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January 8, 2007

Nokia Announces N800, N76, 6131, WiMax with Sprint and More at CES

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: Comment this story

N800_MC.jpgOlli-Pekka Kallasvuo’s keynote this morning at CES was jam packed with announcements from Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile communcation devices.

Along with the expected announcments of the N800 which is an update of the 770 Internet Tablet, and the N76 which looks like a Razr Kllr to me, there was news of a deal with Sprint to help the carrier build out its WiMax infrastructure by 2008, a new mid tier device the 6131 that sports near field communications for touchless payments, and the surprise integration of a Skype client for the N800.

Now that I’m finally released from my NDA I can talk about my experience with the N800. Tune in for a full review later today - I’ve had my own N800 for a month already and can give you the full skinny on what’s changed, what’s better and why you might want one now.

I’ll also dig a bit more deeply into the N76 and share a bit more of what Nokia’s fearless leader had to say about the future of the giant from Finland.

January 5, 2007

Can’t Get a Plasma Rifle? Wicked Lasers Nexus Model is the Next Best Thing

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 23 comments

ScreenHunter_155.jpgIf you love shiny things, and particularly shiny things that shine then nothing will deliver the sheer unadulterated pleasure of a small box with the Wicked Lasers logo on the lid and a beautiful and appropriately named “Wicked Laser” nestled in the protective foam inside.

DSC000111.jpg“Oh a laser pointer” you say, practically yawning with enthusiasm. Ordinarily I’d be inclined to agree, if we were talking about a typical “little red dot” laser pointer that is. But what I’m talking about is a Wicked Laser; and as you’ll see, these things have about as much in common with your average laser pointer as fire breathing dragster tractors have with Lincoln Town Cars. The fact that the company sells protective eyewear at manufacturer’s cost should be your second clue that these aren’t toys, your first should be the fact that when you depress the power button a beam of brilliant green coherent light blazes from the end and the room you’re in is suddenly transformed into the deck of a Borg vessel in all it’s creepy green glory.

People that know me are aware of my penchant for handheld lasers. On more than one occasion I’ve “wowed” friends and associates with the visual stimulus of the incomparable green of a nice handheld laser pointer as it illuminates some object from afar. That said, I was in no way prepared for the difference between the lasers - or should I say “want to be lasers” that I’d fooled with in the past and the military-grade photon canon that I had in my hands now.

As I told the folks at Wicked when confirming that I had received the sample for this review; “it’s a good thing you put that protective eyewear in the box or I’d be blind by now.” You simply haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a true 95 milliwats light up the sky like a giant light saber. More amazing, Wicked Lasers actually makes even more powerful equipment that goes clear up to 300 milliwats.

If the Nexus that I tested can start things smoking than the 300 milliwats Spyder models must set them ablaze. Seriously. You have no idea how incredibly bright these devices are until you see one in action with your own eyes. As good even as the photos are (and I confess if I hadn’t shot them myself I’d swear the beam was drawn in), they’re nothing compared with the visual experience of watching the beam stab into the sky.DSC00005.jpg

I actually drove to Vegas from LA during my review and was able to stop a few times along the way where there was very little light pollution. I’d heard that a bright enough laser could extend visibly far enough into the sky that only the curvature of the earth would cause the beam to be obscured. I now believe that fact to be true - though the specifications on the Nexus claim that it is only visible for 38 miles. Only! Ha! Imagine if your car headlights were visible for 38 miles and that will give you some idea of what I am talking about.

For those of you that are curious Wicked Laser’s sells a complete range of Red (650 nm), Green (532 nm) and most recently Blue (473 nm) and Blue Ray (405 nm) ranging in power from 15 mw all the way up to over 300 mw. In addition, those are average output measurements, not peak power (which is how most companies measure their lasers).

