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MWC: Where Cutting Through the Wireless Noise is Hard for Even the Most Advanced Devices

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No doubt, LTE is among the hottest topics at the Mobile World Congress this year. For the Congress, Spanish wireless carrier Telefonica expanded its network to 64 cell sectors across the conference center and at strategic points around the city. Our friends at Alcate Lucent just gave a chance to test out a Quanta MiFi hotspot on this network. Sadly, though, the fact that there are probably more wireless devices per square foot here than anywhere else in the world right now makes for an interesting experience that ranges somewhere from amazing to absolutely frustrating.

While there are a number of dedicated small LTE base stations around the conference center, the sheer number of other devices, including at least one phone and laptop for every attendee, combined with the presence of numerous untested wireless devices on the conference grounds (many of which currently operate under a special license), makes for some interesting results.

At best, we got a nice 16 megabits of download speed and around 5 megabits for our uploads. That rivals what many of us get from our broadband connections and in combination with some of the iPad and iPhone apps that Telefonica and its partner Alcatel Lucent are showcasing here in Barcelona (including augmented reality apps and video conferencing), it is obvious that this shows the way of where mobile networking is going.

In this noisy environment, though, we often got very low results as well, though, which at times barely got to 0.2 megabits. The Mobile World Congress, though, is a special place. Even though it's the world's largest conference focused on mobile technology, it's actually surprisingly hard to get a decent WiFi connection over the conference network. Even the dedicated network for the press room here is often barely working…



4:37 am


European Parliament Wants to Cut Mobile Roaming Fees

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With networks that typically span the whole country and plans that generally shield U.S. mobile phone users from paying extra roaming fees these days, being outside of your provider's reach isn't much of a problem on this side of the Atlantic (though there may be some changes afoot here, too). In Europe, though, where users travel between different countries on a regular basis, roaming fees can add up quickly. Now, the European Commission wants to cut the fees that telecom operators can charge. According to Reuters, the EU Parliament wants to reduce the rates telecom companies can charge to an even lower point than EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes proposed last year.

"The charge for a one-minute outgoing call when abroad", says Reuters, "would be 15 cents compared with Kroes's plan for a one-third cut to 24 cents. The cost of surfing the Internet would be slashed to 20 cents per megabyte from 50 cents."

Currently, the caps for roaming charges are 35 cents for outgoing calls and 11 cents for incoming calls. The new proposal would also cap the rates for Internet usage to about 20 cents per megabyte.

Unsurprisingly, the telecom industry is currently lobbying for smaller rate cuts while the EU Parliament is working on reconciling Kroes' and the parliament's proposal.

Kroes' proposal also includes a provision for 'decoupling,' which would allow consumers to switch providers when they cross the border. This would make international travel a lot easier (and cheaper) for Europeans and completely circumvent the roaming problem in the first place.



12:13 pm


Scoop.it Launches Mobile App, Lets You Curate On the Go

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"Curation" was, without a doubt, one of the hot topics of 2011 and one that will surely keep us occupied in 2012 as well. Scoop.it is one of the companies in this space that caught my attention quite a while ago and that has – without much hype – quietly build a great service for those who want to collect and publish all the interesting things they find online. With a focus on simplicity and efficiency, the service has found quite a few dedicated fans since launch and the company is now taking its service mobile with the launch of its iPhone app. Indeed, Scoop.it argues that mobile is the "natural form of mobile publishing."

If you are not familiar with Scoop.it, here is a short video that explains the basic ideas behind the service: 

As you would expect, the mobile app brings all of these feature to the iPhone. You can use both the service's own recommendation engine to find "scoopable" content, or install the mobile bookmarklet in Apple's Safari browser. Installing bookmarklets on iOS is a bit of a hassle, but well worth the effort if you plan to use Scoop.it regularly (and the app provides you with helpful setup instructions as well).

Once you publish your finds, Scoop.it will add them to its magazine-like pages. Unlike other service (including the red-hot Pinterest), the service doesn't focus so much on visual content (though you can obviously add images to your posts), but puts an emphasis on text. 

Professional users can also opt for a paid account ($79/month), which allows you to use your own domain name and provides you detailed analytics and support for multiple administrators/curators.

