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March 27, 2006

Build It, Steve, and We Will Come

Via Mac Rumors, Smarthouse claims that Apple will launch a phone in the next few months:

Insiders at Taiwanese phone maker BenQ say that Apple procurement executives have been talking to various Taiwanese phone makers during the past few months in an effort to cut a manufacturing deal on an iPod Phone.

They say that Apple will launch an iPod with phone functions within the next few months. "An iPod phone is definitely coming. BenQ will not be making it as we are in competition with Apple however several of our suppliers have been approached to manufacture parts. Among manufacturers in Taiwan it is common knowledge. The issue for many is the availabilty of parts if the phone takes off" said the BenQ executive.

I pass this along because I heard the same rumor from a reliable source while I was in the Bay Area -- that Apple is working on a phone, that it will launch fairly soon, and most interestingly, that Apple will become its own MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), using Cingular's network.

This rumor makes sense to me. Apple wants -- no, needs, to stay competitive -- an iTunes-on-a-phone solution, and a real one, not the ROKR, crippled by an intersection of corporate concerns. (Cingular didn't want to undermine its $3-per-ringtone business; Apple didn't want to let users store unlimited songs on a device for which it received just a few dollars.) By becoming a manufacturer, Apple can build a phone with a hip design, just like an iPod, and sell it directly, keeping hundreds of dollars for itself, just like an iPod. By becoming an MVNO, Apple can allow users to download songs wirelessly -- unlike an iPod, which requires a Mac or PC to buy songs. As for using Cingular's network for its MVNO operations, this makes sense, too. Apple would want a global device, which would imply GSM. This rules out Verizon or Sprint.

The person from whom I heard this rumor and I talked about it, thought through the implications, and then both decided that yes, we could easily imagine ourselves switching to Apple for our cell phone service. I wouldn't care about the songs-on-the-phone bit; I already have multiple iPods. I'm assuming that Apple would create the hippest phone on the plane, the iPod nano of phones. Build it, Steve, and we will come.

February 28, 2006

Checking Up on the Crystal Ball

In December 2002, I wrote:

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

From a story in today's Business Journal:

Sony Ericsson and Google Inc. said on Tuesday they have signed a deal to make a phone whose owners will be able to easily file to a personal blog.

Sony Ericson said all of its future mobile phones will come with Google's Blogger and Web Search features.

Owners will need a blogger.com account to file stories via their mobile phone.

It is the first time a mobile phone will come with tools for blogging directly from a handset.

The software will first appear on the recently announced K610 UMTS phone and new flagship K800 and K790, available by June.

So far, so good. The next question is, will there be 50-500 million bloggers within another two years?

October 01, 2003

The Death of Pay-As-You-Go Wi-Fi

Can we all just declare pay-as-you-go Wi-Fi dead? A press release from Panera Bread:

Panera Bread Company (Nasdaq: PNRA), the company that has led the nationwide trends of artisan bread and quick casual/specialty foods, today announced it is in the process of equipping its bakery-cafes from coast to coast with free Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) access.

"This is not a test, but represents a serious and real long-term commitment," said Ron Shaich, Panera Bread chairman and chief executive officer. "Panera is the first national chain to take substantial steps forward in meeting growing consumer demand for highspeed Internet access without charging for the service."

Approximately 70 Panera Bread and Saint Louis Bread Co. locations, including those in the Chicago, Detroit, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., markets, already offer free Wi-Fi access. At least 60 additional locations will be wireless by the end of this year. Plans are underway to equip all remaining company-owned bakery-cafes and participating franchise locations across the country with the free service. The company expects that as it continues to expand, it may eventually operate in excess of 1,000 hot spots.

Not only is the service free, but they offer free support as well:

Call the Panera Wi-Fi Help Desk at (866) 943-4457 from 9:00am to 9:00pm Eastern Time, 7 days a week. The primary purpose of the Help Desk is to ensure the network is up and running in each of our Wi-Fi enabled bakery-cafes, and to answer basic questions regarding configuration.
Let's see... I can go to Starbucks (well, actually, the closest Starbucks is a few miles away) and pay for each drink while paying for my Internet access, or I can go to Panera Bread and get free refills on my coffee or soda (including the Nectar of the Gods, Caffeine-Free Diet Coke) while surfing the Web for free. Yep, it's going to be Panera Bread from here on out.

As I noted before when Schlotzsky's Deli announced a similar (though not as comprehensive) program, this is how to use Wi-Fi: as a marketing tool, not as a profit center. Panera sticks to doing what it knows best (serving food and drink) and uses inexpensive technology to lure more people into its restaurants.

Soon, enough retail establishments will adopt free Wi-Fi that the pressure on those already operating pay-as-you-go networks will be irresistable, and everyone will go free. I don't know when this will happen, but I believe that when it does, it will happen fairly quickly -- say, no more than six months from the first major conversion (to free access) to the general realization that pay-as-you-go is dead, because no major bricks-and-mortar operation offers it on a widespread basis.

September 13, 2003

Sanswire's "Stratellite"

Wireless Week has a story on Sanswire Technologies:

Sanswire Technologies is keeping its dream alive of creating a national wireless broadband network with a re-designed satellite-like, high-altitude airship, the Statellite [sic].

Rather than orbiting like a traditional satellite, a Statellite is stationed in the stratosphere. At an altitude of 13 miles, the ship can provide a wireless transmitting platform that can see an area of up to 300,000 square miles.

The company plans to launch a series of the units in the United States to create a national wireless broadband network, enabling subscribers to access the Internet wirelessly at high speeds anywhere in the United States, as well in parts of Canada and Mexico.

"The new design will give us much more flexibility. Not only will we be able to offer wireless broadband services to our subscribers, but the platform can also be used to transmit other wireless services such as cellular, MMDS, fixed wireless telephony, HDTV and 3G/4G mobile," said Michael Molen, Sanswire's CEO.

The figure of 300,000 square miles struck me as quite large. It implies a radius of 309 miles, which -- though I'm most definitely not a wireless engineer -- seems far for inexpensive, bidirectional, broadband communications.

To get some idea of the size of 300,000 square miles, here's a circle of that size centered on downtown Chicago (click on any image for a larger view).

Here's the same circle from a continental view.

13 miles equals 68,640 feet; I presume they're really talking about 70,000 feet and rounding to the nearest mile. A handy calculator tells us that from 70,000 feet, the distance to the horizon is actually 356 miles.

Now, even at a distance of only 309 miles, an object at 70,000 feet is going to hang low on the horizon. From the table found on this page, at 70,000 feet, the elevation from 300 miles away is 0.4 degrees -- in other words, slightly less than the width of the Sun or a full Moon in the sky (see here for more on estimating angles in the sky). That's not much -- easily less than treetops or nearby buildings. (As a point of reference, DirecTV's satellites 1, 2, and 3 have elevations of up to 21 degrees above the horizon throughout Alaska, and many Alaskans must buy larger-than-DBS dishes in order to have a hope of receiving a signal.)

