Saturday, December 17, 2011

Reflecting Back to 2011

  It's that time of year again. While many journalists in the technology industry tend to make some ridiculous predictions for the coming year, I have cautiously avoided that route. Since the problem with making predictions is that timing is key, and many times, journalists' predictions tend to be off on timing. At any rate, I have decided to reflect back and review the big technology news and products of 2011.

3DTV (failure!) - Back at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas at the beginning of 2011, the big push of the television manufacturers' was on 3D television displays and 3D content. There are so many things wrong with 3D that I don't even know where to start. There was very little 3D content to begin with, and very few (high quality) movies were produced in 3D. Also, the need for glasses on many of the traditional, non-passive 3D displays, tended to make 3D very much a gimmick, and the fact that the glasses were expensive didn't help it much. Even with the non-passive 3D televisions, in which you didn't need to wear glasses to achieve the effect, didn't perform very well (in terms of 3D playback). The fact that 3D televisions only shipped with one pair of glasses, and the fact that the glasses were expensive didn't entice consumers, and as a result, didn't sell very well.

The invasion of Android tablets - One product we will see more of at CES in 2012 is tablets. In 2011, manufacturers started ramping up production of what they thought of as "iPad alternatives", when in fact, they weren't very much alternatives at all. The user interface on these tablets were terrible, and they didn't have very much applications or content to play with, and the overall hardware experience was poor. But in the later half of 2011, with the launch of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, some newer tablets will actually carry promise. Amazon launched the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is a two hundred dollar tablet running Android, but from the appearance, no one would be able to tell it was running Android. It has a skinned version of Android that grants you access to Amazon's wide variety of e-books, movies, TV shows, music, and applications that you can download for it. With the launch of the Kindle Fire, Amazon has set the standard for what Android tablets need to have. A low price point, and a great content eco-system in which you can acquire great movies, music, e-books, and apps, from one source. And while the Kindle Fire doesn't really compare to the iPad (you shouldn't really compare it to the iPad), it is an attractive offering for those who have a strict budget and want some of the capabilities of an iPad.

The Internet is the place to start real-world revolutions - Throughout the year, we have seen numerous real world revolutions start thanks to the Internet and social media. Egyptians started the concept by starting their revolution on Twitter, and rapidly gaining supporters through means of social media like Twitter and Facebook. Will Google Plus have the same opportunity to ignite a revolution? I can't really answer that, but is sure is possible based on what I've seen so far. The idea has spread far and fast, since other Middle Eastern countries have tried to gain liberty through the start of a revolution, thanks to the many possibilities of the Internet.

Apple's iOS ecosystem gets overhaul with iCloud and Siri - Apple has rapidly pushed their iOS ecosystem forward. The iOS platform consisting of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. With the announcement of iCloud earlier this year, and the launch just a couple months ago, Apple is pushing all their users towards the cloud. This isn't exactly a quick transition, but some of the offerings of iCloud will compel their users to trust Apple with their data. This makes Apple more of a center point for many iOS users, with the trust of Apple for music and movies, as well as apps and now, online storage of their data. However, iCloud really is mostly useful for iOS users who have been sucked completely into the platform. Those who don't hold much of a love for Apple won't find iCloud necessarily compelling.
The release of the iPhone 4S also delivered a very interesting feature, known as Siri, which is a digital voice powered assistant. Siri, which is exclusively available on the latest iPhone, (although I'm sure they will bring it to other Apple devices eventually) can respond to various voice commands. You could ask Siri to call your spouse, send a text message, send an email, give you directions to the nearest cafe or library, provide you with weather information, and more. Oh, and Siri isn't just a plain old boring artificial intelligence system, it also provides you with hilariously stupid remarks to silly phrases you say to Siri. It is an incredible feature, and while it is in beta, you can look forward to major improvements in the future. This is just the beginning of a future in which we interact with the device less, and interact with people more. Siri is clearly a move by Apple in the steps of Steve Job's vision, which was that technology gets out of the way for the user to achieve what he or she wants.

The Passing of Steve Jobs - One of the saddest days of the year, was the day of Steve Jobs's passing. Within a mere minute of Apple announcing Jobs's death, all mainstream media started reporting it and the Internet was devastated. Twitter activity was very close to reaching an all-time high. People, even the non-enthusiasts, started mourning for the loss of an incredible genius. I, too, was mourning for the loss of Steve Jobs. At that moment, it was extremely difficult for me to imagine a world without Steve. The creator of one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the world, passed away. Jobs was suffering with a rare form of pancreatic cancer for almost 7 years. At times he appeared in better condition than other times. In the last couple of years, his health had been draining at a faster rate, and at the last Apple event he spoke at, he appeared thin and fragile, and we all tried not to speculate too much into his health, but we all knew it was inevitable.
Steve Jobs had an extraordinary vision of simplicity, design, and overall good taste, that very few had. His, sometimes extreme desire of simplicity and elegance, led to remarkable products from the first Macintosh computer, to the iPhone and iPad. And I think we will continue to see his legacy at Apple for some years down the road. The concern that I share with other technology enthusiasts is, when will the legacy come to an end. Steve left Apple in very good hands, with some of the brightest talent working very hard to build great products, but at some point, without the leadership of such a visionary, the legacy will end. I'm not trying to predict the end of Apple here, but the legacy will die off eventually. When that happens, people will start to panic.
I don't want to spoil too much about Steve's life, so if you have a greater interest in knowing the whole story of Steve Jobs, I recommend you read the authorized biography of Steve Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

