Google Custom App Creation Software

Google unrolled a new software program today allowing people to design their own apps for Android.

Google App Inventor allows users to create their own apps by splicing together different combinations of images or “blocks”, each meant to represent a certain function and each in-lieu of developing code.

For example, a person could use the GPS-location-sensor block to help remember where they parked their car. Or they could use a block that tells their phone to text their loved ones, “I miss you” every three hours. Or, they could splice the two blocks together to create an app that texts loved ones their location every three hours.

According to the App Inventor Web page, “The App Inventor team has created blocks for just about everything you can do with an Android phone, as well as blocks for doing "programming-like" stuff-- blocks to store information, blocks for repeating actions, and blocks to perform actions under certain conditions. There are even blocks to talk to services like Twitter.”

The App Inventor team has been working on the tool for about a year, and it has previously been opened for testing by schoolchildren and college students, none of whom are computer science enrollees.

Google hopes that making the programming foundation available to the masses will help speed app development and bring fresh new app ideas to the table.

With the new tool users can begin today and start making games like WhackAMole, draw pictures , or develop apps with educational and informational merit. For example, “You can create a quiz app to help you and your classmates study for a test. With Android’s text-to-speech capabilities, you can even have to phone as the questions aloud.”

The App developer requires no programming knowledge, “You visually design the way the app looks and use blocks to specify the app’s behavior.”

NTP Sues Smartphone Companies Over Email Systems

NTP, a patent holding company, is attempting to dig into the deep pockets of the big-name smartphone companies with a lawsuit alleging that the companies are illegally using NTP’s patented technology.

NTP is best known for the several rounds of litigation that it went through with Research in Motion, the company providing e-mail software and hardware for Blackberry, ending in 2006. The litigation resulted in the patent company walking away with $600 million in settlement money.

The new suit, which is aimed at Apple, Google, HTP, LG and Motorola, charges that these companies are using technology patented by LTP to run their e-mail systems.

NTP was founded in 1992 by Thomas J. Campana Jr., an inventor and engingeer and Donald E. Stout, a lawyer. According to the New York Times, Campana patented several devices, spanning from antennas used on mobile devices to wireless e-mail.

It is NTP’s claim that Campana invented wireless e-mail, therefore, making it the intellectual property of NTP.

Analysts and lawyers say NTP could potentially make hundreds of millions of dollars. But it could also make far less because the technology and product designs have changed drastically since they were first conceived by Campana in the mid 90’s. 

NTP’s argument is that the modern systems run on the foundation of those patented by NTP.

However, the smartphone makers may have deliberately avoided building their smartphone e-mail systems off of those licensed by NTP with the lesson learned from the Blackberry settlement.


Studies Highlight Shift in Mobile Phone Usage

As cell phones become ubiquitous and multifaceted, the ways in which we use them is dramatically shifting.      

According to a survey by RingCentral, more business professionals would rather give up their morning cup of coffee than their smartphones, and Smartphones rank alongside having intimate relationships as the number one thing respondents couldn’t live without.

Smartphones are starting to trespass on the computer’s territory as well, with 34 percent of respondents saying they use smartphones more than computers to do business.

A new survey by the PEW research group shows a dramatic increase in the number of people who use cell phones to access the Internet from 2009.

According to the study, 40 percent of American adults use the Internet, e-mail or instant messaging on a mobile phone (up from 39 percent of Americans who did this in 2009).

And the demographics from the PEW study are of interest too. “Cell phone ownership is higher among African-Americans and Latinos than among whites (87 percent vs. 80 percent).”

Minorities tend to use a broad array of features offered by the phones. Sixty-four percent of African-Americans access the Internet from a laptop or mobile phone, an increase from the 57 percent who did so in 2009.

As smartphones become more versatile and companies increasingly position themselves to augment data downloading services, it is likely that “smart” will increasingly supplant “phone” as the reason people carry their mobile devices.

According to ComScore, Data revenues, which come from Web browsing, messaging and wireless application downloads are more-fertile revenue streams than money coming from phone usage.


HTC to Ship 24 Million Smartphones

HTC Corporation, the Taiwan-based manufacturer of smartphones that brought consumers popular devices such as the Droid and Evo, may ship 24 million smarphones in 2010, according to a report by Digitimes.com.

The 24 million mark will come as the result of HTC shipping 60 to 70 percent more phones than they did in the first half of 2010 in the second half, an indication of the surging popularity of the Android operating systems and smartphones in general.

According to the report, “no component suppliers believed [reaching 24 million] was possible at the time with plenty of uncertainties still surrounding the global economy.”

In June 2010, however, HTC released sales results tallied at $741.392 million for that month alone, up 66.68 percent from the same month a year earlier, according to a separate report by Digitimes.com.

HTC placed its hopes in the Android Mobile OS two years ago, a move that was risky at the time—even with Google backing it—but the gamble appears to be paying off.

The company posted $268 million in profit for the quarter that just ended, a one-third increase over the same quarter last year.

