The rollercoaster world of communications and technology is never boring. The latest big deal, in which Google has made an offer to buy Motorola Mobility for the huge sum of US$12.5 billion in cash, underlines this. Eric Schmidt, the previous CEO and now executive chairman of Google, clearly indicated in his Barcelona World Mobile Congress keynote address in 2010 that mobile is where Google sees the future. He assured the industry that Google would put increasing resources into the Android ecosystem, and continue with the optimising of Google for mobility. Coincidentally, at the same event there was much talk of the decline of Motorola as a mobile phone manufacturer. Who would have thought that just over 18 months later Google would make the bold move of actually buying a hardware manufacturer, and that that manufacturer would be Motorola. Motorola has been a pioneer in the mobile space for more than 80 years. Motorola created the world’s first portable cellular phone, amongst other groundbreaking technology based inventions. Motorola’s mobile dominance came to an abrupt end after its best-selling RAZR phone lacked a successor: this was partially due its lack of foresight, and upheavals in the smartphone industry which Nokia had dominated with Symbian, and by Apple’s introduction of the iPhone in 2007. By 2011 Motorola mobility was spun off and reorganised into a separate division, with all mobile products as well as, crucially, all the home IP based video products – two way radio products included. Motorola had already put all its eggs into the Android basket in 2010; this was seen as a major turnaround strategy. Motorola managed, through its production prowess and deep understanding of the mobile market, to launch 23 Android based smartphones globally. As a result, Motorola based Android phones succeeded in taking a huge chunk of new smartphone sales in the USA. The turnaround seems to be working. Ironically, it was probably the above success that motivated Google to approach Motorola with a view to buying the Mobility division. The implications and effects of this acquisition will be long felt in the mobile world. Android has become the fastest growing and in fact the dominant smartphone platform globally. A large number of manufactures, developers, and operators have thrown their weight behind a platform. Android has proven to be innovative and cost effective, as well as an effective competitor to BlackBerry and the iPhone. It may seem that the purchase of Motorola by Google came out of the blue, but there were plenty of warning signs. The first and biggest of these was the increasingly acrimonious patent wars that recently erupted between Apple and Google – not to mention Microsoft and Nokia. At present it is difficult to figure out who is suing who in this industry. As the smartphone market developed and evolved, the big ecosystems from Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and Apple were going to war, on all levels. The patent issues were playing out in a big way – and will continue to do so – and the nominally free platform, Android, was the most vulnerable. Google in purchasing Motorola has in one fell swoop rectified a major vulnerability in its armour, which was the patent arena. This was a critical reason – but by no means the only one – for Google to acquire Motorola. The patents that Google will acquire from Motorola cover everything to do with mobile communications, including a patent on the actual mobile phone. In one acquisition, Google will increase its war chest of patents from around 3,000 to over 20,000, putting Google on the same footing in this respect as the other mobile heavyweights such as Nokia. Motorola also has substantial blocking patents around the actual GSM system, which are vital in any mobile ecosystem. These patent assets will prove vital in the defence not only of partners such as HTC, who are being sued currently by Apple, but also for Google and Android itself. Android had been built in part by borrowing heavily from Java, and incorporating lots of nominally free open source GPL licensed code – some of which Microsoft has long contented breached their deep patent portfolio. As an open source platform, Android was particularly vulnerable. It is clear than a real motivation for the purchase was to rectify a shaky and deficient IP strategy on Google’s part which was threatening to undermine five successful years of hard work on Android. Apart from simply buying some insurance in terms of patent rights, Google will also acquire the huge resource of Motorola skills and expertise, thus bringing enormous maturity and depth to the Android team. This will benefit the entire Android ecosystem, and enhance the Android product for all its partners going forward. Of great importance is that the recent Microsoft and Nokia tie-up over Windows Phone 7 had very similar goals. The strength that Google now has in patents also has one final but fundamental implication. Android as a platform is offered free of charge by Google and under an open source licence. Google has realised that fragmentation and lack of standards will ultimately fundamentally threaten the Android business case. Fragmentation and lack of consistency is something that Microsoft learned to its detriment a long time ago, and is also something that Apple deeply understands. The new arrangement will allow Google to extend a type of insurance policy over its product, but will in all probability only offer this to standards and software compliant partners. This level of insurance and security from patent wars will make it untenable for these manufactures to bypass Google certification of their offerings. Certification and standards compliance will immeasurably benefit users of the platform by guaranteeing consistency and software and hardware functionality. Another motivation for the purchase of Motorola by Google is that despite the huge growth of Android globally and in fact the dominance of Android in the smartphone market, Apple remains number one with essentially only one device. Apple has complete control of the ecosystem from hardware to services down to the actual device. The benefit of Apple’s tight integration on the iPhone, iPad, and iTunes is unrivalled user