Target Mobile Coupons

Target is the first major retailed to roll out a mobile-coupon program. Register for the program by texting the word “coupons” to the phone number T-A-R-G-E-T. Registered users receive periodic text messages that provide links to access discount bar codes in your mobile Web browser. Scan the bar code from your smart phone display at check out to enjoy the savings.

Target Launches Mobile-Coupon Program [NewsFactor]

News from MWC

The Mobile World Congress was held in Barcelona Spain last week, and companies involved in the mobile phone industry traveled from far and wide to attend and show off their latest technologies. Among the highlights from the event were some major announcements that promise to propel the industry forward by increasing competition between the big players in the smart phone industry.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from the MWC was the unveiling of Microsoft’s new mobile OS. Microsoft’s new version of Windows for smart phones, throws out the old name, Windows Mobile, along with its design and starts fresh. Windows Phone 7 is being promoted as a phenomenal phone experience, that provides a collection of integrated software hubs rather than thousands of unrelated apps. Windows Phone 7 claims to be a new beginning for smart phones that breaks through the barriers confronted by all the other smart phones on the market. It provides an experience that allows users to keep their lives in motion. A YouTube search on “life in motion” will get you Microsoft’s promo video of its new platform.

Microsoft anticipates dozens of new handsets running its Windows Phone 7 by the end of the year. They will face tough competition though, from dozens of new phones running Google’s Android OS. HTC, the manufacturer of Google’s Nexus One handset, presented three brand new impressive models at the MWC: the Legend, the Desire, and the HD mini – each improving on the features offered on the Nexus One. Also, Intel and Nokia announced a partnership that will provide yet another platform to entice Smartphone shoppers. They are calling the platform Meego, and its based on Linux to run on robust smart phones and lightweight netbooks.

So the big players in the mobile industry are geared up for major competition in the coming months and years. In one corner there is Apple’s iPhone, which in many ways started the smart phone craze but will have to follow up with some new innovation to maintain its popularity – or perhaps it will move on to jump start a new craze with its soon to be released iPad. In another corner is Google Android which claims to be shipping 20,000 handsets per day. Analysts anticipate that Android will take over the market with the many new handsets running on all the carriers, coming out this year. Then there’s Palm and its Web OS that is struggling but staying afloat. Now we have Microsoft Windows Phone 7. Until last week, everyone had pretty much written Microsoft off in the Mobile market, but now Microsoft has regained everyone’s attention. And finally there’s the new Intel-Nokia alliance and Meego which promises to be a powerful force in this competition. By the end of the year there will be bo shortage of smart phones to choose from, and with the heated competition, new and exciting features will be emerging, and prices are sure to come down.

The Buzz on Google Buzz

This past week Google unveiled its own social network: Google Buzz. This isn’t Google’s first attempt at being social, Google Orkut, Open Social, and Latitude, are previously released applications designed to support online social engagement, but none have garnered much attention. Google Buzz, on the other hand, has made quite a splash in its first week, and is looking like a contender for social network giant Facebook.

Google Buzz works hand in hand with Gmail. Like Twitter tweets, and Facebook status updates, users post comments and share information, links, photos, and videos throughout the day. Posts can be directed at a specific person, groups of people, or the general public. Like Facebook, Google Buzz provides a user profile page to tell the world all about who you are and what you like. Like Twitter, Buzz users have followers and follow other users. Posts from those that you follow stream into your Buzz window. Posts that are directed specifically at you, and responses to your own posts are delivered to your gmail account so that you are aware of their arrival. Buzz also includes posts that it thinks you may be interested in from users that you are not following. Over time, Buzz gets to know your interests and provides more relevant information.

Buzz is also accessible from smart phones, where it can use GPS information to let your friends know your current location. As with anything posted to buzz, you control who can access it.

Google Buzz has been fairly successful in its first few days of operation with millions of people trying it out, posting more than 9 million comments, and hundreds of posts per minute from mobile devices. However, many people were quick to point out some serious privacy issues with Buzz. Fortunately, Google was quick to react to those concerns and implement improvements. Buzz no longer forces all gmail users to use it – now there’s the ability to turn off Buzz. Buzz no longer automatically assigns friends to follow based on your gmail buddy list, but instead it makes suggestions. Buzz no longer automatically shares your public Picassa photos and Google Reader articles with your friends. Buzz no longer provides all of your friend’s email addresses to the general public.

