keynote v. Powerpoint)  All of the applications are $20 for the desktop and $10 for mobile.  However, they come free with the purchase of any new iOS or OSX device.  I have copies of the applications.  They’re not super-helpful because everyone I work with uses Word.  So I’m stuck exporting into different file formats anytime I use them.  They work fine.  The only one I would argue is actually BETTER than the Microsoft product is Keynote though.  But for 1/5 the price, they’re certainly worth a look.

Evernote

Evernote can really only be used the place of a word processor for basic things, but IT IS FANTASTIC.  Evernote will sync notes across all of your devices seamlessly and it features some other great tools like a web page clipper.  It’s free with an option to go ‘Pro,’ but I promise you won’t need to.

Google Docs

One of the selling points of the new Office Suite a few years ago was you could edit documents live with other people across the internet.  That’s nice, but Google Docs is the most seamless integration of that I have ever seen.  You can work with as many people as you want in a document simultaneously.  Sometimes at work we will have more than 20 people in one document, and I’ve never seen it crash.  Sometimes you have to refresh the page, but that has never been a big problem.

I tend to draft almost everything in Google Docs and later port it over to another platform simply because it’s the only application I’ve found that automatically saves and saves to the cloud.  It’s wonderful.

 

Zelda: Spring Break of Time

I've been on spring break this week, and it's been nice.  I wrote two papers and took a final for a British Literature online course, but that's alright.  It was "break" enough for me.  Between 17th century poems and writing great multisource news for the web (click this) I have (almost) finished the greatest game of all time.  That is, Ocarina of Time.  It's my favorite set of quests, puzzles, and cartoon drama to date.

Defeating Ganondorf at the end of Ocarina was one of my greatest accomplishments as a first-grader - right up next to losing my first tooth and obtaining a holographic Charizard.

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