Would You Pay an Ongoing ‘Entertainment’ Tax to use Your Mobile Device?

An Irish Government minister has recently announced that every home in the country will have to pay a TV license fee regardless of whether they have a TV or not. He is quoted as saying;

“In short, everyone benefits from the availability of these services, regardless of how content is accessed or relayed to the public and, therefore, it is my view that the cost should be borne by society as a whole.”

There are two implied premises to his argument: The first is, that people are watching more programming on their mobile devices or computers to the extent that the relationship between broadcaster and viewer has changed in some fundamental way.

Second, that watching television is not only beneficial in itself but is of benefit to society as a whole.

Dealing with the second point first. For the most part Television isn’t even a benefit to the immediate viewer let alone the public at large.

In particular, no child should be left unattended watching television. Once they are away from “Thomas the Tank Engine” and highly specific programmes of a kind especially produced to aid child development, television is nothing but an outright danger. Indiscriminate viewing does them nothing but harm.

Television is also a major health hazard to those old enough to know where the off button is. It is a clearly identifiable contributor to the obesity epidemic which in turn is the leading cause of heart failure and diabetes in the western world. Never mind a whole host of other nasty side effects.

The far more interesting assertion to discuss is the notion that content is being viewed on mobile devices and computers rather than a conventional TV set.

The evidence from the Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2012–2017 white paper would suggest that the Minister’s assertions may have some basis. (The executive summary is well-worth reading.)

Relevant to this discussion are two findings from the Cisco research:

1.) Smartphones represented only 18 percent of total global handsets in use in 2012, but represented 92 percent of total global handset traffic. In 2012, the typical smartphone generated 50 times more mobile data traffic (342 MB per month) than the typical basic-feature cell phone (which generated only 6.8 MB per month of mobile data traffic).

2.) Two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017. Mobile video will increase 16-fold between 2012 and 2017, accounting for over 66 percent of total mobile data traffic by the end of the forecast period.

<img src="https://technologyvoice.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/mobile-usage.png" align="left" vspace="10" hspace="10"The most recent figures from TV Licensing in the UK show that 39% of homes watched TV content on a smartphone while another 14% used a tablet.

However, while there is a certain handiness in being able to view content on mobiles, computers, etc. it is hard to believe that it as remotely a satisfactory an experience as watching content on a proper screen accompanied by proper sound.

Just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to or that you will.

Not to be a complete killjoy, I do think the world would be a sorrier place without programmes such as; The Wire, Breaking Bad, BSG, Firefly and so on. The rest, however, is junk.

So why this move? As is usual, one has to follow the money. Television is a ubiquitous service and most households in Ireland have a viewing set for which they already pay a TV license. So the additional money raised from properties that don’t have televisions will be trivial in comparison to the amount that is already being raised.

Technically, it is not a poll tax but it is in effect a tax on just living in a house which all of us need to do. It contains within it the pernicious idea that we now have to pay a tax to the government for no other reason then that we happen to exist. This has nothing to do with income or property rights.

More pernicious still for those of us who actually enjoy and benefit from technology is the identification (if only by approximation at this point) of everyday gadgetry such as mobile phones, tablets and personal computers as being liable for periodic taxation as opposed to taxes paid at the point of sale.

The dubious and unsupported argument for such an imposition is based on the idea that these devices can carry so-called entertainment from publicly funded broadcasters and are the practical objects for conveying the wider benefit that the minister refers to. (It is equally likely that he could have been referring to some sort of magical thinking that conveyed this benefit – hard to know with politicians.)

However, with the sort of figures being talked about in the Cisco report it is going to be hard for any government to turn away from such a potentially abundant source of income. It is just a matter of them figuring out precisely how.

Can Your Mobile Phone Help You Get Fit?


Ted Vickey (on right) with John Breslin and researchers from NUI Galway.

Can your mobile phone help you get fit? A researcher at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUI Galway) and former White House fitness expert will pose this question at the 5th Annual Medicine 2.0 Congress which opens in Harvard Medical School, Boston, tomorrow.

Ted Vickey is a PhD researcher at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) and the Discipline of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway. His company FitWell won the White House Athletic Center contract in 1995. At Medicine 2.0, Ted’s presentation to delegates will show that “understanding one’s social network may be one key to better health”.

