» Archive for the 'Mobility' Category

PC: Meet the Home Motor

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

The computer no longer conjures up an image of glass walled-rooms filled with blinking lights and scientists in white lab coats.  More likely, the image is that of a desktop computer, which has become the prevalent interface to the computing world since 1981, when IBM launched the first IBM PC.

Similar to the mainframes in those glass-walled rooms, desktops were largely immobile; they stayed put on the desk.  Portable computers, which trace their history back to early 1981, when the Osborne 1, weighing in at 11 kilograms, was introduced, were hardly portable and were very expensive.  [The first notebook-style computer was the NEC Ultralite of 1989 weighing a little over 2 kilograms.]  But desktop computers had one advantage: they were cheap and powerful compared to laptop computers.  That pricing disparity meant far more desktops than laptops were sold in the ensuing years.

Still, when we need to use a computer for computing (whatever that means), we typically go to it in order to use and benefit from it.  What we do with it has changed as well; most computers are used to process words and text and manipulate images while the earliest mainframe computers performed calculations for researchers and statisticians.  Computers are also used to play games, listen to the radio, watch television programming and  movies, although these tasks are slowly being offloaded to purpose-built devices that typically embed a microcomputer, some storage, and WLAN radio within.

In my book Managing the Knowledge Workforce, I wrote of the Sears Home Motor, a popular home gadget ca. 1900.  The home motor powered anything that might need turning, such as a mixer, churner, beater, fan, buffer, or grinder.  Typically a household had one home motor and plugged the appropriate attachment into it.  Nowadays the home motor is a relic, obsoleted by the ubiquity of motors in devices that require them, such as a fan or mixer.  “Motors-and microprocessors-surround us but we don’t think of them individually” I wrote then.  “As computers become more and more embedded, they, too, will disappear from view.”

I thought of the home motor when I began testing the several netbooks, a new class of computer that is distinguished by its very light weight and very low price.  It may very well be the netbook computer that sets the computer free from the desktop once and for all.   AT&T is calling them “mini laptops” and offering them in several markets at prices starting at $49.95 with the purchase of 3G mobile broadband services.

Last week I spoke with Jeremy Brody, HP’s global business notebook product manager.  In discussing netbooks, he made repeated used the phrase “good enough” to describe the computing experience they and others believe  purchasers are after.  While I understand what he (and others who use the term) may mean, I think that “good enough” implies that one must settle for something less than optimal.  While it is true that the specs of today’s netbooks are far less impressive than almost any $900 laptop on the market, the netbooks are still probably as fast if not faster than a laptop from 18 months ago, which is probably typical of what people already have.  I don’t think users are settling for “good enough”; rather, I think they are slowly but surely changing their habits in terms of where they use computers and for what.

Netbooks are designed for long battery life and fast Web browsing.  As more tools, applications, and data move into the cloud, a Web browser is the portal that users will go through.  Infrequent business travelers who don’t have a laptop might “settle” for a netbook as a companion device to their desktop computer.  Palm tried to invent the companion notebook market two years ago, announcing the Foleo in June 2007 and cancelling the project three months later (see http://www.basexblog.com/2007/09/07/foleo-ii/)   But the Foleo was somewhat flawed from the beginning, lacking storage and the ability to run standard desktop productivity applications, among other reasons.  In contrast, many netbooks come with Windows XP or even Vista, allowing almost anything that can run on a standard PC to run in this environment.

Companies such as HP are even making “business class” netbooks, which abandon plastic for metal and further blur the distinction.  I’ve been using (on a regular basis) a Lenovo ThinkPad X300 that, while not a mini, is close in weight at only 1.3 kg.  Despite its relatively small screen (13.3″), I have found that I am much more likely to take this computer with me on short trips (even those of just a few hours’ duration) and I am also able to, on more pleasant days, take the laptop outdoors and work while enjoying a less traditional, non-Dilbertian office environment.

The netbook may really represent an interregnum of sorts between traditional PCs and a new class of devices that may turn out to be a type of personal computing panel that folds up into something no bigger than a standard smartphone.  These PCPs (as I have named them) would use new paper-thin display technology and solid state storage and naturally leverage superfast ubiquitous Net access.  No one has announced anything such as this but this is where I see true personal computing going.

Home motor, anyone?

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

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.

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.

