Big Tin

Big tin: IT infrastructure used by organisations to run their businesses. And other stuff too when I feel like it…

Happy birthday Simon the smartphone

IBM Simon

IBM Simon

Today, 23 November 2012, is the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first smartphone. The IBM Simon was a handheld cellular phone and PDA that ended up selling some 50,000 units. This was impressive as, at the time, publicly available cellular networks were a rarity.

In fact, at the London launch of the device, I remember wondering how many people would buy one given the high costs of both a subscription and the phone. In the USA, BellSouth Cellular initially offered the Simon for US$899 with a two-year service contract or US$1099 without a contract.

As well as a touch screen, the widget included an address book, calendar, appointment scheduler, calculator, world time clock, electronic note pad, handwritten annotations, and standard and predictive stylus input screen keyboards.

Measuring 203mm by 63.5mm by 38mm, it had a massive 35mm by 115mm monochrome touch screen and weighed a stonking 510g, but was only on the market for about six months. The UK never saw it commercially available.

So while it never really took off, this was largely down to timing: it was ahead of its time and it was soon overtaken by smaller, less well-featured devices that were more affordable.

But when you contemplate which shiny shiny is your next object of desire, think about the Simon, and remember, Apple didn’t invent the smartphone: IBM did.

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Filed under: Business, Consumer, Product, Product launch, Smartphone, Technology, , , , , ,

What’s the prognosis for true high-speed mobile data?

The mobile industry confuses its customers and doesn’t deliver what it promises.

We all talk much about the latest technology, and how it will transform this that or the other element of our personal and/or working lives.

I spent quite a bit of time yesterday talking about LTE — also known as 4G by some, but not everyone, in the mobile industry. It’s known as 4G because it succeeds 3G, today’s iteration of mobile broadband technology. Even though, confusingly, some of it, such as HSPA which can give you as much as 21Mbits/sec is known as 3.5G.

And LTE isn’t 4G technically, because it doesn’t quite meet the definition of 4G laid down by the global standards body, the ITU, according to one analyst I spoke to. So you’ll find LTE referred as 4G or as 3.5+G, LTE-Advanced — which does meet the 4G spec — or just plain LTE. WiMax, incidentally, is 4G according to the ITU. No wonder the mobile industry confuses its customers. There’s a pithy piece about LTE and 4G here.

But that’s all by the by in some ways. The important thing about LTE is that it promises 100Mbit/sec download and 50Mbits/sec upload speeds. If you know anything about the technology, you’ll know that in practice some 25 percent that is likely to be eaten up by protocol and other overheads. You’ll also know that a further 25 percent is likely to be lost to distance losses, cell sharing, and clogged up backhaul networks.

All this is due to arrive over the next ten years. Yes, ten years. Roll-outs are unlikely to start happening in the UK before 2012, more likely 2015.

Except that this is so much hogwash.

I was in the middle of London — yes, challenging conditions due to the concrete canyon effect, but the kind of area in which the mobile industry has to demonstrate its best technology. And the best mobile data rate I managed inside or out was a standard GSM-level 56kbits/sec. This is early 1990s technology.

So if 20 years after its invention and 15 years after its introduction, that’s the best I can get in the middle of one of the world’s leading capital cities, I suspect it’ll be 2025 before I see LTE speeds.

You know what? I’m not sure how much I’ll care by then…

Filed under: mobile, , , , , , ,

Dust to dust…or is that CPUs?

A quick follow-up from a news story I wrote for eWeek yesterday entitled ‘Moore’s Law – Still Driving Down The IT Footprint’.

The story concerned the research by Stanford University professor, Dr Jonathan Koomey, who found that Moore’s Law was active for long before Gordon Moore coined his eponymous observation. Koomey reckons that Moore’s Law will result in the huge growth in mobile devices with fixed computational needs, such as controllers.

Their requirements won’t grow but the growth of smaller, more power-efficient processors will come towards them, to the point where battery life becomes a non-issue.

Then you’ll get ‘dust’, as this fascinating paper posits. Read and enjoy!

Filed under: mobile, Wireless, , , ,

Beware the Skype-iPhone hype-fest

There’s a battle heating up in the burgeoning voice-over-wifi (VoW) space.

On the one hand you have Skype, which has just launched its eponymous app for the iPhone and, despite the almost audible gnashing of teeth from the mobile operators, has reportedly become a hugely popular app for the Jesus phone. Skype is claiming that it’s had a million downloads in two days, and that’s the top download in the App Store. If true, that’s big.

Gnashing of teeth? It’s all about conflict of interest. Skype takes voice traffic and routes it over a Wi-Fi hotspot, or your home or office Wi-Fi network. The mobile operators make no money out of voice over Wi-Fi: they make money out of voice calls and data traffic routed over their cellular networks.

And that’s the attraction of Skype for end users, and why mobile operators have dragged their feet  over the years. Many mobile operator contracts include a phrase that explicitly forbids users from using VoIP applications, for just this reason.

Yet over recent months, some operators have relaxed this stipulation in the face of vociferous end-user protests, via both their wallets and by the generation of poor publicity. End users want no limits on what they can do with their devices and data feeds, while operators want a walled garden that constricts end user choices to those that generate revenue — but they’d still rather have some of your business than none of it.

As a result, Skype is likely to become accepted across all networks.  So what’s the conflict I mentioned at the top of this story? There’s another VoW player in the mobile space, namely Truphone.

This company’s been around for a while but its business model differs from Skype’s in that Truphone reckons its service ‘provides Skype calls outside of Wi-Fi on the iPhone’.

Truphone’s system also allows you to make calls when not in Wi-Fi coverage by routing the first leg of the call over the mobile network — just like a standard call, says Truphone, — and then running the call from there over Truphone’s own network.

The advantage here is that the mobile network’s coverage is always going to better than that of Wi-Fi, a technology whose coverage is measured in metres, not kilometres like the cellular networks.

Is it important? When you compare the hype-fest surrounding Skype to Truphone, possibly not.

So if you want coverage wherever you go and don’t want to pay the extortionate prices charged by mobile operators for calls outside the UK, Truphone is a viable alternative.

The moral? Beware hype-fests: like that surrounding the iPhone, glitz often wallpapers over a multitude of shortfalls.

Filed under: Wireless, , , , , , , ,

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