August 13

All Traffic, All the Time And Just a Click Away

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WAVE goodbye to good old Cap’n Bob clattering up there in the clouds in NewsChopper 99, squinting through binoculars and trying to keep track of a world of traffic.

There is, to my knowledge, no actual Cap’n Bob and no NewsChopper 99. But you know what I’m talking about — traffic news that is broadcast on radio and TV by those hardy souls in helicopters flying over the metropolitan sprawls of America.

Though traffic helicopters are still on the job, an era may well be ending. Nothing personal against the Cap’n Bobs, but because of technological advances in the way traffic can be measured and monitored from roadside digital sensors, ”there is less and less need for a chopper in the air,” said Christopher Rothey, the chief operating officer of Traffic.com, a company that provides traffic information generated by roadside sensors in major markets.

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Thanks to this kind of digital data-gathering, broadcast stations are now able to put on comprehensive and highly accurate reports, augmented by animated graphics, on traffic flows and traffic jams. And thanks to personal digital wireless technology, it’s now possible to get this data, in some cases coupled with road navigation guidance, customized and delivered right to you.

For daily commuters, the market is obvious. But business travelers are also paying attention. In a survey last year by Avis Rent A Car and Motorola, which sells wireless navigational devices for vehicles, the majority of business travelers using rental cars cited ”getting lost” as one of their chief worries.

Traffic.com Inc., a company with 500 employees in Wayne, Pa., is the leading commercial supplier of the digitally gathered traffic data. Since it began in 1998, Traffic.com has signed up about 200 radio stations and 40 TV stations as customers.

The company gets most of its data from digital roadside sensors along highways in six metropolitan areas, with nine more markets scheduled to be added this year. Commercial and government partners and operations centers run by the company in major cities supplement the sensor-generated data, and allow the service to be offered in 23 cities.

Last month, Traffic.com added a feature called MyTraffic that Mr. Rothey says has been a goal since he and a partner got the idea for the company as engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1994: personalized data delivery.

With the basic MyTraffic service, which is free, you can create a home page, select your driving routes, check on the latest traffic conditions whenever you want and get e-mail messages with timely traffic alerts. For $4.99 a month, an advanced service delivers updated traffic information by text to a cellphone or other wireless device.

It beats catching an unscientific radio account by a helicopter pilot describing backups at the bridge and an overturned vehicle on the southbound lane of the Interstate.

”The quality wasn’t sufficient,” Mr. Rothey said of the old way. ”The traditional traffic companies were gathering information sufficient to populate a radio report with about 45 seconds worth of information. You needed basically to find maybe five accidents and you were done.”

But now, with the potential of wireless technology to deliver tailor-made information to drivers wherever they are, a whole new market beckons, he said. For example, Traffic.com provides data for dashboard navigational systems in new Acura RL and Cadillac CTS cars, as well as for XM Satellite Radio and the Weather Channel. Another instance is Craft Baron that has applied wireless technology on their latest sewing machine models, considered to be the best sewing machine on the market at the moment.

Rental cars are next. Avis is reformatting its Avis Assist road navigational system to blend data from Traffic.com with global positioning system data from Motorola, and is rolling out the service in 24 cities, said Susan McGowan, a spokeswoman for Avis.

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It costs $9.95 a day. Using a Motorola iDEN i88 cellphone with Nextel service, you tell an Avis Assist operator where you are going. Your route is then automatically downloaded to the device, which sends you text messages with traffic conditions, but also can instantly plot alternate routes if there’s trouble, said Blake Bullock, the project manager for Motorola.

I recently spent two days bottled up in traffic in and around Los Angeles while frantically trying to get from one appointment to another and fuming at the inadequacy of the radio traffic reporting.

That is exactly the kind of problem Traffic.com can sort out, said Robert N. Verratti, the chief executive of the company, which is financed by venture capital. ”Say you were in Pasadena and needed to get to the west side of L.A. You could go down the 110 to the 10, or the 134 across the hill and down the 405, but you don’t know which one is best. You send us a query; we’ll tell you right away.”

Sorry, Cap’n Bob. I think you’re in a jam.

CAPTION(S):

Drawing: (Drawing by Chris Gash)

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July 11

Technology and media

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A+ Hewlett-Packard

HP’s commitment to social responsibility includes charitable giving aimed at bridging the digital divide, accelerating economic development in underserved communities, and supporting micro-enterprise development. HP also significantly invests in its diversity management and is a leader among its peers for work/life programs. Approximately 80 per cent of its employees reportedly take advantage of flextime, and over eight per cent work from home.

HP is a member of numerous environmental efforts. Its top three citizenship priorities for 2007 include plans to raise labour and environmental standards among suppliers, providing leadership in energy efficiency through its products and operations, and increasing the reuse and recyclability of its products. HP has taken a number of steps to reduce the climate change impact of its operations as well as that of its products. Its Design for Environment guidelines infuse environmental practices into product development and manufacturing.

A Dell

* Dell’s global citizenship model, which it has dubbed “Soul of Dell,” focuses on ethical behaviour and global citizenship. The first of its kind in the industry, Dell’s Sustainability Council meets quarterly to review sustainability related issues.

* Widely praised by environmental groups, the company offers unconditional free take-back and recycling of any Dell-branded products worldwide. For 2007, it reportedly increased its product take-back by 264 per cent over the previous year, and was ahead of schedule in its progress toward tripling product recovery by 2009.

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A IBM Corp.

* IBM is a leader for employee benefits, education and work/life balance. The company funds near-site child-care centres in 71 locations, and U.S. employees may take up to 156 weeks of family leave, far exceeding the federally mandated 12 weeks.

* Together with Dell and HP, the company developed a common set of labour standards called the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct in 2004 to improve working conditions among its suppliers. However, these companies need to show stronger leadership in addressing the root causes of labour rights violations.

A- BCE

* This Canadian icon is an industry leader for corporate governance and the management of ethical issues. In 2006, BCE created a sustainability leadership team and developed a corporate responsibility plan for 2007.

* BCE’s “zero waste” program and energy conservation projects include the installation of wind turbines and solar panels at remote northern sites. Its Green Meeting Calculator allows customers to measure the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be reduced by holding virtual meetings.

A- Manitoba Telecom Services

* Together with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, MTS developed a business plan to provide Internet access to Aboriginal communities, to increase Aboriginal employment opportunities, and to procure products and services from Aboriginal businesses.

