Putting the “mobile” in mobile hotspot

T-Mobile made much ado about the value of its new plans’ simplicity at its Uncarrier event last week. It’s a topic I’ll be writing more on soon but the bottom line is that, despite progress, there’s still room for improvement in that story. One of the complications of the plan come with the usage of mobile hotspot regardless of whether it is created via a separate product or with a smartphone. Consumers must pay an extra $20 for 500 MB worth of hotspot data and can then add 2 GB increments for $10.

When asked about why mobile hotspot is treated as such a black sheep in the flock of simplicity, T-Mobile represnetatives noted that it came down to usage and drew comparisons to caps that are imposed by cable companies that are in the hundreds of gigabytes per month that would put too much strain on the network. But that is not how most people use mobile hotspots. Indeed, they are most inclined to use them when they are outside the home, not as a home broadband substitute.

The solution to this seems pretty simple. There are a host of ways to figure out where a phone or mobile hotspot is being used (GPS, cell tower triangulation, Skyhook-like Wi-Fi hotspot detection). Why not just build the data hit into the plan as long as data usage happens outside the home or some other central locaiton. This could all be done automatically and would not only help T-Mobile improve its plan’s simplicity but make it a smarter user of technology that would further differentiate it from competitors it is trying to portray as behind the times.

Live Tiles’ deep-pinning redemption

I’ve been somewhat cynical of Live Tiles, the quadrilateral user interface centerpiece of Microsoft’s current user interface thrust that includes elements of notification and app launching. Live Tiles’ idea of bubbling up a window into an application’s functionality can also be provided by Android widgets, reducing Windows Phone’s differetiation. Furthermore, the tiles’ scalability isn’t any better than the grid of icons or at least shortcuts (of which they’re a superset) that they seek to displace. This may be one of the drivers behind the smaller tiles that were introduced with Windows Phone 8. Microsoft’s  focus on Live Tiles as the primary launcher has relegated the app list to being just that although its alphabet-driven navigation is a great navigational aid.

Android widgets can still do a lot of things Live Tiles can’t do, but Google’s operating system treats them as an extension of the program. Indeed, that’s how they’re acquired. In contrast, Windows Phone and Windows 8/RT support deep pinning, which is the ability to take files or even things like contacts and put them alongside apps on that topmost user interface. This came in handy recently when I needed to reference a rehearsal song that needed to be played bak over and over o different occasions. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that there is some media player for Android that supports making a playlist widget and I could have made a playlist with just that song, etc., but with Windows Phone it was easy — long-tap on the song, in the default media player, choose Pin to Start, and done.

Keeping Chrome and Android separate is the right move

SiliconAngle reports on Eric Schmidt’s debunking of the notion that Google’s two operating systems — Android and Chrome — would be converging any time soon in light of both teams now reporting up to the same executive, Sundar Pichai. And, no, he’s not bluffing. The three big ecosystem players today each have two operating systems that are split either on optimization for keyboard and mouse or form factor.

Google’s line in the sand is not as defined as its competitors. It has recently added touch capability to Chrome (on its own hardware, no less) and supports keyboard and mouse input well enough to inspire a kid-friendly desktop.) But while Chrome will probably one day support native code as HTML 5 evolves to accommodate it, Chrome OS is a statement in the belief of the power of the Web and that it is the ultimate destination for app functionality. While the temptation to infuse it with Android’s market momentum may be great, Android plus Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome browser on Android. And that’s already here.



A little less of Logitech

Fueled in part by earnings announcements, the past two weeks have brought in a flurry of news regarding the home networking device world. Linksys will leave the enterprise-minded Cisco to become part of Linksys. Its competitor Netgear will scoop up Sierra Wireless’ personal hotspot business, joining its acquisition of the Vuezone line of networked cameras via Avaak last year. And Logitech will leave the networked camera space in which it competed with the Alert system, formerly the Wi-Life offering from Lukwerks that it acquired a while back.

For Logitech, the divesting or dismantling of the Alert and Harmony lines represent a Waterloo in what had been a long string of successful acquisitions. In particular, the company had executed well in building the Harmony business after purchasing its originator Intrigue. The logic flowed that the remote control would be to the television what the mouse and keyboard — Logitech’s original core business — was to the PC.

As for Alert, it is a well-designed system, but one that just requires a bit too much work and expense for the average consumer. To its credit, Logitech sought to decrease the reliance on a PC server to simplify its operation, but an unmonitored solution is a relatively tough sell for something aimed squarely at security. In contrast, the VueZone product that Netgear has picked up — like the Wi-Fi-based Hive product –has more of a sporadic check-in/social angle.

But Logitech will still rely heavily on at least one relatively recent and somewhat unusual acquisition for growth. With Ultimate Ears, it picked up a professional in–ear monitor brand after a lackluster first effort in the premium headphone market under its own brand. Not only has it entered the headphone horserace along with countless others (but relying on acoustic cred rather than celebity endorsement, but it has expanded the brand to wireless speaker products as well. Logitech is also getting back to its input periperhal roots in making up for a late start in tablet accessories. While its best-selling  Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad was well-received out of the gate, it has been the closest response to the Surface click-in keyboards to which iPad users had access, at least until recently.

Nokia Music+ still a strong competitor

The subscription music space doesn’t seem to stray far from its state of equilibrium. Services such as Yahoo! Music and Napster 2.0 get absorbed into Rhapsody, or MOG disappears, and a Rara.com comes on the scene keeping variations on the theme intact. Nokia Music has long been a particularly strong offering as a free service, providing a key part of the of Slacker Plus caching functionality for free.

