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Showing posts from April, 2009

Spotify Could Mean The End Of Crap Albums

How often have you bought the new album from an artist who you've enjoyed in the past only to find that its loaded with filler, dross and only a couple of decent tracks. Or worse its just complete crap? Its happened to me plenty of times in the past but Spotify and similar services are going to find out those artists, as buyers can get a real feel for an album before ever needing to lay out any money for it. No need to believe the review of a possibly biased music journo, now every release is available for test drive to every potential buyer.

The game keeps changing for the music industry and the power is shifting away from the big businesses that have had a stranglehold for so long and towards the consumer. And the artists? There are real opportunities to take back control from the man, if they're brave enough to reach out and take them.

A-pork-alypse Now

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So Swine Flu has crossed into the UK, giving the press another chance to air the nightmare scenario, scaremongering journalism that last blighted us when Avian Flu raised its head a few years back. If ever there was a case for retrospective punishment for bad journalism this is a prime candidate. Speaking to a member of our local Disaster Management team it sounds like the hype has already started to hit home - having already fielded requests for several thousand face masks from what would normally be sensible people.

Lets get this into some kind of perspective. Every year a flu epidemic kills between 250,000 and 500,000 people a year worldwide (WHO figures) - this is usually classed as an epidemic. In the past there have been a number of pandemics, where death tolls have been tens of millions (Spanish Flu, 1918) or 1-1.5million (Asian Flu, 1957 and Hong Kong Flu, 1968). Thus far we have a death toll from H1N1 (aka Swine Flu) of around 100.

Should Swine Flu develop into an pandemic then…

New Omnia To Sport Sliding Keyboard

Samsung's decision to keep the Omnia branding for Windows Mobile devices suggested that we'd be seeing more touchscreen devices from them.

Looks like the first of those will be arriving soon as the Omnia Pro, sporting heavily upgraded specs, like a faster processor, WVGA screen and a landscape sliding keyboard.

This sounds like interesting competition for the Touch Pro 2 and proved that Windows Mobile remains the platform of choice if you want choice in your hardware.

Launch is slated for June, which sounds like a busy month for smartphones, with both new iPhone and Palm's Pre likely to appear as well.

You Just Have To Laugh...

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OK the potential for a worldwide pandemic is no laughing matter, but this XKCD comic manages to poke fun at ill-informed opinion and Twitter at the same time...

Three Expanding Skype Offering

Three made some headlines with its new Skype tariff this weekend - £3 a month for unlimited Skype calls. If you're a Skype Out user you can also use the service to call abroad although not within the UK.

The service uses Three's voice network to route calls to a Skype gateway, which restricts the number of compatible handsets to those which have a client, which means no Windows Mobile devices or any other real smartphones, for now anyway.

Hopefully Three and Skype will expand the number of clients soon, because this is the sort of service that could gain them significant numbers of new users - especially as second phones for users who make a large number of international calls.

Pedal Power For your Gadgets

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This looks like an incredibly useful little tool for people who may have to spend extended periods away from mains power, not badly priced either. It will also suit those who want to boost their green credentials and burn some excess calories in the process.

The key thing about this charger (other than the fact that you pedal to charge it of course) is that it has an integrated invertor so you can plug any device in using its standard charger. that covers everything from camcorders to TVs as well as phones, laptops and even printers.

As a bonus you can charge the Gazelle from mains or an optional car charger. It also has an integrated torch (which will run for eighty hours on a full charge)

If its used to power the average laptop however, that runtime can drop as low as an hour. Not brilliant, but a possible life-saver if you're going native in a remote area with no mains.

Its a while since I've worked in an area where the Gazelle would have been useful, but were the necessity to …

OQO And The One Trick Pony

The news coming out of OQO looks pretty bleak, with production halted and little prospect of the 02+ shipping unless someone steps in to fund the company.

