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September 21, 2012
RIM's increasingly unreliable BlackBerry network is down one more time, disconnecting phone and email users in Europe,
the Middle East and Africa, but this doesn't come as a surprise to some. Almost exactly a year go, a week before Apple's co-founder
Steve Jobs past away, RIM's network suffered outages that lasted up to two days in some cases, and not just in Europe and the Middle
East, but in the U.S., Canada and South America as well.
This morning, Research in Motion's service outage started around 9.00 AM. The company says it's only affecting some users
but the mailbox at Vulture Central was filling up with complaints from readers who've experienced the issue so some would
seem to be a significant proportion.
As can be expected, RIM isn't saying what's going on, only promising to get it repaired as quickly as possible and apologizing
for the outage. "We are currently experiencing a BlackBerry service issue impacting some users in Europe, the Middle East & Africa. All
relevant support teams are working to resolve the issue. We apologize to any customers who may be affected," said Waterloo, Ontario-based
Research In Motion.
The more socially-aware BlackBerry users will already know all this-- BlackBerry's Twitter feed and Facebook page have
had notifications about the issue for the last two hours or so.
In other mobile news
We've all heard of the smartphone and the tablet, and now we can welcome the Phablet. A bit larger than the average smartphone,
but smaller than a tablet and equipped with a stylus, the hybrid phablet has emerged as a subset of the mobile device family.
Samsung recently unleashed mobile developers on stylus-driven applications. In April, the company invited app developers
to build stylus-integrated apps using its 'S Pen' software development kit. Voting is still going on, but the top apps will
receive $205,000 in cash and prizes.
To be sure, Samsung’s Galaxy Note, which entered the U.S. market earlier this year, is perhaps the best-known example. The
Android-based device includes a 5.3-inch touch screen and a stylus, which Samsung calls the S Pen.
Also, LG’s Optimus Vu has rolled out a 5-inch Android device that’s equipped with a stylus, which launched in South Korea
in March of this year.
And other mobile players are likely to follow suit, especially now that Samsung’s phablet sales have eclipsed the 5 million
Josh Flood, senior analyst with ABI Research, says he believes phablets compete with 6 to 8-inch tablets and premium smartphones.
In 2011, six to seven inch tablets accounted for about six percent of all tablet shipments, or about 3.7 million units.
Flood expects the bulk of the tablet market to remain in the 9-inch-plus range until about 2017 or so.
So what type of buyer will want a phablet? “Many of the mobile handset vendors and wireless operators believe the initial
typical user will be what they term feature chasers,” explains Flood. “Additionally, users who are less concerned about data
consumption will be prime targets for phablets as well, as they desire a greater Web-browsing experience and better graphics
from sites such as YouTube.”
The phablet’s stylus, coupled with the larger display, will provide the greatest flexibility for mobile app developers, according to
“The stylus is a very important thing that has finally come back to handheld mobile devices,” says Mike Newman, president
of On the Go-WARE, a Los Angeles company that specializes in mobile app development, software training and recruitment.
Overall, styluses were widely used with mobile devices about 10 to 12 years ago, but the rise of the iPhone made them rapidly outdated,
says Newman. He’d like to see the stylus stick around this time-- “It opens up a whole other realm of creativity you can have
with your apps.”
A stylus gives mobile app developers more flexibility and adds an extra feature to look at, says Flood. “Application developers
can now include an extra dimension in their apps, with pressure sensitivity as a key feature of the Samsung S Pen.”
For now, stylus-oriented applications are limited to drawing, sketching and note-taking, says Flood. He points to Graffiti,
WritePad, 7notes, PhatPad and MyScript Memo as examples.
But the stylus presents plenty of opportunities for other app categories as well. For instance, Flood adds that gaming applications
may start using the stylus substantially over the next three to six months.
In a simple football game, the pressure of the stylus could indicate the power of the quarterback’s pass, he notes.
And the stylus may have an even greater impact on the brain and puzzle segment of mobile gaming, says Flood. “The stylus
will enable users to navigate puzzles and flick between solutions at a quicker and more stimulating pace.”
But when it comes to user interfaces, the opinions are very mixed. A stylus’ precision input could lead to richer apps and
user interfaces, says Newman. While a desktop developer can integrate many controls into an application’s user interface, mobile
applications tend to be dumbed down to aid with navigation and accommodate fingers.
But Flood doesn’t believe that the stylus will influence user interface design. “The majority of users will still prefer
to use their fingers to operate their phones’ operating system,” he says.