Scoop it mobile

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10:08 pm


Report: Rampant App Piracy is Hurting Android Developers

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It’s an established fact that mobile developers on virtually all major platforms have to contend with a rampant piracy problem. While most modern mobile platforms like iOS and Android offer convenient virtual stores for buying apps and prices tend to be low, there is still a large contingent of users who would rather get an app from a forum or BitTorrent site than pay $0.99 for it. Most of the discussion around app piracy so far has focused on iOS. A new report by research and analysis firm Yankee Group (in cooperation with Skyhook), however, is among the first to take a closer look at piracy in the Android ecosystem and finds that most developers there also see piracy as a major problem and often think that Google’s Android Market policies are too lax.

Android Piracy

The report is based on a survey and interviews of 75 Android developers conducted by Skyhook. Overall, about a quarter of all respondents (27%) think that app piracy is a major problem for their business on the Android platform. Another quarter (26%) of respondents thinks its “somewhat of a problem.” Still, while the vast majority of developers thinks  about half of all developers think their apps are not being pirated.

app_piracy_yankee_group

Where Do Users Get Pirated Apps?

While it’s hard to know where exactly these users are getting their pirated apps from, the developers think that piracy forums (41%) and  BitTorrent sites (26%) are the main sources. There are also quite a few developers (17%) who have seen users ask for refunds on copied apps. One issue that seems to be more prevalent in the Android Market than in other stores is the fact that it is apparently relatively easy for others to republish existing apps under a different name.

There are, of course, some anti-piracy measures that developers can implement, including Google’s own License Validation Library. Only half of all developers surveyed for this report actually use copy protection for the paid apps, though. Using copy protection, however, introduces a whole new set of issues, as users generally don’t like it and 62% of developers think they have lost sales because of it and 82% have found that it sometimes locks out legitimate buyers from using an app.

Solutions

Given that Android developers already make less from paid apps than iOS developers (Android users simply don’t buy as many apps as their Apple-toting counterparts), it looks as if app piracy on the Android platform is a major reason why some developers shy away from it. While developers could implement subscription models or monetize their apps through ads, this isn’t a solution for everybody and it looks as if the various market places and Google itself will have to get a bit more proactive in discouraging piracy.

The full (paid) report is available here.



4:00 pm


Why I'm Not Buying ChangeWave's AT&T/Verizon iPhone Switcher Numbers

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According to research firm ChangeWave, 15% of AT&T’s mobile subscribers plan to switch carriers in the next 90 days. Even worse for AT&T, 26% of its iPhone users plan to defect to Verizon once it gets the iPhone (41% within the 90 days after the release of the iPhone and 31% within a year). With numbers like this and the general undercurrent of dislike for AT&T in the tech blogosphere, these statistics are obviously catnip for the tech press and most outlets reported them as simple facts.

But I’m having a few issues with these numbers that make me think that this survey is ultimately too flawed to be trusted:

[list type=”red”]

  • This kind of self-reported data about future purchase decisions is notoriously unreliable. Just look at the numbers. Almost 30% of those who said they would switch don’t even think they would switch within the next year. But those who answered the survey (and we don’t know enough about the methodology here to begin with) could have had lots of different reasons for telling ChangeWave why they wanted to switch (social pressure, “sticking it to AT&T” etc.). Notice how ChangeWave’s numbers about dropped calls are also self-reported.
  • The group of people ChangeWave interviews is highly self-selected. This data is not based on random phone interviews but on a survey of “credentialed professionals who spend their everyday lives working on the frontline of technological change. Nearly 3 out of every 5 members (53%) have advanced degrees (e.g., Master’s or Ph.D.) and 91% have at least a four-year bachelor’s degree.” These people opted to be part of the ChangeWave Alliance for the sole reason of being a part of these surveys.
  • The survey was conducted before Verizon had even announced the iPhone for its network. Even today, we don’t know critical information about how much Verizon plans to charge for its data plans, for example. We also haven’t seen any speed comparisons between AT&T’s and Verizon’s networks yet.
  • [/list]
    Will a lot of people switch from AT&T to Verizon? Probably. This survey, however, doesn’t really tell us much and the numbers are questionable at best.

    Let’s come back in a few months and see what the real numbers are. I’m sure if this many people really switch, Verizon will be more than happy to tell us.

    verizon-att-iphone-defectors.jpg



    12:20 pm


    Report: Apple Will Dominate the Tablet Market Through 2012

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    Just about a year ago, there was virtually no market for tablet computers. There were rumors that Apple could launch a tablet, but a lot of pundits still dismissed the idea that consumers would actually want to buy such a device. Apple, of course, launched the iPad to a lot of hype in April 2010 and sold over 3 million within the first three month of sales alone. There is clearly a market for these devices out there, but for now, Apple is really the only player in this business.