Steve from Wicked tells me that the company is twenty times larger market share than their nearest competitor and this allows them to design and manufacture their own custom lasers rather than simply reselling some stock design that’s been mass produced. They’ve also developed their own laser technologies and have the patents to prove it. As an example, I’ve noticed that their Spyder lasers are the only ones I’ve seen that identify themselves as waterproof to five meters. Their newest laser, the Blu-Ray powered Sonar has got me drooling and thinking about selling a few surfboards to get a new shiny toy.

I know, dear readers. I’m sure that a few of you think I’m overly effusive but this thing was so much freaking fun I felt like a mischievous little kid with a cap gun in my pocket. Of course this is a device wholly unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18 and quite a few of us older by many years.

DSC00009.jpgIt actually requires a good deal of restraint to have one of these things and use it responsibly. The temptation to point it at things you shouldn’t is nearly overwhelming so it’s good to keep reminding yourself a) that it is a jail able offense to point this at vehicles or aircraft and b) that permanent eye damage is all but assured if you happen to shine the beam directly into someone’s eyes. Tempting as misbehaving with these things might be, that’s enough to keep me walking the straight and narrow and truthfully there’s plenty of fun to be had while still being a good citizen.

Lots of popping, burning and melting of dark colored plastics, balloons, electrical tape and the like can keep you entertained for hours. Get a hold of a couple of nice prisms and mirrors and you can have a field day bending light every which way. I also noticed a couple of “rare earth doped targets” on eBay that apparently react to the 532 nanometer (green) laser light by turning a brilliant luminous ruby color. I didn’t get to buy one and try it out but you can bet I will when I have the pennies saved for my very own Wicked Laser.

I hate to say it but having had this bad boy from Wicked my old keychain models have sort of lost their appeal. Besides, I’m just itching to see how the new Spyder 40 milliwats blue laser (the most powerful handheld blue laser in the world) looks painted across a few clouds in the middle of the Mojave.

When I score one, I’ll shoot a few photos and let you know…DSC00013.jpg

January 1, 2007

JAJAH. No, No.

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 20 comments

ScreenHunter_152.jpgIf you think I’m about to bash JAJAH due to the above title, you’re sadly mistaken. I am, however, about to dish out some of my tough love. Of course the only reason that JAJAH has come into my crosshairs is that I like what the company is doing enough that I wanted to install their application on my mobile phone recently.

For those of you that haven’t heard about the Mountain View Company that intends to change telephony jajah makes it possible to make calls, both domestic and international that are either extremely cheap or even completely free. In fact, a month and a half ago I was at the Symbian SmartPhone Show in the UK when I realized that I needed to change my ticket. The only number I could find for American Air was on my AA Advantage card and it was a domestic 800 number. When I called it directly from my handset I got an ominous: “the 800# you are calling is not accessible from international locations. Your call will now be connected at prevailing direct dial international rates.”.

You can imagine how fast I closed that connection. International direct dial plus roaming in Europe plus mobile minutes plus currency conversion, plus, plus, plus. That sounded like a 4 buck a minute call to me - something I wanted no part of. Luckily for me Sean O’Mahony of jajah was there and in an act of unthinkable selflessness offered me his Nokia N70 to place the call using jajah.

He did say that he wasn’t sure if jajah could place a call to an 800# but we figured it was worth a shot. I placed the call as Sean directed and it connected to the help desk exactly like I’d dialed the call from home. Eight minutes later I had my travel sorted and I sheepishly handed the handset back to Sean saying “if that’s a twenty buck call, please let me know”. I was thinking “Sucker”. (okay maybe not but he might have been in some cases)

To make a long story short the next time I saw Sean I asked him about the cost of my call. If memory serves it was like $0.24 that’s right, less than a quarter to make an outbound roaming international direct dial call to an 800# in the US. I was sold.

My only problem was that in my world I’m installing and removing a half a dozen mobile applications a day from my phones so I forgot to install jajah and didn’t realize my folly until I had already arrived in Amsterdam and needed to make a few calls. This turned out to be a big mistake and also the source of my “tough love” for jajah.

