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Aug
06
2010
Apple Travel Apps Frustrate Third-Party Developers Chilton Tippin

Apple taxied onto the runway with patents filed for travel apps, and, while they look pretty snazzy, several third party developers are hoping the U.S. Patent Office will clip the company’s wings.

Apple filed for three different application patents, travel, hotel and high-end shopping in October of last year, but the patents were discovered only recently by Unwiredview.com.

The patent application outlines a way for travelers to control services such as booking reservations, utilizing mobile-phone-based boarding passes, and requesting cabins; it allows the sending of arrival or delay notifications, and helps locate and review dining and entertainment options.

The hotel app describes such services as hotel check-in, access to hotel and in-room services, promotional deals, and more.

And the high-end shopping app provides for users to receive invites to special events, use store locator, view gift guides and catalog different products.

Certain app developers hope that the U.S. patent office will deny the patents because they say Apple is, essentially, upending their market. Since Apple has first priority in approving apps through the app store they are effectively monopolizing the future travel market with these patents.

As unwired review puts it, “This is one scary development. Imagine if back in 1994-96 someone decided to sit back, think about what kind of web services can be provided via the internet, and then decided to patent them.”

Another controversy that the patent request has stirred up involves Apple having used a figure in the request that is a direct copy of a similar third-party app called Where To?.

Though it is argued that Apple was only using the copy as a rough framework to show what the interface for the Apple version of the app would be similar too, it raises concerns because the

Where to? App is only available through the App Store.

“We’re faced with a situation where we’ve to fear that our primary business partner is trying to ‘steal’ our idea and design,” Where to? Designer’s told MacRumors.com.

Furthermore, advocates of free source software say that Apple’s patenting of these travel service mechanisms could put the kibosh on innovative functions in the future; Apple’s patents would block out third party providers, allowing for only one channel of innovation.

Aug
05
2010
Updated: Google-Verizon Talk Net Neutrality Chilton Tippin

UPDATE:Google Denies Net Neutrality Deal with Verizon

Google has publically denied the reports that the search giant was seeking an agreement with Verizon Wireless that was likely to have put pressure on the net neutrality status quo.

A Google spokesperson spoke with the Guardian today and refuted the assertion, saying, “We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain committed as we always have been to an open market.”

Verizon, too, has postured against the statements, saying they desired the incorporation of FCC authority, while maintaining investment and innovation.

 

Google and Verizon are nearing an agreement that will allow some Internet content providers to have priority over others if they are willing to a pay Verizon a higher rate.

For example, Amazon could potentially pay for premium Internet service, which would allow its content to be generated faster on the Web than, say, a blogger who could not afford to pay.

The negotiations between Google and Verizon, which are symbiotic stakeholders because of the Android operating system, could be the forerunner for what is being called a “tiered Internet system,” which operates much like cable television and charges higher prices for premium service.

Under the new agreement, Verizon would be free to regulate its service as it sees fit, without interference from Google, which has until now been a net neutrality advocate.

This diverges from the current mandate of net neutrality, a standard that heralds equal access to all content providers.

Under net neutrality, an individual blog, a corporate Web site and more popular Web sites, such as Amazon or Youtube, all open at the same speed when their respective URL’s are punched in.

The new paradigm, being presaged now by Google and Verizon’s negotiations, would create a fast lane and a slow lane for Internet usage, where the fast lane is reserved for the fee-payers and the slow lane is filled with those unwilling or unable to afford the premium.

Advocates for the tiered system—cable and telephone companies who own broadband—say they need the freedom to manage their systems to ensure the best experience for their customers. This entails, according to the argument, the slowing of some traffic, such as the individual blogger or e-mailer, so that more important traffic can be delivered at greater speeds. In Verizon’s case, phone calls.

Though Verizon and Google only represent two companies in the ISP and content milieu, people involved in the negotiations said their agreement could provide the framework for broader negotiations currently taking place between the Federal Communication Commission and ISP’s.

The F.C.C. wants wider control of broadband, arguing that ceding to much control to the cable companies will result in them favoring some online content and services over others.

AT&T, Verizon and other broadband providers are disinclined to be placed under the rule of the F.C.C. especially when the prospect of premium fees lends itself to greater profits.

On the one hand, should the tiered system come to fruition, consumers are likely to see higher prices for premium Internet speeds. On the other, certain services, like phone calls or Youtube, may become faster and more reliable.

Aug
05
2010
Facebook Buys the Patents of Social Media George Page

On Facebook, when you “friend” someone and can then see their network of friends, there’s a patent for that.  Friendster, the forerunner of online social networks like Facebook, has sold and transferred eighteen of their patents on a broad range of features and capabilities we take for granted in social networking.  The total cost to Facebook for all patents in the deal was $40 million dollars.

