Monthly Archives: January 2012

Driving? Texting while walking is bad too.

It is not a surprise that when you walk and text, you see a massive drop in viewing your surroundings, but did you know that when are walking and texting or talking on the phone at the same time, your speed of walking declines by a whopping 16%? Well that is the finding of a study from the Stonybrook University. The study was conducted by Eric Lamberg and Lisa Muratori who studied 33 participants and was reported in the Gait Posture. In a news release, Lamberg noted:

We were surprised to find that talking and texting on a cell phone were so disruptive to one’s gait and memory recall of the target location,” says Eric M. Lamberg, PT, EdD, co-author of the study and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Technology and Management, Stony Brook University.

Although walking seems automatic, areas in the brain controlling executive function and attention are necessary for walking. Dr. Lamberg says that the significant reductions in velocity and difficulty maintaining course indicates cell phone use and texting impacts working memory of these tasks.

Sure it is only 33 participants and needs more study, but still! While I can understand the texting being a massive distraction — that’s why we’re seeing gadgets that disable non-hands-free smartphone activities while driving — I was amazed at the decline in walking speed.

Image courtesy of Flickr user yumanuma

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Yo RIM: Where’s your sense of urgency?

RIM’s new CEO Thorsten Heins held his first conference call Monday morning, reiterating his view that the company is not in need of a major shake-up, but some improvement in processes, marketing and consumer focus.

Heins said he was open to licensing the BlackBerry 10 platform set to appear at the end of this year, but is focused now on strengthening RIM’s integrated smartphone model.

“I don’t think there is some drastic change needed. We are evolving, we are evolving our tactics … this is not a seismic change, this is scaling the company further,” Heins said.

He said the company needs to focus on being more marketing-driven and communicating to customers, especially consumers. Heins also mentioned he is looking to fill the open chief marketing officer position as soon as possible, getting someone who can listen as well as communicate and take RIM’s marketing up a notch.

Heins said RIM also needs to execute better on innovation. There needs to be a more orderly process of achieving innovation, he thinks, and then building a product, so the innovation discoveries can be applied to prototypes, not products in the midst of development. Heins, who was most recently Chief Operating Officer for Product and Sales, said he was not held back previously as COO.

One thing Heins is not interested in doing is separating RIM’s businesses. He said he sees the company’s strength is in its integrated approach to hardware, software and ecosystem, drawing a comparison to Apple. He touted QNX, the basis of both the PlayBook operating system and the BlackBerry 10 smartphone platform, saying it could be applied to other markets beyond tablets and smartphones. He also touted QNX’s ability to handle true multi-tasking and said it will be able to run Android apps, which should address questions about the number of apps available on BlackBerry devices.

Heins also added that he was interested in building up a culture to empower employees to take appropriate decisions, take risks and be accountable for their decisions.

Again, this isn’t much different than the comments put out last night by Heins. But it again shows what RIM’s priorities are. The company doesn’t see a big problem on its hands, just something a little more efficiency, innovation and marketing will solve. I hope that’s Heins being more deferential to former CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie because it seems like the company needs more than that to really compete.

There doesn’t seem to be a real sense of urgency on the part of Heins and that could a problem. RIM is falling behind and it needs to transform itself quickly. If you have any doubt, just look at Nokia over the past few years: It may have had the right strategy but took far too long to execute it.

Heins seems to believe that RIM’s going to be fine because it’s got an integrated approach, just like that “other fruit company.” But there’s a lot of distance between Apple and BlackBerry and I don’t think marketing is the key differentiator here. RIM needs to put out some stellar devices with great software and apps. If you do that, the marketing comes more easily. Right now, RIM doesn’t have much of a story to tell and a new CMO won’t change things. RIM needs to find something that it can do better than others. It can’t just reach parity with iOS and Android and hope it can compete again.

That’s why I’m a worried about Heins. He doesn’t seem prepared to really light a fire under RIM. And with Lazaridis and Balsillie hovering over him, I wonder if he can break free of their legacy quickly enough and forcefully enough to matter. We’ll see. We just have words from RIM here. The real test is what products we see and how quickly they come to market.