experience and a very clearly defined approach to the market. Google on the other hand is still trying to get OEMs such as HTC to update their early and even some current devices from older and essentially obsolete versions of Android. The effect of this operating system fragmentation is poor support of applications in the market and a very poorly defined user experience. Application developers also lament the complexity of developing for Android due to these factors. Essentially Google has to change its business model substantially, in order to become what has been called an “Experience Licensing” business with the Android platform, as opposed to simply a software vendor. The Motorola acquisition will help them do this. The current rampant growth of Android has been largely as a result of low price commodity devices being sold in huge quantities around the globe. The Motorola experience in North America with the operator based flagship Droid devices has indicated another option. Google needs to offer a top level or Premier style device to the market – partly to counter fragmentation and partly to fight off the Apple and Nokia threats at the high end of the market. Motorola already operates at this end of the market and its experience and operator relationships will help Android and by extension Google immeasurably in this regard. There will be two immediate benefits for Google. The first will be that these Premier devices will allow Google to compete with Apple and Nokia when dealing with the various operators around the globe. These devices will offer cutting edge features not available on other lower end devices and will also be offered exclusively to operators. Apple, Nokia, and other manufacturers such as Samsung, have built very good relationships directly with operators where Google had none. Google’s various licensees, such as HTC and Samsung, owned that particular relationship. Motorola historically has exceptional operator insight and relationships, which it will bring to the party. One other factor that sweetened the deal for Google in the purchase of Motorola was the home video Internet based product. This aspect of Motorola’s business is little known outside of North America but is in fact a significant player in the Video over IP market. Motorola manufactures set top boxes and devices for multiple vendors in the United States. Google on the other hand, through the Google TV initiative, has been trying to popularise its internet TV software platform. Google has not had much traction from hardware vendors so far in this competitive and challenging market. One aspect for this lacklustre performance was the shortage of blockbuster content as well as poorly defined inked DRM and content security. Apple TV, via iTunes and even Amazon, has been playing here with some success. Motorola’s experience and technology will give Google a huge boost in this emerging but significant market. The indications are that the Android platform and the Google TV platform will become one and the same, and this acquisition will have the effect of boosting both businesses. Google now has the ability to control both the hardware and software aspects of the offering and judging by Apple’s success in this regard, that will be no bad thing. The combination of Google and Motorola will fundamentally shift the technology landscape. The most immediate effect will be on the mobile device ecosystem, with cutting edge Motorola based devices coming thick and fast, along with similar products based on Android from other manufacturers. All this at the same time that Microsoft launches with Windows Phone 7 Mango, and Apple, with the iPhone and iOS 5, is charging into the market. Whatever the reasons, the acquisition of Motorola by Google may prove to be a step shift in the technology industry, solidifying the Android ecosystem and making Google a significant and perhaps dominant force in the high tech world we live in. AT The second key benefit to Android will be that Google will be able to lead and essentially dominate the relationship with its licensees and OEM manufacturers, without giving any special privileges or knowledge to any one of them. The Premier high end products will be priced and positioned to allow brief dominance, before the new technology and features trickle down to other companies. One other factor that sweetened the deal for Google in the purchase of Motorola was the home video Internet based product. This aspect of Motorola’s business is little known outside of North America but is in fact a significant player in the Video over IP market. Motorola manufactures set top boxes and devices for multiple vendors in the United States. Google on the other hand, through the Google TV initiative, has been trying to popularise its internet TV software platform. Google has not had much traction from hardware vendors so far in this competitive and challenging market. One aspect for this lacklustre performance was the shortage of blockbuster content as well as poorly defined inked DRM and content security. Apple TV, via iTunes and even Amazon, has been playing here with some success. Motorola’s experience and technology will give Google a huge boost in this emerging but significant market. The indications are that the Android platform and the Google TV platform will become one and the same, and this acquisition will have the effect of boosting both businesses. Google now has the ability to control both the hardware and software aspects of the offering and judging by Apple’s success in this regard, that will be no bad thing. The combination of Google and Motorola will fundamentally shift the technology landscape. The most immediate effect will be on the mobile device ecosystem, with cutting edge Motorola based devices coming thick and fast, along with similar products based on Android from other manufacturers. All this at the same time that Microsoft launches with Windows Phone 7 Mango, and Apple, with the iPhone and iOS 5, is charging into the market. Whatever the reasons, the acquisition of Motorola by Google may prove to be a step shift in the technology industry, solidifying the Android ecosystem and making Google a significant and perhaps dominant force in the high tech world we live in.
