August 2012 Archives

Nice one Nokia - down but not out

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Nokia is often treated as the sad, old mobile manufacturer that lost its way. The phone in the corner trying to shout "I used to be a contender!" over the noise of the cooler kids like Samsung and Apple at the smartphone party. 

Kindle Fire: Out of the Box

Kindle Fire: Out of the Box (Photo credit: Brian Sawyer)

The tie-up with Microsoft didn't exactly do it any favours either, as although Windows Phone is a shiny, modern operating system, Microsoft is the granddaddy of software to Nokia's grandmother of mobile engineering.

But today I hope Elop and his gang stood up and shoved a rude gesture in the face of the Silicon Valley sweethearts when Amazon announced it wasn't going Google for maps on its Kindle Fire tablet, but plumping for Nokia's own Oyj service.

Ok, it is only maps, it is not the be all and end all of mobile technology. But, the Amazon Kindle has now sold out in the US - sparking rumours of an updated version to be announced at a press event next week - and IDC claims it accounts for 22% of the tablet market in the US after less than a year on sale.  

With the Amazon app store opening in Europe this week as well, it looks like the tablet which sells for just $199 in the US could be coming to our shores soon.

The fact that it has chosen to partner with Nokia should not only boost the company's self-esteem but maybe show the wider world there is some worthwhile innovation to come from the Finnish firm yet.

Let's just hope the Windows Phone 8 devices, also due to be announced by Nokia and Microsoft next week, continue to shake off this legacy reputation and make the European representative a force to be reckoned with in the smartphone wars. 

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What will your seven mobile devices be?

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I have just had a very interesting chat with Cisco's head of borderless networks in the UK and Ireland, Sarah Eccleston, about what changes bring your own device (BYOD) inspires in enterprise networks. 

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволю...

English: Mobile phone evolution Русский: Эволюция мобильных телефонов (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It isn't always easy for the behemoth of networking to win over us tech journos but, credit where credit is due, this exec knew her stuff.

Mobile devices, especially wireless only ones, are driving Cisco to come up with new ways of installing wireless networks to enable countless numbers of users to access them, but also to allow all the different types of tablets, smartphones and laptops to connect securely.

However, it was the number of these devices and the Gartner research she referenced that caught my ear. Apparently, we are expected to carry round an average of seven by 2015.

We chatted about this in the office and could quickly name five, but seven?

The first obvious two devices we named were a personal mobile and a work mobile. However, with mobile virutalisation on the grow and the possibility of having one handset with two SIMs already on the table, it seems hard to believe we will have both in three years. Back to one then...

The next two again fell into the obvious categories: laptop and tablet. I personally don't get the need to constantly carry two and, as a yet to be won over tablet doubter, I would stick to my laptop every time. Also if Ultrabooks take off or tablets continue to get more laptop-like capabilities, will we need both in the next three years?

So, already we have narrowed it down to two. I won't accept MP3 player, especially for in three years' time where the majority of us will use the ones built into our phone and others will stream from the likes of Spotify. A Kindle or other popular eBook reader could be added to the list but, if you are carrying around a tablet, will you need one? Yes, I prefer the eBook ink but not everyone is as picky as I am.

So, we have mobile phone, tablet or laptop and let's leave room for one 'entertainment' device. Now, where are the other four?

Please let me know what your seven devices will be, as well as what size of bag you will need and if you have health insurance for the back problems that will ensue.  

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OwnFone could be onto something...

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Today has seen me get very excited about the simplest looking technology.

During my usual internet browsing - ok, Twitter - I came across a website called OwnFone.

The idea behind the company is to create a cheap, simple to use and customisable phone that users can design on the web and get delivered to their door.  

The process begins with a prospective customer visiting the website and picking two, four, six or 12 contacts to have custom buttons on their OwnFone. This would be perfect for say children who just need Mum and Dad's mobile numbers, or elderly relatives who need sons, daughters and healthcare workers within easy reach.

Next you choose a design to make the phone standout and then which tariff you want to be on. The bonus with these is they are only based on minutes, so cost as little as £7.50 a month and only need 30 days' notice to cancel them without any hidden fees.

Once all this has been filled in online, the company makes your customised OwnFone and posts it out to you, full charged - which it claims lasts three days - and ready to use. As well as being simple, it is safe, as the phone numbers on your buttons are not stored on the handset but on a central server so no one can steal details.  

So, why would I like one? Well, another aspect of the OwnFone is you can divert calls from your usual smartphone to the device. As an avid music festival goer, I would love to be able to create something like this with my friends so we all have each other's numbers stored but don't lose or have stolen our more expensive handsets.

