It’s Fun to Stay at the C*T*I*A

8. April 2009

After January’s CES, Las Vegas this year has once more become the focal point of the computer and telecommunications industry.  From April 1st through 3rd, international trade association of mobile telecommunication CTIA (abbreviating “Cellular Telephone Industries Association” originally) held the CTIA Wireless — one of the biggest and most significant international trade shows and congresses of the branch. 

According to media reports, in contrast to last month’s CeBIT in Hannover, this year’s CTIA Wireless and its 1,000 exhibitors hardly showed any moods of crisis. Quite the contrary: In their keynotes, the participating industry leaders such as Verizon-CEO Ivan Seidenberg or T-Mobile-CEO Robert Dotson virtually fell over one another to launch euphoric superlatives and enthusiastic predictions for the future. Figures frequently cited were the current 270 million of US-American subscribers of wireless services (87% of the population) as well as the tripling of sent SMS and MMS within the USA, compared to the year before, to a current 3.5 billion… per day. Seidenberg and colleagues even went as far as to not only certify the wireless business a remarkable resistance against the current global financial crisis but, above that, the capability to end it!

Mobile devices more and more become an integral part of people’s lives, having long gone beyond merely being some handy accessory. In logical consequence, mobile marketing is in the midst of overtaking online marketing via Internet. It’s due to this that the organizers chose “Mobile Life” quite fittingly as the motto of this year’s CTIA Wireless.

Specifically, the show revolved all around apps, apps and even more apps.  Thanks in particular to integrated application download portals like Apple’s AppStore or the Android Market, throughout the last twelve months a downright deluge of mobile software innovations has emerged. That’s a trend Blackberry-makers RIM want to join, and thus they presented the official AppStore-equivalent for Blackberries, named App World. Another highlight of the show was the long-desired Skype for iPhones, the US-service for which is planned to go on line in May. (However, it’s still open, in how far cell phone carriers will support this. In Germany, for instance, T-Mobile want to block Skype on iPhones they distribute. When it’s about making money, this isn’t the first time progress has had to take a back seat.)

“Mobile Life” — this ever more often also means “Mobile Health”. The cell phone as a health assistant and monitor for patients as well as for physicians constituted another thematic emphasis of the show.  Panel speaker Dr. Eric Topol for instance presented an application by Corventis, which turns the iPhone into a fully functional electrocardiograph by means of a small, Bluetooth-enabled accessory called PiiX (as in “peaks”, alright). Supposedly, remote monitoring like this will allow savings in US health care costs of up to $10 billion US every year. Mobile health care is particularly intended to provide elderly people with more security and autonomy in every day life.

CTIA Wireless ‘09: Al Gore draws parallels between digital technology going mobile and Luther’s reformation movement (simply click on the play button)

On its last day, the show received a grand finale in the shape of a speech by former US vice president and Nobel peace prize winner Al Gore. He expressed enthusiasm for the increasing mobility and complexity of digital technology, even declaring this development a key element in the fight against climate change due to its positive effects on individual productivity. According to an old African proverb, whoever wants to go quickly should walk alone. Whoever wants to go far though should walk together. Man today, according to Gore, needs to go far quickly, so he needs independence as well as mutual support. Today, this is made possible by mobile communication technology.

One may share the CTIA panel’s gushing confidence or not. Maybe, they did lay it on thick somewhat here and there. However, allowing ourselves to get infected by that symbolic optimism made in USA a bit might actually be an inspiring refreshment for us ever skeptical, hesitant German folks. Yes, we can.

CeBIT ‘09 Gleanings: »Quo Navis?«

13. March 2009

According to the press, this year’s CeBIT in Hannover somewhat resembled its own “alternative” version: less colorful, less noisy, less visited. Everywhere there was talk of the “crisis as a chance”, mixed moods of doom and optimism. Furthermore, the organizers came up with a new concept for the event labeled “Webciety” — standardized exhibition honeycombs that can be fed with content via Internet, as to pay a tribute to the growing relevance of the online world.

