« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

November 27, 2006

Term Project Blog #8: Cell Phones & Wi-Fi

The development of Wi-Fi networks as a new form of cell phone coverage is discussed in the New York Times article The Air is Free, and Sometimes So Are The Phone Calls That Borrow It. Companies like Vonage, Skype, and T-Mobile are working to develop this technology. It is not the same service as VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) given that using a capable phone, customers simply dial other cell phone users on any network, with the Wi-Fi network acting as their service provider.

This presents several benefits for consumers, but also several issues that could make the service not worth the hassle. First, while the cell phone service is free, locating a strong Wi-Fi signal right when one needs it can be a difficult thing to do. Yet, assuming a network is available, the call is free and the minutes are free, meaning the only investment a cell phone user must make is purchasing the initial phone. Currently, Belkin is offering cell phones with Wi-Fi dialing connectability for $180, a fairly competitive price.

However, the technology is not quite that simple. There are several issues that arise, including spotty coverage (i.e. service), and the concept of "stealing" someone's Wi-Fi bandwidth. While this rising technology could present a wonderful opportunity for all cell-phone users to rid themselves of a "plan" and simply purchase a phone and leave it at that... the availibility of Wi-Fi coverage is chancey at best. When a network IS available, it is often a personal network that really isn't intended for use by passerbys anyhow. Mr. Schaffer was interviewed in the article as someone who recently noticed a user tapping into his wireless network to make phone calls (by seeing them out his window, which is really the only way to know), and he said that he has mixed feelings about it. He would help a friend or a stranger in need, but he wouldn't want just anyone on his network.

We feel that if this technology were able to develop further, and a corporation made an effort to increase the availability of wireless networks across the country, it could become something. If this technology were also used in tandem with current cell phone coverage - allowing the user to choose which network to talk on, it could greatly decrease the cost to consumers as well. Companies would need to figure out a way to charge consumers for the use of a wi-fi network, however - perhaps a flat fixed rate for the availability of the feature. Cell phone service currently only serves one purpose - to make cell phone calls. If Wi-Fi networks were developed, the wireless service could prove useful for cell phone calls, internet access, and potentially even more. The development of the availabiltiy of Wi-Fi would of course come at a cost, but would be worth it in the long run. After all, you get what you pay for - and currently paying for cell phones using wi-fi networks, that isn't much.

Posted by rentsche at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2006

Term Project Blog #7: Nokia Phones and Symbian OS

Symbian smart phones are discussed in the article, “Is Nokia Flying Too Close to the Sun?” Symbian is a company that makes Symbian OS, a mobile operating system. Recently, Symbian announced that it has sold over 100 million Symbian smart phones worldwide, 37 million of which were sold in 2006. The operating system has been used with products made by Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and others. Particularly, Nokia uses the Symbian OS for most of its high-end phones.

Symbian-based handsets can support many programs, from satellite navigation to instant e-mail access. The question is: do Nokia users really want all of these features? Nokia has a reputation for having a simple design and being easy to use. With so many complex features, even basic tasks such as making a phone call or sending a text message may be difficult for users who are not tech-savvy. This may prevent Nokia’s new phones from appealing to purists and first-time cell phone users. Nokia wants consumers to think of these products not as phones, but as multimedia computers.

While the idea of having an MP3 player, GPS, internet browser, camera, and phone all in one package does sound appealing, Nokia should keep in mind that these phones will have to be targeted at a new segment of the market. Previous customers who bought Nokia phones for simplicity and ease of use will most likely not be interested in these fancy phones. Even if the company targets consumers who enjoy new gadgets and features, it may lose some of its reputation. Though Apple iPods only serve one main function of playing music, their simplicity and quality have lead to their continued success. Nokia’s simple, high-quality image may soon be lost as it puts time into creating many new features rather than putting more effort into making existing features work better. Even technology gadget-lovers will be disappointed with the decreasing battery life, lower build quality, and long boot up time. It will be interesting to see whether these new phones wind up helping or hurting the company.

