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A Ting Take on Mobile Family Plans

Mobile family plans are a great way to consolidate billing for all your family’s phones. Rather than having separate plans with separate billing dates for your separate mobile numbers and handsets, mobile family plans keep everything straight and in one place.

Perhaps predictably, we’d argue that Ting is ideal for families. Or businesses. Or any group of people that want to share a plan.

    On Ting, minutes, messages and megabytes are pooled and shared between devices under your plan. You can add as many devices as you want on one plan and each device costs $6 per month. There’s no premium charged for a mobile family plan and you won’t find any weird line items on your monthly bills. We like to keep it simple.

    We think the best family mobile plan is the one you don’t have to think too much about.

    Taking Control of Your Mobile Family Plan

    In the Ting control panel, you can easily administer the different devices on your account and you’ll see how much of your pooled minutes, messages and megabytes a given device is using in the color-coded graphs.

    You can also take control of devices on your mobile family plan individually in the control panel. You can set up alerts to, for example, let you know when the kids have reached the 500MB mark on data use for the month or when they’ve used more than 1,234 voice minutes or sent 4,321 text messages.

    Also, you can set what services are allowed for each device individually. If you want to block or allow international calling, roaming, text, picture and video messaging, Internet access or tethering, you can do that.

    Alerts can be sent to your mobile number as a text message or straight to your email inbox. We’ll even call to let you know if you ask us to.

    If you’re already using Ting, you just need to add a second (or third, forth, fifth) device to your Ting account and you’re all set. All your devices will appear in your control panel. If you’re not already using Ting, grab a recent bill for your current mobile family plan and try the try the Ting Savings Calculator to find out if Ting might be right for you.

    Google Play Updates and Bug Fixes

    Google Play logoIt wasn’t long ago that Google rebadged the Android Market as Google Play, without much fanfare and with some user confusion.

    Since this update and rebadge hit, you may have noticed some little bugs that weren’t quite ironed out before the Google Play Android app was released into the wild. Stuff like apps getting stuck in an update cycle and other assorted (though small scale) weirdness.

    In addition to bug fixes, version 3.5.15 of the Google Play app brings a new tab where you can see every app you’ve downloaded. In the All tab you can also check to see if you have the latest versions for all your apps and can re-download any apps you’ve uninstalled.

    Another welcome addition is the improved user reviews where, in addition to other tweaks, you can see the type of device the reviewer is using. You can also filter reviews by your device type to get an accurate idea of how an app will perform on your hardware.

    You can manually install the Google Play update to 3.5.15 by following the link from DroidLife. Otherwise, sit tight and await the over the air update which is rolling out now.

    Check which version of Google Play you’re currently running by opening the app, tapping the Menu key and choosing Settings. At the bottom of the settings screen, you’ll see your “Build version.”

    How and When Do I Get an Android Update?

    Fragmentation in the Android camp is a fact of life. There are several versions of the Android operating system (OS) that are in active deployment. There are versions of the OS, modified to differing degrees, running on a host of devices including tablets, set top boxes, PCs and, of course, smartphones.

    Android is open source which means anyone can grab the code and adapt it to fit their ends. That’s a good thing for a whole host of reasons which we won’t delve into right now. It also has its downsides.

    Pie chart - Goole Android use by version

    According to Google’s own data, the most popular version of its Android OS is Gingerbread, 2.3 at 62%. Froyo, Android 2.2, claims about 25% and the newest version, Ice Cream Sandwich, Android 4.0, is only really starting out at 1.6% penetration. This data was collected by Google over a 14-day period ending March 5, 2012. They simply tallied the number of devices that accessed the erstwhile Android Market (since re-badged Google Play) using these different Android versions.

    Why Are There So Many Versions of Android Floating Around?

    The list above is just the official versions of stock Android. There are other forks within these versions with things like HTC’s Sense skin, Motorola’s MotoBLUR and Samsung’s TouchWiz interfaces running atop Android. While these may add useful features — badge notifications on apps in Samsung’s TouchWiz for example — they also add another step between smartphones and the latest Android updates. Once Android receives an official update, it has to be tweaked and tested to run with the manufacturer’s hardware and modifications. Even devices running stock Android aren’t immune, though the update process is simpler in this case.

    Once the phone manufacturer has released its modified build, it’s the carrier’s turn to begin tweaking and testing.