Other suggestions are for joggers so they don't have to have a hefty handset in their pockets or holidaymakers not wanting to lose their phones under sandcastles or in nightclubs.

Now, the phone itself costs £55, but this does include delivery and a 12 month warranty, plus, as I already mentioned, you aren't stuck in a long term contract either. You can also change numbers for free, although there is a £5 charge for a new button to be sent through the post.

Negatives include no voicemail, a £35 charge to replace a stolen handset and the fact it won't work abroad, but I genuinely think this is something that could take off for both the less tech savvy user and those on the move who don't want their pricey smartphone getting trashed.  

I will follow the company's process keenly and have already started to think who would make the cut for my friend's buttons...

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No competition for 4G is bad for consumers

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This week, Ofcom ruled that Everything Everywhere (EE) would be allowed to liberalise its 1800MHz spectrum and use it to provide 4G services across the UK.

Rival operators, namely O2 and Vodafone, were up in arms about the decision, saying it gave the company - created from a merger of Orange and T-Mobile - an unfair competitive advantage.

However, Ofcom claimed it would do no such thing and, once the others had got their hands on spectrum suitable for 4G in the December auction, things would soon even themselves out.  

Now, I agree with Ofcom that there is a need to get on the technology train that has been passing the UK by when it comes to 4G and the sooner the better. Enabling EE to use existing spectrum means 4G will hit our shores as early as September and we can finally start catching up with the rest of the world.

But I disagree with the idea that allowing EE to be the only operator on the market with 4G is good for the consumer.

The best thing in any market for the buyer is strong competition. It keeps prices down, quality high and the desire to treat the customer better than the next firm alive. If you let a market become too dominated by one player, these things begin to suffer and, in turn, the consumer suffers to.

It looks like EE will have the market to itself for up to a year, as even after the spectrum auction, it will take months for the other operators to test and build their networks. Also, even with the selling off of some of the 1800MHz band to 3, sources have told us EE won't make that spectrum available to use until September next year, again holding back competition.

I am not surprised EE has pushed Ofcom to allow it to get 4 out there first and I am equally unsurprised that the firm will do everything in its power to remain the only one to have this solution. However, I am surprised that Ofcom has given it the go ahead.

Ofcom's job is to ensure the interests of the consumer are paramount. A 4G marketplace with only one choice of provider will not benefit the consumer one bit, but instead leave them at the mercy of the giant in control.

I believe Ofcom should make EE clear the spectrum it has sold to 3 before it is allowed to launch 4G services. This way, 3 can come to market with its own offering and a fight will commence between the two to come up with the best offers.

This is the only way I can see to allow for the 1800MHz spectrum to be used straight away for 4G but still keeping the consumer's interest at the heart of the matter. 

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NFC is more than mobile payments

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Whenever anyone talks about NFC at the moment, we all get pound signs in our eyes, thinking about how good it is to pay with the touch of a card or mobile phone, rather than entering a pesky PIN.

Blackberry bold 9000

Blackberry bold 9000 (Photo credit: sofianeb)

Well, we might not be there yet - if you have tried to quickly pay with NFC, you will have been severely disappointed - but 'payments' is definitely the answer most would give if offered 'NFC' in a word association game.

The thing is, and I cannot emphasise this enough, we aren't there yet. NFC might be built into a select number of handsets, some banks are starting to issue touch and pay cards, but NFC payments is much more a look into the future than the current state of play.

However, NFC on its own is being used in some really innovative ways already. I spoke to Gerry Kelliher, senior director of UK sales for RIM, today about how the BlackBerry manufacturer was using the technology, having already launched four phones - two Bolds and two Curves - with NFC built in.

As well as the little, consumer benefits of it like BlackBerry Tag for exchanging data on mobiles by tapping them together, or BlackBerry Music Gateway - same difference but transferring music - enterprises of all sizes are using NFC for tracking, authenticating and recording purposes.

Take Lanarkshire's mental health association. A new partnership with RIM and app developer Skillweb has enabled 75 support workers to tap in and out when they visit patients with severe mental health problems, meaning exact records are kept of when they are in attendance and how long is spent there. This can then be checked to ensure each patient is getting the right care.

On a more commercial basis, Nottingham-based Sovereign Security are using BlackBerry handsets for their guards to check in at sites and communicate with one another, giving customers more confidence the firm is doing its job and enabling the company to keep track of all their guard's activities.

NFC is a great technology with a bright future. I just think we should be making more of a song and dance about what it can and is doing now, not what it might be used for further down the line if all the right parties finally get their acts together. 

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Jeremy Hunt's need for speed misses the point

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It is becoming increasingly common - and frustrating - for MPs and ministers of state to turn up to give keynote speeches managing to say a huge number of words without saying anything at all. 