With these corrections, and Google’s apparent willingness to address its user’s concerns, Google Buzz has some promise. There are still a few issues that may hold it back. First, Buzz is integrated with Gmail, so people that don’t care for Gmail, probably won’t want to use Buzz. Secondly, while Buzz can connect with Twitter feeds, it cannot connect with Facebook, so users will have to decide to use either Facebook or Buzz, it’s doubtful that anyone would want to use both. And finally, Buzz still requires users to take extra steps to keep their data private. By default, everything you share on Buzz become public, with the exception of GPS location data. The “opt out” approach is one that shows little respect for user’s privacy, and a lot of interest in advertising dollars.

eBook Power Struggle

Amazon has had its hands full since the announcement of Apple’s upcoming iPad tablet computer. The iPad is expected to compete strongly against Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader. Besides the many and varied applications that will run on the iPad, it will also offer a robust iBookstore that will feature titles from popular publishers that include Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, and Hachette. The deal that Apple has made with these publishers is significantly better than their deals with Amazon. Apple is allowing the publishers to set their own price for ebooks and will take 30 percent, while Amazon pays publishers a flat $15 per book and sells the ebooks at a subsidized rate of $9.99.

The publishers are using their new association with Apple’s iPad to leverage a better deal with Amazon. Last week, Amazon made the headlines for pulling all MacMillan books from its online shelves in retaliation of MacMillan’s demand for variable pricing on its ebooks. Amazon complained that MacMillan was imposing a pricing model that was bad for consumers and the ebook industry. MacMillan, which has considerable influence in the publishing world, began advertising its books as “Available at booksellers everywhere except Amazon.” The tiff didn’t last long as Amazon gave in to MacMillan’s demands within days. Shortly there after, two other publishers, Hachette and HarperCollins made the same pricing demands of Amazon. That leaves only Penguin and Simon & Schuster, who are expected to jump on board any day now.

So, it would appear the days of $9.99 ebooks are over. Best sellers are likely to sell for $14.99, while other, less popular titles will retain their $9.99 price tag. This is essentially what happened in the digital music industry in 2007 when Apple iTunes, under pressure from the music industry and Amazon’s new MP3 store, moved from a 99 cents per track model to variable pricing. Now its Amazon’s turn to buckle under pressure.

But Amazon isn’t taking its recent hardships lying down. This week Amazon acquired Touchco, a manufacturer of touchscreen displays. Meanwhile, PVI, the company that makes the Kindle’s e-ink display announced that it will soon be capable of producing color e-ink displays, and even flexible models. It’s feasible that Amazon could come back later this year with a new Super Kindel featuring a color e-ink touchscreen, and additional applications. As color e-ink displays enter the market, it will be interesting to see if consumers prefer them over the led displays of the iPad and the upcoming generation of tablets.

Introducing the iPad

After months of speculation and anticipation, Apple’s latest creation is finally unveiled. Last Wednesday, with a packed amphitheater of journalists poised on the edges of their seats, Steve Jobs and colleagues showed off Apple’s new tablet PC, the iPad. Since then bloggers and journalists have been filling pages with there impressions of the iPad ranging from ecstatic to skeptical. Here’s a short overview of the iPad and the world’s reaction to its arrival.

The iPad is a 9.5 by 7.5 inch, half-inch-thin tablet PC, with an aluminum case, and a 10-inch LED multi-touch display. It has a custom-designed 1 GHz processor for high performance and a long 10 hour battery life.

Not unlike a giant, thin and sleek iPhone, the iPad has the same button and port configuration as an iPhone, and runs all of the iPhone apps at a larger, higher resolution. It also runs software specifically designed for it including Apple’s iWork word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation applications. The iPhone OS and interface that runs on the iPad has been updated to take advantage of the large display.

The iPad has most of the features of an iPhone 3GS including an accelerometer, Assisted GPS, Bluetooth, portrait or landscape viewing modes, and a software keyboard. Users can purchase a regular external keyboard which connects to the iPad dock. The iPad can then act like a notebook, utilizing the touchscreen in place of a mouse. There is also an optional case that doubles as a stand for convenient movie viewing, and laptop computing.

The iPad connects to the Internet over Wi-fi networks or over AT&T’s 3G cellular network. Unlike the iPhone, there is no subscription plan required. Two prepay options are available. One provides 250 MB for $14.99/month. The other is unlimited data for $29.99/month. Users are free to use the iPad exclusively over Wi-fi to eliminate monthly fees altogether.

Wi-fi-only models of the iPad range in price from $499 to $699 depending on the size of the hard drive, while iPads that support both wi-fi and 3G start at $629 and run up to $829. Wi-fi only models will be available at the end of March with Wi-fi+3G models arriving a month later.

