Tag Archives: Internet

Facebook turns brands into people, too

Mitt Romney was quoted as calling corporations the same as people.  The public largely saw that as an esoteric tax reference.

However, when Facebook transforms brands and corporations into people, well that’s another story.  The new Facebook brand timeline and advertising strategy has created life for brands, and likely even more fortunes for Facebook. 

Your personal timeline will have more sponsored content from the brands that you love and more importantly – “liked”.  Those annoying dental implant ads on the right-hand side of your Facebook page will be replaced with sponsored content stories from different brands. Ads acting like content, brands acting like people, and all in the socially connected universe of Facebook.

The transformation of ads into timeline content is a win-win-win for Facebook.  Firstly, it solves an obvious problem that the right hand side ads on Facebook is a odd mixture of legitimate brands and low-end junk.  The quality of their ad inventory has not been consistent. Secondly, the only real way to monetize their significant mobile audience is through timeline insertion of content (ads).  This has been obvious from the beginning for both Twitter and Facebook.  They have both now started down that path.  To date, Google has been more successful with mobile monetization through their search products.  Facebook will now try to match that with they social news approach.

The Facebook strategy has a good chance of giving Google a run for their money.  Why? What do people do with their mobile devices that brands care about?  They search and they interact with Social Media – mainly Facebook.

Lastly, this strategy focuses Facebook on large brands that support their social mission.

While there is still a place for the smaller “Mom and Pop” establishments in the Facebook Universe, the Facebook Ad engine is clearly aimed at global brands with significant budgets.  Facebook is, without a doubt, aiming for to be the primary digital ad platform of choice for brands in the future.

The Google Vs. Facebook War just got a lot hotter.

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Filed under advertising, android, Content, facebook, Google, mobile, Social Media, social networking, Twitter

The Razr’s Edge

It is amazing how my two year old HTC Incredible phone managed to die just as the Moto Razr was released.   While there are 100s of reviews of this phone on the web, I have not found any that describes a real life experience, with the ups and downs of getting this new super phone to work for you.  So here it is…

To begin with there are a few things you have to understand about an Android phone.  No two phones are alike.  Phones that come from different manufacturers have their own custom software add-ons and interfaces.

Android phones are like your Thanksgiving dinner table.  You look around and can tell that most of the people are genetically related, but each has their own “special” qualities and quirks.

This is why these phones are popular with the various carriers and manufacturers.  They have, in theory (and I think its just a theory) the ability to differentiate their offerings from one another.  It gives the marketing folks a “raison d’etre”.

Android phones are not the one size fits all that you get from the iPhone.  Android phones are very capable devices. But as they say “With great Power comes great responsibility”  In this case its your responsibility to make the phone do exactly what you want.

With that preamble, you will understand that my moving from an HTC Android to a Motorola Android required a bit of a learning curve.

I lost the HTC Sense UI that I had grown use to and now have some alien  form of Moto Blur (really a bad name for a UI!) and straight Android.  I also went from my “Froyo” version of Android to “Gingerbread”, with the promise of getting upgraded to “Ice cream sandwich” in the new year.  Unlike Apple, many Android devices have been orphaned at lower versions of their operating system.

Now for the actual device.

The Razr Droid is bigger (length and width) than most phones.  At first it feels awkward in your hand but you get used to it after a day or two, so no “big” issue.  The larger size comes with  a great screen.  It is a crazy thin phone and an amazing bit of consumer electronic packaging. There is also no user replaceable battery.  In this regard it is the same as the iPhone

It has a Kevlar backing and I am sure someone will try to shot it and see it its actually bullet proof.  Note to person wanting to try that, It is not bullet proof, trust me! Leave that stuff to the MythBusters show.

You will also realize that this phone is really, really fast.  Dual Core, lots of Ram , yada, yada, yada.

Once you get over how cool looking and fast the phone is, you have four main tasks.

Getting your email and social media accounts hooked up, finding, installing and arranging your applications, loading up you media (songs. videos, pictures, etc) and figuring out how to make the battery life last longer than 6 hours.

I will assume that you know how to do the first two.

To load up you music and other media “stuff”, the Dorid ships with a app called “MotoCast” whicj can sync any files from your home PC or Mac to your phone.  Motocast works as long as your home PC is on and connected to the Internet.  It took a few tries before I got it to work properly.  It’s a personal cloud service.  In the past I used an app called sailing media to do the media syncing via a usb cable.   I was able to sync up my droid with my fav music and videos, although nothing is as simple as syncing an iPad or Iphone on iTunes

I will now focus on what I did to extend battery life.