    According to Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps, this situation won’t change much in the next two years.

    Forecast: 44 Million Tablet Sales by 2015

    Forrester just revised its US consumer tablet forecast for 2010 up to 10.3 million units. Next year, the company’s analysts believe, tablet sales will more than double to 24.1 million units – though the company also thinks that the “lion’s share will be iPads, and despite many would-be competitors that will be released at CES, we see Apple commanding the vast majority of the tablet market through 2012.” Looking ahead, Forrester forecasts that 82 million U.S. consumers will be using tablets in 2015 – with yearly sales reaching 44 million.

    forrester tablet forecast graph

    Replacement Rates More like MP3 Players than PCs

    Another interesting aspect of this forecast is that Forrester believes that the replacement rate for iPads will be similar to that of MP3 players and iPhones – meaning consumers will upgrade these devices more often than, for example, PCs. Indeed, Forrester expects that a lot of first-generation iPad owners will buy the iPad2 – which will surely be released later this year.



    10:23 am


    One Week With the Google ChromeOS Notebook: An Experiment in Total Cloud Computing

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    cr_48_notebook_small.jpg

    It’s been just about a week since Google’s Cr-48 prototype ChromeOS netbook appeared on my doorstep. Since then, I’ve been putting it through its paces, including during a short trip to a press event in Detroit, and it’s turned out to be a surprisingly useful machine.

    A Few Words About the Hardware

    I’ve read quite a bit about people’s problems with the current hardware, especially the trackpad. I don’t know if I just got lucky, but besides the widely chronicled issues with slow video playback (which I tend to attribute to Flash more than to the hardware itself), the trackpad and everything else on the Cr-48 worked as expected. Indeed, while the 3.8 pound Atom-powered netbook is clearly no a speed demon, it’s perfectly adequate for browsing the Web and the speed feels similar to the browsing experience on the iPad.

    cr48 packaging

    Q: Is Living in the Cloud Really an Option Yet? A: Kinda

    At the end of the day, the Cr-48 is really a radical experiment on Google’s part that tries to answer whether it’s really possible to live in the cloud without wired Internet access and native apps outside of the browser. After all, ChromeOS gives you nothing but a browser and access to WiFi and Verizon’s 3G network (with a meager 100mb of free data transfer on Verizon’s network). You don’t get any native apps and with the exception of a few early ChromeOS apps like the NYTimes app, most of the current apps don’t offer an offline mode yet. For the most part, you don’t even get access to the notebook’s local storage (a fast 16GB SSD drive).

    What was interesting to me, was that the Cr-48 made me realize how much of my current computing needs can be satisfied by ChromeOS. I already read all my email through various Google and Google Apps accounts, for example, and Google Docs is perfectly adequate for taking notes during a meeting.

    At the same time, though, Google Docs is still not able to handle complex documents. For those, I prefer Microsoft’s Office Web apps, but those apps are – of course – not as tightly integrated with Gmail as Google’s own productivity apps.

    Thanks to Seesmic and the new online version of TweetDeck, the Cr-48 satisfies all my Twitter needs, and as a long-time MOG subscriber, all my music needs are fulfilled as well. For blog posts, I can just write in the WordPress and MovableType online editors. And for the most part, that’s all I do with my laptop today anyway, so the Cr-48 turned out to be all I needed during my last business trip earlier this week (thanks, fittingly, to Delta’s Google-sponsored free in-flight wireless, too).

    But Would I Use it as My Only Laptop? Probably Not Yet

    That said, though, would I use the Cr-48 and/or ChromeOS as my one and only notebook anytime soon? Probably not – while it fulfills a good chunk of my day-to-day computing needs, there are those four or five apps I need (like Skitch for screenshots and Skype for VoIP calls) that just don’t run on ChromeOS today. A full switch to Google’s new operating system really isn’t an option yet – though with time, as more ChromeOS apps become available – this could change.

    For now, ChromeOS is an interesting experiment and I fully expect to continue using the Cr-48 as a secondary notebook when I head out to the local coffee shop.



    12:26 pm