In the field of mobile communication, the increasing amalgamation of cell phones and navigation systems constituted a focal point, to which a special event under the title “Navigation Day” was dedicated at the expo. Eagerly awaited were the fruits of the cooperation between Taiwanese hardware makers Asus and US-American navigation systems experts Garmin: the Nüvifone G60, a “navigational cell phone”  that had already been announced one year ago, as well as its new colleague, the Nüvifone M20. These devices are supposed to enhance the functionality and the performance of conventional navigation systems by allowing additional data retrieval via cell phone networks — similar to the approach from the opposite direction that’s been made by connected navigation systems (that is: “cellular navigation systems” instead of “navigational cell phones”) for some while. This way, up-to-date location-based data like points of interest (POI), traffic jam reports or the weather, too, can be integrated more efficiently and extensively. Among others, O2 also showed their own navigational cell (Xda Guide), likewise Nokia (6710 Navigator).

CeBIT ‘09: FTD interview Garmin’s product manager Olaf Meng (simply click on the play button)

The great exposition highlight was nowhere to be found though. Clearly, attention revolved around hardware updates and hardware competition. Take Toshiba’s TG01 for example, which is planned to give the iPhone some real hell by virtually doubling its performance specs. HTC on the other hand presented the first touchscreen-only smartphone using the Android operating system — the HTC Magic. (Although previously, the physical keyboard had been presented as one of the selling points of the G1 against the iPhone.) Meanwhile, Sony-Ericsson’s iDou challenges Apple not just with its suspicious naming: this touchscreen-only smartphone not only offers a 3.5 inch 16:9 display exhibiting an elegant Symbian user interface but sets new benchmarks as a steroidal camera cell phone with its 12.5 megapixels plus xenon flashlight.

Generally, a remarkable lot of touchscreen-only devices were shown — possibly becoming the new standard for smartphones? At any rate, Nokia made a whimsical counterpoint: The E75 is virtually carpeted with buttons, as its comparatively tiny screen almost shyly cowers in the corner. The target group is heavy email- and sms-writers.

It’s Samsung who deserve special mention for lighting a beacon of environment-friendly high-tech with their cell phone newcomer Blue Earth. For one, on the backside of its casing made of recycled plastic bottles there’s a solar module, which at good lighting conditions supplies the phone with the bulk of its required energy. Also, the included power pack features a not insignificantly higher energy efficiency than conventional models as well as a particularly energy-saving standby mode.

One hardware trend that’s going to continue for some more years was confirmed at the exposition: Not only are smartphones being more and more upgraded towards full-fledged PCs — PCs also get increasingly miniaturized towards smartphones. Ever more compact, ever more portable. I think that throughout the next five to ten years, these two developments will converge until at the end, there’ll only be one type of portable mini-computer that unites the purviews of both branches. Whether this will be more of a compressed PC with VoIP functionality or rather a souped-up smartphone, I dare not guess. Either way, the common desktop PC will disappear from the main consumer sector and  retreat into the niches of hardware tinkerers and high performance computing. Even today, it’s already more and more frequently getting replaced by laptop and subnotebook PCs, whereas previously, they used to be bought merely as complements. Big format screens and full-size keyboards will be set up without any PC in order to be accessed by the mobile computer devices whenever required. Stationary PCs will become obsolete, as everyone’s got their own PC with them — pocket-sized. From this perspective, even the rosiest predictions on the expansion of the mobile entertainment business appear to be understated, if one considers that this way, basically the whole of today’s digital “non-mobile” entertainment business would be merged into it.

Augmented Reality — and What Android Found There

4. March 2009

For a long time, cell phones eked out the existence of a proverbial ugly duckling: small, gray and emitting some nerve-wracking blare from time to time. While they had managed to fulfill the compelling promise of mobile communication, they had been trying hard to catch up with what the great and the graceful of the digital animal kingdom had already been flaunting for quite a while.

