HTC to not lock Android Bootloaders going forward

This is interesting .. to myself and my mates. Please ignore if your geekiness factor is < 42, but HTC posted on Facebook today (summarized): HTC to NOT lock Android bootloaders from here on out ..

Now this, I like ..

.. I’m guessing they want to see what the community will do.

:: rummages about for his cookbook ::

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Composite Applications: Do You Use Them?

You probably do.

Simply put, composite applications assemble data from disparate sources and present the data in a single interface. An application that displays the system time is technically a composite application (although not a particularly interesting one).

You’ll find composite applications in consumer and business settings. They include:

  • Business process / supply chain management
  • Medical diagnostics
  • Financial systems
  • Location-based services

Their most valuable use case for a composite application is presenting multiple sources of data to a user in an appropriate context.

  • A BPM / SC dashboard shows real-time inventory levels against real-time production demands, culled from disparate systems. This dashboard can alert the user to the risk of production delays due to stock levels.
  • Medical diagnostic software shows bodily statistics (heart, lung, oxygen levels, etc.) in response to outside stimuli (exertion or adding oxygen).
  • Financial software shows the response of a stock price due to news, and then reflects price changes in portfolio valuation.
  • LBS-enabled solutions create massive business opportunities simply by knowing where you are .. and what you might be able to buy / do while you are there.

In all cases, the ultimate recipient of the data is the user; we are the ultimate aggregators and consumers of the data that matters to us. A well-designed composite application will address our needs and use cases in context when gathering data to present to us.

I liken a composite application to a smart phone; in fact, I would argue that a smart phone is a composite application. If the smart phone has a robust enough operating system to permit user customizations (loading the content and the applications we deem most relevant), AND includes pillars like location and search, our aggregation and consumption of the data is second nature to us.

For example, a GPS-enabled phone can provide:

  • The weather in your current location, and as a result, what to wear.
  • The store to buy something you need that ‘s close by (possibly even the clothes you need because you didn’t check the weather first).
  • Directions to the store.
  • Your bank account balance to ensure you can buy what you need.
  • The method of payment for a treat along the way (I use the Starbucks Card Widget for my Android Aria to pay for my coffee these daze).
  • .. and so on.

If you build a composite application (correctly), it will get used. Further, if you watch how they are used, you’ll learn how to improve your design to deliver what your customers need.

Leap Frogs: Mobile Infrastructure

This one is obvious.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but the facts have been out there for some time, for those who wanted to look.

In some countries (and some areas in the United States .. have you ever read the details on the Universal Service Charge / Universal Connectivity Fee?), getting a telephone land line can be a challenge. It can take YEARS (and political connections) to get.

There is a technology that makes this a totally irrelevant discussion, and it’s right in the palm of your hand: your mobile phone. Wireless infrastructure can be built out at a tiny fraction of the cost of dragging cable. This technology creates market opportunities .. for the cost of a “few” antennas and repeaters (instead of miles and miles of wire), entire markets can be opened.

Costs can be defrayed too: a Washington Times editorial (from 02/2010) argues to “Kill the Universal Service Fund” as it tends to provide too much money to too few (and potentially inappropriate) recipients. From the editorial:

Rural phone companies see the greatest benefit. In 2008, the USF gave the Oregon Telephone Corporation $16,834 federal subsidy for each of the company’s subscribers in Beaver Creek, Wash. Such largess is especially absurd now that satellite phones can provide service anywhere in the country where one has a clear view of the sky at a fraction of the cost.

The evidence is clear: consider India, where pay-as-you-go mobile phone providers emerge on a moments’ notice .. but with the creative use of SIM cards, you can acquire PAYG coverage wherever you find yourself. If you found that sentence confusing, drop me a line and I’ll point you to resources that will help.

Let’s extend to broadband. There are unlimited providers who offer pay-as-you-go service in a number of countries. Take care with your credit card, though: there are a number of shady folks keen to balance their checkbooks with your cash.

There are heroes too: this chap keeps an eye out for potential villains: suggest you consult him before you consider an provider outside your country.

Do we need a Facebook Phone?

Facebook is building a phone! My commentary follows, but here are some quick bits of the sordid tale:

Whiplash anyone? In the news:

My phone (the HTC Aria with with Android 2.1) has a Facebook application that ships with the handset. In fact, it has two: a decent native Facebook application (© Facebook 2010) for starts, and an HTC product called Friend Stream; essentially a Facebook and Twitter status aggregator / updater. It’s a bit underpowered, but aggregation is always handy, if baseline functionality is met.