If technology exhibitions were mythical cartoon characters, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas every January would undoubtedly have to be Godzilla. Bigger than any other technology trade show in the world, more brutal on attendees’ feet than a marathon and more taxing on their minds than a master’s degree in advanced computational mathematics, CES has for some time now been ‘the’ place to unveil new technology. There are so many new things to see and so many different vendors to engage with, most news agencies take entire teams of journalists to the event – and begin reporting on the goings on two days before the show opens its doors to the public. However, this year’s CES wasn’t as impressive as in previous years. That’s partly because the world is still recovering from the economic meltdown and partly because the industry seems to be stuck in that uncomfortable space between new technologies becoming available and the mass adoption of those technologies. Think 3D television, tablet/slate PCs and cloud computing if you need examples. This year the show only played host to 2,500 different exhibitors and managed to command the attention of somewhere close to 120,000 attendees. But even in its small form, the sheer scale of the tradeshow means it’s the perfect event for gauging market sentiment towards specific products and technologies, and a great opportunity to identify the trends that will shape the electronics space in the years to come.
More of the same
While there were some new takes on technology, the majority of the products announced at CES could have been predicted six months ago. For example, tablet or slate PCs continued to be a big focus area and well over five of the industry’s big names made announcements in and around the tablet or slate computing space. Another slightly predictable ‘hot topic’ was the evolution of 3D and the rather shrewd realization by manufacturers that in enabling users to create their own 3D content, they can get their 3D televisions flying off the shelves. As was expected, the show was also filled with a number of new handsets that US networks are still getting away with calling 4G, when in fact they’re equipped with nothing more than HSPA+ or LTE. There were of course some exceptions. One rather unexpected move came from US network operator Cricket, which aims to provide users with an ‘all– you-can-eat’ music service along with an unlimited voice, SMS and data plan. Another – and one that has stronger relevance on African shores – was the announcement of Motorola’s Atrix handset that becomes a desktop computer, media centre or notebook computer as and when the user’s needs dictate. But enough glossing over the details … Let’s get knee-deep in what was announced.
Tablets take centre stage
When Apple announced the iPad a little more than year ago and the market finally got to experience how trouble free this new mode of computing was – browsing the social web and consuming media with ridiculous ease – it was clear that everything was about to change. And even though it’s taken the market some time to catch up, now that RIM is aiming to ring-fence its customer base and Google has released Honeycomb, the tablet version of its Android operating system, things are becoming interesting. While it’s par for the course for us to expect the vast majority of vendors to simply take the ‘me too’ approach, much like Samsung did with its release of the Galaxy Tab, there will be some bold attempts at redefining the market. And there are really only three that stand out from the array of tablet-centric announcements at CES.
Motorola Xooms into view
The first was Motorola’s announcement of its 10-inch, Honeycomb-powered Xoom tablet. As yet, we’re unsure what processor it runs (Motorola has said no more than ‘it’s a dual-core’), exactly how much memory it has on board and what it will cost. What we do know is that it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to an iPad – both in terms of the overall polish of the hardware and the fluidity of the graphical user interface – and in a field of unsuccessful imitators is a good thing. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait some time for Motorola to firm some of those details up.
A decent Windows 7 tablet
Next in line when it comes to interesting tablet announcements, ASUS – the company that pretty much invented the netbook market with the release of the Eee PC all those years ago – let fly with the only remotely compelling Windowsbased tablet we’ve seen to date. Called the Eee Slate EP121, this little puppy has a 12.1-inch capacitive touch screen, runs an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and a 64GB solid-state drive. Reality check. That’s a more powerful specification than the vast majority of notebooks out there today. When the EP121 was demonstrated on stage, the presenter retouched a 60MB image using the stylus while simultaneously playing back a 1080p video in the background. Finally there’s a tablet capable of running Windows 7 in a compelling way. Again, details that weren’t dished out readily at the event include the unit’s battery life and what the expected price point will be. Despite this, it looks promising.