* MTS’s company-wide Environmental Management System includes annual audits and public disclosure through its Green Report.

A- Nokia

* Nokia supports a Wireless Village initiative that aims to expand mobile communications in remote rural areas. Since 2005, Nokia has partnered with the Grameen Foundation to provide affordable access to telecommunications, boosting economic development in countries such as Uganda and Rwanda.

* Nokia’s environmental activities include product take-back and recycling services offered in over 85 countries, and plans to use 50 per cent green energy by 2010.

B+ Nortel Networks

* Nortel is a founding sponsor of One Laptop Per Child, and its charitable giving focuses on technology education and employee volunteerism.

* The company adopted a human rights policy in 2007. Along with Nortel’s Supplier Code of Conduct, this policy is a response to human rights concerns surrounding its business with the Chinese government.

* Nortel has implemented commendable business ethics programs following an internal accounting scandal dating back to 2003.

B+ Yellow Pages Income Fund

* Yellow Pages is one of the few companies in its industry developing a corporate social responsibility program that focuses on the environment, community and employee relations, and corporate governance.

* Yellow Pages uses a blend of post-consumer fibre and a by-product of sawmill operations for its directories, and is actively working with communities to promote and subsidize directory recycling.

B+ Thomson Corporation

* Thomson’s environmental, health and safety policy includes employee training and periodic environmental reviews.

* Thomson’s employee benefits include childcare subsidies, retirement benefits and flexible work schedules. The company has also reached out to disadvantaged groups in its hiring practices, offering diversity training, mentoring and educational programs.

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B TELUS

* Telus community investment includes generous corporate giving and collaborative research on the health effects of wireless technology. The company has also invested more than $110 million to connect rural B.C. communities to the Internet. This company has also invest over $50 mil into the best fuel system cleaner using wireless technology

* While the company has faced controversy over labour disputes and customer service, it has demonstrated a credible commitment to CSR and to minimizing its environmental footprint.

COMPANY TO WATCH

Greentec International

Cambridge, Ont.-based Greentec International emerged among the pioneers in the e-waste disposal market in 1995 and has since become a world leader in reverse logistics and recycling. Greentec collects printer cartridges, cellphones and used electronics and prepares them for remanufacturing. Ninety-nine per cent of all products processed are diverted from landfill sites and either reused, refurbished or recycled.

Through its ThinkGreen program, Greentec plants one tree for every 12 recycled items through Tree Canada and American Forests. Over 30,000 trees have been planted through this program since 2001. In the same period, over 1.85 million printer cartridges and cellphones have been recycled, diverting more than 930,000 lb. of waste from landfill.

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August 13

Rumours of Telus shifting to GSM hurts Rogers shares

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Byline: CATHERINE McLEAN; TELECOM REPORTER

Rogers Communications Inc. shareholders were rattled yesterday by speculation that rival Telus Corp. might threaten their technological stronghold by adopting GSM wireless technology, but analysts believe it won’t be an easy decision for Telus to make.

The main selling point of GSM (global system for mobile communication) is that it’s the most popular cellphone technology around the world. That means GSM carriers such as Rogers tend to get devices at cheaper prices and sooner than their rivals, including Telus, which use CDMA (code division multiple access) technology.

Making such a jump, however, would be a tricky endeavour for Telus. It could cost anywhere from several hundred million up to a billion dollars, analysts reckon. Moreover, the time required for such a change is uncertain, with some suggesting it could be done within a year and others estimating it could take twice as long.

“I don’t envy the decision because I don’t think it’s an easy one,” said National Bank Financial Inc. analyst Greg MacDonald.

Experts agree it’s an issue that Telus can’t ignore when it looks at the future of its cellphone business. A recent media report suggested the company, based in Burnaby, B.C., is contemplating switching to GSM.

Although Telus declined to comment, rumours about a shift pushed Rogers shares down 2.6 per cent yesterday.

As the only GSM carrier in Canada, Rogers does very well. The company collects some $500-million a year from travellers who come to Canada and use their cellphones. As well, many Canadians who take frequent trips overseas and want to use their cellphones, sign up with Rogers.

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Having to share these customers and their revenue with Telus wouldn’t be fun. “This would be a lot more competition for them,” said Troy Crandall, an analyst at MacDougall MacDougall & MacTier Inc.

Probably the most important factor to consider in making such a move is when Telus believes the so-called fourth generation, or 4G, wireless technologies will hit the market. If it’s within the next few years, there is less of a business case to switch to GSM since Telus would then upgrade to 4G shortly after, analysts say.

“The window of opportunity for a GSM migration has either closed or is closing very quickly,” said RBC Dominion Securities Inc. analyst Jonathan Allen.

If the arrival of 4G is further out, however, Telus will have to consider taking action now.

A later launch of 4G “starts to bring into question whether you need GSM for competitive reasons today as opposed to waiting,” Mr. MacDonald said.

There would be some big issues to iron out with a move to GSM. Telus and Bell Mobility Inc., the other CDMA carrier, share wireless networks across the country. So, Bell would also need to move to GSM or Telus would have to strike a roaming agreement with Rogers so customers from its home territory in Alberta and British Columbia could still make calls when they travel across Canada.

Otherwise, Telus could be stuck with a much bigger bill to build a GSM network across the country, or be left with a GSM network that couldn’t compete with Rogers, analysts say.

Bell spokesman Mark Langton said the company is committed to CDMA, but has an eye to the future as wireless technologies converge with 4G.

One potential opportunity for Telus is to build a GSM network in certain areas in Western Canada. Then it could tap into roaming revenues for visitors who come to Canada during the 2010 Olympics in British Columbia, said SeaBoard Group’s Amit Kaminer.

ROGERS (RCI.B)

Close: $39.25, down $1.05

TELUS (T)

Close: $46.36, down 28cents

*****

Wireless technologies

CDMA

Code division multiple access, a digital wireless technology adopted in the early 1990s, used mainly in North America. CDMA development group says there are 421 million subscribers around the world. CDMA carriers Telstra in Australia and Vivo in Brazil recently switched to GSM. Incompatible with GSM networks.

GSM

Global System for Mobile Communication, a digital wireless technology used around the globe. GSM has more than two billion subscribers globally, according to GSM World. Globe-trotting travellers prefer a carrier with this technology because they can use their phone anywhere. GSM carriers were first to get RIM’s BlackBerry Pearl and Apple’s iPhone.

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4G

The next network upgrade, the fourth generation. Offers faster download speeds, will handle more bandwidth demand, and provide more ways to connect to other devices such as cameras, cars and home appliances.