10 degrees above the horizon -- the width of one's fist (with thumb tucked in) at arm's length -- seems more reasonable to me. That equates to a range of just under 75 miles. A radius of 75 miles equals a coverage area of 17,671 square miles, which doesn't sound nearly as impressive as 300,000, but if they're just talking about covering major cities, it's not bad at all.

Here's a circle with a radius of 75 miles centered on the Empire State Building.

With a range of 75 miles, it would take only three stationary airships to cover the Boston-New York-Washington corridor.

I may be wrong about this, and the true range may be 309 miles, but even at 75 miles, it's an interesting proposition, at least for well-populated areas. The "BosNYWash" corridor has an estimated population of 40 million, and is the largest, most densely populated megalopolis in the US, and why not start with the best case? Three hovering airships to serve a total available market of 40 million people sounds great to me.

On the other hand, Sanswire claims that it will only take 12 airships to provide coverage "anywhere in the United States and parts of Canada and Mexico." I've played with my mapping program, and I just can't get this to work -- I can't make 12 circles with a radius of 309 miles each completely cover the continental US. The area of the continental US is 2,870,084 square miles, but the US is irregularly shaped, and a circular coverage pattern implies overlap in any case.

So, at the end of all this, I'm intrigued by Sanswire, but I have a few questions:

  • By a coverage area of 300,000 square miles per airship, does Sanswire mean to imply a range of 309 miles?
  • At an airship altitude of 70,000 feet and a range of 300 miles, the airship will be only 0.4 degrees above the horizon. How will users experience reliable communication at such a low elevation?
  • At a line-of-sight distance of 309 miles, what sort of power will be required to transmit to the airship? What does this imply for portable communications devices?
  • How can Sanswire provide service to anywhere in the continental US with only 12 satellites, each with a range of 309 miles?
I'm interested in the answers to these questions, both from readers with technical knowledge and from the Sanswire people themselves (whom I'll invite to respond here).

September 10, 2003

Half a Billion Cell Phones in 2004

Via the unwired list, a fairly amazing statistic:

Global cell phones sales will top 500 million next year for the first time in its history, thanks to growing demand for high-speed mobile phones and models with integrated digital cameras, according to a study by research firm IDC.
Half a billion cell phones in a year... that's one cell phone for every 12.63 people in the world (world population figures found here).
Mobile phone sales globally are expected to top 460 million units this year and then grow more than 8 percent in 2004, said IDC, which is based in Framingham, Massachusetts...

The total number of mobile phone users will approach 1.4 billion individuals worldwide in 2004, with vendors shipping more than 241 million 2.5G phones, up 42 percent from 2003, and more than 48 million 3G phones, up 140 percent from 2003, IDC said.

Cell phones with integrated digital cameras will grow 64 percent next year to almost 100 million units, IDC said. Almost 30 million smartphones, will be sold next year, representing growth of 111 percent from 2003.

100 million camera phones and 30 million smart phones? Those are real markets.

August 20, 2003

The N&O on Hot Spots

From an article on Wi-Fi hot spots in the Raleigh News & Observer:

One of the biggest drawbacks for a business that offers Wi-Fi access is the possibility of Internet poachers. The area within a router's broadcast range -- usually about 300 feet -- is a "hot spot" where users with wirelessly enabled PDAs or laptops can log on.

If an access point's signal isn't encrypted, anyone with the right tech gear can get access to the Internet. If the signal is strong enough, someone can simply park their car outside a business, log on and sap the network -- and possibly snoop into private files on other computers on the network -- without ever going in and making a purchase.

[Thad] Culley, manager of The Regulator [Bookshop Cafe in Durham], has dealt with such "squatters."

Normally, the cafe's network can handle six to eight users, depending on whether one of the users is downloading a large file. If someone outside tries to log on to the network, they can cause the system to slow down or crash entirely. That's when Culley goes outside and confronts the freeloader.

"I just explain to them that it's making my service not work," he said. "Most people are really understanding."

I'll leave aside the issue of confusing encryption with access control. Public hot spots are always unencrypted -- if they required encryption, the challenge would be too much for most users, and they wouldn't log on. Access-controlled networks such as T-Mobile's are unencrypted but password-protected. I can sit in my car outside a Starbucks and reload T-Mobile's sign-in page as much as I like, but that's all I'll be able to do, since I have to sign in to go beyond that page.

I'll also leave aside the canard about snooping into private files. It's not the reporter's fault that she makes the same mistake made by most journalists, portraying unencrypted networks as inherently insecure (and, by inference, encrypted networks as inherently secure). Anyone who treats physical access to their network as their line of defense -- allowing unlimited access to sensitive resources once inside -- is foolish and will probably get their just desserts soon enough.

No, my beef is with the bookshop manager, and the implication that the use of an open Wi-Fi access point without patronizing the establishment offering it is somehow "squatting". Let me make it plain and simple: the airwaves -- especially the airwaves at 2.4 GHz -- belong to us all. It's absurd to operate an open access point, broadcasting a signal beyond the confines of one's business, and then complain when someone outside the business makes use of it. In fact, I find it not only absurd, but offensive. If The Regulator Bookshop Cafe wants to stop outsiders from using its access point, it would be simple enough for them to set up a sign-in system and offer passwords with purchases (this is how McDonald's does it). Until then, if they are going to send their open Wi-Fi signal out into the street and beyond, then I'm within both the letter and the spirit of the law to use it as I see fit.

I'm tempted to make a trip to Durham to sit outside The Regulator, use its Wi-Fi access point without making a purchase, and then when questioned, politely explain that I have no intention whatsoever of stopping.

August 03, 2003

Garmin iQue Review

The excellent technology writer David Pogue has a review of Garmin's new GPS-equipped Palm OS device in the New York Times:

Garmin's new iQue 3600 is the first palmtop that is also a G.P.S. receiver -- a remarkable feat, considering that it's no larger than a typical Palm organizer. It runs on the Palm 5.2.1 operating system, meaning that it synchronizes its calendar, address book and to-do list with a Windows PC and can run any of thousands of add-on programs. It comes with both a voice recorder and Documents to Go, a program that lets you view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files when you're on the move.

The iQue's bright color screen (320 by 480 pixels) covers the entire face of the device. This setup lets you hide the Graffiti handwriting area when you've got more important things to look at, like maps. It also shows the letter shapes you're making as you write, as though your inkless stylus actually had ink, which makes it easier to master the Palm alphabet...

The top of the screen identifies your current speed and direction of travel, along with the next turn you're supposed to make ("Turn right on I-95 South"). Better yet -- and safer -- a woman's voice announces from the built-in speaker, "In 400 feet, exit left," or whatever.

Over all, the experience is much like using the $3,000 navigation systems built into the dashboards of expensive cars. Because the iQue also accepts signals from W.A.A.S. (Wide-Area Augmentation System, a supplementary navigation signal broadcast by the Federal Aviation Administration for aircraft use), it's much more accurate than less expensive G.P.S. units...