“Rather than surfing in the ocean, we are surfing the web. Rather than an outdoor game of tennis under the sun, we are inside our homes playing online virtual tennis on our Wii. People drive their cars to the gym and then take the escalator to the front door rather than walking and taking the stairs,” explains Vickey. “But what if technology could be the solution to our problem? What if our mobile phones could track our every step, provide healthy tips during the day, even persuade or motivate us when we need it most? This dream is now a reality all across the globe and it is called Mobile Health.”

There are an estimated 13,000 health-related apps in the iTunes app store: everything from monitoring blood pressure to tweeting body weight to tracking sleep cycles. A subset of these are fitness-related apps (MapMyFitness, Nike+, etc.) for monitoring and reporting on a person’s exercise characteristics. One way to share some of this exercise activity data is through microblogging services such as Twitter.

Various studies have indicated that “lack of motivation” is a key factor in why a person does not exercise. With social sharing of exercise activities using mobile fitness apps becoming more common, understanding and leveraging one’s social network may be one key to better health through exercise. However, the effectiveness of online sharing via social networks of one’s physical activity has yet to be fully understood. More research and best practices are therefore needed to show how advanced social web technologies may effectively address the lack of motivation excuse, and thus increase exercise adherence/general health.

As part of his PhD research, Vickey and his colleagues at NUI Galway have collected over 4.5 million tweets sent via mobile fitness applications from around the world. These were then categorised into different classifications, in an attempt to understand the correlations between online social networking and effective exercise motivation and adherence. For each person who shared a workout online, the researchers looked at their social network structure and their online influence, while determining a fitness classification, exercise intensity, exercise duration and motivation for that person.

“Mobile fitness apps not only allow for the sharing of information between user and healthcare providers, but also with a user’s friends. These self-monitoring units will help change the face of healthcare around the globe”, said Vickey.

Vickey’s paper, ‘Estimating the Long Term Effectiveness of Mobile Fitness Apps and Exercise Motivation’, has been shortlisted for the iMedicalApps Medicine 2.0 mHealth Research Award. His research at NUI Galway is funded by the Irish Research Council in conjunction with the American Council on Exercise (ACE Fitness), the largest non-profit fitness certification organisation in the world with over 50,000 professionals, and by Science Foundation Ireland. Vickey also serves on the Board of Directors of ACE Fitness.

Established in 2003 by NUI Galway and Science Foundation Ireland, DERI has now grown to become the world’s largest semantic web research institute. It engages with companies, from startups through to multinationals, to develop new web solutions. The Discipline of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at NUI Galway also offers a degree programme in Sports and Exercise Engineering, focusing on the convergence between electronic systems and exercise.

From Arcades to Apps: The History of Computer Games is Repeating Itself


Image adapted from Wikipedia.

Seamus Blackley, co-creator of the Xbox, has a theory. The new arcade is the tablet, the mobile, the app-powered touchscreen device of today. What we are seeing today in games apps has all happened before: we just need to look back to the arcade games boom of the early 1980s, in particular their adoption by a widespread demographic. But we also have to learn from the arcade games crash and make sure that the same doesn’t happen to the games apps ecosystem.

Blackley was the keynote speaker at the International Games Innovation Conference, run by IEEE’s Consumer Electronics Society, where he spoke about the birth of arcades and what it means for those now in the games industry. His new company Innovative Leisure has recruited a venerable team of arcade game veterans to build arcade-like games for touchscreen devices. He is also known as a transforming force in the games industry, revolutionising how many play games today when his team at Microsoft articulated a vision for a games system powered by a personal computer – the Xbox.

A self-confessed games nut who got into the games business because he loved video games more than anything else, Blackley felt so compelled to make video games that he was inexorably drawn in. As he says himself, at one point he woke up wondering what he was doing in the industry, what it meant, how could he make a success for himself there and how would he explain this new industry to his parents or to friends at parties (although this became easier as games became more mainstream). In the 80s, you got a blank stare for being a games designer, and many were unaware of the computer technology powering these entertainment devices. There was a curious and refreshing cultural disembodiment as people responded to games like an entertainment medium and not a technology. “Non-computer” people had permission to play games as they became a widespread cultural trend: they weren’t a geeky activity as computer culture was only just starting.

