Thursday, December 29, 2011

Geek Predictions For 2012

Bookmark and Share
2011 is now just a distant memory, which means it's time to once again for that look into my geek crystal ball to see what lies ahead for 2012 in the world of technology.

1. DVD's fade to black: No other consumer video format was adopted by consumers like DVD was in the late 1990's.  In just a few years after introduction in 1997, VHS was a chapter in the history of consumer electronics.  Like VHS before, DVD's are already getting pushed aside by Blu-Ray, video on demand, and Netflix.  Disney already re-releases many of their classic animated films on BluRay a month to six weeks before DVD.  Many retail have more shelf space devoted to BluRay than DVD.  2012 this won't just continue but accelerate. 

2. Cellular startups consolidate:  After a year an a half after launching, Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, and Public Mobile have not seen the subscriber growth that the fledgling cellular carriers were expecting, and now mounting debt have lead to rumours that start up carriers were negotiating a merger deal.  To build their networks to bring their services to more potential subscribers, the upstart carriers will need to secure more financing
If the current startup cellular carriers hope to secure any of the recently opened 700 MHz band they will need access to even more money, to bid in the upcoming auctions. Currently Wind Mobile and Mobilicity don't have access to that much money without merging.

3. RIM merges or sings their swan song: As 2011 draws to a close runours abound that Research In Motion is a candidate to be bought out or at the very least merging with another handset maker. Declining marketshare, failures of their popular messaging products and threats by foreign governments to shut down access to RIM's popular messaging services have taken their toll on RIM

4. Windows Phone finally grows their audience:  Microsoft's struggle to get market share for Windows Phone 7 comes to an end in 2012 when smartphones running Windows Phone 7 for next generation LTE cellular networks debut early in the year.  While Android powered the first LTE smartphones many were watching the race for second place.  With no LTE iPhones or Blackberries anywhere in sight Microsoft has an opportunity to break into mobile that they never had before.  Microsoft's has credibility in the corporate world that Google simply doesn't have

5. Android tablets start gaining market share: In just a couple years Apple's iPad has dominated the tablet market they created. HP's touch pad was discontinued and remaining stock was sold off at a fire sale price less than two months after introduction. RIM's playbook hasn't fared much better. Tablets running Google's Android from dozens of manufacturers have come into the market for half of the price of an iPad. The lower price hasn't translated into a competitive advantage for the Android tablets. With Apple sticking to LCD based display technology, manufacturers of Android tablets will need to look OLED screen technology to bring better battery life and a thiner tablet to provide that competitive advantage that they need. With Apple continuing pass on LTE, Faster 4G cellular Internet access could provide that competitive advantage that gives the Android tablets a bigger piece of the tablet market pie.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

If The AT&T Merger Collapses, What's Next For T-Mobile

Bookmark and Share

Facing stiff opposition from the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice the planned 39 billion dollar merger of T-Mobile and AT&T is likely to fall apart within the next few weeks. Regardless if the merger goes through or not, Deutsche Telekom T-Mobile's German parent company will continue to unload T-Mobile any way they can.

The first alternative to merging with AT&T would be a merger with another wireless carrier. A previously planned merger with Sprint could pass anti-trust scrutiny in this case because joining the third and fourth place carriers would create a stronger third carrier the would better able to compete with Verizon and AT&T. Although such a merger would create a convoluted patchwork of CDMA and HSPA coverage areas.  For T-Mobile subscribers this wold mean getting the iPhone within a year.

A similar alternative would be a merger with one of the super regional carriers such as Metro PCS. Merging with T-mobile would allow the a super regional to expand into a national carrier that could challenge Sprint as the third largest national carrier. While a merged carrier would also face the complication of running two networks using different technologies, but both T-Mobile and the super regional carriers intend to migrate to LTE for their next generation high speed wireless networks.  For T-Mobile customers this would mean another two years before getting an iPhone.

Another alternative that Deutsche Telekom could consider would be spinning off T-Mobile into a separate independent company.  This may not be the preferred way to unload T-Mobile but won't be any anti-trust concerns for US regulators.  For T-Mobile subscribers there would not much difference in the service they get now but very little chance of ever getting the iPhone.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Doesn't Bell Media Give a Number 2 About Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec?

