Excuse my poor speling and grammer

Recently I’ve been noticing a lot of signatures on mobile emails and replies from mobile devices effectively “excusing” the author of poor spelling and grammar due to the email being written on a mobile device.

Is that what we’ve evolved to as a connected society? I’m in too much of a hurry to write a thoughtful message that includes some semblance of 4th grade spelling and grammatically correct prose? As I write this post, I’m on an iPhone with an incredibly poor virtual keyboard highly prone to errors.

Is the Always Connected society headed towards a new era of idiocy and “deproductivity” as a result of our beloved mobile devices, seemingly fast paced and ADD-riden lives, and an alure towards 100s of “friends” on Facebook rather than 10 more valuable face-to-face relationships?

This notion of Deproductivity is a brick wall we’re headed towards at the speed of light. Stay tuned for more evidence of such…

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Accessing Internet via Mobile…Duh!

A recent article in Online Media Daily (http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticleHomePage&art_aid=96642) states that the Pew Internet & American Life Project (what does mobile have to do exclusively with America escapes me!) report, “Future of the Internet III”, concludes that “most will access the Internet via mobile by 2020”. There is a certain obviousness to this conclusion. A. The Internet or any connected experience first via mobile is being experienced by many emerging countries today. B. 2008 will be the year of about 4 billion mobile devices. C. Unless the PCs or laptops (and their connectivity and pricing plans) experience a major disruption and innovation in the coming years, they won’t be the majority of Internet access to a mass market of users. D. There is one particular nuance which I did not see in the article and intend on searching out in the report, and that is, WHICH Internet is going to be accessed via mobile devices by 2020? If this is the same Internet mature markets are experiencing through PCs or high end mobile devices, then I may disagree with the reports conclusions. But if it’s tailored web services from tailored client applications (widgets et al), then I may tend to agree with the report’s high level thesis. Don’t get me wrong. I know there is but ONE Internet. It’s only a matter of how the information accessed or retrieved from an inquiry is presented to the end devices. There would be rendering, device specific characteristics, mashups handled at the service side and/or device side, etc., etc. An analogy is: I can access the Internet via the Safari browser on my iPhone. This is very much a PC-like experience unless the page or content is developed specifically for rendering on the iPhone. But if it’s not, it’s the same as on a PC, generally speaking and browser specific configurations notwithstanding. But the many apps that I have loaded on my iPhone that make web services calls to some web service in the Internet deliver to me a very optimized experience of “Internet content” without the delay and drudgery of a full browser experience. So the latter will be hope looking towards the future. Another statement from the article that I am particularly interested in point out, “”If the carriers continue to own the market, network access through mass adoption of the mobile will be far slower than if governments would begin blanketing their land with WiFi (or network access on other spectrum channels) as a public-good infrastructure project,” she told the Pew researchers.” She is Danah Boyd, social media researcher at Harvard. I don’t agree with blanketing ANY land with WiFi, but do agree with the stranglehold of the carriers being a limiting factor to rapid adoption of mobile services. How about this for a suggestion? Have the carriers divest themselves of their network infrastructure and operations, turn it over to the government to be managed as a “public resource” same as our asphalt highways, then compete with other content and service providers for the walletshare of the customer base. I’m certainly NOT for more or big government, but from time to time, the government does do something well for the public well being. Agree or disagree? Or, what’s a better idea?

Navigation…Appliance or General Purpose

I’ve been pretty silent on the blog due to a ton of family related matters, not the least of which is the birth of my first grandson (Ed.: yeah, I know…grandson?). But it was this experience of moving my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson to Southern California from the San Francisco bay area that I was pondering the notion of whether standalone, dedicated navigation/GPS devices or nav/GPS-capable smartphones (or other combo devices) will reign supreme.

My experience basically entailed using my iPhone (or any other GPS-equipped device would suffice) plugged into the cigarette lighter (darned battery life!) and I used Google Maps to effectively travel from San Francisco, through the CA Central Valley, to Los Angeles (visit USC), and ending up in San Diego. We did a LOT of traversing through neighborhoods as we had several stops to see other people in LA and San Diego.

