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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

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News: Hi-tech ways to stay in touch

The technologies families can use to stay in touch are as diverse as those family groups themselves. Here the BBC News website gives a run-down on some of the technologies that the most modern of families are putting to good use.


Screengrab of BBC News Twitter page, Twitter
Twitter helps you keep tabs on more than just people
Twitter was one of the first micro-blogging services and uses text messages as its medium.

Usually text messages only travel between two people but Twitter ensures each one reaches a wider audience. Messages sent to Twitter are echoed to your own page and to all the friends signed up to get them.

The 140 character limit in text messages imposes an austere brevity and many use Twitter to keep friends and colleagues up to date with where they are, who they are meeting and what they are thinking.

When out and about, updating a Twitter blog is easier than doing a web-based blog update.

Since Twitter launched in mid-2006 many competitors have sprung up including Pownce, Jaiku and Yelp.


Nokia 7650 camera phone, PA
The advent of cameraphones boosted the number of mobloggers
When it first emerged, blogging was very much an activity done sat in front of a PC. Moblogging, as its name implies, takes this mobile.

This can mean that a blog post or entry is written and sent from a laptop via a wi-fi hotspot in a cafe or from a capable mobile phone. As long as it is done on the hoof, it qualifies.

Many of the first to blog with a mobile simply took pictures of what they saw and who they met while out and about. Many mobloggers use tiny programs that automatically send any snap they take to their blog.

As camera phones have become inescapable the number of moblogs and mobloggers has escalated.

Now any blog is as likely to contain snaps sent from a phone as it is longer text entries composed in a moment of repose. Pretty much all blogging software contains tools that will take content from any and every device.


Webcam, Eyewire
Many see videoblogging as an outgrowth of webcams
As you might expect video blogging adds moving pictures to the format.

Video clips can be shot with a mobile phone, webcam, handheld or static camera. Clips can be snapshots of what just happened, diary-like entries or quasi-professionally produced shows.

Many bloggers who make their living from their journal use short video shows as a means to keep their audience entertained and up to date.

The popularity of portable media players, such as the iPod, has substantially grown the audience for such shows.

Some, such as, send out a constant stream of video from a camera they wear to show what they are up to each and every minute.


Facebook reflection in human eye, Getty
Social sites give many bloggers a ready-made audience
For many the hardest part of blogging is building up an audience interested in what that person has to say or has snapped.

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo solve this problem as they deliver a ready-made audience - many of whom will be people you already know.

Most of these sites let users upload photos, videos and text - just like any blogging site.

Many of these sites are now starting to add extras and add-ons that let people step up the interaction with the folk with whom they have connected.


Hard drive, SPL
Saving all your life can soak up huge amounts of storage space
This is the ultimate endpoint of the move to sharing your life with other people.

While some video bloggers stream images of where they go, lifecasting tries to create a more permanent, searchable, record of a person's life.

It involves capturing as much data as possible about everything someone does. Not just recording and archiving face-to-face or phone conversations but also creating an indexed database of documents, text messages e-mails, pictures - everything.

An attempt to record part of a life in this way is being tried by Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell as part of the MyLifeBits project.

His archive now contains more than 120,000 e-mails, almost 60,000 photographs, hours of phone call recordings and much more data about his life.

Just as important as grabbing the data is indexing it properly and creating links between all the elements to give an overview of how a life is being lived.

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News: Who's afraid of the iPhone?


Apple's iPhone may have only been on release for a few months but it is making waves in the global mobile industry. So how are competitors responding?

More than 285 million handsets from a plethora of manufacturers were sold globally between July and September this year, according to recent figures from research firm Strategy Analytics.

The figures are up 12% on last year, and each and every week new handsets and services are launched into a burgeoning market ever hungry for more features.

Apple is the new kid on the block and has managed to sell 1.4m iPhones in the first 90 days on sale. The device goes on sale in the UK and Germany on Friday.

It is an impressive number but a fraction of the global market. Yet the market leaders, Nokia, LG, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, HTC and Motorola, are keeping their eyes firmly on Apple's progress.

"There's no sign of panic from competitors," said Jonathan Arber, a principal analyst at Ovum.

"There's no scrambling. But anyone who is trying to take market share concerns them."