Another one of these occurrences happened today with culture secretary Jeremy Hunt taking to the stage at the Google Campus in Tech City. The premise was to update the gathered industry leaders, council members and a handful of journalists on his government's progress with broadband roll-out and if they were still on track for the UK to win its crown as the best broadband nation in Europe by 2015.

Before I go into a tirade with the words of James Noughtie firmly in my head, I will say this: Jeremy Hunt stayed for questions. It may not sound much of a compliment, but journalists and interested parties are often lured to events with the promise of time with a senior cabinet minister, only for them to leg it at the first opportunity without answering a single query.

Hunt, however, sat on stage for a good 40 minutes after his speech taking questions from the audience and then stayed on for a further half an hour to be hounded by journalists wanting to take a story home. Thank you minister, it was much appreciated.

But, back to the tirade...

See, the reason for us all to gather, or what the department for media, culture and sport wanted us to take away, was the UK wasn't just going to have the best broadband in the Wild West, but also the fastest.

"When the Lords Committee criticised me for being preoccupied with speed, I plead guilty," said Hunt "Today's superfast is tomorrow's superslow... we must never fall into the trap of saying any speed is enough..."and many more statements flew out of the minister's mouth from his carefully crafted speech.

I assume the desired effect was to make the room swoon at the minister dedicated to getting superfast broadband for all. He wants us to have speed and he wants us to have it now! Cue cheering and celebrating!

However, most of the room sat politely until he finished and then started asking, not about speed, but about what they considered more important aspects of broadband...

What about the quality of service? What about the different technologies to get these fast connections? What about getting these connections to everyone as fast as possible?

Members of the audience told Hunt they didn't want 1Gbps broadband; they just wanted access to the internet; a connection strong enough to do their jobs or contact their loved ones, which many were still without.

Others questioned why £150m investment is being made into providing superfast broadband in cities. Why are the likes of BT and Virgin Media not doing this already without government aid? And why is the focus not on giving city dwellers reliable connections for the speeds they are already led to believe they can achieve for the money they pay?

The latest figures from Ofcom, used by Hunt to boast about our average speeds of 9Mbps in the UK, showed just 8% of residential broadband users were going for superfast broadband. The vast majority (68%) were happy with their up to 10Mbps connections. No one is begging for ludicrously fast speeds yet or, at least, very few are.

Hunt's point that it is better to over-prepare for the future - remember his today's superfast line? - is a valid one, but getting the basic infrastructure installed is the toughest part. Running faster connections over it is relatively simple afterwards and, although it should be included in the future planning process, speed should be secondary to getting not 90% but as close to 100% as possible of the UK within reach of an internet connection.

Many criticised the previous government's 2Mbps goal for everyone by 2012 as not being enough. But, if this had been achieved in the time frame, ramping connections up to the speeds Hunt seems obsessed with and making the UK the fastest in Europe - well, only compared to what he refers to as the 'big' European countries of France, Germany and Spain - would seem a lot more realistic.  

We have a way to go before we compete with the Nordics, South Korea or even the burgeoning markets in Eastern Europe, but Hunt needs to stop acting like a boy racer and think of the tortoise and the hare. I know I would prefer a slightly slower but reliable connection for everyone in the country than a choice few getting mega fast speeds whilst others sit without. 

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Adobe needed more backbone over mobile Flash

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Today's announcement from Adobe that it is pulling its Flash Player from the Google Play store is one that has infuriated me.

Since Steve Jobs published his unnecessary tirade against the company back in 2010, saying Apple would never incorporate the software for fear of "reducing the reliability and security" in its iPhones or iPads, I have watched the company fall in line with its rival.

Adobe's initial (and true) stance that Flash was the most used software for video on the web so should be on mobiles, disappeared in a relatively short time and, despite it being a prominent feature on Android, BlackBery and Symbian phones, it made the decision late last year to can the software on mobiles altogether, focusing on the Apple adorned HTML 5 standard.

Everyone knew Adobe and knew it was the most dominant way of watching video on the web. Yes, the consensus was that HTML 5 would be the future, but the majority also acknowledged this future was a few years off and mobile users would need Flash performing as well as possible in the interim.

It annoyed me how quickly the firm crumbled under the Cupertino marketing machine and gave up on its mobile ambitions, despite having a good few years ahead. I was angered that rather than improving the software and proving Jobs wrong, it bowed out of the competition and let him and his company win.

But, it would be ok, I thought. They will continue to support Flash until its dying days and then, when we are all ready and all the apps are ready, we can migrate to HTML5 and slowly see off Adobe Flash to the software bin in the sky.

But no. The company wants out and wants out now. It is removing its Flash Player plug-in from Google's application store and support will end in 2013 for anyone with an existing version of the app.