Actually, this points to a larger issue that is sadly all too common for mobile applications and something that I think needs to be definitively included in any requirements to be considered a true mobile 2.0 application. So what is this issue?

To install jajah on a mobile you need a PC! That’s right, a bloody PC. Even my fancy schmancy Nokia N and E series phones were simply not able to manage the necessary html gymnastics that were required to get to the mobile application and force it to install to the phone.

Actually, with jajah you couldn’t even set up the account because the verification field of scrambled letters used to fool bots wouldn’t accept the input from my phone as accurate no matter how many times I tried to make it work. A dozen tries later and I finally gave up (and it I tried a dozen times and failed I sincerely doubt that anyone else is going to make it work either).

I had a similar experience with GrandCentral. This time the problem was that via the mobile handset GrandCentral was insisting that I had a Netherlands phone number. It was obviously getting some kind of country code information even though I was using the browser on the phone and hadn’t dialed up to anything. To be fair, GrandCentral may be no problem to set up via mobile handset when back in the USA, but from where I was it wasn’t happening.

This experience made me wonder; just how many “mobile 2.0″ applications require that you have a PC in order to get started with them? How much are developers testing their apps in “mobile only” environments? Because it seems to me that no application should be given a mobile 2.0 designation if it can only be installed with the aid of a PC.

Think about it. We’ve already acknowledged that the mobile device vastly outnumbers the PC and we’ve come to the conclusion that in many developing countries the principal means of accessing the web will be with mobile devices. Do developers that fail to create a mobile installable application stand to lose out? Today? Who knows. Tomorrow? Most definitely.

So come on guys; get with it. Test your installation scheme on a couple of mobile handsets and make darn sure it works. You never know, I just may make a list of the compliant and non-compliant applications and you know you don’t want to be dubbed a mobile 1.5 application…

PS: while you’re at it, why not consider always releasing some universal J2ME version of your applications first so that you can get some version of your applications running on most phones? I have a half a dozen phones but most of the time becase they are really recent releases I can’t even find a version that works for six or more months…

December 29, 2006

Samsung Announces Fuel Cell Breakthrough

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 2 comments

scell.gifDavid Garrett over at Top Tech News is reporting that Samsung, the $50 billion high tech electronics manufacturer has announced a major breakthrough in fuel cell technology.

According to the article their most recent effort, which is based upon direct methanol fuel cell or DMFC technology acts as a docking station/cum fuel cell and has the ability to power a laptop for up to eight hours a day, five days a week for four weeks at a time before requiring refueling. A second, smaller fuel cell that does not resemble a docking station would hold roughly a coffee cup sized amount of fuel and power the device for up to a week.

Given the inverse relationship between battery life and device functionality I am very excited about this particular piece of news. I’ve been long waiting to be free from the myriad chargers and spare batteries that I constantly carry with me so that I can be sure that I always have available power. It would be a welcome break to see this innovation reach smaller mobile devices. The sooner the better.

December 28, 2006

I’ve Been Blagged (my new term for Blog Tagged)

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 6 comments

mtb_esp.jpgRuss McGuire from The Law of Mobility decided to put me on the spot this morning by blagging me. So, in the spirit of the game (and because we all love to talk about ourselves, here are a few things about me you might not know:

1. I earned the title of Consulting Chef while working for Wolfgang Puck at the original Spago on Sunset and Horn in West Hollywood. It’s true and I’ve got the pans, knives, burn marks and newspaper clippings to prove it. Of course the last time I cooked was three start-ups ago but I remember a couple things…

2. I’m one of the “winningest” US cyclists ever having somehow managed to score 348 wins during my 23 year career. Tis also true, though quite a few of those were when I was a little tyke and could open up a can of whoop ass any time I wanted. As I got older and the other riders got tougher the days I could do that diminished significantly. Then I went to Europe and they all but disappeared. It is MUCH harder over there.

