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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Got a Phone? Got iTunes? Get Twisting.

They have cracked it. A software hub for connecting multiple types of media, online outlets, and devices. Within reason, any digital camera, video recorder, media player, or mobile phone can now be hooked up and synced with other devices, your PC, or Facebook. Not only that, but you can share media with Facebook friends too.

THIS is a killer application for Facebook, way more so than any Vampire…

What am I talking about? Assume like many people that you have a Nokia or SonyEricsson phone that is capable of playing music and taking photos. You rarely use it as a music player because you buy music from iTunes and getting music from there to your phone is a pain in the arse. You do use the rather decent camera on your phone but you never actually get the photos off it — just bounce them around your friend’s mobiles or show each other the screen.

Imagine if you could plug your phone in to your PC and from a single window, drag all the photos you had taken straight to Facebook. In the same application you could copy all the music from your PC on to your phone. Wouldn’t that be cool? No need to care about file formats, copy protection, file sizes or any of the rest of it. The software takes care of all that automatically.

This is the premise (and promise) of doubleTwist, a new application from the famous ‘hacker’ DVD Jon, known for cracking the copy protection on DVDs. It is still very much in beta — it fell over within minutes of me trying it the first time, there are issues with the browsing (thumbnails are too small to choose between) and some other basic functions. But the idea is very strong, and with the company having just closed a funding round, likely to get stronger.

If you have the patience, check out the free beta download.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Innovaticus: Great Idea, Crap Name

I should perhaps be a little more polite since I am seeing one of the co-founders of this company on Thursday night. But as a marketing man I have to say that the name Innovaticus could only have been dreamt up by a group of academics. Fair play to them though, it is a very simple concept that requires some very complex execution.

The idea behind the product is to make gadgets work together more intuitively. If you have an MP3 player and a PC in a room, you should be able to get the tunes from one to the other relatively simply. If this sounds familiar then that’s because you read the last post. But while doubleTwist is all about a PC software solution, Innovaticus is all about putting intelligence in to wireless networks.

Imagine that intelligence in all the gadgets in your home, all communicating wirelessly and sharing their resources with one another — be they files, processing power, or the ability to capture information, display it or print it. Imagine sharing those resources with the people around you. It’s no coincidence that the test bed for this software was university dorms where everyone is constantly looking to borrow music, information, internet access, or printing.

So what would I call it? Well, in all those personality type tests I always come out as the ‘resource investigator’, someone who networks well with others to gather and distribute useful information and skills. Of course ‘resource investigator’ is a bit of a mouthful for a product name, but my colleagues found a suitably short alternative: Del Boy.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Mobile World Congress: Conclusions

I didn’t get to post as much as I had hoped over the course of the week in Barcelona. It was busy, to say the least, and only today have I really caught up on the lost sleep. However, I learned a fair amount and saw some interesting developments.

This year the closest thing there was to a unifying theme for the event was the realities of delivering data services. One company told me that everywhere that operators had turned on High Speed Packet Access services — effectively mobile broadband or 3.5G — they had been left in shock at the amount of data consumed by users. There will be a frantic effort over the next couple of years to ensure the rest of the network can cope with these sexy new services.

The applications that will drive such data usage are just now beginning to appear. The iPhone is the one garnering all the headlines — and its impact is significant — but the reality of what is driving mobile data is a lot more mundane. Take the train in our out of London from any major UK city and you will see a mobile army of workers equipped with Blackberries, laptops, and 3G mobile data cards. I’m willing to bet these people consume vastly more data than the few hundred thousand iPhone owners.

Finally my own little hobby horse — the mobile interface — is widely accepted as being a problem to be addressed. Most of the journalists, analysts and industry players I spoke to concurred that it is a big issue and one that will take time to solve. I’m looking forward to seeing more innovations on this front. I don’t think the trend for context-sensitive mini touch screens is much of a leap forward though.

Overall the event was great and in a time of global financial slowdown, the industry seemed remarkably upbeat (apart from Motorola whose presence was noticeably scaled down from last year — Samsung had taken over much of its ad space from the previous year). If the optimism persists unchecked, we may be heading for another dotcom-style boom in mobile applications.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Ashes to Ashes

The title of the last post reminds me that I did another radio slot last week talking about 1981 and all the technological innovations that have happened since then. It was in honour of the first episode of Ashes to Ashes, the Life on Mars spinoff set in the year that the first PC was introduced, and the space shuttle made its first flight in to space (two of the things we discussed). If you feel a little nostalgic for that era, check out the book, The Soul of a New Machine, about the development of a new home computer. Its a real-life tale but the names have been changed. I’ve never looked in to it with any vigour but if you know which machine it was based on, I’d be very interested.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Soul of a New Machine

Touch screens and haptics are this year’s ‘big things’ in handsets. More than one manufacturer has launched a new handset at this year’s Mobile World Congress with dual screens and context-sensitive menus enhanced by force feedback. Gobbledygook? Let me explain.

The second of the dual screens sits where you would normally expect to find the keys, joystick, or some form of dial. It generally seems to use an Organic Light Emitting Diode display — thinner, cheaper and simpler to manufacture than the larger LCD screen that sits above. LCDs currently offer lower cost and higher resolution at the large sizes found in even basic phones.

In a transparent layer over the OLED display is a touch sensitive layer so that you can interact with what is displayed. Behind it is a system to drive ‘haptic feedback’ — making the screen vibrate when you touch a button. This makes it much more satisfying to use a touch screen, simulating the feeling of a real button — at least in the most basic sense.

The ‘context sensitive’ menus change depending on which screen you are viewing on the larger LCD, only showing you those buttons you might need.