HP Will Not Sell WebOS, and Will Continually Support It

   After more than a year of misdirection under the reign of former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, the successor to Apotheker, Meg Whitman, has formally announced on Friday that they will not sell off the WebOS division. This all comes after Leo Apotheker announced his intentions to sell off, not only the WebOS team, but the PC division as well. After being fired from HP in September, Meg Whitman took control and promptly cancelled their plans to sell the PC division, while continuing to say that they were not sure what their plans were for the WebOS division yet. Now, HP has reached the conclusion that they should not, and will not sell the WebOS division.

  WebOS was Palm's attempt at competing with in the smartphone industry, but only to be acquired by HP, and be misguided under the poor management of Leo Apotheker. WebOS was an operating system that ran on Palm's smartphones, including the Palm Pre series of devices. As it turns out, the Palm Pre was a costly nightmare for Palm, since it was plagued with bad reviews by almost every single tech media outlet. The Palm Pre hardware specifications were low, and was quite sluggish. Then HP comes out of nowhere and buys out Palm completely. But despite new management, the Pre line up of devices were still bashed by technology journalists and as a consequence, did not perform well.

  The final decision from HP to not sell WebOS is actually a bigger deal than what is first surmised.  Meg Whitman, CEO, and Mark Andreessen, board member of the company, spoke out in an interview with The Verge. Over the course of several questions, Whitman and Andreessen have announced that they will completely open source WebOS. And that translates into HP releasing the source code for the mobile operating system to the public, allowing anyone to write applications, with less hassle, for WebOS, or for modifications to be easily developed. While the average consumer probably wouldn't be excited by such news, technology enthusiasts have been excited by the new possibilities of the open sourced platform.

    While HP has decided not to sell the WebOS division, it is important to note that they will not continue selling the Pre line of smartphones, but instead, they see a future with WebOS running on future HP tablets that, hopefully, will be a little more stream lined and faster than the Touchpad, which was HP's first effort at a WebOS tablet, which was not as successful as one would have hoped.

   The situation with WebOS just got a lot clearer, but will not be completely clear, since we won't see HP's full vision for WebOS until sometime next year. I really do like what Palm did with WebOS's interface and design, and seeing that it will have a better future is one that I might appreciate someday. I look forward to seeing another competent competitor in the mobile space, both tablets, and smartphones from other vendors. And despite WebOS's past, it has a clear(er) future and one in which I could see it surviving as a competent mobile platform.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Carrier IQ Analyzed; Unclear Whether Consumers Should Worry

Privacy advocates all over the United States have been upset over some reports that have surfaced over the past couple weeks. Various stories were published that reported that the U.S wireless carriers install hidden spyware known as Carrier IQ that tracks users. The question up to this point is what is Carrier IQ tracking. Unfortunately, the answer is not clear. According to all accounts, Carrier IQ does track non identifiable information, anonymous usage data of users’ smartphones that helps the telecoms improve network performance. But that is not the only thing Carrier IQ appears to be tracking. The spyware is also capable of sending text message and user input to the carriers as well. And while Sprint and AT&T have both come out of their shells to say that they are not gathering user inputted data, but only gathering anonymous usage data to improve network performance. But as you are aware, big corporations are very capable of lying, even unintentionally, so while it is possible that what they say is true, it is even more possible that the PR spokesmen/women could be mistaken. And to be technically correct, Carrier IQ can be labeled as spyware, since it is installed secretly and not made known to the user, nor given permission by the user to be installed. Those who play the role of devil’s advocate have said that the intentions of the wireless carriers are not malicious, but my point to be made is that nobody is sure of the intentions of AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile, all of which are suspects of installing the spyware on their smartphones. Verizon made clear that they did not put Carrier IQ on their devices, but some skeptics suspected that Verizon had their own mechanism of tracking users.

[Thanks to for the great visual!]
The company that has designed the Carrier IQ software for the wireless carriers is now facing legal issues, as they are being sued for breaking certain wiretap laws with Carrier IQ. These suits are just the beginning of more trouble, not just for the manufacturer of Carrier IQ, but also for the wireless carriers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see if the FCC started probing the telecoms for information regarding their use of the software. The whole story of Carrier IQ may not be complete, since I’m expecting a spokesman of T-Mobile to publish an official comment on the behalf of T-Mobile. So while the story hasn’t completely developed yet, this is what we have discovered so far. Expect much more to be made known in the near future.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Protect IP Aims to Censor the Internet; Protect Big Corporations

  In October, Congress proposed a new law known as Protect Intellectual Property (Protect IP) Act.
The proposed bill, also known as SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) in the House, suggests that
"copyright infringement" is a felony, and thus anyone who "infringes" on copyright shall be accused of a felony. The possible charges for copyright offenders is up to 5 years of prison.

  The ethical problems with this proposed bill may not be immediately obvious. What supporters of the bill won't tell you is that even a normal user online could be accused of copyright infringement and could face felony charges. The part that I get very upset about is that Protect IP even labels non-commercial use of content as copyright infringement.