3. I used to raise wolves. Ask me for some photos some time.

4. Before I became involved with technology I was engaged in drug and supplement development research and have actually formulated of co-formulated hundreds of popular products, the most famous being “Focus Factor” which has now done over $200,000,000 in sales. Sadly, the company DID NOT live up to my royalty agreement and they’re too rich to sue. If you use this product, contact me and I can help you identify a superior alternative.

stitch_tat.jpg5. I have “Stitch” from Lilo and Stitch tattooed on my left outer calf and I collect small Stitch toys (well, actually people collect them for me).

Now who should I grace with the burden of coming up with five of their own revelations….

AH: Michael Arrington (we’ll see if he’s a good sport), My pal, Andy Abramson, my co-conspirator over at Foldera, Mr. Marc Orchant, Shel Israel and one of my favorite VC’s, Christine Herron. Okay you guys (and gal) don’t disappoint me. Besides if you break the chain, you’ll have very bad luck for seven years during which your…

December 27, 2006

Andy Abramson on Subversion and Skype

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 2 comments

Subversive.jpgMy good friend and personal mentor Andy Abramson has a thought provoking post up over on his VoIPWatch blog on Skype and how it is not only something disruptive but that three of the company’s recent marketing moves have resulted in the complete subversion of their partner T-Mobile via their HotSpots asset.

Go HERE to read the post. As a bonus, if you haven’t been fortunate enough to have discovered VoIPWatch, or Andy, you’re about to get tuned into one of the nicest, most knowledgable and well connected guys to ever use SIP.

December 21, 2006

Tocmag’s “How to Roll a Joint” Video “Incident” Seems Suspicious

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 3 comments

ScreenHunter_148.jpgThe recent news that a video featuring detailed instructions on how to “roll a joint” appeared on new mobile content site Tocmag and was promptly downloaded some 5000 odd times, mostly, according to Tocmag, by school-aged children in the UK.

According to a press release from the company:

‘We unreservedly apologise for this oversight and we’re doing everything in our powers to ensure it doesn’t happen again,’ said Tocmag founder Brad Ells. ‘From the outset of this project, we realised illicit content is a serious problem with user-generated material. We have conducted a review of our censorship process and ramped-up the resources we devote to ensuring Tocmag is a clean service.’

The thing about this is that makes me suspicious is that the way popular content appears to come to the forefront on the site. If the company had been using the practices it describes are put in action by their human censors they should have noticed this inappropriate content much earlier and simply rectified the situation.

Secondly their choice to circulate a press release about this “mistake” feels more like a publicity stunt than a genuine apology which could more effectively been delivered to a much smaller group and in the form of a letter rather than to the entire blogosphere.

Call me a cynic but it feels a lot to me like a ploy for media attention rather than a real apology from a company executive who should be more than a little embarrassed. Increasing my suspicion about the “Joint Video” is the fact that the press release includes a contact for interviews and bullet points about the company that are highly promotional in nature.

I don’t know about you, but if my company had just unwittingly provided detailed first hand video information on how to commit an elicit act to thousands of my country’s young people I’d be more inclined to crawl under a stone than offer up interviews and in the same document as the apology (which doesn’t even appear until the sixth paragraph) cite my company’s circulation statistics.

Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse, the idea that this company “concocted” this to generate media attention (hey, they got on MobileCrunch, didn’t they?) or that they have such impaired judgment that they chose to use this serious error as a vehicle to promote their brand.

I sincerely do hope it’s just a lack of judgment and a failure to appreciate the potential harm such a video could cause because the idea that a company would actually stoop to such a level to get additional attention from the media makes me wonder if they also like to cover “happy slapping”.

Please note, that I have not covered Tocmag previously and do not in any way review their service here. This post and any comments I or others may make in regards to what I’ve written should apply only to the “Joint Video” and the way that Tocmag executives have chosen to go about mitigating the damage and providing some means of insuring that such an issue won’t again result in young people being exposed to material or information that is illegal, inappropriate or both.