Grand surroundings

Last week Samsung unveiled a camera phone in the grand surroundings of the British Museum, in London.

Amid the antiquities, journalists from 35 countries around the world were flown into London and put up in five-star hotels at Samsung's expense to get a first look at the new handset.

Nokia N95
We think it provides everything the iPhone does but also GPS navigation as well.
Nokia's Simon Ainslie on the N95

The G800 would not appear to be a direct competitor to the iPhone but in a question and answer session with executives Apple's device was brought up several times.

"What is Samsung doing to match the user interface of the iPhone?" asked one reporter.

"We're actively working on new user interfaces and you can expect to see something special in 2008," said one of the key execs.

Other firms have also been quick to roll out devices which they say offer all of the features of the iPhone yet "cheaper, simpler, faster, better".

But Apple, for now at least, is only targeting a small sector of the mobile market.

By comparison Nokia hit the 40% magic target of market share globally, said Mr Arber. "And it appears to be growing constantly," he added.

'Put off'

Mr Arber said the iPhone could drive the handset market in general over Christmas.

"There will be a lot of buzz around the iPhone and it may have a halo effect on other devices. It might well raise consumer awareness of a new top end of mobile handsets out there that have good internet and data communication capabilities.

Nokia N95
Sony Ericsson W960
HTC Touch
Palm Centro
Blackberry Pearl
Samsung Blackjack
T-Mobile Sidekick Slide
"Obviously some people may go looking for the iPhone but may be put off by the price and I think Apple's various competitors in the market will be positioning themselves to take advantage of that."

Mr Arber cited the Viewty and LGKS20 from LG, the Sony Ericsson touch screen W960, the HTC Touch, and Nokia N95 as natural iPhone competitors.

'Touch experience'

But there are others: in recent months Palm has launched the Centro, Blackberry has launched a new Pearl in Europe, T-Mobile has the Sidekick Slide and Samsung has its Blackjack.

Mr Arber said the iPhone's touch screen was the application that most competitors would be seeking to emulate.

"It's only just being explored to its fullest. The iPhone right now does it fairly well. It's going to be the touch screen experience competitors will be looking to beat."

But it is not just the hardware that Apple's competitors are seeking to beat - it is the services also.

Apple's iTunes music store and its integration with the iPhone is seductive for many people.

To counter that Nokia and operator Vodafone have launched separate services which they believe are iPhone killers.

We offer unlimited music on a rental model - no-one has done this in the marketplace, and certainly not the iPhone
Al Russell, Vodafone

Al Russell, Vodafone's head of internet and content services, said the iPhone was a "significant development in our marketplace".

But he said Vodafone's MusicStation, which is a subscription-based music service, offered functionality that the iPhone could not match.

"This generation does not want an archive of music. We offer unlimited music on a rental model - no-one has done this in the marketplace, and certainly not the iPhone.

"We know our customer base have tremendous appetite for new music and sharing."

Nokia's UK managing director Simon Ainslie said the model of the iPod and iTunes had been very successful but they had relatively little penetration outside the US and UK.

Flagship device

"We have 900 million users of our phones worldwide and there is an opportunity here for us to provide a service to the device in their hands wherever they are."

He said Nokia's N95 mobile phone, the flagship device for the firm, was more than a match for the iPhone.

"It's hugely successful; one of our all-time greats.

"We believe it stands very strongly against the iPhone and we think it provides everything the iPhone does but also GPS navigation as well.

"Navigation is a feature people will want and will be huge in the future through location-based services."

The iPhone goes on sale at more than a 1,000 O2 stores, Carphone Warehouse outlets and Apple's own shops on Friday at precisely 18.02GMT.

Consumers, analysts and competitors will all be watching closely to see the level of demand and if the hysteria seen in the US will be replicated in the UK.

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News: '$100 laptop' begins production

XO laptop production line
The first machines have started rolling off the production line
Mass production of the so-called $100 laptop has begun, five years after the concept was first proposed.

Computer manufacturer Quanta has started building the low-cost laptops at a factory in Changshu, China.

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), the group behind the project, said that children in developing countries would begin receiving machines this month

Last month, OLPC received its first official order for 100,000 machines from the government of Uruguay.

"Today represents an important milestone in the evolution of the One Laptop per Child project," said Nicholas Negroponte, founder of OLPC.

