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The British 4G auctions are underway December 13, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Government, Hardware.
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And so at last the 4G auctions have begun in the UK. There is some 4G available already via Everything Everywhere (EE), but none of the major operators are able to offer the service yet.

The applications will be considered before the end of this year with the winning bidder chosen by the end of Q1 2013. This means that 4G services should roll out to the public in general by May or June next year.

Many have asked about the importance of 4G and whether we need the service at all. After all 3G already allows most web browsing and email activities to function perfectly well.

I believe that the difference will be related to video and audio, specifically movies, TV shows, and streaming music. Services like Spotify are getting increasingly popular – you pay a fixed monthly subscription and can then play almost any music. However the big downside to Spotify is you need a computer and Internet connection for it to work. There is some offline functionality, but it’s all clunky and not easy to use.

Imagine if the Internet speed on your phone was so fast that you could stream any music anywhere? There would no longer be a market for iPods for a start.

The same applies for TV and movies. It’s possible to watch video on the move using 3G, but it’s usually a bit slow, the image can be buffered and delayed. The experience is not usually very good – if you want to watch a movie on a train journey it’s easier to download the video file first, not attempt to stream something big on 3G.

Putting data limits to one side, if there is no issue over speed then the phone will almost certainly become the most popular viewing platform for movies and TV shows.

I wonder if that will change how they are produced – filmed with the expectation that they will be viewed on an iPad Mini or iPhone rather than a cinema screen?

Rear of the Year

 

Photo by Scott Wills licensed under Creative Commons

Samsung v Apple: The fight goes on August 31, 2012

Posted by Mark Hillary in Current Affairs, Hardware, Software.
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Who would have thought that intellectual property law could suddenly become so interesting? Two of the biggest tech brands in the world – Samsung and Apple – are slugging it out in courts across the world.

An American court awarded Apple over $1bn in damages when it declared that Samsung had infringed several key aspects of proprietary software and technology design.

Subsequently a Japanese court awarded Samsung victory in a battle over the way their phones synchonise data with personal computers. It’s going back and forth as the giants argue over design issues and who is copying who.

Of course intellectual property needs protection, but the real loser at the end of all this is going to be the consumer. Take cars as an example. You can go out and buy a Ford, VW, or GM vehicle and be able to drive it immediately. You don’t need to spend a day learning how it all works before you are familiar with the controls.

Isn’t this analogous to mobile phones now? They are complex devices, but there are many basic controls that are the same; settings, web access, email, apps. I just moved from Android to an iPhone and it took me a couple of days to become familiar with the environment – even though I use several other Apple products. What if I move to an Android phone in two years? Will I have to learn everything again to get it to work?

We need phone companies to innovate and not just to copy each other, but the consumer will end up paying all these damages. It’s time the phone companies started talking to each other and pooling technologies in the same way DVD and similar technologies are shared between manufacturers.

A slight difference (phones)

 

Photo by Tomi Tapio licensed under Creative Commons

Staying alive – retaining innovation in IT September 22, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Internet, IT Services, Software.
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The history of information technology is littered with the names of companies that were once great and fell on hard times. Whatever happened to Imagine Software, Wang, Pr1me, Commodore, and many others?

Of course one of the greatest success stories in IT, and possibly in any business environment, is Microsoft. They grew from small roots, and a fortunate licensing deal to install their operating system on IBM PCs, and the rest is history. Now, almost all new PC-based computers come with Windows pre-installed.

But the world is changing. Microsoft has been talking publicly about their ideas for Windows 8 and it does not seem clear whether the world is listening any longer.

Almost 4m people in the UK use a tablet-based device and the dominant operating systems are from Apple and Google – with their Android system that is also becoming the key smart-phone operating system.

It would be wrong to suggest that Microsoft is finished because they don’t seem to be able to compete in the tablet and telephone market, but the entire computing market is changing. For years Microsoft has enjoyed the twin cash cows of Windows and their Office platform of office automation software – Word, Excel, and so on.

Windows is clearly becoming less relevant and valuable, but so too is the shrink-wrapped software market. Office automation tools are available free, in the cloud, from people like Google and at a low cost from other suppliers.