It’s a further question mark in my mind just how aggressively they are attempting to police the content as a simple cursory viewing of the first gallery page of the site reveals “Hentai porn”, nude or semi-nude women, a fat guy getting his gynocomastic nipples sucked by two young ladies and other assorted less than G-rated content.

Not that I’m some puritanical goody two shoes, personally I don’t care what’s up there, but if your company claims to enforce a particular editorial policy and goes so far as to circulate a press release related to some inappropriate content making it past the censor, then it would make sense that if you are truly applying the previously described standard than little to no other potentially offensive content would be there as opposed to the majority of content failing to be within the stated guidelines.

So, what do you all think? Honest mistake or slick PR Effort/Blogosphere Suicide? I’d love to hear your thoughts…

December 18, 2006

Mobile Social Communities to See Massive Increase Over Next 4 Years

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 10 comments

ScreenHunter_147.jpgABI Research is reporting an expected increase from today’s roughly 50 million users of mobile social networks to over 174 million projected users by 2011.

With numerous opportunities for the varied players to capitalize financially on these networks their particpant appeal may well be equalled by the interest they hold for the carriers (who stand to gain lucrative data revenues as well as SMS fees and potential revenue share on goods and products sold via the networks such as ring tones, downloadable games, movies and video clips). Advertising revenue can’t be underestimated either as shown by the success of the major online advertisers.

Currently none of the major carriers provides direct linkange to or support for the major social networks but that will change as the operators realize just how much traffic- and thus money they stand to make (or lose as the case may be) by virtue of their decisions about social networks.

Greystripe Bucks Trend Scores 1.4 Million Off-Deck Downloads in 4 Months

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 5 comments

ScreenHunter_144.jpgContrary to the trends that we’ve been seeing, discussing and even reading analyst reports on, Greystripe, the self described “world’s first mobile in-game advertising network and ad-supported mobile game distributor is reporting something fairly extraordinary: 1.4 million downloads from their Gamejump.com free mobile gaming portal.

topstory1113.jpgWhile no specific statistics have been provided as to which countries generated the most significant traction Greystripe appears to have effectively leveraged very broad distribution - 100 countries appear to provide a tremendous amount of access from many places around the globe. Equally important Greystripe has accumulated 20 of the world’s top mobile gaming developers offering in excess of 100 game titles including such favorites as 3D Gold xPro, Texas Hold Em, Adventure Boy in Zooloo Land and Black Metal.

The depth of this platform is evident in the fact that they claim to support over 800 handset models. (Are there really THIS MANY CURRENTLY IN USE??? My God, no wonder there’s a porting problem. Let’s recycle some of these old phones already!) Personally, I can’t comment on the games or the quality of the execution on various handset makes and models as I am not allowed to play video games. The last time I indulged myself in this arena was with the original version of Zelda and it nearly cost me a marriage (which in retrospect would have been better sooner rather than later but I digress).

Greystripe has a number of different advertising methodologies and they continue to evolve to offer more engaging, innovative and entertaining advertising to avoid the likelihood that the consumer will become annoyed with the ads or that they will detract from the offering to the point where they’ve devalued the game to the degree that the consumer (or should I say participant?) becomes disinterested and decides to invest her or his attention elsewhere.

AdWRAP, Greystripe’s technology that allows publishers to serve revenue-generating advertising through their games will be extended to work on Flash based games as well as Blackberry, Smartphone and Symbian platforms. Also in early 2007 Greystripe plans to being embedding video players into mobile games and applications allowing the company to broaden its offering to include video commercials, selling in-game and audio ads.