Best of both worlds
Rounding up the tablet announcements, Lenovo finally showed off its U1 Hybrid: as the name suggests, a mix between a tablet or slate and a full-blown notebook that doesn’t compromise on either device’s core functionality. The idea is simple. Tablets are great for certain things, but sometimes notebooks are just far better for getting the job done. With the U1 Hybrid, users won’t have to make that tough choice. One on side , the U1 consists of a Core2Duo notebook, complete with a keyboard, trackpad, hard disk and other system essentials running Windows 7. But, instead of a normal screen, the U1 has a LePad – Lenovo’s touch screen tablet – which unclips from the notebook chassis and transforms into an Android tablet when the user wants to transform their work mode. To make the whole scenario more awesome, Lenovo has ensured that when the U1 is in ‘notebook mode’ the tablet’s internal memory is mounted like a USB flash drive in the Windows 7 file system and that whatever content was loaded into the tablet’s browser when the machine was docked is automatically synchronised to the Windows 7 browser. As would be expected, the same applies when undocking the tablet from its chassis. While Lenovo has an interesting approach for taking the Hybrid and LePad to market – selling the tablet separately and the U1 as a kit, but not the U1 chassis as an upgrade – what’s also interesting is that this product in its current form won’t make it outside of the Chinese market. That said, however, a couple of tweaks to this design could well see it released elsewhere in the world before the end of the year. Whatever happens, Lenovo has committed to making tablet or slate related announcements that are relevant to the rest of the world before the end of the year.
3D content creation
Putting tablets on a shelf for the meantime, the second major trend at CES was 3D technology and more specifically the strategy the leaders in the market will be employing to continue driving this new technology segment. As most analysts and some large consumer electronics brands will admit, 3D technology hasn’t been nearly as much of a success as the big noisemakers in the industry would have liked. While it’s still early days for 3D, like anything in the consumer electronics space there’s always time pressure to contend with. And although there is a wealth of display devices available today (and some that don’t require glasses coming during 2011) there’s not nearly enough content to create any real interest for the average person in the street. This, and the fact that we’re living at a time when social media interactions and users’ ability to create/contribute their own content to the mix is of massive importance. It follows logically then that the number of 3D-capable still and video cameras announced at this year’s CES are designed to get users excited about 3D content creation … and in doing so, sell more 3D televisions.
A horse for every course
The majority of the announcements made around 3D capable cameras came from the likes of Panasonic and Sony who together seem to have a solution for every user. Panasonic’s announcements comprised a number of new camcorders with 1MOS sensors (designed primarily for capturing 1920 x 1080 clips), a gaggle of others with a 3MOS sensor (designed for more professional 1080/60p shooting) – both ranges capable of recording 3D video with an additional lens – and a new ‘professional’ 3D camcorder with a US$21,000 recommended price tag. On the upside, it does come with a special lens, dual memory cards and more. Looking next at the company that could well have the largest vested interest in 3D, it’s not surprising that the number of camera-centric announcements from Sony dwarfed the rest of the industry. Starting with 3D video, the company announced a new Handycam that features what Sony calls ‘Double Full HD 3D’. In more simple terms, these Handycams feature an integrated dual lens system, which includes two Sony G Lenses, two ‘Exmor R’ CMOS sensors and two ‘BIONZ’ image processors. The result is the ability for 2D high definition and 3D high definition footage to be recorded seamlessly and simultaneously. Next up, jumping on the 3D stills bandwagon, Sony’s five-unit lineup of Cyber-shot cameras have 16.2 megapixel sensors and quite remarkably, are able to take 3D stills using only one lens and imager. Rounding its announcements out, Sony added a 3D unit to its popular Bloggie range of shoot and share cameras. The new 3D camera, as expected, makes use of two lenses, two image sensors and a stereo microphone to record 3D footage. Whether or not the focus on 3D cameras will save the 3D display space remains to be seen. One hopes that the current focus on user generated content on a worldwide basis will be enough to give this new market segment impetus.
No technology trade show would be complete without a bunch of smartphone-centric announcements. And CES played host to a number of new handset launches. While for the most part it was more of what we’ve become accustomed to expecting, there were obviously some exceptions. Carrying on the 3D trend, LG showcased an early concept of a 4.3-inch smartphone that’s capable of playing back glasses-free 3D video (using the parallax barrier method). This is a long way off, but it was interesting to see vendors thinking in this direction. However, hot on the heels of its announcement of the Xoom, it was Motorola that again stole the show with the release of two new handsets – the Atrix and the Droid Bionic. While the Droid Bionic is nothing more than a crazy-fast LTE-equipped cellphone, the Atrix is a completely new concept that we believe will take the market by storm.
