Tech Industry Calls on Congress to Allocate More Mobile Spectrum

  • A team of tech companies including Apple, Samsung, and Nokia has submitted a letter to Congress requesting that it allocate more spectrum for mobile data, reports The Verge.
  • The letter argues the spectrum addition “is timely and relevant” to discuss alongside fiscal cliff debates.
  • “Now is the time to ensure the incentive auctions are as robust and successful as possible at liberating spectrum,” reads the letter. “We should also turn our collective attention on ways to reap the economic benefits of underutilized federal spectrum assets.”
  • “Other signatories include Intel, RIM, Qualcomm, Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Ericsson, all of which are members of the High Tech Spectrum Coalition,” notes the post. “The group believes that upcoming spectrum auctions won’t meet the demand for wireless broadband, nor will it be possible to ‘engineer our way out of this problem’ with more efficient technology.”
  • The letter asks Congress to urge spectrum holders to “become more efficient, to share with one another, to vacate, or to lease their spectrum.”
  • An earlier report this year also recommended the government consider sharing spectrum with commercial partners, since it’s “increasingly difficult to find desirable spectrum that can be vacated by federal users.”

Mobile Video Calling Creates New Frontier as Technologies Improve

  • “As the cameras and screens of smartphones and tablets improve, and as wireless networks offer higher bandwidth, more companies are getting into the business of enabling mobile video calls,” reports The New York Times, noting that the rise has been so quick that analysts have yet to compile numbers.
  • In 2011, Microsoft acquired video calling service Skype. Similarly, Apple developed its own FaceTime feature to sell the iPad and in September expanded the service beyond just Wi-Fi to cellular networks.
  • Google’s free video calling service Hangouts on its social network Google Plus allows up to ten people to video conference, and it features more than 200 apps. Just last week, Yahoo purchased its own video chat service OnTheAir. Tango Mobile is yet another video calling service, which has attracted 80 million active users and sees 200,000 join daily, according to CTO and co-founder Eric Setton.
  • Microsoft has incorporated Skype into its Windows 8 mobile phones, allowing people to receive calls even when the app isn’t running. Google is interested in “making money on the applications, but in learning more about them so it can sell more ads by getting people to use [Hangouts],” notes the article.
  • “Don’t expect video calling to improve productivity. Tango uses the same technology that enables video calls to sell games that people can play simultaneously,” the article states. “Google says some jokey applications on Hangouts, like a feature that can put a mustache over each caller, seem to encourage people to talk longer.”
  • “Tango’s average video call used to last six minutes, Mr. Setton said, but when the company started adding other applications to go with the videos, like games and designs that float over people, the average call length rose to 12 minutes.”

Will Verizon Take on Netflix and Others with its own Streaming Video Service?

  • Verizon is planning to launch a standalone video streaming service for 2012 that would offer movies and TV shows via the Web, according to several people close to the plan.
  • “The phone company is talking with prospective programming partners about the service, which would be introduced outside of markets where it currently offers its broadband and TV package, known as FiOS, these people said,” reports Reuters. “That would make it available to some 85 million U.S. households.”
  • Verizon may be concerned about cord cutters and competition from Netflix, Amazon and Google.
  • “Verizon has been back and forth with programmers over the last two years exploring the possibility,” suggests the article. “While a lot of the discussion has been around fees, the programmers have also been concerned about the possibility of hurting their existing — and lucrative — relationships with the cable operators.”
  • Having its own streaming service would allow Verizon to grow its customer base and thereby lower its programming costs.
  • “News of the service will have added controversy in the wake of sister company Verizon Wireless’s plans to resell cable TV service for Comcast Corp, Time Warner Cable Inc and Bright House Networks,” points out Reuters. “Under that deal, announced last week, Verizon Wireless will pay $3.6 billion for valuable spectrum from the cable companies.”

New Feature: Conference into Google+ Hangouts with Free Voice Calls

  • Google may directly challenge Skype with a new feature that enables free voice calls to the U.S. and Canada within Google+ Hangouts.
  • “To activate the feature, simply start a Hangout, click the Invite button at the top, select ‘Phone,’ and enter a phone number. If the recipient picks up, they’ll be instantly connected,” reports TechCrunch. “The free offer is supposed to last through 2012.”
  • This allows people who don’t have a Google account or even a computer to join a G+ video chat. It also enables free 1-on-1 calls, much like Skype.
  • The service has the potential to be used for conference calls, in making group decisions or serve as a a draw simply for casual use.
  • Google hopes the free calls will attract people to Hangouts, which has been “a bit sparse due to the social network’s low current user count.”

Is the Carrier IQ Rootkit Tracking Everything on Your Smartphone?

  • As an Android, Blackberry or Nokia user, you may not know that an app called Carrier IQ is logging literally everything you are doing on your smartphone including keystrokes, SMS messages and HTTPS sessions. Other articles on Carrier IQ report that this information is being sent to the carriers.
  • Apparently, there is no way for a user to turn Carrier IQ off without replacing the operating system.
  • A former Justice Department prosecutor has told Forbes that this is “likely grounds for a class action lawsuit” as it violates federal wiretapping law. This story is beginning to get a significant amount of attention online.
  • To see Carrier IQ in action, watch the 17-minute video posted to the PC World article.

