EVERYONE HAS TO START SOMEWHERE!
It was just over two years ago that I met my first green base station. It was at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where Ericsson was making a big fuss about going green. “You have to be seen to be green,” said Steve Barnett, Ericsson’s Head of Network and Technology Consulting. “And we can save people a lot of money.” The 40m-tall concrete tower wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but an imaginative operator could soon fix that with a funky lick of paint. The prototype base station was about to begin trials to see how well it met its promise of substantially lower running costs. Traditional base stations need a lot of power to feed signals from antennae at the top to transmission equipment at the bottom. This tower houses all the equipment at the top, eliminating the need to feed signals up and down. Nor does it need air conditioning, since it’s cooled by natural air flow, while batteries to power the equipment are buried to keep them cool. Numerous other operators and equipment manufacturers also claimed to be striving to save the planet. African operator Celtel boasted about being the first in the world to install hybrid base stations that combine a diesel generator and a bank of batteries, which take it in turns to power the equipment. Running on battery power halves the fuel bill and the diesel recharges the batteries, making them suitable for rural areas. China Mobile talked of buying solar and wind powered base stations to cut electricity consumption, because its base stations account for 73% of its fuel bill. China Mobile also collects and recycles dead batteries and old cellphones from its customers and rewards them with free airtime as part of its green campaign. Everyone was being very earnest and thoroughly caring, yet there was a definite sense that efforts to save the planet were ‘nice to have’, but certainly not a business imperative. Then Nokia lightened the mood a little by demonstrating a nifty clamshell handset dubbed the Remade, which it built from recycled cans, plastic bottles and car tyres. The hitch was its total inability to actually make or receive a call, but Nokia claimed it was working on that one.
GREEN INITIATIVES STALLING
A couple of years on, has very much really changed? Fuel bills are not only among the largest operating expenses for telecoms players, but their energy consumption is a growing culprit for greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with big bills and bad press about environmental damage, operators and equipment vendors are feeling the pressure to devise energy efficient networks and reduce their carbon emissions. Their efforts include using the wind and sun as renewable energy sources, seeking more energy efficient practices for data centres, and initiatives to recycle old equipment. The trend has undeniably garnered a lot of attention, as event organiser Informa staged a telecoms exhibition last year specifically focusing on saving money and saving the environment. The ICT industry accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions, and the conference examined how that impact could be reduced. Informa’s Global Green Telecom Summit was based on the growing interest in environmentally friendly strategies and the fact that reducing energy consumption and deploying alternative energy solutions would greatly reduce the industry’s impact on the environment. Interestingly, Informa isn’t running a Green Telecoms summit again this year, presumably because going green still isn’t big enough to justify a dedicated exhibition. “The last green event was very interesting, but very few people were willing to put their money where their mouth is. Green telecoms has a much better chance of catching telcos’ attention if it is related to cost-efficiency,” said Informa Research Director Julie Rey. Research house Analysys Mason, part of South Africa’s Datatec group, has been studying the issue for a while. Senior Manager David Eurin reported back in 2009 that green initiatives designed to cut costs would survive, while publicityoriented smoke screens would disappear. Operators were keen to use the green factor to reassure investors during a recession that they were ‘doing something’, he said. “Being seen as green has been near the top of the corporate social responsibility agenda in the last few years, responding to a surge in media coverage of environmental issues. Broadly worded mentions of ‘responsible behaviour’ and being ‘members of the community’ and aiming to make ‘a positive impact on social progress’ have been seen in company reports.