Before the birth of the computerised arcade games era, the earliest electromechanical arcade games like pinball were a wonder to behold. In fact, they provided the context for computerised arcades because without them the audience wouldn’t have appreciated the leap in gaming when the first video arcades were released. Computer Space, shown on the right hand side, was the first commercial video game to be sold in 1971, based on the Spacewar! PDP (mainframe) game from the 60s and displayed on a TV vacuum tube. Similar to Asteroids, it featured an animated starfield with flying saucers shooting at the player’s rocket ship. What was novel was that the player’s bullets could track a ship and could also be controlled by the arcade buttons. But many still wondered what this thing was and why no TV shows were being displayed on this tube-like screen in a big box. Computer Space was eventually a failure because it was too much and too complex: people just couldn’t figure out what was going on with it. Pong came soon afterwards, in turn inspired by the earlier game “Tennis for Two”, and through its simplicity it achieved more widespread success.

There was a great sense of entrepreneurial spirit in bringing these arcade games to the masses, but there was a terrible problem unanticipated by the producers: copying. They hadn’t trademarked their games (why should they?), and Pong became so successful that it was copied multiple times. So, what to do next? The arcade game producers hired teams to come up with ideas and play around with them, going beyond the different manifestations of Pong to produce driving games, flying games, etc. Games started appearing all over the place, and the instantaneous growth in the scope and range of arcade games in late 70s and early 80s was completely extraordinary (sound familiar?).

At its heart, the arcade game industry was essentially a refrigerator manufacturing business, but the market was huge. Asteroids alone was a $4 billion business, producing over 80 thousand cabinets in the 1980s. The Battlezone Asteroids-type arcade game was a technical design disaster by today’s standards: high voltages inside the case, fluorescent lighting, plastic shrouds, and featuring a 400-pound cabinet in case people would try to steal it (and people did, stealing pickups that were used for transporting the games and leaving the pickups behind). The arcades were extremely profitable: these cabinets would make $400 a week for an Asteroids-type machine.

To illustrate the growth of this industry, in 1978 the US domestic games business was $50 million. Three years later, there were $900 million in sales of cabinets and $5 billion was spent on these arcades in quarters. In 1982, this figure rose to $8 billion in quarters ($19 billion in 2012 money). Atari at that time was the fastest growing company in the history of the human race (Blackley referred to articles in Business Week from that time and how you could almost replace the name Atari with Facebook to produce modern articles word-for-word). To give context, in 1982 the music industry was worth $4 billion and the movie industry was $3 billion. Pac-Man itself eventually became an industry on the scale of the entire movie business at the time.

Nowadays, people often compare these primitive games with fully-featured gaming environments like Modern Warfare, but forget that today’s games are being launched into a very mature and games-aware audience. Also, the games of the 80s weren’t just being played by a niche of gamers, but rather by a universal demographic of people. For those amazed by the wide-ranging demographics of those now playing games on mobiles and tablets, this really is not new news. There are other smaller similarities: the achievement badges with high-quality designs and artwork from arcade games like Asteroids or Gravitar are very similar to those given out on XBLA, PSN or iOS games today. The games trade shows are just as silly as they were back in the 80s when they were invented. And there’s even some cosplay!

What we are facing now is not a brand new situation that no one has ever seen before: there has been no sudden horrible change in the demographics of the world that is causing consumers to behave in some insane way as they take up gaming. We again have a culture that gives permission to play games just like it was 1977. You can be enthusiastic, you have permission to be a gamer, and companies are again talking to a whole audience of people that they haven’t been able to talk to in nearly 20 years. It is interesting to see the corner being turned again, but there is a pattern in human endeavour that has dogged us since we started keeping records.

A new idea is introduced and sees initial success. People get accustomed to it, but then we lose the context for that idea, it declines, and it takes a long time to build back to where you were (there are numerous examples of this from TV or movies to computers). Games also had that effect in the 80s: players with high scores became virtual heroes appearing on talk shows, and there were TV shows consistently at the top of the ratings with kids just playing video games and audiences cheering them on. People got sick of it, and games went away to become more of a hobby interest, with the marketing of games being targeted towards this hobby audience.