Over and over again, thoughtful design touches will win you over. The next-turn information appears in huge, white-on-black lettering that's legible from three feet away (that is, the driver's seat). A bottom-mounted flip cover protects the screen from the hazards of your pocket. The car pedestal is rooted to your dashboard by the weight of fabric-covered sandbags instead of adhesive, screws, or anything else that would make it hard to transfer from car to car.

Thanks to the smooth integration of the iQue's two functions -- G.P.S. and Palm organizer -- the whole is indisputably greater than its parts. Even the calendar function is tied in: if you tap in a 7 o'clock dinner meeting at Joe's Organic Pizza, the iQue promptly displays directions.

The iQue goes for about $550 online. The next least expensive G.P.S. receiver with color screen and voice prompts is Garmin's own StreetPilot III, which costs about $675. When you consider that the price of a comparably equipped color Palm (without G.P.S.) is $400, the iQue looks like quite a bargain.

Most people would assume that a G.P.S.-enabled palmtop would appeal primarily to hikers, sailors and campers. But thanks to the iQue's ingenious driving-navigation features and points-of-interest database, it quickly becomes an essential tool for anyone who travels, whether to other cities on business or anywhere at all beyond the local beaten path. Garmin has designed an extremely successful hybrid that is worth the price -- and the taxes.

This is about as good a review as David is likely to give. The iQue sounds like a hit in the making. Now if only it had Bluetooth built in.

July 31, 2003

Don't Let the Dogs Eat the Dog Food

Via Xeni Jardin, a great quote from a recent Wall Street Journal article on privacy concerns around phonecams:

Samsung Electronics, the world's third-largest maker of cell phones, has forbidden staff and visitors (effective July 14) from using camera-equipped phones in most of its semiconductor, flat-panel and electronics factories and research facilities, for fear that they could be used for industrial espionage. This from the company credited with developing the first camera handset. On its Web site it enthusiastically envisions "a time when camera phones will become not only a novel option and nice-to-have feature, but a mandatory function, a permanent requirement of the global mobile consumer." Except in its own factories, apparently.
Good catch there by the Journal.

July 26, 2003

More on Push-to-Talk

More on the push-to-talk controversy:

Nextel Communications Inc. isn't backing down in the face of yet another challenge to its push-to-talk services from Verizon Wireless.

Verizon's latest complaint filed in federal court objects to Nextel's trademark of the words 'push to talk' and 'PTT.'

Nextel shot back that it is fully secure in the trademarks of those words. 'We are as confident in Nextel's trademark rights for Push To Talk and PTT as we are in our technological leadership. The U.S. Patent and Trademark office's approval of these marks indicate we're not alone in this belief. We're certain the courts will agree, too,' it said in a statement.

Citing a USPTO approval to defend your position is like saying you're good looking because your mother says so. Sure, it may be true, but since almost anyone can say it, it doesn't matter.

July 18, 2003

Why Free Wi-Fi Would Benefit Starbucks

From an article on Wi-Fi in the New York Times earlier this week:

"There is a lively debate going on," [said Alan Reiter, publisher of Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing, an industry newsletter based in Chevy Chase, Md.], "over whether Wi-Fi should be free or not."

He pointed to examples of some chains that have decided to use the service as a loss leader. Evidence supporting the powerful attraction of Wi-Fi comes in reports that both Schlotsky's Deli and the Wyndham hotel chains have recently claimed that free Wi-Fi has measurably increased business.

By the same token, because more than 60 percent of Starbucks' business comes before 9 a.m., he said, the company may be able to use Wi-Fi to help lift sales during less-busy times of the day.

"They have plenty of room after 9 a.m. and they think they can use Wi-Fi to drive traffic," Mr. Reiter said.

Come to think of it, why isn't Starbucks using demand-based pricing for its Wi-Fi service? They should lower the price (possibly to zero), perhaps in conjunction with a purchase during their slower hours -- say, from 9:00 to 11:00 AM, and again from 2:00 to 4:00 PM (I'm guessing here).

To answer the obvious objection that this strategy will leave money on the table when it comes to people who are using Starbucks as their office during the day, would a 30-minute voucher for free Wi-Fi with a purchase really make that much difference? If you're using Starbucks as your office, then you're probably going to spend more than 30 minutes on Wi-Fi, unless you're a writer who doesn't need Internet access or can pick up a free Wi-Fi signal from elsewhere. In either case it wouldn't matter. Meanwhile, Starbucks is selling more coffee. I presume coffee has a very low variable cost, so Starbucks' overriding interest has to be to sell as many additional cups of it as possible.

July 10, 2003

Super-OS Layers for Mobile Devices

In a recent exchange on the unwired mailing list, Tom Hume wrote:

With the advent of licensed "reference designs" like Nokia's Series 60, isn't the underlying OS less important than ever?
I replied:
I couldn't agree more with this. Honestly, device OSes are yesterday's battles. They all do pretty much the same things. They all cost money (to Microsoft, Sun, PalmSource, Symbian, a Linux integrator, or your own Linux team). The interesting battles are going to be in the software layers above the OS. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of what we can build in terms of collaborative mobile applications, and there are fortunes to be made in providing those capabilities.

Arguments over OS-level APIs aren't quite as tired as arguments over big-endian versus little-endian byte order, but they're close.

In reply, David Enzer wrote:

Huh?

Building applications in these handsets even where they support a standard is a major undertaking and time commitment. They all use different code, dsp's and mcu's... getting them to run in real time -- always -- takes a lot of dough and engineering strength.

I answered:

It seems obvious to me that, for the foreseeable future, there will be no clear winner in mobile OSes. Java, Palm OS, Windows for Mobile, Symbian, BREW, Linux, and some others I'm probably forgetting will all have meaningful market shares. The reality is that application developers are going to have to live with a highly fragmented mobile platform for years to come. So does it matter whether Carrier A says it will support OS 1, or whether Carrier B says it will support OS 2? No, it doesn't.

The absence of a single dominnant mobile OS means that super-OS layers will take on even more importance. If, for example, one is building an application for mobile collaboration, then a software layer supporting that, running on a wide variety of mobile OSes, suddenly becomes quite important -- more important, I would argue, than how one draws to the screen or manages memory.

I don't mean to understate the difficulty of making mobile applications really sing. Before switching focus, our company spent over a year working on a mobile client-server-based imaging solution. I know how much work it was to get it to feel right in the user's hands. But we didn't spend a lot of time worrying about OSes -- we picked the two OSes that were right for us, abstracted as much as we could, and built multi-platform from the start (because, as a friend once said, there's no such thing as portable code, only code that has been ported).

It bears repeating: in the mobile device world, super-OS layers will take on increasing importance. From a developer's perspective, the mobile device market isn't just fragmented, it's a sorry mess. We have at least six major OSes and virtually as many provisioning services as there are carriers. Unless the consolidation fairy comes along and waves her magic wand, we (in the US, at least) will be living with this for years to come. Therefore, abstraction layers focused on high-value interactions are where the action will be -- mark my words.