There are some basic tricks to start with

Wouldn’t it be nice if something in your phone just knew to do all this for you?

Now comes the Motorola magic part……

The Droid Razr comes with an app called smart actions.  This app lets you set up various triggers and then tells the phone what to do.  Some of the triggers are time based such as what to do in the morning, evening and night, some are based on remaining battery level, and some are based on lack of motion of the phone

Here are the battery saving settings that I use from Smart Actions:

Low Battery Saver:

1.            If Battery is less than 20% and the Device is not charging then:

Make Brightness 0%,  Turn Off GPS (just in case its on), disable Background Syncing of Data ,  Turn Off Wifi, Turn Off Bluetooth, Send a Notification to the phone (make it vibrate) to inform me of this condition, and launch the application LTE On/OFF (to remind me to turn off 4G, just in case its on)

Motion Detector:

2.            If no motion is detected for a couple of minutes, and the phone is Not Charging then:

Turn Brightness to 0%, Make display timeout 15 seconds,  turn off Wifi, turn of GPS,  turn off Background Syn

Call Detector:

3.            On Incoming Calls

Make display timeout 15 seconds, make brightness 0%.

Charge me Please

4.            Charging Reminder

If not charging and time is later than 10:00 pm

Then sound a chime to remind me to plug in the phone to charge it

“Hey its dark and warm in here…

5.            Pocket Detector

If your phone is determined to be in your pocket (not sure how this done, ambient light?  Warmth? )

Turn display off.

All these rules are completely variable and configurable by the user.  I arrived at this set for myself after a bit of trial and error.  With the tricks I listed above and creating these automatic actions , I can get about 10 hours of usable time on my phone before a charge.  This is about what I got on my HTC Android.

As a backup I carry a small rechargeable “Energergizer to go”  model xp2000.  This is about 1/3 the size of the phone and carries one complete re-charge.

I would recommend this phone if you want a thin, yet large screen device,  with lots of speed.  If you get it you will have to spend some time tweaking it to get it just the way you like it.

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Filed under android, Apple, Droid, Droid Incredible, Google, HTC, HTC Incredible, iPad, iphone, iTunes, mobile, Motorola, movies, Music, Razr, Smartphone, social networking, Thanksgiving

Google Acquires Patents – and Also Motorola

Google + Moto is the BIG NEWS of the summer.  It was big enough to grab me out of my blog vacation.  While the pundits are filling the airwaves with analysis on this one , I view it perhaps more simply, more straightforward.

The battleground for supremacy in connected devices (mobile smartphones, Tablets, and  set-top boxes) has moved from the R&D labs to the court rooms.  The patent wars between Apple and Google are fierce, with Microsoft bulking up on its own portfolio as part of the consortium that bought the Nortel patents.

Motorola was worth the price Google paid just for their patent portfolio.  In patent wars if you get sued, you better have a patent in your portfolio that can hurt the attacker.  In this way you trade mutual assured destruction with a patent stand-off.

When Google acquired the rights to Motorola’s 25,000+ patents, they bought both defensive capability and offensive firepower.  Apple may go after Android for an Apple patent but what are the changes that Google now has a patent that can hurt Apple?

It is impossible to design and produce a device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device that will not infringe on someone’s patent.  Impossible.  What a company must do is acknowledge that they will infringe and hope the other guy also infringes on their patents and us the mutual infringement to to either create a license arrangement or to have both companies do nothing.

Google’s price of $12.5B is about $500,000 per patent, which seems to be a bargain compared to the $4.5B  Apple and Microsoft for 6000 Nortel patents.  Their price was  $750,000 per patent.

Lets assume that the Motorola sale  is approved and Google gets the Motorola patent portfolio.  Google’s next problem is that they have also bought a company that makes handsets.  I say this is a problem because this is a huge company in a market that is different from Google’s core competency.  This is also a company that competes with Google’s other OEM partners for Android Devices.  The conventional wisdom is that these other OEM partners will start to defect, en mass,  to Microsoft.

Yeah right….

What does defect even mean?  Microsoft will pay these companies to produce some Windows phones anyway.

Android is free.  Can Microsoft compete with free?  Google makes its money on Android from their ad business.  Microsoft must make money from their software license for Mobile 7 operating system.  Besides for being years late to the party, Microsoft is structural disadvantaged to compete.  At best they can hope to be a number 3 player.

Google has two choices.

Number 1: They can acquire the patent portfolio and then spin out the Motorola Mobility Business, probably re-cooping half their initial investment.  They could sell Motorola’s handset and tablet businesses, along with licenses to the patents they now own to either HTC or Samsung, their two most important OEM partners.  This would be an amazing move.

