Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No More Talking/Texting While Driving

Agence France Press reports that a Canadian company, Aegis Mobility, has created new technology called DriveAssist that intercepts phone calls and text messages while a person is driving.

DriveAssist uses GPS and other technologies to detect if the person is moving at a speed which indicates he is in a car.

Many jurisdictions like New York and Connecticut forbid talking on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device like a speaker phone or bluetooth headset because of distractions associated with such activity. Even this restriction however isn't foolproof because one still has to look at the screen to dial.

Smart phones such as the iPhone complicate matters because I often look at Google Maps and directions while I'm driving.

I think DriveAssist is a good feature. Unfortunately it is being offered on a carrier-by-carrier basis for a monthly fee.

I think that this creates a potential legal problem for carriers and handset manufacturers. If blocking calls from those that are driving is considered a safety feature then not including it in a phone or service plan for free may be considered a product defect.

As such carriers/manufactures may become liable to those who are injured by customers who used phones that lacked such blocking features.

Obama Advertises in a Video Game

Campaign ads for presidential candidate Sen. Barak Obama are appearing in the the video game Burnout Paradise.

Roadside billboard advertising in the real world is nothing new. Images stay with us as we cruise down the ashphalt highway. I think the impact is even greater in a video game because players are more engaged with what they are seeing on screen.

Obviously there are people at the Obama campaign are really thinking about how to engage with younger voters.

In game ad revenue also is a smart move by game publishers. GigaOm confirmed with Electronic Arts that the Obama campaign purchased the spots through them.

As a parent who recently purchased a Wii for my son, I wonder though how I would feel about ads for McDonalds or other companies appearing while my son is playing Wii Tennis? Kids are marketed to too much already, and there need to be some areas that are just ad free.

Perhaps in the future we'll be seeing games being sold in ad-supported and ad-free versions. The latter costing a little bit more of course.

Monday, August 25, 2008

No 3G For Me!

Riding the Metro-North train into New York City one morning I spied a fellow commuter reading the New York Times. My attention was drawn to an AT&T Wireless ad for the iPhone. "Half the Price. Twice the Speed!," it proclaimed.

Yeah right, I said to myself as I turned my attention back to the screen of my Jesus phone that was still struggling to download a page over 3G even though I had full bars. So much for walking on water, I was having a better experience when I was on the EDGE with iPhone 1.0.

The slow experience has been widespread, and to be honest I haven't personally noticed any improvement from Apple's 2.02 firmware upgrade.

In this vain a couple of articles caught my attention this morning.

First the folks at Wired have come out with a nifty study that assesses the speed of various 3G networks worldwide. Wired gathered data from 2,636 participants (1,638 were in the United States). They found that European T-Mobile users reported the fastest 3G Download Speeds: 1,822 Kbps on average. In the U.S. AT&T was puttering along at 990 Kbps.

For those who are more visually minded Wired teamed-up with Zeemaps to create a Google Maps mash-up to show their respondents in clusters and provide signal strength indicators by geography. (The map has been so popular that it's taken down Zeemaps).

The problem it seems is not device related. All Thing :D citing a Reuters story reported this morning that the Blackberry Bold is experiencing similar sluggish speeds on the AT&T network. According to Citi Investment Research analyst Jim Suva, "There were a few occasional high-speed signal-dropping problems, especially on streets with tall buildings. The handset's EDGE network capability immediately picked up the signal, but at slower Internet speeds."

Still, Suva's analysis seems qualitatively based. A more scientific analysis is offered by Sweden's Bluetest which sells test chambers for wireless devices. In comparing the antennas of the iPhone, Nokia N73, and the Sony Ericsson P1. The test found that there was substantially no difference in the quality of reception between the devices.

The problem thus seems network based. Watch out AT&T! The sharks will surely circle.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

AOL Mobile Search Grabs a Silver

The folks at mocoNews.net awarded AOL Mobile Search a Silver medal today in a faceoff against other search engines for the query term "Olympics". Google and Yahoo tied for Gold and MSN got a bronze.

