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RIM Demoing the Value of NFC-Enabled Devices

I admit it: I’m really curious to see how NFC technologies are adopted by various vendors and developers. To date, however, the integration has been poor and what adoption there has been tends to focus on payment solutions. Payment solutions scare the crap out of me because they increase the reasons attackers have to compromise my phone: it’s bad enough they want my personal information; I don’t want them after my digital wallet as well!

RIM has a neat bit of technology they’ve recently released, which leverages the NFC functionality in their new phones with Bluetooth pairing systems. Specifically, it enables rapid syncing between phones and audio-output devices (i.e., speakers). While the product is pretty “meh” as released today, it could be pretty exciting were vehicle manufacturers and speaker manufacturers to generally integrate NFC-pairing capabilities with their respective products. It’s presently a pain to listen to music stored on a mobile through vehicle speakers (using Bluetooth) or a friend’s speakers in their home. RIM has offered a partial solution to the Bluetooth pairing problem; now it’s up to the larger ecosystems to actually integrate RIM’s idea in a omnipresent and highly functional way.

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Research In Motion to Further Improve Antennas

From The Telecom Blog we learn that RIM has acquired Paratek Microwave Inc. Paratek is:

a company whose adaptive radio-frequency technology improves mobile-handset call quality and battery life. It’s believed that RIM may leverage this acquisition to improve the overall performance of its next generation BlackBerry smartphones.

General Partner of Polaris Venture Partners Alan Spoon believes RIM would benefit immensely by integrating Paratek’s game changer technology into mobile phones. He says the technology allows mobile devices to upload and download large amounts of data faster, making for longer battery life, which coupled with Paratek’s innovative design, leads to a small form factor. More importantly, the Tunable RF reduces dropped calls and allowing reliable data flow across multiple frequency bands, thereby providing an overall enhanced mobile user experience.

One of the reasons that I left behind my Window Phone 7 was its incredibly poor reception. It’s the only smartphone that I’ve owned that regularly dropped calls and made hearing calls a challenge. The iPhone that I used previously was acceptable, but not great: when I had to make, or receive, an important call I found a landline.

I don’t have to find landlines with my 9900. The call quality is terrific. While call quality isn’t something I really would have cared about a few year back – I rarely called people or received calls, and when I did they were usually personal in nature – I do care today because of the various professional calls I make on a daily basis. While the Blackberry isn’t as fun to play on it’s a far more reliable professional tool.

Not having to hunt down a landline saves me a ton of time, and I’m incredibly pleased to see that RIM cares enough about further improving call and signal quality that they are snapping up companies who can bring advantages to their smartphone environment.

I Like The Apps, But Not The Design

A new version of the iPad is coming. The latest ‘craze’ around this version is whether or not it will come with a home button. To date, there’s been one particularly strong ‘In Defence of the Home Button’ post by Dave Caolo, which is effectively a listing of all the functions that Apple has tied to the singular button at the bottom of each iDevice.

This button isn’t going anywhere. And that’s really unfortunate, because better – or at least equivalent – options are out there.

The PlayBook is seriously lacking on apps. SERIOUSLY LACKING. But the hardware design of the device is stunning. I don’t need to pay attention to what is up, down, left, or right because of how RIM has integrated the bezel functionality. For a quick overview of the bezel options, check out the video below:

This isn’t to say that the Playbook is a winner hands down. Apple’s home button is linked to variety of accessibility options which are lacking on the Playbook. Also, Apple has a series of gestures that enable similar features as the Playbook, though I’m far less impressed at how they’re integrated. Because of how awkward these gestures tend to be, I tend to just use the home button, which can be incredibly inconvenient depending on the iPad’s orientation at the time.

My dream would be Apple getting creative and bringing the hardware design leadership of the Playbook to the app-rich iDevice environment. I’m not holding my breath through.

Video

This is an interesting proof of concept being demoed by RIM. It’s certainly not practical at the moment – requiring an overhead camera means it only really works in mobile/fixed testbeds – but it is cool. The next step, beyond building buzz of course, is to figure out how to make this kind of technology useful to the consumer. Still, it’s good to see RIM demoing the ‘cool stuff’ they’ve been privately researching. Hopefully we see more of these kinds of demos in the future to build a rebuild the beleaguered company’s public image.

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Let’s Say It Together: Apple Is Not A Security Company!

I sympathize with people’s concern and anger when they learn more about Apple’s atrocious APIs that let developers run off with consumer data. In the most recent revelation

Accepting an iOS prompt that asks permission to access location data can also allow copying of private photo and video libraries, the Times said yesterday. Because these devices often save coordinate information along with photos, it might also be possible to put together a user’s location history, as well as recording current location.