In April alone HTC sold 4.5 million devices, outpacing Apple during that month, which likely had purchases of the 3GS drop off as users anticipated the iPhone 4.

Orders are supposed to increase during the third quarter, which is traditionally the peak season, and sources from the company say they weren’t even able to fulfill all order requests during the first half.

iPhone 4 Problems Mount but Apple Stays Strong

 

The problems for the iPhone 4 seem to be thickening quicker than everything except Apple’s revenues.

First, a firestorm across the Internet sparked by early iPhone 4 adopters decried the device for having issues with the signal when the phone was gripped in a certain way.

Later, Apple released a letter describing the problem as a software glitch, saying that the device was incorrectly programmed to display more bars of service than it actually had.

According to the release, “Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars.”

Many people found Apple’s response to the antenna dilemma to be more a prevarication than explanation.   Several Youtube videos and engineers say that the signal does indeed drop when the antenna is touched on certain points; an assertion that Apple does not deny in the letter.

Therefore, the explanation that Apple gives cannot discredit the fact that the signal is dropping. In fact, the only thing the explanation does is point out the software programming mistake—an issue independent of the actual signal decreasing.

In addition, a class action suit has been filed against the company for offering a product they “knew to be faulty” and for false marketing practices, among other allegations.

More recently, a thread that was opened on the Apple Support Page—and has ballooned to 70 pages at the time of this writing—describes problems with the proximity censor. Users are saying that the sensor, meant to turn the touch screen off while the phone is held to the ear, in many cases, cannot tell whether to turn the touch screen off or leave it on. This results in several people muting calls, enabling face time, or accidentally hanging-up during their conversations.

Now, iPhone users have been reporting a sharp decrease in uploading speeds

According to Wired.com, iPhone users began reporting the drastically slowed speeds over the weekend. Uploading speeds have been reportedly well below 100 Kbps, a noteworthy pitfall when on Friday they were around 525 kbps.

Some users have been describing the occurrence as a cap set up by AT&T, but at the moment there is ambiguity in what the cause is. It could be a new network-imposed cap or a network problem, according to Wired.com.

A spokesperson for AT&T told media outlets that the company would comment on the issue later.

 

Google Purchases ITA Software for Airline Searches

Google will be taking a more prominent role in airfare and airline searching, announcing on July 1 the purchase of ITA Software, a flight information software company, for $700 million.

ITA has existed for 17 years and provides flight-price aggregating services for sites like Kayak, Orbitz and Hotwire.

Google plans to use the software to improve the way people can search for flight information, allowing fares, times, dates and actual flight plan searches to display on the Google page without people having to go to travel company or airline Web sites.

This is yet another example of how Google is altering their modus operandi. Where previously Google focused on directing traffic to Web sites, it is increasingly providing content to Internet searchers directly.

Similar to the directly provided airfare searches, Google provides content such as weather, shopping information and local restaurant information.

Google’s acquisition of ITA is pending clearance from antitrust enforcers who may look to reign in the search giant, which currently controls 63 percent of the American search market.

Many key players in the $132-billion-a-year travel industry worry that Google’s entering the market will rattle things up too much.

According to The New York Times, companies such as Kayak, Expedia and Microsoft may lobby against the acquisition during the antitrust proceedings, and some airlines may pull against the merger too.

The Times article explains that airlines are leery of how Google will display the information on search pages; they scorn the idea of having to pay for their Web sites listed among Google’s own results.

However, Google claims in a press release announcing the acquisition that the move will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by “making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines’ and online travel agencies’ Web sites.”

According to the Times article, the service will allow customers to ask open-ended travel queries like, “Where can get within seven hours and within this price?”

Microsoft Kills Kin T-Mobile Halts Sidekick

When the smoke cleared on the cell-phone battlefields today, one mobile line was found dead and another in terminal condition: The former, Microsoft’s Kin; the latter: T-Mobile’s sidekick. Microsoft killed the Kin today after allowing only 48 days for customers to test its metal in the open market. The product, which according to the New York Times took developers two years to develop, was apparently slugging off the shelves in such a listless manner (less than 500 since May, according to BBC) that Microsoft saw fit to snip its losses.

The T-Mobile Sidekick, a flip-phone that’s been on consumers’ hips since 2002, is set to be discontinued tomorrow.

According to the report given CNET, whom T-Mobile first spoke of the discontinuation with, “T-Mobile looks to further innovate and raise the bar for the next generation of the T-Mobile Sidekick.”

For Microsoft, the Kin was supposed to carve out the younger market with easy-access to social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter; however, it fell short in competing with the powerful Apple products, and joined the bone-yard alongside the Microsoft Courier Tablet, which was meant to compete with the iPad. (If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry. It never hit the shelves).

According to Microsoft, the decision to unplug the Kin was an attempt to rearrange their mobile man-power and put all of the momentum behind the Windows 7 operation.