Number 2:  Keep the Motorola hardware business and expand Android into the Cable Set-Top Box market.  This is the riskier of the paths as the sheer weight of a big manufacturing company could alter the culture of Google for the worse.  This path would be an attempt to become “Apple”.  While this path seems to be the assumed defacto strategy of Google, I am placing my bets on scenario #1.  This will take a couple of years to play out, so hold onto this link and let’s see if I am right.

An indicator that we are on Scenario 1 will be if Microsoft acquires RIM (Blackberry) or Nokia.  This would be an acknowledgment that the Google OEM manufacturers are not going to defect to Microsoft and that they must own a hardware company to compete.

This has only gotten worse in the last 10 months!

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, blackberry, Cable, Droid, Google, HTC, iPad, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone

Calling Microsoft’s Next of Kin

In  Microsoft’s struggle to remain relevant in the exploding mobile device market, they withdrew their latest attempt at a teen social networking device from the market.  The Kin’s market life was about 50 days.  It was a decent device , just  two years late to the game.

You can light a candle in memory of the Kin at kinrip.com. Its a very touching memorial website.  May its memory be a blessing.

According to Engadget part of Kin’s delay was caused by Microsoft scrapping the IP, or part of it, that it paid $500M for in their acquisition of Danger and instead re-developing the device on the soon to also be defunct Windows CE system.   Engadget also reports on corporate power plays, executive infighting and internal office politics.   Not what you would expect.

If this is not a Harvard Business Case Analysis in the making for a new crop of Cambridge bound MBA’s , I don’t know what would be.  You can read the full Engadget analysis through this link. The key element that is dominating the new super-phone marketplace is the ever-increasing velocity of innovation.

Microsoft announced their new Smartphone OS –Windows Mobile  7 – in January 2010.  The first devices with this Microsoft OS are expected to hit the market near the December holiday season.  In that same period of time Apple released their new iPhone and a new iPhone OS, the iPad, an Ad network, and who knows what else we will see in the next 6 months!   The Android ecosystem will have almost two-dozen variants, with each new device more spectacular than the last.  HP acquired Palm and is integrating their technology into their netbooks, and perhaps producing another new line of smartphones.  RIM’s Blackberry will have several releases and a new OS,  and of course Nokia’s product line has a makeover with a new operating system.  The speed of innovation is accelerating at a dizzying pace.  This is great for consumers, great for innovation and great for moving services to the market quicker.

And Microsoft?

They introduced, and then killed one phone and announced that they will have a new system by the end of 2010.

One thing is certain; the world is not waiting around for Microsoft to deliver their Windows Mobile 7 devices.

But maybe we should be, and here’s why.

Microsoft has  too much corporate talent, financial resources and computing market reach to just pull up their tents and go home in the most important computing segment.   Microsoft survived the debacle of Vista because they are Microsoft,  and have had virtual monopoly power in desktop computing.  In mobile, Microsoft is not the leader in market share, thought leadership or industry hype.  They have to slug it out with a crowded field of very nimble and powerful competitors.  This means they have to innovate and be quick about it to survive.   Having almost a one-year duration from product announcement to introduction is just not getting it done.

The irony is that the marketplace could really benefit from a strong Microsoft presence.

Apple is getting very economically aggressive with their high perch in smartphones.   Google’ Android Platform will likely eclipse Apple in aggregate sales in the next year. Do we all want to place our computing futures completely with Google?  Make no mistake about it , I am a big fan of Apple and Google.  It’s just that absolute power in markets has its downsides.  From a U.S. perspective, the only companies with the overall corporate strength to play on the same field with Apple and Google are RIM and Microsoft.  Nokia could be a legit player, globally,  but their position in the U.S. is just not strong enough.

In the irony of ironies, Microsoft is the leading candidate to challenge the emerging monopolistic leaders in the smartphone business.  They can keep the competitive environment going well into the future and prevent it from stagnating into a duopoly.    The issue is that Microsoft seems incapable of getting out of their own way, with failure following failure in this space.  The Kin is just the latest mobile problem for Microsoft.   Even the name “Windows Mobile 7” is a window (sorry for the pun) to the desktop corporate computing bias.   Android, Blackberry and iPhone all sound cool.  Windows Mobile 7 conjures up images of blue screens.

I know that’s not fair but,  it is what it is.