Apparently in an attempt to make photo apps more efficient, access to private photos has been available since the fourth version was released in 2010.

All of this, however disturbing it might be, make a lot of sense. Apple is a consumer company that aims to engineer products so that users can best enjoy them. This means they don’t want to throw a whole lot of security warnings in front of you, for two reasons: First, you’ll just ignore them anyways; second, they’ll annoy you and thus could reduce your iDevice usage.

Very few mobile companies ‘do’ security. The much-maligned Research In Motion is actually about the only mobile company that sells its products on security grounds, though the need to have secured code reduces the rate that they can bring new, highly innovative, product to market. Consumers, businesses, governments, and the market point to their slower rates of innovation as indicative of RIM’s forthcoming doom, but in so doing miss that the ‘cost’ of RIM’s death would be a near-absolute dearth of secured mobile platforms.

If you’re interested in reading about the economics of ignorance and mobile security, check out a piece that was written last year on this very subject.

I get that indexing encrypted backups is a royal pain in the ass, and that doing this well is challenging to boot. That said: the notion RIM would provide discrete, encrypted, backups of the PlayBook rather than solving the problem of indexed backups is absolutely absurd.

Even in an era of 500GB+ hard drives, ‘paying’ 13GB+ for each backup is ridiculous; this kind of storage cost simply doesn’t lead to a sustainable long-term backup schema (especially when you head north to 55GB+ backups). Most users, in response, will dial back to non-encrypted backups and thus reduce the security profile of what is meant to be a secure device. This is incredibly bad form for RIM, made worse by the company’s (often contrasting) focuses on (a) consumer markets; (b) professional – and thereby more security-conscious – markets.

Apple had the same problem with storing encrypted disk profiles in the previous iteration of their operating system – OS X Snow Leopard – though this was resolved in Lion. While the lessons learned by Apple likely are not perfectly equatable to RIM’s own situation, RIM needs to move the ball ahead if they are to simultaneously deliver to their dual markets. At this point they cannot afford to satisfy only one market or the other and hope to remain competitive.

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parislemon: What If… (Office For iPad Edition)

parislemon:

Watching the back-and-forth yesterday about the whole Microsoft Office for iPad thing was nothing if not amusing. The basic rundown:

It’s coming, here it is.” “That’s not it.” “Yes it is.” “No it’s not, but we didn’t say it’s not coming.” “A Microsoft employee showed it to us.” “No…

MG has an interesting analysis on what Office for iPad might mean. I have to admit, if MS partners with Apple to bring real office software to the iPad then another sword will be levied at Google’s throat. I still – as a professional writer – despise using Google Docs for anything but the most minimal tasks: it just doesn’t meet my requirements for ‘real’ word processing.

The takeaway? Office would add to the ‘professional’ status of the iPad without taking away from the iPad’s ‘consumer friendly’ branding. This would further exacerbate the issues that Google’s tablets face while simultaneously challenging RIM’s own advertising that the PlayBook is ‘the’ tablet for professionals. It would definitely be a coup for both companies against their competitors, and so well worth watching for.

A Comment on GPS and Smartphones

There are a great number of concerns around GPS chips being integrated into smartphones; surveillance, third-party tracking, and profiling (to say nothing of bad results!) are all issues that technologists ‘in the know’ warn of. I don’t want to talk about any of these issues.

No, I want to say this: of the smartphones that I’ve used in the past 6 months (iPhone 3GS, Samsung Focus, BlackBerry Bold 9900, BlackBerry Torch 9800) the BlackBerry devices have the most reliable, accurate, and speedy GPS functionality. The Focus was unreliable, at best, and while the 3GS’s UI was the best it was slower and less accurate than what I enjoy with the aforementioned BlackBerry devices.

For many people the GPS is a nicety, icing on the cake. For me, I rely on my GPS and maps integration to get from points A to B. The integration between Google Maps and the iPhone was excellent, if not the fastest. Integration on the Windows Phone was poor, largely because they missed my market: I’m a conscientious traveller and so prefer public transit. Windows Phones are absolutely unable to parse transit information in any of the major or minor cities I’ve visited over the past several months. If they can’t even do a non-US world city then the integration is not ready for prime time.

While the Google Maps/GPS integration on BlackBerry has an archaic UI – it really, really, looks like it was developed several years ago (because it was) – it’s fast and reliable. UI beauty is of critical importance for getting novices to use new technologies, but UI alone is insufficient to sell consumers on the value of a device over the long term. On this basis the Windows Phone OS failed outright and iOS trailed the ‘older’, ‘archaic’ and ‘aging’ BlackBerry OS 7.1 device I’m using right now.