What distinguishes the iPad from previous Windows-based tablets is the user interface and software. The iPad comes instantly out of sleep displaying the home screen. Swiping across the display reveals pages of applications. Apples implementation of the multi-touch user interface looks very elegant, intuitive, and easy to use. While the iPad runs all iPhone software, it’s large hi-def display will serve some applications better than other. Movies, books, newspapers, magazines, and photos look beautiful on the iPad display even at extreme angles. This makes it easy for two or three people to view simultaneously. Maps and GIS applications are sure to be popular on the iPad. Games will take on a whole new aspect viewed on the iPads large display and controlled via the accelerometer. Apple’s iWork software supports more productive activities while the Web browser and social network applications provide user’s favorite online activities. Without doubt, software developers will be using the iPad’s software development kit to design many applications that take advantage of the iPad’s unique form factor. There should be many more enticing apps available by the time the iPad hits the market.

The reviews of the iPad are mostly favorable, with some well known silicon valley journalists practically gushing over it. However, there are points of dissatisfaction as well. The iPad has no camera, and is unable to function as a phone over AT&T’s network. The iPad does not support multitasking to the level where multiple applications can run in multiple windows. So when switching between applications, the user must always return to the home screen and relaunch the application. The iPad does not support Flash, so some Web content will not be viewable. The iPad is extremely limited on ports. Besides its headphone jack, it has only its one Dock connector for connecting to a PC. Perhaps the largest concern expressed over the iPad is it’s lack of open standards. It appears that all media content on the iPad will be locked down with digital rights management. Movies, television programs, books, magazines, and newspapers will have to be purchased from Apple partners. DRM is the norm for ebook readers like the Kindle, and video services like netflix. However, an iPad-like tablet based on Google’s open Android or Chrome OS platforms, could garner a fan base of users who feel Apple commands too much control over its users.

No matter what level of success the iPad achieves, its impact on the market will be considerable. While the iPad doesn’t have enough power or features to compete with regular notebook computers, it is likely to make life difficult for ebook readers like the Kindle, and netbooks. It’s lower-than-expected price, is already causing other tablet manufacturers to drop their prices in order to better compete when the iPad hits the market. Just as 2008 was the years of the smartphone, and 2009 was the year of the netbook, it is likely that the iPad will make 2010 the year of the tablet.

CES Review

The Consumer Electronics Show has concluded in Las Vegas, launching a number of new technologies and providing insight into important technologies of 2010. The three product categories garnering the most attention were 3D HD television, tablet and slate computers and ebook readers, and smartphones and superphones.

Last year’s CES saw the introduction of the 3-D TV, and this year saw its proliferation. Nearly every television manufacturer at CES was demoing what they claimed was the best 3-D Hi-def TV. 3-D TVs perform like regular hi-def televisions, but have additional 3-D capability. When in 3-D mode, viewers are required to don 3-D glasses to enjoy the immersive viewing experience. Cable TV companies are rushing to deliver 3-D channels and content to watch on this new generation of television. For example, both ESPN and Discovery are in the process of launching 3-D TV networks. Manufacturers are hoping that the introduction of 3-D technology will spur television sales, while analysts are wondering if the public is even interested. The Panasonic TC-PVT25 series 3-D TV won the best in show award in the TV category at CES.

Most everyone knew that ebook readers would be hot at this year’s CES, but I doubt anyone anticipated how hot. Dozens of ebook readers were launched last week at CES, including four from Samsung, two from Interead, six from DMC, 2 from Jinke, and others from Fujitsu, iRiver, Entourage, Spring Designs, Skiff, Plastic Logic, Hanvon, and others. Two ebook readers distinguish themselves from the crowd. Both the Que from Plastic Logic and the Skiff Reader from Skiff are marketed as ebook readers for business professionals. They feature large touch sensitive e-ink displays for viewing newspapers, periodicals, and business documents in both Microsoft Office and Adobe PDF formats. The Que will also connect to Microsoft Exchange servers for viewing email and calendars.

Slate PCs have emerged as the headline grabber in the personal computer category. While these devices were being referred to as Tablet PCs just a few weeks ago, the Apple rumors about a new iSlate device has everyone referring to their tablet as a slate – including Steve Balmer, who introduced Windows 7 running on a Dell “slate” computer. The slate design is much like an ebook reader, such as Amazon’s Kindle, but utilizes an LCD display rather than e-ink, and includes PC and Internet functionality. Lenovo took the Best in Show award in the Computer category for its IdeaPad U1 Hybrid. The U1 looks like a sleek Windows 7 notebook, until you remove the display, which functions as a slate computer running Linux.