If you look at some of the comments on my previous post on OQO's predicament you can see all of OQO's problems summed up very nicely. Too expensive, an unpopular keyboard design and a very niche market. Given those issues, plus the squeeze from improving smartphones at the bottom and more usable netbooks from above its little wonder that no-one is rushing to fund the little computer maker.

Ultimately I think the USP of the OQO has been that its a PC that can fit into a pocket, but not enough people saw that as a benefit and even fewer were prepared to pay such a premium to get one.

Strangely the company never looked at introducing a larger, cheaper model which would have given them an additional revenue stream and probably prevented the current predicament. It could also have addressed keyboard and screen resolution issues. The…

Samsung Q1 Ultra, Not A Review

I'm aware that I promised a review on the Samsung Q1 Ultra some time back, but the truth is I've been too busy using it!

There's something incredibly 'right' about the Q1 - its light enough, powerful enough and has enough battery life for just about any purpose. It fulfills two main purposes for me, one is as a notebook replacement when I'm working - I carry the USB keyboard in my case where it takes next to no space - and use it for freehand note taking, presentations and updating documents on the road. Here I make use of Windows Live Sync to keep documents up to date between the Q1 in sync with my office PC.

The other side of the equation is my personal use, where the Q1 has become my primary personal machine. This generally means web browsing, media handling, entertainment and email. I have Firefox setup with the grab and scroll extension to better support the use of the touchscreen for browsing. Spotify and Windows Media Player handle the music side of things…

Wither Vauxhall As GM Teeters?

After pouring billions into the essentially corrupt and culpable banking sector it seems crazy that the government is so reticent when asked to support Britain's ailing car manufacturers.

GM employs more than 5000 people in the UK and countless others are employed in the support industry which has built up around the business. GM is on the point of bankruptcy in the US, whilst GM Europe can survive until June at the latest. The company is desperate to offload its European operations and the chances of any deal being in place in time to save jobs, or indeed a deal which didn't require major job cuts, are very slim.

Which is why the Government needs to step in and takeover Vauxhall now. There's the small matter of the money which needs to be pumped into the business - but against the backdrop of the damage and costs of all those job losses its a small price to pay.

Android Netbook Arrives - But Would You Buy One

$100 for a netbook? Sounds too good to be true doesn't it? Well that's what Skynote expect their new Android powered netbook to cost when it arrives in the shops.

Did you notice the catch there? Android powered means that this is really more of an oversized phone (without the phone hardware) than a true netbook, with a limited choice of software and almost certainly limited hardware compatibility. I should imagine processor and memory specs are similarly restricted - further limiting its usefulness.

There is a place for a device like this, users who just want a bigger keyboard and screen on the move who are happy with the pre-installed software or are planning to work in the cloud will probably get by with this sort of machine. Nearly everyone else will be better off with a Linux or XP powered netbook which wil be capable of so much more. The extra spend will be repaid in spades once you start using it.

Can You Say Conflict Of Interests?

As previously reported, the Pirate Bay founders were found guilty of all manner of bizarre crimes and harshly sentenced, earlier this week. The decision and subsequent punishment provoked some query which, after some poking around has revealed that the judge in the case is a member of two copyright advocacy groups.

Something stinks in the Swedish judicial system and I hope that the moves by the defence team to get a mistrial declared and to restart the legal process are successful. Something tells me this probably won't happen.

Whatever else happens there is certainly likely to be a considerable extension of the legal process, possibly adding two years to the three year appeal process. Which justice won't be done until long after Torrents have been replaced by the next big filesharing system.

Or until musicians/studios and labels find some better methods for competing with 'free'.

Happy St. George's Day

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Seems like the one patron Saint's day we don't celebrate in England is our own. I'm not sure if that's because the English flag has been tainted by its use by bigots, rascists, hooligans and other unsavoury types; but if that's the case its time to reclaim the flag as a source of national pride.

Well today is St. George's day so let's make an effort to put that right. I'm off to slay a dragon...