Cut and Paste

Thursday, March 19th, 2009 by David Goldes

Cutting and pasting, who doesn’t take this simple and age-old concept for granted?  Even before the advent of desktop computers, layout artists, armed with X-Acto knives and glue, manipulated text for documents and presentations.  The technique has been used in desktop computers for decades and most PDAs and smartphones also support this function – except for one: the Apple iPhone.  That all changed this past Tuesday.

Once Apple releases iPhone OS 3.0 this summer, iPhone and iPod touch users will be able to select text from one source, for example a flight number in an e-mail, and paste it into another application, an airline’s flight information Web page for example.  Since the introduction of the iPhone, Apple has maintained that it would add cut-and-paste and copy-and-paste functionality once it had developed a user interface worthy of the iPhone.  The feature works by tapping on the text, dragging it to the new location or application, and tapping once again.  To undo, simply shake the iPhone.

Apple is adding other functionality as well, which we’ve covered in this issue and we’ll report on how well this works as soon as it becomes available.  In the meantime, prepare to discard your X-Acto knives.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex

Lotusphere: Blue is the New Yellow

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

This week was the 16th annual Lotusphere conference in Orlando, Florida.  It was my 16th as well, although my count includes three Lotuspheres in Berlin.

As has been the custom all these years, IBM once again unleashed a flood of information, both in the general session and throughout the event.  For those allergic to information overload, Orlando was a dangerous place.

The news, from a somewhat modder, hipper, Lotus, which trotted out the Blue Man Group (one had to wonder why it took Big Blue over a decade to book them) and Dan Aykroyd to further underscore the message of collaboration and this year’s theme of resonance.  Last year, incidentally, we said that “yellow is the new black.”   Regardless of color, the tools coming from Lotus allowing knowledge workers to share knowledge and collaborate are stronger and more powerful than ever.

Indeed, resonance can be “very very powerful,” Lotus GM Bob Picciano (attending his first Lotusphere following his appointment to the top position eight months ago) pointed it out in the opening session.  When it’s working at its full potential, he added, it will “absolutely shatter windows.”

With Research in Motion CEO Jim Balsillie present, IBM celebrated the tenth anniversary of the BlackBerry mobile device by unveiling a new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Sametime, IBM’s unified communications and collaboration platform, that supports Web conferencing, file transfer, public groups, and enhanced presence.  BlackBerry addicts, excuse me, users, can also open Lotus Symphony word processing documents attached to e-mail or Sametime, with eventual access to presentations and spreadsheets.   They can also download, edit, and post to Lotus Quickr team software.

The new BlackBerry client for IBM Lotus Connections social software platform integrates with e-mail, camera, media player, and the browser, and supports blogs, activities, and communities.  It also supports enhanced profile information including name pronunciations and pictures.  Previously, users on BlackBerry devices could only access Connections’ profiles and tag tools.

But there was more, lots more.

Lotus Sametime
IBM also announced Lotus Sametime 8.5.  Not surprisingly, the new version sports a brand new user interface.  It also includes a tool kit that allows customers to use Sametime to add collaborative capabilities such as presence, instant messaging, and click-to-call, to their business processes.  Sametime features enhanced meeting support, including an Ajax-based zero-download Web client and the ability to add participants by dragging and dropping names.  Other enhancements include improved audio and video, persistent meeting rooms, better support for the Mac and Linux platforms, and the ability to record meetings in industry standard formats.  The Sametime Connect client includes connectivity to profiles within Lotus Connections and pictures from contacts in Lotus Notes.  Sametime Unified Telephony ties Sametime to corporate telephone systems and allows knowledge workers to give out one phone number and set up rules that allow them to be reached based on various conditions (if one is in a meeting, the call could go directly to voicemail unless it’s one’s manager, in which case it would ring on the mobile).

After a year of public beta using the code-name “Project Bluehouse,” IBM announced LotusLive.  The new cloud-based portfolio of collaboration tools and social software supports e-mail, collaboration, and Web conferencing. LotusLive is built using open Web-based standards and an open business model allowing companies to easily integrate third party applications into their environment.  Two LotusLive services are available from the site, Meetings and Events.  Meetings integrate audio and video conferencing; events supports online conferences including registration.

The IBM Web site also lists LotusLive Notes, or IBM Lotus Notes Hosted Messaging in more formal IBM parlance, but unlike Events and Meetings, you can’t sign up and start the service online.  The only button to click is the one that says “Contact Sales.”

