Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When it rains it pours. Sony introduces two water resistant smartphones: Xperia go and Xperia acro S.


According to the Sony press release:
Industry research demonstrates that consumers consider durability and water resistance as important features when purchasing a smartphone. For example, a study conducted in Japan by Mobile Marketing Data Labo** highlighted water resistance in the top three most important features for smartphone buyers. In a recent poll.

Earlier this weeks stories circulated about Nokia's intents on making their Lumia line of smartphones water resistant using their own nanotech solution for such a feature. Weather or not those stories were accurate, the trend seems clear: protect

(The press and bloggers tend to report devices like the Xperia go and Xperia acro S as being "water proof." Given this mislabeling, it would be wise for vendors to be clear about the level of water protection. These are not device to go deep-sea diving with.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The end of the "H2-DOH's...?" Nokia talks of water resistance for handsets. Will this be a new industry standard?


Will all mobile devices soon come with a rain coat?

Water-resistant phones are nothing spanking new: back in the year 2001 at the massive CeBIT trade show, I saw several demos of working handsets submerged in bubbling fish tanks and even phones in Pyrex pots of boiling water. Although robust never caught on as a handset industry norm, I think many of us would have benefited at least once from robust innovation. Weather it be a run in the rain, a day at the beach, or other odd water-related accidents, the comfort of knowing that your personal trusted device can take a splash or two along the way is certainly worth something above the marginal cost to the bill of materials.

Over the past few months, we've seen several nano-tech based coatings with claims of making electronic devices highly resistant to water damage, inside and out. Namely, two solutions that have made the news are Liquipel and WaterBlock, two nano-tech coatings intended to enable devices to withstand the elements in this always-on era.

Now Nokia is talking up water resistance too. One Nokia executive has been showing the potential of its in-house nanotech research that could lead to much more resilient devices and many blogs are reporting that a Nokia executive in Western Europe has indicated that this could soon be a standard feature on Nokia's Lumia smartphone line. Nokia caught the audience's attention in the past with the potential of nanotech with its "Morph" animated video.

The companies behind Liquipel and WaterBlock are certainly discussing volume discounts with most major handset vendors, so water resistance could soon become the Gorilla Glass of the guts of the device.

It's time to move this beyond a dry run.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Is it soon time to wave bye to touch? This computer accessory from Leap Motion gives 3D gestures meaning.

Leap Motion SITE >>

Oh man, touch is like so five minutes ago. Is gesturing the wave of the future of input? Is it time to have a Leap of faith for a new UI?

Leap is an iPod-sized PC accessory from a San Francisco-based startup called Leap Motion. The company is looking to old, reliable replace input methods such as the mouse, keyboard, and touchscreen with basically nothing at all. Leap senses hand movements in three dimensions, so waving in the air now has meaning.

Of course, this is nothing ground breaking per se: Microsoft's Kinect, now available for the PC, has the same ambitions. But Leap Motion is claiming that it is up to 200 times more accurate devices such as the Kinect. The company claims Leap can distinguish individual fingers and track movements to a 1/100th of a millimeter.

I say it's time to move forward to new amazing new UIs. Touch is for the old folks now. Set us free.

Implications: Device vendors looking for some wow, and you know who you are, look at the possibilities of bringing Leap-like capabilities to tablets and smartphones. For gaming companies and other app vendors, think how Leap bring a new dimension to the user experience.

Can's touch this:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is an eye phone in your future? What effect will eye-put have on UI, games and other apps?


Are we now near to eye input?

Eye tracking has been used as a form of input for military projects for years. But now the hardware and software enablers are in place to scale the concept down from multi-billion dollar fighter jet contracts to mid-level consumer handsets.

Here's one interesting implementation eye-put by a Danish stat-up called SenseyeTech. The companies eye-control software, called Senseye, uses the device's front-facing camera to track the user's eye movement. API's would allow developers to use eye focus for input such as unlocking the device, answering the phone, scrolling through web pages, and even for gaming input.