Beginning in 2006 when they controlled the social networking market, Friendster began taking patents out on their coding and systems.  These patents range from how a network chooses who it thinks you’ll want to meet, to general and sweeping descriptions of online social networks.

It might be confusing then, if Friendster had these patents then why weren’t there lawsuits against every other online social networking site, including Facebook?  The simple fact is, to Friendster, it wasn’t worth the time, legal fees, bad press, and subsequent scrutiny of Anti-Trust legislation.

This is part of the explanation why the rights of ownership for the building blocks of present day social networking had such a relatively inexpensive price tag.  The other part lies in Facebook’s future.  While a date hasn’t been set, Facebook has been clear that soon they will offer an IPO.

In the past, Friendster never sued over use-without-permission of one of their patents, but who knows what they would have decided to do later on.  So it seems Facebook now owns the rights to the things it’s been using to make it number one.  And with the upcoming IPO, that’s just good due diligence.

Aug
05
2010
Airport Security Enlists Full Body Scanners Chilton Tippin

The Transportation Security Administration is taking a more technologically sophisticated route in detecting potential security threats with whole-body scanners, machines meant to replace the magnetometer metal detectors, which have been in place since the 70’s.

The advanced imaging technology (AIT) takes images of passengers’ bodies and has been aggressively pursued in the wake of the December terror attempt, where explosives devoid of metallic material slipped past metal detectors.

According to the most recent numbers on the T.S.A. web Site, 450 AIT units began deployment in March, which were added to the 142 units already in place.

“The FY 2011 budget request includes $573 million to purchase 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and to operationally staff, operate and maintain 1,000 units, which includes the 500 units we are deploying now.”

This budget request is on track to replace three-fourths of the magnetic scanners at all 2,200 security checkpoints in the 450 commercial airports within the U.S. by the end of 2011.

There are two types of AIT’s currently used by the T.S.A., the backscatter and the millimeter wave. The millimeter wave uses electromagnetic waves to create black-and-white, three dimensional images of the passenger’s body. The backscatter units project X-ray beams over the passenger’s body to generate reflections of the body on a monitor.

(Click here to view the millimeter wave unit image. Click here to view the backscatter image.)

The images, which delve beneath the clothes and produce ghost-like yet detailed negatives of passengers’ naked bodies, are viewed by screeners located in rooms out of sight of the security lines. The officers who view the pictures never see the passengers in real-life, according to the T.S.A.

T.S.A. claims to further protect passengers’ privacy by blurring his or her face as it appears on the image and by rendering the technology unable to store, print, transmit or save the image—though at least one detailed report has countermanded this statement.

The report, conducted by Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), says, among other things, that the machines can save images and that the privacy settings can be scaled up and down among 10 different privacy settings.

Also of note, passengers can opt for a pat-down instead of the screening.

Other concerns arise with the radiation emitted by the backscatter machine. Critics of the machine say airports should employ only the millimeter wave technology, which has been found to be harmless. However, T.S.A. maintains that flyers subjected to a backscatter scan receive radiation exposure equivalent to that of riding on a routine plane flight for two minutes.

Despite the privacy and radiation concerns, most polls reveal passenger approval rates of AIT’s between 74 – and 81 percent.

Gallup, for example, found that 78 percent of air travelers approved airports’ use of AIT’s.

According to the T.S.A., the machines have already been instrumental in detecting items such as pocket knives, small bags of drugs and syringes, which until now may have been too small for detection.

Aug
04
2010
New 4G Networks But Not For Consumers George Page

As phones and wireless device become faster and more powerful, so increases the demand for networks and infrastructure to support them. The main telecom companies are expanding as best they can, but small privately-backed network companies like LightSquared have found opportunities to grab large amounts of the wireless network market.

Networks up to this point have been consolidated among the main providers, with seemingly insurmountable barriers to entry for new, less established companies. However, with the new 4G networks, infrastructure building is still on-going, leaving the market full of opportunity and potential.

LightSquared is taking advantage of 4G by offering a new choice for super-fast wireless internet--in select areas now, and with 95% coverage by 2015. With $7 billion in start-up cash from Harbinger Capital Partners, and Nokia Siemens to build the network, it looks realistic that they could do it.

Though such a large bankroll is uncommon with most of the ambitious new network providers, it’s LightSquared’s business model that really sets them apart. For starters, they won’t be offering 4G service to consumers.

Instead, LightSquared will be providing bandwidth to companies to offer 4G services to consumers. This allows them to reach a lot more people at once, leading to faster expansion. Offerings from LightSquared include white-label network branding--“Wal-Mart 4G wireless internet”--extra bandwidth to smaller telecoms like T-Mobile, and alternative internet sources for companies with wireless products such as the Nook from Barnes & Noble.

