» Archive for April, 2009

Test Drive: BlackBerry App World

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World Categories

BlackBerry App World is now open for business.  The new application store is available from BlackBerry smartphones with a trackball or touchscreen such as the Pearl, Bold, Curve, and Storm; it does not support older BlackBerry devices with side wheels, which means that millions of knowledge workers with these models cannot benefit from what the store has to offer without replacing their hardware.

I only had an hour or so to explore the store; for this I used a BlackBerry Bold and AT&T’s 3G network, later switching to Wi-Fi to see if downloads were significantly faster (they weren’t).  To install, I had to first go to a Web page and initiate the installation process.  That put the App World icon in my download folder (incidentally, if you don’t know to look there, you won’t find it) and I moved it to the top-level menu.  Once in App World, I found hundreds of applications in categories such as News, Weather, Finance, Games, Productivity, Social Networking, and Health.  Many are free but some were relatively pricey ($59.99).

Installing a free app was simple and easy.  I downloaded multiple apps, including Viigo and Slacker Radio, and was soon listening to the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra playing the Sabre Dance. I was able to also check the weather and news reports in Viigo while the radio continued to play.  I then added the Nobex Radio Companion and was able to choose from thousands of radio stations in the U.S.  Nobex will also e-mail you song details with links that support Apple iTunes and Amazon.com, although you can’t purchase music directly from the BlackBerry at this time (but you can forward the e-mail to your computer to make the purchase).  I didn’t download the App World’s Facebook app; it’s the same one that’s been available for the BlackBerry for quite a while.  I couldn’t find a Twitter client although CellSpin and Viigo promise to support Twitter.

Purchasing applications was far clumsier than what Apple offers in its App Store: the first time I selected an application I wanted to purchase, AP News for $2.99, instead of offering to charge it to my mobile phone number, it offered me one payment choice: PayPal.  For those users who either don’t have PayPal or don’t wish to open a PayPal account, this seems a bit limiting.  Even when I tried to make the purchase through PayPal, it didn’t go through: “There was a problem connecting to the payment system. Your transaction may not have been processed…”  The best it could then offer me was an “attempt to retrieve the application purchase.”  It turned out that the charge had gone through and I was later able to install the AP app.  After testing it, I liked the free Viigo app better for news and information.

A few naming conventions were a bit odd (of what benefit is a “Boston News Web Shortcut” or “Fox News Bookmark”?) but in general, it was easy to find and learn about new applications.  Most have screen shots and product summaries and many have reviews.  I found that e-mailing a link from App World (so I could read more about the application on my laptop) did little good as the link was only accessible from the device.

Features include keyword search, reviews, recommendations, and a folder called My World, which keeps track of downloaded applications and facilitates reinstallation and transfer of applications to a device.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Encarta: 1993 – 2009

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by David Goldes

Perhaps not surprisingly, Microsoft announced, via a notice posted on the MSN Web site, that it would stop selling Encarta CDs as of June and discontinue the online version of Encarta by the end of 2009.

Microsoft’s move is a recognition on the part of the company that the business of publishing information has once again changed dramatically.  In the early 1990s, traditional print publishers, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, found in Microsoft a formidable competitor when Microsoft launched Encarta on CDs and included copies of it in Microsoft Windows.  Microsoft purchased non-exclusive rights to the Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedia, which continued separately as a print edition until the late 1990s; the company had reportedly approached Encyclopaedia Britannica first but its owner, worried that sales of the print edition would be hurt, turned down the offer.

Microsoft continued to enhance Encarta by purchasing and incorporating into it Collier’s Encyclopedia and the New Merit Scholar’s Encyclopedia.

Yet Encarta’s time in the sun was fleeting as online information resources, such as the Wikipedia, grew in size (it now has over 10 million articles in over 260 languages).  By comparison, Microsoft’s online Encarta offering currently has 42,000 articles and the complete English language version has only somewhat more than 62,000 articles and is updated much less frequently than the Wikipedia.

“Encarta has been a popular product around the world for many years,” Microsoft wrote in its posted notice. “However, the category of traditional encyclopedias and reference material has changed. People today seek and consume information in considerably different ways than in years past.”

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Test Drive: Skype for iPhone

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira
Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype for iPhone Account Screen

Skype is a popular communications tool for many knowledge workers, especially those on the go.  Released on Tuesday, Skype for iPhone, which also works on the second generation iPod touch, adds Skype calling and instant messaging to both devices and is available from Apple’s App Store, free of charge.

I installed it on the iPod touch as soon as it was available and, while there have been a few glitches, my experience has been pretty much stellar.  The application opens up myriad communications possibilities for the business traveler, including the ability to assign multiple “local” numbers to an iPhone or iPod touch at very low cost.

Skype for iPhone allows users to place free Skype-to-Skype calls when connected to Wi-Fi anywhere in the world.  To reach non-Skype users at rates that are typically a few cents per minute is just as easy.  The sound quality of the call was crystal clear for me but those I was speaking to reported that I sounded a bit distant.

Skype instant messaging is available on all supported connections (Wi-Fi, 3G, GPRS, or EDGE) to both individuals and groups. Users can also edit contacts and set their presence status.

Try it from any supported device from the Apple App Store.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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