THE CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Those green policies had their value, however, as telcos were using environmental issues as a catalyst to cut their operational costs and drive efficiency. “Investment decisions will be tight, so we can expect that only those initiatives wit h a strong business case will be launched,” Eurin said. “There certainly seem to be opportunities to reduce costs. For example, France Telecom reported that about 50% of its energy bill comes from base station equipment.” In response, France Telecom was investigating solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells and other alternatives to provide offgrid energy, cut costs, and reduce dependency on expensive and polluting diesel generators, particularly in the African countries where it operates its Orange networks. Companies also use a credit system based on the Kyoto Protocol to offset their carbon emissions. Although this is a quick way to become green on paper by obtaining a zero emission net balance, Analysys Mason says it can prove very costly for little immediate benefit. The system relies on a trading market organised by the United Nations, in which certified reductions in emissions can be bought from carbon projects set up in developing countries. Recently a telecoms company stated – off the record – that it would drastically reduce its use of this syste m because it cost too much, Eurin said. Analysys Mason is turning green initiatives into something of a speciality, by offering fixed and mobile operators a service to monitor, control and reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions, and to help them negotiate better deals with energy suppliers. Ericsson is still plugging away at its green initiatives with Konstantinos Tzingakis, its Director of Innovations in South Africa, saying environmental concerns are one of the most topical issues facing society. Being environmentally savvy is not only impacting the lives of individuals, but also affecting businesses in how they operate and their choice of business partners, he says. Telecom companies are playing a more significant role in the fight to address climate change, Tzingakis believes. That is being forced upon them by soaring energy prices, spurring telecom operators to scrutinise their environmental and social responsibilities and their energy bills. Although ICT accounts for just 2% of greenhouse gas emissions, it is estimated that their technologies have the potential to reduce emissions by up to 98% in some other sectors of the economy. Overall, ICT could help to cut emissions by about 15%, Tzingakis says, by allowing people to use resources more efficiently. Ericsson believes it has differentiated its products by developing energy efficient equipment and methods for network and site optimisation. Its WCDMA base stations are designed for energy efficiency and a power-saving feature has been developed to improve the energy efficiency of already installed GSM base stations. Such environmental initiatives have seen Ericsson earn a Green Company Award for innovation in China and be acknowledged as a Green Pioneer in Korea. “The telecommunications sector has a crucial role to play in meeting the challenges posed by climate change,” Tzingakis says. “To do this, telecoms providers and operators need to work together to create energy-lean products and production processes. More efficient technologies will reduce the amount of fossil fuels that operators need, as well as make it possibl e to use alternative sources of energy such as solar or wind power.” Being environmentally savvy is a hot point of discussion in the ICT industry, with everyone wanting to go green, says Dan Engel, the regional sales manager of Polycom. “Pressure is being placed on companies to use recyclable materials in the manufacturing of their products, as well as to properly dispose of unwanted or outdated equipment.” Going green is not an easy transition, he says, but energy-efficient IT is high performance IT. Tough economic conditions have led to cost cutting and many businesses have halted their investments in green solutions. Yet becoming greener is still a key priority towards future sustainability. Polycom offers a range of communication solutions that reduce travel and promote greener business for all industries, and for its own operations too. Using video to train Polycom’s worldwide sales team will save an estimated 374 metric tons of carbon emissions annually, Engel says.
WHAT CAN THE INDUSTRY DO?
The core goal of green ICT initiatives, products and practices is to design, manufacture, use, and dispose of equipment efficiently and effectively with little or no impact on the environment. Specific goals are to reduce the use of hazardous materials, maximize energy efficiency during a product’s lifetime, and promote the recycling or safe disposal of defunct products. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has published a global survey of more than 90 government and industry Green ICT initiatives that focus on the environment and climate change. The report concludes that initiatives tend to concentrate on the green technologies themselves rather than on their actual implementation to tackle global warming and environmental degradation. In general, only 20% of initiatives have measurable targets. So far the rules and regulations developed around green technologies concentrate on the IT sector, rather than the telecoms sector, with schemes such as Energy Star ratings and Climate Savers Computing Initiative in the US designed to reduce the power consumption of PCs. However, telcos may be affected by The Green Grid, a global consortium dedicated to improving energy efficiency in data centres and business computing systems. It was founded in 2007 by several key IT companies. Data centre facilities are booming as business data increases, and each houses a rising amount of powerful IT equipment. Their managers are running into limits related to power, cooling and space, and the rising demand has had a noticeable impact on the world’s power grids. Once a standard set of measurements is adopted by the industry, it will be easier for end-users to manage their facilities and equipment to achieve optimal energy efficiency. Few companies are enthusiastic enough to build their entire business case around environmental awareness, except for Green Telecom. This independent UK-based player supplies corporate clients with phone lines and telephone systems with its services carried over the BT network. It promises to help organisations meet their Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) whilst saving them money, as it does not believe that going green should cost organisations more. Its carbon footprint is calculated and offset to a wind energy project in India that provides reliable, renewable power to the Rajasthan state electricity grid. That project will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by lowering the grid’s dependency on fossil fuel-based electricity generation. Green Telecom also reuses or recycles all incoming packaging materials and minimises its use of paper. In August this year the company began a transition to paperless billing to enhance its green credentials. All electrical waste, such as old telephone systems, is removed from its clients’ premises and disposed of in compliance with the European Union’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives. Its systems installation division runs a tree-planting programme to offset carbon emissions and encourage wildlife. Overall, its green procedures are designed to make all employees and suppliers aware of their actions and contributions that may impact the environment.