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Plug-in gadget halts phone texting, apps while driving

Scosche has a simple plug-and-play solution to help curb smartphone activities while driving. Users insert the $129 CellControl in to their vehicle’s OBD-II interface — a standard port on cars produced after 1996 — which pairs with the CellControl app on a smartphone. When the module detects the vehicle is in motion, all handset activities are disabled, with the exception of hands-free functions.

Texting, phone calls, email and apps are generally shut down while driving with the CellControl and attempts to remove or tamper with the module can be automatically reported to a device admin. That’s handy if the kids try to circumvent the system, for example. Music libraries are still available for use on the car’s receiver and calls taken through a Bluetooth headset or an auto’s integrated wireless system are still allowed with the system.

This is a smart method to help cut down on distracted driving because of cellphones; smarter in my opinion than legislation to accomplish similar results. Laws that dictate no handset use in vehicles can limit the use of valuable smartphone functions such as location services, emergency calls and integrated apps for us in a car. Granted, not everyone can afford the $129 CellControl, but it’s a viable option that uses technology to improve safety.

For now, Scosche’s software is supported on Android and BlackBerry handsets as well as older Windows Mobile and Symbian S60 devices. I don’t expect to see the CallControl gain iOS support as apps that control and iPhone’s core functionality generally aren’t approved by Apple. Perhaps Cupertino would make an exception or consider a licensing agreement with Scosche, given how distracting it can be to use a phone while driving.

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MobileTechRoundup podcast episode 258

MoTR 258 is 64 minutes long and is a 54 MB file in MP3 format.

CLICK HERE to download the file and listen directly.

HOSTS: Matthew Miller (Seattle) and Kevin C. Tofel (Philadelphia)

TOPICS:
CES thoughts including:

  • Huawei’s smartphone and tablet
  • Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.7 LTE (Kevin is thinking of retiring the ol’ GTab)
  • Asus Transformer Prime
  • Intel (yes, Intel!) in an Android tablet and in a Lenovo smartphone
  • Galaxy Note
  • Nokia Lumia 900
  • HzO technology
  • Ultrabooks!
  • Matt’s HTC Radar experience

SUBSCRIBE: Use this RSS feed with your favorite podcatcher or click this link to add us to iTunes

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Android this week: Acer A200 tablet; a must-have app; Ice Cream Sandwich rolls out

Android was everywhere at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show, but the downside to the event is that many products don’t hit retail shelves for months. Acer took a decidedly different approach by launching the A200 tablet at CES and getting it in stores soon after. A 16 GB version of the A200 is now available at Best Buy for $349, or $100 less than last year’s A500 slate. But outside of the price drop, there isn’t much that’s different in this 10.1-inch tablet refresh.

Just like the old A500, Acer chose a 1 GHz dual core processor and the Honeycomb version of Android for the new A200. The device is lighter and keeps the many ports from the prior model: Full-sized USB, microSD card slot and micro USB jack to name a few. Gone is the rear camera on the A200, but it does keep a 2 megapixel front-facing sensor for video chatting or images. At this price, the A200 is surely worth a look and will be even more attractive once Acer pushes out the expected software update to Android 4.0; possibly as early as next month.

Motorola Xoom Wi-Fi tablet owners don’t have to wait for a taste of Ice Cream Sandwich, however. The company began to roll out Android 4.0.3 to the Xoom this week and will continue to push the software out in waves. The updated software could help give new life for the first Android tablet, which arrived nearly a year ago to generally mediocre reviews.

How much will Android 4.0 improve the experience on a Xoom tablet? That will vary by each individual’s needs, but overall the device is better with the updated software according to Jason Perlow of ZDNet. He used a enthusiast-created version for two weeks and then got the official upgrade a few days earlier than consumers. There are still some rough edges in the operating system, he says, but most will welcome the improved interface on their tablet.

While I wait for Android 4.0 to appear on my own 10.1-inch tablet, I’m enjoying Android 4.0 on my smartphone and this week found a new app that I consider a “must try”, if not a “must have” for Android devices. Wikipedia finally debuted its Android app this week and while you could use a browser to access the online encyclopedia, I find the free app in the Android Market much better. Simple sharing of Wikipedia entries, support for offline article reading and GPS-powered local Wikipedia results all add to the experience.

