Archive for March, 2011

Samsung android smartphone i9000 Galaxy S

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As Verizon rolls out its first 4G handset in the US and the UK prepares for a spectrum auction in 2012, Giga Om’s Kevin Tofel wonders if we’ll need mobile versions of web sites in the future.

In the 2G world the argument against desktop versions was that they took an age to load, but with speeds ramping up, usability improving, tablets becoming more widespread and budgets under pressure that’s a position that’s going to be increasingly challenged.

Tofel answers his own question by saying the mobile-friendly web isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, partly because “it will take years of additional smartphone adoption and network expansion before we see a decline in mobile sites.”

The other argument, which he doesn’t advance, is that mobile browsing and desktop browsing are not the same thing; location, “nowness” and context become much more important for smartphone users than for those engaged in desktop browsing.

HTML5 may make it easier to port content to multiple platforms and devices but the companies who succeed will understand the difference been static consumption, portability and mobility. There is no one-size-fits-all solution

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scratch test

It’s a long way from the sticky-backed plastic of Blue Peter, but a protective film used to protect helicopter rotor blades in the worst desert conditions is now making its way to a mobile or tablet screen near you.

It goes under the trade name of Invisible Shield and for anyone going into hostile environments it might be worth the $35 price tag.

You can read about the military application here or simply watch someone take keys, screws and a Drexel drill to the front of an iPhone4 here

Gunnar Garfors, CEO of Norges Mobil-TV, a JV b...

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Digital radio and mobile TV will start to appear in some Android tablets from the summer following a partnership between device manufacturer Enspert and the International DMB Advancement Group (IDAG).

Enspert is the second largest tablet maker in South Korea and the deal involves four new models harnessing DAB, DAB+ and DMB under the brand name, Identity.

IDAG chief Gunnar Garfors said the inclusion of TV and radio would “open the way for innovative combinations between broadcasting and the internet, giving the best of both worlds”. He estimated the additional chips would add $10-15 to the unit cost.

The four tablets are in the 7-9 inch range and will initially be sold in Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Vietnam.

Adrian Holovaty

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Everyblock’s Adrian Holovaty has signalled a change in direction for the hyperlocal news site he founded in 2007 and which was subsequently bought up by MSNBC.com.

He wants to switch its focus from that of a data-driven aggregator to a “platform for discussion around neighbourhood news”.

He told Poynter: “…we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site.”

On his blog, Holovaty writes that current social media tools are focused on people you already know and he poses the question: “How many people in American cities can even name more than a handful of their neighbors?

His answer is to use Everyblock to post to them – “instead of the social graph, it’s the geo graph”.

As a way of helping to knit a community together it’s an interesting approach but, as Holovaty himself points out, it’s not attempting to be yet another social network.

“If you want to follow your neighbor’s personal life, friend her on Facebook; if you want to talk about neighborhood issues, use EveryBlock.”

The site was spawned from his Chicagocrime site helped along by a Knight Foundation grant and it has now been extended to cover all major centres across the US.

A skim through the information available for West Seattle brings up local news, messages from neighbours, 911 dispatches, real estate info, restaurant reviews, meet-ups, local photos and much else besides.  Every item is mapped and it’s possible to search by zip code, by area, or even by street.

The granularity that comes from mining official data is impressive, everything from building permits to restaurant inspections are available – though the neighbourhood chatter wasn’t evident when I looked because the change in emphasis is still so new.

Less impressive is the chronological design which, without more sophisticated filters or editorialising, makes staying informed an ordeal by parish pump.

Planning applications can, of course, be a big as a story if they directly affect you, but weeding the relevant from the irrelevant needs better tools to let people decide what they want – and what they don’t.


Snaptu home screen on cell phone

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The burgeoning growth of Facebook has been given another boost by the social network’s acquisition of mobile start-up Snaptu for an undisclosed sum.

No big deal, you may think, but as Paul Butler points out at ReadWriteWeb, the people accessing Facebook via their mobiles are twice as active as those who engage via PCs.

It was Israeli outfit Snaptu who earlier this year built a feature-phone app for Facebook, extending social network access to thousands more devices and into markets where smartphones are less prevalent.

If you add to that purchase, the acquisition of group messaging company Beluga and a location-based advertising start-up, Rel8tion, it’s plain to see Mark Zuckerberg’s intention to capitalize on the mobile space.

The other big beast in that battle is the subject of David Carr’s excellent New York Times piece – The Evolving Mission of Google

Despite its insistence that it is not a media company, Carr makes a good case that it is and why it’s more than a matter of semantics.

The gravitational pull of Google and Facebook has already had a huge impact on the way news is distributed and they’re both attracting vast sums of advertising cash that would otherwise have gone to the traditional newspaper and magazine businesses.