The key differentiator seems to be that Google and Yahoo show medal results and ranking while AOL doesn't. On the other hand AOL showed Olympic themed ringtones which we get source from Thumplay.

I think MocoNews' point is well taken. Ideally the recipe for the term "Olympics" should be Medal Results, News, News Pictures, Web Sites, Mobile Websites.

This is an awful lot of content to fit on a page but as mobile browsers become more full featured I can see mobile "One Clicks" being developed in the same way that AOL services such content for the desktop search.

In the meantime I'm glad we beat out MSN and have a good target in Yahoo! to shoot for.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Instinct vs iPhone

The folks at Sprint, desparate to compete against AT&T, are touting the benefits of Samsung's Instinct phone. Their new marketing campaign "Insticnt More for Less. iPhone Less for More" is not very original but sums their stance of why the Instinct is better than the iPhone.

To wit, they've created a pretty slick web page with compelling flash videos comparing the two devices.

In the Instinct, Sprint has a device that is equivilent to the iPhone when it comes to web surfing and costs less (both for the hardware and monthly fees), but the iPhone has advantages that Sprint can only dream about.

By deploying a semi-open device Apple has attracted a worldwide community of developers who are free to invent whatever their minds conceive. They can then distribute their creations through the iTunes App Store. Sure, the Instinct has certain out-of-the-box apps like shoot-and-send video, voice-guided GPS navigation, and exclusive content from NASCAR and the NFL which the iPhone certainly doesn]t have, but for how long?

Putting aside the proprietary content, these applications most certainly exist for jail broken iPhones, and it's only a matter of time that they become legit.

The other area in which Apple has an advantage is that its device is an iPod. Having an iPod dressed up as a phone makes iPhone owners part of the larger universe of iTunes users.

It's like the corner store going up against Wall Mart. Sure they both sell detergent, but guess who's going to sell more? Putting it another way if given the chance would you want to drive a Porche or a Honda? They both have four wheels and will get you from point A to point B, but you'll look better in the Cayman. Same thing with the iPhone.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

ChaCha says Obama is a Muslim

Is Obama a Muslim? The folks at Cha Cha certainly thing so. That's the question I SMS'd to the human powered search engine.

Here's the answer I received (and the web page it pointed me to): "He is a muslim, but he tries to conceal it. Thanks for using ChaCha!"

Let's ignore all the political implications contained with in the response and concentrate just on the technical/business aspects. This exchange demonstrates clearly the inherent flaws in ChaCha's model. Human powered searching is not only unscalable but brings with it the inherent biases that humans have.

This is what happens when information is received from the unwashed masses. They don't filter the Internet for erroneous information. They contribute to it.

BTW Sabrina M.'s profile says that she's a student at Minnesota State University Mankato. I think she should stick to shopping and watching movies. This search thing seems too complicated for her.

The iPhone's Killer App -- Social Networking

After standing in line for more than 8 hours over the course of  two days I finally was able to get my hands on an iPhone last Saturday. Even though I saw an extensive presentation at WWDC I must say that as a replacement owner I'm extremely underwhelmed from a hardware perspective.

Sure the new iPhone has 3G speed and a GPS chip, but surfing iPhone optimized sites over the EDGE network wasn't too painful. It's fun the first couple of times to find your exact location using GPS, but for most people getting general proximity using cell towers or WiFi triangulation is good enough. 

Instead of the hardware I think the real big news about the iPhone is the new Apps Store and the ability of 3rd party developers to provide free and paid applications for the device. Given that I have kids I was suckered into buying Monkey Ball for $10 (OK $9.99), but the really cool apps, the ones that have real potential are the social networking ones. 

Can't remember who it was, but one of the Internet's deep thinkers realized that the e-mails people send essentially mirror their social network. For the purposes of a phone its the people you call. So how awesome would it be to know the status and location of your friends without calling them and sharing things like pictures and thoughts while on-the-go? I think it would be pretty fun and useful. 

A number of the social networking players have made a first stab at this by creating native iPhone apps. From the AppsStore you can download apps for Facebook, MySpace, Loopt, Whirrl, and Twitteriffic. I've tried several of these and although several show promise no one's hit the ball out of the park with a complete set of features. 