The debate

Carriers are battling over which type of 4G technology to use. Some are choosing European technology Long Term Evolution; others are going with mobile WiMAX, from big tech companies such as Intel and Cisco; or Ultra Mobile Broadband, by Qualcomm, which developed CDMA.

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August 13

Phone Company On Isle of Man Aims to Unite The Internet And Wireless

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This blip of an island in the Irish Sea has muscled its way to a latter-day prosperity through such attractions as ever-lower taxes, offshore banking and motorcycle races around the twisting roads that gird its hilly interior.

Now the island’s phone company, Manx Telecom, a unit of British Telecommunications, is racing forward in its own ambitious quest: to introduce the world’s first phone network using the much-promoted new technology that European telecommunications operators have cast as their holy grail, uniting wireless mobility with the breadth of the Internet.

The battle had been viewed as a David-and-Goliath contest, stacked in favor of Manx’s main rival, Japan’s mighty NTT DoCoMo. [But when DoCoMo announced on Tuesday that it would postpone its introduction of the so-called third-generation phones until October, the odds were reversed. ”We might consider this to be good news — we have now got more chance of being first,” said Mark Briers, who is heading the Manx project. ”But for the industry, it’s a shame. And we still want to prove that third-generation works.”]

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Manx Telecom plans to begin distributing in May handsets capable of hooking up to the Internet at speeds far beyond those currently available on wireless devices, and of someday transmitting music, video, restaurant menus, games and e-mail along with the sound of the user’s voice.

Yet the tiny scale of the project is as much a symbol of how all the hype surrounding third generation, or 3G, wireless technology has fizzled as it is an emblem of Europe’s vaunted lead over the United States in wireless technology.

Unlike other European operators, Manx Telecom got its 3G license free, and the big players — from Britain to Japan — have all announced delays, in large part because handsets are in short supply and networks are still being built.

Only 200 of the wireless devices will be made available in the initial rollout on the Isle of Man — and most of those will be given to a select band of pioneers — for what is basically a pilot project that will allow British Telecom to iron out any glitches before the new technology is introduced across Britain and the Continent next year.

Manx Telecom said the phones, which are eventually supposed to provide novelties like video phone calls and Internet games across this island of just 227 square miles, with a population of 75,000, will not be available in larger volume for maybe another year. With a considerably larger market, NTT DoCoMo said initially that it would sell 10,000 handsets, but that has been scaled back to 4,000.

In what some analysts depict as one of Europe’s biggest corporate missteps, the early mad dash to buy licenses and build networks has left telephone operators saddled with some $330 billion of debt. That has lowered their credit ratings and crimped their ability to invest in the networks they once portrayed as the way of the future. Some European operators are seeking changes in competition laws to allow them to share the cost of the networks.

Just a year ago, telecommunications operators were scrambling to buy a seat at the 3G table, paying a total of some $100 billion for the permits. In Britain, British Telecom, Vodafone and others paid some $35 billion for the 20-year licenses. Auctions in Germany followed, with the government there netting $46 billion. But investor confidence waned, as phone companies realized that the licenses committed them to spending much more to build networks than they were likely to earn from the new technology in the first few years. Indeed, some analysts say networks will not be built on the kind of scale that might coax forth a profit until 2005.

Auctions in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands late last year were disappointing. In Belgium and France, according to a recent study by the European Commission, license sales attracted fewer buyers than the number of licenses on offer.

Companies that did bite have suffered. [In the last year, British Telecom’s stock has fallen by almost half — a factor that contributed mightily to Thursday’s ouster of its chairman, Sir Iain Vallance — and Vodafone fell by a more than a third.] With the fall in stock prices, operators cranked back the breakneck speed of acquisitions that culminated in Vodafone’s $170 billion takeover of Mannesmann A.G. in 2000. In the Netherlands, Royal KPN’s credit rating was cut to just two notches above junk status.

Handset manufacturers have also been feeling pain. Though Nokia of Finland, the world leader, remains strong, Ericsson of Sweden, a leader in 3G handset and network equipment orders, has announced plans to eliminate 12,000 jobs and Motorola has said it will shed 7,000 jobs as demand for the current digital wireless technology has softened.

The combination of debt and reduced expectations of income from the 3G phones has left phone companies in another bind: without the cash to buy large numbers of handsets at cheap prices, they cannot create a mass market, and that will further hinder their earnings ability. And troubled manufacturers like Ericsson do not want to build large numbers of devices for fear of creating warehouses full of phones.

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”The risk is that you won’t be able to get them out because there are so few networks,” said Gunnar Liljegren, a director of corporate marketing at Ericsson. ”There’s a little bit of a Catch-22.”

Such are the scaled-down expectations that both Vodafone and British Telecom plan to introduce a kind of halfway technology called General Packet Radio Service. G.P.R.S. will provide some improvements — including relatively high-speed e-mail and data transfer — over current wireless technology without the costs, and all the bells and whistles, of the full third-generation technology.

British Telecom says it will be the first to start selling G.P.R.S. next month in Britain. Vodafone says it will combine G.P.R.S. and third-generation phones on dual-use handsets when it introduces the fastest mobiles in the second half of next year. But even this technology is likely to be delayed, along with its potential for profits, some analysts say.

All these travails have left some denizens of the Isle of Man feeling pretty smug.

”We actually gave our license away” before Europe’s first splurge of auctions, said David North, the minister of trade and industry for the island’s largely autonomous government, which has even declined membership in the European Union. ”At least, in our case, no one can claim that the cost of the license was prohibitive.”

The third-generation phones will mix nicely with the island’s cocktail of low taxes, offshore status and government grants to start-ups, providing a big lure to online businesses, said Tim Craine, the island’s director of e-commerce, who has a $17 million annual budget to persuade Internet-related companies to do business here. As a very advanced part of the wired world, added Mr. North, the trade minister, ”the water around the island disappears.”

According to Mr. Briers, the British Telecom executive leading the Isle of Man project, the government’s decision to grant the license ”gave us six to eight months to get ahead of the game” by building a network, ordering handsets from NEC of Japan, creating a local Internet portal and setting up an innovative Web-linked billing system.