It’s a smart idea that could make for easier, quicker navigation. But as you can see from the video of Samsung’s sexy Soul device below, it has its flaws. With giant paws like mine, it’s hard to see the icons on the menu without withdrawing your thumb completely. Though it might become intuitive over time, in the short term it could be tricky to use when the button you want keeps moving.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

The Interface Issue

Why am I writing this on a laptop? I am at the Mobile World Congress, the annual coming out party for all the latest mobile technology. I have three ‘smart’ mobile devices with me. None has a problem with connectivity (a mixed bag of 3G, WiFi, EDGE and GPRS). None has a lack of storage (somewhere between one and eight gigabytes). None has a lack of processing power (at least a few hundred megahertz). Each has a colour screen and applications that should — in theory — enable me to write and post this entry. So why do I still turn to my laptop for posting — and many other functions?

The answer is the interface. What each of my sexy little mobile devices lacks is a realistic way for me to enter and edit this much text. And given that text-based media and communication is going through something of a renaissance at the moment, that’s a bit of an issue.

Over the next four days I’m going to spend my free minutes looking for solutions to this issue. People trying to resolve the interface issue.

And maybe I’ll capture a few shiny gadgets along the way.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

In The Dock

The interface problem with laptops extends beyond the input — there is also an output issue. Both problems are being addressed by Canadian company Impatica with a neat hardware/software combo for mobile devices. I’ll try and grab a video of this later in the week, but in short you plug a small device in to the video cable for a screen and give it power from your device’s (in this case a Blackberry) charger. Your device connects to the magic box over Bluetooth and allows you to deliver presentations or demos on the big screen.

This is only part of the capability though. The system cleverly compresses large presentation files for storage and rapid handling on the mobile device. And it becomes a very smart remote control for the presentation. But even better, the hardware box has a USB port enabling you to connect a full sized keyboard.

What you now have is a wireless docking station for your mobile device that overcomes interface issues on both the input and the output. This doesn’t enable you to use the device in place of a laptop wherever you go, but in those places you visit regularly you can easily forget about the laptop.

Of course, were this to become a standard across mobile devices, then you could just connect to ‘dumb’ terminals wherever you went, giving much greater portability. There’s no reason it shouldn’t become a standard feature for screens — the hardware price is currently around US$250 but in the right volumes I am sure that would fall. For once I am willing to argue that we need another industry standard. It could even have its own acronym — suggestions on a postcard.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Another Dimension

Oh the temptation to name this article with any number of different puns on the name of the company in question. TAT (short for The Astonishing Tribe) has created a 3D mobile phone interface demonstrated here on a platform put together by TI and a touchscreen from Synaptics. Think 3D iPhone but with a twist — content is arranged by relevance and frequency of touch so your favourite friends appear in the foreground so they’re easy to find. Won’t help me with my typing issue but interesting to see people thinking laterally about the best way to access the vast amount of content available on a mobile device.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Organic Marketing

I am a victim of globalisation. A big global company has displaced me from a customer because they can operate in multiple countries cheaper and with a lower management overhead than the customer’s current network of boutique European suppliers, of which I was part.

The question is not one of quality. I have experienced the work of the new global company only recently and learned first hand the trade-off they have made between price and quality. Given that I have no intention of competing on price, nor of opening offices all over the world, there is little I can do retain this customer.

This is in direct contrast to the consumer trend highlighted in previous posts. At least in the monied middle classes — which could be considered a good analogy for my well-funded business customer — the move is towards suppliers offering higher quality and local goods. Unfortunately it seems price and convenience remain more important in the business world.

If nothing else though, I have decided that I should henceforth position my marketing services as of the ‘organic’ variety as opposed the battery-farmed output of some global competitors…

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Broad(ish) Band

Is your broadband service worse than it was twelve months ago? For all this talk about multi-megabit speeds, I have seen very little improvement in real-world performance over the last year. If anything, things seem to be worse now. As usual I have no empirical evidence for this and I can’t find any news stories to support the assertion. I’d be interested to know if people’s own experiences concur with this theory, but it seems that the more performance we try to wring from our ageing telecoms infrastructure, the worse things become.

If it is proven to be true, it is understandable. The copper line infrastructure that delivers broadband for the majority of us (as well as our phone lines) is positively geriatric these days, and subject to any number of failings. It was never designed to carry the volumes of data we seem intent on pushing over it. Given the nation’s reliance on data traffic for much of modern business — and many social and governmental services — you would think a good argument could be made to let the copper network retire and replace it with a true broadband network. Perhaps one based on optical fibre.

As Peter Cochrane points out in one of his excellent blogs on, the technical and economic arguments to deploy fibre in the access network have been understood since the mid 1980s. Fibre networks would provide an incredible platform for new business models in the UK — not just the obvious internet, communications, and media triumvirate proferred by BT, Virgin and Sky, but completely revolutionary ways of home working, shopping, gaming, exercising, health and security monitoring, teaching and more.

The argument for deploying fibre is strongest in metro areas, where the largest number of people and businesses can be reached in the least radius. The argument could be made particularly forcefully for such a deployment in Manchester, a city that is pushing to be recognised as the UK home of the media and creative industries. With MediaCity:UK due for completion in 2010, creating 15,500 jobs in the media and creative industries, perhaps now would be a good time to start pushing for a scheme to roll out such a network. Today the RFI for the ‘IP-City Network’, created by the Manchester Digital Development Agency effectively specifies a wireless network, and one that will only provide most people with 1Mbps. This is a specification to meet yesterday’s requirements rather than tomorrow’s. If Manchester is going to claim a place on the World stage as a centre for media and the creative industries, we will have to be a little more ambitious.

Tom Cheesewright