Press and analysts alike have been saying for years that carrying around multiple devices with separate instances of our data on is a pretty counterintuitive exercise, not to mention one that’s heavy on the pocket and the back. What we’ve all really needed is a single device that has a large enough screen to provide access to one’s most vital information while on the road, but back at the office be attached to an external display, keyboard and mouse so that real work can commence. It would also be cool if this device was media centric so that it could double as a media hub some of the time, playing back high-definition stills and video on a large screen if needs dictate. And it seems like Motorola is the only company that listened. The Atrix does exactly what the dream outlined above calls for – and more. Not only is it a smartphone when you need it to be, a net-top when you need it to be (using a separately sold dock) and a media hub when you need it to be (using the same separately sold dock), Motorola has gone ahead and developed a notebook-chassis style dock – much the same form factor as a MacBook Air – into which the Atrix can be slotted, giving users a netbook while they’re out on the road. Again, while there’s relatively little tangible info available on the Atrix (it’s due for release in March in the US), we know that it runs Android, uses a dual-core NVidia Tegra chip and that the notebook-style dock has a six-hour battery, which simultaneously charges the smartphone’s internal battery while it’s being used. The Atrix is by a long shot the most interesting announcement to see the light of day at CES and one that could see Motorola taking the kudos for finally unseating the iPhone’s dominance in the market: not because it’s better at doing what the iPhone does so well, but rather because it solves a whole bunch of problems the iPhone doesn’t. The Atrix will undoubtedly be as significant as the release of the first tablet device, the original mainstream release of 3DTV and almost certainly, those first smartphones. And in a year’s time, who knows where this trend will drive things?
So, there you have the announcements that are likely – from a trends perspective, at least – to shape 2011’s tech landscape. While we wait with bated breath to see Apple’s response to many of the announcements made by its rivals at CES (the fruit company doesn’t unveil or exhibit at CES), it’s clear that the consumer electronics industry is alive, well and where the majority of the innovations are coming from today. Will the focus ever return to the business market? It’s unlikely. Does it matter? Not really. Most new consumer technologies make their way into the business sector sooner or later. It’s managing that transition that remains tricky and more importantly, where the business sector should be focusing its attention.
The Oxford Dictionary describes an app as “a selfcontained program or piece of software designed to fulfil a particular purpose; an application, especially as downloaded by a user to a mobile device: apparently there are these new apps that will actually read your e-mails to you”. As we know, voice to e-mail apps certainly are available. Africa Telecoms went out to find the best apps available for BlackBerry and Android. We wanted to include Apple, Nokia and Windows Phone 7 apps but unfortunately we did not receive devices in time for this article. Five apps have been chosen for each device. They are not ranked in any particular order but simply as the Top Five Apps for each device that we have found.
Blackberry - The Device - Torch 9800 using Blackberry OS6
The new-look Facebook social media app on BlackBerry is certainly a huge improvement on the first version with far superior looks and functionality and more Facebook-like navigation. Gone is the horizontal menu across the top – now there are two navigation grids. One gives an overall view of all areas of your Facebook profile from newsfeeds, places, photos and the rest. The other gives you a full notifications overview covering notifications (all including incoming chat messages), messages and friend requests. Overall the look and feel has been hugely improved, although it is still true to Facebook, which is great. On the downside as far as I can see the photo loader is still slower than on other devices with similar specs. However, this looks as if it could be an app optimisation issue rather than a BlackBerry hardware spec issue.
This is a protection/security app for BlackBerries. Once you have done your backup and configuration of BlackBerry Protect, you can remotely block your device if necessary; and if you forget where you have left your phone, Protect will tell you on Google Maps where it is. Unfortunately Google Maps is not yet detailed enough to tell you that your device is under the cushion on your couch but the info is still fairly useful. Should your phone get stolen, with Protect you now have options. You can either institute or change a password until the device is found. Lock the device. Or remote wipe the device. One handy feature here before you wipe the data is that you can do a remote backup, as it is unlikely you will lose or have the device stolen straight after you have backed it up. And that way when you do a restore on a new device all will be as it was the last time you had the device in your hand. The only downside I can see is that if BES has ever been installed on the device Protect cannot be loaded as the backup rights will still sit with your IT Admin. Overall this is a great app with some nifty features.
FNB Banking App
This is unfortunately a South African only application and is also available on Android and Apple OSs. This world first has set FNB apart from all banks worldwide as a true innovator. Using the app is amazingly simple and the design is great. Luckily, as an FNB account holder myself, on the day of launch I downloaded the app and now it is really quite indispensible. It has full transactional capabilities, transferring funds between your own accounts and making third party payments – all now possible with this app. It has a Branch Locator connected to Google Maps should you need to get to a branch while travelling around South Africa. They have also bundled FNB Connect with the app, which is useful as over WiFi you now have free access to FNB call centres. While travelling abroad this could prove to be invaluable – rather than paying roaming fees and suffering with potentially bad call quality, you will have a direct VOIP connection to your bank. There is also a live Forex tracker, which in the current times of financial instability and volatility could be handy while travelling. For version 1.0 this is a very slick app.