The mobile web is not ready for this. Huge applications, like the BBC iPlayer, are still dependent on Flash being downloaded so this decision will leave a lot of Android users, both with smartphones and tablets, screwed out of capabilities.

It also means those software developers, like the BBC, will have to rush out their updated applications to keep users happy, which will undoubtedly lead to mistakes and several versions having to be released before they get it right.

There is just no need to pull the rug out from under developers and users, as well as no need in letting Apple get the last laugh. You should have had more backbone Adobe. 

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Acer needs to stop moaning and get back to developing

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surface_05

surface_05 (Photo credit: SpicaGames)

Today the tech press is awash with words from Acer, which has become the first PC manufacturer to square up to Microsoft about the launch of its Surface tablet - its own hardware attempt to house its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

The company's CEO, JT Wang, told the FT he had warned Microsoft to "think it over" when it came to its entrance into the hardware market - which will directly compete with Acer's own Iconia tablets - and claimed it would create "a negative impact for the ecosystem" if the software giant muddies the waters of the hardware vendor pond.

Campbell Kan, president for PC global operations at Acer, even went as far as telling the FT that his company were asking themselves: "Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?"

It is understandable. Hardware vendors who have been making their own play in the tablet market will of course be annoyed that Microsoft is stepping on its toes. Microsoft is meant to be the software guy, spending its budget on reinventing the insides of the latest gadgets, whilst the hardware makers can throw their cash into boosting the product capabilities.

Windows 8 was meant to provide a platform for hardware vendors to adopt, embrace and roll-out on their own devices. Now, rather than a partner, it has begun to embody a competitor with Microsoft adding yet another tablet option to the already busy marketplace.  

Although Wang and his colleagues may have been brave to bitch about the world's largest software vendor in public, I think it is a waste of time and I don't see what other option they have than to go with the next Microsoft release.

Acer isn't going to start installing Mac OS onto its machines and, whilst Google's Chrome OS is an option, the vast majority of people want the main software component of their computer on their hard drive, not out in the cloud somewhere.

I am not surprised they are making a song and dance but an idle threat from Acer's president isn't going to get his company or its partnership with Microsoft anywhere.

Hardware vendors need to put their own annoyances aside. They are the hardware specialists, not Microsoft, and it is far more likely they can develop a better tablet than the Surface once they get their hands on Windows 8.

With that in mind, Acer should put its efforts into that development, rather than moaning to the FT, and keep hold of the healthy relationship it has had with Microsoft up until now

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BlackBerry PlayBook: Another 4G tablet we can't take advantage of...

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Research in Motion (RIM) today unveiled an updated version of its tablet device, the BlackBerry PlayBook, with one major selling feature - its 4G compatibility.

The new tablet will go on sale first in Canada on 9th August before being shipped into other markets over the coming months.

Their first tablet wasn't hugely well received, with miniscule sales figures and issues surrounding the first operating system, but I'm always keen to see new efforts. That is until I'm told the focus of the upgraded device is its 4G capabilities.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 19:  Blackberry Playbook t...

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 19: Blackberry Playbook tablets are offered for sale at a Best Buy store on April 19, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The tablets, made by Research In Motion, went on sale today in the United States and Canada. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I don't blame RIM. Many countries around the world want their tablets to work with Long Term Evolution (LTE) to speed up the data traffic going to and from their devices, so it makes sense to include it in the latest version.

What infuriates me is that despite living in the land that brought you the World Wide Web, the television, even the corkscrew, I still cannot get my handson a fast cellular network.

The continual dragging of feet by our regulators and governments on distributing the spectrum for mobile operators to establish 4G networks - the auction has only just been announced and still won't take place until 2013 - means we are still at least a year away for the first roll-outs in the UK.

That is if the operators themselves don't kick off about some unfair advantage one of its rivals will get along the way, pushing the fight through courts of law and public opinion, and pushing the timeline for deployment back even further.

Yes, when we get 4G networks, I want them to be done right, but when mobile manufacturers are building the capabilities into their devices and selling them before we have even agreed a date for a spectrum auction - look at the new iPad - it make me furious.

The debate this week in the Houses of Parliament have been about getting the broadband network right and, again, that is likely to face more delays, giving us no hope of having the best connections in Europe by 2015.  But at least a date was set on this and there has been a certain amount of drive by industry and government alike to hit the goal.

We need a goal for 4G. Regulators and operators need to speed the process up, stop arguing and think of the public.

They need to get the networks set up across the country so, if we choose to spend several hundred pounds on the new BlackBerry PlayBook, we can use it to the best of its abilities.

They need to do this, not months or years down the line, but now. 

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