StratVantage Consulting, LLC — StratVantage News Summary 10/02/01

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StratVantage Consulting, LLC — StratVantage News Summary 10/02/01

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Wireless Almost Usable

User interface guru Jakob Nielsen has been a curmudgeon about wireless devices ever since they started sprouting interactive features. He’s an advocate of the plain and simple, and of intuitive interfaces. So there’s no wonder he hated the phones that make you press the “7” key four times to type an “S”. After his visit to the recent DEMOmobile conference in La Jolla, California, however, Nielsen’s changing his tune, at least somewhat.

First off, he found a number of interesting wireless developments at the conference:

  • iPaq is now the mobile device of choice and was the platform for almost all new services. I’ve noted this trend myself, and that has led to a re-ranking of Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) technology in the TrendSpot this month. According to Nielsen, last year, most start-ups based their systems on Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) phones, which is now widely viewed as a limited and wounded technology. At the conference, virtually all presenters now see WAP as doomed. Nielsen, a strong WAP opponent, agrees: “Think of the hundreds of millions of dollars that could have been saved last year if the VCs had bothered running a WAP usability study .
  • Palm is still around, but used by dramatically fewer services at this year’s conference than last year. Palm’s inability to capitalize on its command lead in PDA sales by offering a decent development environment may have led to its loss of market share. Its primary advantages nowadays are its ubiquity and its smaller size. Plus, it may have been a blunder to offer a proprietary device plug in standard, unlike the iPaq and other Pocket PC PDAs, which use standard PC Cards. Sony may yet be able to morph the Palm into a consumer device, but the ease of programming and porting existing applications onto the Pocket PC platform could well spell the end of Palm’s dominance.
  • The PC is emerging as a personal server that supports a user’s mobile devices, often through its wired Internet connection. This is an interesting new trend, an extension of the PC’s role in synching contact and calendar information. For example, SimpleDevices downloads music to the PC and transmits the audio files wirelessly to the user’s car when it is within range. How cool is that? Nielsen notes that although SimpleDevices can’t support real-time news, it does offer a virtual broadband connection to the car.
  • Cheap humans add value to the network. (Editorial Aside: One of the problems of this world is that there are cheap humans, IMHO).Copytalk and Webhelp both presented ingenious ways of injecting full intelligence into a mobile system,” Nielsen said. “Users simply speak their information request; the system then compresses the audio recording into a data file and transmits it through the Internet, to locations where highly qualified labor is virtually free.” This makes possible all kinds of services, such as a human-powered AskJeeves -like service. According to Nielsen, a human expert at web searching could research the user’s question and transmit the answer back for less than a dollar. Once the answer arrives, it can be converted to speech using text-to-speech synthesis and played for the user.
  • 802.11 is now the wireless connectivity of choice and, according to Nielsen, was used by almost everybody at the conference. This is a big change from last year, when Bluetooth was on the rise. This year, Bluetoon was almost gone, Nielsen said. Followers of the TrendSpot know that I have downgraded Bluetooth consistently over the last three months, and this month is no different. But now there’s a growing feeling that 802.11b, the short range wireless network technology, combined with Voice over IP (VoIP), a technology that routes phone calls over the Internet, could threaten cell phone networks as well. This has given 802.11b a boost in the TrendSpot rankings this month.

Although Nielsen was generally positive about one new device that debuted at the show, Danger Research’s Hiptop (OK, that’s a stupid name alert times two!), he had some criticisms of its user interface. The Hiptop, which people at the show were calling the Danger Device, is a 6-ounce Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and a cell phone device with a a small but readable grayscale screen. The device has a thumbwheel control and a few visible buttons, leaving most of the room for the screen. You can browse the Web (with full graphics), send and receive e-mail and instant messages, or use it as a phone. The Hiptop also lets you take pictures, and play video games and other Java programs. What’s really nice, however, is the teeny thumb keyboard that you can expose by twisting the device.

The bummer for US wireless users, however, is that the Hiptop is a GSM phone, which means only Cingular and Voicestream will be able to sell it here, for about $200. Since GSM networks in the US are just getting started, that means accepting less-than-optimal coverage for the privilege of having the coolest wireless device on the block.

Nielsen is not convinced that tiny keyboards are the solution for mobile devices, putting his bets on improved handwriting recognition (it would have to improve a lot to read mine) and voice recognition. He also doesn’t like trackwheels, calling them unnatural (but then so was the mouse the first time you used it, yes?).

Whether the Danger device becomes the next big thing here will depend a lot on the progress of GSM and its successor, GPRS, in the US. With the first GPRS networks launched recently in China, England, and, incredibly, Seattle , the pervasiveness of this particular device will depend a lot on how quickly wireless network providers build out their networks.