Last year, Palm earned most of the attention at CES with the unveiling of the Palm Pre. This year, Palm once again wooed the audience with new versions of the Palm Pre and Pixie, a partnership with EA Games to develop mobile games for its devices, and a new software development kit for the Palm Web OS that should generate a lot more applications for its devices. Palm handsets are available to Verizon and Sprint subscribers, and AT&T announced that it will soon carry two handsets running Palm’s Web OS. AT&T also announced the adoption of five new smart phones based on Google’s Android operating system, including one from Dell. Many are seeing this as an indication that the iPhone may soon be expanding beyond AT&T’s network. Just Prior to CES, Google unveiled its own handset named the Nexus One. The Nexus one is a high-end Google Android phone, with the distinction of being sold and supported directly by Google at www.google.com/phone. The Nexus One is currently designed only for the Verizon network. Google refers to the Nexus One as a superphone, rather than a smartphone, due to its powerful processor and applications. Analysts and vendors are picking up on “superphone” and using the term to describe other powerful handsets on the market.

Other technologies getting attention at this year’s CES include:

  1. An in-dash touchsceen computer system from Ford named Mytouch
  2. Touch enabled computers and netbooks like the new HP Mini 5102
  3. Smartbooks, smaller than netbooks but larger than smartphones; these tiny Internet-connected notebooks typically run a Linux operating system on an ARM processor
  4. The first devices utilizing the new USB v3.0 – now external drives can be as fast as internal drives!
  5. And Samsung’s notebook with a transparent see-through 14 inch OLED display

While many new and exciting devices were unveiled last week at CES, tech companies and enthusiasts are waiting expectantly to see what Apple will unveil at its January 27 press gathering.

Tether Blocking

iphoneThe iPhone has changed the face of computing by putting the Internet in the palm of your hand. While the iPhone is an amazing device, users of the iPhone and phones running Google’s Android operating system have been frustrated by a very limiting aspect of these top-of-the-line smart phones. While users pay for unlimited Internet access from these phones, they are unable to connect their notebooks to the phones for Internet access. Connecting a computer to the Internet through a cell phone is called tethering and is a technology that has been around for a while, over many cell phones. Software vendors have proved that It’s possible to tether to an iPhone and G-Phone as well, but tethering software has been banned by Apple and Google at the request of their cell phone service partners – AT&T and T-Mobile respectively. If you are an iPhone user and wish to connect your notebook PC to the Internet through AT&T, you’ll have to fork over $60 a month for an additional line and a connect card, bringing your monthly bill to $160 per month or more. This is why the carriers are requiring Apple and Google to block the ability to tether, they want customers to have to purchase a second line instead of sharing one between phone and PC.

Free Press, a national, nonpartisan organization that works to reform the media, is pressing the FCC to force wireless carriers to follow the same open Internet policy as landline networks. Landline networks, those that provide phone service over wires, are required by law to allow Internet services from other providers to use their network – even if the service competes with its own. So, for example, you might sign up for high speed DSL Internet from AOL which is delivered over your AT&T phone lines. If he FCC goes along with open Internet for wireless carriers, tethered connections, Internet phone services like Skype, and other Internet services will be allowed over wireless cell phone networks, dramatically impacting how cell phone carriers earn revenue and conduct business.

Google bans tethering app from Android Market? [c|net news]

Skype’s iPhone Limits Irk Some [NewsFacor]

AT&T To Try Selling Wireless Broadband Laptops [NewsFactor]

FCC Asked To Apply Open Internet Rule To Skype [NewsFactor]

Skype for iPhone Promises New Features [NYTimes]

Sexting

sexting2Child pornography is a disturbing crime that has become amplified by the ease with which photos and video can be transferred over the Internet. This week 57 people were arrested in Canada in a child porn crackdown. Last year, Australian police broke a child porn ring that stretched across 170 countries and led to the arrest of 200 men and the confiscation of 14,000 computers. In recent years, law enforcement agencies around the world stepped up efforts to bust adults who have profit at the expense of children through child pornography. But what happens when children publish their own pornography?

In Pennsylvania, three teenage girls have been charged with child pornography for allowing themselves to be photographed partially nude. The girls are part of a growing trend among teenagers called sexting, sending test messages containing sexually charged photos. In New Jersey, a 14-year-old girl has been charged with child pornography for posting nearly 30 explicit nude photos of herself on MySpace. If convicted, the charges would force her to register as a sex offender, a stigma that would remain with her for life.

Roughly 20 percent of teens admit to participating in sexting. The increase in teens swapping nude photos has parents and lawmakers scrambling for ways to address it. States including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have begun bringing legal charges against teens caught sexting. Civil liberties organizations are fighting against this response arguing that felony charges are too severe for the crime. Many are watching the New Jersey case against the 14-year-old believing that it will set a precedent for how states deal with the issue.

Canada makes 57 arrests in child porn crackdown [Reuters]
Prosecutor sued over semi-nude teen photos case [Reuters]
Girl, 14, Faces Porn Charges For Nude Photos [NPR]
“Sexting” Shockingly Common Among Teens [CBS News]