It’s not just with the arrival of the new smartphone generation that cell phones not only have significantly spruced up their feathers, molting from once bleeping pocket-size alarm clocks through polyphonically tootling Game Boy aspirants to downright mini-PCs with crisp CD-quality stereo sound: Henceforth, thanks to their special combination of capabilities, they might graduate from the former me-too wannabes to trailblazers of new technological developments.

One such area, in which the new smartphone generation around the iPhone and the G1 have shown remarkable effort, is that of augmented reality — the fusion of the virtual world with the sensual perception or immediate reproduction of the real world. For instance, according to Wikipedia, the Wikitude AR Travel Guide released for the G1 in October 2008 was the very first end-user augmented reality application ever to hit the markets. The open source infrastructure of the Android operating system seems to keep its promise. It’s a very simple form of augmented reality provided here, which projects plain text information two-dimensionally into the G1’s camera view on the real, three-dimensional environment — but none the less! For this, Wikitude accesses certain data on Wikipedia, which is assigned to GPS coordinates. Tonchidot’s iPhone application Sekai Camera takes a similar though audio-visually more elaborate approach, complementing the GPS-based data base access with local server communication (probably via RFID-support).

Also, indicatively strong was the presence of augmented reality at Nokias Mobile Games Innovation Challenge in October last year as well as early this year at the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA). Nokia awarded Swedish developers A Different Game with the first prize of €40,000 plus contract for their augmented reality adventure game Ghostwire on Nokia’s N-Gage, in which the player will be able to get into contact with the deceased, who’ll be blended semi-transparently with the camera image. Ghostwire also received two nominations for the IMGA.

Kweekies: augmented reality for the smartphone (simply click on the play button)

Among the nominations at both events, there also was Kweekies by French developer int13, which is planned for release on the iPhone among others and breeds Augmented Environment’s study ARf into a cutely designed mongrel of Pokémon and Tamagotchi. The game revolves around a “magic sheet” that, brought into the scope of the cell phone camera, builds an Einstein-Rosen Bridge into a parallel universe, through which the virtual critter gains entrance to our dimension. Once the sheet moves out of the field of view, the magic disappears though. That’s because on the front of the sheet there’s a black and white mosaic pattern, which serves as a measuring mark for the correct spatial positioning of the 3D-creatures and is somewhat reminiscent of QR-Codes in its appearance. Considering this similarity, I regard it as just the next logic step that QR-Codes in public space soon might not only allow to be scanned via cell phone for their informational content, but also — possibly in conjunction with applications akin to Sekai Camera — unveil animated, three-dimensional graphical objects correctly positioned within the camera image on top of that! The QR-Code could simply contain the URL under which the 3D-object is stored on the server.

“Massive Multiplayer Trans-Reality”: Focus on JOYity

12. February 2009

Wherever there’s talk of JOYity, great interest is certain: With its concept of location-based gaming, being one of the first applications for the on these shores just freshly released G1, JOYity promises a whole new gaming experience — one that’s healthier than the usual couch-potatoes’ championship of thumb-gymnastics on top of that. Anyone understands that right away. Also, what fan of interactive digital entertainment has not at least once, if only for a brief moment, dreamt of creating their own game? This, too, is what Zelfi plc address with their innovative overall conception of JOYity as a game, a game genre, a community and no less a simple stand-alone development platform for JOYity game designers.

This lively interest has not remained undetected by the press, online or offline. Thus, as early as October last year, AppVee — a website committed to critical reviews of iPhone and Android applications — dedicated two articles, each including a video review, in which they honor JOYity with 5 and YouCatch with 4.4 out of a max of 5 stars possible. These video reviews received large circulation via YouTube and drew a lot of people’s attention to JOYity for the first time.