Posted by sumorgan at 06:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2006

Term Project Blog 6: Yahoo!-Linksys Cordless Phone

“Yahoo!-Linksys launch VoIP Cordless phone,” discusses the joining together of Linksys and Yahoo! Messenger to launch a dual-mode that allows consumers to send and receive Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls. These are low-cost calls that are made using Yahoo! Messenger with Voice. Calls can be received using the traditional landline/PSTN connection. With the small display on the phone called the CIT310, users scroll through their Yahoo Messenger buddy list and are also able to search for local businesses. The consumer can take calls on the PC or has the option of going into other rooms with the “base station.” The phone can be programmed with a local zip code, making it easy to search for and call any local business or access weather forecasts. The phone currently costs $99.99 and is sold with all items necessary to link it with the computer and the traditional landline/PSTN.

This product could be useful in specific situations and for consumers with specific needs but will not appeal to a broad market. Currently, there are few options for making low-cost long distance or international calls. The CIT310 meets this need, allowing users to simply pick up your cordless home phone and call a relative in another country. It is also nice to have the capability to quickly dial a local business. However, it seems that this feature would be more useful on a cell phone. If you are at home you most likely have access to a phone book and the internet, which can both provide a phone number fairly quickly.

While the CIT310 is useful for someone making frequent long-distance calls, it is not too effective for others. The function allowing users to access their Yahoo! Messenger contacts is not that helpful. It does not seem any simpler than looking up a contact in your cell phone. Additionally, there are many other instant messaging programs besides Yahoo! Messenger. If you do not have Yahoo!, it would be a hassle to set up an additional account. Without Yahoo! Messenger, one of the main purposes of the phone is useless. This phone could be convenient for a limited market. The long-distance calling and phone book options are nice additions to a typical phone and would be good to have on a cell phone. The overall CIT310 is priced to high for the usage that most would get out of it. It will be interesting to see how it does in the market and if manufacturers create a variation of it.

Posted by traceyja at 07:41 PM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

Term Project Blog 5: Apple iPhone

It is believed that Apple Computer Inc. may be coming out with an "iPhone" now that they have won a patent for a speech-recognition technology. “Apple + New Patent=iPhone Speculation” discusses the patent and speculation on what Apple will be doing with the patent. It is thought that Apple will create the "iPhone," which would be a cell phone with capabilities to both field calls and play music. Apple's iPod will have potential competition upon Microsoft's release of the Zune MP3 player. Creating a new product is an opportunity for Apple to maintain overall sales for the company. Apple attempted to launch a phone with Motorola in 2005 but failed, receiving negative reviews. Their initial failure could hinder the popularity of another Apple phone.

“Another Music Phone? Yawn...” in Business Week details the possible problems Apple will face if speculations are true and they actually do launch an "iPhone." Since there has been talk of an "iPhone" for months and nothing has been produced to the public, many are doubting its existence. If it is introduced into the market, some question the success it will have. Many analysts see something different as Apple's next big product. For example, they believe a Mac preinstalled with Windows capabilities or iTV would be much more popular in the market. Analysts see the "iPhone" market as current iPod users. Also, there is already competition in the cell phones handset market. The limited target market and the introduction of a product amongst already established products, have some seeing a gloomy future with low margins for the "iPhone."

Apple needs to differentiate their product in order to attract customers. It will be difficult to persuade those that do not use an MP3 player that they need a feature to play music on their phones. Additionaly, if a consumer already owns an MP3 player, they may not find it necessary to have music playing capabilities on their cell phone. There is room in the market for Apple to make a phone that holds more songs and makes downloading these songs faster and more efficient. This could take customers away from the competition, but would not influence others that they need this type of phone. It does not seem like this product would be a huge success overall, and it will be especially difficult for a company just entering the market. If ipod is going to introduce a music phone, it should do so while some hype still exists. With all of the speculation and no answers, people will give up the idea that Apple is launching this product and it will be even more difficult for Apple to attract a consumer base. We feel that Apple does need to introduce a strong new or modified product, since iPod sales are declining. The music phone would not be something we would be too interested in and feel another product may be better for Apple's sales.