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Why you’ll soon love your cellphone contract

ContractCellphone contracts suck, but pretty much everyone in the U.S. still has one. For the vast majority of people, signing a contract is the only way to get the phone they want for a price they can afford. But contracts present problems: They’re 24 months long, but phones typically have issues after the first 12 months (when manufacturer’s warranties have expired); if a phone is lost, the contract still stands, yet the consumer has no phone; and newer phones that are far more desirable are released yearly or more frequently, yet consumers are stuck with the same old phone. But carriers need contracts about as much as consumers disdain them. It’s the only way to ensure that consumers will be there month after month, allowing carriers to recoup the investment they make in phone purchases. (Your typical iPhone is sold at retail for $200 but actually cost carriers $600-$660, and this price is increasing.)

But what if all of this changed? What if consumers actually enjoyed signing contracts? What if carriers just gave away phones — all of them —  for free?

What do consumers get?

Carriers need to rethink the current model of phone ownership. It’s not working for them or consumers. So let’s propose a new one: phone leasing. It would work like this. A consumer can get a free phone, any model they would like, and can keep it for 12 months. No charge aside from their monthly bill. If there are any issues with the phone, they would most likely still be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. And any reasonable issues not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty would be covered by the carrier for free.

What’s the catch?

The carrier owns the phone, and it must be returned after the 12 months is up. Moreover, instead of signing a two-year contract, consumers would have to sign a four- to five-year one. But, and this is a big but, when a consumer gives that 12-month-old phone back to the carrier, they’ll get a brand-new one of their choice — every single year of the contract.

What do carriers get out of this model?

Three things: More phone “sales” — lowering the cost of phone acquisition will lead to more contracts; longer contract means more customer loyalty; and leasing instead of selling phones means the phones can be resold once the 12 months is up (a typical iPhone goes for $300-400 on Craigslist). So instead of a carrier purchasing a phone for, say, $650 from a manufacturer and only getting $200 at retail from a consumer, losing $450 in the process, they’ll be able to resell that phone after 12 months for $300-400. This process will be repeated until the contract ends.

But why would a carrier go this route when the churn rate (the percentage of consumers leaving) is so low? More profit. Smartphone adoption is growing, but it would be growing much faster if smartphones were free. Moreover, carriers are basically competing with the same phones (barring T-Mobile, which still doesn’t have the iPhone) and very similar monthly plans. Adding such a plan would be a game-changer that would provide a worthy competitive advantage. Lastly, churn may be low — Verizon, for instance, reported 1.1 percent among 88 million contract subscribers. That equates to 88,000 people, or nearly half the population of Richmond, Va., leaving every quarter. With each subscriber worth $54.89 of revenue, $4.8 million worth of churn walks away each quarter.

Why not prepaid instead?

Of course the prepaid phone market is an option, but for most consumers it is not a tantalizing one. Part of the reason could be due to the lack of cachet; the perception remains that prepaid users don’t have good enough credit to get a contract. But an even greater reason is the lack of cutting-edge phones the prepaid market offers. For instance, the iPhone (as well as many popular phones) isn’t available as a prepaid option. And for carriers, on average, prepaid has a higher churn rate and creates less revenue.

Carriers have little choice but to shake up the cellphone market. It’s ripe for a revolution.

John S. Wilson is a freelance writer who focuses on technology, politics and health policy. He writes for NewsOne, The Loop 21, and Mediaite, and can be reached on Twitter: @johnwilson

Image courtesy of Flickr user jason.lengstorf.

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Acer’s $349 10.1″ Android tablet lands in U.S.

Acer introduced its A200 tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier in January, and unlike many products shown at the event, this one is already available for sale in the U.S. Best Buy is already stocking the 16 GB version of the A200 in some stores for $349.99; an 8 GB version isn’t available yet, but will cost $20 less. The price is right for a large tablet, but does that mean this slate will sell quickly?

It’s too soon to say, but for those seeking a low-cost, large tablet, there are a few points to consider in the A200. Although it’s a new model, it’s still based on last year’s tablet technology. The device is powered by a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, for example, and runs Android 3.2 (Honeycomb). Acer is said to be rolling out a software update to Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) as early as mid-February, however.