  But normal users and internet citizens aren't the only ones who can be punished through this act. Websites that are "suspicious" of hosting files that violate copyright can be censored, which is the nice way of saying that they can be blocked at anytime.

  There are more than political problems with this bill. If Protect IP went into effect, this would prevent technically sophisticated internet users from using their own DNS system with reliability. It is not the fact that DNS wouldn't work, it just wouldn't be reliable or secure since the government would hold the right to peer in on any connection, even ones routed through private DNS systems.

  While the Business Software Alliance, an organization made up of Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, and other major corporations have supported the law, some well known organizations have opposed the law as well. Such organizations include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Mozilla (makers of the popular browser, Firefox), Creative Commons, and Wikimedia (the corporate parent of Wikipedia).

 Individual citizens can also make a difference by calling your Congressperson and let them know that they think Protect IP is a bad idea. And I encourage you to do so. Also, any website or blog owner can put a banner on their website that reads "site censored" which basically displays the possible risk that the government could censor any website. You may notice that I have put that black banner on my blog as well. If you would like more information on why Protect IP is a dangerous threat to American freedom, you can visit American Censorship Day's website. 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Adobe Announces the Discontinuation of Flash for Mobile Devices

Steve Jobs must have been dancing in his grave this week, when the news broke officially from Adobe that they will be discontinuing Adobe Flash for mobile platforms. While Blackberry and Android users will still be able to receive security updates for the flash player, any users who did not already download Flash for Android or Blackberry, will no longer be able to do so.

If you weren’t paying attention, Steve Jobs famously started an anti-Flash rant with the launch of their iPhone in 2007, stating that Flash will not be permitted to run on any iPhone, and later, the iPad. He went on to bash Adobe, saying that Flash is a performance sucking power hog that depletes the battery life of devices, all too quickly. To this day, those accusations are very technically accurate. Adobe’s Flash Player, even on the most powerful computer, will not run well. It drains performance out of any device and consumes way too much power. Not to exclude the fact that Adobe Flash is also very out-of-date in terms of security. Hackers have found various ways to infect people’s machines through the Flash media player.

Adobe’s Flash for mobile will not be missed by anyone. Much to consumers’ dismay, Flash media player is considered a necessary evil. Since Flash media player is widely used as a plug-in for video on many websites, such as YouTube, although they are transitioning to an HTML5 based web video player, but is still in beta. Adobe’s Flash player is also known to be the plug-in of choice for many web based applications, such as online games.

Despite the fact that majority of the world’s interactive content has been using Flash up to this point, there are websites and content producers that are switching to HTML5, which is the new open standard for the internet, that won’t require consumers of such content to download any bloated plug-ins at all. The most notable push to HTML5 has been from Apple, and Steve Jobs, with the major push to open web standards that are not bloated as Flash is known to be. The transition to HTML5 is occurring, and while it is not exactly happening in a heart beat, it can be said that the transition is moving along just fine.

While it is to the perception of consumers that Adobe is not happy about discontinuing Flash, that is not the case, or at least Adobe does not want consumers to think that way. Adobe released a statement that goes like this. “HTML5 is now universally supported on major mobile devices, in some cases exclusively. This makes HTML5 the best solution for creating and deploying content in the browser across mobile platforms.” Danny Winokur, Adobe’s vice president of interactive development. Mr. Winokur also tried to convey the public into thinking that Adobe didn’t lose to Apple, but rather “was listening to its customers.” Whether or not this is the case is up for debate, but the point is that HTML5 is the future of web content and Adobe has finally come out of its shell to admit just that.

Keep in mind that only the mobile versions of Flash player have been discontinued. Existing users of Flash for Android or Blackberry can use it and will continue to receive security updates and patches. The desktop versions of Flash for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux will still be supported and continually developed, but I have to think at some point that Adobe will completely give up on Flash and will show its support for HTML5.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hewlett-Packard Decides Not to Sell Off Their PC Business After All

Meg Whitman, new chief executive at Hewlett-Packard (HP), has confirmed on Thursday that the company has cancelled their plans to sell off their personal systems unit, formally known as the division responsible for HP’s personal computer business. You may remember that back in August, HP, which was then under the reign of Leo Apotheker, announced that they will stop manufacturing webOS based devices such as the Palm Pre. At the same time, they also declared plans to sell off their PC business. Leo Apotheker failed to mention any company who was interested in buying their PC business. Up to this point, no company announced their interest in acquiring the personal systems division of HP. If any company was interested, they haven’t made any formal announcement, but unfortunately, it would be too late to do so.
Now before I go into why HP would not want to sell their PC business after all, let me give you a review of what has occurred over the past year. Mark Hurd, resigned from Hewlett-Packard due to certain allegations against him (harassment?). Leo Apotheker was then named the new chief executive officer. Under his, what some might call poor, leadership, he announced their intentions to sell the personal systems group to another company, or spin it off into a separate company. In September of this year, the HP board of directors decide to fire Leo Apotheker in favor of Meg Whitman, as the new chief, due to harsh criticism by HP investors and the media.

Meanwhile, HP has not changed their decision to stop manufacturing webOS based devices such as the Palm Pre and the Touchpad.