The Google Maps experience was not perfect. There were no turn-by-turn directions. There was no voice turn directions. There was lots of user intervention as the iPhone screen would blank out, Google Maps would crash from time to time, and any route recalculations had to be manually done on the fly. BUT, it’s free and all network related transactions are part of the iPhone data plan so no additional service fees as would be on something like the Dash Networks connected nav device (the device is basically a brick without the service…too bad!).

There are 2 meaningful trends going on today. Standalone navigation devices are getting increasingly “connected” to the Internet for location and context searches, as well as possibly updates to mapping data. And smartphones are increasingly being GPS equipped and have Google Maps or other mapping software installed. Yes, the experience of the standalone, dedicated nav devices are their differentiator as their focus is NOT web surfing, messaging, or phone calls…it’s navigation. But will the “it’s good enough” nature of the GPS capable smartphones as a converged, single device that we all have with us all the time ultimately overwhelm the dedicated nav devices? In a depressed or down economy where consumer spending on new, cool gadgets will definitely take a hit AND it appears that the core mobile devices are still enjoying top-of-the-list for consumers’ disposable income, dedicated nav devices will be impacted by the mass market lack of adoption. Niche use cases such as outdoors or other hardcore navigation-heavy scenarios will still go for dedicated nav.

Is this sentiment shared by the market? There is definitely a lot of rhetoric in the marketplace with mobile advertising, mobile marketing, location-based services related to other user experiences. It would seem to me that we’ll continue to see nav applications move more towards smartphones and converged devices.

What’s THE killer combo? Google Maps (free) with turn-by-turn on a converged device with voice prompts! When will we see that?

Netbooks, and who pays for what

There is an awful lot of attention lately on netbooks (the small mini laptops with lightweight operating systems – presumably – and lighter weight hardware architectures – presumably). Most of the PC OEMs have one available in the market. The first of any notoriety was the Asus EeePC and several followed suit afterwards. We’re now seeing several netbooks being subsidized by carriers as far down as to the tune of $99 with a multi year contract to be signed by the user. In a recent article in FierceBroadbandWireless (http://lists.fiercemarkets.com/c.html?rtr=on&s=69l,13t6s,8mf,b5mx,in61,4hnu,ir9d), AT&T is subsidizing an Acer network down to $99 available at RadioShack. Wow! Less than a hundred bucks for a computing device far more capable than a typical cell or smartphone is a decent deal, especially in a down macroeconomic environment. So the netbook-for-customers acquisition model seems to be taking off in the US, and has been for a little while now in Europe. Now a new feature is being introduced into netbooks, and that is embedded 3G data modems. That is a whole different dimension to the value proposition for the end user. Because the problem lay in that someone (the carrier, the OEM, the end user themselves, or some combination of retailers+content providers+aforementioned folks) has to pay for the embedded modem, say nominally anywhere from $50 to $100. In Dean Bubley’s recent blog post on Who Pays for an Unused 3G Module in a Laptop (http://disruptivewireless.blogspot.com/2008/12/who-pays-for-unused-3g-module-in-laptop.html), he does a nice job is breaking down the ecosystem players, the costs associated with the embedded modems, a range of gross margins for different laptop types, and his conclusion that he foresees slow uptake on embedded 3G modems in laptops. Might the answer lay in more disruptive pricing plans to end users in the form of try-before-buy, session based pricing (pay only when needed), or subsidized connectivity (through advertising and other enticements from content providers, such as AOL or Google)? Given the fact that the 3G modems are not going to be free anytime soon (unless a well known company in San Diego, Finland, or Stockholm relinquish their stranglehold on IP royalties), there will need to be novel ways of getting paid but at the same time enticing the user (in a controlled fashion) to actually use the connectivity service much as they do with WiFi today. And with the proper connectivity and session management, I think a way bettter user experience can be created. Given today’s parameters for the pricing plans and royalty streams throughout the ecosystem, there is NO WAY that what we have now will drive adoption to the kinds of mass market numbers many of us in the mobile industry are looking for. We all need to work together and come together with innovative business and pricing models!!! No one company will be able to do it all by themselves, but it’s not solely an operator, OEM, or chipset company’s problem to solve. Agree or disagree?