I reviewed the similar A500 tablet last year and found it to be a capable slate and a good value for the $449 price tag. Just like that model, the A200 uses a 1280 x 800 resolution display. Those who want ports and options certainly should be happy with the A200, as it generally provides most of the important ones: full-sized USB 2.0, micro USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, microSD memory card slot and 2-megapixel front-facing camera. Battery life is estimated at 8 hours.

That Acer found a way to build a similar tablet that shaves a little weight as well as $100 off the suggested price is certainly impressive. Once the device sees the Android 4.0 software update, I expect it to impress even more. But new Android tablets with more capable hardware are coming soon, so sales are likely to depend on how much value consumers perceive in the A200. I plan to hit up my local Best Buy over the weekend and see for myself.

In the meantime, I found a nice overview video of the A200 at Android Central to satisfy my curiosity. More important to me than the hardware look is the software customization Acer revamped for the A200. I like what I see in the new Ring launcher and integrated screenshot capture function. Have a look and see what you think.

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Will Apple put Siri in everything?

Apple has wisely chosen to patent its voice assistant Siri, and the Patently Apple blog did what it does best: dug up the patent and dissected it.

The patent is long, detailed and goes into a lot of depth about how Siri works and could work, including as a personalized recommendation service for online shopping, as a travel booking service, and as part of a car navigation system or the car’s entertainment system. Clearly Apple would want to cover its bases when it comes to Siri and its potential future uses. But it doesn’t mean Apple is currently working on any of this. Still, it’s always interesting to get a look at what a secretive company is at least pondering.

The patent also discusses all the different devices that could potentially be Siri-enabled. Writes Patently Apple:

Apple’s patent application lists a great number of devices beyond the iPhone that Siri may service in the future. They include, the iPod touch (a personal digital assistant), iMac (desktop computer), MacBook (laptop computer), iPad (tablet computer), consumer electronic devices, consumer entertainment devices; iPod (music player); camera; television; Apple TV (set-top box); electronic gaming unit; kiosk or the like.

The patent also discusses that the voice-assistant technology could be used in “any operating system such as, for example, iOS or Mac OSX.” Do we want Siri in everything? I’m not sure I want to talk to my computer or my camera. But I will reserve judgment until there is an actual product so I can see what a potential implementation of it would look like.

If you want the nitty-gritty of how Siri works, see the original post. For more about the awesome potential of voice-controlled devices, see Kevin Tofel’s GigaOM Pro report (subscription required) on the topic of “invisible interfaces.”

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Why Super Bowl 46 will have super connectivity

Averaging more than 100 million viewers worldwide, the annual Super Bowl game is among the most watched sports events every year. Many of us watch in the cozy confines of our homes, where we can easily connect to the web to see who is tweeting about the game or the commercials. But what if you are actually at the Super Bowl: How good or bad is mobile broadband there?

This year it ought to be quite good, based on a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations Verizon is taking to beef up wireless connectivity at Lucas Oil Stadium. The GottaBeMobile site has the details, which are shared in this brief video.

Some interesting facts about the event’s special wireless infrastructure, according to GottaBeMobile:

  • 9 antennas that are part of a distributed antenna system (DAS) outside the stadium to handle increased downtown traffic
  • 400 antenna internal DAS to handle 3G and 4G LTE voice and data inside the stadium
  • 600 antenna Wi-Fi system capable of handling 28,000 simultaneous connected users; free for Super Bowl 46
  • 3 cell on wheels (COWs). Stand-alone generator-powered cell towers to handle the extremely high-demand areas

Of course, if you are spending a few thousand dollars to be a live spectator at the big game, you will probably want to pay close attention the live action. But it’s nice to know you can tweet about how good that $12 hot dog was at halftime, no?

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Tablets: the perfect shopping device

Modern tablets have only been on the market for less than two years, but they have quickly become potent shopping tools that generate an outsized effect on online commerce. Last year was the year that the tablet became an online retailer’s best friend as it emerged as the preferred device for many shoppers to make their purchases.

The latest data came earlier this week from Adobe Digital Marketing Insights (pdf), which found that tablet users spend over 50 percent more for each transaction at an online retailer compared to smartphone users and 20 percent more than traditional computer users. Adobe found that the average order value for tablet users was $123 on average per purchase, 54 percent more than smartphone users ($80) and 21 percent more than computer users ($102).