SPB Releases Mobile Shell 3.0

SPB's Mobile Shell 2.0 has proved to be something of a Windows Mobile hit, by far the most popular application available and even pre-installed by a number of manufacturers to make Windows Mobile a little more consumer friendly.

Having used Mobile Shell 2.0 on my XDA for nearly three months now I can honestly say its one of the most complete applications I've used on any platform - mobile or otherwise.

The launch of version 3 must be a worrying time for SPB - after all they'll need to provide some pretty compelling reasons to get users upgrading. Fortunately a first glance at the new version suggests they have more than achieved that goal - and even pinched a couple of bright ideas from other interfaces. For example the new Lifestyle page is three screens wide and supports the use of widgets (something very Android about that) whilst there is also an Xperia Panels style page switcher which hopefully will allow other developers easy access to add new panels in the future.

All …

Earth Day: Greening The Datacentre

Did you know that IT accounts for around 2% of global carbon emissions annually? Obviously that exact figure will vary depending on the way that your electricity is generated, but even allowing for some tolerance its still a massive number with plenty of scope for improvement.

Perhaps surprisingly, to most people outside IT teams anyway, its not the PC on your desk which is the main offender - the big drain on resources comes from the backend servers which power most businesses. Fortunately there is plenty of scope for improvement here.

I am in the middle of leading my team through a virtualisation program which will provide an enormous reduction in the carbon footprint of my employer - ultimately leading to the decommissioning of around 120 servers to be replaced by 15 much more efficient servers which fulfill the same 120 services via a clever trick known as virtualisation. This works by making one server appear to be many different servers to the rest of the network, whilst protectin…

Earth Day: Preserve And Cherish The Pale Blue Dot

Another reminder, on Earth Day, of how fragile our hold on the universe is; of how we rely on the planet we live in which turns out to be a pale blue dot, even when seen from across the solar system.

This clip comes from Cosmos, Carl Sagan's seminal work and is narrated by the author. Its a moving piece.

Incredible Globes For Earth Day

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Environmental Graffiti has taken Earth Day literally and put together this collection of amazing globes.

Have a great Earth Day and remember, we have the planet on loan from our children and children's children. Let's take good care of it...

Does Palm Have Less Than A Year To Live?

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Financial blog 24/7 Wall St. has an article today detailing 12 brands which is doesn't believe will survive through 2010. Amongst them Palm, about whom the author is especially scathing. Comments like 'Recent research shows that almost no one who owns an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or RIM (RIMM) Blackberry will switch to the new smartphone' and 'The launch of the “Pre” is a disaster in the making' don't make the future of Palm look very bright at all.

However, putting aside Palm's financial plight; proven ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and the astonishing delays in naming a launch date; the Pre has an astonishing chance of success. Firstly you have millions of Palm's existing customers, loyal even when forced to migrate, just itching to get their hands on the next generation Palm device. Add in those people who won't buy an iPhone because of all it represents and those who won't buy an iPhone because it isn't smart enough (OS 3.0 n…

Rise Of The Robots Or Extinction Event

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Pleo - the extremely cute, extremely desirable and apparently extremely popular at the checkouts robotic dinosaur - has been a massive sales success, but still hasn't done enough to save its maker, Ugobe, from bankruptcy. That's a shame, but if sales of 100k+ aren't enough to keep the company trading then you have to wonder what's been going on over there... too many executive bonuses, too heavy a development cost or just incompetent management? Its not like the Pleo was underpriced at £230...

Whatever the tuth this is bad, bad news, following on so closely that of OQO's troubles... let's hope someone buys the tech and keeps churning out intelligent, learning robots... before the whole niche becomes swamped with toys.

Must-see Video, £2m Shell Campaign

Classic F1 Ferraris, blasting through some very recognisable streets. This is a real petrolhead's delight and well worth every penny of the two million quid it reputedly cost Shell to make.

Windows Live Search Rocks Navigation

Its over three months since I've been able to drive, so venturing out for the first time today was something of a daunting experience. It gave me my first chance to try out Windows Live Search on my XDA and contrast it to Google Maps on the iPhone, my previous quasi-navigation setup.