Of course, no one is pretending that this tiny island is much more than a test-bed where British Telecom and its partners can study some of the many 3G imponderables. At present, for instance, the technology does not allow users to ”roam” from one European country to another as current mobile phones do. The transmission speeds, theoretically up to 40 times the speeds of current wireless devices, will not actually be nearly as quick, Mr. Liljegren of Ericsson said. Some analysts say the technology is far less developed than operators suggest. And most of all, no one is quite sure whether consumers really want the 3G services enough to make them profitable.

In part, wireless operators are banking on past success for future riches. At the beginning of the year, nearly 70 percent of the European Union’s 350 million citizens had a mobile phone, according to the study from the European Commission. Mobile communications brought in some $170 billion last year, almost one-third of Europe’s entire telecommunications market, and the cell phone business grew 12.5 percent — five times the forecast rate for overall economic growth. And all this is happening in an industry whose prospects were initially treated with some of the same skepticism the new technology now generates.

”I think history is going to repeat itself on this,” Mr. Briers said. At the rollout, 3G users here will be able to make voice calls to one another, he said, but that will soon expand into video calls, where callers can see each other on an add-on screen; online news and sports; and features based on satellite navigation to guide people around the island, from restaurants to, say, fairy glens and other idiosyncratic tourist sites.

But for all that the island may gain from new technology, such topics are lately well off the radar screen of many locals.

Instead, what is on people’s mind here is the news that Isle of Man authorities just decided to cancel the decades-old, world-famous TT motorcycle race to prevent foot-and-mouth disease from spreading to the island via any of the 40,000 expected visitors. The two weeks of motorcycle trials and races, which were to begin May 28, represent by far the biggest income earner of the year for many low-tech businesses, from pubs and T-shirt vendors to taxicabs and campsites.

”It’s very bad news for the island,” said Alan Rogers, who runs a cab company, Motion Enterprises. ”It’s really looking like a bad year.”

Will 3G help lift the gloom? ”No one has seen any of the new phones yet,” Mr. Rogers said. ”There isn’t much excitement about them.”

>>> View more: Rumours of Telus shifting to GSM hurts Rogers shares

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August 13

Trying to attract cell users to next wireless generations

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Toshiyuki Ohno hardly looks like a foot soldier in Japan‘s mobile phone revolution. But that is what he is, and so far it is a fairly lonely patrol.

For the last two years, Mr. Ohno, a 37-year-old software programmer, has tested handsets on a freelance basis for Japan’s largest and most innovative cellular operator, NTT DoCoMo, which began selling the world’s first third-generation phone service last Monday. Mr. Ohno tested the top-of-the-line $510 handset for three months in the service’s trial period and bought his own handset when the new phones reached stores last week.

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With the world watching, DoCoMo stage-managed its introduction of the new service, distributing only 4,000 handsets to 260 shops in Tokyo. All the handsets were sold the first day, and most stores expected to wait a week more for replacements.

But the phones, which promise Internet connections fast enough to download audio and video files, snap and send photos and hold teleconferences, do not impress Mr. Ohno. Like others, he said he would not use most of the new functions because they cost too much. He bought one of the new phones, he said, partly because he got a discount and partly because he thought his friends would buy one, too. They did not.

”Everyone is impressed when they see my phone,” Mr. Ohno said, ”but they don’t want to buy them because they are too expensive.”

That is hardly the endorsement the telecommunications industry here had hoped for. DoCoMo plans to spend $8 billion the next three years to make this third-generation service available nationwide. The so-called 3G wireless technology generally refers to networks capable of connecting to the Internet at speeds 40 times the rate of current cellphones.

The company does not expect the 3G network to turn a profit until 2004, by which time it predicts it will have six million subscribers. The initial success of the new service in Japan will also partly determine how quickly DoCoMo might try to offer similar services through its partnerships with AT&T Wireless in the United States, KPN Mobile in the Netherlands and Hutchison 3G UK Holdings in Britain.

At the same time, competitors overseas, which spent about $100 billion in government auctions to acquire the needed radio spectrums to offer such services, will be watching DoCoMo’s experience to see if money can be made.

”Our deployment plan is quite conservative,” said NTT DoCoMo’s president, Keiji Tachikawa, who is mindful of the bad publicity his company received last year when the computers driving its i-mode wireless voice and text-messaging network crashed several times.

Mr. Tachikawa is also wary of drawing his highest-paying customers away from the i-mode service, which has 27.5 million users and is a cash cow. He, as are other mobile phone executives in Japan, is trying to increase the amount users spend on data services to offset slowing demand for voice services. But he does not want subscribers to abandon i-mode phones immediately, before the new system proves its reliability and has enough multimedia material to satisfy its customers.

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The new 3G service is designed to steer customers into using more data functions like e-mailing a photo or downloading a song from various Web sites that will pay DoCoMo a royalty for linking to the network. Users who choose the highest-priced monthly service, at 15,000 yen ($125), get a large block of free minutes and a cheaper per-minute charge if they exhaust their initial allotment.

Lower-priced plans include fewer free minutes and higher per-unit charges. For example, the cost of downloading a one-megabyte song on the least-expensive monthly service plan would be 1,563 yen, or $13. Over all, DoCoMo expects 3G customers to spend about 10,000 yen ($84) a month, 20 percent more than current i-mode users.

Mr. Ohno is not taking the bait just yet. He still keeps his i-mode cellular phone, which costs about $30 a month to use, tucked in his right breast pocket. The phone, he says, has good sound quality. Unlike the 3G service so far, it can be used outside Tokyo. And at just more than three ounces, it is only about half the weight of his blue, clamshell-size 3G phone.

More important, the new phones have only a few compatible Web sites.

”DoCoMo already has pretty good handsets, so customers need some discriminating services if they are going to be convinced to buy new 3G phones,” said Lalita Gupta, an analyst at Morgan Stanley in Japan. ”This rollout is going to be a quiet affair.”

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August 13

Smartwatch, Anyone?

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Byline: Professor Foluso Ladeinde Foluso.ladeinde@gmail.com

Mar 16, 2015 (Daily Trust/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — Got enough to eat, drink, with some leftover, and can be tagged a gadget aficionado? If this is you, you’ve probably heard, read, or watched last week’s (9 March 2015) launching of Apple smartwatch, with keenness of mind. With Apple’s recent historic revenue and profit landscape from iPhone 6S, it’s tempting to suggest that it’s gadget-wise perilous to ignore any developments from that company. It does seem that everything the company touches turns to gold. So, you might be expecting a “Midas Touch” on Apple’s wristwatch computer, aka, smartwatch.