Adobe also found that tablet users were three times more likely to buy something than smartphone users and nearly as likely to convert to a purchase as traditional computer users. Tablet users now make up 4 percent of all total web visits to retailers, up from 1 percent a year ago. Adobe gathered the data from 16.2 billion visits to the websites of more than 150 retailers in 2011.

The data is consistent with other findings in the previous months that indicate just how tablets are able to create a bigger commerce effect despite its smaller reach. Last year Forrester reported that tablets accounted for 20 percent of e-commerce sales, even though only 9 percent of shoppers own tablets.

A study by Ipsos OTX MediaCT on behalf of PayPal found that tablet owners were almost twice as likely to make purchases as those who only have smartphones. And 28 percent of dual smartphone and tablet owners said they were sure they spent more due to mobile shopping, compared with 13 percent of smartphone owners who said the same.

Some retailers are seeing an even bigger effect from tablets. I recently wrote about Fab.com, whose CEO, Jason Goldberg, told me that mobile users are twice as likely to buy products than computer visitors and that the iPad has purchase amounts that are an order of magnitude higher than on iPhone, Android and the web.

Tablet commerce is fueled by the fact that the larger screen on the devices provides a lot of real estate to see products, and the touch interface lets consumers get even more intimate in their shopping than with a PC. Tablets are more portable than laptops, so they lend themselves to shopping from a couch or a bed, but they can generate sales on the go as well. The fact that tablets are still more of an early adopter device also means that users are more affluent and tech-savvy, so they may be more inclined to spend and buy online.

The push toward tablet shopping only intensified this holiday season as consumers cranked up their buying from mobile devices. IBM reported that sales from mobile devices doubled this past holiday season, hitting 11 percent of online purchases, compared with 5.5 percent in Dec. 2010. That helped push overall online sales up 7.5 percent over 2010. The iPad had the highest conversion rate for transactions, at 6.3 percent, compared with 3.1 percent for all mobile devices. In fact, on Christmas day, about 7 percent of all online purchases were made using iPads. 

E-commerce software developer Ability Commerce said last week that mobile shopping revenues on Android grew by 173 percent compared to last holiday season, while iOS had a 338 percent increase in revenues. The iPad, while generating one-third the traffic of the iPhone and Android, had 33 percent more revenue than both iPhone and Android combined.

If it is not apparent to retailers already, the world is turning mobile. If it is actual sales they are after, they need to think about how they are serving tablet users. Smartphones are still very important and often serve as a research tool, helping gather data that can be used for a later purchase. But increasingly, consumers are showing that they love shopping on a tablet. This is something Steve Jobs understood really well more than decade ago when he told a Wired reporter in 1997 that the benefit of the web was going to be realized by people interested in selling things.

“It’s more than publishing. It’s commerce. People are going to stop going to a lot of stores. And they’re going to buy stuff over the Web!” he said.

That vision has crystallized with the iPad. And this is something Amazon has also clearly picked up on with the Kindle Fire, which is really just a front end for its online store. It is almost too easy to purchase something from a Kindle Fire, which combines the strengths of tablet shopping with Amazon’s one-touch buying experience. If they haven’t already, retailers need to understand how to capitalize on this opportunity. As Fab.com’s Goldberg told me, he has treated the tablet experience on Fab’s mobile apps much like its smartphone experience.

But there is more to be done to cater to tablet users and fully build upon that distinct opportunity, which is only going to grow as tablets proliferate. That means optimizing for tablets and the iPad specifically and making sure a website works well for tablet users using touch input. Wal-Mart, for example, put out iPad and iPhone apps in November that had different capabilities that catered to the unique use cases for each device, with the iPad app focused on shopping and browsing while the iPhone app featured shopping lists, QR code scanning, coupons and a store item locator.

Last year was a breakout year for tablet shopping, even with the limited penetration of tablets. But this year is going to be huge, with a new iPad out soon and the Kindle Fire and Nook Color making tablets even more affordable on the low end. The question of whether users prefer to buy on a tablet has been answered. Now it is just a question of how much business retailers can rake in by taking advantage of that fact.

Images courtesy of iStockphoto, Flickr user shareski

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