At the same time, Google acknowledges that it depends on high-quality content and has “a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem”.

For newspapers and magazines struggling to make money from the link economy that assertion might ring hollow, especially if the ledgers show their days in the eco-system might be numbered.

Planets Google and Facebook have pulled money from their grasp on the traditional web and now it’s slipping through their fingers in the mobile world too.

According to the folks at Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, Google’s algorithm has “had more impact on the shape of the web than anything or anyone since Tim Berners-Lee” and this infographic attempts to show how.

The casualties of this shift in fortunes will be replaced, of course, hopefully by something better, but as we’ve seen with recent natural disasters the consequences will be traumatic and restoration will take a long time to effect.

Index on CensorshipHowever tough the journalism climate becomes, and however deep the cuts still to come, it’s worth remembering that, in this country at least, we’re able to practise our chosen profession in a safe framework where challenging ideas and orthodoxies is recognised as a vital part of an informed democracy.

Last night I attended the annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression awards at the Royal Institution in Mayfair and heard stories about parts of the world where basic safeguards that we’ve enjoyed for so long we almost take them for granted are not the norm.

In these places, calling power to account, expressing ideas, blogging, performing, writing and broadcasting can be short-cuts to ugly and brutal intimidation, incarceration, torture and even death.

It’s worth pausing to think about that before returning to the day-to-day fray with, perhaps, a renewed inner resolve to shine a light on those who seek to repress those freedoms and on those who challenge them.

President of the United States Richard M. Nixo...

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On a visit to Poynter earlier this week Bob Woodward of Watergate fame reflected on journalism and digital media and made the point that technology on its own is nothing without high quality, probing journalism.

Nowadays high quality, probing journalism involves harnessing digital tools and using them to mine vast amounts of data as well as the virtues and skills Woodward deployed in his day.

There’s no better recent example than the work of Seattle Times reporter Michael J Berens whose tenacious approach earned him the $20,000 Bingham Prize for investigative journalism.

Berens produced a six-part series that dealt with the treatment and exploitation of elderly and frail people in Washington State’s adult family homes.  Along the way he filed 50 state record requests, acquired and then analysed thousands of pages of health service documents and interviewed 250 people.

You can read a fuller account of the investigation here and if you’re interested in learning more about data journalism then Elena Egawhary at the BBC in west London  is a fount of wisdom on the subject.

On this topic, however, Woodward gets the last word with his acerbic world view: “I get up in the morning and I ask the question: ‘What are the bastards hiding?’…You get at the truth at night, the lies during the day.”

First 4 digits of a credit card

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It’s been a bad few days for the mobile money business with the rumour mill in full spate that iPhone 5 won’t be packing an NFC “wave and pay” chip when it launches In June. Well, in truth, we don’t even know if iPhone 5 will roll out then, despite all the supposed leaks from sources, industry insiders and those close to the discussions.

More substantial – and damaging – was the open letter from the boss of Verifone attacking mobile payments rival Square over what he said were serious security flaws with the mobile card reading system.

Square’s CEO Jack Dorsey hit back at the allegations saying they were neither fair nor accurate and ignored protections that come with credit cards.

Whatever the merits of their respective cases the spat sows doubt about the security of mobile payments and makes the job of rolling out the mobile wallet that much harder.

Over at the Online Journalism Review there’s an interesting post by Robert Niles on attempts to codify the language of Twitter to extract value from the morass of information.

As anyone knows who’s tried to use Twitter when news is breaking the good stuff often gets masked by misinformation, speculation and mis-steps in the chronology.

Jeff Jarvis has suggested a change to the hashtag convention so that witnesses to events could be separated out from those merely talking about them. He gives the example of !jpquake for witnesses v #jpquake for discussion.

Niles argues that it’s in the interests of news organisations to improve Twitter protocols and it’s time to start promoting the idea more widely as well as thinking about ways to elevate the standing of top sources in the microblogging community.

One of the few significant announcements from Austin was the launch this summer by CNN of a service that will let viewers move seamlessly between mobile, computer and internet-connected TV when watching video.

If, for example, you started watching something on your smartphone and switched to the TV, tablet or computer screen the video would pick up from where you left off on the mobile.

The integration also allows video to be stacked and ported around, so a queue build on a connected TV would also be available on your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Bandwidth, as ever, is the Achilles Heel of roaming, but streams are encoded at variable bit-rates to cope if conditions are less than optimal.

CNN has also forged a couple of partnerships to bolster its iReport citizen journalism initiative. Links with Apple mean that it’ll be straightforward to upload direct from iMovie to iReport and a tie-in with Gowalla brings the marginally appealing bounty of badges for contributors.

Most significant of all is a move to integrate iReport and CNN journalists’ work in a Twitter-type content chronology with overlays on maps.