This is a great app for those who have a vested interest in the financial markets through owning their own portfolio of stocks or are simply just interested. It contains information from most markets including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Zambia and Tanzania, to name a few. Looking up stock quotes, exchange rates and financial news has never been easier. The app gives you the number of times the last quote was downloaded and so you are always able to track how old the individual quotes are. Another useful feature is that each quote on opening gives you a 52-week graph showing historic levels at a glance, giving you an easy indication as to how the stock is trending over time. Another useful feature of this app is the podcast section that allows you to listen to a variety of Bloomberg podcasts. This could be useful while travelling if you feel like a short market update. For the non-financial professional it may prove a nice to have; on the other hand if finance is your business this is definitely a hot pick for your BlackBerry.
WeatherBug Mobile Weather
This is the most comprehensive weather app found in the app store and seemingly accurate too. But to be honest we have all at some time said how useless our local weather forecaster is. Time will tell when using this app whether or not this will be the same. One certainty is that as this is developed by an American app developer the information is still coming from the same source that your local weather person is getting it from. As far as information goes, it will give you everything you need to know from a weather forecast summary to sunrise and sunset figures. This would clearly include all the regulars: wind direction and strength, temperatures, humidity and even pressures. However, on the day this article was written in Cape Town, it was a wet winter’s day with loads of rain, but WeatherBug had 0 mm as the rain figure for the day. An epic fail as it had been raining all day. Oh well, back to saying how useless weather predictions can be.
Blackberry - The Device - Playbook using QNX OS version 1.07
BlackBerry Bridge is a certain necessity for any BlackBerry Playbook owner. This is the application that tethers/syncs your Playbook device with your BlackBerry device. This is done by loading BlackBerry Bridge onto your BlackBerry mobile device and then allowing a Bluetooth connection between the device and the Playbook. The reason for the ever so important application is that the Playbook does not have its own native e-mail client, although this has been mooted as a serious downside to the Playbook. In this case Africa Telecoms would disagree with this assertion, due to the fact that no syncing is necessary between Playbook and your BlackBerry mobile device as the mail is replicated on the Playbook from the Mobile. The other benefit of this is that your BBM service is also replicated. BBM has become the most ubiquitous app for BlackBerries worldwide and with younger generations a key driver of BlackBerry Sales. Then finally, as the Playbook has no SIM slot for an additional SIM card, BlackBerry Bridge allows the user to access the internet via this Bluetooth connection using the data available on the BlackBerry device. The other benefit of this is that the BlackBerry data bundle on your device is used. Overall this app is vital to gain maximum usage out of your Playbook.
Kobo Reader is a great e-reader with an amazing store available to purchase books. It has a very similar format and style to Kindle and the Google Books app on Android. Reading is easy, navigation is simple and intuitive. With a fairly large number of free e-books available on the platform, it is a great starting point for people wanting to use an e-reader for the first time. Paid books range from as low as US$0.99 to the average bestseller going for US$9.99. Although there is not much to differentiate Kobo from other e-book stores, it is nonetheless a serious competitor in a sector that Kindle has dominated from the start.
Need for Speed: Undercover
It would be remiss to review apps for Playbook and not include the Playbook’s signature game with great graphics that are just as good as PC renditions of the game. The gameplay is incredible and steering with the Playbook makes for loads of fun. After receiving the Playbook it took me about a week to complete all levels of this game. There are various “levels” to play through and a host of Cars Available to drive, from a Nissan 240SX to a Ford Mustang 67 (great for the drifting levels) to the Pagani Zonda F. When you have unlocked enough of the game and have the necessary cash in the “career” mode of the game, the Pagani Zonda F makes previous stages that seemed really complicated and difficult to win an absolute breeze as it is so fast. This game has been a hit with a wide variety of users from my daughter Tori through to clients who have tried it; this is certainly far and away the top game app available for Playbook on App World currently. And best of all, it is a standard feature on all devices.