I like Loopt's ability to geo-tag your status update. add a picture and then map the event. You can also see the location of your friends and what they're up to. Pretty awesome if you have friends nearby. Your screen could fill up with their updates if you are in the same neighborhood. But if you're friendless on Loopt like me, it can be pretty lonely. This is why I think why Jennifer Leggio of ZDnet has it right when she says that the established web players like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are well positioned to dominate the mobile space as well. With these networks I don't have to convince my friends to join yet another site -- they're already involved and can interact with me whether they are on an iPhone or not. 

Still, sites like Facebook can learn from the implementations of start-ups like Loopt. Facebook for example doesn't include location with their status updates. The Facebook app includes connectivity to the iPhone's camera but strangely they don't allow users to caption the pictures that are uploaded or geotag them. 

One interesting difference I did find between Loopt and Whirrl is that the former lets you invite friends based on their phone number. Whirrl on the other hand requires you to issue an invite based on your friend's e-mail. It seems to me that since users are on a phone, Loopt's implementation is more intuitive and native to the device. 

I'm hoping that one of the product teams will poach the best-of features from each product and make one really killer app. 

Monday, June 9, 2008

iPhone for $199 on July 11

The new iPhone 3G will sell for $199. 

The 8MB version will be in Black and the 16B in Silver

$199 all around the world. Will be available on July 11. 

It's a small world afterall

iPhone is available in 70 countries. They showed a map with "It's a small world afterall"

Crowd cheers when their country goes red. 

GPS Announced

Jobs announces GPS support for the iPhone 3G

Head 2 Head Test

The head 2 head test shows 3G downloads in 21 seconds and Edge took 59 seconds. Shows that 3G is 2.8x faster. WiFi takes 17 sec

Compared against Nokia and the Treo ("Full page on iPhone. Something considerably less.")

Jobs is now showing e-mail attachments 3G version takes 5 sec and 18 sec on iPhone. WiFi is 3 sec. 

iPhone 3G is ANNOUNCED

3G iPhone is announced!

Plastic back
Flush headphone jack
Improved audio
Better Camera

Next challenges

Jobs is laying out what the next challenges are:

Enterprise Support
Third Party Application
Being able to sell in more countries. 
Making it more affordable (56% say its expensive

iPhone's First Birthday

Jobs says this is personal to him. Shows pictures from New York launch

"This is the phone that have changed phones forever."

90% customer satisfaction
98% are browsing
94% are e-mailing

6 million iPhones have been sold. 


Phil Schiller is demonstrating MobileMe (www.me.com) but the site is still redirecting to www.snappville.com 

This doesn't seem like it was supposed to happen like this. 

BTW it's not free (well it will be for 60 days) $99/year

.mac is being replaced by MobileMe.

20 GB of space.


Phil Schiller is speaking about MobileMe. It is push e-mail, contacts, and calendar without Exchange Server. 

The information is stored in the cloud. The mobileme account stands in the middle and pushes/pulls from/to devices. 


New e-mail and calendar product that competes with other e-mail/calendaring information

There is a gallery section that syncs with iPhone's pictures.

This new product combines and integrates several existing products. 

Entire thing looks like a native PC/Mac based application. 

iPhone 2.0 Not till July

The new software will not be available until early July. 

This includes the App 

Developers sets price
70% of rev
No credit card or hosting
Fairplay DRM
If you want to give it away for free you can do it without any charge for appl

If it is 10MB<  then you can doanload on cellular, WiFi or iTunes. If over 10 MB then only WiFi or iTunes.

Enterprise can distribute apps only for their enterprise that will only run on those phones. 

Adhoc distibution. Expand the developer certification programs can be distributed on upto 100 iPhone. 

Jobs is Back

Says that Search on Contacts, iWork Documents, and now supports all MS Word documents.

Bulk delete and move, saving picture attachments, teenage controls, scientific calculator. Language support. Asian language. You can draw character on the iPhone and have it be recognized. 