Bookmark and Share
That change in the TV landscape that happened at the end of the summer of 2011, that didn't involve trips to dozens of stores in the mad search for digital converter boxes, the rebranding of the A Channel stations as CTV 2 left what what was a semi autonomous mini network under the ownership of Bell Media into a dumping ground of shows that didn't make it onto the main CTV network. In some areas of the country that didn't have an A Channel station, some shows from America's emerging networks that are not often carried on basic cable such as America's Next Top Model, Nikita, and The Vampire Diaries could be hard to find since, they are aired exclusively on CTV 2.  Since some Cable systems in areas where CTV 2 is not available over the air stick CTV 2 on a digital tier or don't even carry it at all makes access to these shows harder for potential viewers.

In the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec CTV 2 is not available over the air, but at least CTV 2 that serves Alberta is carried on Shaw, and Telus, the former Alberta Access stations that were converted to CTV 2 but the transmitters were shut down rather than converted to digital.  In Saskatchewan CTV 2 is available on Shaw in Moose Jaw, Swift Current and Assiniboia on basic cable.  On Access CTV 2 is available on the Coast to Coast timeshifting digital tier.  Sasktel Max doesn't offer CTV 2 at all.  In Manitoba Shaw and MTS doesn't carry CTV 2.  Meanwhile Viewers in Outaouais are the only Videotron subscribers that have access to CTV 2 on basic cable since it is also available over the air from the re-broadcast transmitter outside of Ottawa.

Limited access to CTV 2 on cable and telco television services will help drive subscribers to switch Bell's satellite TV services.  Since the CRTC is directive that broadcast distributors that own the television networks not to give their own channels preferential placement would give Bell Media incentive to get CTV 2 on basic packages offered by cable and telco TV services.  The only places that CTV 2 is available on basic cable is in areas that it is also available over the air since cable operators are mandated to carry all over the air stations on the most basic package.  Bell Media can make CTV 2 available over the air without having to build a single transmitter at very little cost.  ATSC offers TV stations the ability to transmit two or more different signals from a single transmitter a feature called mulitcasting.  Through the use of multicasting CTV 2 would be available over the air which would make it mandatory for cable companies to send it on basic. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

CBC Transmitters Get Stay Of Execution

Bookmark and Share

<p>Canadians using antennas to receive over the air television signals in certain cities that were threatened with losing CBC television on August 31st can relax because an application for an extension for one year was approved by the CRTC to allow CBC transmitters that were slated to shut down to operate in analog until August 31, 2012 to allow CBC to make 'alternative arrangements' for OTA viewers that would be adversely affected by CBC shutting down transmitters. <br>
The CBC has not announced what alternate arrangements they would make with OTA TV viewers.&#160; Would CBC buy cable TV subscriptions for any CBC watchers that would lose in any community where CBC is unwilling to upgrade their transmitters?&#160; The only 'alternative arrangement' that the CBC should get is any transmitters that the CBC doesn't upgrade to digital should be sold to community groups and private companies that would upgrade and operate these stations as CBC affiliates. </p>
<p>CBC's license from the CRTC is up for renewal within the one year analog stay of execution.&#160; If the CRTC and the elected officials the CRTC answers to hear from enough Canadians that, letting CBC shut down transmitters is unacceptable and doing such is a failure of the CBC's mandate of universal accessibility to all Canadians.&#160; The only alternative arrangement that CRTC would have is revoking the license for the CBC to operate their network.</p>
<p>An addendum to the story, the proposed upgrade the transmitter of CBAT, the CBC station that serves Fredriction and Saint John, New Brunswick was finally approved by the CRTC.&#160; CBC's original application was rejected by the CRTC back in January because CBC proposed installing a digital transmitter to serve Fredricton leaving viewers who rely on over the air signals in Saint John stuck with analog.  As much as it should be said that a better proposal came from the CBC that would provide digital OTA service to both Fredricton and Saint John, it's not.  The application to operate the digital transmitter is the same as the application that the CRTC rejected.  Saint John TV viewers will get the same analog service after August 31st.   For a public broadcaster with a mandate to serve all Canadians, the actions of the CBC have been running quite contrary to that mandate.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

How The TV Networks Underestimate OTA Viewership

Bookmark and Share

With a few weeks remaining until free over the air TV goes digital in Canada's major cities.  Unlike the American digital TV transition two years ago,  the conversion to digital TV is much more low key.  Canada's television broadcasting industry claims that because higher usage of cable and satellite television services is the reason for the much less than enthusiastic approach to the change over to digital TV.  Canada's 30 top media markets will get digital and high definition TV over the air for free after August 31st.  Residents in small towns and rural areas who watch over the air TV from rebroadcast relay transmitters will remain stuck with analog service for the next few years.