Windows Mobile 7  seems like a name picked for internal synergistic and political reasons and not one geared for mobile market success. If there was ever a company that seemed to have all the assets in place to dominate the mobile smart phone business, it was Microsoft.  Now they are trying to be in the mix and be relevant.

If Windows Mobile 7 is not a success, then the last card for Microsoft to play will be the another acquisition , perhaps RIM?

For the sake of keeping Apple and Google honest in this space, I am hoping for a success from Microsoft.

Do you believe that Microsoft’s Mobile team can deliver?

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Filed under Acquisitions, android, Apple, Droid, iPad, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores

Saying Goodbye to my iPad – Is there an App for that?

Since my iPad loaner period is about complete, its time to record what I like and don’t like about the sexiest device to hit the market since…..  well probably ever.

If your main activity is light web browsing and email, the iPad is in your sweet spot.  The apps that are made specifically for the iPad are  really few in number, so Safari and Mail will likely dominate your use.   As the regular readers now, I am a fan of Google docs, which couples with the iPad nicely.  Google docs gives me great compatibility with word, excel and powerpoint.

One of the companies I consult with makes extensive use of the “Dropbox” application, which works great on the iPad.  Dropbox is a virtual “cloud” drive that easily mounts on a Mac , PC, Android Phone and iPad.  It is clearly the most promiscuous and functional file sharing application I have come across.

I would be remiss if I also did not rave about the incredible battery life of the iPad.  When I use it as an occasional browsing and email device, I only have to charge it about once a week.

There are, however, a few things that the iPad is not. It is not a device that is meant to be shared amongst friends, family or colleagues.  If you use the email app and let someone else borrow your iPad, they have all of your email.   If you install an app and then let someone use the iPad and they also install apps, you will need each others iTunes credentials to enter into the iPad when those apps have updates.  The iPad I have been using has been passed between three users.  I can only update the apps that I installed.  So scratch multiuser friendliness for now.

Most sadly the iPad is not a great video entertainment device.   It could be the ultimate travel entertainment device,  but it fails.  I say this because of the annoying lack of Adobe Flash support.

If you want to watch a show from a network site…. fail

If you want to use your HBOGO subscription….. fail

If you want  to play your favorite game on Facebook….fail.

Anything with Flash…..epic fail.

The war of words on this issue  between Steve Jobs and Adobe are well chronicled in the Press and the  Blogosphere.

Speaking as a user and developer on the iPad, I view this as a major Faux Pas.  I know you can download video from the Net, convert it to an iPad supported format and load it via iTunes, but that’s really beyond most users capabilities and completely misses the point of a Net connected device.

If there were a competitive Android Tablet device on the market that compared head to head with the iPad, I would get the Android version just for the Flash Support.   When I now want to watch a web videoon the go , I use my Droid smartphone because of the Flash Support.

This would be like developing a PC that only supports one browser.  Even Microsoft in its most Machiavellian days permitted other browsers to be installed within its operating system.   I wish I could say this was anything other than Apple trying to drive all video for the iPad to be within apps and iTunes. The Apple Flash policy is pure, raw monopolistic power being wielded, clear and simple.  To call it anything else is just poor technical rationalization.  Apple used to be the underdog, the company of the people.  Oh well.

(Click Here for Jon Stewart’s take on Apple’s Corporate Aggressiveness – funny)
This is a real shame because the iPad could be a super personal video device.  And yes, I know that there are videos available on iTunes and special built video apps, but the world is bigger than iTunes, and a Net connected browsing device should be compatible, with the Net! (End of Rant)

Prophetic commercial?

The next question is will I miss not having an iPad in my electronic arsenal?  In this case I am probably very unique among iPad users.  How many give up there iPad after a month?

My iPad has been useful in business travel and meetings .  Somehow I managed to survive travel and meetings without this wonder device in the past and I bet I will be just fine without it.   I just won’t look as cool!

If I suffer severe withdrawal symptoms I will let you know!

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Filed under Adobe, Apple, Content, Droid, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, FLASH, HTC, HTC Incredible, HTML%, iPad, iTunes, microsoft, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, netbooks, sex, smart phone, Smartphone, wireless

Scanning your Life

It is not often that someone shows me something in tech that makes me go “WOW!, that’s cool”.  I had such a moment recently when I met Jonathan Bulkeley, CEO of ScanBuy.  Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely promote products and services, but rather just give my “guy on the street” views.

