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.