AppVee test JOYitys YouCatch in Madison Square Park, New York (simply click on the play button)

Shortly after, Device Daily declared JOYity not only “The Craziest Mobile Games Ever”, but also, belatedly, member of their just previously compiled top ten list of “Android Applications You Shouldn’t Miss”. Likewise popular blog TechCrunch — which deals with online-products as well as Internet companies of all kinds and retrospectively added JOYity to its top ten of must-haves for Android smartphones. This way, award-winning American marketing expert, commentator and book author Rick Mathieson too found interest in JOYity and exhibited quite a bit of fondness for it in his blog Branding Unbound. There, he particularly points to the great potential he sees for sponsors in JOYity games like YouCatch, as sponsors can promote mobile marketing for their products by integrating them into the course of the games in multifarious manners.

Two months later then, in early 2009, JOYity was presented by renown American technology magazine Wired in their online special Inside the GPS Revolution. There, JOYity ranked third in Wired’s top ten list of “Applications that Make the Most of Location”.

Finally, on the occasion of the long awaited release of the G1 in Germany, JOYity caught the attention of German TV broadcaster Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), which was producing a related telecast for computer and telecommunications TV magazine Neues on German-language cable network 3sat. In fact, soon after, the Neues TV team came to visit our company headquarters, filmed a few shots in our R&D department as well as in front of the Bonifazius Towers and also made a short interview with Zelfi CEO Andreas Berg. The result was broadcast on 02/01/2009 on 3sat and can be viewed online via 3sat-Mediathek. (The part about Zelfi plc and JOYity goes from 19:14 till 20:14.)

Mobile Musicians

31. January 2009

“By pressing down a special key it plays a little melody” was electronica pioneers Kraftwerk’s vision for pocket calculators back in 1981, facing the proceeding foray of digital technology into our everyday lives. Although our daily routine, almost 30 years later, is downright soaked with digital technology, making music on the pocket calculator has hardly become a reality. On the other hand, real life once more surpasses the boldest fiction, as, instead of the pocket calculator, quite a different technological device aspires to become the modern equivalent of the ol’ squeeze box: the telephone.

More precisely: the iPhone. The days when the only thing that made cell phones stand out musically were annoying ring tones are over. For with its multi-touch screen and no least its processing power, the iPhone has been discovered by numerous developers as an adequate platform for a broad range of musical applications, which are now available through App Store.

Rock fans, who want to be on stage with their stars (virtually, at least) and are in for a quick musical moment of success may romp around with Guitar Hero III — a pared-down, mobile version of the by now legendary “instrumental karaoke” series that has been released on numerous computer game systems. Guitar enthusiasts with greater musical ambitions may download the Pocket Guitar by independent developer Shinya Kasatani: an apparently quite authentic guitar simulation with many options, which makes excellent use of the multi-touch screen. At a mere $0.99 US download fee, it’s an extremely affordable and above all space-saving alternative to the traditional travellers’ six-string that almost actually allows you to really rock.

Those wishing to enter some more synthetic aural spheres may find Bloom sparking their interest. Essentially, it’s a minimalistic, experimental synthesizer with an integrated loop sequencer, which was co-developed by none other than the father of ambient music, Brian Eno. The range of sounds and styles possible with this application is rather limited though. So it should probably be considered more of an interactive artwork instead.

What’s particularly neat — much like the real life original — is the iPhone Ocarina by Smule. Ocarinas (“ocarina” — Italian for “gosling”) are small bulbous wind instruments known, if at all, for their very soft and mellow sound and their frequent appearance in the The Legend of Zelda video game series. The knack of the iPhone version: Just like with a real wind instrument, one actually has to blow into the device, into the built-in microphone that is, in order to generate a tone, the pitch of which can then be controlled via the virtual finger-holes.

Macworld Expo 2009: Ge Wang from Smule demonstrates the iPhone Ocarina – David Pogue at the piano (simply click on the play button)

Now, we already have a guitar (plus bass guitar), a synth and even a wind instrument. But no proper band is complete without percussion. That’s where the Beat Maker by Intua comes into play — a drum-sampler and -sequencer including live performance functionality. Enough suitable instrument and melody samples provided, this application alone already allows to piece together full-fledged music tracks including melody- and bass-lines.