Now, with games re-emerging from their hobby audience demographic back into the mainstream, the danger returns. The need for novelty in games begets the demand for a range of games catering to different tastes, which in turns leads to exploitation and over production, with the inevitable crash. Unfortunately, the video games business did an excellent job of crashing itself in 80s. As an example, apparently there were more cartridges produced for the game ET: The Extra Terrestrial than there were Atari 2600s to play them on (many are apparently buried under concrete somewhere in New Mexico). Everyone knew it was crazy, but games were so extremely popular that they felt that they had to do something like that. Blackley refers to this Atari internal memo from Innovative Leisure colleague Rich Adam where he bemoans the impact of what he terms “License Fever” on the quality of video games. If you start to feel that you need to exploit a business because of its scale, you are beginning to disrespect the customer and will crash yourself.

The way that people purchase and play games has changed radically recently. Much has been made in a variety of media articles about the death of consoles, about social media taking over world or the death of social media, and so on. Facebook has changed way that we think about talking to customers online; iOS has changed the way we think about marketplaces and digital downloads; Amazon has changed the way we think about hosting our content and data. The world is changing, but we can still try to engender that feeling of specialness in getting a game for the first time. This is when a teenager drives all the way to a store to get a new game and spends $16 on a plastic disc because they love the medium so much. Blackley advised us not to squander that, to remember how much we love games and to recall that moment when you first saw a game that was really special, that changed your life. He wants game producers to focus their efforts on recreating that and passing that moment on to the audience. A love of gameplay, a spirit of innovation: these are the things that makes the video games industry a really good business.

Just as I was writing this article, Seamus Blackley coincidentally wandered by and we had an interesting chat about the the origins of his name (while working at Looking Glass Studios as Jonathan Blackley, his colleagues gave him a new name – Seamus – that he adopted informally at first and later formally through a name change). He asked me to mention in the article that he was a mean bastard, but actually he’s an inspiring guy. Thanks Seamus!

Citizen Sensors: Individuals’ Mobile Updates Contribute to a Bigger Picture


Citizen sensing applications range from public health to disaster relief.

In 1999, before the advent of Foursquare, mobile Twitter clients or sensor-enabled phones, a somewhat prescient Neil Gross in Bloomberg Business Week said: “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” A new area of research called “citizen sensing” has emerged since then that aims to derive collective knowledge from the actions and reactions of individuals armed with internet-enabled mobile devices.

In the past ten years, we have seen the growth of online social networks, but there has been a parallel surge in sensor networks, many of which are also connected to the Internet. These usually consist of multiple static or inert sensors that capture certain readings from their environment whenever they are programmed to do so. Also, many people are now carrying some form of sensor-laden device – a mobile phone, a tablet, a fitness device – from which sensor readings can also be retrieved. This is sometimes called ‘human-in-the-loop sensing’, but sensors are also being carried by cars, animals and other moving entities.

There are various advantages for human-in-the-loop sensing. For collecting data in large urban areas – for example, for environmental or traffic monitoring purposes – it can be both expensive and time consuming to build large networks of sensors in these areas. Having people walking around with sensor-enabled devices makes sense due to the high population densities in urban areas and the willingness of people to contribute sensor data if it will have an eventual positive impact on their lives.

Five years ago, a team in UCLA wrote a research paper on ‘participatory sensing’, which uses, “mobile devices to form interactive, participatory sensor networks that enable public and professional users to gather, analyze and share local knowledge.” Applications were described in the areas of public health, urban planning and even creative expression. In 2007, Michael Goodchild described citizens as sensors in the field of volunteered geography, when he talked about, “[humans] equipped with some working subset of the five senses and with the intelligence to compile and interpret what they sense, and each free to rove the surface of the planet.”