After establishing that all the mechanical bits required for driving still moved and pushed as before, I fired up the XDA and let the GPS establish a fix - around 30 seconds from a cold start, and then searched for my destination by name, not address. Having found the location I was then presented with maps and directions - all very simple and quicker than the iPhone/Google Maps combo.

In use Windows Live Search works better too, if you turn on GPS Tracking you get neat touches like next direction and distance updated live... very much missing from the iPhone and Google Maps. I'd go as far as to say that Live Search is good enough on the XDA that buying a dedicated Sat-Nav package is pointless unles…

O2 Customers Get Starbucks Wifi

If you've got an iPhone contract with O2 the number of places where you can get onto Wifi for free just improved dramatically after Starbucks announced BT Openzone hotspots for its 22 million... sorry, 678 UK shops. That's over 8,000 O2 hotspots now - pretty good, although I think if you read the terms of your O2 contract you'll find that VoIP usage is excluded, so don't plan on making use of your newly downloaded Skype application just yet...

Don't Get Caught By Rebaterus

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Another brilliant Dilbert strip to treasure - remember those rebate promotions only work for businesses if they make it almost impossible to claim your rebate.

Quick Nick Also Slick

Surely the quickest hips in F1...

Google Founders To Follow Pirate Bay Path To Jail?

A court in Stockholm has brought in a guilty verdict against the founders of the Pirate Bay Torrent site, applied fines in the region of £1 million and a prison sentence of one year for each defendant. The four founders are expected to appeal - a process liable to take a number of years and cost all parties heavily.

Now the kicker - the four weren't found guilty of having broken any copyright laws, of having shared any copyright materials, nor of being in possession of copyright material without having paid the appropriate license fee. No, their crime was to provide the service which 'assisted in making copyright content available' - disregarding that those same tools were equally valid for legitimate file distribution - for example the court's verdict which was quickly disseminated by this very method.

Its an interesting concept this, setting a precedent that in Sweden if your tools are used for illegal purposes you are considered an accessory to the crime. So for examp…

OQO Troubles Looking Terminal

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There's something sad about technology companies failing, especially when they have a great product to sell. Sometimes having the product alone just isn't enough and that's looking to be the case for Ultra-PC market leader OQO, as it appears to be stumbling towards a final financial meltdown, leaving customers without warranty or support.

Now onto its third iteration of the 02 model range it seems unlikely that we'll actually ever get to see one - Expansys have pulled its page from their online catalogue and Dynamism aren't showing any signs of getting real stock. Which makes me wonder if OQO has the cash to get these things built.

Anyway, another adventurous company looks about ready to slam into the credit crunch wall. Today's lesson being 'niche markets aren't a good place to be for cash-poor tech business' and it may be a while before they are again.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

'Illegal' photographs taken on camera phones showing the assault on Iain Tomlinson which now appears to have caused his death, will help to bring to justice the newspaper seller's killer.

Illegal? Because the killer was a police officer and the Metropolitan Police has been going all out to ban photography of police officers going about their duties. There are also at least two other incidents now under investigation because similarly illicit photographs exposed the police officers in question.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers? The answer, in London anyway, is that we must all watch them, always. Because their desire for secrecy veils many, many questionable practices.

App Stores Everywhere, But Not A Drop To Drink

So everyone is at it now, seems like you can't have a mobile platform without its own App Store. It works for Apple, right?

There are just so many flaws in the concept I just don't know where to start. The iPhone's App Store is such a unique proposition that attempts to clone it just expose a lack of understanding and imagination on the part of the competition.

First of all lets look at Apple's starting position when it launched the App Store along with the iPhone 3G in July last year.