By and large though, we still just have a collection of separate instruments. In order to make music in any broader scope, we’d need multiple iPhone-performers. Or we’d just have to individually sample and then feed everything into Beat Maker or an external sequencer. Bit of a chore, really.

Once more, it’s the Japanese who’ve taken things to the next obvious level before us: Then and there, state-of-the-art synthesizer developers KORG packed together an enhanced emulation of their legendary analog synthesizer keyboard MS-10, including some digital effects like echo and flanger on top, plus a (also MS-10-based) drum machine, a slimmed-down but flexible pattern-/loop-sequencer and last but not least a software version of their Kaoss Pad and tied it all together to one fascinating little all-around power pack for mobile music production. Not for Apple’s iPhone though, but for another, not even that dissimilar since also touch-sensitive mobile device: the Nintendo DS. When running the KORG DS-10, it allows you to compose full-fledged, complex pieces with lush stereo synthesizer sound and then play them live while tweaking and editing them on the fly — in almost any imaginable electronica style, from wild EBM experiments or elegant trance to atmospheric new age.

Although the DS-10 has been available since mid 2008 and although the iPhone is vastly superior to the Nintendo DS in technical terms, so far, there’s nothing comparable on Apple’s flagship smartphone — despite the great musical commitment of iPhone application developers. While it’s true that Amidio’s iPhone app, which apparently houses a creditably powerful synthesizer, does follow a similar direction, it’s probably not without reason that so far, the creative user feedback completely pales in comparison to that towards the DS-10. Instead, complaints can be heard about an overly idiosyncratic nomenclature of the user interface and all too limited sequencing possibilities. Accordingly, one of the leading Amidio developers admitted that for creating the current official demo track — one of the ominously few demo tracks to begin with — the external software sequencer Cubase had been put to use. And that it was only the sound of the instruments that actually came from the

An app that’s more promising and which made the leap from beta to final release just a few days ago is Randgrid. However, in this case, too, I’ve got the impression that the first demo tracks don’t measure up to the rhythmic versatility of the DS-10. Things mostly sound very jammy, repetitive and little through-composed, which could simply be due to the stylistic preferences of the composers concerned though. On the other hand, this limitation seems to affect the demo track on Randgrid’s website either — not a good omen, because such demonstrations usually are intended to also showcase the rhythmic flexibility of their respective music production software. Perhaps they made the mistake and, in contrast to the DS-10, left out the option of superordinate pattern arrangements in the sequencer — which would be a real pity. Well, we’ll see what else the iPhone community is capable of getting out of this. For now, the DS-10 remains the spearhead of mobile music production.

Oh… and BTW;-)

CES 2009: “Mirror, Mirror in My Hand…”

20. January 2009

This year, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, known as the world’s biggest trade show on electronic entertainment devices, was held in Las Vegas from January 8th through January 10th and revolved all around new display technologies.

For one, the usual stuff: Screen resolutions and refresh rates are higher than ever, colors are more vibrant, and everybody keeps talking about HDTV. Meanwhile, screens have been getting flatter and flatter. Indeed, by now, they’ve become that flat even, one can actually see through them, or, thanks to OLED technology, bend them and fold them up. Samsung is making use of this and, at the trade show, introduced a new cell phone prototype, which promises to satisfy the originally contradicting consumer demands for compact cell phones on the one hand and bigger cell phone screens on the other. While closed, the device isn’t significantly bigger than the average clamshell model cell phone. What’s special is hidden on the inside: a screen that seamlessly (!) extends from one half of the casing to the other and thus gets unfolded to a remarkable total size. Even in half-fold state, the screen works flawlessly.