Partners for LotusLive: Skype, LinkedIn, Salesforce.com
IBM also announced that LotusLive will support Skype, LinkedIn, and salesforce.com.  LinkedIn members will be able to search LinkedIn’s public professional network from within LotusLive and then collaborate with them using LotusLive services.  Salesforce users will be able to use LotusLive’s collaborative tools in conjunction with the customer and opportunity management tools available in the Salesforce CRM application.  LotusLive users will also be able to call Skype contacts from within LotusLive

LotusLive Engage
IBM also announced the beta of LotusLive Engage, a “smarter” meeting service according to IBM.  Engage is a suite of tools that conflates Web conferencing and collaboration with file storage and sharing, instant messaging, and chart creation.  It allows knowledge workers to continuously engage – not just for one meeting – in a community-like environment.

IBM and SAP present Alloy
IBM and SAP announced their first joint product, Alloy.  Previewed at last year’s Lotusphere under the code name “Atlantic,” Alloy presents information and data from SAP applications within the Lotus Notes client and Lotus Notes applications.

If you want to look back at news from past Lotuspheres, feel free to click back to 2008, 20072006, 2005, or 2004.

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

The Flip MinoHD

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

I am having way too much fun with the high-definition version of the Flip Mino video camera (Flip calls it the MinoHD and says it’s the “world’s smallest” HD camcorder).  It weighs only 85 g and can store 60 minutes of high-quality video, supports Windows and Mac (including QuickTime and iMovie), and is inobtrusive, as those you film will think you are holding your mobile phone.  Image quality is greatly improved over the original version, which wasn’t at all bad.

Here are two clips, a ride on the S-Bahn in Vienna and my attempt to conduct the virtual Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) earlier today at the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna.

It’s good for quick product demos as well and you can easily publish an edited video to YouTube or distribute it privately via a greeting card or e-mail sent via Flip’s servers.

Virtual Wiener Philharmoniker

S-Bahn from Vienna to Stockerau

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

BlackBerry v. BlackBerry

Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Some of my favorite mobile devices of the past few years have come from Research in Motion, including the BlackBerry Pearl (which we named our 2006 Product-of-the-Year in part thanks to the innovative pearl-like trackball that simplified navigation) and the 8800 series.

Now Research in Motion has introduced two new BlackBerry smartphones: the Storm and the Bold.  The Storm is the latest smartphone resulting from the touch-screen hype that started with the Apple iPhone and it is also the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

It’s also the first BlackBerry I can’t recommend.

Touch-screen mobile phones suffer from a unique set of problems: the bigger screens are a drain on the battery and the user has to look at the screen to do even the most simple task of placing a call instead of getting to know the device’s buttons by feel.

RIM made the display into one big button so that pressing a button on the screen gives the user a satisfying click and you actually feel that you are pressing a button.  That’s where the innovation both starts and stops and it’s about the only thing that is satisfying when using the device.

In using the Storm, I found that pressure from my cheek would regularly turn on the speakerphone during a call.  Also, the device would occasionally slow down or freeze and then function normally.

Web browsing was much slower compared to the Bold (we’ll look at the Bold next week) – what took me 1 min. to accomplish with the Bold took over 12 min. with the Storm.  There were delays of several seconds in moving from portrait to landscape mode.  And did I mention that the Storm does not have Wi-Fi?

To select something, you highlight and then click.  Highlighting was tricky.  In a list, the phone generally refused to acknowledge my selection and preferred either the item above or below.  Scrolling was equally maddening.  Instead of starting to scroll, the phone seemed to think I was highlighting and selected a random entry before scrolling.

Once you get past these glitches, the phone itself isn’t bad.  Calls on GSM networks in Europe were crystal clear as were the few calls I made in the U.S. on Verizon’s CDMA network.  It paired immediately with the new BMW 730d I was driving and transferred the phonebook perfectly.  The built-in speakerphone was excellent.

The Storm supports editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  And the display itself is dazzling.

Unfortunately, the phone’s glitches will keep you from using some of the best features in the phone until (hopefully) RIM fixes them via a software update.

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

Security Alert: Your Smartphone is Vulnerable

Friday, November 7th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Smart doesn’t always equal Secure.

Is your smartphone secured or was a password too much of a bother?  Think about what’s stored in your phone, including contact lists, e-mail messages, documents, proposals, spreadsheets, and presentations – many of which could be confidential.