Now Nokia is looking to monetize the offering with a $3,99 per month fee that brings unlimited skips, on-demand downloads and multi-screen access. It represents aggressive pricing for on-demand mobile access to tracks when compared to, say, Spotify or Rhapsody. Nokia will still likely keep the offering exclusive to Windows Phone and out of the hands of the Android infidels, but perhaps we’ll see elements of it migrate to iOS the way that the Nokia Here app has.

The first iMac was disruptive

Dan Pallotta at the Harvard HBR Blog Network enumerates many points that demonstrate investor irrationality regarding Apple’s recent stock slide. The piece is well-supported, but I’d take issue with one point. In pointing out how Steve Jobs (after his return), like Tim Cook, did not introduce any disruptive products in his first year as CEO. Pallotta notes

[B]ear in mind that four years elapsed from the time Steve Jobs took back the reins until the iPod was introduced.

That’s true, but if Pallotta considers the iPad mini disruptive, then he must also consider the iMac, introduced soon after Jobs’ return in 1998, disruptive.  The first iMac was a bold design. It retired the floppy drive and it jump-started USB. It’s also surprising that one who is such an astute student of Apple history fails to mention that Apple did, in fact, invent a Time Machine.

With GameStick, game console controllers come full-circle

The hottest tech product in Kickstarter’s Tech section right now is the GameStick, which has already blown past its $100,000 funding goal in the second day of its campaign. Its fast start, software and business model look similar to that of OUTA, which recently shipped its developer version with the consumer products expected to ship in March. GameStick claims it will be right behind it in April. (Sure.)

Whereas OUTA had an attractive industrial design, the GameStick’s is more practical and compact, docking the USB stick-sized “console” into the controller itself. Classic home videogame console aficionados may remember that consoles such as Intellivision and Colecovision had controllers that “docked” (fit, really) inside the consoles. Now, of course, the limiting factor on the size of the controller is ergonomics, but as gesture-based interfaces such as Kinect or that from Leap Motion gain sophistication and popularity, it may be possible to minimize that considerably as well.

Home networking central at CES

In 2014, CTIA will combine its two annual conventions into one, but that isn’t the only sign of smart trade shoe consolidation activity. Groups representing four significant standards organizations will have a unified presence at CES, an alliance of alliances. They are the groups that reign supreme for home networking over coax (MoCA), powerlines (HomePlug) and wireless LANs (Wi-Fi) as well as DLNA, the group that most everybody except outside of Cupertino, CA uses for routing personal (and increasingly premium) content around these networks.

In particular, the groups focused on the media (powerlines, coax, wireless) have come a long way from the days they would argue about which approach was best. Wi-Fi, of course, has emerged as the most popular consumer choice but the home networking boom has offered opportunity for multiple topologies. That’s not to say that all home networking standards will be represented at the CES love-in. Notably absent is HomeGrid, the HomePlug and MoCA rival. Still, this should provide a great glimpse of home networking applications from multiple perspectives.

The CTIA show opportunity

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has announced that, beginning in 2014, it will combine its two annual trade shows to a single “super show”. The move, prompted by direct competition with Mobile World Congress (MWC) and, less so, by the Consumer Electronics Show (CES, which had a big wireless news year in 2010 but not as much since) is long overdue. I stopped going to the schizophrenic “enterprise and apps” fall show a few years back and last year was looking like my last one for the spring show. Similar to E3, the CTIA show stands to suffer if a few key companies don’t show up or make major announcements. And increasingly, that has been the case.

It’s somewhat surprising that CTIA has lost so much handset momentum to MWC with four of the major OS developers (Apple, Google, Microsoft and RIM)  and at least three major hardware vendors (Apple, RIM and Motorola) headquartered in North America. Nokia remains the only major European handset vendor with most of the rest (Samsung, LG, Sony, Hoawei and ZTE) based in Asia. Nonetheless, MWC, offering Barcelona’s beauty and hotel room shortages, has won.

On one hand, the new “super show” will still likely pale in comparison to MWC and there is the danger that trying to preserve the enterprise focus of the fall show will reinstate the multiple personality disorder that the fall show used to have. On the other hand, there isn’t  a lot of competition for wireless news in the fall with IFA not having a major wireless focus. In addition, particularly with the rise of prepaid smartphones and carriers, there may be an opportunity for the show to take on more of a holiday retail focus than it has in the past. CTIA probably won’t be able to attract the major ecosystem providers with the shift, but it does have a chance to entice some of the major handset vendors such as Samsung and LG to return to product introductions.

Archos takes on net-top box, removes the box

Whether it’s shipping tablets with hard drives or kickstands or game controls or making funky Android-based alarm clocks or DECT cordless phones, Archos often goes the extra mile to differentiate. Its latest Android venture outside the realm of tablets is the TV Connect. In contrast to boxes like the Vizio CoStar that feature Google TV branding, the TV Connect sits atop your television and offers a multitouch experience with the help of its beefy, Sony-challenging keyboard-equipped remote control.

The TV Connect isn’t the first device to stuff Android into a TV-based webcam. The TelyHD achieved that earlier although it does not offer full access to the Google Play marketplace. At $129, it costs more than the CoStar or a number of HDMI-based Android “sticks”, but may come the closest to replicating the Androd tablet experience on your television.