June 23, 2003

Scandinavian Trains with Wi-Fi

Linx: Scandinavian rail service with Wi-Fi on board:

Commercial operation of Linx Internet On Board will start on Linx-trains operatin Gothenburg - Copenhagen from July 1st. Operation Stockholm - Oslo is planned to start in October. During June 2003 there is trial operation Gothenburg - Copenhagen open for our passengers, but we cannot guarantee the service to function at all departures nor at all times during this period.

What many airlines plan and other train operators test is now a reality in Scandinavia - a permanent online connection to the internet while you travel by train. You will be able to send and receive emails and work as you do in your office, with all the possibilities that internet can provide...

Technically, it is built on a wireless, satellite based communication, completed with GSM links. In that way both the broadband capacity and connectivity is achieved. On board, you connect your own laptop wireless (with a WLAN card) and connect to the internet.

One of the reasons I've kept my Earthlink account through the years has been dial-up while on the road. I'm beginning to think this won't be necessary much longer. Whether using hotel room Ethernet, logging in through T-Mobile while sitting at a Starbucks, or now connecting on a train to Scandinavia, the reality is that broadband access -- both wired and wireless -- is fast becoming pervasive around the world.

May 28, 2003

Hi-Wi-Fi

According to Bloomberg News, Lufthansa is working with Boeing to offer in-flight wireless Internet access on all its intercontinental flights:

Lufthansa plans to equip its 80 Boeing 747-400 jets and its Airbus A340 and A300 planes with the technology as well as to "become the first airline company worldwide to introduce broadband Internet on board its entire long-haul fleet," the Cologne, Germany-based carrier said.

Boeing expects to have 150 planes equipped with wireless networks by the end of 2004 and plans to charge $25 to $35 for wireless access during international flights. The Wi-Fi networks use radio waves to send data at high speeds. To hook up, a user needs to be within about 500 feet of a so-called "hot spot" with a computer equipped with a card to receive the radio signal.

Does this mean that testing has conclusively shown that Wi-Fi (presumably 802.11b) signals don't interfere with aircraft avionics?

The original press release can be found here. It doesn't have any specifics on the wireless system.

May 11, 2003

Free WiFi Access

From the New York Times, an article on the wonderful and growing trend in which businesses provide free WiFi access:

Schlotzsky's Deli... [is a] mecca for free Wi-Fi. Schlotzsky's, a nationwide chain of sandwich stores that got its start in Austin, offers free Wi-Fi at 10 of its Austin restaurants, one in Houston and one in Atlanta.

John C. Wooley, the chief executive of Schlotzsky's, said he briefly considered charging customers for Wi-Fi access but quickly changed his mind.

Mr. Wooley said each restaurant spent about $2,000 to get its Wi-Fi up and running, and another $300 to $500 a month for the high-speed communications line that provides the wireless access network to the Internet... Schlotzsky's surveys over the past few months have shown that 6 percent of customers go to Schlotzsky's for the free Wi-Fi. That translates to 15,000 customers per store per year. If each pays, on average, $7 for a sandwich and drink, that adds up to about $100,000 in sales per year.

"That's a really good return on investment," Mr. Wooley said.

Free Wi-Fi access, he said, is similar to other features he has adopted to make his restaurant more appealing. "It's like the wood furniture, and the tile in the restrooms, and the art on the wall," he said. "You're doing all these things so people will select your restaurant."

For the life of him, he said, he cannot see a disadvantage to his business model. Besides the good will he generates, Mr. Wooley said, he gets a bit of low-cost advertising. When Schlotzsky's customers get their Wi-Fi signal, their browsers are directed to a Schlotzsky's page and they are asked to register before being given free rein on the Web.

"Think about how much money you'd spend on a TV spot," Mr. Wooley said. "Unlike a pop-up ad that annoys us all to no end, here you have a way to get on someone's computer and make them happy."

I wrote about Schlotzsky's WiFi plans last August; one aspect from the earlier story that isn't made clear in the Times story is whether Schlotzsky's has followed through on its idea to place antennas on its store roofs to boost its WiFi range.

If anyone from Austin reads this, and has tried WiFi from Schlotsky's, I'd appreciate comments on your experience.

May 01, 2003

Smart Mobs in Egypt

From a story in the Wall Street Journal this morning on the role Islamist groups may play in future Middle East democracies:

When the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood died last fall, Egypt's secular government tried hard to keep popular reaction to a minimum. It barred newspaper notices of Mustafa Mashhour's death and blocked the streets leading to his funeral.

Yet with only a day to organize, the Muslim Brotherhood got tens of thousands of mourners to show up. "We have cellphones and the Internet and we live in the modern world," says the dead leader's deputy, Mamun Hodaibi. "There was no secret to the word getting out."

Found here.

April 23, 2003

Text Messaging Adoption

Richard Boyd's message on cell phone trends in Italy, posted to the unwired list, has led to numerous responses, most notably this from Shawn Conahan:

[H]ere are some possible... reasons why text messaging is being adopted in Italy and Japan at a faster rate than in North America:
  • Calling Party Pays (CPP) -- In much of Europe, including Italy, the billing paradigm puts the burden on the initiating party for the cost of the call. The primary effect of this paradigm is more rapid mobile adoption. This makes sense because people would be more willing to accept an incoming call in general if they know they are not paying for it. Don't take my word for it -- here is a report from Rogers from several years ago identifying this concept as a key to mobile adoption. The secondary effect of CPP is a correlation to text messaging. Economics have historically (and presently, in CPP markets) dictated that it is cheaper to send a text message than to call someone. So what happens? Initially a bunch of people sending a text message to their friends saying, "Give me a call..." and ultimately a bunch of people sending back and forth text messages because they perceive it to be cheaper.
  • Cultural Issues -- I could explain how Japan's shame-based society limits interpersonal interaction and forces a layer of abstraction between the individual and the world around him or her, and the mobile phone is the technological evolution of this complex social layer allowing interaction within the limits of socially-acceptable behavior while broadening each individual's reach deeper into society. I could further explain that the West's guilt-based society promotes selfishness and worships wealth and success and our communication tools have evolved to serve this purpose in the most efficient manner possible and so mobile phones as person-to-person voice communication devices provide a level of efficiency of communication while satisfying a sort of personal communication solipsism that requires those around us to know that we are important enough to have a conversation in, say, a movie theater. But I better not. Such issues are undercurrents that one should allow to flavor their understanding of how our industry fits into society as a whole. Deepak Lal might refer to these concepts as "Unintended Consequences." Here is a good resource if such things matter to you. And a book review of the same.
  • Environmental Issues -- This one seems simple to most people. In the U.S., we drive to work. We drive everywhere because (as Numair pointed out) we have a lot of space and have to drive. This makes voice communication the most efficient mode for the environment in the U.S. In Japan they take the train at least an hour each way to work and they're not allowed to talk (on their mobile phones) on the train. In Italy they sit for hours per day at outdoor cafes sipping cappucinos already, so why not slip in a text message or two? The point is, cities with pedestrian traffic likely have a higher adoption rate of text messaging than cities with high personal vehicular traffic.
  • Competing Technologies -- We are currently in a Revolution of Increasing Expectations. Regis McKenna warned us to be prepared for the 'never satisfied customer' in his book Real Time. Compare text messaging in the U.S. with the other options I have available to me and it is no wonder I have no incentive to use it. I spend 10 hours per day in front of my computer. Instant Messaging has essentially replaced email for me. Going from IM to SMS is a step backward for me. Compare that attitude to consumers in Japan and most of Europe where a dearth of broadband penetration (or simple copper, for that matter) retarded PC adoption compared to the U.S. which retarded Internet adoption compared to the U.S. For many consumers in Japan, iMode was the Internet, or their first view of it, anyway. For many consumers in European countries, SMS was IM because penetration was lower at the same time that mobile penetration was higher than in the U.S. Going from IM to SMS is a difficult transition given my personal situation, but there are cases to be made on each side of the discussion. Here is some objective content on the matter to help you form an opinion.
Extremely well said.