Unless you are George Bush Senior, you know that there are barcodes on everything.  There are the ubiquitous  1-D UPC codes that you see in the supermarket and a host of new 2-D barcodes.  With the inclusion of barcode readers in smartphones (my Android is very capable in this area) you can go to a store, scan the barcode and be linked to product information websites, Google shopper, Amazon, etc.  You can do instant online price comparison in a store, and if you like purchase the product.  It seems that stores are catching on and are starting to put there own barcodes on products that then links back to their own website, not a competitor’s.  This is not the “WOW” part.  I’ve been doing store scanning  for some time.  Its fun and seems to thoroughly annoy sales staff (and sometimes my wife!)

The company that Bulkeley runs is the one that produces the Android app that I use to scan barcodes.  You can think of a barcode as a web url that directs the application to go to some specific website or activate an application.  You can imagine that the directory service of linking codes to a website is an interesting business area.

Now for the “WOW” moment.

When I was talking to Bulkeley,  he showed me his business card that had a 2-D barcode on the back.  He said, “go ahead scan it”.  When I scanned it, the application opened up the contact manager on my phone and auto-populated all of his details and asked me to confirm.  That was WOW.

You see ScanBuy and its consumer facing ScanLife website gives you the opportunity to have your own personal 2-D barcodes that link to a website or launch a contact application.  There are codes you can make for websites, phone numbers, SMS, Twitter, and even a menu of items.

Here is my contact 2-D Barcode:

And here is another that links to my personal Website:

And yet another that I made to link to my favorite Youtube video. I bet you can’t guess which one?

You can even change the destination website of any barcode on the ScanLife website.  If you have a smartphone with a ScanLife application, you can scan these codes directly from your computer screen.

He told me his daughter has a barcode on her dorm door and changes the website with her mood and likes.

I could envision a whole new market in fraternities, sororities and dorms.  No need to put a piece of clothing on the door knob as the signal of an “overnight” guest.   Just make sure your roommate scans before he enters!

But as they say – Wait –there’s more to this story….

A day later I was taking the train back to New Jersey from New York.  The train was full and I was sitting alone in two facing seats.  Three others came to occupy the other spots.  There were two young women – maybe 22 – one with bright purple hair and lots of interesting body art and the other very blonde and pixie-like.  Their androgynous boyfriend rounded out the group.  Needless to say, I did not have much in common or much to say as the went on about their art exhibits and music performances.  This was not the “Hey! how about those Yankees?” crowd. And I was not up on the latest exhibit in the Village.

This all changed when Miss Pixie took out her Android phone.  Ah!, now something of a connection.  We had a long discussion on apps and her favorites. Her two interesting friends also had Androids, but older models (at least 6 months) and seemed behind the curve.   Pixie liked the same apps I did.  I am not sure what to conclude from that, so moving on…..

She had Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Google Navigation.  Her really favorite “cool” app was, you guessed it –  ScanLife.  She did not even know the name of the company, just that she could use it when she shopped.

At this point her rather purple,  pierced  and tattooed friend perked up and said , “I always wanted to get a barcode tatoo.”

Not wanting to waste a good promotion opportunity for Mr. Bulkeley’s company, I explained how she could have her own personal barcode that linked to something that she could pick, and even change.  She was delighted and copied down the info.

For this group of avant-garde artists, it was one more cool thing to adorn their body with , and something they could scan with their phones.

The train pulled into my stop and my new friends, who were brought together by our Droids and barcodes, parted ways.

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Filed under advertising, android, Apple, Droid Incredible, E-Commerce, facebook, Google, iphone, mobile, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, mobile games, new media, New York, Rangers, sex, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, social networking, Twitter, wireless

Twitter as Mainstream Media for Israeli/Gaza Conflict?

It was 18 months ago that I first wrote about the extension of real, shooting wars to the social media battleground.  This past week saw a return of cyberspace prominence in the Israeli/Gaza blockade.   The first story that flooded Facebook, YouTube and Twitter was the violence that occurred on the Mavi Marmara.  As this story exploded across the traditional press outlets, videos were available on YouTube showing the actual helicopter boarding of the ship and the attack on the soldiers, which was followed by deadly violence. In this case social media added some perspective to a very volatile issue.

What I found particularly interesting was the coverage of the next ship that attempted to land in the Gaza, the “Rachel Corrie”.  The name of the ship is a reference to an American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003.   This ship was due to meet up with the Israeli navy early Saturday morning.  I was quite interested in what would happen and tried to get information from traditional media websites throughout the evening in New York.  Much of the information I found was old.  Old in this case means at least 12 hours.   Around midnight NYC time ,  Twitter seemed to become the major news source.  This was fascinating.  Tweets were coming in fast and furious.  This is the first time I experienced the “fog of war” in real time social media.  Reports came in about the ship being boarded, stopped, not stopped, trailed by naval ships, proceeding to Gaza, going to Ashdod, being inspected by International representatives, and so on. Rumors followed Rumors.

