A personalised mobile newspaper for iPad users has been launched by a team of former Google and Bing engineers. Apollo News, the first product from Hawthorne Labs, aggregates content based on a user preferences algorithm, in a similar way to how Pandora recommends music for its users. The app was created by Evan Reas, Shubham Mittal and Prasanna Sankaranarayanan, who together have an employer history which includes Google, Microsoft and Bing. Reas told Journalism.co.uk that their idea came from their own frustrations with accessing interesting content online. The app costs users $4.99 for unlimited usage. The team now plans to make the app available on the iPhone as well as on the web itself, but says future developments will reach much further than the Apollo app. “Our hopes are more for the future of the company than just this one app,” Reas said. “We want to create a company with the main daily destinations (mobile and non-mobile) of news for consumers”.
More than a billion mobile phone connections have been added to the global tally in just 18 months, according to Wireless Intelligence. There are now more than five billion connections worldwide. In many regions, penetration exceeds 100 percent, where there is more than one connection per person in the country. Ben Wood, mobile phone analyst at CCS Insight said the mobile phone may be “the most prolific consumer device on the planet”. “If you just take the UK in 1987, when the first mobile companies launched, an industry insider predicted a maximum of 10,000 phones. “Now almost every adult, child and domestic pet seems to have one, given that 30 million phones are sold every year in the UK,” he said. The four billion connections mark was surpassed at the end of 2008, and analysts at Wireless Intelligence predict six billion connections worldwide by the middle of 2012. The Asia-Pacific region including India and China is the main source of growth, accounting for 47 percent of of global mobile connections at the end of June 2010, according to the firm. In western Europe, mobile phone penetration has reached 130 percent, which Mr Wood attributed in part to mobile phone operators including in their statistics connections that have been dormant for many months. In rapidly developing eastern Europe, overall penetration is not far behind western Europe, at 123 percent, according to Wireless Intelligence.
What if my blood sugar’s too high today? Is it time for my blood pressure pill? With nagging text messages or more customized two-way interactions, researchers are trying to harness the power of cell phones to help fight chronic diseases. “I call it medical minutes,” says Dr. Richard Katz of George Washington University Hospital in the nation’s capital. The trend is called mobile health or, to use tech-speak, mHealth. If you’re a savvy smartphone user, you’ve probably seen lots of apps that claim to help your health or fitness goals — using your phone like a pedometer or an alarm clock to signal when it’s time to take your medicine. Katz and other researchers are going a step further, scientifically testing whether more personalized cell phone-based programs can link patients’ own care with their doctors’ disease-management efforts in ways that might provide lasting health improvement. After all, most of the population now carries a cell phone. Accessing the Internet with them is on the rise, too — nearly 40 percent of cell callers do, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported last week — allowing more sophisticated digital health contact. On the other hand, older adults are less likely to use smartphones. So are people who are sicker, with multiple chronic diseases, says Dr. Joseph Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, a division of Boston’s Partners Healthcare. Kvedar notes that nearly any phone can handle simpler text-messaging programs. Among the biggest offered to date is the free text4baby, where government-vetted health tips timed to pregnant women’s due dates are texted weekly to about 50,000 participants so far.
San Francisco is set to be the first city in the US to require mobile phone retailers to post radiation levels next to handsets they sell. The board of supervisors, or council, voted 10-1 to approve the measure, with final approval expected next week. “This is about helping people make informed choices,” said the law’s chief sponsor, Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. The mobile phone industry said studies showed cell phone radiation was not harmful to people. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted limits that set out safe exposure to these kinds of emissions. The measurement defines the amount of radio waves that people can safely absorb into their bodies when talking on a mobile phone. Some researchers have claimed such emissions can be linked to cancer and brain tumours but there remains little scientific consensus on the matter. The mobile phone industry’s body, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), disagrees and has warned that posting radiation levels next to handsets could in fact cause more confusion. The legislation would require all retailers to display details of the emissions alongside the phones and point consumers to where they can find out more information about the issue. Violators would face fines of up to USD 300.
A new German satellite launches on a three-year mission to create world’s most accurate 3D map of the globe, which will then be put to use in mobile phone network construction, flight plan creation and urban planning. A Russian rocket has succesfully launched a new German satellite on a mission to create the world’s most precise three-dimensional topographical map of the Earth. The new satellite, called TanDEM-X, is twinned with a previous German satellite launched in 2007. Together, the pair of satellites will follow a parallel orbit around the globe, slowly circling the planet in ever-changing arcs to cover ever square inch. The two satellites, which will fly just a few hundred meters apart at all times, work by sending microwave pulses from orbit to the planet’s surface. By measuring the time the signal takes to make the round-trip, the satellite’s computers can determine the height of the ground, ranging from the lowest valleys to the highest mountains. With two satellites doing this instead of one, they can complete the land survey of the 150 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface with much greater accuracy than before. German space authorities say that the project will take three years to both complete the satellite-based survey and that the data from the global elevation model will take an additional year, and will reach a total of 15 terabytes, or approximately 60 computer hard drives. The new three-dimensional land map will be made available to planetary scientists and to the private sector as well, with potential applications in mobile phone network construction, flight plan creation and urban planning.
Intel has unveiled the chips it hopes will spearhead its push into smartphones. The first devices to use the second generation of Atom processors should appear in the second half of 2010. Intel said the processors were built to use as little power as possible to ensure they were fit for mobiles. However, industry experts point out that Intel had tried and failed several times to get its chips used in handsets.
Unveiling the second generation of Atom processors, Pankaj Kedia, Intel’s head of handhelds, said they were “first and foremost” designed for smartphones and tablets. To cut power consumption the processing elements of the chips are separated into 19 power islands, each one of which effectively handles a separate task such as video decoding or audio playback. Areas of silicon not in use are turned off.