More recently, a professor in Ohio’s Wright State University, Amit Sheth, outlined the notion of ‘citizen sensing’ whereby people are, “Acting as sensors and sharing their observations and views using mobile devices and Web 2.0 services.” A citizen sensor network is “an interconnected network of people who actively observe, report, collect, analyze, and disseminate information via text, audio or video messages.” In particular, Sheth presented work in which semantic annotations were applied to Twitter microblog posts from ‘citizen sensors’ in order to provide situational awareness, e.g. in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

If interpreted correctly, the data that is available from citizen sensor networks can have a wide variety of applications. Some of these include: earthquake sensing (people interested in acting as citizen seismologists can apply to Stanford for a tiny seismic sensor for their computer); disaster relief (there are various platforms available from Ushahidi for disaster response); traffic monitoring (Dr. Liam Kilmartin at NUI Galway is leading a project that uses mobile apps to monitor and reduce traffic congestion in Galway); and environmental data analysis (UC Berkeley and Intel provided personal air quality sensors to community members in California as part of their Common Sense project).

In a previous article (“What If Your Car Could Tweet?”), we briefly talked about how sensor readings could be attached to microblog posts through the Twitter Annotations extension. Twitter Annotations will allow arbitrary metadata to be attached to any tweet. There is an overall limit of 512 bytes for this metadata ‘payload’, and each metadata item is expressed in the form of “type”:{“attribute”:”value”}, e.g. “movie”:{“title”:”Planet of the Apes”}. Inspired by Twitter Annotations, work is ongoing with David Crowley at DERI, NUI Galway to attach mobile sensor data to Social Web content, to develop mobile sensor-specific extensions to the SIOC de-facto standard developed in DERI, and to build Android apps that use this data model. The next step is then to provide novel methods for interpreting and visualising the data for different domains.

At the moment, you can attach geolocation information to a tweet, and every tweet is timestamped, but what if you could append temperatures, air pressures or other contextual information to a tweet? When combined with the actual texts of the tweets themselves, this combination of human-contributed and machine-contributed data could potentially be very useful.

Cork Security Software Company Working with Giant US Retail Chain

As mobile phones grow smarter every day, the consequences of losing them become more severe. As well as friends’ and contacts’ phone numbers and personal text messages, phones can contain potentially sensitive emails, access to online banking as well as photographs which may not be easily replaced.

When Irish company YouGetItBack.com was founded in 2004 by Paul Prendergast and William Fitzgerald, with then-CEO Frank Hannigan, it was initially focused on the production of physical tags. The team were soon joined by Pat Lynch and Peter Bermingham, and the company pivoted into the area of mobile device security, developing software which help deter the theft, and aid recovery, of mobile devices, tablets, and laptops, while continuing to make physical tracking tags.

“We kind of came to this market when it wasn’t desperately fashionable”, recalls Paul Prendergast, now the company’s head of sales. “Only about two and a half years ago, you’d walk into a carrier and smartphones might only be 6% of their portfolio; that now is over 50% and it’s growing rapidly.”

Following the change in focus, the company went, “Into R&D mode,” and only returned to the market in the past two years, which Paul understatedly describes as having, “Gotten quite interesting.”

The Cork-based company’s Mobile Superhero software is now available across a range of platforms including Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry, while an iPhone version is available in the United States. Laptop and Tablet Superhero software is also available, as are the physical tags with which YouGetItBack.com started.

Where YouGetItBack.com has really excelled, though, is in the provision of white-label solutions through collaborations with partners including Best Buy, Tesco, Vodafone, and Telefonica.

YouGetItBack.com’s software is now available in every one of electronic retail giant Best Buy’s U.S. stores as part of their Geek Squad Black Tie Protection. Like Mobile Superhero, this software offers features such as remote, automatic, and SMS locking, SIM change locking, Device Scream, Location Mapping, Theft Deterrent and Recovery Encouragement.

“The feature set is very, very strong”, says Paul. “We’re one of the very few companies globally who have got large-scale anti theft implementation in place right now with big clients, and that gives our customers peace of mind because we’ve shown we can do it with big customers at a huge scale. We’re in every one of their [Best Buy’s] 1,200 stores with those programmes. And for a very small security software company based in Cork, that’s a very big win for us,” says Paul.

“It’s really a case of working with large insurance companies and warranty providers is our main focus right now. That may change, as the market matures, but I think that’s definitely our primary focus.

“We’re big believers that we should leverage Telefonica’s brand, Best Buy’s brand, or Tesco’s brand, as opposed to trying to build our own brand, and that’s working quite well.”