April 22, 2003

Cell Phones in Italy

A message from my colleague Richard Boyd, currently vacationing in the north of Italy:

In the nine months or so since I was here last, northern Italy has undergone some kind of transformation. It is starting to look like Japan. The outside tables in the piazza are filled with people glued to their color cell phone screens text messaging each other, laughing and taking pictures of friends wiht their phones. The most popular one looks like a Panasonic flip phone with a nice big reasonably rezzed screen. These phones aren't cheap. They run about €500. No one under 50 would be caught dead without one.

Is there something about the social fabric of the U.S. that is slowing adoption for us? Social interaction in Italy is very different from Japan. But they have both adopted this method of staying connected.

For whatever reason, Japanese and Europeans generally are tolerant of text messaging input via numeric keypads, while Americans generally aren't. I know that I fall into the American camp on this issue: typing text on a numeric keypad and reading messages on a phone screen don't appeal to me except in situations where no other access is possible.

My belief is that this has to do with first experiences of the Internet and how they shape us. If one's first experience of accessing the Internet is through a cell phone, then small screens and numeric keypad-based text entry will probably always seem reasonable. If, on the other hand, one's first experience of accessing the Internet is through a personal computer, then larger screens and full alphanumeric keyboards (or keypads) will probably always seem to be requirements.

March 20, 2003

Correcting a Story on Verizon

Via unwired, an excerpt from a Washington Post story on Verizon's new high-speed cellular data network, EvDO:

Also today, Verizon Wireless plans to announce its intention to provide wireless networks at 475 hotels and 10 airports around the United States using a technology known as WiFi, for wireless fidelity. WiFi is more limited than EvDO, as users must be within 300 feet of a local base station. It has become an increasingly popular way for wireless users to access the Internet in hotels, airports and coffee shops around the country.
"WiFi is more limited than EvDO"? How much research did the writer of this story do? Let me try rewriting that paragraph:
Also today, Verizon Wireless plans to announce its intention to provide wireless networks at 475 hotels and 10 airports around the United States using a technology known as Wi-Fi, for wireless fidelity. Wi-Fi is a short-range networking technology, typically requiring users to be within 300 feet of a local base station. However, thousands of public Wi-Fi access points already exist in hotels, airports, and coffee shops around the country, with plans to add thousands more. Some operators of Wi-Fi access points offer free connections, either as a public service or to promote their business. When operators charge for access, billing is usually on a flat rate basis -- a fixed amount for all the data that can be downloaded in a given period of time -- 15 minutes, an hour, or a day. Although Verizon has yet to announce pricing for EvDO, like other cellular-based wireless data technologies, it will almost certainly be tied to the amount of data downloaded, with heavy users facing steep bills.
There. That's better.

More on this story from Alan Reiter.

March 19, 2003

Danger's Restrictive SDK

According to boing boing, Danger has set up an extremely restrictive developer program for the Hiptop:

AaronSw sez, "Danger's launched their developer site, which shows a surprising amount of uncoolness. To download the simulator, you need be verified that you own a Hiptop. To be able to put your software on real Hiptops, you need to write a program and get it approved by Danger or work for 'a company actively engaged in development for handheld devices.' Finally, they've got a system of 'Developer Dollars' to try and stop people from freeloading on the forums. What are they so afraid of? Why can't they just put the software up on a web server?"
This is extremely disappointing. Don't they want developers to write software for their platform?

March 17, 2003

McDonald's Wireless

A capture of the login screen for McDonald's wireless service in New York:

In counter-clockwise order, the logos below the outline of the state are for Intel's Centrino, Cometa Networks, and iPass.

Via unwired.

March 13, 2003

Quote in GANAR

The March 2003 issue of GANAR, a Spanish magazine on "business and new technologies," is out, with an issue focus on PDAs:

I did an e-mail interview with a writer for the magazine, Ricardo Schell Schmid, which was reduced down to the following within a sidebar article on mobile wireless device manufacturers:
Para Frank Boosman, director de márketing de la consultora AirEight, "acquellas compañías que estén dispuetas a correr más riesgos y invertir en innovación serán las que lideren el mercadol."
This, I believe, is a translation of my original statement:
The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate.
Out of context, this sounds about as generic and meaningless as one can get. (So much for my rep in the Spanish high-tech community.) For the original context of the quote, within which it hopefully sounds less like useless drivel, here's the original interview:
Q: While PDAs tend to incorporate GPRS functionaliy and mobile phones adopt planning functionality, which will be the meeting point? A: It's not clear that there will be one "meeting point," but rather a variety of device types depending on consumer needs. Professionals looking for a robust, all-in-one solution will adopt PDAs with built-in wireless functionality (termed by some the "PC-minus" model). Consumers looking for a more capable phone will adopt phones with added organizer functions (termed by some the "phone-plus" model). Still others will choose simple, Bluetooth-equipped phones and use them in conjunction with Bluetooth-equipped PDAs. We believe that all three models will be popular over time.

Q: Are we going to a new sort of hybird devices? Which will be their advantages against pure PDAs and pure mobile phones?
A: I think we already see hybrid devices. The T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the Danger Hiptop) is a good example of a device that isn't exactly a phone, but isn't exactly a PDA. It has the advantage of being smaller than a true PDA, and its software is optimized for mobile use, unlike PDA operating systems. On the other hand, it's larger than a true phone, and not as convenient to use when it's being used as a phone.

Q: Which companies are better positioned to fight in this new market: phone makers suchs as Nokia, Ericsson..., PDA makers like Palm, HP, Casio... or companies like Sony that do both things?
A: The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate. Adding GPRS functionality to a PDA may be useful, but it's not exactly an original idea. The most successful wireless devices of tomorrow -- whether wireless PDAs, organizer phones, or other devices entirely -- will be those that are to the greatest degree built from the ground up for their specific tasks.

Q: Which functionalities will be most demanded?
A: This depends on the purchaser, the market, and the intended use for the device. At a fundamental level, the most demanded functionality will be the ability easily download and install new software. The more that carriers try to erect "walled gardens" and prevent users from customizing their devices, the less successful they will be.

Q: Which paper will companies like Symbian, Palm Source o Microsoft, play in the development of new OS?
A: Microsoft, Palm Source, Sun, and Symbian will all have important roles to play in the future of wireless devices. All of them have strong relationships in the wireless industry, and none of them is going away anytime soon.