TMO Femtocell

Today there was an article in FierceBroadbandWireless on T-Mobile’s release of a 3G/WiFi “docking station” for the 3G modem. BTW, this is not T-Mobile USA, although I can imagine it would be a good offering for TMO USA sometime during the buildout of their 3G network.

The 3G/WiFi docking station is effectively an 802.11 access point with a 3G backhaul. There are a couple of references to it in the article as “femtocell-like”. I think this is a good characterization although it’s not the classical femtocell which is instead a 3G/cellular front access for phones and mobile broadband equipped laptops and a wired backhaul (typically over the end-users home broadband access lines…backhaul subsidies NOT provided by the operator).

The TMO docking station concept makes sense for 2 reasons. The first is it offers a “migration strategy” for non-3G adoptive users. My wife would not conceive of having a full time mobile broadband account for her own use. But she and I being able to share one makes a lot of sense from an economic perspective. We can both share the 3G backhaul if we did not already have wired broadband service at home, thereby not requiring mobile broadband accounts or multiple of each others devices needing a dedicated mobile broadband data plan. The competition against home DSL or cable broadband is along the lines of what some Clearwire users are doing here in the US. They have a WiMax modem in their home for wireless broadband connectivity, but apparently also take with them to other locations outside the home to re-use the same WiMax data plan rather than dealing with a plethora of one-off WiFi hotspots around their areas. Makes total sense to me.

The second is that it enables many WiFi-equipped devices to connect over a wireless WAN link for connectivity to networks and content. One example is my digital camera has an Eye-Fi wireless SD memory card with an embedded 802.11 radio. This enables me to take a picture and immediately have the pictures uploaded to my Snapfish, Flickr, Picassa, or whatever picture sharing site that has available APIs to the Eye-Fi cloud service. When I’m on the road, I perform this with a similar device to the TMO docking station called a PHS (personal hotspot) from a company called Cradlepoint. They have a unit with an internal battery that takes any of my 3G mobile broadband USB modems to have an instant connected hotspot wherever I am. In my case, it’s to quickly upload and share the pictures that I’ve taken with my digital camera. There would be many other devices that may take a while, if ever, to have 3G embedded radios.

The notion of a 3G router access point has been around for a long time. There are 2 things needed to enable this concept to take off faster than it is today. One is to have an insanely simple experience of activation to the mobile broadband network and subsequent connectivity of the WiFi devices to the 3G router. The second item is an economically compelling value proposition from the carriers to the users. For example, rather than trying to force fit a $40-55 a month plan for each device, incent the user to use the 3G router and pay a base $40 a month for the data plan (including up to 2 devices or 2 users) with each additional device/user connected for $3-5 per month extra. I would argue that if done properly from a technical and marketing perspective, this would be very attractive to several segments of the mass market (business travels, students, young professionals, vertical applications, prosumers/SMBs, etc.).

Good call, TMO! Now when will it be available in the US for some of us to kick the tires?

Health Effects of Wireless, version

So we have a continuation of the saga of the effects of wireless radiation on the human body. Just today, an article by FierceWireless on a study from the Center for Reproductive Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic (yes, that’s Reproductive) states that “link between cell phones and sperm damage. Specifically, the study said, when in close range to the testes and in talk mode, the cell phones damage sperm.” Now these sorts of suggestions really hit below the belt (ed.: gratuitous joke opportunity).

These sorts of studies have been going on for quite some time. I remember back in the late 80s and early 90s when the first of the “brain cancer” studies were commissioned by some of the early pioneers in the cellular industry such as Motorola leading to several inconclusive conclusions. I think the problem is that no one wants to take a firm stance and basically state that, “YES, persistent radiation from RF transmitters do in fact cause health issues…because health research is as much an art than a science, we can’t tell you exactly what will cause what, but we know it’s probably bad and unpredictable.”

