Sorry: The iPhone 13 probably won’t connect to satellites

Plus: Oral social media; face-saving business cards; square meals; a trace of stupidity; railroad drones; super power tools and more!

A smartphone connectivity revolution may be upon us, and I’m not talking about 5G.

In fact, 5G is a bit of a mirage — or, at least, it doesn’t offer what the public thinks it does. If you buy a 5G-enabled phone, it won’t connect to 5G networks unless you find yourself in a rare urban space within range of a 5G base station without the obstructions that limit its access. And even if you are within range, your phone won’t kick over to 5G mode unless you’re doing something super intense. Also: For some people using some carriers in some circumstances, available 4G is actually faster than 5G.

It’s complicated. But the bottom line is that for most users, 99% of the time they spend on their 5G phone will take place over 4G networks. 

Satellite connectivity is a bit of a mirage, too. The worst thing about satellite phones is the very high price of a satellite account, and the high price of phone calls and other services. The other downside is that you can’t use satellite phones indoors. So hardly anyone has a satellite phone or mobile satellite service. It’s just not practical for most people.

But the big news that hit today: Apple’s next iPhone could actually be a satellite phone.

Ming-Chi Kuo, who has a solid track record of predicting Apple products and features, said recently in a letter to investors that Apple’s iPhone 13 (expected next month) will support satellite connectivity. 

Kuo is probably wrong this time. Here’s what’s really going on.

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Mike’s List of Brilliantly Bad Ideas

1. This lollipop plays sweet mouth music. (Wait, what?)

CoolPop is the first “oral social media device.” (And probably the last.) It’s bone-conduction candy on a stick — a lollipop that vibrates with music. When you bite down on it, you can hear it. I’d also love to see this work with smartphone reminders — for example, reminders to go to the dentist.

2. New business cards complete your face. Why, Japan? Why?

Meeting people is weird during a pandemic because you can’t see the bottom half of their face. Japan to the rescue: The Japanese business card company Nagaya Printing offers a business card with the bottom half of your face on it. When people hold it up, they can complete your face even when you’re wearing a mask.

3. I’ve heard of 3 square meals a day, but this is ridiculous

A Florida startup called SquarEat has launched a meal plan service where all the food is square. They’re pitching it as health and diet food: All the food squares are made with whole food, natural ingredients, etc. It’s food — it’s just not shaped like food. (Note: The dystopian sci-fi movie “Soylent Green,” in which people eat Soylent squares in place of regular food, takes place in the year 2022. So, you know, maybe don’t eat the green ones.)

4. A new iPad app invites you to transfer content to a solid-state medium (paper)

Lumo is an app for iPad that puts lines on the screen. To use it, you literally tape a piece of paper over the screen and trace the lines with a sharpie. The company makes claims about its purpose, such as that it’s a form of meditation, or “guided play.” But, basically, it puts lines on the screen which you trace with a sharpie.

5. This drone inspects railroad tracks; flies away when trains come

Railroad tracks need to be inspected (to prevent damage that causes derailment). But thanks to technology and the internet, the inspector can now sit on his ass in an air-conditioned office while inspecting remotely. A company called Nordic Unmanned has created a fuel-cell-powered track-inspecting drone called the Staaker BG-300 Railway Robot that rolls on the tracks while inspecting. But here’s the best part: When a train comes, it flies off the rails and out of the way. It can also fly from one track to the next. I’d love this concept to be extended to human-carrier drones. You could basically see the country on rails in your own private pod, then fly off the rails when trains come.

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Mike’s List of Super Power Tools

1. Transfer any file anywhere instantly

It’s annoying to move photos and other digital files from one device to another — especially cross-platform when you want to send a file from, say, a Chromebook to an iPhone. A site called WebWormhole makes it super fast and easy. Just open the web page and click “CREATE WORMHOLE.” The page gives you a QR code which, when opened on another device, creates a direct connection between the two for transferring files. It also gives you a simply key phrase to use instead, in case the other device doesn’t have a camera.

2. A new website lets you track goals, habits and tea

If you hate the Japanese cute character aesthetic, just move along. Nothing to see here. But if you don’t mind it, this is actually a really powerful productivity tool. Called Kairo, it’s a browser-based productivity system that lets you set timers and measure everything you do. You can use it for steeping your tea, or counting down the days until your vacation begins — and everything in between. In the end, the reporting tools tell you how much time you spend on various tasks and activities and enable you to track your short-term and long-term goals. You can even embed Kairo blocks in Notion.

3. DSLR quality at a webcam price

Most webcams make you look like crap. The color’s off. The wide angle distorts your face. The lighting’s all wrong. The angle is off. A startup is now crowdfunding an AI-based webcam called the Lumina, which does some things other platforms do — it auto-centers your face and follows your head as you move. And it lets you blur the background as much or little as you like. But it does other unusual things. It comes with a card you hold in front of the camera to auto-calibrate the color settings. And I t has a physical privacy cover. You can get it for $150.

Mike’s List of Shameless Self Promotion

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  1. Behavior transparency: where application security meets cyber awareness

  2. Data-driven personalization and trust: Finding the right balance

  3. Old-fashioned business travel is dead (but don't blame the pandemic)

  4. How to spend smarter — not just more — on security

  5. The art and practice of digital workplace governance