Welcome to Android & CustomsMobile

This is going to be one of my old-school posts mostly about something other than customs law. It is about my history with mobile devices and my current heartache. Deal with it. At the end, I get to a more relevant review of the CustomsMobile app.

Around 2001, I used something called a Handspring Visor with a VisorPhone attachment. It was basically a Palm Pilot with a slot for extension modules, and its was both functional and cool.

When that stopped being cool, around 2004 I switched over to a Palm Treo 650. That was a great device. It was compact, had a web browser and, if I remember right, would sync with my work email and contacts. That was great until a guy I know doused it in coffee. I wrote about that in 2005. In 2006, I replaced that with a new Treo 700p, which I also wrote about. That post garnered one of my favorite comments ever, from then-New York Times tech columnist David Pogue.

After that, I had brief dalliance with Android in the form of a Motorola Droid A855. One of the original "Droids," that was set by default to loudly say "Droid" as a notification. I actually still have that phone. It is surprising small and heavy. It has a sliding, physical keyboard that is so small I am surprised I ever considered it usable.

Then came Windows Phone 7 on a Samsung Focus. Watch this ad.

I stuck with Windows Phones from then on. I had a terrific Nokia Lumia 920. That was a solidly build, beautifully designed phone that worked exactly as expected with Windows Phone 8 and 8.1. Beyond the main interface and its "live tiles," a unique thing about Windows Phone at that point was that it pulled together lots of feeds into hubs. If I looked at a person in my People Hub, I would see their online activity across Facebook and Twitter, plus emails and text messages. Or, something like that. It has been a while but it worked well.

When Windows Phone 10 became a thing, my 920 would not do the upgrade and I moved on to a Lumia 950. Again, this was a rock solid, if somewhat underwhelming design. For a "flagship" phone, it was surprisingly modest. Still, it worked beautifully and integrated perfectly with all of my work functions. Having Office programs on the phone meant I could easily edit Word and PowerPoint documents on the fly and Outlook had complete access to my contacts and calendar.

I know that by 2015 there were plenty of ways to accomplish all this on an iPhone or Android device, but the simplicity of being in one ecosystem was efficient and appealing. On top of that, I still enjoy the live tiles and the overall user interface. Cortana, the built in virtual assistant is surprisingly helpful, automatically noting things like booked flights and package deliveries. For a while, I was half-jokingly proud to say I was one of the 1% of Americans who understood how a decent mobile device should look and work.

The problem with being a one percenter is that few developers will produce software for your platform. This lead to the so-called app gap between Windows devices and iOS and Android. Overtime, the apps available for my bank, my pharmacy, my airline of choice, and others either disappears or were left orphaned with no new features and no support. Other apps never appeared at all. That is true for paying parking meters, hailing cabs, controlling my internet connected home thermostats, and other basic functions. For the most part, I was able to live without these apps. Much of the functionality of the apps can be accomplished through the company's mobile site, but it is not quite as easy as a single click to launch the app.

Then three things happened almost simultaneously. First, I had to buy a car. The new car includes iOS and Android connectivity and balked at my Windows Phone, calling it an "incompatible" device. I could use the basic Bluetooth compatibility, but I felt somewhat disrespected by my own car. At about the same time, a high-ranking exec at Microsoft went on the record saying that the continued development of new features for what is now called Windows Mobile is not a priority for the company. He also said he personally uses an android device to benefit from the availability of apps. A short time later, Microsoft announced that it would end its Groove music streaming service (though not the player software). I don't actually use the streaming service, but this seemed like a further retreat from mobile.

At that point, I was done. Today, I am carrying an LG V30 Android phone. For the most part, I dislike the user interface tremendously. I find that that it takes more swipes and presses to accomplish some tasks. But, I have loaded the Microsoft Launcher and all the Microsoft applications to get most of the same level of integration with my work systems. I linked my phone to the new Fall Creators Update version of Window, giving me notifications on my PC. So that is good. I also now have full compatibility with my car and a second app to manage charging (it's a plugin hybrid). And, I have regained access to the formerly missing apps including tickets for my commuter rail so that I may no longer be the last guy on board with a paper ticket. I guess that is good.

I still miss my 950. Cortana, the Windows virtual assistant, is available on Android but requires more steps to activate, which is too bad. I wish Microsoft had been able to create a third ecosystem in consumer mobile devices. It appears that its current plan is to try to coopt Android as much as possible, which I guess is a good business play.

Which brings me to CustomsMobile, which my Android phone now has installed as an app. If you are a customs lawyer or compliance pro, this is an extremely useful app. The app is basically an information aggregator that puts key customs information on your phone.

For me, the key components are likely to be rulings and the HTSUS. Rulings are up to date and searchable. The app also has several "canned searches," for frequently searched topics such as "responsible supervision" and "NAFTA." Search results can be sorted by relevance or date. The HTSUS is set out by Section and Chapter for easy navigation. It is also searchable. Once in the text, the tariff numbers are links to a rulings search for that provision. That functionality should be familiar to anyone who uses CROSS. The General Rules of Interpretation, along with all the General Notes, are included. One nice value added feature is that the General Notes are given titles, meaning you do not need to remember that General Note 12 is NAFTA and General Note 4 is GSP, for example.

CustomsMobile also contains features that might be of particular interest to lawyers, and not just customs lawyers. Specifically, it has the entirely of the U.S. Code, not just Title 19, and the full Code of Federal Regulations. Once in a search, users can expand or contract the scope from just Title 19 to all titles or particular chapters. For example, a search for "bonds" in CFR Title 19 produces 425 results. Limiting that to Chapter 1, covering CBP, produces 261 results. Limiting that further to Part 133 gets me to the seven relevant provisions for bonds relating to alleged intellectual property violations. Search options include boolean operators, wild cards, word proximity and other useful features. Lawyers who use Lexis or Westlaw will be familiar with these forms of search syntax.

Other info included in CustomsMobile is port contact information, arranged by state and searchable CSMS administrative messages. These are handy and are probably very useful for brokers and compliance professionals. The last chunk of data Customs Mobile includes is AD/CVD messages from the CBP database. These are good to have access to, but do not serve the function that most people want. What would be super useful is a table of deposit rates by order. Right now, you need to go back through Federal Register notices and ADD/CVD messages to try to find rates. I believe, but don't know for certain, that the rates are available in ACE or ABI. After all, brokers must be able to identify that to complete the entry process.

Another source CustomsMobile might consider porting over to the app is the CBP IPR database. This is a searchable database of trademarks and copyrights recorded with Customs for border enforcement. This is handy for anyone looking to make a deal to import branded products from unauthorized sellers overseas.

Does CustomsMobile make me happy that I am now carrying an Android device? No. Does it lessen the pain? Absolutely. It is a valuable tool for quick reference when away from my main computer and that can be a valuable tool. Given that it is free, CustomsMobile belongs on every customs compliance professional's phone.

[Editorial Note: I am aware that blogs sometimes endorse products without disclosing that the blog received promotional consideration. Just to be clear, CustomsMobile did not know I was posting this and did not pay me in any way. Also, just to be clear, I am not opposed to monetizing the blog.]


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