How do once dominant companies react to such changes in the market? If anyone can do it then Microsoft can. They have cash, intelligent people, and an attitude that focuses on innovation.

But do they have the will to entirely change the company? One only has to look at a company like Nokia to see that ignoring a changing technology market can bring industry giants to their knees. For the sake of the industry, let’s hope that Windows 8 really is as revolutionary as the Microsoft bosses suggest.
Microsoft Logo

When is technology really yours? June 17, 2011

Posted by Mark Hillary in Government, IT Services, Software.
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Can you remember the furore caused by Amazon two years ago when their system automatically deleted copies of books by George Orwell on remote Kindle devices? That’s right, books that were already bought and paid for and loaded onto a reading device were remotely deleted because of a rights issue with the publisher. How ironic to find Orwell’s 1984 subject to such a scandal.

Yet the news today that Apple has been developing technology to control when and where you can use the video function in an iPhone seems even more controlling.

The idea is that it is illegal to video most events such as live music concerts because of the potential copyright infringement. So Apple will offer artists and theatre owners the ability to send an infrared signal to all iPhones in the vicinity of the live show, switching off the video function.

Apple has stated that they have filed patents related to this technology and the idea is possible, but it may be many years before we see it as a commercial product.

So that’s all right then.

This raises many more questions than answers though. Many artists want their music to be recorded and shared online, even if their publishing or record company does not and the recording a live music experience does not automatically imply that it will be shared and broadcast.

But perhaps when we start getting to the point where theatres are going to start controlling how and when you can use the phone in your pocket, it’s time to start asking if the copyright laws creating the need for this corporate behaviour are in fact flawed and of another time?

Does Apple’s new iPad raise more concerns for copyright? February 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Hillary in IT Services.
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Apple recently launched their new product, the iPad, to a mixture of frenzied fan worship and questions about exactly what function the new device fulfils. It’s typical of Apple to lead the gadget market to a new place, as they did with the iPod, but there are some who believe that the iPad is about to fundamentally shake up the publishing industry in the same way the iPod changed music.

But how can a plastic device rock the foundations of an entire industry, built on the foundation of decades of experience? Well, one might ask how the recorded music industry has changed so much in the past decade. It was not the creation of the device itself that changed the vista, we had hard discs back in the nineties and the ability to load music files on them. What changed was the creation of a true community, iTunes.

Once consumers could easily start loading music, video, and radio programmes onto your device and participate in a music community where favourite content is just automatically pushed to you, and other content is just a search button away then the old ways just seemed, well, old.

And so despite an ongoing love of books and paper, and the failure of dozens of supposed electronic book readers, will the Apple iBooks service now start changing the market?

The authors already think so. They want their royalties redefined to take into account the ease of distributing electronic files, rather than physical books. Booker prize winner Ian McEwan has signed a deal with Amazon.com where they get exclusive rights to his back catalogue.

Amazon reported that during Christmas 2009 they sold more eBooks than physical books. This is leading to a fundamental shift in the way books are produced and distributed. Amazon is even planning a publishing service, offering a royalty of over 70% to authors who cut out the publisher entirely and allow Amazon to publish and retail the book.

The publishing community Lulu has already explored this idea with some success. Lulu offers a publishing tool that allows an author to publish their book to all recognised retailers using the standard ISBN registration, but with one major difference. The book is print-on-demand, Lulu only prints and binds a copy when a customer clicks on the book on a site such as Amazon. Lulu offers 80% of profits to authors, after the cost of production.

These royalty rates far eclipse standard author rates of 15 to 20%. But as we move to a brave new world of electronic book distribution are there also unanswered questions about the content ownership? If I own a book, I can easily lend it to a friend. If I have downloaded the electronic version to my reading device, I am probably not able/permitted to beam it to a friend’s device, my friend needs to download again, or borrow my reading device.

The issue of author’s rights and royalty fees remains unresolved with Google’s book deal presently postponed by the US courts and forcing a rethink.

The iPad and iBooks service has the potential to completely change publishing, copyright, newspaper, and magazines. And those who think this view paints too dramatic a picture might want to stop and think about the last time their kids went to a branch of HMV to buy a CD single. Exactly.