But what immediately comes to mind, for most people is, “Why did HP pull back on their plans?” The answer is not glaringly obvious, but makes sense when you think about it. Any company the size of HP would have great difficulty spinning off the personal systems division as a separate company. It would be very costly for them to do so and would not be time efficient in the least. While HP does have other strengths in other areas, such as making printers, personal computers are still a large revenue stream. Eliminating personal computers from their product line up would almost completely pull them out from the consumer market, leaving them with business customers, which would severely hurt their client base. Some have argued that personal computers are very expensive to manufacture and bring in little total revenue after overhead. That is a common misconception, but Hewlett-Packard does in fact get a good source of income from personal computers because of the extra product support and software services they sell and bundle with their products. HP simply can’t do that with business products such as printers.

The final solution for HP’s problems is really unclear now. It may not be clear for a while what HP’s strategy is. But I can tell you that it might’ve been, from a purely financial standpoint, a smart move for them not to spin off or sell their PC business. Long term, I’m not sure what HP can do to succeed. All we can do is hope that Whitman can’t do any worse than what Leo Apotheker has done to the company.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Android 4.0 Announced, but Don't Get Too Excited!

Last Tuesday, Google and Samsung executives got up on stage in Hong Kong to announce Android 4.0, known as Ice Cream Sandwich and to announce the first Ice Cream Sandwich phone, formally called the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. The hardware of the Galaxy Nexus integrates very well with some new features of Ice Cream Sandwich, including NFC. Near Field Communication is a protocol that is now integrated into Android 4.0 that allows users to transfer data between devices by “beaming” the two devices, or bumping them together to transfer data. Almost any type of data can be transferred including contact information, maps, applications, website addresses, and more. Although this seems like a revolution in sharing information, you must consider the prerequisites for this to work. For one, both devices must have an NFC chip inside, and both devices have to be running Ice Cream Sandwich. While this is a cool idea and works well in theory, I have to really think hard about a solid use case for this feature.

Google also announced that with Ice Cream Sandwich, the “home” and “back” physical buttons that you commonly see with Android devices today, will become virtual, and on screen, in any application. Also, the “menu” and “search” buttons will cease to exist at all. Web and phone search will now work through the search bar at the top of the screen, by tapping on the microphone icon to dictate your searches, or typing it out through the keyboard. And anyone who likes the menu button will be disappointed, since there is no virtual menu button, but instead, Google is relying on developers to build similar functionality right into their applications. These rules may or may not apply to all devices, but are applied to the Galaxy Nexus, the first Android 4.0 phone. This way of interacting with devices has been before with Android 3.0 tablets, but has never been seen on an Android phone up until now. The buttons will work just as they do in Honeycomb. If you decide to rotate the device, the buttons will rotate as well. As expected, Google will be dealing with a lot of scrutiny for changing the way people will, going forward, interact with their phones. I, like most people, don’t favor these changes very well because I did like the physical buttons that most Android phones today ship with.

The core Google applications that ship with most Android devices today, such as Gmail and Google Calendar, have been updated as well to work with Ice Cream Sandwich, and at the same time, have been improved overall, and have added some major new features, such as offline Gmail, which will allow you to see all emails in the past 30 days, offline, or without using carrier data. This will address some of the issues and concerns that customers have had including the fact that the GMail and Calendar apps were lacking in various ways. Unfortunately, most of the features unveiled in the core Google applications, are suspiciously similar to what Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform has had for a while, and you can tell from the start, just by observing the interface, that Google has been influenced by the success of the Windows Phone “Metro” style UI. Now it is fair to say that Google didn’t completely clone Windows Phone’s “People” application, and to be fair, Windows Phone’s implementation of the same features is much better, not only in the contacts application.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone contacts application left, and Ice Cream Sandwich’s contacts app on right, demonstrates [suspiciously] close similarities between the two contact apps.

The largest concern I have with Ice Cream Sandwich is that older devices, such as the one year old, original HTC Evo, will not receive the upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich. Inevitably, but unfortunately, the manufacturers and wireless carriers are not likely to support their customers with older phones, as the manufacturers push them to buy new devices. That fact clearly foreshadows the inevitable, which is that the Android platform will only become more fragmented.

Largely, Ice Cream Sandwich is a very big upgrade and a much needed one, and overall, the interface changes are for the better, but things like making the home and back buttons virtual, will just leave customers who have come to know and love physical buttons, upset. I clearly didn’t mention all the features of this major release, but you can get a much clearer sense of what features Android 4.0 brings at the Android website ( Moreover, Google is lacking innovative ideas, and decided that cloning Windows Phone features was the way to go. I will leave it up to you to determine whether that’s acceptable or, not.

Ice Cream Sandwich will start shipping with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which is set to ship sometime in November, since Samsung hasn’t confirmed any more specific details about pricing and availability. However, it has been confirmed that Verizon Wireless will receive the Galaxy Nexus. It is up to manufacturers to upgrade their existing smartphone and tablet devices, but hopefully, even the older devices will eventually receive the upgrade. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Is the iPhone 4S a worthwhile upgrade?

Friday, October 14th, Apple launched the iPhone 4S, the next generation iPhone. The media was initially disappointed and started posting articles claiming that the iPhone 4S was a "disappointing upgrade" to the now out of date iPhone 4. But there are some notable new features in the new iPhone, that would make it a worthwhile upgrade, that is, if you are no longer enslaved in a contract with AT&T, Verizon or Sprint.