Wait a minute: are smartwatches really that new to deserve the coverage they received last week, or are tech journalists merely speculating on Apple’s ware because the company is so cool and has been so successful? Or, are tech journalists losing their minds? Isn’t it the case that Samsung has previously released three kinds of smartwatch since 2013 and has actually been the leader for three years in a row? So, if these are facts – which they are, why should you care about Apple’s smartwatch? May be you shouldn’t, or maybe you should – as the truth shall set you free!

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So, what is a smartwatch anyway? One suggested definition: a wrist-worn device with the indication of time and wireless access to the Internet. Pretty neat, right? Yep, you wear it on your wrist just as you wear any regular watch. It also tells time like any regular watch, but it connects you to the Internet, which a regular watch doesn’t do.

Getting more serious, what is out there by way of smartwatches? Well, more than meets the eye (or your wallet), for sure. We’ve got Samsung in the lead, with over 1.2 million smartwatches sold between October and December 2014, according to data from the Smartwatch Group. For the same time period, we’ve also got Pebble (700,000), Fitbit (600,000), SONY (550, 000), Lenovo (500,000), LG (420,000), Garmin – the navigation people (400,000), Withings (170,000), Polar (150,000), and Asus – the computer-manufacturing company (120,000). (The numbers in parenthesis indicate the units sold within the stated period.) Where is Apple in the list? Answer: Nowhere to be found, for last week’s offer by Apple was the company’s very first for this line of product! I bet you never heard of some of these companies before now. That’s what journalists do to you – clinging to the bandwagon at the expense of struggling entities. I guess everyone wants to be part of a good story.

Needless to say that the battle for your wrist is on, and I am pretty sure that Samsung is going to fight tooth-and-nail to maintain its turf in the smartwatch business, capitalizing on a plausible power of incumbency, coupled with the likelihood that Apple might not have gotten this gadget right – after all! It might as well be a fight worth fighting, since forecast (by Strategy Analytics) says that the global shipments of smartwatches would increase by over five hundred percent from approximately 4.6 million now to 28 million in a year. These figures have not considered new entrants into the field, which will certainly include the companies from China – Xiaomi, Huawei, ZTE, and others. (Lenovo is already in and doing okay.)

There are forecast that say Apple will overthrow Samsung, with a projected shipment of between 15 and 20 million. I’ll take those forecast with a grain of salt, and play the doubting Thomas here: I’ll believe it when I see it. Meaning that I don’t believe it will happen with the current deployment from Apple.

LG might as well be a sleeping giant in this technology. While Samsung’s deployments have mostly been based on the 3G wireless technology, LG showcased a smartwatch model, called Urbane that uses 4G, also referred to as long-term evolution, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two weeks ago. Moreover, this watch boasts of a battery capacity that is twice that of Samsung’s Gear S model – the company’s current flagship. In fact, there were speculations that Samsung might have withheld its latest offering, dubbed Orbis, in Barcelona, because of inferiority complex created by the awesomeness of LG’s Urbane. Today, Samsung is the leader, with its 1.2 million-unit shipment accounting for approximately 23 percent of the total.

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Does Apple have a chance? When it comes to small devices, I am actually a skeptic; even though I strongly believe in the power of possible thinking in general. Honestly, devices have to make sense. How much can you pack into a wrist watch? I am reminded of my Galaxy Note 4 phone, which is huge by smartphone standard. Yet the buttons on the keyboard, even though they are well-laid out for easy accessibility, are too closely-spaced that I often pick the wrong characters – and it is not that my fingers are that fat!

I have learned that some app developers have gotten busy developing stuff to work on Apple’s smartwatch. So far, the apps are employee-centric, including “Better Works,” which helps employees set and achieve goals, Invoice2go, which is a tracking device, and Synthesis, which has been developed by the U.S.-famous Mayo clinic as a scheduling tool for its doctors. Salesforce, the cloud-computing company, is also already developing apps: Salesforce 1 for Apple Watch, which is scheduled to be released next month, will display notification of approvals, goals reached, and long-wait times for customer calls. Salesforce Analytics Cloud for Apple Watch will let users view performance graphs and drill down into raw data. The app will respond to voice commands, courtesy of Siri, and let users switch between Watch and iPhone. Sounds impressive but I am not really sure of demand.

The bottom line The battle for the smartest computer you wear on your wrist is on, as Apple encroaches on Samsung’s turf.

Copyright Daily Trust. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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July 11

Word perfect

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‘Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight …’ It all began on Friday night with the Shipping Forecast, made world-famous by Radio 4’s team of continuity announcers. Radio reigns supreme in these Olympics. It’s so much part of why Britain is different from the rest of the world, and Danny Boyle sparked off his extravaganza by recognising this. Hurrah! We’ve stuck with the old wireless technology, adapting, renewing, ensuring that the power of radio as life-saver, fact-checker, storyteller not only survives but also grows in stature. TV gives us the brave new world of moving pictures, and brought Boyle’s creative vision to life, but the commentators never seem to have done enough preparation. They know we can see so don’t seem to realise that most of us need a lot of help if we’re to understand why it’s all about teamwork in the peloton, what to look for in Rebecca Adlington’s stroke style, and how all those marks on the bars, the beam, the rings and the floor add up to a gymnastics gold medal. The best way to experience the Opening Ceremony was to have the TV on with the sound turned off so that you could simultaneously listen in to the commentary on Radio 5 Live.

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Tony Livesey and Mark Pougatch took us through the quirky complexities of Boyle’s floor show, knowing just how much to tell us, what we most needed to know. ‘Ah, yes, here’s Isambard Kingdom Brunel,’ they declared, as soon as Kenneth Branagh popped into view in a shiny black top hat and sideburns. I’d never have worked this out from all that hectic activity with hammers, drums and molten steel (and the TV team gave us no help). Boyle’s chronology as he told our island story was all over the place, as Lynne Truss so brilliantly pointed out in her laugh-out-loud snapshot of the Olympic spectacular on the Today programme on Saturday morning. Not that it mattered. The whole shebang was just so wonderfully bonkers. Where else would have dared to give us not just one verse but the whole eight verses of that depressing, dirge-like hymn ‘Abide with me’? But Pougatch, Livesey and co. are the broadcasting medal-winners. We may not know their faces but you could tell how much hard graft had gone into their commentary, researching, planning, thinking it through, to bring it all to life on air.