However, the biggest future trend of this year’s CES can be put in a nutshell that could hardly be more succinct and concise: “3D”. Big high-resolution screens by companies like Philips or Panasonic showing “real” depth effect, without the necessity of old-fashioned 3D-goggles, were absolute show floor attractions that astounded spectators. Besides, numerous manufacturers showed products also revolving around the subject, like 3D-webcams, 3D-projectors, 3D expansion kits for current video game consoles and conventional PCs or new, lighter, wireless shutter glasses. Once more, something’s cooking in the labs of this future technology, which has been waiting for its breakthrough for quite a long time and which in my opinion constitutes the true next step after black and white, sound and color image reproduction in its analog as well as digital realizations.

Tom Hanks, too, was grabbed by the 3D enthusiasm — as seen at a Sony presentation (Source: CES)

Meanwhile, in this context, Spatialview causes a stir with an at first glance completely unspectacular accessory for Apple’s iPhone, which is supposed to vault the touchscreen into the third dimension — without even requiring any electricity supply whatsoever: Essentially, the 3DeeShell is a secondary casing, into which an iPhone may be inserted, and which at its front side has got a detachable viewing panel for the iPhone’s screen. Here’s the trick: The panel is a matrix consisting of pixel-sized lenses, which alternately refract light into two different directions. Now, when a corresponding image is displayed on the iPhone, the pixels of which alternately show two different perspectives of the same object, the lenses “sort” the pixels in respect to the according viewing angle, that is, to the left and the right eye of the person viewing. This way, a “true” visual effect of depth is created without much effort — ingeniously simple. Although this does mean a trade-off against half the screen resolution, this doesn’t seem to outweigh the benefit, as first eyewitness accounts sound very impressed. I.e., The Unofficial Apple Weblog picked Spatialview’s 3DeeShell, announced for a retail price of about $50 US, as the “Most Unexpected Cool Product” of the Macworld Expo 2009, which overlapped with the CES.

But beside all the glittering display splendor, there were other interesting things to see as well. For instance, term-defining PDA-doyens Palm were back, having a great showing with the introduction of their smartphone combatant Prē. Equipped with the new custom operating system Palm WebOS and a touchscreen plus optionally extendable miniature alphanumeric keyboard, the Prē is supposed to excel notably with its multitasking capabilities as well as combine the best of the iPhone and the Blackberry.

Lastly, a company named Horizon deserves mention, which was able to present a market-ready, fuel cell-based battery charger labeled Minipak. It’s intended for mobile devices that can be charged via USB – be that a cell phone, an MP3-player or a PDA. The battery charger is planned to cost a lump sum of $50 US, being refillable with cartridges at around $5 US to $10 US each.

Bright Times for Cell Phone Games

13. January 2009

The prospects for the cell phone games market are looking fine. At least that’s what the majority of a group of telecommunication business experts and leaders assumes, predicting a redoubling of turnover till 2012 for the sector. However, more than a quarter of the experts asked don’t expect quite such a positive development. After countless prognoses for the mobile games market as well as considering the current developments on the cell phone market, my personal outlook on the world of cell phone games is anything but dim.

Last fall, the Association of the German Internet Industry, eco, surveyed 52 telecommunication business experts and leaders about the future developments of cell phone games and published first results of that survey. These show that about half of the respondents expect a redoubling of turnovers in Europe till 2012. One fifth of the industry experts even predict a tripling of what’s currently 2.4 billion euros. However, there are some opinions that reckon on either a constant turnover (21%) or declining turnovers within the next three years (6%).

The actual trends will probably move somewhere in between. Throughout the past five years, extremely diverging predictions have been presented for this market in particular, the majority of which are completely distorted by inaccurate differentiations and fuzzy definitions. By now though, mobile gaming has got established and the predictions should become more credible. I don’t think we’re even close the limit here yet.