It has worked so well that, in addition to the USA, they have just closed their first deal in Mexico, and are active in Canada, the Philippines, Spain, the UK, Holland, and Ireland.

“We’re currently at about twenty staff and we expect to increase our staffing quite considerably over the next twelve to eighteen months. There’s a large number of deals that we have just signed that will be going live in the next three months and they would be household names, so that’s going to be good for us.”

Paul attributes the company’s success to a skilled team, and a dedication that has seen the group, “…pretty obsessed about the whole anti-theft, loss recovery space for a large number of years”.

“It’s a very strong engineering company. Peter [Bermingham] has built an incredible engineering team, and typically, when we’re up against other competitors, major, billion-dollar organisations, we’re beating them hands down, because the engineering and technology is better, because we’re very, very focused on what we do.

“It’s very hard for people who’ve only entered this space in the last nine to twelve months to have the depth of knowledge that we have had.”

“So, we’re kind of a small, little success story in Cork City, but it’s the strength of the technology team that’s really the basis of our success today.

Paul acknowledges that Enterprise Ireland have played an important role in YouGetItBack’s success, with their international offices providing invaluable advice and connections.

“Enterprise Ireland have been with us literally since day one. When you’re relatively small and you don’t have the contacts, Enterprise Ireland are a huge asset to any company that’s exporting globally, and whether it be Japan, China, Australia, South America, you name it, these guys have huge contacts.”

Although commercial contacts will have to be maintained in these new markets, Paul maintains that the company’s core development team will remain in Cork.

“It’s quite fashionable to outsource a lot of software development, but the quality of development, and the amount we can get done with a relatively small team is incredible. Big clients of ours are always very surprised that we can get stuff done so quickly, to such a high quality, with such a small team, so our view is, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.””

mobileminder: Keeping Children Secure on the Networks

The recent proliferation of affordable and easy-to-use smart phones has resulted in many children having unlimited access to the Internet and potential exposure to unsuitable content which is beyond the reach of any parental supervision.

Mobileminder is a product from Dublin-based start up Associate Mobile which allows parents to monitor their children’s mobile-phone activity, and to also utilise their phone’s technology to ensure their safety. The product is currently available for Android smart phones.

Founded in 2011 by Don Corbett and Brian Shannon. Associate Mobile is one of the participants in the Propeller Venture Accelerator program in Dublin City University’s Ryan Academy.

Mobileminder was launched “very quickly” says co-founder Don Corbett. “We wanted to see if it could get any traction, if the market really validated the proposition and if people would really buy it. People did buy it, and we used that as a market research exercise to get viable feedback on how we could build out version two.”

Version two of Mobileminder is, he says, “much, much better, there’s quite a lot of innovative stuff in it, very cutting edge”.

“It’s a complete parental supervision platform for mobiles and also a safety platform for mobiles, so it allows a parent to set a location for their child and when the child reaches the location the parent gets notified that they’ve arrived safely.”

Among the features offered by Mobileminder are:

  • Geo-fencing:The parent can set a geo-fence area and receive a notification when the child enters this area.
  • Flagged words: This allows the parent to input words which might indicate bullying or inappropriate content, and if these appear in the child’s SMS messages, the parent will be alerted.
  • Web browsing filter: The mobile can be set to, “create a safe environment on the mobile for the child to surf the Internet so they won’t go on to an inappropriate site by mistake.”

Don and Brian have noticed that in the blurring of the lines between mobile phone and computer there was a gap in the level of protection afforded to children. “It’s about giving the same tools to a parent on mobile phones that are available for the Internet to protect their child”, explains Don.

Don has identified the controversial areas of “sexting” and cyber-bullying as cases where Mobileminder might prove particularly effective. With proposed anti-sexting legislation pending in many U.S. states Don envisages a high demand in the American market.

Access to the lucrative U.S. market is crucial in this regard, and the Propeller program gives Associated Mobile, “a foothold into the U.S. without having to actually move to the U.S.,” through their links with Arizona State University.
  
The Propeller programme has been “brilliant” in many ways admits Don, even down to its connection with the Ryan Academy. The Ryan Academy, which this week partnered with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) to provide entrepreneurship training for postdoctoral researchers at research centres in Irish Universities, holds a special significance for Don.