One aspect that was not in the SDK was the ability to have an IM message come up when the application is not running. 

Apple says the wrong method is to run in background because battery drains and because it takes up CPU resources. 

Apple Push Notification Service establish one persistent service

Custom Alert Sound (the AOL sound)
Custom textual alerts (like SMS) with buttons to automatically launch applications

The Service will be available in September but Apple will start seeding developers. 

Apple Stock Price

The crowd here is loving the demos but Wall Street isn't happy. Apple's stock price has dropped during the keynote.  This may be due to the NASDAQ being down by 37 points

Demos -- Digital Legends Entertainment

Developer from Barcelona started only 2 weeks. Believe that the iPhone is a gaming device. Believes that the iPhone App store is the only method of bringing games directly to the market. 

When will the App Store be live

A lot of the demonstrators are saying that their apps will be available when the App store launches "weeks from now" This seem to indicate that the store won't be available today. We'll have to see....

Demos -- Modality

Dr. S., Mark Williams. Med school students use flash cards to learn the body parts. This publisher as digitized anatomical pictures and linked it to Quiz. I don't know if I want students to learn while they're waiting for their latte.

Demos -- MLB.com

Jeremy Schoenherr shows MLB @ Bat. Shows live baseball game coverage. Realtime video highlights. The iPhone's video picture quality is really sharp and the baseball games look great.

It's going to be in the App Store. (They didn't say free so I imagine that it will cost something). 

Demos -- Solo Developer

This developer  is a solo guy in the insurance industry. He's created a bunch of virtual instruments. This stuff is really fun. They've done a really good job. The crowd really loves it. 

Demos -- Pangea

Brian Greenstone shows games that have been ported from OS X to the iPhone. Shows game, iNigmo that requires intensive CPU usage. Looks great. 

The game will be available for $9.99 

These games are really going to take a bite out of Nintendo. 

Demos -- Associated Press

Building native application for the iPhone. Benjamin Morse is demonstrating "The Mobile News Network" The location API allows local news content to be brought up automatically. The stories are cached. Photos can be seen and video from the news network can be watched. 

If there is breaking news, users can send pictures and news stories directly from their iPhone. 

The mobile news network will be available at launch for free. 

Demos -- Typepad

Michael Sippey is showing TypePad. Photoblogging is one of their most popular features. You can create a post or take a photo for a blog. Previously taken pictures can also be posted to blogs. (Right now I am only able to transfer pictures to my blog by mailing it to PhotoBucket). This is much more integrated. 

The blog is actually seen on the Safari. 

Will be free on the Apple iStore.

Demos -- Loopt

Sam Altman will demo Loopt for the iPhone. Using Loopt you can see where your friends are on a map in real time. It's being shown on Google maps. By tapping a user the person's detail comes up and you're shown a journal of all of their travels which are tagged with geo-location. 

Loopt will be free on the iPhone at launch. 

Demos -- Ebay

Ken Sun from Ebay shows auctions on the iPhone. They started developing 5 weeks ago. 

Can search for an item, get details, and included WebKit so that it incorporates seller's HTML information. 

Have incorporated film strip viewer so that the photos look as they're supposed to on the iPhone. 

Demos -- Sega Super Monkey Ball

Companies are now going to demonstrate the work they've done with SDK.

Ethan Einhorn will display Super Monkey Ball on iPhone. This was shown in March. 

110 stages with all 4 monkeys. The tilt control allows for acceleration and deceleration. The game will be distributed through the app store. The game will be available at launch of the app store for $9.99

Canned Praise

The VP is reading out testimonials from developers (like Disney and InfoWorld) 

I wonder would they ever read something that wasn't praiseworthy.

There are lots of digs at RIM. Afterall that is the company that Apple is going after on the business side and consumer side.

Interface Builder Demo

The Apple VP is showing the Interface builder. The tool as pre-formated function controls and layout controls so that it is WYSIWYG.

Loaded up into simulator. 

The VP has now built an application that allows you to see which of your contacts are nearby. 

iPhone SDK

The SDK is being shown by an Apple VP.  (he's also dressed in black)

Opening up native API that Apple uses.