Unfortunately, up until now, the choices for an iPhone have been AT&T (exclusively for the first three generations) or Verizon with the iPhone 4. Thankfully, Apple has partnered with Sprint to allow Sprint to offer the iPhone 4S on their network. This does not mean much for many existing iPhone users, since they probably prefer Verizon or AT&T to Sprint since coverage on Sprint isn't exactly on par with AT&T or Verizon. However, for those who are not locked in an existing contract and subscribe to Sprint, the iPhone 4S is a noteworthy option.

While Sprint becoming the third wireless carrier option to the iPhone 4S is great, there are other important features to point out. The camera in the 4S has been upgraded specifications wise. Most people tend to compare cameras in terms of megapixels, or the amount of pixels a camera can capture. But that does not necessarily equate to higher picture quality. So Apple has decided to add five extra lenses to the iPhone, which allows for "precision elements to shape incoming light" and as a result, they claim that the image will come out much sharper.

The internal specifications of the iPhone 4S seems to be a noticeable feature that mainstream media picked up on.  The processor specifications have been bumped to two cores instead of one, which will make anyone's experience with the 4S much snappier than any of the previous generation iPhones. Applications can take advantage of the new two core processor to result in an overall faster experience.

The iPhone 4S will ship with the new iOS 5 operating system. iOS 5 introduces over 200 new features, but a few mainstream features that are absolutely worth pointing out. For one, iOS 5 includes a new "Notificiation Center" similar to Android's notification bar at the top of the screen. In iOS 5, any application or system notification will appear in a bar at the top that can be slid down to view more details about a given notification. This is a very efficient manner and elegant manner of storing notifications in a non obtrusive way. The new notification center in iOS 5 has been compared much to Android's notification system, which has had this mechanism for notifications much before iOS. At any rate, it's a welcome and much needed feature. iOS 5 also has many less significant new features.

Although most of the features so far don't seem mind blowing, the next one is. Apple has introduced a new digital assistant powered by your voice called Siri. Siri allows you to take control of your phone and perform  certain actions through your voice. For instance, you could send a text message with your voice, request for weather information for a given city, set a timer, or schedule a meeting, only using your voice. You could probably better understand the uses for Siri with a video Apple has provided on their website. Now it is to be understood that Siri is a first generation service, and that it may not work perfectly right away, but it will improve over each generation.

So the iPhone 4S may not be the major leap forward as the iPhone 4 was, but the 4S certainly does deserve credit for being innovative for the most part (notification center being an exception), instead of just copying competitors' features. The question that remains in consumers' minds is "is it worth it the upgrade?" If you are still bound within a wireless carrier's contract, then I would definitely say wait until the next iPhone comes out, since the now rumored "iPhone 5" is expected to be a much more substantial release. If you are in no rush to get a new device then I would wait. The iPhone 5 is expected to release next June with a bigger set of new features, so you should put that into consideration before rushing out to buy the 4S.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What LTE Means for Consumers

You may have seen or heard of LTE by now, but not quite sure what the term means. But look no further, because you’ve found the right place to find the answer to, “What is LTE?”. LTE is also known as “4G”, which is a faster medium for mobile connectivity through your smartphone. LTE is an acronym for Long Term Evolution network. LTE is the successor to what many smartphone owners know as “3G”. LTE is the technology that Verizon Wireless has adopted as its 4G network. Now while 4G has been officially defined according to the FCC’s specifications, the regulations to market 4G have been enforced very little, and as a result, wireless carriers such as AT&T use the term 4G as a marketing term for their HSPA+ network, which is faster than 3G, but cannot match the speeds that an LTE network could offer. LTE by definition, and theoretical maximum speeds, is within the FCC’s guidelines for 4G. Verizon has taken the time and effort to expand their LTE network to more than 50 cities in the past year, putting 4G on the map for many consumers. Meanwhile, AT&T tries to market their HSPA+ network as 4G, but is not meeting the FCC’s guidelines, and T-Mobile is doing the same marketing sin. Sprint is currently using a different technology, known as Wi-Max, to market as 4G, which is much closer to the FCC’s guidelines than AT&T or T-Mobile. However, Sprint has recently announced plans to completely switch to an LTE based 4G network by 2013. This means that Sprint users would be able to take advantage of really an amazing technology, which will provide them higher data speeds, than Wi-Max, or AT&T’s HSPA+. AT&T is already building out an LTE network as well, but is doing so much more slowly than Verizon, which seems to be launching LTE much more rapidly than AT&T, which has experimental LTE in only a few cities. The benefits of an LTE network may not exactly be clear to you at this point. LTE is a major upgrade over an existing 3G network that all carriers provide. 3G is very limited in bandwidth, compared to LTE, which will make any consumer’s experience much smoother and much faster. The most bandwidth intensive activities, such as streaming a movie off of Netflix on your phone and tablet, will become a notably smoother experience for consumers. The LTE network that Verizon is implementing and Sprint will soon be, will address some of the issues of a traditional 3G data network, such as spotty coverage, and low data speeds. So now that I’ve demonstrated some of the advantages of LTE over 3G or HSPA+, the question must be wondering in your mind. “Why isn’t LTE everywhere?” Unfortunately, the wireless carriers don’t find enough reason to launch their LTE networks at a faster pace. Although Verizon could be the one exception to this statement, since they have been doing a decent job of introducing LTE into new markets. Sprint can’t rush out of their contract with Wi-Max, and really they don’t see a need to, and AT&T is, for whatever reason, not motivated to rapidly launch LTE. I hope AT&T and Sprint are taking notes from Verizon’s 4G launch. There is one other problem with what the carriers are doing, with Sprint being an exception. AT&T and Verizon have introduced data caps on both their 3G and 4G networks. That translates into overage charges for consumers who pass the 2 gigabyte or 5 gigabyte data cap, depending on the carrier. Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan on 3G and 4G, but their CFO was quoted saying that Sprint will continue to offer unlimited data for as long as it’s financially feasible. My concern is that LTE will provide customers with high amounts of bandwidth, but they will not be able to take advantage of those high speeds because of the implemented data caps on Verizon and AT&T. But despite all the potential and current problems with the carriers' policies and LTE implementations, the switch to LTE will ultimately allow consumers to be connected anywhere, hassle free. And since every wireless carrier is actively bringing forward LTE to market, we can expect LTE to arrive in most major U.S cities by the end of 2012.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Google Plus Brings a New Challenger to Facebook

