As smartphones gain greater market penetration, and data-intensive applications become more popular, cellular carriers are creating limits on how much data customers can consume, and raising the price of that data.
T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have all phased out their unlimited plans, and introduced tiered plans that charge customers based on how much data they consume. Only Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan.
Some developers worry that the caps will stifle innovation of data-intensive applications, and that customers may blame the applications if they go over their limits. This problem is compounded by the fact that consumers have no intuitive sense of how much data a given application may be using.
Industry analysts predict that the availability of data will become an increasingly important profit stream for cellular carriers, and a key point of competition between them.
Rdio has released a free iPad version of its streaming music app. According to the Gizmodo review: “Spotify may be stealing all the hype and pub for streaming music services but let’s not kid around here, Rdio still makes the best music apps across any platform.”
The review raves about the app based largely on its selection, album art, social aspects and quality music player.
Users can listen via their iPad headphones or through other devices thanks to AirPlay support — a feature that particularly appeals to the staff at Gizmodo: “I always thought it was funny to use the iPad as your music player but when you think about it, Rdio + AirPlay + Big Honking Screen gives you the biggest remote control in the house for the best audio system in your house with all the streaming music not in your house.”
For a better look at the interface, the post includes a brief video demo.
Time Warner launched the HBO GO platform earlier this year, with Android and iPhone apps that stream HBO content to mobile devices.
TG Daily reports that HBO GO may soon be “getting optimized” for TVs, with the platform becoming available on the PS3, Xbox 360, and other Internet-ready devices.
“It may seem like a pointless feature, because if you’re watching your TV, you could just tune into your cable box and watch HBO On Demand from there,” explains TG Daily. “But this way, you’d be able to take your HBO subscription to a friend’s house, or watch content on the app that may not be available on the current HBO On Demand library.”
In addition to regular programming content, HBO GO provides exclusive content (such as behind-the-scenes clips) and an intuitive video search interface featuring customizable lists.
While Apple has been working on the design elegance and overall quality of its iPhone, the existing business model with carrier partners has allowed the company to hide the true cost of the device in two-year contracts. Apple’s upcoming iPhone 5 launch may change this model.
The company is rumored to be considering a $350 price point for an entry level unlocked iPhone.
T-GAAP reports: “The main purpose for such a device is to penetrate China and other regions which are not fond of subsidized programs. If Apple can deliver an unlocked iPhone starting at $350, the impact in China will be stunning, and send U.S. and European carriers scrambling.”
If this is the case, consumers would be able to purchase an iPhone from the Apple Store and select any prepaid plan of their choosing (such as an “all-you-can-eat $50 month-to-month T-Mobile or Cricket or Boost plan”).
Carriers would most likely push other phones, but it may be too late for that based on consumer demand. Their next move could be lower entry prices for the iPhone.
“Plan on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint offering two-year contract plans for the iPhone 5 starting at $149,” suggests T-GAAP. “Carriers wil be scrambling to protect a model that has done them so well for the past 15 years. However, Apple is about to pull it all apart with a single product launch.”
The BBC’s popular iPlayer is an on-demand broadband television and radio service that has been available in Great Britain for four years.
As of last week, the service is now available through an iPad app to 11 countries in western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland) — with plans to launch in the U.S., Canada and Australia by the end of the year as a pilot program.
The app will allow users to stream programs over 3G and Wi-Fi, with the option to download for later viewing offline. International users will have access to some content for free, while full access will be subscription-based.
Luke Bradley-Jones, managing director of BBC.com, describes iPlayer as a VOD service: “We will have content from the last month, but also the best from the catalog stretching back 50 to 60 years.” He added, “What we’re trying to test in the pilot is the ability to drive exploration and discovery through a programming approach rather than an algorithm-based approach. We’re not trying to compete against a Netflix or a Hulu. This has to be tailored and hand-crafted, so we can create a tone of voice.”
Reports are circulating this week that Apple will reportedly release facial recognition capabilities for iOS 5 as an open API for developers.
The technology was made available as a result of Apple purchasing Swedish facial recognition algorithm specialist Polar Rose in 2010.
Polar Rose is the developer behind Recognizr, which Digital Trends describes as “a social media linking app co-developed with TAT that recognizes users and displays their network profiles on-screen.”
The iOS API can determine where a user’s mouth and eyes are located, and can process images for face detection, which introduces new possibilities for Faces and iPhoto. Since it is an open API, we should expect that third party developers will create more advanced facial recognition applications.
GigaOM reports: “It’s not something Apple is advertising about with the software update yet, but as it develops, it could become one of the most significant additions ever introduced to Apple’s mobile operating system.”
Facebook’s iPad app may be closer to launch than earlier reported, since a fully operational version was recently discovered “hidden” inside the current iPhone app.
The iPad app reportedly has a more modern look than the “tired old” iPhone version, resembling Twitter’s iPad app. The navigational features are said to be intuitively positioned whether the device is held vertically or horizontally.
According to Wired writer Charlie Sorrel: “Facebook has managed to fully port the signature confusion of its website to a tablet app, a not insignificant achievement.”
The iPad app has also been described as “spectacular.” For those who can’t wait for the official release, the CNN post includes a link for instructions to get it running from inside the iPhone app.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) predicts that the consumer electronics industry will grow 5.6 percent this year and will surpass $190 billion. This prediction is higher than the estimate that CEA offered in January.