THE FUTURE OF GREEN ICTs
Simple telecoms initiatives that can contribute to going green include VoIP and phone extension mobility, which make hot-desking more practical. That allows companies to operate from less office space, which reduces the cost of rental, heat and lighting. Although staff may resent not having a permanent desk of their own, companies may push for that because the average annual energy consumption for an office building is more than 23 kilowatt hours per square foot, with heat, air conditioning and lighting accounting for 70% of that, according to US studies. Another area where operators and network equipment manufacturers can play a major role is through teleconferencing, a technology that is often implemented as part of green computing initiatives. Holding virtual meetings instead of travelling reduces greenhouse gas emissions related to travel, although a more compelling reason for companies to adopt teleconferencing is to eliminate the time and money previously spent on travelling. That cost saving and the fact that staff are not losing productive time by being in transit are far more likely to sell the technology than appealing to a customer ’s sense of environmental responsibility. And that’s it in a nutshell, really. Operators and suppliers alike are undoubtedly under pressure to highlight the efforts they are making for the good of the globe. Yet they are under even more pressure from their boards and shareholders to generate a profit. Since going green is initially an expensive investment offering only a longer-term payback, innovations that benefit the environment must first and foremost be able to prove that they also benefit the bottom line.
SIDEBAR - WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH TELL US?
If it hasn’t, it is certainly expected to soon, because Pike Research predicts that investments in green telecom network infrastructure will touch $122 billion by 2014, representing 46% of telecoms capital expenditure. Of that, 63% will be for mobile networks. Pike’s report on Green Telecoms Networks published in July looks at the opportunities, technology requirements and environmental impact of green schemes. Asia Pacific is expected to lead the capex spending, followed by Europe. Global emissions reductions by then (compared with doing nothing) should reach 24%, with a 46% reduction from mobile networks. Up to 80% of an operator’s energy usage is absorbed by its networks, base stations and switching centres. But replacing them with renewable energy solutions carries a dearer upfront cost, so implementing greener equipment only becomes compelling if companies look at the total cost of ownership rather than the upfront fee. Yet if they are done well, green initiatives can provide major cost savings. Examples include using free and renewable energy sources, and remotely controlling equipment through an energy-saving on, off or idle switch. Even so, Pike Research believes that renewable energy will power only 4.5% of the world’s mobile base stations by 2014, and a higher but still unimpressive 8% in developing countries. At the moment renewable energy powers a negligible 0.11% of the world’s mobile base stations. That figure shows that for all the fine talk and fancy inventions, going green just isn’t happening yet. Pike Research also points out that there are many opportunities for fixed and mobile operators to reduce emissions from data centres, both in the design of the facilities and through server consolidation and virtualisation.
Building the Third Ecosystem
Stephen Elop, the new CEO of Nokia, has his work cut out for him. Reinventing Nokia as a smartphone manufacturer is only part of the challenge – a broader objective is in stopping Google from dominating the market.
On 21 April 2011 Nokia and Microsoft ratified the partnership that they announced in February. The Finnish cellular giant has hit an all-time low in terms of its smartphone market share with its Symbian operating system being displaced by Google’s Android that is now the leader with an estimated 33% global market share. With Microsoft in tow, it’s all eyes on Nokia’s new CEO Stephen Elop and the company’s next move that will be a Windows Phone-based device promised by the end of the year. I met with Elop in Dubai in March to discuss his strategy for re-establishing Nokia in the smartphone market and perhaps diversifying its product range. Emerging markets and new revenue streams were also put on the table – but Elop pointed to a more serious war underway in terms of mobile ecosystem providers. The agreement Elop has struck with Microsoft goes beyond Windows Phone. The two companies will also work on a new advertising platform that will make its way into Xbox LIVE, Windows Live, Bing and other Microsoft product sets. This platform will provide Nokia with a fresh revenue stream and should be music to Nokia shareholders’ ears. Nokia as a smartphone manufacturer is only part of the challenge – a broader objective is in stopping Google from dominating the market.
