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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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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