Legal disclosure: the author of this blog is not a licensed healthcare professional, nor makes any claims or relations between wireless RF radiation and health effects to humans!

There is one thing for sure. We will have more and more RF radiation surrounding and penetrating our bodies as each year passes! More cellphones, more cellular/wireless infrastructure throughout countries and cities (3G, WiMax, LTE, …), more WiFi access points (2.4GHz, i.e., 802.11b/g/n, is also the more popular microwave oven operating frequency per Wikipedia), more wireless in our home connecting our media entertainment systems as well as wireless home automation and appliances, more wireless in our cars (wireless routers with 3G backhaul are starting to emerge for connected automobiles), more wireless in our pockets and purses (Bluetooth, WiFi, 3G headsets and accessories for communicating, working out, and overall connecting with networks and cloud services), on and on. This is no end in sight!!!

So let the studies kick into high gear! Tell us what we already intuitively know. But tell us in the most certain and objective terms. We can’t protect against anecdotes or “linkages” between apparent causes and effects. We KNOW too much RF radiation is bad. If we were intended to be exposed to so much radiation, God would have covered us in copper instead of skin! Hmm, sounds like an interesting opportunity for cloning or stem cell research…

Smart Devices or Better Systems?

This will actually be my shortest post to-date. Rather than write about the commentary I have on Andy Seybold’s Fierce MobileContent, “Wireless Phones are more than mobile phones”, I’m going to use a new cool tool a friend turned me on to (thanx, Russ 😉 called Flowgram. So, here it is…just click the link and you’ll be taken to my flowgram with audio commentary and highlights on the actual webpage of the article. In case there are problems with the Flowgram widget,

http://www.flowgram.com/p/mfjrme4wtdtnf6/

Leaky WiMax

In an article today on WiMax Trends Newsletter, there was a website leak from Clearwire’s website discovered by a reader from Engadget Mobile on the Xohm WiMax devices. According to the article, the devices are:
Nokia’s N810 WiMAX Edition.
XOHM USB (ZTE’s TU25) modem.
XOHM Express Card (Samsung’s SWC-E100) modem with optional PCMCIA adapter.
XOHM Modem (ZyXel’s MAX-206M2) Ethernet hub / router with optional 4-hour battery, but XOHM will not offer static IP addresses at this time.
The XOHM portal supports both Windows and OS X. That said, the modems listed above and Sprint’s XOHM Connection Manager software are PC-only, so, tough luck for Mac owners it looks like.
Now, THIS just makes a lot of sense to me (albeit not sure about the N810 WiMax Edition)! As was the case with WiFi, somewhat still the case with 3G (but moving fast to embedded, though not free or commodity such as WiFi), new radio access interfaces to devices go through their infancy of PCMCIA, USB, ExpressCard, or other form of external radio link adaptation before making their way into the devices. For the device OEMs (though Nokia seems to think otherwise), it’s an expensive and speculative proposition of burdening the BOM with new, unproven (both technology and business models/ROI) radio interfaces. This way us users get to kick the tires on the service, pricing, mobility, whatever new features are offered, etc. Service providers get to kick the tires of their network planning, billing, subscriber management and support, etc., etc. And device OEMs just get to watch from the sidelines until they decide to either join the “attachment” bandwagon or begin to embed the radio technologies in their respective devices according to their respective pain thresholds of technology and business model adoption.
The Nokia N810 experiment should be interesting, especially given that WiMax is, for all intents and purposes, a one-trick pony in the US as opposed to many other countries where there are multiple operators (incumbent or greenfield) trialing or rolling out WiMax networks. We’ll keep our eyes peeled for some semblance of a killer value proposition and matching profits from Clearwire and their WiMax rollouts.