There were no third party applications officially available except through the App Store. Anyone wanting to buy or sell for the iPhone had to come through Apple. (I'll ignore the small percentage of jailbroken phones here)

All iPhones are substantially the same. In effect there are only three hardware versions to consider: iPhone, iPhone 3G and iPod Touch. 95% of all applications will work on all three - its hard to imagine how many versions of a piece of software would be required t…

Storm 2 To Fix Inadequacies

RIM launched the Storm in a blaze of hype last year, promising what should have been the iPhone's first real competitor, only to post a massive fail, with almost universal dislike for its 'click' screen, lack of Wifi and general speed.

Having taken a bit of a beating RIM are looking to have a second shot at the touchscreen game and it seems like we may see most of those issues fixed.

Lets hope that Vodafone offer existing Storm users a beneficial upgrade program in the same way that O2 did with original iPhone owners.

Button Injured In Horrific F1 Accident

Picture here.

Toshiba Doesn't Get Handheld Devices

The current generation of Toshiba handhelds marks part of the company's second assault on the portable market - and, so far, this one looks as successful as the first i.e. not very...

For example Expansys are now selling the G810 for £169 and the G910 for £199 - astonishing when you consider the specs of the latter, I imagine it will be sometime before you see another WVGA device under £200.

Why is it so cheap? I'm guessing that a number of oddities in the design which have been raised in the few reviews out there, added to the spectacular problems its predecessor suffered haven't helped.

Ultimately, though, the strongest impression I get from Toshiba's latest range is that no-one in the company actually uses their own smartphones.

Which brings us to the TG01, a smartphone so sexy that I'm sure everyone will want one. I just hope Toshiba have got hundreds of these in use around the company and is actively chasing feedback, because another failure would probably mean th…

PSP Headed For Third Place In Mobile Gaming

Given Sony's past crimes against consumers its hard to have any sympathy for them, but its interesting to see how deluded the powers that be in company are. A thinly veiled attack on Nintendo, timed to match the release of the DSi slates Nintendo for failing to address the needs of hardcore gamers in the same way as the PSP.

This seems a bit rich if you consider that DS sales are 200% those of the PSP.

Sony should be rather more concerned by being flattened by the iPhone express. With combined sales of 30m the iPhone and iPod Touch will likely pass the PSP for second place in the mobile gaming market before Christmas at which point you have to wonder how many publishers are going to abandon the platform.

Given the similar problems that Sony faces with its PS3 being beaten by the Wii and Xbox 360, not to mention the complete destruction of its Walkman media players by the iPod, I can't help but wondering how long Sony can continue to compete in these marketplaces before losses bec…

Samsung Mondi Channels The Spirit Of Nokia N810W

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Windows Mobile aside, this new device from Samsung seems to be a complete rip of the Nokia N810W - the WiMax version of the Internet Tablet. Even for those who won't be able to make use of the WiMax (pretty much everyone really) its still a pretty impressive piece of kit, sporting Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, a 4.3 inch screen, qwerty keyboard, 3.0Mpixel camera and 4GB of storage.

Will we see it Europe? Maybe not, but we can hope. It would be nice if the WiMax module was replaced with a HSUPA module for Europe too - making this a pretty promising competitor to the HTC Touch Pro 2...

Palm Shows Emulator

Palm used some of its time at CTIA to show a third party emulator for Garnet running within WebOS. It seems to work quite well - although that shouldn't be too much of a surprise given that Access have been running its own emulator on Nokia's similarly Linux based Maemo platform for over a year now.

The bigger question is whether an emulator is really required. Having initially thought so I I've changed my mind - the Pre's capacitive touchscreen doesn't really support the precision stylus driven interface of the old OS and save for a few specialist applications I don't think there's going to be huge demand for the older OS anyway.

I'm glad that emulation is going to be available but I think Palm made the right decision in leaving it out of the core OS.

Refreshed Windows Mobile Live Client - But Nothing's New?

There's been a big reception to the new Windows Live for Windows Mobile - in fact if you were to read the reactions in some places you'd think it had never existed before. Which is bizarre as it appears to be exactly the same version that I have been using for ages.
I even installed it onto my old Vario II to see if it was any different to the version installed on my XDA Zest and as far as I can tell the only change is a bump in version number from 10.6.0039.1300 to 10.6.0046.0800. Maybe there's been some background tidying up...
If anyone manages to find anything new in the 'new' client I'd be interested to hear from them...