Smartphones are much easier to lose track of than a laptop; they are also much more likely to be damaged or stolen.  Many don’t have remote wipe capabilities, a security feature popularized by Research in Motion’s BlackBerry devices, allowing the IT department to remotely delete all data from a lost or stolen device.

Before going out the door, make sure that you password protect your device (and please don’t select 123123 as your password).  It may be a bit inconvenient at times but it’s far better than the alternative.  If you are using a memory card, make sure it’s encrypted too.

If you are a CIO, you might want to standardize on a device type or platform (i.e. Palm OS, Windows Mobile, Symbian) and limit what information can be moved onto a mobile device from the corporate network.  If employees provide their own smartphones, require that security software be installed on the device or consider a move to employer-provided devices that are under your direct control.

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

Avoiding a $5000 Phone Bill on Your Trip

Friday, October 10th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Whether you know it or not, your smartphone may be surfing the Net – and running up your bill – during trips abroad.  Discussion forums are full of reports from business travelers with high phone bills due to unintended data access: comments such as “one day, $768,” “one trip, $4800″ abound.

This can happen even if you don’t think you are using any data services.  For example, users of SimulSays, a clever visual voicemail application that allows the user to scroll through and select voicemails on screen similar to the Apple iPhone, receive voicemail messages in the form of data packets.  When I tested the service on a quick trip to London, I inadvertently ended up with a $200 data roaming charge.

AvantGo, a mobile news and information service, frequently updates itself with the latest news, weather, and feature stories.

Users of such services could unintentionally incur charges of hundreds of dollars in the course of a similar trip.

If you don’t have a BlackBerry device, your options are limited and expensive.  Business travelers can either purchase flat-rate data (AT&T charges $24.99 per month for a 20 Mbyte plan for PDAs and smartphones and $59.99 for a 50 Mbyte iPhone plan;  T-Mobile charges $10.24 per MB in Canada and $15.36 per MB elsewhere) or simply turn data or data roaming off (something not possible on all devices ).

Both AT&T and T-Mobile also offer BlackBerry customers a $20 per month “bolt-on” option for international e-mail data roaming in addition to the domestic monthly fee for BlackBerry service (Web browsing is not included in the fee).  Considering the costly alternatives, this option could easily pay for itself.

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

Open for Business – Google and T-Mobile Unveil the G1 Android Mobile

Friday, September 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

This past Tuesday in New York, Google and T-Mobile unveiled the G1, the first Android smartphone.  For the uninitiated, Android is Google’s brand new open mobile platform, first announced last November.  After about 20 minutes of introductory remarks and a few teasers, we finally got to see the G1.  The wait (in actuality almost a year) was, without question, worth it.

From looks, the G1 is clearly in the mold of the LG Prada, HTC Touch (HTC also makes the G1), and, of course, the Apple iPhone.  [The iPhone was not the first touchscreen smartphone of its kind; LG and HTC beat Apple to the punch.  Of course, the iPod wasn't the first music player either; it just turned out to be the coolest, easiest to use, and had the best infrastructure (iTunes) behind it.]

Features one would expect include a large touch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an over-the-air downloadable App store, slide-to-unlock, Google Maps including a brand new feature, Street View, which syncs with the built-in compass on the G1, allowing the user to view locations and navigate by moving the phone; a full-screen Web browser; and automatic screen reorientation when you turn the phone 90°.  It also has key features that the iPhone lacks: a real keyboard (under the display), a memory expansion slot, voice dialing, and (very important) a real removable battery that you can swap (especially useful on long trips).

Most importantly, the G1 – as promised – is open.  Open as in the anti-iPhone.  The G1 runs on the open source Android operating system and since it’s open source, anyone can make changes to it without getting Google’s permission.  The Android Market app store, unlike Apple’s, is open as well and the companies promise that they won’t keep some programs from the public, even if the program’s functionality competes with T-Mobile or Google.  Best of all, after 90 days, you can unlock the G1 (it comes with SIM-locked to T-Mobile) and use a SIM from any mobile operator with it.

The G1 is not enterprise ready at launch; there is no current support for Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange but, since it’s open, anyone who wishes and who has the talent can write a program to provide such support.  I have no doubt we’ll see lots of interesting enterprise-class applications any day now.

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