It might seem strange to have Kobo and Press Reader as top apps. There is a reason for this. Press Reader is a great app for keeping up to date with news. This app offers newspapers from around the world for US$0.99 per edition. And it has worldwide coverage: to name a few of the countries, there are Albania with nine newspapers, Australia with 184 issues, Haiti with one, Oman with seven. The number of African newspapers available is also impressive, including Angola, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. What is astounding is the variety of papers and the number on offer for specific markets, with 326 US newspapers being available. Readability is great with pinch to zoom functionality being available. Press Reader also gives you seven free credits when you download the app, which is sufficient for you to choose seven newspapers before you need to pay for additional editions.
This is a very useful cloud-based application for the Playbook. As the name suggests, it is very similar to – if not a complete knock off of – Drop Box. The functionality is great, as you can login from a PC to upload or download files into your Box; and likewise with the Playbook, login, upload or download. Files can be organised in various folders. Free individual users have access to 5gb and a single file upload size of 25mb. This is upgradeable for an individual to 25gb of storage with a single file upload size of 1gb for US$9.99/month; or a business with 500gb of storage and a single file upload size of 2gb for US$15USD/month. Business users can also brand their Box with a company logo. I’m not sure the logo would sell the service but as a free cloud-based application Box it will certainly be useful. However there are some problems with the Playbook app. Files cannot be deleted from the Playbook. Although connectivity is required to download files from the cloud onto the Playbook, once downloaded the files are saved to the device. These downloads are also dated to ensure that you are viewing the most up to date version if multiple persons are working on a file at any given time.
Android Mobile - The Device - Motorola MB525 using Android 2.1 (Froyo) with Motoblur
In the search for new and interesting apps on Android Market, Hot Apps is certainly a must use. This little app search app gives you a great view of apps that are currently trending on Marketplace. You can browse by “Hot Today”, “All Time” or “Best of 2010” tabs. It is an incredibly easy to use and intuitive app. The most interesting way to find apps is the “shake to discover apps”. This is simply a random selection of apps that comes onto the device’s screen. It might not be terribly useful but it is a fun way to discover apps that you might not necessarily have ever downloaded. The only downside is that the search criterion for apps is currently not customizable, which would be a useful addition. The only other fail that became evident while using this app is its inability to ignore apps that you are currently using.
Many people have their doubts about the new social media entrant Google+. But … has Google ever done anything that has not been hugely successful? Well, some might look at the Nexus and question the success of the device. However, with 20 million users having registered for the service in the first three weeks of operation, it makes a compelling case. Then with Google’s search page receiving around one billion users daily, there could be a huge conversion of users when Google+ launches in earnest. The Google+ app on Android is easy to use and requires a small amount of understanding as the terminology is different from the likes of Facebook and Twitter. By far the most impressive feature of Google+ is the handling of photos, shared by you or your circles. The default folders are for “photos from your Circles”, “photos of you” (tagged), “your albums”, and “from your phone”. The “from your phone” folder even allows photos to be automatically uploaded from your device. These photos do however remain private until such time as you “publish” them to your Google+ profile. Photo sharing has never been easier and required less effort.
This is a great mind mapping tool for giving some organisation to your thoughts. If you tend to sit in meetings and or conferences and doodle this might be a useful tool for you. The Oxford Dictionary defines a mind map as “a diagrammatic method of representing ideas, with related concepts arranged around a core concept”. This is exactly what you can do with Thinking Space: instead of doodling, make pictures of the content in the meeting or the conference session you are in. it is very similar to doodling but far more useful that the reams of little doodle notes many people find in their possession. For tertiary education this app would prove invaluable for taking notes in lectures; although using it on a mobile phone could take some getting used to, compared with using it on a larger form tablet where it is perfect. The app itself is incredibly easy to use and even if you have never done mind maps, the user interface is very simple and in no time you will be mind mapping your way through your daily routine.
Talk to Me
This is an ingenious combination of Voice Recognition, Google Translate, and Text-to- Speech technologies. Best of all, this is a free to download app on Android. This is a definite must have for international travellers. It allows you speak a phrase into your Android device and it will recognise what you are saying and type it in your home language on the screen (this is to enable any correction of the voice recognition) and then repeat the phrase in a language of your choice. With what seems like a never-ending list of languages that it can translate, the only catch is that not all come with speak-back translations. These additional languages are available to purchase. But from an African perspective, for it to include Afrikaans and Swahili I was well impressed. I tested the speak-back translations from English to German and Spanish (this will be useful at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next year) and even with my limited knowledge of these languages, they certainly sounded like German and Spanish!