So far, it appears that (at least for the mobile gaming enthusiast demographic) ad-supported content is sufficiently appealing that it has reached millions of players via their online portal, GameJump.com as well as via direct mobile access at http://gjmp.tw and through something called the “AdWRAP Catalog Program. AdWRAP’s ability to serve advertising into more then 300 game titles from 37 publishers which support a total of more than 1000 handset models puts the company in a truly enviable position, which, if the advertising generates real-world verifiable sales, could position this company to become the functional equivalent of a Google for the mobile market.

The questions that I have are as follows; does the advertising generate verifiable sales? Is the demographic broad enough that a wide array of advertisers find this medium to be compelling? Is the advertising contextual? If not can it be made to be contextual? Can the platform be extended beyond games and into other forms of content that might appeal to a broader demographic? Is the pricing such that not just big companies but small businesses can take advantage of this medium? Lastly, can the advertising be localized in the same way that Google’s can so that the above-mentioned small businesses can localize their ads in a sensible way?

As I said at the outset of this post, the fact that so many downloads of off-deck applications have taken place is quite unusual. Even a recent Jupiter Media study (Jupiter US Wireless Consumer Survey June 2006) clearly shows that US residents do not, as a rule, download content or programs to their mobile devices. If a significant number of the reported downloads is actually occurring in the US this would be a very strong indicator of the high degree of desirability of the content being offered and/or that the advertising itself is fun, compelling or at least innocuous enough that it has no impact on consumer interest. What I’d like to see to get really excited about Greystripe would be some greater transparency from the company itself. Let’s see the statistics so we know if we need to get ourselves positioned to start creating in-game mobile campaigns or whether this is a platform that only companies that make product that are intended specifically for 18 to 24 year old Korean punk rockers want.ScreenHunter_146.jpg

December 12, 2006

Sharpcast Goes On-Deck with Alltel; also Announces Upgraded Mobile Version

Posted by Oliver | Discussion: 5 comments

ScreenHunter_138.jpgSharpcast, the company that just this past summer launched what I called universal push synchronization in my original post is announcing that they’ve been officially added to the Alltel deck as their sole photo sharing and archiving application.

This is very significant for Sharpcast and for other mobile startups in general. For Sharpcast, being added to the Alltel deck goes way beyond simply validating the excellence of their application, in fact, it is almost a guarantee that the company will succeed. Whether via organic growth and monetization of customers or via acquisition is yet to be determined, but having the application pre-loaded on the many millions of mobile phones distributed by the nation’s largest mobile network owner/operator is a powerful position that I’m certain the company will leverage to maximum benefit.

Readers of MobileCrunch likely recall my strong feelings about how crucial this is to the success of any mobile start-up and my reason for stating above that this is significant for not just Sharpcast but other mobile start-ups as well is that it indicates both a willingness by a major operator to roll out an application that isn’t home grown, but also one that they intend to give away for free.

Clearly the carriers are starting to smarten up. They’re realizing that voice and SMS are not going to be their bread and butter forever and that they need to start diversifying offerings but not nickel and diming customers to death by charging for every little thing.

Providing services like Sharpcast’s - which supports the instant and seamless synching of photos on every device upon which a user has the software installed - is not only a great user experience it’s also a great driver of data revenues.

If Alltel were to charge for the application they’d probably see a 75 to 80% reduction in the number of users, maybe even more since this would probably also mean that the application would have to be downloaded, something which still in my opinion bodes very badly for mobile applications that are dependent upon this means of uptake.

The team at Sharpcast ought to be awfully pleased with this recent news as should the mobile community in general as it may be the beginning of a big change in attitude from the carriers and their willingness to work with independent developers and innovative mobile startups.

There are a number of companies besides Sharpcast that I think are obvious homeruns for carriers. Some of which are obvious, others perhaps less so (if you’re a representative of a carrier and want to know which applications I feel are particularly strong candidates, please get in touch with me).

In other Sharpcast news, the company is announcing that an updated version of their mobile client for Windows Mobile 5.0 devices has been released and they’ve added specific support for an increasing number of devices.

I’ve also been told that Palm and Symbian support is in the works but isn’t available just yet.