Thursday, November 19, 2009

They aren't fully alive!

Jason Lackey

Technology is a wonderful thing and sometimes produces some moments of real hilarity.

AT&T’s rebuttal to recent Verizon attacks, which can be seen here, sadly is not one of them. Rather, it is sad, in a kind of #fail way.

Unlike the Island of Misfit Toys, which manages to hit nostalgic heartstrings and be wickedly evil at the same time, although my neighbor here in cubeville has expressed her unhappiness with the usurpation of her childhood for commercial purposes, one could also argue that the original was more or less a commercial effort anyway.

We digress.

Another piece of comedy was AT&T taking their unhappiness with the whole “There’s a map for that” campaign by means of the court. Sure, this is America and we are the most litigious people in the world but sometimes we pass from the questionable to the absurd and this is one. I would recommend more spending on towers and less on lawyers, a sentiment which seems widely echoed in The Valley and on the blogosphere.

Anyway, this brings me to the quote of the day, which is from the judge who got to hear complaints that AT&T did not like the Misfit Toys spot:

"Most people who are watching TV are semi-catatonic, they're not fully alive." said U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten while commenting on the case.

Classic. Wonderfully classic.

Read more at PC World

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bat out of Espoo

Jason Lackey

Performer Meatloaf has a special place in the hearts of many geeks, as he not only appeared in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the seminal late night B movie, but also hit some chords which cannot help but resonate with degenerate teens, which is to say most of them, which many of us once were. This resonance hit stride with the album Bat out of Hell and some would say the single Paradise by the Dashboard Light was the very climax.

For those unfamiliar, the tune is about a fellow who pledges his eternal love to a girl he is trying to have his way with parked in a car some dark place. Of course, the fellow later changes his mind and tries to find a way out of his pledge of eternal love and devotion.

Reminds me of Peter Schneider, Head of Marketing for Maemo Devices at Nokia when he said "Symbian and Maemo will continue to co-exist,"

Well, guess that depends on how you define co-exist. For example, if it means that devices in the pipeline will ship with the OS they were originally planned to ship with, then OK, but it looks like the end of the line for Symbian is on the N-series is coming quickly if the Maemo folks can be believed.

Of course I expect that they won't break any promises or forget any vows, but it sure sounds like Nokia may be "praying for the end of time" so they can get on with the future of building world class smartphones which, as we have seen, is going to be a real challenge if they stick with Symbian.

Sadly the company does seem to be sending contradictory and changing messages with regards to its platform strategy. Considering the developer flight from Symbian and the rather steep fall in market share, particularly on the high end, it would seem that Espoo needs to make a choice, clearly communicate that choice and get on with life. Far worse then telling people something they don't want to hear is telling them something that they do want to hear but lying about it.

Espoo, go ahead and sleep on it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Clockwork Pink: T-Mobile Kickstarts Sidekick Sales Again

Jason Lackey

After the recent, well publicized failure of the T-Mo/Sidekick/Danger/Microsoft cloud , T-Mobile suspended sales of the popular Sidekick and Sidekick LX advanced featurephones. Understandable move.

Operators want (perhaps need) to be able to control their destinies and one of the best ways to do that is to own and manage the infrastructure that their businesses depend on. Some wireless operators, such as Sprint, have been a bit more optimistic with regards to leaving their fate in the hands of others, but generally the guys who are serious about the subscriber experience want to have all the variables under their immediate and direct control. Of course, in some ways this makes the iPhone a bit of a slippery slope offering (ending in the land of dumb pipes) from the snake in the garden of Eden as so much of the end user experience is controlled by Apple, but then again there are some who would say that for the most part the portions of iPhone end user experience that actually work would be those controlled by Apple and not AT&T, but that is another story.

Which brings us back to T-Mobile. We have seen that Microsoft has been less than a fully trustworthy partner in the mobile space first by the existance of the Pink effort, which effectively betrayed more or less every ally and friend they had amongst the handset makers, timed when faith in WinMo to deliver with 6.5 being a somewhat lame partial reskin and 7.0 delayed until late next year (perhaps far enough in the future to no longer matter, much like the post comet-strike plans of a diplodocus on the Yucatan Peninsula). Then the whole thing was topped off by the final betrayal of their last friend, Sharp, who was going to make the Pink device. An amazing display of self-immolation unlikely to be matched again any time soon.