In Development: Would an HTC Facebook Phone Prove to be the Next Zune?

  • Microsoft lost trust from its hardware partners with the Zune MP3 player which ultimately caused the product to fail. The new Facebook phone could be equally disastrous by pinning HTC against its current software partners.
  • HTC has strong relationships with Google for Android OS and Microsoft for Windows Phone 7, relationships that could be jeopardized in moving forward with a Facebook phone.
  • “One of the key standout features for Windows Phone 7 is social networking and in particular, Facebook integration (Facebook and Microsoft are partnered),” reports Digital Trends. “Google, on the other hand, is at war with Facebook with Google+, and monetizes Android after-the-fact with services like Google+.”
  • “Right now Apple, Microsoft and others spend lots of time on Facebook, but they aren’t likely to continue if they view Facebook as a potential competitor,” suggests the post. “Facebook should be focused on building the best Facebook app for every major platform.”
  • In a related survey conducted by AllThingsD, results suggest an overwhelming number of readers had little to no desire for a Facebook phone (81 percent indicated no interest and 12 percent said they would consider it).

Disruption: Is a Smartphone or Car the Must-Have Product for Teenagers?

  • In a soon to be published survey, Gartner reports that 46 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds would choose Internet access over having their own vehicle.
  • “The car used to be the signal of adulthood, of freedom,” says Sheryl Connelly of Ford. “It was the signal into being a grown-up. Now, the signal into adulthood for teenagers is the smartphone.”
  • “Mobile devices, gadgets and the Internet are becoming must-have lifestyle products that convey status,” explains Gartner’s Thilo Koslowski. “In that sense these devices offer a degree of freedom and social reach that previously only the automobile offered.”
  • Connected cars may help change this emerging trend — cars that can take pictures and make calls and interact with social networks.
  • “In other words, to entice teenagers, Ford and other automakers need to make their cars more like smartphones,” suggests The New York Times.

Facebook Phone: Social Networker Taps HTC to Manufacture Buffy

  • Facebook has selected Taiwanese phone manufacturer HTC to build a smartphone code-named “Buffy,” after the television vampire slayer.
  • Ironically, the device will run a customized OS from its main competitor, Google’s Android, and integrate a number of Facebook’s services, many of which will run as HTML5 apps.
  • “Facebook only recently chose HTC, after also considering at least one other potential hardware partner — Korea’s Samsung,” reports AllThingsD. “That means the products themselves are still a ways from hitting the market, potentially as long as 12 to 18 months.”
  • According to a Facebook spokesperson: “Our mobile strategy is simple: We think every mobile device is better if it is deeply social. We’re working across the entire mobile industry; with operators, hardware manufacturers, OS providers, and application developers to bring powerful social experiences to more people around the world.”
  • Although other companies have released phones with dedicated Facebook buttons, Buffy is expected to provide deeper integration, “bringing friends and social activities deep into the mobile interface.”

Would a Kindle Fire Smartphone Become the iPhone of Android Phones?

  • It has been suggested that Amazon should consider releasing a smartphone version of the Kindle Fire.
  • The belief is that a Kindle Fire phone would stand the best chance to compete directly with Apple’s iPhone, based on the tablet’s affordability, recognizable brand name and unlimited publicity through its connection to the Amazon retail store.
  • “Most important, Amazon has already done a lot of the heavy lifting required to build a phone,” writes Harry McCracken in a related Time article. “It could simply repurpose much of the effort it’s poured into the Kindle Fire tablet, and then add phone-specific features.”
  • “But this is all just hypothesis at this point,” comments TG Daily. “Amazon will be plenty busy with the Kindle Fire for some time to come.”
  • Yet it remains an interesting idea. “I wondered why no company has taken up the challenge of building…well, the iPhone of Android phones,” writes McCracken. “Something that’s elegant, approachable, uncluttered, and respectful of the consumer’s intelligence. Any bundled services would need to be beautifully integrated rather than just shoveled onto the phone indiscriminately, as the apps on Android handsets often are.”

Shall I Buy Enables Social Shopping: Foodspotting for Everything Else

  • Shall I Buy is a free iPhone app with the goal of combining instant social feedback for shoppers to make better purchasing decisions and possibly combat buyer’s remorse.
  • A shopper can share a video, picture, price and location to engage potential followers and incite comments, and allows sharing of links through Facebook and Twitter.
  • “The app is done simply, taking heavy styling cues from Instagram, but in doing so it’s effective and easy to use,” reports TheNextWeb.
  • The post cites two potential downsides: 1) By default, users receive a great number of push notifications, and 2) It would be helpful to have “a way to configure notifications inside of the app itself,” rather than going to the website.
  • Robert Scoble equates it to “Foodspotting for everything else.”