When baseline functionality is not met, it’s a shame to have to run two applications to complete a task. As a result, I ignore Friend Stream and interact with the native applications. This further underscores the value of having a non-dedicated device: you can do what you want to do; load and run the applications you want, comment and update when you want. After all, you are the common denominator of your work, private and social lives.

Do we need a Facebook phone? I sure don’t. Do you?

The Touch Crisis / Dilemma / Opportunity

In my mobile world, I graduated from my HTC Fuze (running Windows Mobile 6.1) to the HTC TouchPro 2 (branded the HTC Tilt 2 by AT&T) on the AT&T network. However, this post is not about the mobile device .. as I tweak my Tilt, I’ll provide those bits in a separate post.

Instead, this post is about something I’m calling “the implications of touch” (for lack of a better description at the moment):

  • My device is finger-friendly; has large icons that I can tap to engage .. rarely requiring a stylus.
  • Touch-and-launch is now second nature .. touch the icon and the program loads.
  • The concept of touch-and-hold to bring up a shortcut menu of context-sensitive operations (open, edit, cut, copy, paste, navigate, and so on) is second nature as I work with the mobile.

I bring these points up to make this one: I now find myself reaching to touch my computer screen to perform tasks.

This is a bit scary .. first of all, I’m working on two primary machines: a four-year-old Dell Latitude 820 (that I LOVE again, thanks to Windows 7) and my Acer Aspire One (which I use for travel, conferences and about everything else that I do in real-time).

As neither is a touch device, I find myself hampered by the lack of touch functionality .. it’s SO much easier than reaching for the mouse and clicking to get things going.

Now, those lucky sots who attended PDC09 last week were provided with spiffy new, touch-enabled Acer Aspire 1420P systems to build out the kinds of use cases I am seeking today!

Guys: you have the hardware: get to work and realize the vision. 🙂

A side quote from Part II of the ‘Back to the Future’ series .. “Gee. You have to use your hands?” .. spoken when Marty was showing off on a video game.

At the moment, I’m keen to use my fingers .. once you folks enable thought control, I’ll be quite happy with that.

:: gasp :: are we getting close to audio and power standards for devices?

My gosh, I hope so. The idea of carrying multiple power cubes is sooo 1975. I posted “Standardized Cell Phone Chargers by 2012” back in February, cheering that my HTC Fuze and Motorola Razr devices charged from the USB standard plug. While that’s good news, I am not happy with the HTC audio jack, requiring a dongle to connect for headset audio.

Seems like I’m not the only one: MobileCrunch posts “Long Live 3.5mm: HTC Makes The Switch”, cheering HTC’s decision to use a 3.5mm plug (the standard plug for cheap and expensive headsets) in future devices. Wahoo!

In the EU, power has been mandated .. The Jakarta Post: “EU, phone makers agree on charging standard”.

Fewer chargers and dongles .. that has to make everyone smile.

Mobile Phone International Roaming Tips

I had the pleasure to visit Moscow to work with my Strategic Emerging Business Team (SEBT) counterparts, partners and startups. It took only a tiny bit of research to discover that Moscow is the most expensive city in the world for a business traveler .. mobile phone roaming is only the start.

How expensive? $5.99 per roaming minute through my carrier. Wowza!

Thanks to my connection to a friend in the phone biz (who did the bulk of the work so I can enjoy this blogging moment of glory), I have some high-level tips (details and use cases below):