Just a few weeks ago, Apple impressed with enormous turnover and download figures for their App Stores, spanning not even six months. A considerable fifty percent of the downloads were games, which had gained most among all applications used. That doesn’t really come as a surprise, because whoever has once played on the iPhone, quickly finds that the gaming experience is significantly better than on a conventional cell phone. Yet, after all, that’s what most people own. A fact that shows clearly in the results for the best selling cell phone games of 2008, most recently released by Nielsen. Naturally, this raises doubts as to whether the industry really is in for great growth:

In my opinion, the cell phone games market will continue to gain momentum and the signs are more promising than ever. Even when the cell phone market in Europe will be saturated, smartphones in the likes of the iPhone will rake in additional market shares, as they offer new and more diverse possibilities for applications, including games. Before this quarter is over, the HTC G1 phone with its Android operating system will be available in several European countries. Furthermore, new Android models by other manufacturers have been announced for early 2009. So this is going to be a tremendously interesting year with exciting developments — including the mobile games market.

Nevertheless, it is very doubtful indeed that this will render Tetris and Pac-Man games a thing of the past any time soon. Both titles are virtually unmatchable in their popularity, and they keep what they’re promising: simple game mechanics that are quick and easy to learn — thus ideal for the masses. In 2012 as today.

Mobile XT — Cell Phone Trends for 2009

7. January 2009

Now that the last New Year’s hangover has subsided, it’s high time for a little outlook as to what the colorful world of cell phones is going to bless us with this new year. Right on top of the agenda, there’s the long-awaited release of the G1 by T-Mobile in Germanywe reported earlier. It’s the first smartphone using the Android operating system and at the same time embodies probably the most important and definitive current trend in mobile telecommunication, as tech-columnist and self-declared nerd David Progue of The New York Times just recently confirmed in his highly amusing speech at The Entertainment Gathering in December: “Mobile Internet”.

David Pogue at the EG ’08 (simply click on the play button)
The G1, just like the newest version of the iPhone released 2008, is a 3G cell phone, that is, geared towards fast Internet connectivity right from the start. For this, it not only supports GSM, EDGE and standard UMTS, but also HSPA (High Speed Packet Access), a new UMTS data transfer method, which is said to allow download speeds of up to 14.4 MBit/s. Additionally, there’s the option of dialing in into existing connections via Wi-Fi.

Latter, according to Pogue, is particularly interesting when it comes to (true) “Cellular VOIP”. What in Europe has been attempting its first baby steps for a couple of years now, so far has been boycotted by every cell phone carrier in the US with the exception of T-Mobile. After all, VOIP on cell phones means an unbeatably undercutting competitor. However, due to the ongoing establishment of “Mobile Internet” and the convergence with conventional PC standards, this is about to change. By now, seamless transitions from (Wi-Fi-based) VOIP to regular cellular networks and back are possible in mid call.

Another trend Pogue sees is the expansion of cellular services. GrandCentral i.e. allows owners of multiple cell phones to organize their devices into a personal communication network, managing them under one joint phone number, including away messages and availability schedules individually specifiable towards the people calling. Google Cellular then, serves as a mobile information center, which can be accessed simply via SMS inquiries, yielding reliable results a few seconds later: on the weather (SMS inquiry “weather mainz”), on flight schedules, encyclopedia entries, driving routes, currency conversions etc. By now, the whole thing even works through voice recognition — no messaging required. Last but not least, as far as high-end cell phones are concerned, software bazaars like the App Store by Apple or the Android Market need to be mentioned, as they’ll continue to gain importance. By downloading applications from their ever-growing repertory, the functionality of the respective smartphone can be extended considerably.

As any self-respecting new cell phone, the G1, too, comes equipped with a camera. Currently, the record for image resolution among camera phones is 10 megapixels. But there’s a slight change of direction coming up, departing from the usual “more and more” mantra. For on the one hand, outside of high professional photography, the point and practicability of resolutions beyond 6 megapixels is disputed. On the other hand, there’s a big disparity between the professional level resolution and the other, cheap components used in cell phone cameras, particularly the lens system. Improvements are in sight, and also, more attention may be given to the rather weak video recording capabilities of camera phones so far. 

Lastly, the spreading eco and energy saving trend does not spare the world of  mobile communications. As far as the visions of Intel’s research and development department are concerned, the battery-free cell phone might soon become a reality. Battery-free watches, which are fed with solar energy and/or with kinetic energy from the movements of their wearers, are already available. Meanwhile, MIT Micro has found inspiration in the automobile industry and is diligently working on the fuel cell for the cell phone.