Significantly, tablet computers are projected to grow 157 percent in 2011, with more than 26.5 million units being shipped ($14 billion in shipment revenue).
“Newer, innovative product categories, like tablets, not only meet consumer demand but also help bolster our industry and strengthen the overall American economy,” says CEA chief exec Gary Shapiro.
“One year ago, tablets were a new and unproven market, and now they, along with other mobile connected devices including smartphones and eReaders, are leading the entire industry to positive growth,” adds Steve Koenig, CEA’s director of industry analysis. “The revenue boost from these innovative products is undeniable as a number of other CE segments are reaching maturity and sales are naturally declining.”
The trade association also expects the market to reach a record $197 billion in 2012, led by sales of smartphones, tablets and 3D TVs.
Logitech’s LifeSize division — headquartered in Austin, Texas — is looking to the cloud in an effort to extend its videoconferencing reach.
The company is introducing the $1,499 LifeSize Passport Connect, a new videoconferencing system that integrates with the company’s cloud-based LifeSize Connections service.
The high-defintion endpoint system is built around a Logitech webcam and is priced below other LifeSize end systems.
Logitech also announced it has acquired Italian mobile video company, Mirial, which offers videoconferencing clients for PCs, Macs, and an array of mobile devices such as Android tablets, iPads and iPhones.
The company plans to integrate Mirial’s clients into LifeSize Connections.
Videogame maker Electronic Arts announced this week it would acquire PopCap Games, maker of games like “Bejeweled,” “Zuma” and “Plants vs. Zombies.”
According to the deal, Electronic Arts is expected to pay $650 million in cash and $100 million in new shares.
EA has long been a dominant player in the console gaming market; this acquisition plans to strengthen its presence in mobile and causal gaming.
Mobile games, like those played on Android and iOS devices, are the fastest-growing segment of the gaming market.
“EA’s global studio and publishing network will help PopCap rapidly expand their business to more digital devices, more countries and more channels,” explained Electronic Arts chief exec John Riccitiello.
Spotify has finally launched its U.S. service — and similar to its widely popular European version, users can listen free to any track, on demand.
Users can opt for ad-supported free listening, a $5 Premium ad-free service, or a $10 Unlimited service that allows users to store music offline and use Spotify on mobile devices (the iPhone app is now available). Users can also share their playlists or subscribe to those of other users.
Spotify has a reputation for fast, almost instantaneous playback and a catalog containing millions of songs. It will also scan a user’s iTunes library for access to personal tracks in the Spotify app.
Although the Wired review suggests “Spotify is just cloud music done right,” it also points out some minor flaws: “Spotify’s recommendation engine, and its radio selections (supposedly Pandora-like auto-playlists) are pitiful. And there is also no sign of an iPad native version, over a year after the tablet’s launch.”
Amazon may be selling a tablet computer as early as October, report people familiar with the matter.
The new tablet is expected to feature a 9-inch screen and run on Android’s operating system (but will reportedly not include a camera). An Amazon-designed second tablet may be available next year.
Amazon is still expected to introduce two new Kindles in the third quarter.
With its own online retail operation, Amazon is well positioned to compete with Apple. Moreover, one analyst says Amazon can offer a cheaper alternative and make up the difference with movie, music and book sales.
According to a recent Nielsen study, the average iPhone user commits twice the average amount of time to playing mobile games as compared to other mobile gamers, suggesting that iOS may have the most engaged gaming audience.
The study also indicates that 93 percent of app customers have paid for games in the last 30 days.
The average iPhone owner spent 14.7 hours playing games during the month, while the average Android owner spent 9.3 hours (the overall average for smartphone gamers is 7.8 hours/month).
The report explains that consumers are typically more willing to spend money on games than other types of apps.
Nielsen breaks down the leading categories of most popular apps for Q2 2011 in the following order: Games, Weather, Social Networking, Maps/Navigation/Search, Music, News, Entertainment, Banking/Finance, Video/Movies, Shopping/Retail, Dining/Restaurant, Sports.
After weeks of speculation, Verizon Wireless has announced it will no longer offer customers unlimited data service plans, but will instead introduce service tiers at varied price points.
Verizon joins AT&T and T-Mobile in offering tiered service models. Sprint Nextel remains as the only major carrier to offer an unlimited data plan.
Verizon’s current unlimited data model is $30 on most plans. Moving forward, customers will get a maximum of 2GB/month for that price. Customers who use up to 10GB will pay $80/month.
Customers with an existing unlimited plan will be grandfathered in and will not have to change to a tiered plan, but any change in service will terminate the unlimited data plan.
ETCentric contributor Phil Lelyveld comments: “It will be interesting to see if this becomes a competitive differentiator among services, and whether consumers hit the limits and start caring about limits on their wireless data plans.”
Apple announced the 15 billionth app download this week. The App Store has been open three years.
There are some 425,000 apps and 100,000 iPad apps available to users in 90 countries.
Apple has paid more than $2.5 billion to app developers to date.
From the Apple press release: “Users of the more than 200 million iOS devices around the world can choose from an incredible range of apps in 20 categories, including games, business, news, education, sports, health, reference and travel.”