In with the old
The focus, however, remains on Nokia’s core business as a device manufacturer. Success in this space will depend on the company attracting developers to its platforms, and this includes existing systems. Developers I have spoken to are not convinced. They see Symbian as a dead-end street. If anything, they are looking to Windows Phone as a potential platform – but many will switch to developing for Android or iOS instead. Winning them over – or back – has to be a preoccupation for Nokia and is something Elop is fully aware of. “I think the best message for a developer to embrace, if you like, is to look closely at the strength that Nokia has, and what we bring to the market as it relates to Symbian today, and in the months and years ahead – because Symbian still has a large role to play even as we transition and focus on other things in the future,” he says. “For example, in my recent travels, which have included the Middle East and Africa, where we are today, last week in Russia and so forth, there is a wide range of markets where Nokia the brand and Symbian the platform are remarkably strong,” continues Elop. “And as we’ve described, we expect tens of millions of devices still to ship in the months and years ahead. There’s a tremendous opportunity there for developers, because when you look at the absolute scale of the operation, you say ‘wow, there’s something really there’, and so we’re definitely encouraging developers to continue with that, while also recognising that we hope to create a new opportunity around Windows Phone in the future,” he adds. Another challenge facing Nokia is how it will differentiate itself from other Windows Phone manufacturers. Services would be an obvious way to achieve this and Nokia has a powerful set of services grouped under its Ovi brand. However, the Microsoft agreement will see Nokia handing its services over for integration into Windows Phone and to the benefit of all manufacturers shipping the operating system. It seems a curious move at first, until Elop outlines his objectives. “First of all, the highest order point of differentiation that we need to focus on is Windows Phone versus Android versus Apple,” he explains. “Our number one competitor isn’t a Samsung or an HTC or whatever – it is Android. And so as we proceed in the months ahead, our expectation is that we have to take steps to ensure that the Windows Phone ecosystem is very strong and very powerful. Whether it’s us or even our competitors within Windows Phone who have access to some of the best technologies, we want to make sure that the platform holistically is very strong,” says Elop. “Now that being said, we have a number of different areas, be it in services, in hardware or in software, that can and will contribute to our efforts to ensure that we can differentiate,” he continues. “While mapping and navigation and location-based services are something that are crucial in the ecosystem, we will also make sure that we do unique and differentiated things on our devices, within that ecosystem, so that we work to stand apart from everybody else. But again, I emphasise, our principle competition is Android.”
Turning it around
Windows Phone had a less than ideal launch phase and uptake has been slow, to say the least. Last year Microsoft’s global market share in terms of smartphones was estimated at 5%. This year it has actually lost ground and dropped to 3%, according to Canalys. Elop and his colleagues at Nokia obviously think that this can be turned around. “I think there’s an opportunity to first of all differentiate on the range and quality of services that are provided within that ecosystem. For example, Microsoft brings certain properties – take the Xbox gaming environment, which in certain environments is a very powerful capability,” he says. “I think that we also bring a quality of mapping and location-based services that is better than and is differentiated from everything else, so there are elements of that. But when you look at it from a developer perspective, there’s actually a range of things you consider: does it have breadth, are there lots of people using Windows Phone devices? Well, not today – but clearly with the relationship between Nokia and Microsoft, we believe that there will quickly be tens of millions of people who are using these devices,” states Elop. “There needs to be great monetisation for the developers,” he adds. “Nokia brings operator billing with more operators in more countries and regions around the world than anyone else by far, and that we will bring to the ecosystem for general use,” he promises. “Developers need great tools; they need a solid development platform. Clearly that’s part of it already in terms of what Microsoft brings to the table. And then of course developers need the support from the vendors, such as Nokia. For example, here in Dubai today we’re asking what we can do with developers to help them build local applications and local capability,” he says. “At Ramadan, for example, there were applications supported and encouraged by Nokia, delivered by our development community, that were unique for this region at that time of the calendar. And it’s those types of things that we will do to ensure that this is a great platform for developers to target as they go forward.”