    Stock Android supports all cellular bands. Carriers need to tweak Android to work best on their own wireless bands and to maximize battery life by cutting out unsupported bands. Often, they’ll use this opportunity to also pre-install their own apps and other tweaks as well.

    This is another barrier between your phone and the latest Android update.

    The update process — from initial release to a notification popping up on your phone letting you know a new update is available — can be looked at as a tree.

    Android is the trunk. Different versions are forks. Manufacturers are branches. Carriers are twigs. The end result, the update that eventually comes your way via an over the air update to your phone, is an acorn. Your phone is a … squirrel or something. The latter part of this metaphor is clearly not going the way I had hoped. The larger point stands.

    So… When Do I Get my Android Update?

    It’s frustrating to us that we can’t offer a hard and fast answer to this completely reasonable question. Basically, updates are released when the phone manufacturer has adapted Android to run perfectly on the hardware. Then, Sprint updates its own build. After that’s all done, Sprint will later push an update out to MVNOs like Ting.

    The only assurance we can make is that we won’t add another barrier between you and the latest Android updates.

    When an update hits, you’ll receive a system notification. You can also check for Android system updates on your phone if you’re worried you’ve missed something.

    Comparing Mobile Plans
    A Ting Approach

    Whether by happenstance or by design, it is exceedingly difficult to fairly and accurately compare mobile plans. No two wireless providers seem to use the same math or the same nomenclature.

    It becomes doubly difficult when trying to compare mobile data plans. What’s a megabyte worth? How many does one realistically need? Should we opt for the cheaper, smaller data plan and risk paying hefty overage charges should we exceed our allotment? Or should we go for the unlimited plan and, while we may end up overpaying for our underused mobile data connection, at least we overpay predictably.

    Mobile Data Usage Averages:

    Mobile data demands are steadily growing, yet the average user in Q1 2011 used 435MB of mobile data according to Nielsen. We paid, on average, $0.08 per megabyte in the same period, according to the research.

    While the average cost per MB has predictably moved downward as usage has climbed, we’re still overpaying for mobile service, especially mobile data. The culprit is often unlimited or high-cap plans.

    Chart - US mobile data use by percentileWhile the 99th percentile of smartphone users breached the 4GB mark for monthly smartphone data use in Q1 2011 and might benefit from such unlimited plans (that or a decent Wi-Fi network, just saying), even in the 90th percentile usage tops out at closer to 1GB in the same period.

    When comparing mobile plans — and especially when comparing data plans — it’s important to get an idea of your actual use. If you’re already a mobile data user, that’s easy. Just look on your monthly bill or better yet, take an aggregate of your use from across a few bills.

    If you’re not already on the mobile data train, think realistically about what you’re going to want to do with mobile data. If you want to watch YouTube videos all the way to and from the office every day then you’ll be in the aforementioned 99th percentile. If however, like most people, you want to check in with your friends on social media, send and receive email, read the day’s news and so on, your use will be closer to the average, using less than 500MB / mo..

    Overestimating Mobile Use:

    We tend to overestimate our mobile data needs which means we’re predisposed to overpay. The BillShrink study that is the basis for the CNET article linked earlier in this post suggests we’re also overestimating our voice and text message use. The average user estimates they chat for 711 wireless minutes per month where the average is more like 651. They estimate they use an average of 2,566 text messages where reality puts the number a full 1,000 fewer.

    Rather than bundling minutes, text messages and megabytes together under a plan, Ting lets you pick the service levels that are right for you. In the Ting Control Panel, we let you take control of your use. If you want to cap the minute, text message or data use at a certain threshold, you can. What’s more, you can set different rules for different devices under your plan. If you exceed your estimated usage for the month, Ting bumps you up to the next service level. If you use less, we’ll drop you down and credit the difference on your next bill.

    Given that no two mobile service providers seem to speak the same language, it’s nigh on impossible to fairly compare mobile plans. It’s especially difficult to compare mobile data plans. However, grab a couple of recent bills from your current service provider and try the Ting Calculator. That’s about the fairest comparison you’ll find and chances are, you’ll save money with Ting.

    Got Five Friends?
    Get a Free HTC Detail from Ting

    Illustration - Family of five: Four holding smartphones, one sad looking kid on the right without. Poor guy.If you’ve got five friends, a family or colleagues who aren’t opposed to having a little fun, you’re half way there already. Buy four smartphones sharing pooled minutes, messages and megabytes under one Ting account between now and March 31, 2012. Snap a pic of you and your cohorts that is your closest approximation of this one, share it on our Facebook event page and Ting will give you a fifth smartphone to fill the hands of that sad looking person on the right, the HTC Detail*, for the low, low price of, well, nothing.

