a week in wireless

Festival toilets

The Informer is beginning to feel that, for him, the days of going to music festivals might be over (festival sponsors, please note: this does NOT apply to VIP freebies). But he was taken back to his long-hair days (The Orb, Glastonbury ’93. Amaaaaaazing…) by an email from Orange this morning about a competition that it ran in the UK to suggest the best mobile application for a music festival. The one that was judged victorious was some nonsense that enabled Orange to crowbar Augmented Reality into its press release but second on the list was one that the Informer would have loved if it had been available back in the day.

Dubbed CrApp by the practical thinking chap(p) who dreamt it up, it is, like all great ideas, simple and useful. It would tell you which toilets on site had just been cleaned and were therefore the best bet for a visit. That’s a winner. (Way back when, the Informer came up with the idea of a miniature version of the trucks that they use to empty out the toilets at festivals that could be taken round tent to tent, with an attachment on the end of a hose that was placed through the tent flap to allow the customer to do their business in the privacy of their own home. But he was only 18 and he had no idea how to go about securing VC finance.)

Another good suggestion was a tent finding app to get you back to your temporary home. There wasn’t anything about locating that mate who’s wedged deep in the K-hole, but Orange can’t be seen to be associating itself with such behaviour – even if it is attaching its brand to what is almost certainly the single biggest congregation of recreational drug users in the UK calendar.

Maybe the Informer shouldn’t feel like he’s too old, though. Judging by the latest “YouTube Sensation” to be doing the rounds, you’re never too old. The video features a 99 year-old lady being given her first ever computer, which happens to be an Apple iPad. It’s a neat bookend to the videos people have put up of their toddlers playing with iPads. Some people are just weird. Anyway, it’s the kind of marketing that you just can’t buy, although the Informer wouldn’t rule out the possibility that it was all staged. It would have been funny if the woman had looked up to camera and said: “Oh, dear me. It doesn’t seem to run Flash!”.

Nor will it ever, given that Apple frontman Steve Jobs got his turtleneck in a twist this week, laying down the law on the issue. This time, Jobs wrote a lengthy open letter to the industry, outlining his understandable and not so understandable grievances with the Adobe platform.

First up there’s an ‘openness’ issue, due to Adobe’s products being proprietary. Yes, this is the kettle calling the pot very much black and then throwing the pot through the walls of its glass house. Jobs at least acknowledged that Apple “has many proprietary products too,” but he also said that “all standards pertaining to the web should be open.” Perhaps a difficult point to argue if your entire business model is built on proprietary technology. Jobs backed himself up by arguing that Flash is a cross platform development tool. “It is not Adobe’s goal to help developers write the best iPhone, iPod and iPad apps. It is their goal to help developers write cross platform apps,” he said, which results in sub-standard applications.

Next he took to task Adobe’s argument that the iPhone can’t access the full web because 75 per cent of video is encoded in Flash. Jobs’ response? Well, YouTube and a whole bunch of other video is also encoded in H.264, so there. H.264 being a technology licensed by the MPEG-LA, and the patent pool to which Apple is a contributor.

Third, Flash doesn’t perform well on mobile devices. On this, the Informer agrees completely. Flash often doesn’t behave on desktops, so it’s easy to appreciate the concerns on less powerful devices. Another issue is that Flash applications on the internet often require a pointer to activate rollovers etc. As iPhone users interact with their fingers, many of these applications wouldn’t work properly anyway.

Then there’s battery life. Yes, Flash probably would decrease battery life, but so do plenty of other applications. Jobs is probably concerned because performance issues like this invariably reflect badly on Apple, regardless of the actual cause.

A bit of retail therapy, that’s what’s often needed to keep the frustrations at bay and Jobs clearly thinks so too. He didn’t need another turtleneck, so he instead added another string to the Apple bow this week with the acquisition of a mobile search service which pitches itself as a “virtual digital assistant”.

Siri is a US-based firm founded in 2007 by engineers and developers from Google, Yahoo, Apple, Motorola, Netscape, and eBay among others. The startup is venture-backed by investors including Menlo Ventures, Morgenthaler Ventures, The Li Ka Shing Foundation, and SRI International.

In February of this year, Siri made its official debut with an application catering to US users of the iPhone 3GS and the iPod Touch. It’s a voice-powered search tool that claims to understand natural language and can personalise results with greater precision over time. As a result, it looks very much like Apple has added to its arsenal to better go up against Google.

From buying to selling, as struggling US handset vendor Palm was finally palmed off this week with computer giant HP picking up the $1.2bn tab. HP had been mooted as a potential purchaser, although the Chinese were more firm favourites. But now the US computer firm has got its hands on some well thought of technology to help it reinvigorate its iPaq line of mobile devices.

In the Informer’s view, Todd Bradley, EVP of the personal systems group at HP, was somewhat belittling of Palm, going on about how HP can use its scale to take Palm’s webOS platform further than the handset vendor ever could by itself. Bradley may have a point though. While Palm has been busily shrinking its net loss, HP has been increasing its earnings and has money to spend. Bradley said HP will invest heavily in the webOS platform, with an eye to boosting its presence in the “fast growing and highly profitable” smartphone and mobile devices markets. Maybe the ill-fated Foleo will get its day in the sun after all?