Ah, the joy of interviews... the knowledge that whatever you say may well be condensed down to the point at which you will no longer sound like you know what you're talking about.

March 11, 2003

McDonald's Goes Wireless -- Crystal Ball Looking Good

A week ago yesterday, I posted an entry in which Glenn Fleishmann and I traded e-mail on the possibility of McDonald's offering wireless access, possibly through Cometa. Now comes this story, just out this morning:

McDonald's restaurants in three U.S. cities will offer one hour of free high-speed access to anyone who buys a combination meal. Ten McDonald's in Manhattan will begin offering wireless WiFi, or 802.11b, Internet access on Wednesday, McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard said.

By year's end, McDonald's will extend the access to 300 McDonald restaurants in New York City, Chicago and a yet-unannounced California town, Howard said.

"You can come in and have an extra value meal and send some e-mail," Howard said. Window signs will alert customers to the restaurants with WiFi access, she said...

After using the hour of free access that comes with a meal, customers can pay $3 for another hour online -- or simply buy another extra value meal, Howard said. The pilot program lasts for three months, she said.

Cometa Networks, a startup working to offer WiFi connections in businesses across the country, will provide the Internet bandwidth for the offer.

I'm feeling good about the prescience (or just dumb luck) of my previous entry, but I'm sticking with what I wrote before: I don't think it's enough for McDonald's to offer wireless broadband with a sign in the window. As I wrote:

McDonald's creates a new branding program. They could call it "McRoad," or "McBusiness," or something else, but let's call it "McBiz" for now. McBiz is a sub-brand of McDonald's. There's a McBiz treatment that extends the existing McDonald's logo -- it's subtle, but once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot (though the uninterested might never notice it). When a restaurant switches to the McBiz branding, this indicates a number of things:
  • There's a Wi-Fi access point on premises.
  • There's at least one customer-accessible power outlet per n seats.
  • The coffee served has been upgraded (new brand, new procedures).
  • The restaurant sells the Wall Street Journal (in addition to USA Today).
  • There are at least n monitors playing CNN Headline News (sound off, closed captioned).
  • There's a customer-accessible soda machine.
I'm not much of a McDonald's fan, but if they embarked on such an effort, and made me aware of it, I'd start paying attention to them. Sure, when I'm on the road, I'd rather go to a Starbucks, but if the choice is pull into a McBiz McDonald's now or drive around for 10 minutes looking for a Starbucks, I'll probably choose McDonald's.
This is not a case of "build it and they will come." McDonald's needs to create a complete service for the likely target audience, and they need to create branding around that service. Still, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

March 09, 2003

America Untethered

Via Hal Bringman, "America Untethered", an excellent (and unfortunately pay-per-view) article from American Demographics on how mobile wireless is changing our society:

As cell phones reach deeper into our lives, they're beginning to create a deeper impression on the American psyche. To hear researchers and ethnographers tell it, wireless communication is beginning to have a notable impact on our social behavior -- one that could have a long-lasting effect on our society and the world around us. "We're at a transitional point where a lot of new rules are being set," says Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist and managing partner at Context-Based Research Group in Baltimore...

At least four ethnographic studies in the U.S. and Europe released in 2001 and 2002 have detected signs of changing habits due to wireless communication. Thanks to mobile phones, the researchers found, Americans and Europeans may be becoming more independent and spontaneous. But they may also be growing prone to planning at the last minute and arriving at meetings late. They're sharing more of their personal lives in public but are also forcing a redefinition of basic etiquette. This increasing accessibility is allowing work to impinge even more on family lives even as it enhances social lives.

One aspect of this phenomenon focused on in the article is how mobile wireless is changing how people relate to time:

If wireless is encouraging people to gab, it's also giving them newfound spontaneity. With cell phones in hand, both [assistant professor of computer science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Leysia] Palen and Blinkoff's research subjects could change their plans at the last minute more easily, deciding to meet at a different location, say, or inviting others to join their group...

In Brazil, Australia and the U.S., cell phone users repeatedly admitted that they now often call friends and colleagues to tell them they're running behind schedule. In turn, being late is becoming more acceptable than it used to be, Blinkoff and Palen conclude. "Mobile technology is starting to remove a strict adherence to a schedule. It's a loss in respect for calendar time," says Palen. "And that's happening across the board in all sorts of interactions."

Indeed, a 2001 study by Rich Ling, a researcher at Norwegian telecom firm Telenor, and by Leslie Haddon, a research associate in the media and communications department at the London School of Economics, found "micro-coordination" to be the backbone of mobile phones. Unlike the traditional telephone, the mobile phone has none of the strictures of location and therefore "softens" time, enabling people to merely suggest a time and place to meet, and to pin down a location as they approach the meeting time. Perhaps not surprisingly, as users of mobile phones leave more planning to the last minute, they also tend to overshoot the final arrival time as well.

A big change for me is in how I treat directions. If I'm going somewhere unfamiliar, and I have the time, I print out directions using Microsoft Streets & Trips (my favorite Microsoft product, by the way). But if I'm running late, I'll leave with only a vague idea of where I'm headed, on the presumption that I can track down someone on my cell phone who can tell me how to get there.

March 03, 2003

McBiz

Glenn Fleishmann (keeper of the excellent Wi-Fi Networking News) and I have been having an e-mail exchange prompted by his analysis of a story on Cometa in the Red Herring (in what woulud appear to be its last issue). I noted that McDonald's had 13,099 outlets in the US as of December 2001, and then wrote:

In late 2001, I heard a rumor that IBM Global Services was working on Wi-Fi deployment deals with Subway and McDonald's. I've heard nothing of this since, but is it possible that such discussions occurred prior to Cometa's launch and continue to this day?
Glenn replied:
Here's the rub: I thought Cometa was providing businesspeople venues in which they could work. If they put 5,000 McDonalds on their network in the first year, does that really achieve their "business" goal? Maybe.
Which led to the following message from me:
You ask a good question about McDonald's.

Perhaps Cometa could be as valuable to McDonald's as McDonald's to Cometa. McDonald's desperately needs assistance on the strategic marketing side. If they were to attempt a brand extension to become "the place for the businessperson on the road," could that help them? Think about the spatial positioning of McDonald's -- often right at highway exits, always clearly marked on exit signs, typically with tall signs on premises (high-gain antenna placement?). When you're on the road, it's usually far, far easier to find a McDonald's than to find a Starbucks.