The Jerusalem Post reported that the ship had been boarded three hours before the actual event.  This report seemed to be in response to an earlier Tweet that seemed credible.  A credible Tweet as a source?  The Jpost eventually retracted their story, but not before their report was Tweeted 1000’s of time as credible.    The problem is what is a credible Tweet?  Twitter is an environment where anyone can broadcast anything.   The need for instantaneous news on any world event has put news organizations in the position of trying to sift through 1000’s of Tweets to determine what may or may not be happening.  Most Tweets about the Rachel Corrie were re-Tweets of other rumors that were then reinforced by their sheer volume of messaging.  As the trending stats of the Rachel Corrie become higher and higher, it attracted the spammers and the truly crazy people.  Yet through all of this,  I was updating the Twitter role of info on the Rachel Corrie.  The information pipe became even more stuffed with offers for good, services, merchandise and other threads about the ship that described  what was or was not happening.

For the record, the ship was eventually boarded and led to the port of Ashdod where the crew and passengers were deported from Israel and the goods inspected, before shipment to Gaza.  The ruling Hamas Party in Gaza has subsequently refused to accept the aid from the Rachel Corrie becuase it was trucked through Israel. This ship made less worldwide headlines because there was no attack on the naval boarding party and the ship sailed peacefully to an Israeli port.  However, this crisis is far from over as Iran now proposes to use its Navy to escort blockade running ships.

Will we continue to rely on Twitter as the front line of information gathering if this situation escalates even further?  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) maintains a Twitter account to answer journalists questions and give them real time information on fast moving stories.  During the Rachel Corrie event they responded to a false story in the Jpost as follows:

Twitter is a mix of first hand accounts, rumors, government accounts, and just plain  propaganda.

In the case of the Rachel Corrie what would have happened if Twitter had been flooded with purposeful and coordinated false information?  Suppose Tweets circulated that the Israeli navy blew up the ship?  These false Tweets get re-tweeted thousands of times.  Mainstream media picks up the story and then reports the false reports.  Riots occur, real people get killed; Politicians take public stances that are difficult to back down from.  Fantasy become reality.  By the time the truth is known, it is too late and a real war has begun.   Sound fantastic?   This has happened, almost….

It was October of 1939 when Martians invaded the State of New Jersey.  Panic ensued.  Orson Wells and his epic War of the Worlds was of course just radio fantasy.  We could only imagine what might have happened if he had a Twitter account at the time.

Here is Russian Television’s Report on the Rachel Corrie Ship

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Filed under Aljerzera, facebook, Gaza, IDF, Iran, Israel, mobile, New York, politics, Rachel Corrie, Social Media, social networking, Twitter, You Tube

Augmented Reality? Really?

I have tried over 100 apps on my new Super-Droid, the HTC Incredible.  One of the more interesting and  hyped areas is that of Augmented Reality.  Here is the  Wikipedia definition for AR –

Augmented reality (AR) `is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.”

On my Droid, most AR applications are a mash-up of GPS, Google search, camera viewing, compass heading and overlay visuals.   The overlays are anything from tourist locations, buildings, roads, bars, restaurants, and of course Starbucks.   You look at your phone as the phone’s camera looks at the world and adds its own heads up display (HUD).

While these apps have an “Ubber-Cool” factor, AR does not yet seem to have found its mainstream raison d’être.  Its fun to show your friends and get them to say  -“ooo”, and “ah”, but then what?

Who is going to walk around holding their 4 inch screen in front of them while looking for something and following an arrow in their AR world?  All sorts of enhanced navigation programs, either for driving, walking, hiking or public transit already exist with great mapping displays.  The potential fro AR is likely huge in the future as the applications further develop.  But for now, it is early days.

If you want to try out AR for and judge for yourself here are 5 programs you can download for free on a Droid.

-Layar

A Legal Neighbor listed as a "Bar" - needs some work..

Layar  (get it –  LayAR) is an environment that permits others to development AR functionality on displays and maps. It is in essence an AR aggregation platform – an AR browser- that is mostly ad supported with some premium subscription services.  I can use my virtual Droid HUD to find everything from apartments, nearby Tweeters, Foursquare locations,  local wikipedia entries and even the weather.  Weather?  Yep – look through the HUD and see an AR cloud superimposed in your view with the temperature on it.  There is even a weather app for tornado warnings.   If you have to look through the phone to determine you are looking at a Tornado, its may be Darwin Award time.