Posted by traceyja at 10:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2006

Search Tip #2: Archivable Forums

While not the easiest or most popular method of searching for information, using internet forums is a widely unknown, but extremely useful internet search source. Similar to blogs, forums are a public, ever-changing database of information in which users are permitted to post comments, questions, ideas, and opinions in a group discussion. Forums are usually focused around a single product/topic area, and are then organized further by breaking this topic into it's most logical sub-sections. Users are able to create "Threads", which are topic headings for their "posts". Other users can then reply to the initial thread post (usually the topic starter) with their opinions, thoughts, questions and answers. Several well-known forum examples include:

Apple's Support Forum
Microsoft's Support Forum
[Hard]Forum - a technology equipment focused forum

The above 3 forums all relate to 3 different product areas, but general serve the same purpose - to provide a location for users to discuss the forum topic. Apple's and Microsoft's forums provide an area for users or non-users of their products to discuss what they like, don't like, want to know, or problems experienced with and about each of their products. [Hard]Forum is a larger database, and it's focus is significantly broader, covering all different areas of electronics, from overclocking CPU's to how to buy replacement "feet" for their computer mouse.

The benefit of the live-forum is that unlike other relatively static information databases (e.g. Wikipedia), a forum is constantly changing, with up to 100-200 new threads added a day (even more in popular forums). It is possible to post a question about an issue one might be having with their MacBook iSight camera, and within a day or two recieve a response from someone who experienced a similar issue and was able to resolve it. Some forums have started including a symbol such as a yellow star to highlight forum question posts that have already recieved answers so that searchers know where to find a question & answer at the same location. Forums provide a way for a community of users to benefit from one another's knowledge, and solve problems themselves without paying for Best Buy's Geek Squad to do it for an exorbitant fee.

Users who are searching the internet for information will benefit from the search feature common in most forums. By searching a forum, users can scan the archive of conversations for threads and topics that pertain to the subject matter they are interested in. If one wanted to find an answer for why their MacBook iSight camera wasn't functioning, they could search it on any forum and would likely hit at least 2-3 conversations of other users with similar problems (and hopefully answers). Forums can also be beneficial for companies, as IT help desk associates can search through the forums for questions and provide answers for their customers who are struggling with a problem their product is exhibiting. Forum's indicate new users from experienced or even professional users by tracking the amount of posts they create. Typically a user with 5,000+ posts is a moderator on the forum, helping to answer questions and guide new users around.

Another variation of public forums is a service-fee based forum, such as Experts Exchange. This is a IT help forum where users can pay $100/yr to be granted access to post questions, and typically will recieve answers from a certified IT consultant within 24 hours. The added benefit this provides is that the conversations are all archived and available to any paying user - so one doesn't necessarily need to post a question, rather they could simply search for key words in the archive, and a similar problem and solution will likely appear, providing instant answers to extremely frustrating problems. While it feels unlikely that a simple forum like this could offer answers to "all the technology problems out there", it is not so far-fetched. Typically hardware and software programs exhibit similar problems across the board - so if one user has a problem with the MacBook iSight, it's likely 100-200 other users do as well. All it would take is one forum post and answer to solve those 200 other users issues.

Several problems exist with forums. First off, this can be a very tedious method of finding a question answer, and occasionally can yield no results - not something many users having technology related issues want to experience. Additionally, in public forums where any user can post a comment, question, or answer there is the problem of having people who may not actually know the answer to a problem offering solutions that end up causing more harm than help. While posts with pure malicious intent rarely exit, non-intended "bad advice" certainly exists. However, so long as a user goes into a forum with this expectation, they can usually easily weed out professional, intelligent answers from others.