Nokia Kinetic Device: Gumby Phone Controlled by Bends and Twists

  • Nokia unveiled its Kinetic Device smartphone prototype at the recent Nokia World Conference in London.
  • The screen of the concept phone “is controlled by the way that it is bent or twisted or flexed, not by the way it is touched,” reports The Huffington Post.
  • The video shows how bending the phone inwards and outwards controls zoom and twisting it controls volume and playback.
  • “It’s built entirely out of plastic, which includes the bendy and attractive AMOLED display up front, and contains only the hardware required to power it and to sense user input,” explains This Is My Next in a related post. “It all looks somewhat unwieldy when you’re observing it, and it’s not all that easy to describe, but adapting to the control scheme takes only a few seconds and once you know what you’re doing, it becomes extremely natural. Honestly, bend-to-zoom is miles ahead of pinch-to-zoom in terms of intuitive human interaction.”
  • No word yet on whether Nokia has plans to develop a commercial version.

Report Indicates Mobile Devices Dominate Airport Wi-Fi: iOS Leads the Way

  • A year ago, laptops made up two-thirds of Wi-Fi connections at airports. Today, mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets comprise 59 percent of the total, reveals new data released this week by Boingo Wireless.
  • Boingo suggests that laptops are not going away — in fact, their numbers have doubled since 2007 — it’s simply that mobile devices are proliferating at a faster rate, fueled by the launch of the iPhone in 2007 (Apple’s iOS dominates the mobile segment with 83 percent of total devices on Boingo’s network).
  • Not surprisingly, the report suggests similar findings for inflight Wi-Fi, as offered by the likes of Gogo. In the air, iPads make up more than one-third of connections, along with 41 percent for PCs and 20 percent for Macs.
  • According to All Things D: “Mobile devices are also gobbling up a lot more data than they did just two years earlier, Boingo said. On a monthly basis, the average mobile device consumed 211 megabytes of data in June, compared with 114 megabytes in May 2009. And the devices are also consuming that data in less time, gulping an average of 8.9 megabytes in every 10 minutes of use, compared with 3.7 megabytes in the same period two years earlier.”

Future of Gaming: Can Portable Gaming Consoles and Smartphones Coexist?

  • “Mega Man” co-creator and  former Capcom head of production Keiji Inafune says, “You don’t use a smartphone camera for an interview, and you don’t use a really professional camera to take some small pictures when you’re going to work.”
  • Similarly, Inafune suggests smartphones are good for a quick game away from home, but dedicated gaming portables and home consoles offer a more complete gaming experience.
  • Still, game developers cannot ignore the smartphone market, which is currently the target for one of his company’s announced games. Inafune started two companies since leaving Capcom — Intercept and Comcept.
  • Inafune believes that developers cannot ignore the growing smartphone market: “We have to think about that when we’re making new games, because it’s kind of becoming very easy to let people play games now,” he says. “They don’t have to buy big consoles to play simple games. So that’s what we should think about for the future.”

Insiders Say Sprint Will Offer Unlimited Data Plans for iPhone 5

  • Sprint Nextel will reportedly offer unlimited data service plans for the new iPhone 5, expected to debut next month. This would be attractive to big data users and mark a major difference from rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
  • Sprint has been struggling with its bigger rivals and hopes that adding the iPhone to its lineup will lure new customers. “It’s a competitive disadvantage if your two larger competitors have the iPhone and you don’t,” says Matthew Thornton, an analyst at Avian Securities. “Getting the iPhone closes that gap.”
  • Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, already offers unlimited voice and data for RIM’s BlackBerry and HTC’s Evo customers at $99.99/month.
  • According to Bloomberg: “Apple’s iPhone has proved to be a valuable recruitment tool for rivals: Of the 5.6 million smartphones AT&T sold in the second quarter, the device accounted for 3.6 million. A quarter of the subscribers who bought the iPhone were new to AT&T, the company said.”

Trouble at RIM: Will the BlackBerry Company Consider Selling?

  • Jaguar Financial Corporation CEO Vic Alboini, an investor in struggling Research In Motion, is urging the BlackBerry maker to consider selling the company. He has recommended that RIM form a committee of independent executives to explore the proposal.
  • According to the article: “RIM is seeing its once commanding presence in the smartphone market eroded by the likes of Android and Apple’s iOS: where a year ago RIM accounted for 19 percent of the market, second-quarter figures from Gartner put the company’s current share at 12 percent.”
  • Alboini suggests that selling RIM would maximize the company’s value to investors, who have watched their investments in the Canadian company significantly decline during the last year.
  • “RIM has been hanging hopes for its future on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, as well as a new swath of smartphones expected to land in 2012 based on RIM’s recently-acquired QNX operating system — the same OS used in the PlayBook,” reports Digital Trends. “So far, industry response to the PlayBook has been muted, with many citing its reliance on a BlackBerry handset for email as a major impediment — and U.S. mobile carrier Sprint recently backed out of plans to offer a 4G version of the PlayBook, citing lack of customer interest.”

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