iPhone "nano" rumor surfaces…again

So the iPhone nano rumor has surfaced in the UK, according to London’s Daily Mail (also in CNN Money). Apparently the iPhone nano will be available this coming Christmas from O2 for about 150 British Pounds. No other details are available. Don’t know if the rumor will in fact manifest itself from Santa in a few months on the other side of the pond (ed.: that’s the Atlantic ;-), but Apple had filed a patent last year for a clamshell looking device that looked like a nano. It also makes sense to continue to build out the iPhone portfolio with varying prices and capabilities, but it appears too early given the very recent launch of the 3G iPhone. Which leads me to my prediction of the next product from Apple.
The iPhone Dust!!! This product has been rumored (although not nearly as top of mind as the mainstream iPhone’s) for quite some time. There is mild speculation that this product will actually be seen on Apple store shelves somewhere in the lifetime of any of the iPhone mainstream products. The only problem is that an iPhone box doesn’t sit on a store shelf long enough to reveal the elusive iPhone Dust phenomenon.
Sorry…I had to say it 😉

Roaming Rates and Data Plans

I’ve written a bit about per-device data plans being a pain (especially for those of us with multiple devices) and roaming rates. Just today Joannie Wexler of NetworkWorld published an article on the nightmarish bills received by some executives from a large multinational corporation for the “complementary” iPhones they received. Apparently the bills ranged from $4000 to $5000 apiece! Not a surprise at all given that I encountered over $1000 for 2 days in Paris, France, while connecting to my corporate email with a mobile broadband module in my laptop last year.
The multi-billion dollar question is: When are the wireless operators going to “get it” in terms of not putting their subscribers through the wringer in terms of exorbitant roaming rates or multiple data plans when the user can’t possibly be consuming of all the data plans simultaneously? The answer is: NEVER.
The reason for stating never is that the operators have no incentive to let up on these prehistoric, telecom business models. In addition, the negotiation of roaming rates between carriers remain one of those mysteries in the wireless industry. Granted, the roaming rates are mandated by the regulators to be made public by the carriers and even that process is a chore to gather, especially for the poor IT telecom manager for a multinational that has to develop contracts with all the various operators their company’s employees connect with or are increasingly accountable for estimating the costs as their business becomes ever-more mobile and disconnected from their offices.
In the case of the EU, the EU Commission had to step in and place caps on roaming fees that carriers can charge their users. Roaming is almost a way of life in Europe, but represents a markedly representative example of just how lucrative the roaming business model is for the wireless operators. Hence why they have no incentive whatsoever to make roaming “reasonable” or even promoted for their subscribers. Sure, AT&T has international roaming packages of $24.99/month for 20MB of data usage with overage rates of up to $.0195 per KB in some countries and $59.99/month for 50MB of data usage with overage rates of up to $.0195 per KB in some countries. But the issue is one of TERRIBLE USER EXPERIENCE!!!
If a plan exists, it’s not necessarily visible by the customers. If users having a high frequency of roaming, the operator isn’t necessarily proactive of taking care of their customers to avoid $4000 monthly bills (in all fairness to AT&T, I’ve had occasions where they made major concessions when I’ve had overages along the lines of my Paris debacles…but I’m not your typical user). If the Fetch setting in the iPhone was easy enough to find, the typical user has no idea whether Fetch, Push, Manually, Every 15 Minutes, or whatever other setting are the right ones they need to select when getting off the plane at Heathrow Airport.
While the iPhone may be an attractive, easy-to-use device, the wireless network connectivity and billing models undo whatever Apple may have innovated on the device. It’s obviously not exclusive to the iPhone and will put a dampener on ANY mobile device usability and usage.
Let me know your thoughts on this matter as I imagine we have all experienced or know first-hand someone who has or is experiencing these issues. Will we as users simply just deal with whatever is dealt to us by the carriers because “that’s the way it is”? What can we do otherwise that would signal a demand to move from the telecom business model to something more akin to the Internet business model, aka, no borders, no roaming, the world is our oyster?