HP also gets its hands on former Apple heavyweight Jon Rubinstein, who has held the position of Palm CEO for less than a year and is expected to remain with the company. Rubinstein joined Palm as executive chairman in 2007, and assumed the role of CEO in June 2009. He was instrumental in turning Apple’s fortunes around in the late 90s, and was also the visionary behind the original iPod. The Informer’s analyst chums at Informa T&M believe that it will be important for HP to retain Rubinstein and an online poll on telecoms.com suggests that HP has what it takes to turn Palm’s fortunes around.

Also trying to up its game this week was Canadian firm Research In Motion (RIM), which may be a little late to the slick touch screen interface party. Still, better late than never, and the preview of the BlackBerry 6 OS given by RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis at the WES 2010 conference taking place in Florida this week was full of all the touchy-swipey features high end users have come to expect.

The forthcoming interface has lots of familiar features including multiple desktops, enhanced multimedia capabilities – music, movies and images – as well as a virtual keyboard, although Lazaridis said RIM is still focused on making devices with a hard keyboard – good news for all those Crackberry fans. The OS will feature a browser based on Webkit, and RIM will welcome widget development for the platform, further opening BlackBerry up for developers. The firm is also making much of social media, streaming communications into a single social feed. The first BlackBerry 6 devices are expected to be available in the summer.

Not to be outdone, the first device based on the fully open source version of Symbian emerged from Nokia’s development facilities this week. The N8 boasts advanced features offered by Symbian^3, including single tap and multi touch gestures, multiple home screens, and multitasking. Naturally, social networking is a big feature, with users able to update their status, share their location and photos, and view live feeds from Facebook and Twitter from the home screen. Free global Ovi Maps walk and drive navigation also comes as standard.

Could it be that the N8 is the next generation flagship model promised before mid-2010 by Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo late last year? It will certainly be received with interest as a showcase of what can be done since Symbian decided to go open source in 2009.

Google meanwhile, looks to have pulled the plug on the CDMA version of its Nexus One gadget. When the handset was launched in January this year, Google said that it would be partnering with Verizon to distribute the phone “in the future,” but the device will now not be made available on Verizon’s network.

Offering no explanation for its abrupt policy reversal on a Verizon-compatible edition of the Nexus One, Google is now advising that anyone who had been keen to buy the device switch their attention to a CDMA Android handset branded by Nexus One manufacturer HTC, the stalwart vendor in the Android sector.

Has the Google magic worn off? Perhaps not. The Nexus One goes on sale in Europe today and number two handset giant Samsung has said that 50 per cent of its devices released in 2010 will be based on Android. A further 33 per cent will be based on its homegrown Bada operating system the company said, as it announced first quarter shipments of 64.3 million units, up 40 per cent year on year and down 7 per cent on the seasonally strong fourth quarter of 2009.

Samsung, of course, is the firm that has supplied Nordic LTE pioneer TeliaSonera with its first-wave dongles. Håkan Dahlström, head of mobility services at TeliaSonera recently gave an interview to Telecoms.com, which you can read here. Dahlström quite clearly said that it was far too early for the firm to given any feedback on consumer behaviour on its LTE network, which it switched on in December. So the Informer was a mite surprised to see the firm punt out the results of a Swedish survey this week, giving feedback on consumer behaviour on its LTE network.

The survey marked the first 100 days of service and revealed that 90 per cent of the 4G users upgraded from an existing 3G subscription and 43 per cent are iPhone owners. 65 per cent of users took the service as a complement to their fixed broadband connection and 54 per cent said that, having tasted 4G, they would not currently consider returning to it’s predecessor. The Swedes have insatiable appetites for broadband, the firm said.

Other results from the survey included the facts that: 26 per cent of respondents said they are working more on a mobile basis; 23 per cent said they are downloading large files to a greater extent than they were previously; 19 per cent said they watch online TV and stream movies; and 16 per cent said they began to surf more when they got their 4G connection. All of which makes the Informer really want a 4G connection, but then he is a bit suggestible.

Over in India, of course, they’re still licensing 3G spectrum, with the price of a nationwide license reaching over $2bn this week. Recently when he was stuck in China because of The Cloud, the Informer was told by a ZTE dude that the firm expected to make good on the Indian 3G rollout. But if reports coming out of India this week are anything to go by, that might be an optimistic assessment.

The Indian Government has put a ban on the import of Chinese telecommunications equipment, although reports vary as to its extent. Some suggest it is total, others partial. This kind of banter’s been seen before, with India citing security concerns for the suspension of telecoms deals with the likes of Huawei. It’s the same story this time around, and follows reports last week that Chinese hackers managed to break into Indian defence systems. A mass brawl between the two most populous nations on earth, though. That would be quite a sight. Presumably the Western vendors are loving it.

Take care

The Informer

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