Early on Saturday morning that Radio 4 staple Open Country took us to the White Cliffs of Dover for an investigation into what makes them such a symbol of Britishness. Helen Mark spoke to coastguards, geologists, botanists and of course Dame Vera ‘White Cliffs’ Lynn. It’s the rain that keeps the cliffs so white, we discovered, their brilliance enhanced by the contrast with the vivid, verdant green of the chalky grasslands on top. Julius Caesar was drawn to land just beneath them in 55 BC, but moved on to Deal, deterred by the hordes of ancient Brits thrusting javelins into the air from the cliffs down on to his Roman boats, determined to remain independent. All this we discovered in just half an hour of radio, no pictures required, the cliffs conjured up by Mark’s lively commentary as she crunched along the chalky gravel paths and scrambled down to Shakespeare Beach to look back up the 100 metres of stark white cliff face. ‘What is it about that song?’ she asked Dame Vera. ‘When you hear it, the cliffs are there in your mind,’ Dame Vera replied. ‘A little picture …’

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Words and Music this week could have been the soundtrack for Britain’s Olympic festival. If you’ve never tuned in to this Radio 3 programme, it’s probably unique to British broadcasting because of the care with which readings of poems, thoughts, comments are selected to complement snatches of music around a given theme. There’s never any linking commentary or explanation, and it lasts for 90 minutes without interruption–no time-checks, no jingles, and definitely no tweets or emails. Words and music are allowed to slide into each other, sometimes dreamily, at others thought-provoking because of the weirdness of the juxtapositions. On Saturday the topic was just so English–‘The Parish Priest’–and like Boyle’s Friday-night project it was irreverent, cheeky, nostalgic, yet also fully rounded. We had Handel, Gilbert and Sullivan, Wynton Marsalis and ‘The Vicar of Bray’, along with Dickens, Trollope, Jane Eyre and the Wisdom of Solomon. Church bells rang out, babies cried, and Prince William recited his marriage vows. Best of all was Michael Kitchen quietly reading from the Bishop of Oxford’s account of visiting a family who have just lost a child in a nonsensical accident–‘As I walked the short distance I felt completely devoid of words to say or prayers to offer. Nothing could reduce the tragedy … all I could do was be with them and soak up the edges of their pain.’ What could follow that? Nothing but James MacMillan’s ‘A Child’s Prayer’, written for the dead children of Dunblane.

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July 11

District Officials Eye Blended Learning, With Cautionary Lessons in Mind; Blended learning is focus at tech event

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Orlando, Fla. — Backers of blended and online learning arrived here to exchange ideas and learn about practices they can take back to their districts and offices–even as major problems playing out in school districts that have launched outsized technology projects offered reminders of potential consequences when the most ambitious plans go awry.

The annual symposium of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning bills itself as the premier gathering of supporters of blended and online models, and it drew administrators and teachers from school systems large and small. Their needs vary enormously, depending on the technological mix of computer-based and in-person instruction they envision.

The meeting had an estimated 2,400 registered attendees, who also included company officials, philanthropists, researchers, and others–many of whom emphasized that their plans to implement or expand online or blended learning are playing out at a much smaller scale than the ambitious 1-to-1 computing efforts attempted by the Guilford County, N.C., and Los Angeles school systems, where major problems have been reported. But those gathered also spoke of what they see as flaws in approaches used in Los Angeles and other districts, and said they are confident that with enough planning, they can avoid similar mishaps.

“There is just that sense of ‘Wow, how do we make sure that doesn’t happen to our kids?’ ” said Don Andrews, the assistant superintendent for secondary instruction in the Lee’s Summit R-7 school district, an 18,000-student system in Missouri.

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Challenges for Districts

While Mr. Andrews said his school district doesn’t have a true blended-learning model, it is steadily increasing its online instruction. One of its major goals for the next few years is to increase the “density” of its online connectivity, so that students have reliable connections in every classroom, even while the demand increases as students and teachers are using myriad mobile devices at the same time. The district is gradually shifting toward a “bring-your-own-device” approach to technology, he said.

Meeting those goals will mean increasing the number of wireless access points throughout the district, Mr. Andrews said. “Kids don’t care how many access points you have,” he said. “They care about having [wireless technology] that works just as well as it does at the local McDonald’s.”

The 664,000-student Los Angeles school district’s rollout of an effort to provide iPads to every student over several years, at a cost that could reach $500 million, has been dogged by a series of problems. There have been questions about the exact cost of individual devices, students’ demonstrated ability to circumvent security filters on the tools–and, as reported recently by Education Week, questions about the readiness of curriculum developed by Pearson that is designed to be embedded in the devices.

Meanwhile, technical troubles with 1-to-1 computing initiatives have emerged in smaller districts. In the 73,000-student Guilford County, N.C., school system, which is planning a 1-to-1 effort, district officials suspended the deployment of tablets and other equipment provided by the company Amplify after reports of equipment problems. And in Fort Bend, Texas, district officials abandoned a plan that had been in the works for a year and a half to provide science curriculum with iPads, after a consultant cited a litany of problems with the project’s standards, management, and integration with the district’s existing curriculum.

While a number of school administrators at the conference cautioned against drawing broad conclusions from those districts’ experiences, they also said the high-profile troubles are instructive in some ways–though not in the ways one might expect.

A number of conference attendees, for instance, said they thought the concerns about Los Angeles students’ security breaches, and the district’s response to it, were overblown. Overly restrictive policies risk thwarting students’ creativity, and don’t offer schools the opportunity to reinforce lessons on responsible technology use, they argued.

Simply taking devices away or putting overly aggressive restrictions on them risk “punishing the masses for the mistakes of the few,” said John David Son, the director of instrutional technology for the Naperville, Ill., Community Unit School District 203. “We like to use [those incidents] as teachable moments.”

Mr. Son’s 17,000-student district is partnering with nearby school systems in trying to improve its technology. It is also expanding its wireless access, considering options for moving ahead with a bring-your-own device model, and trying to integrate technology with improved teaching practices, he said.

“We have to know there are going to be bumps along the way,” Mr. Son said.

Beyond the Devices

Many district officials at the conference said while they hoped to glean some cautionary lessons from the experiences of Los Angeles, Guilford County, and other districts, they also noted their district technology plans are typically smaller scale, and have much different goals–a view echoed by Susan D. Patrick, the president and CEO of the online learning association, known as iNACOL, hosting the event.

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A core message Ms. Patrick said was being driven home at the event is that districts need to focus first on their instructional needs, and how they can personalize learning to meet the specific needs of students of different ability levels–and only then seek technology to help them get there. “This is not about 1-to-1 and giving kids tablets and all that–that’s been said a hundred times here,” Ms. Patrick said.