    Note: It’s OK if you don’t have an epic beard and a slicked do. It’s OK if you don’t have two kids with a penchant for wearing turtlenecks. Just do your best to match the overall look and feel of the pic and you’re golden. This promotion is open to families, businesses, friends… anyone that’s not opposed to sharing a plan.

    You might need a sixth friend or colleague to snap the picture. If your social network is a little sparse, a tripod plus a camera with self timer function will work too and as an added benefit, no bribes are required.

    1. Buy four smartphones from Ting under one account
    2. Gather your friends, family or business partners and snap a pic of you doing your best approximation of this pose
    3. Share your pic on the Ting HTC Detail Give-Away Event page wall on Facebook
    4. Profit – which is to say, we’ll send you a free HTC Detail to share minutes, messages and megabytes on your Ting account

    As Ting doesn’t currently support multiple device purchases at once, you’ll have to purchase your new smartphones one at a time.

    The legal stuff: Short version, if you’re cool to us, we’ll be cool to you. Slightly longer version: Ting reserves the right to change or update the details of this promotion at any time or to disqualify any entrant for any reason. We’re not likely to do so but our lawyers assure us we need to reserve these rights just in case someone decides to try to spoil the party.

    * To qualify for this offer, four smartphones must ber purchased on or before March 31, 2012. If you decide to return any of the four smartphones for a refund (as opposed to replacement), the HTC Detail must also be returned. Offer available to new or existing Ting customers. Users must upload a picture to the Facebook event page for this promotion to receive the free HTC Detail smartphone.

    Five Extreme Ways to Lower your Cell Phone Bill

    Appolicious site logoRecently, Appolicious saw its way clear to include Ting in its Five extreme ways to lower your cell phone bill article. Aside from being fans of the site in general, we’re genuinely chuffed to have been included in the roundup.

    When we first started talking about Ting, we worried whether the wireless-buying public would “get it;” the Ting idea is a unique one in that we don’t bundle services together into plans. Rather, we offer different buckets for voice minutes, text messages and megabytes that would-be users can choose from. Allowing an unlimited number of devices on an account with minutes, messages and megabytes pooled and shared between devices is also unique in the industry.

    We (as in Ting) see this as a logical way to buy and use mobile service. That said, we (as in the mobile buying public) have been conditioned to expect bundled minutes, messages and megabytes along with penalties for using more than we expected. Likewise, we’ve been conditioned to accept two-year contracts that can’t be breached on pain of death. Well maybe not death… but grievous injury to the pocketbook.

    Apparently, we needn’t have worried. This Appolicious article, and others we’ll link to at the end of this post, goes to show that people get it. Separating out minutes, messages and megabytes, eschewing contracts and generally giving customers the tools they need to control their usage and bills isn’t such an out-there concept. It’s also heartening to see other uniquely Ting concepts brought to light. Specifically, automatically bumping users up to the next bucket if they use more than they thought they would or dropping them down and crediting their next bill if they use less.

    This article, and the many more column inches we’re grateful to have received, shows that we have some work to do yet. Specifically, we need to do a better job of explaining why asking users to buy their own device as opposed to offering a deeply discounted device by signing a contract is a strength as opposed to a weakness. That’s a subject for another post but the short version: You’re better off buying a device on a credit card than getting one from a mobile service provider. Even the high interest rates that plastic providers demand are better than the rates a mobile provider offers.

    If we have any quibble with the article it’s with the headline. “Five extreme ways to lower your cell phone bill” could just as easily be “five varyingly logical ways to lower your cell phone bill” though in fairness, it has nowhere near the same cachet.

    Ting Elsewhere in the News

    TechCrunch: Tucows Officially Launches Ting, a More Thoughtful Wireless Carrier

    CNET: New Ting Cell Phone Service Turns Contracts on Their Head

    Gigaom: Look Out Big Telcos: Ting Shares Data Across Devices

    Engadget: Tucows Launches a Contract-Free Mobile Service on Sprint's Network

    Fox Business: New Mobile Carrier Ting Offers Truly Customizable Smartphone Plans

    PC Mag: Tucows Launches Contract-Free Mobile Provider Ting

    MobileBurn: Ting's No Contract, Pain-Free Wireless Services Now Available