A Landmark on Foursquare

Just because you can do something with technology does not mean you have to do it!  Similar to overall smartphone apps, let a million apps bloom and something good will happen.

Here is the web catalog of all Layar powered AR apps.

-Laser Level

The program superimposes perpendicular red “laser” lines in your HUD to help you straighten that picture you just hung.  The app works pretty good, but not really efficient for hanging pictures and I would still want my contractors to use a physical level.

-3D Compass

This app floats a compass and a map on your screen, along with speed and altitude.

Its fun to play with this app when I take NJ Transit into NYC.  For the record, the trains hit a top speed of around 60 mph, New York is east of New Jersey, and the train rarely gets airborne.

-Zagat NRU

This is a curious app that displays all Zagat rated venues within circular range bands, arranged by compass heading.  Its great to showpeople, but then what?  Okay gang lets go to this new Italian restaurant; we have to walk at 37.6 degrees  NNE for 1.5 km?

-NYC Wayfinder

Hold up your HUD display and it will point out subway entrances.  Does it also paint a target on your back and add a European carry-all to you, virtually?

The potential for AR applications exists and like any technology in its early phases, many potential uses will be explored.  What is amazing is how relatively easy it is to make this apps with the basic tools and capabilities of the Android (and yes, iPhone too)

What will the killer AR apps be?  I have two predictions for AR apps.

My first prediction is for massive multi-user, AR enhanced games.  Pick your favorite version of Human/Zombie, Capture the Flag, etc –   and have all the players be able to track each other in an AR enhanced world and even “shoot” each other and record “hits”, all in augmented reality.  This can take the collaborative gaming experience of the XBOX 360 and get everyone outside actually running around and exercising.  Just like kids did before computer games.  Ironic…..  Of course this is what he U.S. military does, for real. So who would be most motivated to fund and produce such an app?

Another interesting app, assuming the key development enabler of cheap AR viewing glasses will be virtual tours.  Instead of holding a small screen, view the AR world all the time?  I could easily see tourists using these to get around various venues and even have embedded virtual tour guides pointing out local areas of interest.  Imagine visiting the ancient Roman port of Caesarea in Israel and having your virtual guide enhance your view to show you what it really looked like 2000 years ago – virtually. For Real.

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“Where” is that Secret Facility on Foursquare?

One of the really interesting aspects of smartphone apps is the innovation and product mutation process.  Over the past couple of weeks I have downloaded over 100 apps on my Droid.  Some apps were good, many were not.  With the exception of Skydroid (99 cents), all were free.  For the record the Skydroid golf GPS program worked really well on my recent golf outing.  It did not help my game at all, but it was useful ad fun to use.

"Where" Local Information Portal

One of the more interesting and useful apps I have been using is “Where”.   “Where” aggregates all the most important mobile search and information functions in one app that utilizes your location for giving you the most relevant results.    Weather, News (including micro local news!), Places (a combination of restaurants, hotels, shopping, bars, etc), Movies, Gas prices, Yellow Pages, Traffic, and even a dedicated icon for the nearest Starbucks.  For the city-folk, it includes an app to locate a Zip Car.  All of these come with easy lists, or are searchable via text or voice input.

Instead of going into several dedicated apps to do the same “on the fly” searches, you can just stay within the “Where” dashboard.   They also have a widget for the Droid that will give you the latest alert on any of the categories you have displayed.  The widget still needs some work, but is useful.

There is a similar function to “FourSquare” that encourages venue checkin and reviews. Foursquare is  the much bigger app for the “hey look where I’ve been crowd”, but “Where” should be watched.

What is interesting about both “Where” and “Foursquare” is how they took a

Foursquare places near me - Interesting...

working model on mobile and morphed it into something more useful.   “Where” actually went backwards to go forward.  They observed that the single function search and LBS apps were good but cumbersome to use in a real life use case.  For example, let’s find a movie to see, a place to eat and maybe a club later on.  “Where” handles that use case.  “Where” re-invented the information portal.

For the record I have no idea what the top secret Delta Facility or the Mothership are in my list.  But I will now have to check them out!  If this is my last blog article you will know why!

My Mother's Day Trip - on Foursquare

Foursquare capitalized on the fascination with Twitter and tweeting your status and focused it on venues.  This creates a social scene network.  Where are your friends?  Do you want to see them?  What do they think of that bar, restaurant, deli, etc?  It is a real time social networking app that is part Twitter, part Zagat’s, and part dating and hook-up.  Foursquare also uses location based services to locate you and give you a list of close by venues for you to check-in.