Questions about buying this or that technology “should be the last thing you ask,” she said. “It should be about, what is the educational goal you want to reach, what is the instructional practice, and what is the content” you need?

Finding the right content is particularly difficult for districts, because that content needs to match their educational demands, Ms. Patrick added. Districts also need to be focused on how they’re going to collect data that offers precise, transparent information on student learning, and ensure “multiple pathways for learning.”

“That’s a very different conversation than, ‘What are the apps on my tablet?’ ” she said. Ms. Patrick said districts have much more information on how to use blended and online learning than they did a few years ago, in terms of making sure technology is aligned with academic goals and individual student needs.

One resource meant to provide districts with direction was released at the conference, “Keeping Pace With K-12 Online and Blended Learning,” an annual report about virtual education produced by the Evergreen Education Group. The document includes a section on “planning for quality,” meant to help guide district leaders through various challenges while moving into blended learning, from training teachers to choosing technology to setting realistic deadlines.

While disheartening, the technology difficulties in Los Angeles and other districts should prod school leaders to set clear objectives for what they want to accomplish educationally, and how technology can help, said John Watson, the founder of Evergreen, a consulting organization based in Colorado.

The temptation in districts is to “layer on technology, buy a bunch of devices,” Mr. Watson said. “That story is happening in countless districts around the country.” The difference in Los Angeles, he said, “is the order of magnitude.”

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July 11

Sleep better–your bed is watching you: Consumer electronics are working hard to solve our problems–or humiliate us

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The great thing about technology is that it always solves important problems. For instance, today’s automakers like to cram a bunch of failure-prone gizmos into their cars. That has solved the problem of me ever having money.

Lately, I’ve been worried that my bed hasn’t been nagging me enough. To the rescue comes the Sleep Number x12, a mattress so laden with wires, sensors and computer chips that it’s basically a flat, rectangular Terminator.

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It uses software called SleepIQ to track your movement, breathing rate and heart rate as you sleep, which seems pretty stressful. It then grades your sleep performance, saying you seem pretty stressed. The bed retails for $7,999–which sounds like a lot, but you can’t put a price on waking up to a fact-based analysis of how your terrible sleeping patterns are leading you to an early grave.

There’s more. The Sleep Number x12 uses a video screen to offer helpful tips, such as: “To prevent trips to the bathroom, limit how much liquid you drink after 8 p.m.” Thanks for the brainwave, super bed. Had never cottoned to the whole liquid-urine connection.

The Sleep Number x12 was featured at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held earlier this month in Las Vegas. Another popular item? Vibrating underwear for women. Manufactured by OhMiBod, the vibrating pads are operated through a smartphone app. Not to worry, ladies: your boss at work is vain enough to assume it’s his PowerPoint presentation that’s putting a smile on your face.

Personally, my interest lies with the people who designed this product, I’d like to have been there with them over the holidays when their extended families came for dinner.

Grandma: So, Michael, I hear you’ve got a new job.

Michael: Yes, Grandma.

Grandma: It’s great to see you using the education that your parents sacrificed so much to pay for. Tell us all about this job.

Michael: Um, it’s pretty technical. I don’t want to bore you.

Grandma: Nonsense. Spare no detail.

Michael: Well, I guess you could say it involves advanced sensors that are activated via wireless technology.

Grandma: And these sensors are used to … what? Diagnose medical ailments? Improve productivity? Solve irrigation issues that undermine agricultural prog–

Michael: I make vibrating underpants for ladies, Grandma.

There is a pause.

Aunt Heather: Go on.

By the way, the company insists its vibrating underwear is “totally discreet”–so long as you work in an “Oh!” factory.

Or, for $222, you can buy a plastic figurine called Mother, which looks like an overweight bowling pin. With glowing eyes, Mother helps you keep track of important things like: how long you brushed your teeth; whether you’ve consumed enough water; and what you just wasted $222 on.

Another problem that needed solving: Some of us tend to linger outdoors in summer. Currently, the only way to avoid spending too much time in the sun is to engage in the antiquated process known as thinking.

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Thanks to a company called Netatmo, you can instead spend $100 on a bracelet that tracks UV exposure and lets you know via smartphone when to go inside. You just have to think for long enough to put on the bracelet and sync it to your smartphone and bring along your phone and make sure the bracelet is exposed to the sun and make sure your phone is nearby at all times and remember to check for updates. What could be easier?

One big trend at CES was wearable technology. Companies are breaking new ground here. For instance, EroGear is producing high-heel shoes that feature a band of LED lights–which can be configured to display light patterns or even show off your Twitter feed. So now everyone in the dance club can see you’re terrible at fashion and spelling.

Another company, Wearable Experiments, has made what it describes as a “smart jacket” to help women navigate unfamiliar cities. Just link it with the GPS on your phone. It uses vibrators built into the shoulder pads to guide you along. If you feel a vibration on your left shoulder, turn left. If you feel a vibration on your right shoulder, turn right. If you feel a vibration in your underpants, you probably won’t care if you get where you’re going.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk

Caption: Unplugged: For just $222, you can buy a plastic figurine called Mother, which helps you keep track of things– such as what you just wasted $222 on

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July 11

Is the iPhone killing RIM? The BlackBerry is under attack and RIM’s giving the fight everything it’s got

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Last month, a posting appeared on the popular Business Insider blog that no doubt filled some Research In Motion executives with a sense of dread. Under the heading “How I Ended My Affair With BlackBerry And Eloped With The iPhone,” former tech analyst Henry Blodget described how he somewhat reluctantly went out and bought Apple’s latest “it” phone, the new iPhone 3G S, after 12 years of loyal BlackBerry service. Business users have long been skeptical of the sleek iPhone and its touchscreen display, which can make emailing and typing a chore, but Blodget wasn’t disappointed with his switch. “It’s nice here in Apple world,” he concluded.

Research in Motion (RIM) is still a smartphone juggernaut, hut the defection of influential business leaders like Blodget sends a chilling signal to the Waterloo, Ont.-based company. More than half of its 28.5 million subscribers are business users, and while they haven’t been dropping their BlackBerries en masse, momentum is quickly building behind the iPhone. While RIM reported a decline in the number of new subscribers in its latest quarterly results, Apple saw iPhone sales jump sevenfold. And when the new iPhone 3G S launched this summer, U.S. buyers snapped up one million of them in just three days. If the trend continues, and iPhone sales continue to rocket up, it’s easy to see who will come out on top. Analysts say that Apple’s rise out of nowhere to become a legitimate rival to the BlackBerry is something that RIM is now going to extraordinary lengths to guard against.