Canada's private television networks have found themselves getting bought out by the companies that distribute their programming through wires or by satellite.  Many blame this ownership as the sole reason that television networks down play the role of over the air transmission as part of their business.  It is estimated by the TV networks 9 percent of viewers receive their programming by over the air signals.  The estimate by the television broadcasting industry only takes viewers who use antennas as their only means of television reception.  Friends of Canadian. Broadcasting estimates that 30 percent of Canadian households have at least one TV set with an antenna. 

There are many viewers of over the air signals that are not counted by any of the estimates, long haul truckers with small TV's in their rigs using just an antenna to receive TV programming during overnight stays at truck stops.  While some who tour across the country in their recreational vehicles have satellite TV service the majority of RVer's just raise their TV antenna on the roof of their unit to catch the news or favorite shows after parking at a campground for the evening.  Even a significant number of those whose second recreational home is in a fixed location such as a cottage or cabin get their television signals with an antenna. 

While Canada's private television networks are only upgrading transmitters that serve the CRTC mandated markets by the August 31st deadline, both CTV and Global are going to upgrade all their rebroadcast transmitters by 2016.  Despite the high cost of replacing transmitters is pretty high, It is in the economical interest of TV stations to upgrade to digital due to the lower operating cost through lower power consumption of digital transmitters.  Only one tenth of the wattage is required for digital broadcast compared with the analog counterpart. 

While most who are dependent on over the air TV will have a few years to wait for digital broadcasts, Global and CTV will be doing a lot more than CBC.  The public broadcaster whose mandate to be available over the air to all Canadians is staying analog in all areas that are not mandated by the CRTC until the analog transmitters reach the end of their lifespan and die and then no new transmitters will be installed.  It's surprising unexpected that the profit motivated private networks have a stronger commitment to over the air viewers than the network owned by the people for the people.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why Canadians Won't Be Able To Go Diamond on Xbox Live

Bookmark and Share
One of the main highlights at the recent 2011 E3 trade show was the announcement by Microsoft to turn Xbox live into a subscription television service that would compete against cable and satellite TV companies.  The new service dubbed as Xbox Live Diamond by video game gossip web sites will feature dozens of channels of streaming video content which includes many shows that appear on broadcast networks, cable channels and premium channels was well as shows made for the service. 

For in Canada hoping to subscribe to the service as an alternative to existing cable or satellite TV will be sitting there hoping for a very long time.  As many know online video services get held up at the border for years at a time as companies that hold Canadian broadcast and Internet streaming rights refuse to reliquinish those rights to sites as Hulu, and as a result some of those sites have never launched in Canada and don't plan to ether.  One exeception is Netflix which is available in Canada but with a line up that is far more limited than the Netflix offering in the United States. 

Even for a deep pocketed company such as Microsoft, launching any online video service north of the 49th parallel will be a nearly impossible task, given recent history with Canadian rights holders in the past.  When Microsoft launched the Zune music player in Canada in 2008 it was without access to the Zune Marketplace online music store.  Canada's music industry wouldn't make a deal with Microsoft to sell music downloads to Canadians.  When Microsoft added subscription service with Zune Pass, Canada's music industry still didn't budge and Canadians were left without all you can eat music downloads for one monthly price.

Since most of Canada's media is owned by cable and telephone companies that are the companies that most Canadians buy Internet service from.  Since online video has the potential poach cable and satellite TV viewership, Bell, Rogers, Telus, and Shaw are doing everything they can to protect cable and satellite TV business.  Since Bell, Rogers and Shaw are the Canadian rights holders to most video programming from the United States, they are highly unlikely to resell Internet streaming rights to Microsoft no matter how much money big M brings to the table.  For Canadian gamers Xbox live will continue to be just for online gaming and won't be the reason to kiss their traditional cable or satellite TV provider good bye.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Are Saskatoonians Uninterested In Saving Their CBC Stations?

Bookmark and Share
As previously announced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Saskatoon along with Moncton, New Brunswick, London, Ontario, and Lethbridge, Alberta are going to be losing CBC televison stations (Both English and French) on August 31st.  It is mandatory in these cities for television stations to turn off existing analog transmitters and start up digital transmitters or go off the air forever.  Minority language over the air broadcasting is also scheduled to get deep cuts as French language stations in English Canada and English language CBC stations in Quebec will cut to static. 

Many in affected communites are taking action to keep CBC available for free to all viewers.  Protest rallies have already taken place in London and Moncton.  Municipal politicians are lobbying CBC executives and federal politicans to get digital transmitters built rather than the planned end of over the air broadcasting by the CBC when August draws a close. 