UPDATE: I'm now on Google Plus. I believe it is still an invite only service. However, if you manage to get in, you can add me. (Steven Styffe)

Just last week, Google announced a new social networking platform called Google Plus. Google Plus is designed to allow people to connect with friends in a way very familiar to Facebook. In fact, the media and press have even described it as a direct competitor to Facebook. There are a few key features to this new social network that I will explain further.

The first core feature of Plus is social “circles”, which allows you to make groups of friends in certain categories. For example, you could have one circle of friends be all of your co-workers, and another circle be designated for friends you have close relationships with. You can interact with certain circles of friends or with all of your friends. These social groups will allow you to organize and publish only certain content to certain circles of friends. You can control what groups have access to certain information on your profile as well. This is similar to what Facebook has attempted to do with its “lists” feature, but it wasn’t quite as successful and wasn’t quite as elaborate as Google’s social circles.

Another central feature of Google Plus is “Hangouts.” With Hangouts, the idea is that you can have a group video chat from your computer or mobile device with a certain circle of friends, or with any combination of friends. Google is trying to advertise this as a way for anyone to meet with their friends unexpectedly at any time, without barriers. This could be a great way to meet with old friends or regular colleagues without hassle. Ironically enough, Facebook is rumored to have reached a deal with Skype to do something familiar to Hangouts.

If you’ve ever used Facebook to like a certain topic or page on Facebook, then you already have the concept of Sparks, another feature in Google Plus. Sparks allows you to add topics of interest to your Google Plus profile, so when you have a moment, you can view content that is related to those interests you have added. Such content could be a video, a song, or even something as simple as a news article. It is pre-determined content based on your interests, in other words, it’s not content you choose, but rather content determined to be related to your interest.

There have been many failed attempts at making group messaging simple, but Google Plus is allegedly supposed to change that with “Huddles.” Huddles are a group messaging system that you can use to form group conversations. Currently though, it only works from a mobile device. However, Google Plus is still in its early phase and that problem, along with others, will probably be fixed over time. Huddles will allow you to let people join in on your conversation and make it a group conversation where you can all collaborate.

As you can expect with Google Plus, Google has dedicated smartphone applications available for Android. The iOS app for iPhone and iPad has been submitted to the Apple App Store for approval and we have yet to hear about a decision from Apple. (At least at the time of this writing.) Google will make great strides to support smartphones through dedicated apps as well as a mobile-device formatted website.

Based on what I have seen so far, Google Plus looks like it is aiming directly at Facebook and possibly even Twitter. Of course, Plus is still in its early phase, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Currently, Google is not handing out invitations to the service due to high demand, but hopefully, they will open it back up on an invitation basis and eventually, it will become public. If you’re still curious and would like a little more visual representation of what Google Plus is about, you can visit their website.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Windows 8 is a Major Leap Forward, and Here's Why

Credit to Paul Thurrott of the SuperSite for Windows for the images.

Last Wednesday, Microsoft began to unveil Windows 8, the next version of the Windows desktop operating system. However, this version of Windows has promise that the previous versions did not. Steven Sinofsky, the man “responsible for Windows”, according to Paul Thurrott, introduced a very interesting interface for Windows 8 that appears to be all too similar to the Windows Phone 7 “Metro” UI. In Windows 8, they have engineered a special interface designed for multitouch tablets that packs the functionality of traditional Windows and a brand new experience for tablet owners.

As a part of Windows 8, this new interface for tablet devices is a big deal. The new user interface packs true multitouch designed from the ground up for tablets. The first thing you will notice about the interface is that it looks very similar to Windows Phone 7’s “Metro” user interface. The idea of bringing live and interactive content to small or large tiles was originally brought forth in Microsoft Windows Phone 7 platform, and is now coming to the desktop in a similar fashion with Windows 8. With Windows 8, you can have applications that bring interactive content, straight to your tablet. A great example would be social networks like Facebook. You could have a tile on your screen that has live Facebook content that is refreshes at certain intervals. Or you could choose to setup a photo slideshow tile, which displays photos of your family and friends, retrieved from various sources like Facebook and Google, as well as photos stored locally.