  • Obtain an unlocked mobile phone. Either advise your SIM-based carrier you’re traveling overseas and get the code from them, or buy a new unlocked phone on EBay. An unlocked phone lets you insert a SIM card that is seen as local to the country you are visiting.
  • Obtain a local pay-as-you-go SIM card for the countries you are visiting. You can do this in advance (links below), or once you arrive. With a local SIM, inbound calls are dirt cheap and outbound local calls are charged at local rates (which will vary by provider). Both are far less expensive than an international roaming rate in ALL cases. Also, with pay-as-you-go, you can add minutes at kiosks and know exactly how much you are spending .. no nasty surprises on your credit card statement.
  • If you are a PDA / Smartphone user, be prepared to carry two phones; one for data (even if by tether) and one for calls.
  • If you simply cannot live without data (I can’t), use your regular US-based phone for data, BUT:
    • Consider tethering your phone to your laptop and using the data connection from your laptop to synchronize your phone. This way, your calendar will be up-to-date.
    • Ask your provider to block international calls on your US-based phone while you’re traveling. Carrier terminology is “voice restrict” (just in case you get a newbie on the support line). Restricting overseas voice calls prevents the minimum one-minute charge for an incoming call (even if ignored and sent to voice mail).
    • Sign up for an unlimited international data plan with your cell phone provider rather than buying pay-as-you-go packages (which expire at the end of each month). Some due diligence on this is in order, of course.
  • I use AT&T as my mobile provider. While there are other SIM-based carriers out there, AT&T has done a glorious job of connecting all their (partner) networks for a seamless experience.
  • If your home-based business contacts (or loved ones, for that matter) are keen to reach you, obtain an US-based international forwarding number you can update on the Web. There are nominal costs to set up, and an annual charge to have this service, but it means you will always have a US number you can share. Note: do not forward your home or office phone as you’ll pay international charges for the call. Caveat: your company may have a service; check with them first. I like to use the service because it is a predictable cost; no surprises on my credit card. As you change countries and buy local SIM cards, update the forwarding service on the Web.
  • If you’re going to participate in conference calls, obtain the local number for the dial-in if your company or provider has one. With your local SIM, it’s a local call at outbound rates.
  • If you’re going to make a lot of out-of-country calls while traveling abroad, consider a local bounce-back service depending on the inbound-versus-outbound rates in the country you are visiting. In Russia, it’s a slam dunk ($5.99 per roaming minute); in some other countries, it may not matter as much. To use a bounce-back, you you dial the local bounce-back service number (local outbound call at local outbound rates) and hang up. The service calls you back (inbound call at local inbound rates) and asks you to dial the international number you want to reach. End result: you’re able to make an international call at local inbound rates. Note: the bounce-back service typically has a per-minute charge. However, this charge will be much lower than international rates.

I acquired an unlocked GSM phone and selected InTouch to arrange my international roaming. For my Moscow trip, I purchased:

  • A Russian SIM from MegaFon (Russia-local cellular provider) featuring:
    • Inbound calls at $0.01 per minute for MegaFon-Moscow network numbers and federal numbers subscribed to BeeLine, MTS and MSS Moscow (926 area code).
    • Other inbound calls at $0.09 per minute (including international).
    • Outbound calls at $0.03 per minute for MegaFon-Moscow network and federal numbers subscribed to BeeLine, MTS and MSS Moscow (926 area code).
    • Other outbound calls at $0.19 per minute.
    • Inbound SMS is free. Help your folks learn to send you texts prior to calling.
    • Outbound SMS at $0.03 per message.
      For other details, please see the InTouch SIM home page.
      Note: be sure to keep your SIM topped off; you’ll find kiosks all over Moscow.
      Note: if traveling outside Moscow, be sure to check the InTouch SIM home page for rates and other details.
  • The InTouch SmartForward service (US-based forwarding), featuring:
    • A US-based number (800 / 866 numbers are available) that forwards to a foreign SIM card.
    • Pay-as-you-go pricing at VOIP rates (quoted at the beginning of each call).
    • Automatic reload at $50 increments (despite the number of calls I was making, I never hit this).
  • The InTouch Bounce Back Plus service (callback service), featuring:
    • Trigger callbacks by local phone call, email or text messages.
    • Low-cost inbound calls from the system attendant.
    • Low-cost international calls via VOIP.
  • Unlimited international data roaming from AT&T. For my Microsoft phone, the domestic roaming service costs $45 / month. Adding the international brought the total monthly cost to $65. We get a discount from these retail prices, so this was a slam-dunk to keep me connected.
  • InTouch also sells / rents unlocked mobile phones if you want something new with a warranty.

Clearly a lot of information herein. Please let me know how I may clarify or expand.

Standardized Cell Phone Chargers by 2012

I’ve been celebrating the fact that my two cell phones charge from USB (HTC Fuze and Motorola Razr).

I’m happy that I need carry only one AC-to-USB transformer, one car-to-USB charger (with two USB ports) and a USB cable or two.  I now have room in my backpack for a paperback book (Fiendish-level Sudoko) .. that I simply didn’t have before.

This trend is catching on, it seems.  The AP (via the Mobiledia) reports a mobile phone industry group Tuesday said 17 wireless operators and handset makers have agreed to standardize chargers by 2012 for most cell phones shipped.

The group includes, AT&T, T-Mobile, Nokia, Samsung and others.

Besides the obvious benefit of fewer chargers to the end user, there are significant environmental benefits.  Here’s some fun facts from the article:

  • A French study estimates that 51 million cell phone chargers go obsolete every 20 months.
  • The GSM Association says cast-off chargers generate some 51,000 tons of waste per year (some of this must be hazardous; they are electrical components, after all).

I have a drawer full, I might add.  I see that my local AT&T store has a drop box for older phones; I wonder if they take chargers as well.

Read the whole article: “Mobile Phone Makers to Standardize Chargers by 2012”.

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