Just how far will RIM go? All the way to Parliament Hill, for starters. Last week, an emergency parliamentary hearing was held to look at the fairness of a recent auctioning off of some of Nortel’s wireless assets. RIM had complained vehemently that it was unfairly shut out of the auction, which was eventually won by the Swedish firm Ericsson. “RIM is extremely disappointed that Nortel’s worldleading technology, the development of which has been funded in part by Canadian taxpayers, seems destined to leave Canada,” said RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie. In a statement, the company sought to stoke the nationalist fires by adding that the move could “significantly, adversely affect national interests, with potential national security implications.”

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The squabble over the leftovers of a bankrupt company might appear to have little to do with iPhones (let alone national security). But observers say that RIM’s gambit to grab a piece of Nortel is very much a part of a bigger strategy to protect its place as the go-to smartphone maker in a wireless market that is becoming increasingly crowded. Competitors such as Apple are grabbing more attention as Internet-based smartphones begin to outshine RIM’s often clunkier, suit-and-tie set BlackBerries, and among the Nortel assets, analysts say RIM sees some key pieces of technology that could help turn the tide back in its favour.

At the parliamentary hearing, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said that RIM “almost had a deal” with Nortel to buy some of its wireless technology. He confirmed what analysts already suspected-that RIM is primarily after the patents on a new wireless broadband standard called Long Term Evolution, or LTE. LTE has emerged as the technology most likely to form the backbone of the next generation wireless systems over the next few years-systems that will allow smartphones to connect to the Internet far faster than they do now, and handle the kind of data-heavy services that are just beginning to appear on cellphones, like video-on-demand and video conferencing.

That’s what makes RIM’s interest in Nortel so revealing, say analysts. This kind of technology is normally the concern of companies that build wireless networks, not those that make handsets. But if RIM were to control these LTE patents and employ the engineers developing them, it would be at a huge competitive advantage. RIM wouldn’t just be a cellphone maker, but a one-stop, wireless powerhouse. It could, for instance, negotiate much cheaper access or even exclusive rights to the wireless networks it operates on, says Joe Compeau, a professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business, who has been following the company. It could also license the technology to other cell phone makers-a potentially profitable side business. RIM would become “the kid who owns the ball in the playground,” says Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst.

RIM knows better than anyone the risks of not controlling patents vital to its future. It has paid almost a billion dollars to settle two major patent disputes, including a US$267-million payment just last month. Those disputes threatened the very survival of the company. Nevertheless, a bid to control the underpinnings of a wireless system is an unprecedented move. Apple, for instance, has shown no interest in dirtying its hands in this side of the business. “It is not normal that a handset vendor would get that deeply involved in its supply chain. Handset vendors typically stick to handsets and partner with telecom vendors like Nortel or Ericsson” says Levy.

For now, BlackBerries remain big sellers, though it’s easy to see why RIM is looking to alternate strategies for the future. “They’re still the device of choice for businesses and they’re gaining space in the consumer market,” says Compeau. RIM sold almost eight million of them in its latest quarter (though r analysts caution that was helped by a buy one get one free offer from Verizon Wireless in the U.S.), and its Curve model outsold the iPhone in the first quarter of this year, according to the NPD Group.

But while RIM still holds a sizable 41 per cent of the global market, Apple has man aged to snatch away 25 per cent of the market in just two years, according to a report by ChangeWave Investing. Now, rather than calling the shots, it’s BlackBerry that’s struggling to appear hip in the age of the iPhone. It is sponsoring U2 s latest concert tour and has been running slick commercials featuring the band and the slogan, “BlackBerry Loves U2.” That might help (Apple once sold a U2-branded iPod), but what RIM really needs is a knockout new product, one with a top-notch touchscreen that betters the iPhone. Its first effort at a touchscreen phone, the Storm, was a flop with critics (although RIM said early sales were “stronger than anticipated”), and a newer version is due out in the coming months.

Perhaps most worrying of all for RIM is the potential erosion in sales among members of the next generation. According to a survey of future smartphone buyers, 44 per cent now say they are planning to buy an iPhone, while just 23 per cent say they would buy a BlackBerry, according to ChangeWave. Those numbers may partly be a result of the timing of the survey, which was done at the same time Apple released its new iPhone 3G S, but the threat from Apple is growing quickly as it slashes prices (you can now get iPhones for S99 with a three-year contract), adds new carriers, and improves the look and functionality of its phones. “Truth be told, the real darling is the iPhone hardware design. Nothing can touch it,” says Levy.

Apple is also beating out RIM in the emerging market of third-party smartphone applications. It has been just a year since Apple launched its online App Store, but there are already over 50,000 applications and counting, and the site boasts more than a billion downloads. The variety of applications has made the iPhone more appealing to consumers, and Apple has demonstrated that smartphones are about a whole lot more than just emailing and browsing the Internet. RIM has launched its own app store (which has a few thousand apps), but analysts say that Apple’s lead in this area may simply be insurmountable.

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RIM’s best bet may indeed be to focus on research into new wireless network technology, but so far it’s not going all that well. Most observers say the odds of the government intervening in the Nortel sale to award

the patents to RIM at this late stage are small. After all, the LTE patents are simply being leased-not sold-to Ericsson. However, it’s conceivable that RIM could pursue its strategy through other means. Nortel isn’t the only company developing LTE, and RIM still has plenty of cash on hand for acquisitions. Of late, RIM has been buying patents and intellectual property at a great rate; it has spent $1.3 billion on patents over the past two years, according to a report by Genuity Capital Markets analyst Deepak Chopra.

But will that be enough? Most observers expect that over the coming years Apple will continue to pick away at RIM’s business market, leveraging its sleek looks and status to win over the suits. “It’s still a two-horse race” says Levy, but just like there’s only room for one Coke, there may only be room for one true smartphone leader with a brand and design strong enough to make consumers swoon. Right now, it looks like that brand will be the iPhone.

A few weeks ago, Blodget wrote an update about his breakup with the BlackBerry. Despite a few frustrations, he said, “I’m still happy I bought the iPhone.” There’s no getting away from the fact that people who use the iPhone just seem to like it better. Experiences like that will be pretty tough for RIM to overcome.

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