“Drama, Baby!” — the Cell Phone as a Comedic Communication Catalyst

5. January 2009


An old medium meets a new one: Theater has been acknowledging the mere existence of the cell phone for a while now — if sometimes just as an unwelcome aural sign of life coming from the auditorium. However, it’s with his play Mòbil — Comèdia telefònica digital that renowned Spanish dramatist Sergi Belbel, probably as a premiere in theatrical history, has elevated the cell phone not only to a distinctive plot element but to the central agent of the whole play, along with its particular characteristics. (Personally, I’d say that by doing so, he’s paid due tribute to the realities of man in our modern age and his little digital companion.)

The play was first performed in Copenhagen, 2006. Opening with its premiere on 01/08/2009, it’s now being scheduled under the German title Mobil – eine digitale Telefonkomödie by the Mainzer Kammerspiele, in the hometown of Zelfi plc, and can be attended till early February in five subsequent performances.

Poster illustration for Mobil (Mainzer Kammerspiele)

In Belbel’s comedy of mistaken identities about three women and a man, the cell phone plays just its own self, shining in its role as a catalyst of interpersonal communication and human action in all their intriguing facets —  the good ones as well as the bad ones. At the venue of an airport, another epitome of modern mobility, it seemingly serves little but the convenient dealing with everyday correspondence at first. In the course of the play though, it unites lovers, uncovers shams, but also gets turned into an instrument of intrigue as well as into the trigger of a bomb in a terrorist attack. “Drama, Baby!” — nobody can escape the magic and the possibilities of this medium.

In Mòbil, Belbel exemplarily plays with the dramaturgical potential of this communicational device, which Zelfi plc, too, has long discerned. After all, it’s not for nothing that the motto of Zelfi’s mobile, location-based gaming platform JOYity goes: “Anything can happen”

We are the Robots

18. December 2008

After the successful introduction of the G1 to the US-American and British markets this fall, T-Mobile has finally announced its release in Germany — for the first quarter of the new year, 2009. Last Thursday in Berlin, T-Mobile showed the German version of the device. Apart from necessary localizations, there’s hardly any difference to the previous versions. Presumably, the German G1 is going to be released during CeBit 2009 (March 3rd to 8th). In fact, it’s already present on T-Mobile’s official German website.

The G1 is “the world’s first Android phone”, appealing with its extensive desktop and online functionality. In contrast to e.g. the iPhone, the device is equipped with not only a touchscreen but also a “full-fledged” physical alphanumeric keyboard — displaying a QWERTZ layout in the German version, of course. However, due to licensing matters, G1 users for the time being will have to do without any Flash-based applications, which in the face of their omnipresence in the WWW could turn out as an irksome limitation.


The Android desktop with its typical clock

As everyone knows, first isn’t necessarily best. While the competition still lags behind, they aren’t sleeping either. Conveniently, Taiwanese cell phone forge HTC — the company behind the G1, which not coincidentally is akin to the HTC Touch Pro — is planning their own, independent Android phone for mid 2009. As of early December, Google et al. have got another big name joining their open source cell phone club, the Open Handset Alliance: Sony Ericsson. Thus, according to Sony Ericsson head of development Rikko Sakaguchi, the development of their own Android phone till summer 2009 ranks high on the company’s to-do list. For now though, it remains unclear when alternatives to the G1 can be expected to arrive in Germany.

As far as foreseeable, Lenovo and China Mobile’s ambitious oPhone project will likely stay exclusive to the Far East. Inside the oPhone’s home-made operating system OMS (Open Mobile System), there, too, is said to be a modified Android puttering about.

This fall, Zelfi’s innovative location-based gaming platform JOYity was released as one of the first extending applications for Android phones and is currently available via Android Marketplace exclusively. Versions for other cell phone systems like the Apple iPhone are planned for early 2009.