Although there is activity in affected communites, in Saskatoon however there has not been any rallies, no lobbying federal politicans, there hasn't even been a single mention in the media about the digital TV transition or that CBC television will soon get the ax.  While it may seem that there is a slim chance  to save the over the air broadcast from CBC stations in the affected communities, if Saskatoonians don't do anything to try to save their local CBC station, then they won't get get anything when trying to turn on CBC television on September 1st.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

CPCC Demands Right To Pick Canadian Pockets Even Further

Bookmark and Share

The Canadian Private Copying Collective, the non government agency that makes Canadians pay 21 cents every time they burn CD's is asking the Copyright Board to charge a levy on the memory cards that Canadians use in their digital cameras and distribute the money raised to the recording industry. 

While memory cards are often used in cell phones that can play MP3 files, the majority of memory cards are used in digital cameras, devices used for the creation of intellectual property.  Even though memory cards can be used to store music files even those that are bought and paid for legally, USB flash drives are more often used to copy music between computers, the CPCC proposal does not mention USB flash drives just memory cards. 

This isn't the first time that the CPCC proposed charging a levy on memory cards.  About five years ago after the CPCC's levy on iPods and other MP3 players was dumped into the grave by the federal appeal court the CPCC sought to have levies charged on blank DVD's and memory cards.  Now that the Copyright Board is now comprised by more Conservative leaning bureaucrats, the Canadian Private Copying Collective will most likely be sent packing, as they should be for good.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sasktel joins 4G Flim Flam

Bookmark and Share

Just before the announcement of the mega merger south of the 49th, cellular carriers T-Mobile and AT&T started questionable advertising that touts their current HSPA networks as '4G' Even though Neither company has turned on any towers that have been upgraded to LTE a true fourth generation cellular network technology. 

Now just eight months after introducing 3G, Sasktel is promoting their HSPA network as being 4G.  Actual true 4G service in Canada is still a couple of years away, one of the frequency bands required for LTE, the 700 MHz band doesn't officially available until after August 31st when the television broadcasting industry requinishes that frequency band. 

The first LTE 4G services in Canada ared going to come from the big three carriers Telus, Rogers, and Bell that will be a few years.  LTE service from the regional carriers are several years away.  Even Sasktel isn't planning a network upgrade to LTE until 2015 - 2018. 
Word coming through the grapevine is that Rogers is planning to start offering LTE in Saskatchewan by 2012.  Despite bashing Rogers gets in Saskatchewan that is unjustified, stupid, and just plain wrong.  It's real 4G and not the same 3G with a 4G label that's dishonestly slapped on.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dual Mode iPhone 5? Potentially Yes

Bookmark and Share
Just a couple of months out of the gate the CDMA based iPhone 4, is going to be supplanted by an iPhone 5 as early as September an early sign that there will be a single model iPhone 5 that supports both CDMA and HSPA networks comes from an announcement from the Chief Financial Officer, Fran Shammo of Verizon Communications that next iPhone will be a Global model that would support both CDMA for Verizon's network and GSM for roaming outside of North America. 

Would it make sense to make a iPhone CDMA/GSM hybrid for Verizon and a HSPA only version for AT&T?  Would it make more sense to make a single model that supports both CDMA and HSPA to sell to all carriers that sell iPhones?  It would be cheaper for Apple's manufacturing partners though. 

A hybrid CDMA/HSPA iPhone would be beneficial to Canadian subscribers on Telus and Bell that still have some parts of their networks in remote areas that have not been upgraded to HSPA that are still CDMA only.  For smaller Canadian carriers MTS, Sasktel and TbayTel that launching the iPhone on April 26th, they still have large portions of their networks that will be CDMA only for a year or two to come. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CBC Television in Saskatoon To Be Eliminated

Bookmark and Share
After television transmitters move from analog to to digital on August 31st, over the air TV viewers in Saskatoon will find the number of stations picked up with antennas has gone from four down to just two.  CBC is going to shut down the analog transmitters sending out the signals from CBKST (English television) and CBKFT-1 as mandated but will not be replaced with digital transmitters to take their place.  The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation considers the Saskatoon transmitters as rebroadcasting the signals that originate from CBKT and CBKFT from Regina and not actual TV stations as the reason for eliminating the Saskatoon transmitters. That will leave CFQC (CTV) and CFSK (Global) as the only two over the air TV stations that serve the Saskatoon market.