This is another app that will probably turn out to be more fun than functional. But once you download it you may easily find yourself measuring the distances around your home or office. Or checking the height of arbitrary objects. Don’t worry, you are not alone. This is really just about some fairly basic trigonometry being implemented on a mobile device. These days the processing power of most mobile devices is more than sufficient to run extremely complex programs – so it is not surprising that we are seeing apps like this service that can calculate heights and distances using trig. Although not very useful, it is one of those apps you are likely to use as you say to a friend: “How tall do you think … is?” and you answer: “Well, let me check how close you are.” And I certainly can’t see builders and architects checking site measurements using an application like this with fairly enormous variances.
(Although it would be interesting to see how the buildings turned out if they did ...)
Android Tablet - The Device - Motorola XOOM Tablet using Android 3.1 (Honeycomb)
Angry Birds has been the most successful app to date, with over 250 million downloads up to June 2011, an average of 3.33 million hours a day spent playing Angry Birds across all platforms and over 40 million monthly users of the app. The Apple IOS version of Angry Birds is a paid-for application whereas the Android version used for this review is the free version. Rovio, the developers of Angry Birds, found another way to monetise this app by providing in-app advertising and this is still generating Rovio in excess of US$1 million a month in revenues. Playing Angry Birds on a large format tablet like the Xoom is a far cry from playing the game on the smaller form mobile phone devices. With the graphics Angry Birds is really coming into its own and making game play far more engaging. And Rovio is not done with Angry Birds either: in a recent interview with Venture Beat, the chief marketing officer of Rovio, Peter Vesterbacka, stated: “We are betting everything on Angry Birds. We want to be the first entertainment brand with a billion fans. That will take us two or three years to do. Next year, we want to be the leading entertainment brand in China.”
Chrome to Phone
This is a great app if you are a Chrome browser user on your desktop or laptop. It quite literally takes links from your PC chrome browser and pushes the link onto your tablet. It is very easy to install: simply add the Chrome to Phone extension onto your PC browser and an icon becomes available. Once Chrome to Phone is installed on your tablet, it is simple to push any content from your browser to your tab. Great if you are busy reading an article and need to leave for a meeting or your daily commute; just push it onto your mobile device for your reading/researching pleasure on the move. The only improvement I can suggest would be a reverse functionality of pushing links from your tablet to your PC. This would certainly make the app more useful overall as there are times when you want to carry on reading or working using a link on your device.
This is another nice to have app, although its usefulness on a device the size of the Motorola Xoom might come into question. Holding the Xoom up to take pictures inconspicuously is not likely to happen. However, if you have taken photos and need to crop them, make minor adjustments to contrasts, etc, this is certainly the app for you. Or generally if you like tinkering and playing with photos before sharing in a myriad different ways. Adobe has done a great job of fitting some fairly highend photo editing technologies into this app and it is still a free download app on Marketplace. It allows for changes in brightness, contrast, changing the colour scale of the image, and creating borders for images. Overall this is a great app for the happy snappers who are never quite happy with their snap work.
Kindle for Android
Amazon has positioned Kindle as the leader in the e-book space with a variety of offerings including the Kindle Wireless Reader. Amazon launched the Android app for Kindle in June 2010. The Kindle store currently has over 900,000 books available, with prices ranging from free to US$9.99 for latest releases. This seems to be the average across all the various platforms where e-books can be purchased. The version of Kindle designed specifically with tablets in mind for the Android’s upgraded Honeycomb OS has seen improvements in layout and optimisation for the standard size of tablets between 7 and 10 inch devices. A great functionality of the Android app is that Whispersync automatically syncs your last page read, bookmarks, notes and highlights across all your Kindle devices. This includes the PC application, the Kindle device and any apps you have running. Granted this is based on the fact that you log into each application using the same login details. Reading using this application is great, with crystal clear text display and amazingly clear graphics when viewing magazines. Overall a very well put together app that runs smoothly and very efficiently.
Plume for Twitter is a powerful Twitter application for Android. The latest version being used for this review has been optimised for Honeycomb. Tweetdeck had set the standard for desktop Twitter applications. However the Android app version has not been optimised for Tablets – or Honeycomb for that matter. Plume sets itself apart from other apps in that it is fully customizable and can handle more than one Twitter account with ease. Multiple account management has never been easier, with each account given different colours, which makes tracking of these accounts within one client easier than ever. The free version of this app comes with one advertisement and with the premium paid app the ad is removed for just under US$3. However, the ad is not terribly obtrusive and so you may not want to fork out the additional cash for the premium version. The one area where Plume falls down against its largest competitors TweetDeck and HootSuite is that it currently does not support other social media offerings like Facebook or LinkedIn.