Weekly output: gadget customer satisfaction, Google Pay fact-checking rewards, right to repair, Mozilla browser-choice report, AI image generators

Through two years of building back my business-travel schedule, one frequent destination from the Before Times had remained off my calendar until this week: New York. My overdue reunion with NYC allowed an equally belated inspection of Penn Station’s Moynihan Train Hall (one thing I didn’t expect was how great it would be to see the sky through that glass ceiling as I ascended the escalator from the tracks) and not enough time to wander around that other city on the Northeast Corridor.

9/20/2022: Amazon Sees Uptick in Consumer Satisfaction With Its Fire Tablets, Kindles, PCMag

I got an advance look at the latest survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which suggested that Amazon’s e-readers and tablets have been winning some fans in the last year.

9/21/2022: Some Google Pay Users Offered Tiny Bribes to Check Transaction Data, PCMag

I decided to try to sell this story after Google prompted me in Copenhagen to verify that its app had correctly recorded a transaction at a ticket-vending machine in that city’s central train station–which should be among the easier paperless transactions to confirm.

Photo shows the slide identifying me and my fellow panelists: Lisa Kemp of Sims Lifecycle Solutions, Ildar Manoprov of WCell, and Dylan Jackie of Back Market.9/21/2022: Right to Repair Panel, BackForum

The gadget-resale platform Back Market had me moderate a panel at its one-day conference in Brooklyn, in return for which they covered my Amtrak fare from and back to D.C. This was originally going to be a one-day trip, but after Qualcomm invited me to an auto-tech event it was hosting the next day (with lodging covered), I opted to stick around NYC through Friday morning.

9/22/2022: Mozilla says users are being denied browser choice. It’s not that simple, PCMag

My first prominent endorsement of Mozilla Firefox happened 18 years ago, and yet I still found this report that browser’s developers to be surprisingly unpersuasive. 

9/25/2022: Why This Online Archivist Isn’t Feeling Much Angst About AI-Generated Art, PCMag

After arriving at Union Station late Friday morning, I bikeshared over to the Wharf for the conference hosted by The Atlantic that was a fixture in my Before Times calendar. The talk by the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott immediately struck me as material for a post, and then I had a moderately mind-expanding talk with him an hour and change later.

Android phone migration has gotten easier–except for Google Pay and Google Voice

Moving from my old Pixel 3a to my new Pixel 5a provided my smoothest Android phone-migration experience yet. I had much less home-screen housekeeping to do on my new device than two years ago, and one key Google app showed a particularly dramatic improvement. But then I had to deal with Google Pay and Google Voice.

Overall, Google’s instructions get across how easy process has become. Tap yes in the “Copy apps & data” button on the new phone, unlock the old phone, connect the two with a USB-C cable, tap yes in the old phone’s “Copy data to new phone?” dialog, then wait–about 21 minutes in my case.

A Pixel 5a showing the "Transfer accounts" screen in Google Authenticator sits atop a Pixel 3a showing the same screen in the same app.

Google’s Android-transfer system accurately reproduced my app-icon layout (the contrast with upgrading to iPadOS 15 did not escape my attention) and wallpaper, with the only missing item being a home-screen icon for Android Auto.

I did still have to wait for most individual apps to download off Google’s Play Store, and their new-phone user experience varied awkwardly. Some, such as Feedly, LinkedIn and FlightRadar24, didn’t need me to log back in; most demanded a new entry of usernames and passwords (made much easier by 1Password); a few required extra bouts of authentication.

One Google app pleasantly surprised me, given the sensitivity of its stored data. Google Authenticator previously required renewing each two-step verification code securing a site login as if your old phone had fallen into the ocean, an experience that Google security chief Stephan Somogyi in 2017 apologetically described to me as “a complete, total and unmitigated pain.”

But in 2021, an old phone’s Google Authenticator can generate a catchall QR Code for its saved accounts; scan it with the new phone’s copy of Authenticator, and you’ve got your one-time passcodes for those accounts ready there. Great!

And then two other Google apps showed how awkward this process can remain. Google Pay–not the mobile-payments app that debuted as Google Wallet, but the new release that shipped this spring and then required some non-trivial settings restoration–landed on the new Pixel 5a as if I had never used it before.

I had to start by typing in my cell number because this Google service relies on that for authentication instead of a Google account. As Ars Technica’s Ron Amadeo explained/warned back in March, this setup resulted from Google electing to build a new Google Pay off code optimized for the Indian market, where SMS authentication apparently reigns supreme. And then I then had to add back my saved credit cards, one at a time.

The last hiccup, I hope, came with Google Voice. The oft-neglected Internet-telephony app that I use for my work number seemed to be configured properly on the new phone, but then a journalist trying to reach me for a radio interview had her call go to voicemail. Eight times in a row. The answer turned out to be that Google Voice’s account settings had my number associated with two smartphones and two copies of the same number, a level of confusion that the system evidently resolved by not patching calls through to the newest device.

But now that’s squared away, and I think I can make it through the rest of this trying year without further mobile-app troubleshooting. I hope that’s the case for everybody reading this too.