The parsimonious power consumption suggests, he said, that a smartphone built around the Atom chips would get 10 days of standby power. For the same full battery it could offer 48 hours of audio playback, five hours of 720p video or six hours of 3G calls.
“We’ve reduced the power so we are competitive in the smartphone space,” said Mr Kedia. “We’re in the zone.” Stuart Miles, founder of gadget news site Pocket Lint, said: “As we expect our portable devices to do more and more, whether it’s surfing the internet or playing games, power is going to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
“Tablet devices, with their bigger surface area aren’t that heavily affected, but it’d be nice not to have to panic for a power socket at the end of the day for your mobile,” he added. The first devices to use the second generation of Atom processors were likely to be tablets, said Mr Kedia. Phones would take longer to appear because of the certification work that operators do before starting to sell them. He confirmed that smartphones running Android would be among those using the Atom chips. Others using the MeeGo and Moblin Linux-based operating systems are also expected.
However Martin Garner, director of mobile internet research at CCS Insight, said: “This is about Intel’s third attempt to do a reference design for phones.” “They have a not very happy history going back over eight years or so,” he said. “But,” he added, “there’s a general feeling with smartphones that we’ve had a megapixel war, a megabits war and we’re about to get a megahertz war, which means things are moving in Intel’s direction.”
Mr Garner said though the second generation of Atom meant phone makers adopting it could shrink the handsets they produce, it was only going to be the smaller chips due in 2011 that would allow them to produce small enough phones. The final hurdle, he said, was to convince phone firms to swap to using Intel chips when the vast majority are currently based around designs from UK firm Arm.
“If you are switching from Texas Instruments to Intel, its quite a big thing to do,” he said. “It’s an expensive switch.”
Mr Kedia was bullish on Intel’s prospects and said it’s ability to offer a “full” web experience would help it win partners away from Arm which, he said, was only dominant “when phones were phones”. “Looking forward the phone is a check off item,” he said. “The reason for me to buy a smartphone is the smart, not the phone.”
Hewlett-Packard’s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm means several things — but the most important ones are not about phones.
Yes, new life for Palm devices means there will be real competition in smartphones, with HP alone pushing operating systems from Google, Microsoft and now Palm (and facing competition from Apple and Nokia). The companies will aim for different market segments, like business, consumer and specialty purposes. Longer term, however, among the phones the fight will be in consumer devices.
But so-called “connected devices,” more than just phones, are the future of hardware, as voice becomes one more asset. Already HP Senior Vice President Todd Bradley is talking about phones, tablets, slates and other kinds of hardware that guarantee Internet connectivity. Voice calls themselves may be disappearing into the Internet, to the consternation of the Verizons, AT&Ts and Sprints, which prefer revenues from separate voice minutes rather than connection charges.
Palm’s backer Elevation Partners championed Palm’s webOS as something that would start in phones but move into all kinds of Internet devices. The first consumer products were the Pre and the Pixi, which were nicely reviewed but had insufficient consumer uptake to get Palm the cash to build more. HP, with $13.5 billion in cash and distribution channels of all sorts, in 170 countries, is not so constrained. (Disclosure: Elevation Partners, which has a stake in Palm, is also a shareholder in Forbes Media.)
“Smartphones are a part of this, but this is really about the Web operating system,” Shane Robison, HP’s chief strategy and technology officer, told Forbes. “It’s a change in our business model to a connected device model.” HP, he said, is assuming a world in which almost everything needs at least the potential to connect to the Internet. Michael Gartenberg, a partner with the Altimer Group, noted that HP’s ownership of its own OS, on several devices, should worry HP’s competitors. The others “have to rely on other people’s platforms to drive their business forward,” he said. “It allows HP to leverage webOS and tie it back to its enterprise and consumer businesses.”
The acquisition is also another great test of HP’s ability to make tech dreams come true–in this case, Palm’s dream of its operating system inside all kinds of machines. Doubtless there are plans for all kinds of new nonphone Internet connection devices inside Palm, and HP’s technologists and manufacturers will have at them at first chance. In his call to analysts Wednesday, Bradley identified vertical markets like health care and education in which devices might soon appear, sold through HP’s partners.
HP will also try to do what Palm could not: excite a global community of software developers for the webOS. While Bradley said Palm has 2,000 applications now, it was unable to get the kind of response from developers that Google has received for its Android OS or that Apple has received for its iPhone and iPad. According to Robison, Palm at last has an attractive set of tools for developers, and HP will begin marketing to them based on HP’s scale. “Developers will go where the volume is,” he said.
Elevation Partners, which is said to have acquired its Palm shares for enough to make a small profit on the Palm deal (but far less than the monster hit it hoped for) may console itself that its vision was correct, even if it lacked the scale and cash to see it through. If so, it will join an impressive crowd. In May 2008 HP bought consulting firm EDS for $13.9 billion, gaining with that the assets of a company called Opsware, originally Loudcloud, Marc Andreessen’s too-early venture into cloud computing. It is now at the heart of HP’s global push in the business of automating large-scale technology operations. Andreessen is now a member of the HP board and as the head of its technology committee doubtless played an important role in the Palm acquisition.
Last November HP purchased Chinese switch company 3Com for $2.7 billion, acquiring little recognized technology in powerful Internet switches that HP hopes will rival Cisco’s stuff. Like Palm and Loudcloud, the Chinese company, with little brand or marketing strength, could not get what it built to sufficient scale. Which is not to say “HP can’t invent.” What it can do is spot opportunities, diamonds in the rough, and put them into a rigorous operational machine. At least, HP shareholders hope so.