Briefly Noted

  • Shameless Self-Promotion Dept.: I’ve added a new directory to the Directories section of the StratVantage Web site: Email Newsletters. After conducting a fruitless search for a central place listing interesting email newsletters, I decided to establish one myself. I’ve seeded it with newsletters I receive and find useful. If you’ve got a favorite, send it along and I’ll add it.
    StratVantage Directories
  • Nokia Covering Its Bets: As reported in issues of SNS (here and here ), Nokia is very interested in m-commerce (mobile eCommerce). In addition to its joint SmartCover effort with Sodexho and its dual chip test with Visa, Nokia is collaborating with IBM, Luottokunta and Radiolinja to pilot secure credit card payments using a mobile phone wallet application. The participants hope to demonstrate using the wallet for transferring payments and loyalty program information, and WIM (Wireless Identity Module) for making non-repudiated transactions. The parties are in the process of choosing suitable merchants for the pilot, which will start in the fourth quarter of 2001 in Finland.
  • Java on the Phone – Your Desktop Phone: By now my prediction last spring that it would be a while before we saw Java on mobile phones seems pretty ludicrous. Not long after I made the prediction, Korea’s LG Telecom introduced a Java-enabled cell phone in July, Nextel announced a Java cell phone, and Nokia smart phones, available outside the United States, began using Java applications. Now Kada™ Systems has announced that Cisco will build their Java technology into its Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) non-mobile desktop phones. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
    Kada Systems
  • Single Sign-On = Liberty? Nokia, Cisco, Dun & Bradstreet, Sony, Sun and many other companies have announced that they will co-found the Liberty Alliance Project “to create an open, standards-based solution for network identity and authentication to provide single sign-on to the internet and to the mobile Internet.” They propose to do this through a technique they’re calling federated identity. “In a federated view of the world, a person’s online identity, their personal profile, personalized online configurations, buying habits and history, and shopping preferences are administered by users, yet securely shared with the organizations of their choosing. A federated identity model will enable every business or user to manage their own data, and ensure that the use of critical personal information is managed and distributed by the appropriate parties, rather than a central authority.

    Notably missing from the roster of founding members is Microsoft, which wants the world to adopt its proprietary Passport technology. About the name Liberty Project, though: I squirm a bit when I see projects named in this manner. What’s next? The Mom & Apple Pie Project? Nevertheless, it’s way too early to say whether this project will enhance our online freedom or detract from it.
    Project Liberty

  • Too Many Clues: Was I the only one who thought the abundance of clues left by the terrorist hijackers was a little fishy? Apparently not, as an article on Stratfor indicates. The article states that the terrorists, “practiced near-perfect operational planning, coordination and execution before their mission but left behind obvious evidence leading to other operatives who may have supported the hijackings. This begs the question of whether these evidence trails were intentionally left in order to distract U.S. law enforcement from other terrorists.” The article is well worth reading.
  • DoCoMo Starts First 3G Service: With no fanfare, Japan’s DoCoMo has started selling 3G phones that feature video services. The company thus met the timeline it announced late last year. I was among the skeptics that thought they’d never make it. Although the rollout is limited to a 30-mile radius of Tokyo, it soon will spread to other Japanese cities. The service, dubbed FOMA, (Freedom of Mobile multimedia Access), offers download speeds as high as 384Kbps. One of the phones the company is selling has a built-in camera for wireless videoconferencing. DoCoMo sold 4,000 phones the first day.
  • Sprint Stops Whining; Debuts E911 Phone: You never heard such a bunch of whining as the din put up by US wireless carriers about having to meet the FCC’s E911 mandate by this month. Verizon led the pack with detailed whines about how it couldn’t comply. VoiceStream got a waiver. But Sprint has amazed us all by offering an E911-compatible phone right on time. E911 is an FCC rule requiring cell phone network operators to be able to locate a phone within 100 meters. Although Sprint is offering the phone, Samsung’s SPH-N300 GPS-enabled phone, it is not yet supporting it with network services. Nonetheless, way to go!
  • Commitment to Make a Difference: Karen Holtzblatt, a principal of design services consultancy InContext, made the following commitment after the recent tragedy. Many other business people have made the same pledge:
    • When the NYSE re-opened, we bought and will buy stock in a company we believe in (and which gave generously to recovery and victim relief).
    • We will commit people and money to a development project that improves people’s lives.
    • We will fly and attend conferences and business meetings.
    • We will collaborate with colleagues–and competitors–to improve what we make and how we work.
    • We will watch our spending but not make frivolous cuts that hamper productivity.
    • We will invest in helping others secure a livelihood.
    • We will affirm our safety, security, and joy in living by spending on something fun.
    • We will work to help the triumph of openness, tolerance, and understanding over fear, hatred, and violence.


  • Microsoft’s .NET Could Be Virus-Prone: Eric Chien, chief researcher for antivirus firm Symantec, has identified a number of areas in which .NET, Microsoft’s next generation Web services platform, could be even more vulnerable to security threats than existing Microsoft operating systems. Chien said: “There are a number of new threats here, most of which are dependent on how users set their permissions and other security settings.” Another vulnerability is .NET’s ability to run programs in a variety of different languages, many of which currently have no antivirus products available. Chien’s primary worry, though, is that users won’t know how to use the various security resources within .NET to protect themselves. Sounds like good news for Chien’s employer, though.

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