Think about this, which admittedly is purely conjectural:

McDonald's creates a new branding program. They could call it "McRoad," or "McBusiness," or something else, but let's call it "McBiz" for now. McBiz is a sub-brand of McDonald's. There's a McBiz treatment that extends the existing McDonald's logo -- it's subtle, but once you know what to look for, it's easy to spot (though the uninterested might never notice it). When a restaurant switches to the McBiz branding, this indicates a number of things:

  • There's a Wi-Fi access point on premises.
  • There's at least one customer-accessible power outlet per n seats.
  • The coffee served has been upgraded (new brand, new procedures).
  • The restaurant sells the Wall Street Journal (in addition to USA Today).
  • There are at least n monitors playing CNN Headline News (sound off, closed captioned).
  • There's a customer-accessible soda machine.
I'm not much of a McDonald's fan, but if they embarked on such an effort, and made me aware of it, I'd start paying attention to them. Sure, when I'm on the road, I'd rather go to a Starbucks, but if the choice is pull into a McBiz McDonald's now or drive around for 10 minutes looking for a Starbucks, I'll probably choose McDonald's.

The nice thing about this is that it's a brand extension they can pull off without alienating their core family market. No mom and her kids are going to be offended by someone in khakis and a polo surfing on the Web using his laptop. In fact, Mom might not even be aware of McBiz -- for her, the McDonald's experience is unchanged, except that the coffee tastes better and she can refill her own sodas while she reads a magazine and keeps an eye for her kids in the ball pit.

Glenn replied:

This is a very interesting idea. The big problem is that McDonald's is a kids restaurant, which I don't think I ever understood until just a few years ago. This is its biggest strike against it: they'd have to almost create a separate area that was quiet and cleaned more frequently to make it a reasonable place for a businessperson. Although businesspeople often use places like coffee shops at hours that aren't their busiest...

You make a good case, and the incremental cost for unwiring a McDonald's is pretty tiny. They probably already have some sort of data network -- I can't believe they're running their systems off a dial-up, but you never know. (Starbucks has been until the T-Mobile installations.) Add an access point and provision a VLAN (which might mean a new router) and that's most of the cost.

But is that the image Cometa wants? I was under the impression that they want high-toned business outlets: they want brand names that are associated with business. I might be wrong. If their first deal is one of the top franchises you mentioned, that'll prove it.

This is really where their model breaks down, though. If they unwire every McDonald's (which would be foolish since 20 to 30 percent of them are certainly outside core traveler areas) and all of the other franchises you list, even the competing ones, that might get them the numbers, but not the density. Well, McDonald's would, but I just can't see it.

Regarding the issue of hours of usage, I think this Glenn is on the right track here. In fact, I think this is an excellent argument for McDonald's to do something like this: to increase business during otherwise slow periods of the day. When I'm on the road, my meals are usually spoken for with meetings, and in any case, I won't be eating at McDonald's. The problem comes between breakfast and lunch, and again between lunch and dinner. If I have an hour of down time before meetings, it would be great to stop somewhere and get some work done. But tracking down a Starbucks in an unfamiliar city can be difficult. If I knew that any McDonald's with the McBiz logo had all the features listed above, I wouldn't hesitate to stop there. McDonald's would get my money for a drink and a small snack, as well as share the revenue from my wireless Internet connection. Moreover, I'm helping them to use their facilities more efficiently.

Are McDonald's and Cometa the right partners? I don't know. McDonald's could choose to do this with anyone, I suppose. T-Mobile would seem like a good choice. Cometa is just one potential partner -- albeit a potential partner trying to build out a network of 20,000 access points.

As to the density issue, I think that's more specific to Cometa and their stated coverage targets. As noted, McDonald's could do this with other wireless partners, or even on their own, focusing on those restaurants best positoned for business travelers (Glenn suggests 20-30 percent of the total; this could be correct).

I know Glenn has more thoughts (and certainly a more knowledgeable perspective) on this, so I'll post it and let him take the next swing.

February 27, 2003

Camera Phone Sales Figures

From Strategy Analytics, impressive camera phone sales figures for 2002:

The latest Strategy Analytics Wireless Device Strategies report, "Vodafone's J-Phone of Japan Leads 18 Million Unit Camera Phone Market," concludes that 18 million embedded-camera phones were sold worldwide in 2002, of which 13 million were sold in Japan.

Neil Mawston, Senior Analyst with the Global Wireless Practice, notes, "9 million camera phones, 7 percent of total sales, were sold worldwide in Q4 2002, leading to a total of 18 million sold worldwide in 2002. 36 percent of camera phone sales were through a Vodafone carrier in 2002, a very impressive performance."

Strategy Analytics is predicting sales of 37 million camera phones in 2003 -- a growth rate of 106 percent.

Via Wireless 3.0.

February 25, 2003

Smart Mobs to the Rescue

The Wall Street Journal has an article in today's edition on Smart Mobs as a crisis response tool:

Despite hopes that flashy services will encourage Americans to get on the text-messaging bandwagon, the SMS culture hasn't caught on here yet. But if it does, it could help tackle a problem that has the government vexed: how to disseminate helpful information during a crisis. The government unveiled its Ready.gov site last week, which included some helpful tips but also some seemingly Cold War-era notions, such as (and we're guessing this is what they meant) if a nuclear weapon is detonated on your right, start running left. (Read the actual advice.) There's also the problem that even if you follow Ready.gov's advice and stockpile water, food, a long-sleeve shirt, moist towelettes, matches, a compass, signal flares, and so on, there's a good chance you won't be at home during an attack. You might be at work, in your car, on the subway.

This is the kind of situation in which a smart mob might come to the rescue. As Tech Central Station noted last week, it was wirelessly connected people that helped prevent further destruction on Sept. 11, 2001:

The only effective action to avoid further carnage came not from the Air Force jets that were scrambled, but from the passengers on Flight 93 whose relatives called on their cellphones to describe what had already happened.

The piece further notes that when cellphone circuits became jammed that day in New York, certain hand-held gadgets sending small packets of information -- Blackberrys, for instance -- were able to get messages through.

If a new terrorist attack comes -- or a major blizzard or hurricane, for that matter -- many people may not have access to television, the Web or radio, and in any case the information may be overly broad or unhelpful. But friends on Interstate 80 reporting via SMS that a bridge is still open because they just drove over it, or that a relative is safe because they just saw her, or that it's safe to go home because they're plopped on their couch watching "Alias" -- this is helpful, trusted information.

We jokingly suggested back in August that the country doesn't need America's Most Wanted to catch criminals when it has spam. This applies even better to smart mobs: With cellphone-location services in the works (which we grant have Big Brother-ish questions we won't address here) tailored alerts could be sent to users in a certain area during a crisis. London already has a service that will alert subscribers to any nearby attacks, based on their home and work postal codes. Combining the official word with messages from friends on the street would be potent in a crisis.

I think the authors are on an interesting track here, but the last paragraph worries me. Based on its performance to date, the last thing I'd want to do would be to give the Department of Homeland Security my mobile IM address. "We're at Orange! Buy duct tape!" "Down to Yellow. Sell short your duct tape stock."

What would be even worse -- and is imaginable given the current administration -- would be a government mandate that all mobile IM-type devices -- anything capable of receiving SMS, MMS, or IMs on any major system -- must be linked to a government alert network, with no blocking ability possible. I almost hate to mention it for fear of giving a bad idea to the wrong people...

February 23, 2003

The Beeb on Moblogging

From BBC News, a story on mobile blogging:

People will soon be able to publish their own website via their phones as blogging goes mobile...