There has also been speculation that Nokia is working on a tablet device. In the past we have seen diversified products from the company, such as its Booklet 3G laptop computer. Elop sees potential for other devices in the future, but isn’t sold on tablets unless Nokia can do something wholly different with the form-factor. “We are building and contributing to this ecosystem with the belief that the opportunity is much larger than mobile phones, smartphones – however you would characterise them,” he explains. “The challenge I have for our team is to make sure that as we enter adjacent markets, that we have a unique and differentiated position. Today you can go and buy one of 150 or 180 – I’ve lost count – different tablets out there that frankly you can’t tell apart, and most of them aren’t particularly useful for much,” says Elop. “There are a couple that are very successful and we know who some of those are, at least one of them, and that’s fine. But Nokia has to look at itself – its market opportunity, the strength of its ecosystem, the geographies where it has strength – and consider what we can do that sets us apart and goes after a unique opportunity.” He continues: “We have some specific ideas, but are not announcing things there today. It’s not just about tablets – there are other devices, platforms, things that can be done, that take advantage of the ecosystem, and contribute to the ecosystem, and these are places where you may see us play in the future.” Nokia is also looking to emerging markets as a key strategy for the future. In these markets it has tried to play a more meaningful role than some of its competitors who are very good at talking the talk instead of delivering real value. I ask Elop whether Nokia has placed an emphasis on hyper-localised content that is not only designed for particular regions, but is actually developed by local developers. “You’ve just described a key element of our strategy, and that is the local aspect,” agrees Elop. “Local content, local applications and local services are hugely important to our efforts to differentiate. And indeed the strength of the Nokia brand in emerging markets and Africa and other places is largely because we have delivered more than anyone else on the promise of a great experience that makes sense within your local environment,” he adds. “While other ecosystems and players churn out devices at a furious rate, we’re far more focused on making sure that you have a great experience that connects you. You know our overall statement about the company – ‘connecting people’ – well, that’s about connecting people with their community, with the environment in which they operate, with opportunity. That’s what Nokia is focused on. “And so, when you think about it, yes we’ll have great devices, we’ll have wonderful software and services that go with that, but to the extent that we deliver an experience that is unique and differentiated in the environment in which people are working … you’ve seen it already,” he says. “And we can go so much further with that. That’s part of the excitement that travelling around to these different regions is: you feel that, you meet people whose lives have been changed by the experience. And that’s not just about placing a phone call, or doing an SMS, it’s the whole experience.”
The next billion
Nevertheless, manufacturers still have a long way to go in terms of scaling prices for the broader market in developing economies. Nokia has managed to get its non-feature phones down to ridiculously low prices, but smartphones are still just out of reach of the average emerging market user. This is changing rapidly, however. Elop believes that affordable devices in terms of these markets is around the corner. “I think it’s much sooner than people realise. The rate at which price points can be addressed, starting at the high end and moving well down, with smartphone experiences or ‘smartphone like’ experiences even plunging below the prices [$100 mentioned in discussion], I think there’s a lot of opportunity there,” he says. “There’s work that we’ve already done to bring some elements of a ‘smartphone like’ experience to very inexpensive handsets. The thing that I keep in mind, and this is particularly true in a region like Africa, is that today 80% of the world’s population is within cell phone signal range,” continues Elop. “They’re close enough to a tower, and yet only 20% of them have had an Internet experience. And that’s why we’ve called this strategy ‘the next billion’. How do we bring the next billion to their first Internet experience, to give them their first banking experience, using their device? Some of that is smartphone capability, some of it is lower in the price point than that, but I think you’re going to see things come down much faster than anyone would have previously predicted,” he says. “And in our relationship with Microsoft that was a key part of the conversation with them: to make sure we jointly agreed to that, understood how it would be done, and could begin the engineering work to make it happen.” Elop reinforced his previous statements that the first Windows Phone-based Nokia product will be on sale before the end of 2011. One can only imagine the kind of frenetic work underway behind the scenes at Nokia to pull that one off. The smartphone market is inherently frenetic. Apple set the pace when it committed to annual iPhone updates. The market scrambles to keep up and revisions come hard and fast. Android seems an unstoppable force at the moment, but Elop apparently sees it as inevitable that Google is kept away from a dominant market share. Microsoft and Nokia need each other and may just be the perfect combination to bring the fight to Apple and Google. By this time next year we should know for sure.
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.