Both of these apps are using geo-located search technology to make their apps very easy to use.  They are both ad supported.  “Where” has a coupon tray for local coupons on products and services.  They both provide functionality that is superior to a vanilla Google search.

So what do they need to move to the big time?

Foursquare is clearly in the Zagat space.  Foursquare is what the mobile version of Zagat should be.  Foursquare and Zagat announced a partnership in February.  The combined application should be interesting!  To the leading edge augmented reality crowd –  yes I have tried Zagat on NRU – its very cool and the whole subject of augmented reality will be the topic of a future article.

“Where” needs the venue reviews and overall utilization that Foursquare and Zagat enjoy.  Additionally “Where” can benefit from the social networking features of Foursquare.   What I am not to subtly suggesting is that while Foursquare and “Where” have definitely moved the bar (no pun intended 🙂 ) , they are much more compelling together, and eventually even more compelling in a real partnership with Zagat.

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HTC Incredible – The Bright Side

After getting lots of comments on the frank discussion of my new Droid, I decided it was time to give the other part of the story.  In general, I really like this new superphone.  Yes, I’m still having battery issues.  I  recently had a day in NYC, away from my home office, and I was down to 15% by noon.  But lets not dwell on that.

I have downloaded about 30 free apps for my phone.  I have kept about half of them and trashed the rest.  My advice is to stick to brand name content and carefully reviewed apps.  If you just browse and download whatever you like, you will have many apps that don’t work or worse…

While the HTC Friends widget gets lots of publicity, the individual Facebook and Twitter Apps are better for me.  For the record I use “Peep” for Twitter.  The Foursquare app works well, the LinkedIn app – not.

Many of the most useful apps are targeted at managing your Droid phone.  Among these I recommend “Lookout”.  This is a combined virus scan, backup and lost phone locater – and is presently free.   As I mentioned in my first review a Droid is more like a PC.  When you download  “Caveat Emptor”   For the lost phone feature, you can locate your phone on a Google Map on the Web and even have it emit a siren sound.  Warning- don’t give your web lookout password to anyone or you will likely have a siren in your pocket at the worst possible time!

The widgets that come prepackaged for managing Bluetooth, WIFI , GPS and mobile networking are very useful in managing battery life.  Just keep everything off that you really don’t need.  I have found the GPS is a particular battery hog.

For syncing music, I finally got SallingMedia to work.  The trick is to create playlists for anything you want to sync and then to just sync those lists.  For video you can just drag an mp4 into the video folder on your phone.

One of the pleasant battery surprises was that I was able to watch a 2-hour movie on my phone and still have over 50% battery left!  There are a couple of decent free video players in the app store.  You should try mvideoplayer or stream media player. ( A free shout out to anyone who correctly guesses which movie I debuted on my droid –  there is a hint in this article)

A key to the usability of my Droid is mastering the notification pull down.  Just slide down your finger from the top Verizon logo and you bring down a list of recent emails, messages, program alerts, etc.

For sheer fun there are many “soundboards” in the app store.  These soundboards provide famous sound clips for many movies and TV shows.  I downloaded several and keep them in a folder.

Another app that I like is “barcode”.  It is a build in barcode reader that auto generates a search and shopper price comparison.  Don’t know if I ever will really use it “in real life”- but it’s pretty slick.

I also downloaded “SkyDroid”.  This is the one paid app I have.  It cost 99 cents.  It provides a GPS function linked to golf courses.  I am playing a round on Friday, so I’ll let you know how it works.  The website has a nice interface to map out any golf course that is not yet in their database, and of course it uses Google maps.  It took me about 30 minutes to enter the local course.  I am sure it will not help my golf game, but it is a cool thing to have.

There are apps that are un-Verizon-like in the store.  These include porn, a way to download “free” mp3s and a program to turn your Droid into a broadband modem for your laptop.  The former is surprising for the normally protective Carrier, the later 2 are ways to violate your contact TOS and bypass Verizon’s own broadband connect service.  The world of openness has its consequences.  You have to exert personal responsibility – just like the real world.  Just be careful if you give one of these to a minor.

Lastly, my absolute favorite feature on my Droid is the voice recognition with speech to text.   This is really great.  I thought my biggest issue would be with the virtual keyboard – however I respond to most messages and emails by speaking into the phone.  Imagine – a phone you can speak to!  What a concept.  The voice recognition can be used for almost any text input field. I have used it for emails, SMS, Google searches and contact searches.  Its accuracy is very good – although it needs a little work on its Yiddish!

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