Touch input has dominated the smartphone market for the past three years, and while voice input is beginning to allow some supplemental interactions, the market has botten rather boring. Will eye-put offer device manufacturers some opportunity to offer a touch of wow in what has become one of the world's dullest markets? I'd say the eyes have it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Complimentary complementary access. U.S. cable operators share their WiFi efforts. Is this a new wireless network?


Back in the year 2004, around the time voice was still the killer app on most shiny new 3G networks, the term "complementary access" was being used in some wireless circles. The term meant WiFi access points that filled in the occasional cellular coverage gaps. As WiFi-capable handsets began infiltrating the enterprise handset market, it was clear that WLANs would become an integral element of most wireless networks.

But the dirty little secret that most everyone knew at the time was that a point in time would be reached when the roles would be reversed: cellular access would become the complement to WiFi. It was a tough notion to swallow for operators who spent billions bidding in the 3G spectrum feeding frenzy.

I've read in a number of places that the majority of wireless subscribers in developed markets are covered by a "friendly" WiFi access point 80% of the time, be home, office, or at the coffee shop. In the U.S., free WiFi has become a near requirement at restaurants, malls, supermarkets, and home improvement mega stores. What was once considered complementary access has now become complimentary access driving the role reversal further.

The U.S. market especially enables WiFi-centric behavior. You see, the U.S. is cable country, with almost 70% of American households subscribing to a cable service. But because most cable operators lack the spectrum to offer the same trible- and quad-play services as their cellular-packing competitors, they have turned to poor-man 4G spectrum: WiFi (both indoor and outdoor). Regional cable operators in the U.S. have really offered nearly superb WiFi coverage at no additional charge to their subscribers (usually limited to around five devices based on MAC addresses). Busy bus stops, and popular night spots, your local cable operator probably has you covered. You can even find signals on some busy highways.

But the keyword has regional. Travel a few states away, and that zappy complimentary connection is no where to be found. Until now: five of the larger American cable operators have just announced a sort of WiFi roaming agreement between them providing common access to subscribers of any of the five.

As over-the-top services such as Facebook and Skype are beginning to dilute the cellular hold on identity, and even traditional cellular operators are looking to WiFi access points to free more valuable spectrum, it's time to recognize the role reversal and welcome WiFi networks to the adults table.

Implications: For internet services and app developers, it's important to acknowledge this new type of mobility that will chunky coverage gaps and recognize WiFi-only tablets and iPods as true mobility devices.

A bold move by the American cable operators: WiFi is the new cellular.

feeling blue: Cable's WiFi coverage along a highway of a New York suburb.

When the going gets tough... Hammering home the point with a Nokia Lumia.

Is the Nokia Lumia 900 as tough as nails?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Will Swedish Swish be a slam dunk? This new Nordic mobile banking service enables immediate money transfers among individuals.

Swish website (in Swedish) >>

The best defense is a good offense.

A group of Scandinavian banks have just introduced a mobile person-to-person finance service in Sweden called "Swish." Cool name. Will it score with consumers?

Swish enables individuals to transfer money to other Swish users in real time. Swish uses bank accounts together with mobile numbers as user identifiers, which should make the service secure. One use case shown several times on Swish's website is payment for second-hand items: a bike, a chair, etc. Rather than bringing cash to pay for such items, an immediate bank transfer can be made between the buyer and seller. The Swish website also proposes its service as a convenient way to borrow money and repay loans among friends and family.

Most of the major Swedish banks are partners in Swish: Danske Bank (Sverige), Handelsbanken, Länsförsäkringar, Nordea, SEB, Swedbank, och Sparbankerna, yet some large banks are still missing as are regional banks. Swish offers its app for the iPhone and Android-based smartphones. (Windows Phone, Symbian, and BlackBerry devices continue to be left out in the cold and could give Swedish consumers one more reason not to avoid those platforms.) The service goes live autumn of 2012.

To be clear, Swish is certainly not unprecedented and in some ways shows how banks have fallen behind in innovation as services such as Bump and PayPal among others have taken the imagination initiative. And many developing markets have now leap-frogged Western markets when it comes to mobile finance.