Programs like FoneBlog, Manywhere Moblogger and Wapblog allow bloggers to post details about their lives from anywhere, not just from a computer...

FoneBlog by Irish firm NewBay Software lets mobile users update their blogs from their phones in minutes.

Bloggers using FoneBlog simply send text or photos to a prescribed number and their weblog will automatically update.

The system will really come into its own as multimedia messaging and camera phones take off, said Chief Executive of NewBay Software Paddy Holahan...

"In two year's [sic] time every phone user will have a website and be using blogs as their version of the world," he said.

The popularity of blogs was recently acknowledged by search engine Google which bought the technology behind Blogger, the software that powers many of the weblogs around the world.

"Google's buy is a recognition that the news in future will be reported by ordinary people with their own particular bias on stories," said Mr Holahan.

It's good to see moblogging getting recognition like this, but how is it that a person with -- as far as I can tell -- zero visibility in the blogging community is suddenly an expert on this? Also, this smells like a one-interview story. It would have been good for the reporter to talk to more people, especially those recognized as being leading-edge moblogging users and thinkers. Joi Ito would have been a good choice.

Another thought: all online publications need to mirror the Wall Street Journal and provide e-mail addresses for the authors of all stories on their sites. If the BBC is going to have any credibility in writing about blogging, they need to move beyond their one-way-only information publishing model.

February 07, 2003

Nokia's N-Gage

Nokia has announced the N-Gage, their mobile wireless game system.

  • Nokia's N-Gage site can be found here.
  • infoSync's coverage of the announcement is here.
  • At least one observer is distinctly underwhelmed. Read his report here.
  • Greg Costikyan is consulting for Nokia on the N-Gage. He can't mention them by name, but strangely, he can link to them. You can read his summary of the technical specifications here.
In late 2001, David Smith and I kicked around the idea of starting a company to build a reference design for a mobile wireless game system (which we dropped due to the amount of venture capital that would be needed). To our mind, the largest benefit of such a system was not the multiplayer aspect -- though that was significant -- but the opportunity to change completely the dynamics and economics of game distribution. From what I've read, the N-Gage fails to do this. It's a GameBoy Advance with a faster processor, more memory, no graphics acceleration, GSM and GPRS capability, to be sold at a much higher price point. If my understanding is correct, then I don't get it.

February 01, 2003

Text Bullying

A story from one of my favorite parts of the world on the unfortunate but inevitable trend of messaging-based bullying:

It used to be a shove on the way to class or cruel words scrawled on a toilet stall, but access to technology is giving schoolyard bullies new tools to torment their victims.

Text bullying -- sending threats or abusive messages via cellphones, pagers or computer instant-messaging -- is beginning to raise concern at Lower Mainland schools.

"Text messaging is just starting to come to our attention," said Peter Ewens, principal of Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver. "It's another medium students are now able to access to carry out behaviour such as harassment and bullying."

Argyle is currently dealing with a death threat against a student and a teacher delivered by e-mail. Police are still investigating the threats and uncovering the trail of the sender, who was able to hide the origin of the message. So far, two students have been suspended and police are still working with computer forensic specialists to trace the threats...

At Eric Hamber Secondary in Vancouver, principal Andy Krawczyk knows text bullying happens by e-mail, and he expects cellphone harassment is on the way.

"The schools used to have a no-pager or cellphone rule, but that's long gone," he said. "Parents give the kids cellphones to keep in touch. But the more technology gets away from us, the more difficult it will be to come up with simple rules to control it."

Via Smart Mobs.

July 03, 2002

WAP Versus i-mode

In a column for infoSync yesterday, Oliver Thylmann states plainly his opinion that observers have given i-mode too much credit and WAP too little:

I've read this over and over and over again, and I am starting to get really sick of it -- it's just like how some people can't seem to comprehend that WLAN and Bluetooth are similar technologies, but don't compete with each other head to head... NTT DoCoMo has a head start at the moment and is pulling a tremendous load by creating the market, but other carriers aren’t at a standstill. They know this is useful and they’re doing everything they can to build a very good solution. What they’ve learned though, is that they’ll make the most money if the solution they come up with works across a wide range of mobile phones and carriers. This has become very obvious through the recent introduction of the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA), which we reported about recently. This new alliance was partly born out of the WAP Forum, and it's also worth to keep in mind that NTT DoCoMo, the company that created i-mode, is part of the OMA. Anybody involved with anything wireless does not want the interoperability mess that occurred when Nokia created its proprietary SMS solution for allowing logos and ringtones to be sent to their mobile phones and none others again -- and that's what the OMA is all about, put in the most simplistic way.
Interoperability is a worthy goal, but Oliver misses the network effect of i-mode. By shipping 35 million handsets that all support not only the same content rendering standard, but an open billing system as well, DoCoMo has created a unified market. Will the various handset vendors supporting WAP 2.0 all support precisely the same content standard? The same user interfaces, including device button layout? Will there exist a unified provisioning model? A unified developer reimbursement model?

While I disagree with Oliver on the importance of i-mode, the article is extremely useful from the standpoint of understanding the relationships between different mobile content standards. He succinctly captures information that can be difficult to track down.

July 02, 2002

Consumer Wireless in the US and Japan

There was an interesting article in the Seattle Times last Sunday, Japan and the United States worlds apart on wireless. The author gets right two key aspects of the Japanese consumer wireless data phenomenon that are often missed by Western writers: tailor-made phones and markets for application developers:

The Japanese carriers were helped by their ability to develop tight relationships with manufacturers such as NEC, Panasonic and Sharp.. A carrier can specify a phone with a camera inside and then launch a photo service to its subscribers. U.S. carriers, on the other hand, have relied on the market leaders like Nokia, which develop their phones independently. It's ready-to-wear versus haute couture. If you deal with Nokia, then you buy off the rack. The carriers in the U.S. have little say on what's built into the phone.
This is true, but beyond being able to specify the feature set of phones, through large volume orders, Japanese carriers specify the very design of their phones, which enables consistent user interfaces and, therefore, consistent interaction with wireless data services. Shops in Akihabara and Shinjuku carry dozens of DoCoMo cell phones, all more or less differentiated, but all featuring the same button layout and same screen resolution. Any i-mode or i-appli (DoCoMo's version of J2ME) service will work identically across these phones. The importance of a stable platform for both consumers and developers can't be overstated.
Japan's carriers set up a business model in which content providers -- the ones who develop the ring tones and games -- could make money. When users choose to play games, a monthly charge of $2.50 or less shows up on their phone bill. The carrier takes a small slice, but about 90 percent goes to the game developer. The result is that 56,000 content sites are available to i-mode subscribers. So far, most of the U.S. carriers have not allowed content providers to assess charges, leaving little incentive to create any compelling content.
This is absolutely correct. DoCoMo makes it easy for application developers not only to develop software and services, but then to deliver them to consumers and receive payment in return. Steps toward such provisioning are happening in the United States, but only slowly. Until carriers here see it as a win-win to enable developers to make money from their customers, the applications won't be there, at least not in significant volume.