So, after all this T-Mobile kickstarts sales of the Sidekick devices again. It is certainly nice to see such loyalty in these times, particularly when so much reputation is at stake. I like T-Mobile, they remind me of Virgin or Southwest, a plucky competitor that "gets it" and tries harder. Their support people are great and actually seem to be alive, engaged and care that your phone works. Just somehow I cannot quite purge the scene from Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange when Alex has booted Dim into the water and feigning the offering of a helping hand to pull the flailing Dim out of the drink, instead slashed his hand with a knife.
Viddy well, droogies, viddy well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Droid’s Angry Red Eye – An Opportunity Lost?

Jason Lackey

This piece originally appeared on TMCnet.

Well, Sanjay Jha needed to deliver a home run with the Droid, and by all accounts he did. Unlike the past couple years, people are finally talking about Motorola and they are talking about things other than what a fine phone the RAZR was or how the company is bleeding to death in a sea of red ink. Handset news and blog sites have been verging on “all android, all the time”. Verizon has come out with their first memorable ad in recent history (check it out) and finally there are people talking about Moto in something other than funereal tones.

That said, I can’t help but wonder if they haven’t blown it.


Yep, I get the feeling that they may have blown the launch and shot too low. Let me explain…

So, I get the angry red cybernetic eye. I like Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, gadgets, widgets etc. I also get the stealth fighters and the missile bombardment stuff in the ad. I like bombs and explosions and things that go boom. I am a macho gadget fetish geek and I am their target demographic and they nailed it. My heart is filled with lust for the glowing red eye monster.

The problem is, the person in the next cube over, we’ll call her Sandy, isn’t. As a matter of fact, she is repulsed and turned off by the whole thing. Sandy understands technology and mobile in general better than many of the engineers who build it. She is clueful and “gets it”, but the ads with the “creepy red eye” and all the violence are for her a huge turn off. Personally I would love to see an ad where Kimbo Slice takes on the Get a Mac guy but there are a whole bunch of people who would not.

Early adopters, hardcore geeks and macho techno supremacists are of course interesting folks and they usually want smartphones. They want badass high spec smartphones and are willing to pay for them as well. But if we are really trying to do an iPhone killer, they are not the target to shoot for. The target that the iPhone has so successfully hit is broader - the intelligent person who perhaps didn’t realize that she really wanted a smartphone, but once she has tried an iPhone found herself hooked because suddenly the power of the Internet and a meaningful Appstore was available in a pocket able form factor and it sure was cool. This is not the person who is going to be chasing after geek superiority looking after more CPU - this is the type of person who wants her technology to help her get things done and on this front they have missed the mark.

I guess Droids are from Mars and iPhones from Venus.

Now, how about that cute little green Android, where did he go?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Down at the Old Brick and Mortar

Jason Lackey

I snuck out of the house for a little bit to spend some time down at some Brick and Mortar stores, which is always a fun thing.

In a piece published on TMCnet (available here) I wrote about how I thought that Droid was being pitched wrong and that the Angry Red Eye of Droid was not going to help sell the phone to females. Of course, over the weekend when I was at Best Buy hoping to get my sweaty hands on a live demo machine. While the Best Buy phone guy was trying to get the device activated (guess inputting *228 is harder in some cases than others) one of his coworkers, a young female, heard the word "droid" and scurried over with some excitement to check it out. Exception that proves the rule?

A further exception proving the rule was the quality time I spent with an AT&T Tilt 2, aka the HTC Touch Pro 2.

I have a special fondness in my heart for the original Tilt, which turns out to be an awesome Windows Mobile Demo phone.

The Tilt 2 is without a doubt the finest Windows Mobile device I have ever used. If you have for whatever reason decided that you must have Windows Mobile then the Tilt 2 is not going to disappoint. Big screen, responsive UI even in Touchflow 3D mode and the best mobile keyboard I have used, for those who don't mind a big hunk of technology bouncing around in pocket, this is a fine choice for a phone.

Not perfect, but a solid and well executed example of the breed.

In a way, it is sad to see Windows Mobile finally hit its stride with some of the new 6.5 devices, as it seems to be a platform which has lost its steam and mindshare, sort of like a really bright velociraptor at the end of the reign of the dinosaurs.

Then again, all this may be of little relevance. I am increasingly often seeing parents pacify their kids with iPhones and iPod touches. The thing that stands out is that even children find these devices to be intuitive and pleasurable to use. They want them, they like using them and it can be hard to reclaim the device as the child often seems reluctant to give it up.

Now, try that with a nice S60 device and let me know how hard it is to get it back from a 4 year old.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Droid: Sea Change for Verizon?