While this business model will not directly compete with the main network providers, it will still shake up the American wireless business structure. But LightSquared seesthis as a good thing, fostering more innovation and progress.

Aug
03
2010
Telecom Confronts Poverty and Oppression Chilton Tippin

Telecommunications infrastructure is exploding across underdeveloped nations, giving people the power to leverage their economic activities and to voice their political opinions to degrees that have heretofore been unmatched.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, cell phones are transforming markets by allowing Nigerian farmers to quickly gather market information, saving time and money because they no longer have to travel to distant markets to gather pricing figures.

In India, traditional fishermen employ their cell phones to arrange trades with buyers back at marinas, brokering the exchange of their catch on the way back in to port rather than waiting to do so upon arrival—a small change meaning they can spend more time catching more fish and making more money.

Indeed, telecommunications infrastructure has penetrated underdeveloped and developing countries to an unprecedented extent, and innovative people are finding new ways to harness mobile devices and the Internet for commerce.

The communication revolution entails not only the economic revolution but the social one too, as feature-phone-bearing people from oppressed nations are finally finding the wherewithal to project their voices. And it’s not just the phones. Broadband, importantly, has ushered the Internet into impoverished regions, bringing upon its coattails the liberating media of social networking and search.

One of the most poignant examples occurred following the Iranian presidential election of 2009. Citizens harnessed Twitter’s power to foment thousands of protests following the June election, where incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad allegedly rigged the vote and quelled his popular opponent, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Violent clashes raged across the country. Soon, Twitter was ablaze with Iranians coordinating protests and describing human-rights violations. Citizens of the world tuned in too, conversing with Iranians and showing support.

Similar circumstances can be found in China, in Moldova, in Burundi and more as telecommunications are growing ever-more pervasive and penetrating deeper into the underdeveloped world.

Currently, 28.7 percent of the planet’s population has broadband access. That’s 1.96 billion people. Strictly by the numbers, the continent of Asia’s 825 million users put it ahead of the rest of the world in broadband subscribers, bolstered, of course, by India and China. The Middle East has just over 63.2 million subscribers, while Latin America has 204 million and Africa 110 million.

Over the past ten years the growth of broadband subscribers in these continents has been extraordinary. For example, in 2000 Asia had only 114.3 million broadband users, meaning the number of subscribers has jumped 621.8 percent. Africa’s broadband users rose 2,357.3 percent over that same period.

These numbers, though representative of a positive incline, can be somewhat misleading; the vast majority of people in underdeveloped nations remain beyond the reach of fiber-optic lines.

For example, only 21.5 percent of the population in Asia has broadband access. In Africa, the country farthest behind in the information revolution, only 10.9 percent of the population can access broadband.

By contrast, North Americans enjoy the greatest degree of fiber-optic connectivity, with 77.4 percent of the population accessing the Internet.

In order to expand telecom’s reach in underdeveloped regions, NGO’s, innovators and governments have taken up the banner and are in a constant push to increase broadband’s penetration.

In 2003 and 2005 the UN held a two-part World Summit on the Information Society where telecom-industry moguls and heads of state from 192 countries met to outline a plan to usher the information age into the hands of the world’s poor.

The summit gave the impetus to such projects as “One Laptop per Child,” a pioneering effort to put inexpensive laptops in the hands of impoverished children with the idea that access to the Web will catalyze education. According to the site, the laptop can be produced and donated for $199.

It is through innovations such as these, along with the inexorable march of broadband, that people are becoming connected and freeing themselves from both poverty and the poverty of unawareness.

Thomas Paine once said, “But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.”

The communications revolution is allowing for just that: the appearance of truth.

Aug
02
2010
Smart Phones Changing the Credit Game George Page

In a move guaranteed to shake the halls of finance, smart phones like the Android Apple’s iPhone will soon be able to make credit purchases in lieu of plastic cards. For the consumers, this will give another, more convenient option for shopping, but for Credit Monoliths like Visa or MasterCard, it could mean a loss of billions in transaction fees.

Consumers use their smart phones often to make online purchases or app purchases, so it seems a natural progression to buy with their phone at face-to-face transaction points. In the works are apps to manage multiple cards, live spending reports, and even “buy and tip” style purchasing for restaurants and the like.

Where smart phones are changing the game is in the long-established credit networks, responsible for handling over 50% of sales transactions in the last year alone. Normally, as with a plastic or “dumb” card, there are transaction fees amounting to 1-2% of the sale that the seller must pay. Last year, these “interchange” fees totaled to around $44 billion. When smart phone transactions are introduced, they will take a significant cut of this from the credit card companies.

Smart phone transactions must still have a credit company behind the sale, and currently Discover is working with AT&T and Verizon to do credit transactions through their networks. T-Mobile will be joining as well in a minority-share capacity.