With a bit of practice and the use of legitmate, professionally monitored forums, users can certainly obtain a plethora of useful information that could provide answers to more questions than I can even think of!

Posted by rentsche at 08:54 PM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2006

Search Tip #1: Grokker

Grokker.com is a unique search engine for those who are tired of sorting through websites on traditional search engines. On the homepage, the user types in the topic he or she is searching for and selects whether to find results from Yahoo, Wikipedia, Amazon Books, or all three. After typing in a subject such as “technology news”, the user must hit the “GROK” button. The results are generated and separated into categories in an outline format. The user can then click on different headings, and the sites for that topic appear listed on the right hand side of the page.

For a more visual experience, the user can select the “Map View” tab at the top of the page. The topics are then filtered by size and color for the user to easily scan through the results. Categories with larger circles have more results. Within each large green circle category, there are smaller blue circle categories that also vary in size depending on the number of results. When a user clicks on one of the green circles, the browser zooms in for a closer look at the topics covered in the inner blue circles. By clicking on a blue circle, the browser zooms even more to show specific websites. When the user clicks on one of the individual websites, a description appears on the right hand side of the page. The user can then click “View Document” and the website will appear in a new page. This is helpful so that users do not have to re-search their topic after they finish with one of the web pages.

In addition to giving a summary of the website on the right side, Grokker gives users other options. He or she can click on one of the links to “Add to Working List”, “Post to del.icio.us”, “Bookmark”, or “E-mail” the chosen site. Once a user has added sites to the working list, he or she can export or e-mail the working list. Grokker was obviously made with the user in mind, making it a perfect resource for any student.

Posted by sumorgan at 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

Term Project Blog 4: The Long Arm of the Cell Phone

“The Long Arm of the Cell Phone” in Business Week discusses a new advancement in social networking that some companies now offer as a cell phone feature. Website services are being linked to cell phones, so users can constantly stay in touch with one another. For example, Dodgeball.com, Geocaching.com, and Plazes.com make it possible for cell phone users with satellite technology to locate restaurants, night clubs, movie theaters, or a map to a specific location. Also, they can find the current location of friends in their network. MySpace is considering joining these other sites and allowing MySpace users to locate one another. This feature raises questions about privacy and safety.

This can be a very useful feature but could also be quite problematic. If someone is traveling or just happens to be in an unfamiliar part of town, it would be nice to have immediate access to a map. Using your phone to find a restaurant or club is more convenient than trying to ask around or dial information. While it provides convenience, there are issues about privacy and safety. Anyone in your network can find your location. Dodgeball takes this a step further and notifies users when they are within ten blocks of a network buddy. This could be alright if you want to have an impromptu visit, but it seems that it would be more of an annoyance. You could be in a hurry or not want to see this specific person, but they are now calling to meet up with you. Having others know where you are going also tells them something about what you may be doing. This gives you limited privacy. The article mentions that there are opt in or opt out policies with this feature. However, some users may be confused or unaware of this. Additionally, there may be individuals in your network that seem harmless and end up constantly checking your location and possibly showing up wherever you are. There are already MySpace users that constantly check other users' profiles and read their wall posts. If MySpace joins in and links their website, it will just add an additional way to "stalk" others. It poses several possibilities for intruding in others' privacy

This device would have limited use in the business world. A business professional on a trip could use the restaurant locater or map feature. However, it could be problematic if customers have the employee's cell phone number. The professional would want to be certain that his customers were not included as network buddies for he would not want a customer to be able to track him down at any time. If used with caution, it could periodically provide useful information for someone in the business world.

Overall, we would be interested to read more information about this feature. The privacy and safety issues are the biggest concern, and we would like to see how the sites deal with these issues. Currently, the additional features do not seem worth the added cost of losing privacy and possibly risking safety.

Posted by traceyja at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

Topic Announcement

We have chosen phones as our project topic. In our analysis we will consider the following:

Posted by traceyja at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)