The apps submitted covered a range of functions, from diagramming football plays to applying makeup. App developers should
start from scratch when building apps for phablets, says Naga Hariharan, director of product management at Quickoffice, which
makes mobile office-productivity software.
Don’t just throw a smartphone or tablet app on a phablet. Take the nuances of this new form factor into account and consider
how users interact with this particular device, says Hariharan. How users accomplish a task such as highlighting text and moving
it around a document will unfold a lot differently via finger touch versus the fine control of the S Pen.
“Create an application that is custom-fit for that device and you have a better chance of succeeding,” he says.
In other mobile news
HTC and China Merchants Bank have launched a new mobile payment wallet, enabling users of HTC Android smartphones to
pay for items wirelessly by gently tapping their device. The technology is stored in a secure chip in the phone and is then
available without approval of the wireless network operator.
The new wallet is available on three HTC models-- the Desire C, and two Chinese variants of the One X smartphone. All
of those devices are powered by the Android operating system.
Regardless of their network operator, users can still take the phone into a bank branch, slap some cash on the counter
and get it credited to the QuickPass application so they can pay merchants across China with the tap of their handset.
The wireless technology still requires a radio conforming to the N-Mark standard which is NFC (near-field communications)
technology to authenticate the user. The location of, and control over, of that secure store has been heavily contested by
companies who see long-term value in being the gatekeeper.
And this is something that AT&T and Verizon Wireless would love to have if they could find a way to do it. Banks have long
favored some sort of removable memory card, beyond the control of both network operator and mobile handset manufacturer.
NFC Times, in its extensive coverage, points out that China Union Pay has a QuickPass application on a Micro-SD card, and that
banks in the United States tried out the same thing in New York two years ago, with mixed results.
The so-called 'smart money' is now on wallets dropping into the SIMs as evidenced by operator consortiums including ISIS
in the U.S., and Project Oscar in Europe, creating a standard SIM wallet working across many network operators.
However, Google is still persevering with its operator-independent Wallet, and now HTC is also following in its foot steps.
The advantages are obvious-- there's no negotiating with network operators, no rent to pay on secure storage in the operator's
SIM, and full control over the host of voucher and loyalty schemes which are generally expected to make NFC sustainable.
In announcing the deal, HTC was explicit in promising all of its many applications, once pay-by-tap has pushed NFC into
user's pockets, and with HTC in overall control of the secure element.
In other mobile news
Visa is really happy with the outcome of this summer's games. As a major Olympics sponsor, Visa International used the
London Olympic games in July to highlight its pay-by-tap technology, successfully doubling the number of contactless payments
across the United Kingdom, while taking about 21 percent of all the transactions within the event.
In the two-and-a-half months leading up to the Olympic games, the number of contactless payments doubled, hitting six times
2011's total for the period of the games themselves, demonstrating that users will use NFC technology if they already know about
it. And now they do.
To be sure, Visa isn't sharing the overall dollar value passed over its NFC connections, but at NFC World Congress, the
credit card processor did reveal some comparisons and a few growth rates.
At the Olympic venues, about 20 percent of all payments under £20 were made with a contactless card. And about 82 percent of
customers still slotted their card and entered their PIN in the traditional way, despite the surrounding advertising that they
didn't have to.
Visa says that's pretty much in line with the proportion of cards equipped with NFC, denoted by the little radiating logo.
The fact that payments at some venues hit 25 percent reveals just how popular NFC technology is.
The higher on-site transaction numbers demonstrate consumer enthusiasm for using the technology when it is made easily
In August, U.K.-based BarclayCard announced it was processing a million contactless payments a month, which would seem to
agree with Visa's figures for a process with which users are getting more comfortable.
Neither company breaks out the proportion of payments made using a phone or a sticker in the case of Barclaycard, but it's
safe to assume that traditional cards make up the overwhelming majority.
Visa did say however that the 700 or so Samsung Galaxy SIII handsets it issued to athletes and journalists got heavy utilization
rates, averaging fifteen transactions each, but the novelty and the pre-loaded credit probably accounted for most of that.
Then, if iPhone 5 sales are as huge as seems probable (the iPhone 5 has no NFC technology) smartphone adoption won't become
massive, at least not yet.
Nevertheless, the credit card industry firmly believes that the only element preventing the use of contactless payments
is the lack of familiarity with the process, which can be addressed through advertising.
Assuming they're right, the retailers will save money on cash handling and the customers can save time typing in their PINs. And,
most importantly, the payment processors like Visa can start clawing back some of those savings in their transaction fees, which
is the whole idea when it comes to credit card companies and banks.
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Source: Research In Motion.
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