“Tony Ryan is a legendary Irish entrepreneur. It is great to actually affiliated with something that associated with him.”

As regards life outside Propeller, Don’s aims are simple, “Survival. We want to put things in place that will allow us to give ourselves more runway so we can survive until we can close a funding round.”

He is hopeful that revenues from Mobileminder will be sufficient to allow Associated Mobile to survive, and retain some independence.

“We don’t want to be completely dependent on closing a funding round. The start up world is, well our company is anyway, fighting to create revenue, even if it’s short term revenue through services, just to stay alive so we can build that proposition. We don’t look on ourselves as someone who burns through investor cash while validating our proposition; we’d rather validate the proposition while we’re fighting and struggling, get the investor cash and then scale. That’s kind of the mentality that we’re taking forward here.”

iPad: The User Experience

With the imminent arrival of iPad 2 into our stores, the team here at Technology Voice began discussing what it is about the iPad that has made it such a success. Despite its perceived flaws (namely the lack of Adobe Flash or a USB port), Apple reports that it sold 7.33 million iPads in the last 3 months of 2010. Why?

In answering this question, the room was divided between those who regard it as merely a scaled up iPod Touch and those who view it as a can’t-live-without device. With this divergence in mind, we decided to investigate how iPad users interact with the tablet and what its true benefits are.

One of the main benefits appears to be the simple user interface which is quick to power up and allows instant access to items including emails, news, pictures or Facebook.

John Breslin sees the iPad as, “a casual device. If I really need to do something serious I’ll do it on the laptop. It’s more for casual browsing or for the kids for playing games. There are great things for kids on it, kind of educational games. My two-year old, you can see her doing puzzles on it that she would never be able to manage on a PC.

“It’s relaxed. When you’re sitting at a PC it’s not relaxed, you’re holding this thing like a book and it’s more casual. You’re not going to be in the same frame of mind doing stuff on a PC than you would be with this device.”

The question of style and marketing is never far from the discussion of an Apple device. Deborah Kemp, an avid Apple fan from Boston says, “There is this weird thing that happens with Apple devices where it’s hard not to want the latest/greatest version even if there’s nothing in the new package you really care that much about.”

Currently, Deborah owns the classic iPod, iPad 3G, MacBook Air, iPhone 4 and counting. Marketing appears to be a significant factor for why some users purchase this tablet device.

But there is more to the succes of the iPad than excellent branding. Lifehacker recently held an ad-hoc Facebook poll which revealed Evernote as a key app for users of the iPad. Evernote allows a user to save ideas, tasks, notes, webpages, photos, view PDFs and more. It can also be installed on other devices to sync content across a number of platforms.

For users who wish to obtain news and information, the iPad and other tablets have been attributed with the ability to provide news content in a more compelling format. It has even been noted that, “publishers hope that tablets will turn out to be the 21st-century equivalent of the printed page.”
  
Public consumption of news and media is expanding and the iPad offers a new platform for a consumer to digest it.

RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster, released a dedicated iPad application last month.

Executive Director of RTÉ Publishing, Múirne Laffan, explains why RTÉ chose to launch a dedicated iPad app, “It’s really not a case of one size fits all. The reason people are buying iPads is they can do something on them that they can’t do on an iPhone.”

“iPhone apps need to be simpler so that people can work their way around them. If you’re trying to touch something on a touch-screen that’s small — so many times you’ll end up hitting the wrong thing. You need something with less clutter. But with the iPad, given the size of the screen, you can get into more detail.”

Múirne believes that, “Media consumption isn’t declining, it’s actually growing whereby you were somewhat time-based or place-based with more traditional media in terms of; you read your paper in the morning, you watched television in the evening and you listened to the radio in your car. Now people are consuming media everywhere on the go all the time and that goes for TV, radio and print.”

“In terms of content, I think people are doing more with it, I think they’re engaging more, they’re sharing, they’re saying, ‘I like this article or feature’ and they’re pushing it out to their friends. I think that we’re becoming, not just content savvy, but I think were becoming bigger consumers of content.”