Cable providers that will mean making arrangements to bring in an alternative CBC feeds to replace the English and French channels that are being terminated. Most likely that will mean bringing in CBKT and CBKFT from Regina.  For the homes that only use over the air signals for television programming, even though it's a small percentage in a coverage area of over 300,000 people that means 20,000 or more will not have access to CBC's most popular programming, Hockey Night in Canada.  Is that something the National Hockey League would care about?

The cost of upgrading would be high, that cost would be recovered quickly due to the lower power requirements of digital television broadcasting.  Any attempt to blame the elimination of CBC television in Saskatoon on not getting the carriage fees from cable and satellite providers is yet another red herring, since CBC television gets both advertising revenue and taxpayer support.  Losing CBC television has nothing to with funding, it's all politics.

CBC's official announcement: "CBC will not be installing a digital transmitter in Saskatoon"

Thursday, March 31, 2011

How Will Geeks Vote This Election

Bookmark and Share
The fall of the Government and the call of the election on May 2 has made Canadians grumble about having to go through another campaign and voting for the fourth time since 2004.  For the few, the proud, the geeky dissolving parliament for an election comes just in time to kill yet another copyright bill that was nothing but a DMCA clone just weeks before it was due to become law.  

In previous elections, I personally voted Conservative partly because they were the only party that stood opposed to the blank media levy administered by the Canadian Private Copying Collective (CPCC) which is nothing but corporate welfare for the recording industry.  Making people pay the levies on blank media is making people pay a fine even if they do not do the crime.

Under the Liberals the television broadcasting industry was allowed to take a we'll get to it when we feel like it attitude towards the transition to digital broadcasting.  It was chairman of the CRTC that was appointed by prime minister Stephen Harper that took a hard line position and told the TV industry August, 31 is the day that TV stations will go digital or go off the air. 

Unlike the blank media levy where the federal parties took sides both for and against, many tech related issues that matter to geeks have gone ignored by the federal parties.  Has any of the political parties come out and said, "Yes, we support net neutrality!", sadly not that I've heard.  Has any of the federal parties stated any opposition to usage based billing for broadband service? Again not to be found. 

Technology has become a big part of the lives of Canadians issues relating to technology require strong leadership to help Canadians who use and enjoy technology come to decision they can be comfortable about when they vote on May 2.

Monday, March 21, 2011

AT&T Buying T-Mobile, What It Means For The Rest Of Us

Bookmark and Share
Fending off a potentially suicidal buyout from Sprint, the German parent of T-Mobile USA has sold off all their American holdings to AT&T for 39 billion dollars.  After the joining together T-Mobile's 35 million subscribers to AT&T 95 million subscribers the combined company will have 125 million subscribers putting they way ahead of Verizon's 96 million subscribers.  Obtaining control of T-Mobile's infrastructure, AT&T could potentially ease some of the congestion on their wireless network in America's five largest cities.

Of course current T-Mobile subscribers will get the iPhone when the acquisition completes and become AT&T subscribers.  Current AT&T subscribers will get access to AWS network and in preparation current AT&T hardware will needed to by upgraded to support AWS.  That will give subscribers on Wind Mobile and Mobilicity a greater range hardware including the iPhone if Apple chooses support AWS.  Wind Mobile and Mobilicity subscribers will get better US roaming when AT&T upgrades their own towers to add AWS capability.

It's possible that subscribers on T-Mobile's subscribers on low priced plans will have to upgrade to a more expensive plan on AT&T, since it will be several more months before the acquisition gets approval by the FCC and FTC it maybe a good idea to sign on to a contract renewal before the approvals come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Eulogy For The Zune

Bookmark and Share

After a long battle with public apathy Microsoft's portable media player the Zune passed away quietly.  Zune came to marker late in 2006 and attracted a small but very loyal fanbase.  Zune offered unlimited music by subscription an FM radio and WiFi sync, features that Zune's arch nemesis iPod lacked.  iPod's better music store and less restrictive DRM won people over.

Early in life Zune suffered from ugly device syndrome, looking like a brick with a screen, and brown as you know what.  After a while more models in different colours came out but after the ugly device syndrome was treated, poor marketing lead consumer apathy had set in which would turn out to be terminal. 

Zune was predecased by Plays For Sure and Windows media player.   Left to mourn Zune's passing are Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Canada Will Not Become A Nation of 'Cord Cutters'

Bookmark and Share

The biggest trend in the United States after the rise of Online video sites Netflix and Hulu, thousands have left their cable, satellite and telco subscription television services behind.  Video game consoles and devices such as Rockzz and Boxee box have moved online video from the computer to the living room TV. 