As far as costs go, the wireless chip will add $10-15 dollars to the manufacturing cost of each phone, as well as $200 to vendors for a smart-phone-reading unit. There is room to wonder though, why the additional costs wouldn’t be absorbed by credit card companies as operating costs, instead of passing it on to consumers and vendors, then charging again for the privilege of using the new equipment.

However, with smart phones just now entering the picture, it will be some time before we see how the landscape will look when it’s all said and done.

Jul
29
2010
Airline Travel Rebounds while Airfares Climb Chilton Tippin

The past decade for the airline industry has been a spiral into near oblivion.

ATA president and chief executive, James May, described it as “the lost decade,” as, first, fear of terror choked out travelers, then, fuel prices spiked coming into a global recession that left people pinching pennies and airlines gobbling up all profits from the previous decades just to stay afloat.

Now, the carriers appear to be finding their first warm embrace in summer 2010.

Southwest airlines reported a $112 million profit in the second quarter 2010, a 23 percent jump that surpassed forecasts.

Last week, Delta Air Lines posted its best second quarter since the advent of the lost decade. The carrier profited $467 million from the previous year’s loss of $257 million.

In fact, it is predicted that all U.S. airlines will end 2010 in the black, a surprising assessment given the losses in 2008 and 2009.

The factors bolstering the turnaround are simple supply and demand. When the economy was in its stupor people weren’t flying. The airlines were forced to ground more flights to cut costs. This resulted in a degrading feedback cycle. Now that the economy is making a run, more people are taking to the skies.

Business travelers lead the way as companies allotted more money for travel after the difficult recession. Then more and more leisure travelers came out for the summer travel season. All resulted in less planes being grounded and now airlines have the demand to fill capacity.

The result, now, is an increase in fares driven by the demand. US Airlines’ first-quarter-2010 fares rose 4.7 percent to a nine-year high.

Along with higher fares, summer travelers can expect greater crowds, delays and planes filled to the brim thanks to capacity discipline—all byproducts of the rebound.

Jul
28
2010
FCC Changes Mind on Broadband George Page

The Federal Communications Commission has redefined the classification of “broadband internet”, raising the minimum download limit from 200Kbs to 1Mbs. However, this change the FCC said is “long overdue”, has sparked discussions about telecom monopolies and pricing models, and put the subject of net neutrality center stage.

200Kbs is an eleven-year-old limit set by the FCC in the days when Dial-Up internet was how the majority of Americans accessed the internet. While changing the definition may seem small and irrelevant to most people, it is actually a powerful tool in this online social media and internet-integrated world. Previously, Internet Service Providers were able to use the low definition of broadband to minimally conform to the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to provide affordable, high-speed internet to every American.

But even as the US internet infrastructure is becoming stronger and less expensive, ISP and telecoms are raising prices--ATT’s new $25 for 2 gig/month data plan for example. And while higher on internet speeds has brought out telecom complaints of additional expenses to build infrastructure to match, it also revealed telecom pricing and control strategies for tiered access to the internet. Throttling access to the internet is a violation of the freedom of internet, Net Neutrality Act.

While the only concrete occurrence is a higher broadband speed definition, with the upcoming Google Fiber Network and the fierce telecom pricing wars, it will be a while before the full impact is seen on the face and structure of the internet.

Jul
28
2010
AT&T to Provide Windows Phone 7 Chilton Tippin

AT&T has made an aggressive bid for the Windows Phone 7, repeatedly supporting the technology and Microsoft’s progress.

Now, AT&T has announced that they would be the main provider of Microsoft’s upcoming device.

“We’ll be the premier carrier for Windows Phone 7,” a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to PC World.

The assertive statement shows more confidence than other providers—most conspicuously Verizon—who are likely hanging back to see the results of the launch before jumping headlong into the fray.

Perhaps even more telling have been reports that AT&T signed up to buy 8 million WP7 devices last week. The buy would add a massive portion to the 49.1 million smartphones currently in use in the U.S.

Both Verizon and Sprint-Nextel have kept mum about their plans for the WP7.

While Verizon and Microsoft likely have some latent rancor after the Kin capitulation, all carriers are likely poring over reactions by developers, weighing their reviews and testing the WP7’s merit.

Some of the outstanding demerits with the WP7 include the lack of multitasking, no copy-and-paste and not native twitter agent, according to ComputerWorld.

The AT&T announcement comes amid clamor that AT&T’s soon-to-be-expired contract for the iPhone will result in other providers selling the device, which has been the engine propelling AT&T to the number two spot among cell phone providers.

A steadily-swelling wave of discontentment with AT&T from iPhone users has prompted speculation that the exclusive contract will end in late 2010, which is when the WP7 is slated for release.

However, recent reporting reveals that the contract, signed by the companies in 2007, was not to expire until 2012. It is unknown whether that contract has been amended.

 

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