“With regard to how the iPad revolutionizes this, is that it makes up for the shortfalls in a smart phone and I think predominantly that’s size. It found a gap and the gap is that it’s bigger. But it’s still highly portable.”

On reflection, it seems that the success of the iPad is in its delivery of something extremely simple – a larger screen size while retaining portability – allowing for casual interaction with the device. Even if it is just a grander scale iPod Touch, this concept in itself has tapped into the needs of a network of users worldwide.

NFC: Using your Mobile to Make Natural Connections

Near Field Communications (NFC) is a form of wireless technology that allows users to receive or share information at short ranges of typically 4cm or less. NFC devices can also communicate with RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags. It is a technology that has been developed especially to work with mobile phones.

The development of NFC-enabled mobile phones such as the Google Nexus S, has led to the possibility of using a phone as a digital wallet for contactless payment such as that offered by Visa’s Paywave or the
London transport system’s Oyster Card.

NFC technology allows the sharing of information between two NFC mobile devices once they are in close proximity, in a similar way to the way Bluetooth operates, but in a much faster and more convenient way.

In order for two NFC mobile devices to connect, they need only to be within range of each other. Both users confirm the operation, and information may be transferred between the two units.

This can allow users to transfer items such as store vouchers between two “digital wallets” but could also have a transforming impact on the way we engage in social networking.

Two years ago, researchers from the Chair for Information Systems at Technische Universität München developed a prototype application called NFriendConnector which allowed NFC-enabled phones to interact with Facebook.

The prototype, which was submitted to the NFC Forum’s, Global Competition in 2009, came from a desire to, “Use Near Field Communications to map your social life much more easily to your online social life on Facebook,” according to the Munich University’s Philip Koene.

His colleague Felix Köbler notes that, “Just using Facebook or any other social network and sitting in front of a PC device will not be the future.”

He continues, “In the past when people came together in virtual communities in precursors to the social networks of today, people connected online and then transferred their social relationships from online to offline. Now it is basically vice-versa. People map their real social relationships into facebook, so we think that any application that is enabling or even supporting this process is of great help to people.”

The application allows users to swipe their phones alongside each other and download each other’s Facebook profiles to be browsed at a later time. It also contains a function that will match user’s profiles, and generate automated status updates.

“All you have to do is touch the cell phone of the other person and you can make a new friend connection, or you can make a new status message that tells your community on facebook that you have now met this other person. We thought it would be a kind of neat way to map your real life on to your online social networking,” says Philip.

He explains that, “The broad idea was that you kind of have data, for example, that you met this other person in real life, that you’re at a specific location in real life. You can gather this data quite easily because you just have to touch something with your telephone, that’s all that’s basically needed. And then you have an app like NFriendConnector where you can map this data easily on to your social network.”

The application is not available at the moment as it was, “Used from a research perspective actually,” says Felix. “The prototype is basically two years old now so that’s quite a long time when the markets are being filled with applications.

“NFriendConnector was developed in a University setting so with developing it, doing research with it and then publishing it; a lot of stuff happened in that time.”

Philip notes that the speed with which mobile technology is developing also presented a problem, “We developed the NFriendConnector for the Nokia NFC-enabled cell phone of the time which was rather a low key device compared to today’s smart phones.”

A version of the app which translates its features to the Google Nexus S phone is in development. “We don’t have a title, just a working title right now. We hope to bring it onto the Android marketplace when it’s finished just to evaluate it when it’s finished, maybe in a few months,” says Philip.

“What we saw is that people see payment as the big application for NFC, but through our presentations we met other people who see social networking as another possible driver for NFC,” notes Felix.

Philip explains why he his optimistic as to the future of NFC-enable social networking thus, “The whole touch metaphor is extremely simple. If you set the application up right, the user won’t have to do anything else other than touch something and that will then be mapped onto a whole range of social networking sites.”

“It kind of had a slow start, but we believe it’s coming. NFC enables, in my opinion, a very natural interaction with your mobile phone. You just have to touch something with it to start an interaction.”

“The guys from industry always tell us that it’s coming and that this will be the year of NFC. NFC really has a lot of potential and we’re hoping that it’s coming to a bigger market and that we can do broader research with it.”