It is important to note that the new Windows 8 experience for tablets isn’t the only option. You could still choose to run the traditional Windows desktop experience. I believe that the traditional Windows desktop is the default interface, but you could turn on the new Windows 8 UI. You might ask why someone would turn off a gorgeous new interface. Well, it’s quite simple. The majority of Windows PCs running right now are not tablets with touch screens. Since the new interface is really more designed for touch screen tablets I would like to see Microsoft integrate some of the innovative new interface features of Windows 8, into the traditional desktop experience so that even if you were using the old desktop shell, you could still receive some of the benefits of the new UI. There is no word currently on whether Microsoft will do that or to what degree they will do that.

There were some concerns addressed at this unveiling. Microsoft did address the issue of compatibility with applications and the integration of Windows 8 in businesses. The user will still have the ability to run conventional Windows applications, and you can still run the new tablet interface at the same time. So you won’t be stuck with only the new applications that will be designed for the new tablet shell. The major software giant also made note that they are designing Windows 8 so it will not be difficult for businesses to adapt it. Microsoft plans to offer businesses who subscribe to Windows in their business, the ability to switch their Windows 7 licenses to Windows 8 free.

It wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but the more I think about Windows 8 and the future of Windows on desktops and tablets, I believe this closely resembles Bill Gates’ dream of the perfect tablet PC. Windows 8 seems to have mastered the perfect touch interface for tablets, but still maintains backwards compatibility with traditional Windows applications and systems.

This unveiling of Windows 8 seems to be pretty close to what the final product will look like. And even Microsoft is confident that there shouldn’t be any more major revisions to Windows 8. There seems to be a consensus that Windows 8 will launch in mid-2012. And to backup that up, Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying that Windows 8 should ship in 2012. All we can do is hope! But from what we’ve seen so far, Windows 8 will be a dramatic step forward for Microsoft and for the Windows brand.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Privacy: More insights and ramblings

The Internet has brought forth some amazing innovations in the time of its public existence, but the debate over privacy could be the one thing that ultimately delays, or even puts a stop to innovation online. Privacy is a double-edged sword. It can bring sensitivity and alertness to consumers, but it can also “kill off” Internet produced goods such as online media. However, we can solve this severe problem by setting up a definition of what is online privacy.

The current problem with privacy online is that web services right now do not give privacy enough focus, and some services discount privacy altogether. Supposing that some companies and service providers on the Internet do consider privacy to be important, they probably still don’t protect a consumer’s right to privacy as well as they should.

Consumers on the other hand, expect complete privacy, which is ridiculous considering that that model is entirely opposite of what the web was designed for. The Internet was designed for collaboration, not isolationism. If a consumer really desired privacy, then they should not connect at all because the web was not designed for security and privacy. Albeit, there should be a certain expectation of privacy online.

There’s another reason why we can’t expect one hundred percent privacy online. Hint, it has to do with media consumption. General web users need to have the fundamental understanding that when they’re consuming online media, chances are they are being tracked by advertisements. This allows advertisers to know their audience and allows an online media organization to continue to receive revenue for these advertisements. It is ethical for Internet media companies to track you through advertisements online since it provides you with affordable or even free online content. If it wasn’t for those advertisements, chances are that the price of content would be dramatically higher. Now, when I say it is ethical for ads to track consumers, there are a big set of exceptions and rules to this.

One of those rules to ads that track consumers is that it must be clearly stated by the content producer or organization that the advertisement is tracking you. There must be full and proper disclosure that advertisements may be tracking you or logging personal data from your visits. If the organization has properly disclosed that advertisements are tracking you, then it’s not a problem.. Media sites must also comply with the rule that advertisements can only track and log certain types of data. [S1] For instance, ads on a given site could reasonably track your time and date of visit, or the amount of time you’ve spent on that site. Advertisements could also track your dynamic IP address, which is not a fixed address for your computer, but rather, is one that changes often and only provides a relative location of where you were when you visited the site. This location data is not very precise and is simply relative. This data could be logged within reason. Now what can’t be logged is another thing. Data such as an email address, if you’re logged into the site that stores your email address, cannot be logged. Phone numbers, a person’s full name, a person’s social network picture, and so forth, should also not be stored. To put it briefly, logging of data for ads is acceptable, it it’s not logging anything too personal.

Corporations and web services also have the responsibility of providing users with the option to opt-in rather than having to opt-out. In other words, users should have to explicitly accept, or opt-in to tracking services, instead of users being forced in there, and then have to intentionally opt-out, which is a corrupt privacy model. The user should understand the consequences of opting-in, which should be clearly communicated by the service providers, and then the user could make an educated decision on whether to opt-in, or deny the service altogether.

If web content providers put into practice the “opt-in model” and the “proper data collection” model, then privacy won’t become another problem for a company, but instead, just another part of their online strategy.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Why Sony and I aren't friends.