As much as Canadians love to complain about Cable, satellite and telephone companies, canuck couch potatoes North of the 49th will not be quite so willing to follow their American counterparts who have left a traditional cable or satellite to watch Internet video exclusively. 

Firstly Canadians don't have as many online video sources that are available stateside.   Netflix one of the Internet's largest providers of movies and TV shows has been in Canada for just a few months.  The selection available from netflix in Canada is just a fraction of what Netflix offers in the United States.  The Internet's other alternative to network programming that specializes in delivering network programming online is still a forbidden fruit in Canada. 

The biggest thorn in the side of all potential Canadian cord cutters is the current over usage based billing, where ISP's want to have through right to charge high bandwidth users (such as people watching HD programming from online sources).  It doesn't help when the major broadband providers also are the cable and telephone companies that see services such as Netflix as a threat to the subscription television services they sell already. 

One additional factor that is making cord cutting unattractive to Canadians is the lackluster commitment to high definition broadcasting on the part of Canada's broadcast networks.  HD programming over the air is only available in about half a dozen markets.  This is sure to improve after the deadline to switch to digital broadcasting on August 31st.  Two of Canada's broadcast networks are owned by a cable company and a telephone company, there is a vested interest to keep over the air viewers watching snowy analog pictures.

The cord cutting trend is freeing people from the few large companies that control media and telecommunications.  The problem in Canada is that these companies has so much control that it is practically impossible to experience the freedom to watch what you want to watch not what cable, satellite or telephone company will let you watch.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Should App Store Games Need ESRB Ratings?

Bookmark and Share
In just a couple of years Apple's app store grew to 300,000 programs, the most popular category is the games.  Most of the games are created by people on their computers coding away, the major publishers such as Electronic Arts and Activision have versions of their most popular games for the home consoles and portable systems available for purchase on the App store that can be played on any iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. This has made Apple the third giant of handheld gaming.

All the games are easily accessible, but maybe a little too accessible, and that can be a problem for parents who are looking to keep inappropriate games away from younger players. Parents have had the ratings system put in place and administrated by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board to help parents make good choices about which games for home console, handheld systems and computer are appropriate for their children to play.  Games on the App store do not carry ESRB ratings, which does not give parents any kind of guidelines about the contents of App store games.

Reviewing and rating all the games on the App store by ESRB may be a task too big to be realistic, however when major franchise games from the big publishers such as Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed can be downloaded without any sort of age restriction, that's something that will need to be addressed and soon. While a credit card is required to set up an iTunes account, all games, apps and songs can downloaded with pre-paid cards regardless of content.

If Apple wants to be a player in the video game industry then they will have to demand ESRB ratings from the Major game publishers.  If not, game publishers as well as Apple itself can and will facing the legal reprisal from jurisdictions that mandate by law restricting the sales of games that carry the Mature rating to those over the age of seventeen.

Monday, January 31, 2011

What Needs To Be Known About NGP's 3G

Bookmark and Share
The much rumored follow up to the Playstation Portable codenamed the Next Generation Portable or NGP by been officially been announced by Sony.  Sporting a screen that displays 720p high definition graphics and two analog thumb sticks, Sony promises the NGP will deliver a gaming experience only matched by the PS 3.  One feature that surprised many analysts and journalists that follow the video game industry is the built in 3G capability. 

Onboard 3G will bring online multiplayer gaming to anywhere there is 3G service available.  What isn't known is if Sony will be selling the NGP using a business model similar to Apple's iPad making the end customer subscribe to 3G service on their own or will be more like Amazon's Kindle where the cost buying content pays for 3G service.  Since the onboard 3G will be used for playing online, not just for downloading content it's extremely likely that Sony will choose the former rather than the latter. 

Another of the first of the early questions about the NGP's 3G is going to be which carriers' networks are going to be compatible the NGP.  If Sony chooses make the end user responsible for subscribing to their own 3G service it will be most likely that HSPA/UMTS/GSM networks will be compatible.  American gamers will need to subscribe to data service from AT&T and possibly T-Mobile if Sony chooses to support Advanced Wireless Spectrum bands on the NGP.

Subscribers on Verizon and Sprint are once again SOL, Even though CDMA subscribers make up about half of the cell subscribers in all of North America, putting in CDMA would increase the cost and would be next to impossible to get service hooked up since both Verizon and Sprint don't activate devices they didn't originally sell through their authorized retail outlets.