There are no details given on the pricing of the service other than a note that each bank will price it as they see fit. Swish is a solution for a very marginal problem, and the fact that it can't be used to make payments at any commercial locations means that the only right price for the service is free.

Services like Swish brings us no closer to the mobile wallet. That's still a long-term wish.

Nice intentions. But will services like Swish be a slam dunk?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The big easy. The projected connected home is always around the corner.

AT&T's Home vision, via DigitalTrends >>

Home is where the hotspot is.

The smart home. Are we there yet?

I've been seeing such home use cases and even some nice real technology implementations for more than a dozen years now. Home gateways and connected cameras. Fridges that text, ovens that connect. Monitor home security and home impurities. Everyone is happy, everyone is safe.

Then the hype settled. Bubbles popped and specs got locked. Things crawled along like they often do. In the real world, technology disruptions cross with disrupted technologies.

So, who will get us here:

Oh, here's a vision of the house of the future (via 1957 eyes). One word -- plastics:

Monday, May 07, 2012

The history trajectory: Windows Phone v Android. It's a slippery slope.


Some real sketchy market share figures have been coming in for Windows Phone. When a platform vendor never talks current numbers but rather makes vague market statements about future potential and positive reviews, it's fair to take low-ball estimates as good enough.

I've seen some market share estimates for Windows Phone 7, most are in a similar range of around 2.5% of global handset sales and NPD, which measures sell-out share, estimates Windows Phone's Q1 2012 U.S. share at 2%. Compare this to Android's 61% for Q1.

Some analysts have stated that Windows Phone is off to a similar start as Android. This all depends on how one likes to round numbers. Android's sales started in Oct 2008 with the T-Mobile G1, which was the only mainstream Android-based smartphone on the market for many months. But that single device alone drove Android sales to more then 2%. And as soon as the Android floodgates were opened during the second half of 2009, Android was able to approach double digits in short order. After one year and one quarter on the market, Android pushed 11% of global handset sales. And after a bit more than four quarters, Windows Phone is at something approaching 3%, if you like to round up. Three percent is approximately where Android was after three quarters. So what's a quarter and a month and a few basis points between friends?

In reality such side-by-side, quarter-for-quarter comparisons aren't particularly could be extremely misleading without taking into account all the parameters. The truth is, Android (as well as iOS), have simply been amazing market performers, either catching the smartphone wave with perfect timing, or making the wave.

The interesting parameters for Windows Phone are floating in front of us now with Nokia's Lumia models getting some real airplay. The next two quarters should add up to tell us a more accurate story.

Graph via NPD via CNET:

Haptics: touch... with feelings. Is this the next WOW opportunity?

Macworld STORY >>

Anybody in the handset biz who really cared about technology developments and who knew how to click on a YouTube link should have expected the potential impact of multi-touch. Well before Apple announced the first iPhone, Jeff Han, who was a research scientist at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, wrote of and showed demonstrations of multi-touch interfaces. To make matters more painful for some current handset vendors other than Apple, some of that work was partially funded by some leading software and handset vendors of the day.

Here's the rule guys: you snooze, you lose.

Now a new level of touch input could be fast approaching. Literally a new level. Haptics. I first started hearing about haptics back in 2005. Haptics had the potential to add feeling to touch screens. Some great use cases were floating around, like read keyboards popping up out of touch screens, or joysticks that could change. Buttons could raise and recede as needed. The touch world meets the click world.

There are lots of rumors (and backed by solid evidence such as patent applications) that Apple will be implementing haptics in a future generation of iOS devices.

Multi-touch was the WOW in iPhone 1.0. To the untrained eye, it did look like nothing before it. Apple touched the audience like nobody before it. And the competition could only stare at the the on-coming headlights.

There hasn't been much WOW in the market since then in my opinion. Will haptics be the next great thing to stand out? Perhaps. And then get ready for the shouda, coulda, woulda's.

Will haptics raise the bar?