Fair Play For Creators Don't Get It Either

It appears that founders of the Fair Play for Creators don't understand the new digital economy in almost exactly the same way that the rest of the music industry didn't get any other part of the 21st Century.

Following the decision by YouTube to pull music videos from its UK website after failing to agree a price for the content, Billy Bragg, Robin Gibb and Pete Waterman have called on Google to re-instate the videos and start paying the asking price for them.

Sorry guys, but it doesn't work that way any more. Your content is now worth exactly what someone will pay for it, which in this case doesn't amount to very much at all. If you think it can work any differently I suggest that you either partner with someone else or build your own website and sell video streaming from there.

Google has made you an offer that its finances support and the recent removal of the videos from YouTube shows very much that you need Google far more than they need you.

Time to put up or shut…

Palm Pre Looks Better And Better

I've just seen a new demo of the upcoming Palm Pre, including some multi-tasking and background applications and I have to say it just keeps looking more and more impressive.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that we're still waiting for a release date (or any firm news about a GSM release at all).

It really does seem like Palm have got something which will give Apple, Microsoft and Google a real run for their money.

Comscore iPhone UK Usage Report

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Here's some interesting metrics gained from the iPhone usage survey published by Comscore; and one interesting anomaly, which shows how hard it is to really judge the smartphone market and its trends.
75% of iPhone owners use mobile email on their device. Now that seems like a remarkable low figure for a smartphone - especially considering the effort that Apple has made to ensure that everybody can get access to email relatively easily on the iPhone.
80% of iPhone users have browsed the web. Again that seems an incredibly low number given that all iPhone contracts (pre- or post-paid) include a cost element for unlimited internet browsing. Do those users even know this and more importantly do they know that they're paying for something they don't use. You can't even blame O2 here, you could hardly say they've hidden the unlimited data feature.
75% of iPhone owners are male - as against 65% for the rest of the smartphone market. Making it more acceptable to own a smart…

Snap! New Windows Mobile Standard Phone From HTC

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Windows Mobile has one largely un-mentioned feature which places it ahead of the other platforms, especially for corporate buyers: choice.

The launch of the new HTC Snap highlights this, being a qwerty keyboard non-touchscreen phone and arriving when everyone else is concentrating on the joys of touch. Looking like a true successor to the Excalibur (aka S620 or Dash) this is a powerful, well-specified handset that makes a virtue of its touch-free experience. If its as good as the Excalibur then HTC are going to have a winner on their hands - as anyone who has owned one will tell you, the Excalibur was one of the best phones ever produced irrespective of OS.

In terms of form factor Windows Mobile offers touchscreen phones with no keyboard, a front mounted keyboard and a keyboard which slides out from behind the screen; or non-touchscreen phones with a T9 keyboard, phones with a front mounted qwerty keyboard, with vertically sliding hidden keyboard or with a sideways sliding hidden keybo…

Xbox 360 Value Proposition

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In complete contrast to my last post, here's how the same argument about value wouldn't work when comparing the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Off the shelf the two consoles seem to be miles apart in pricing terms, witht the 60GB Xbox 360 costing £169 and the PS3 £299. About the same 80% price difference that seperated the MacBook Pro 15 and the Dell Inspiron.

In this case the Xbox has some missing functionality which can be considered key and makes it harder to say which works out as the better deal. As delivered the 360 lacks the rechargeable battery pack for the wireless controllers, or any way of charging them (£15), comes with only a one month Live Gold trial (£40p.a.) and, for most users today I guess, lacks the Wifi adapter which connects it to your home network(£60). So even if you go for just a single year's worth of Live multiplayer's action the two consoles are almost at parity in price. And considering that the PS3 has BluRay, a bigger hard disk, integrated PSU and c…