The APIs are shared with OS X. The same kernal is shared. The same source code is shared. 

Core services layer with SQLite, Location based services are powered through this. 

Media OpenGL ES for 3D graphics

Cocoa Touch. Object oriented framework. 

There are also tools available

XCode to write and debug

Interface builder to design interface

iPhone Simulator to run and debug on the make

Instruments, performance tools to measure and optimize applications. 

The VP will now demo the tools. 

He's going to construct an interface using the the interface builder. 

He's using the built in address and core location api and filter between all contacts and those who are within 10 miles. 

Steve Jobs Live

It's my first time seeing Jobs live. My impressions are that he looks and sounds older than I imagined him to be. He is very casually dressed in the classic black turtleneck and jeans with sneakers. But he seems really revved up. 

iPhone 2.0

New software and there is a developer program. 95 days ago it was announced. They have 250,000 developers download. 25,000 have asked to be in the paid program. 4,000 were admitted. 

2.0 has 3 parts. a) Enterprise, b) SDK and c) New features. 

The 2.0 software has enterprise support. Push e-mail, contacts, remote wiping, directory look-up. Secure VPM built in from Cisco. 

They have had beta program with 35% of Fortune 500 (Top 5 banks, Top 5 Securities firms, 6/7 of airlines). 

Jobs is now showing a video of enterprise customers who have used Exchange on iPhone. Sonnenschine, Disney, Genentech etc etc.

It's started

Steve Jobs has started speaking. He says that they are sold out with more than 5,200 engineers attending. 

There are three parts to apple: 1) Mac 2) Music and 3) iPhone

The focus this morning is going to be on the iPhone. 

Phil Schiller is going to speak on iPhone.

New version of OS X called snow leapard

In the House

I've just been seated in the Jobs Keynote. I've managed to push myself through the crowd of thousands so that I'm in the front of the room five rows in. An excellent spot for pictures. I hope that the iPhone camera performs. The loud speakers are playing Jerry Lee Lewis -- Great Balls of Fire. It's a carnival atmosphere. 

Waiting for Mr. Jobs

I'm at the Apple WWDC conference in San Francisco. The conference is taking place at the Moscone Center West. When I walked in this morning we were herded to a waiting area where they served some pastries and Odwallah. Then they let us upstairs 100 people at a time. We're now waiting outside the hall to be let in. The event was supposed to start at 10 am but I don't see how it will given the huge crowd that's been assembled. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mobile Polling the Democratic Debate

After tonight's Democratic debate between Hilary Clinton and Barak Obama, MSNBC asked viewers to vote via SMS as to who won the contest.

This type of polling is near and dear to my heart because the dot-com era company I co-founded, Informano Networks/Recency Data, was the very first to do something like this in 2000 during the debates between Al Gore and George Bush.

Unlike our foray several years ago in which we had to create a cumbersome combination of SMS and WAP to get the job done, MSNBC had an easier time of it because they used a pure SMS solution. MSNBC also had the advantage of being able to tell people during the broadcast to text "1" for Clinton and "2" for Obama during the debate through a chron that appeared at the bottom of the screen.

As American Idol has discovered the lots of people like to do this. It turns out that nearly 90,000 people voted according to a number that was announced on air. That's fantastic because way back when, we only got a few hundred people to participate and we had to incentivise people to pre-register by offering them a chance to win $1,000. Also I don't know how many people watched the debate, but given MSNBC's usual audience of perhaps 500,000 at any given time, it indicates a very large percentage participated.

I was however a little disappointed in the actually execution of the mobile vote. First after I sent my message in I expected a very prompt message back acknowledging my participation. I got one back eventually, but not as fast as I would like.

Also the message said that the survey results would be on MSNBC. I can see how the network would want people to keep watching, but I would have liked to have recieved a real-time pulse of how other viewers were voting perhaps on MSNBC mobile site.