In mid-April, Sony’s PlayStation Network, which allows PlayStation console owners to play games with other PlayStation owners through the internet, was hacked. It was not immediately apparent to Sony, who owns the PlayStation family of products, that the PSN, or PlayStation Network, was hacked. The breach was detected after Sony was detecting some strange amounts of traffic coming in from a device other than a PlayStation. Sony hired an outside security firm to analyze their network for any possible intrusion. The results came in as positive. The PSN was hacked by a small group of hackers.

The PlayStation Network breach is known to be one of the worst Internet service interruptions ever, as witnessed by its customers, whom were not able to access the network for the past three weeks. Undoubtedly, this has upset PlayStation owners quite a bit. And to make matters worse, PlayStation Network users have had their data compromised. This data includes user names, email addresses, and all gaming achievements, or virtual goods unlocked on the PSN. Sony also notes the “possibility” that billing information could have also been compromised as well.

To combat this problem, Sony has emailed their PlayStation Network users to change their passwords once the service is officially restored. Unfortunately, the service has not been restored and Sony is still investigating the issue. Sony’s CEO, Howard Stringer has commented on the security breach, however, I don’t think his comment is relevant so I decided to leave it out.

I’m appalled by the poor communication of Sony and how Sony has not provided an adequate response to the security nightmare. The lack of good communication really goes to show you cannot put your complete trust into a corporation’s network. Although Sony’s communication on the matter was poor, I do not believe PSN users will leave in a mass exodus.

Sony used strange words, in their email to customers, to cover up and to make an inaccurate generalization of the problem. It was more than evident that Sony’s ability to handle PR issues is quite poor. However, if Sony would’ve had a better equipped PR team, then maybe users might’ve been less outraged.

The true reason I’m writing on this issue is because of the security aspect. Of course, I can’t speak regarding Sony’s security practices, since I have no affiliation with them, but I can say this. Sony has no intention of making security a number one priority on a free service, such as the PlayStation Network. Their number one priority is to make a good profit off PlayStations, games, and other digital content and services. If Sony would only learn from all the other security breaches that occurred in the past year, then maybe they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.

In summary, the Sony PSN breach is serious. Users’ data was compromised and left every user vulnerable. What I find ironic is that everyone including the media has taken this situation seriously. Well, everyone except Sony that is. Not that I'm bitter. After all, I don’t own a PlayStation.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The status of web development

With the launch of Apple’s iOS App Store, and the launch of the Android Marketplace, the attention has shifted away from web-based applications and content, to apps, or applications. People thought that the idea of having a centralized source for content in the form of an app, was much more convenient. To a certain extent, aggregating content such as games or video or news, through an app is convenient, but it moves us back into the “suburbs”. The application model is “a gated community”. Applications lock you into this ecosystem and move you away from the web, whether intentionally or not. If we had a centralized source for web-based applications, that was actually practical, then everyone would be using that instead. Therefore, I thought today I would describe the status of web development as it is right now, and then talk about how we, as consumers, could make improvements.

In its current state, web development is difficult due to the sheer fact that there are many display sizes and many hardware and software vendors, all with different requirements and specifications. One might think that web development would be easy since there are no strict rules or guidelines. Even though web development being an open specification that should interoperate between all the different types of devices, is still difficult for a variety of other reasons.

Another challenge in web development that exists is that there is confusion among consumers about the difference between web applications, or content on a website, and an application that you run on your device. Local applications, also known as the ones that are stored on the device or computer, are often much easier for consumers, because these applications are accessible at the touch of a button, without having to know any URL. However, even though apps might appear to be more convenient, there is a down side. When someone is using an application, they’re receiving content that is pre-packaged and is not modifiable. The user has no control over the experience or the content. People right now do not give enough attention to Internet-focused apps. People tend to have a bias for the convenient style of doing things. As well as convenience, consumers are not willing to pay as much for web applications, as they are for local applications, since they are often more affordable compared to web applications. The stereotype that application marketplaces, such as Apple’s iOS App Store, which serves iOS users with local apps, have set upon consumers is that local applications are the better way to go. It is obvious that Apple with their iOS App Store and Android with their Marketplace, want to encourage people to invest in local applications, rather than web applications because it gives Apple and Google a great source of income. However, if consumers can overcome the big corporations that are encouraging these types of “gated communities”, then we can make a confident transition into Internet content. We need to eliminate the stereotype that web apps are not worth as much, in terms of currency, as local apps. Change is most certainly necessary here. However, that change can only occur if we change people’s opinions about web applications.

Some “die hard”, or devoted developers, are weary of using the web to host their content because they are afraid that they are going to run into serious obstacles or that the web cannot provide the functionality they are looking for. I have some fantastic news for those developers, there’s no need for this concern! In fact, HTML5 alongside JavaScript and CSS3 is very powerful. In many ways, it would be easier for developers to develop in these languages because those languages are widely accepted now in most modern browsers for desktops and mobile devices alike. The overall development process would be a lot simpler, and a lot cheaper than a developer dedicating him or herself to a specific platform.

I have only described some of the obstructions in the way right now for web developers. There are much more and I could go on forever describing them, but those are just the main problems that we need to focus on as consumers, and web developers need to tackle as well. Despite these roadblocks, I am optimistic in that these challenges can be beat. The experience using web-based content will be greatly improved and may eventually be much more desirable compared to applications. Sure, it will take some time for all the changes necessary to take place, but in the end, it’ll be worth it. Consumers will just have to be patient in the meantime.