For Canadian gamers, getting online through 3G will be pretty easy, since the NGP will be compatible with Rogers, Fido, Telus and Bell right out of the box.  If the NGP comes compatible with AWS Wind Mobile and Mobilicity will also be compatible.  MTS may also be compatible if they can get their HSPA network that they have been promising up and running before the NGP launches at the end of 2011.  However subscribers on Sasktel may have problems getting an NGP online, not because of an incompatible network, just incompatible customer service.  Sasktel even after switching to an HSPA network still refuses to activate unlocked devices on their network.

Putting 3G on the NGP will bring an online component that will help Sony compete against Nintendo's 3DS and will undoubtedly be game changing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

RIM Playbook 4G Could Be Rare In Canada

Bookmark and Share
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show, and just about everywhere else RIM has showed it, the Playbook RIM's answer to Apple's iPad is a surprise hit.  The Playbook launches from their position as a maker of smartphones that have traditionally appealed to the corporate world into a company that makes general consumer electronics. Just like the iPad the entry level model will get online through WiFi only, but unlike Apple's high end iPad with 3G connectivity, RIM's upper end Playbook can get online there's a 4G connection through Sprint's WiMax network.

For the vast majority of potential users who do not yet have access to any 4G service the Playbook can be WiFi tethered to Blackberry smartphone or a MiFi personal hotspot to access 3G service.  A rather cumbersome work around to get connected outside the limited areas covered by 4G service.  

For those in the Great White North looking to get a Playbook, it's already looking like it will be a better idea to save your pennies and go with the WiFi only model.  WiMax service only available in popular cottaging areas North of Toronto, and some ski resorts in Alberta and BC.  WiMax provider Inukshuk Wireless, a partnership between Rogers & Bell hasn't built out into most densely populated areas, owing any WiMax device may make any buyer regret spending the money very quickly.

Now that Rogers and Bell have stated intentions of building LTE networks, the makes any expansion of Inukshuk unlikely at best.  That will mean that waiting for a future Playbook with onboard 3G or LTE support for those Canadians, especially those in Manitoba (MTS) and Saskatchewan (Sasktel) who will not be getting WiMax at all, who don't wish to be bothered with tethering with a Blackberry.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Windows Phone 7: What's Next?

Bookmark and Share
In the past few months since Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7 all that has been seen is a bunch of ads promoting Windows Phone 7 as the smartphone for those who don't typically use smartphones.  Despite the claim 1.5 million Windows Phone handsets have been sold to carriers, there has been no mention of how many Windows Phone 7 handsets have been sold to consumers.  Undoubtedly there is so much more that can be done to sell Windows Phone 7.  Microsoft to their credit, including access to Xbox live and allowing developers of games that play on Xbox 360 to develop games to run on Windows Phone 7 that integrate into Xbox live will most certainly appeal to gamers.

To those who would never buy a smartphone and video game players, Microsoft has those users covered but for any other smartphone user, does Windows Phone 7 offer anything better than what they get from iPhone, Android, or Blackberry? The answer is generally considered to be an overwhelming no.  How can Microsoft turn things around before Windows Phone 7 ends up a lost cause, and not become another WebOS?

Firstly, the Big M will need to get Windows Phone 7 on every cell carrier they can.  Leaving out CDMA in the initial release of Windows Phone 7 was a fatal flaw, Now that Verizon will be carrying the iPhone Microsoft kissed away one of largest groups of cell phone subscribers.  That leaves Sprint's 45 million subscribers, may be the third largest carrier but still a large enough group of potential customers to make adding support for CDMA worthwhile for Microsoft.  There are still many subscribers on regional cell carriers where the only smartphone they have access to is Blackberries. That's is starting to change though, Android phones are now starting to appear on smaller carriers. 

Microsoft's long path to greater market share is not just getting Windows Phone 7 Handsets on more of today's wireless networks, but tomorrow's as well. Long Term Evolution or LTE currently being rolled out by Verizon, with deployment by AT&T next year and by T-Mobile to follow, getting Windows Phone 7 on LTE based smartphones will get Microsoft in ahead of most of the competition.  The only operating system will be available in the short term is Android.  Apple and Research In Motion have not yet even announced LTE iPhones or Blackberries.

Since Blackberry is widely considered to be in decline, and WebOS is considered to be a crash and burn, The smartphone OS market is shaping up to be a two horse race.  It would not be impossible for Microsoft to come from behind and become the third major player in the market. They can do it, they have done so before in home video games.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Verizon's iPhone Is Going To Suck!!