Microsoft slashed Kin prices from $200 to $50 for the high-end version and from $150 to $30 for version without the trimmings before discontinuation. It will not be shipping the models to Europe either. With the cell phone market still vastly untapped, the cell-phone battles will likely intensify, especially as the Android systems catch hold and make a stand against Apple.

Stay tuned for details.

Cius Elbows into Tablet Market

Cisco announced plans for a new tablet called the Cius—pronounced “see us”—yesterday, which will be targeted for businesses as end-users and released for sale next year.

The 1.15 pound device sports a 7-inch screen and permits workers to connect to Cisco applications like WebEx and TelePresence, allowing them to participate in videoconferences and share documents via the screen.

According to the San Francisco Chronicler, it is “in essence a portable communications and collaboration platform.”

The Cius will run a version of the Android operating system and is compatible with Wi-FI and 3G services.

The Cius is equipped with two cameras: a 720p high-definition webcam on the front and a 5 megapixel camera on the back for still images and video.

According to an article in the New York Times, Cisco is talking about the tablet now in the hope that developers will begin creating business software for the product.

Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice-president of the company, told the Times that the Cius could replace the need for a desktop computer on each employee’s desk. The device runs on an Intel chip—one that usually powers laptops—and has hook-ups to connect it to a monitor and keyboard.

The Cius will arrive on I.T. desks with security and management controls that can be tweaked and customized in great detail, a clear bid to give the device an edge over more consumer-oriented products.


White House Nearly Doubles Broadband

President Obama signed a presidential memorandum on Monday that will facilitate the auctioning off of 500 megahertz of spectrum for commercial use, a move that will nearly double the amount of airwaves available.

The move comes on the coattails of mounting FCC concern that current levels of wireless broadband won’t be able to keep up with increasingly popular smartphones, which use broadband spectrum to send and receive video and data.

According to the New York Times, some aspects of the memorandum could cause discontent among television broadcast companies, who will be asked if they can auction off some of their broadband for access.

However, National Economic Council Director Lawrence H. Summers expressed optimism for the plan, saying it should catalyze economic growth through the auctions and investment in wireless technology.

Summers also said proceeds will go to improving communication for police, fire and other public safety agencies, and to improving projects such as high-speed light rail.

The broadband will be salvaged in part from government agencies, such as the Defense Department, who may not be using all of their allotted broadband, and also from broadcasters and other spectrum licensees who already have spectrum up for grabs and are willing to part with it for incentives.

Healthcare Finds Hope in Telecom

A summit met in San Diego on Monday to brainstorm the merging of healthcare and telecommunications technology, a field known as “mobile medicine,” which is quickly gaining momentum.

The summit, called mHealth, was hosted by the World Economic Forum and lured over 700 innovators from both the telecom and healthcare industries to discuss a collection of business and consumer practices that should be pivotal in redefining healthcare.

At a time when the funding for the Obama Administration’s plan for health reform relies on the leveraging of technology, and with a proposed $10 billion set aside per year over the next five years, the role of telecom as a steward in the collective health of the nation is set to spike.

Obama’s administration maintains that investing in electronic health information systems and improving access to prevention and disease management programs will keep doctors efficiently informed and people out of the hospitals, two measures that are key to long-term healthcare sustainability.

According to a press release from the administration, a study by the Rand Corporation reported that if most hospitals and doctor offices adopted electronic health records, up to $77 billion of savings would be realized each year.

Telecom can play a big part in those savings.

Take, for example, devices such as the wireless blood monitor, a machine with internal components set to measure a patient’s blood pressure and send alerts back to his or her physician. The physician will be alerted in times of emergency and will have detailed information tracking the patient’s vitals.

Other products and apps abound, from hundreds of healthy eating applications people have downloaded on their smartphones to wireless-complete-health-monitoring systems that connect with physicians and measure activity levels, blood pressure and weight.

 All of these technological features serve to keep patients healthy while minimizing costs of actual visits to the doctors.

Companies such as WellPoint have organized programs where members can consult health care specialists through telecommunications media such as text messaging and video chat.

According to an article in the IndyStar, WellPoint, an Indianapolis health insurance firm, is reminiscent of physician house calls, only this time with doctors coming to patients in the virtual rather than physical realm.

Physicians will be able to speak with patients in real time to review symptoms, prescribe medicine, schedule follow-ups and review medical information over the Internet or telephone.

A good indicator of the growing “mobile medicine” field is the Ontario Telemedicine Network. The OTN was founded four years ago by the government of Canada and uses two-way videoconferencing and telediagnostic equipment to connect patients in one location to doctors in another.

In four years, the network has grown to facilitate 102,781 patient consults in fiscal year 2009/10, a 91 percent increase over the previous year, making it one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world, according to a June 15 press release.

As innovations increase and consumers become more aware of the products, accessibility and ease-of-use associated with such innovations, the telecom revolution should pick up momentum in the realm of healthcare, enhancing consistency and efficiency.