The organisation had reached the critical stage despite "all the naysayers," he said.

Price hike

Since Professor Negroponte first put forward the idea of distributing low-cost laptop to children in developing countries in 2002, the plan has been both praised and mocked.

cost breakdown

Intel chairman Craig Barret described the XO laptop, as the machine is known, as a "$100 gadget" whilst Microsoft founder Bill Gates questioned its lack of hard drive and "tiny screen".

Other critics have questioned the need for the laptops in countries which, they said, had more pressing needs such as sanitation and health care.

But Professor Negroponte has always maintained that the project is about education not technology.

However, the green and white XO machines pack a number of innovations which make them suitable for use in remote and environmentally hostile areas.

The machine has no moving parts and can be easily maintained. It has a sunlight-readable display that allows children to use it outside and, importantly for areas with little access to electricity, it is ultra low power and can be charged by a variety of devices including solar panels.

Although OLPC eventually plan to sell the machines for $100 or less, the current price is $188 (£93).

Christmas gift

Initially OLPC has said that it required three million orders of the XO to make production viable.

Children with $100 laptop
Uruguay is the first country to order the machines

Governments were originally offered the machines in lots of 250,000.

So far, however, the organisation's only confirmed order is from Uruguay. The South American country has ordered 100,000 of the machines with an option to purchase a further 300,000.

Other governments have expressed interest in the machines.

For example, the government of Mongolia has announced that it plans to launch a pilot project providing 20,000 laptops, to children aged six to 12.

OLPC has also allowed a limited number of the machines to be bought by people in North America through its Give 1 Get 1 programme (G1G1), which will allow members of the public to buy a machine for themselves as well as one for a child in a developing country.

The programme will offer laptops between the 12 and 26 November. OLPC said that the start of production means that people participating in the scheme will receive their XO by December this year.

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News: Symbian dismisses Google Android

Symbian phones
Symbian powers more than 165 million phones
Google's dominance of the web will not translate to the mobile phone market, a senior executive at Symbian has said.

John Forsyth, vice president of strategy at Symbian, the platform that powers many of the world's phones, said Google lacked experience.

Google has formed an alliance with 33 firms to develop an open platform for mobile phones, called Android.

Meanwhile, the head of Nokia in the UK said the firm was in discussions with Google about using the platform.

Simon Ainslie, Nokia UK's managing director, said: "We are always open to discussion and debate on that. We were not ready to make any commitment to it or discuss it at the time."

"We are having ongoing discussions with Google."

'Very happy'

Mr Ainslie said the time was not right to make any announcement as to "how we can work with them".

He also said that Nokia was very happy with its partnership with Symbian.

He said: "It's the world's most used platform. It's not a simple solution to make a platform work on a mobile."

It's a bit like the common cold. It keeps coming round and then we go back to business
John Forsyth, Symbian, on the Open Handset Alliance

Mr Forsyth said Google had to be aware that making a "mobile OS is a very specialised form of rocket science.

"It's not search rocket science."

He said the alliance was yet another attempt to launch a Linux-based operating system to drive mobile phones.

"About every three months this year there has been a mobile Linux initiative of some sort launched.

"It's a bit like the common cold. It keeps coming round and then we go back to business. We don't participate in these full stop. We make our own platform and we are focused on driving that into the mobile phone market at large ever more aggressively."

Symbian's recent financial results show it sold 20.4m smartphone software licenses in the last quarter of 2007 and since the company was launched nine years ago more than 165 million phones have been shipped using its platform.

'Deeply unsexy'

Mr Forsyth said there was nothing to indicate that Google's dominance of the web would make it successful as a mobile phone platform provider.

"Search and a mobile phone platform are completely different things.

"It's costly, arduous and at times a deeply unsexy job of supporting customers day by day in launching phones. That's something there's very little experience of in Google's environment.

"if you are a serious phone maker and you are asked to bet your handsets on somebody, you would want to bet on someone with a track record of delivery and support."

Mr Forsyth also questioned whether developers would flock to the system.

"It's very clear what developers want - volume and a stable platform that doesn't keep breaking. You have to have a lot of zeroes in your sales figures before a developer gets out of bed.

"They are talking about having a phone by the end of next year. It's not one that is going to ignite developers."

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