Bookmark and Share
Three and a half years of pent up anticipation will come to an end when Verizon Wireless and Apple announce that Verizon will become the second carrier in the United States to carry the iPhone.  Unlike in most countries where the iPhone is sold that a carrier's exclusivity ends and then every other carrier sell iPhones.  It will be the first time that the iPhone hardware is engineered from the ground up for just one carrier.  Unlike the GSM & UMTS technologies found in every iPhone sold to date, Verizon's CDMA network has limitations that will make the experience of using an iPhone running Verizon's network unlike the iPhone experience that people are used to.

Just about every criticism of AT&T's iPhone service comes from just two American cities - San Francisco and New York.  Both cities restrict the number, placement, and height of cell phone towers.  These restrictions have caused the dropped calls and slow data rates that iPhone users in these cities to complain about the service that AT&T provides.  However all cell phone carriers operate under these restrictions including Verizon.  If the subscribers who get iPhones from Verizon are defectors from AT&T there will be will be faster data rates and fewer dropped calls for iPhone users on both Verizon and AT&T.  If however Verizon attracts new subscribers or their current subscribers upgrade to iPhones, Verizon's network will bog down in San Francisco and New York.

Despite the complaints in a few areas of slow data speed, AT&T can actually provide faster data connections due to their faster 3G HSPA technology, which can provide data speeds up to 7.2 Mbps, which is far greater than the EV-DO technology used by Verizon which tops just short of 1.0 Mbps.  This ability for AT&T has been well promoted through their own commercials.  

Another limitation of CDMA is that when data applications are unable to run while a call is connected.  Another advantage of the iPhone that was advertised by both Apple and AT&T in the past.  Apple has added more and more multitasking abilities into the iPhone over the past couple of years only to saddle themselves with a limitation like that for the Verizon iPhone, probably one of the reasons it took this long.

Users of smartphones know way too well the daily need to feed their phones power to charge their batteries.  iPhones are no different, a voracious appetite for electricity which if it goes unfulfilled can leave an iPhone sitting with a dead battery.  Using CDMA technology that appetite for power gets a lot larger.  CDMA phones have always performed poorly when compared with GSM counterparts.  Combining the already short battery life inherent to CDMA, with the battery gobbling tendencies of the iPhone means a good time for those selling iPhone charging products.   

There has been a lot of excitement about the possibility that someday there would be an iPhone coming to Verizon, because of the limitations of CDMA hardware there are going to be a lot of disappointment when Verizon's iPhones don't provide the same experience that everybody else's iPhones have.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Are You Ready For Cell Phone Commerce?

Bookmark and Share
Just in the past couple of years advancements in payment processing have brought consumers from swiping the card and then signing the credit slip or keying in a pin for a debit transaction, to chip and pin on both debit and credit cards and now tap and go technology now found on both MasterCard and Visa cards.  In the near term future technology that will even replace the plastic cards that consumers have loved (or hated) to make purchases with their own cell phones will emerge.

The idea of making purchases with a cell phone instead of cash has existed for several years.  In some asian countries vending machines with text messaging ordering and payment has existed for some time.  A customer sends a text message with the name of the product to be dispensed, the purchase price is then added to the customer's next cell phone bill or deducted from their pre-paid account.

Paying for purchases could move from vending machines to the point of sale terminals in retail stores within the next couple of years.  One such system backed by Google and potentially Apple known as Near Field Communication works exactly like PayPass enabled MasterCard or PayWave enabled Visa transactions, an RFID chip embedded in the phone would send it's information to the store's point of sale system.  This could require the purchaser to key in a PIN into their phone in order allow a transaction to proceed.  This could add a layer of security that current PayPass and PayWave systems being implemented by the credit card issuers don't have.

Another system being proposed is using a display screen on the point of sale terminal that shows a bar code that the customer takes a picture with their phone, an app on their phone would make the customer verify and authorize the purchase being made. 

Canada's largest by volume payment processor, Interac has not stated any intent or interest in mobile commerce, If retail establishments implement cell phone payment processing, it could leave those who do not have credit cards on the outside looking in, similar to online shopping is now. 

For every new technology, there are going to opportunities to exploit it to steal credit and debit card numbers along with PIN's assigned to cardholders.  It would not be impossible for criminals to park a van in front of a store set up a completely open WiFi access point.  Most smartphones have WiFi capability that automatically connects to open WiFi access points that would allow for sensitive data like credit card numbers and PIN's to be captured and allow potential identity theft.

For cell phone based payment systems to take hold and displace plastic cards security will have to be a major issue that needs to be addressed.  Even when it's proven that mobile commerce can be secure it will be a hard sell to both retailers and consumers. 

Blog Archive