Jason Lackey

For some Verizon may have been the epitome of the walled garden. They have maintained strict control over their network and the things that happen on it and this control and management has paid off for consumers who are rewarded with wireless service with reliability much like that which old Ma Bell taught us to expect from telcos. Always there, nailed up and ready to go. This has not been the case with other operators. Recently Tmobile had a widespread outage and AT&T has had ongoing issues as well. Verizon? Well, here at InnoPath we were able to use their wireless data services to supply data for AT&T devices at Oracle Open World when the AT&T data network in San Francisco was overwhelmed with traffic, so I guess you could say that the ends have justified the means.

The traditional near military precision and attention to detail caused many to poohpooh the Verizon open network initiative, Big Red has shown that they are in fact serious about this stuff. North American operators have often crippled or locked WiFi, GPS on devices, "gimping" the phone and disappointing the consumer while forcing the use of for pay services sold by the operator, things like Navigation packages and such.

One of the big features of Android's 2.0 release is the enhanced Google Maps application, which includes turn by turn navigation - a huge step forward and a direct competitor to a Verizon offering. While there must have been huge temptation to do otherwise, all the goodness baked into Android 2.0 is present and accounted for in Verizon's Droid. They have given up a little control and a little short term cash, but the subscriber is the one who in the end wins.

Additionally, Eclair also marks the first Android release with native ActiveSync/Exchange support baked in to the Google Experience handset. This is exactly the type of Enteprise support that has enabled the iPhone's back door entrance into the enterprise and is the opposite of the RIM approach where all data goes through RIM servers.

These are certainly interesting times with a lot of change and upheaval, but based on past experience I have no doubts that Big Red will continue to deliver on the promise of wireline telco reliability with the benefits of wireless and open networks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Back 40

David Ginsburg

The Back 40
noun - wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area.

This article originally appeared in a similar form on TMCnet here.

This last week marked an auspicious event for those of us rooted in Silicon Valley. The 40th anniversary of the creation (and yes, I’m not using that world lightly) of the early Internet… a single link between UCLA and SRI ( For four decades we’ve been working to tame that Back 40. And what taming it’s been. Every decade, speeds and applications improve a hundred-fold. On the mobile front, I can’t say mobile we’re completely there yet. I still see weeds. But we’re getting close.

So what does this mean, after all these years, when we can finally focus on reaping what we’ve sown? When we can finally turn our attention to services and applications, assuming a network infrastructure to support them? And what does it mean for the mobile operators?

With 3G (mostly) in place, you can now turn your attention to growing the subscriber base. As Morgan Stanley reported, this coming year will be the inflection point on a global level… the year that operators turn their attention to offering the types of data services optimized for mobile broadband, thanks to a billion subscribers with advanced devices. What is almost more telling is iPhone growth, a proxy for the future of advanced applications leveraging the global 3G infrastructure. Compare this growth to the geographically-limited i-mode offering, the world’s first 3G data service, offered by DoCoMo in Japan, and the urgency is clear. What urgency? What does this growth imply for your support organization when you are a Tier 1 operator with 20 million or so subscribers running around with the equivalent of PCs in their pockets?

As a contrast, in the wireline space, customers rarely call their provider. When was the last time you called AT&T, Comcast, or your local ISP? Why? Your end device… the PC or laptop… isn’t provided by the operator. You are more likely to call Microsoft, Dell, or HP with OS or hardware issues. The opposite is true with mobility. In most cases, there is an implied link between the phone and the operator, subsidy or no subsidy. Support call volumes are much greater; call types are more complex.

Unfortunately, you are only marginally staffed to even meet today’s requirements. Fast forward a few years with the majority of your subscribers calling with media, browser, and navigation issues, and it can’t be business as usual. You require a new support paradigm. As I’ve written in the past, you’ll need a real-time over-the-air link between your frontline CSR and the phone itself, capable of reading and sending configuration settings as well as diagnosing software and hardware issues. But what about updating the phone? It isn’t a day you go by without reading of some HTC issue, RIM’s plans to load their 5.0 OS onto existing phones via a desktop application, or Apple’s use of iTunes to push upwards of 5 updates a year to the iPhone.

What you’ll require is a scalable and secure way of pushing large updates OTA to the phone, be it the radio image, the embedded OS, or even applications. Think of Windows or Mac Update, but wireless. You must be able to plan mass updates in advance, targeting groups of subscribers at off-hours. And, the client code running on the phone should select the best network available for the download, including WiFi, while delaying it if necessary due to roaming or lack of 3G connectivity. The client must also be able to intelligently pick up where it left off if a download was interrupted. Needless to say, any update process must clearly explain to the user what will occur and the reason for the update. Admittedly, some of these capabilities exist with the likes of Android or even the Palm Pre today, but they must be scaled many-fold, and incorporated within an operator’s OTA solution for frontline care.

Smartphone OTA updates…. one implement for taming that Back 40.