Android 11 first impressions: payments with less stress

My pick for the single most helpful new feature in Android 11 doesn’t even get a description in Google’s highlights of its mobile operating system’s new version.

This addition lurks behind the power button: Press and hold that, and instead of Android 10’s sidebar menu with the “Lockdown” option that disables biometric unlocking and scrubs notifications from the lock screen, you see a full-screen menu with large buttons for that security feature, your Google-linked smart-home gadgets–and the credit cards you have active in Google Pay.

I’ve been a fan of NFC payments for years, but the world has caught up to me since March as merchants have rushed to provide contactless payment options. But until Android 11 landed on my Pixel 3a 11 days ago, matching a purchase with the card offering the best cash-back or points reward required me to open the Android Pay app and switch payment methods. Now, I just mash the power button and tap the card I want.

The Conversations features that do lead off Google’s sales pitch for Android 11 also seem like they’ll simplify my digital life. That’s “seem” because it took me until today to remember to swipe left on a text-message notification to expose the option to make the sender a priority–starring them in the Contacts app doesn’t affect this, nor do I see a way to promote people from within the Messages app. But at least now I know that messages from my wife will show up on my lock screen with her picture.

Android 11 also brings some less-obvious application-privacy enhancements, as detailed Google’s developer guidance. It improves on Android 10’s ability to deny apps background access to your location by letting you give an app only a one-time peek at your location. If you turn off location services altogether, COVID-19 exposure-notification apps like Virginia’s COVIDWISE now still work. And if you don’t open an app for a few months, the system will turn off its permissions automatically.

The biggest problem with Android 11 is one that has existed with every other Android update–but which fortunately doesn’t affect me as a Pixel 3a user. This update will probably take months to reach Android phones outside the small universe of Pixel devices and those from such other, smaller vendors as Nokia and OnePlus that decided to commit to shipping Google’s releases quickly.

Weekly output: Apple Pay and Google Pay are still NFC, Planet Labs, William Hurley on quantum computing

SAN ANTONIO–An unusual business arrangement brought me here. A few months ago, the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation asked if I’d be interested in covering their  Geoint 2019 Symposium for their magazine. They’d cover my travel costs and pay me a flat fee to file a couple of posts a day. That differs from my usual article deals–it’s more like I’m simulating being a staff writer for a week–but USGIF is a good client and offered a good rate. So hello again, Texas.

5/31/2019: Clearing up confusion on payments: If a retailer takes Apple Pay it also takes Google Pay, USA Today

The long-anticipated arrival of NFC mobile payments on a few NYC bus and subway lines gave me my latest reason to remind readers that headlines only mentioning Apple Pay or Google Pay wrongly suggest a proprietary exclusivity. Unfortunately, NFC is a vague and lifeless abbreviation. On reflection, my friend Ed Bott’s suggestion of “tap to pay” would be an excellent substitute.

6/1/2019: Daily Imagery for Analytic Insight, Trajectory Magazine

My Geoint 2019 coverage started with some short profiles of exhibitors that I filed in advance–the first being the satellite-imagery firm Planet Labs.

6/2/2019: Quantum Computing Will Change Everything, but Not Without Your Help and Patience, Trajectory Magazine

Strangeworks founder and CEO William Hurley (aka “whurley”) talked about quantum computing Sunday morning and gave a refreshingly unhyped take on the technology’s perspective.

Weekly output: mobile payments, Black Hat security, travel tech

I left Black Hat feeling a little overwhelmed–not because of how little time I had to take in things between my arrival in Vegas Tuesday afternoon and my departure Thursday night, but because of how many fascinating briefings I had to miss because I was attending others. And then there’s everything I missed by flying home before DEF CON

8/6/2018: Hang on, Apple: Phone payments still need work, USA Today

Seeing all the hype over Apple announcing that CVS will finally succumb to reality and accept Apple Pay (meaning you can also pay with any non-Apple phone that does NFC payments) got me feeling cranky enough to write this reality-check post. I’ve since received an e-mail from a reader saying he’s had no problem paying for stuff with his iPhone in Mexico, contrary to a statement in the column based on an incorrect reading of Apple and Google support documents. I’ve asked my editors to correct that part.

8/9/2018: Black Hat attendees are surprisingly lax about encryption, The Parallax

As I was putting together my Black Hat schedule, I got an invitation to tour the network operations center supervising the conference’s WiFi. I thought that visit would allow me a chance to look at a lot of blinking lights, but instead it provided up-close evidence of some horrifyingly slack security practices among a minority of Black Hat attendees.

FTU DC badge8/11/2018: Welcome and Keynote with Rob Pegoraro, Frequent Traveler University Washington, DC

After years of profiting from tips shared in various frequent-flyer forums, I had a chance to give back when FTU host Stefan Krasowski asked if I’d like to talk about my travel experiences to open this two-day program of seminars about airline and hotel loyalty programs and other sorts of travel hacking. We had a great conversation about freelance business-trip economics, the gadget accessories I take on the road, two underrated virtues of United elite status, and my worst airport-transit experience ever. My only regret: Since I couldn’t stick around for the rest of the day, I didn’t have a chance to meet the other FTU speakers, a few of whom I’ve been reading for years.