Before the post-debate analysis ended Chris Matthews announced the result 70% Obama 30% Clinton with the caveat that it was unscientific and usually the younger viewers were texting in and they have been supporting Obama. (Hence the fact that Ron Paul won the vote when they did the same thing during the Republican debate). If the analysis is correct I think that's makes the exercise even more impressive because I can't imagine that there were younger viewers engaged enough in the process to watch the debate.

Finally although participation in this SMS vote was free for viewers, except for the cost of sending a text based on the user's data plan, it would be interesting to see what the participation would be if it were a premium message instead. How many viewers would pay $1 to participate in a poll. MSNBC could be making $90K on the exercise minus the cost to the SMS aggregator of sending the text back. Overtime something like this could have a positive impact on revenue.

What if instead of sending back an acknowledgment which asks users to sign up for more alerts (something called Chuck Todd's First Read and alerts from Meet the Press) the SMS contained a sponsorship message. That's more money for MSNBC.

Would people be more incentivized to participate if instead of MSNBC pocketing the money it went to a charity? Now that would be interesting.

Overall MSNBC's exercise shows that a passive medium like TV can be made interactive via a mobile device, and I think more broadcasters will invite viewers to participate that way.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Net Neutrality Lesgislation Introduced

Just before Valentine's Day a new bill was introduced in Congress to ensure Internet Neutrality. The Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008 (HR5353), proposes to allow consumers and businesses "to send, receive, access, and use the lawful applications, content, and services of their choice on broadband networks" using their selection of devices. The bill also mandates "that content providers not be subjected to new, discriminatory charges by broadband network providers."

This legislation is important for mobile content publishers and device manufacturers because it ensures that network providers like AT&T or Verizon Wireless can't dictate which applications can be used on their network by either banning their use or degrading access speed (or conversely speeding up). Broadband providers would also have to let handsets not directly sanctioned by them onto the Network.

These measures would put the wireless ecosystem in the same position as the desktop world. Cablevision, my high speed provider, doesn't dictate that I have to use an HP computer or that I can't access MTV through their service. Why should the wireless carriers have that power?

The CTIA of course opposes the legislation arguing no problem exists. However given that their funded by the carriers I wouldn't expect them to say anything different.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bigger is Better, But You'll have to wait

The folks at Apple brought the big screen touch phone to the market, but the other mobile manufactures won't have much of an answer until later this year. See Mobile's Barcelona Hangover.

That's going to present a problem for the number of cell phones predicted to be sold this year. The article states that analysts expect 57%-59% of handset sales to be for replacement/upgrade purposes because the market for new subscribers worldwide is tapped out.

So the big question is whether upgraders are going to sit out the year until phones with the new post-QVGA phones appear in the marketplace or rely on aging platforms such as the N-95 from the Nokia.

My prediction is if you need a phone you need a phone now. However if your phone is extension of "You" the brand.

It's Search Stupid

There are more cell phone in the world than there are computers. So how come practically nobody accesses the Internet on the mobile phone? That's the conundrum facing mobile insiders on every continent.

One reason is that with its small screen size and low bandwidth using the Internet on the phone is a pain. Apple's iPhone is changing the experience, but one panelist at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, Spain says that one way to unlock the mobile experience is through Search:

Panelist Mike Yonker, general manager of worldwide strategy and operations for Texas Instruments terminals business unit, said that the way for the user to get the rich content now available on a mobile handset is through the "search" function. But this isn't so easy. He compared the limitations of a mobile handset to a full personal computer screen.

Searching on a computer, he said, is like going to a store, where the customers sees every product displayed, and can make comparisons, touch the products, even try things on for size. Doing the same search on a mobile, he said, but like trying to shop in the same store but "through a drive-up window." No matter how much stuff is in the store, you can only find out through the cashier at the drive-up window.

See Users' love affair with iPhone stumps Mobile World panel

Yonker is right that one challenge to be solved is helping users find content, but if that content is still difficult to view on the device the experience will still be bad. Expressed differently, it's not only the content that needs to bubble up to the top, but the content has to match the capabilities of the phone.

With the iPhone one can get to a true web experience. But until there are more mini-computers like the iPhone users are going to have to make do with the Internet-lite. And that's not going to grow audience.