Mobile

Canada's Big Three Telcos Team Up to Help Ramp Up App Development

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Telecom giants in Canada may seem at war with one another when it comes to advertising and promotion, but signals of collaboration continue to emerge, even as the competitor complaints keep getting louder.

Smaller companies looking to compete with wireless spectrum have been particularly displeased by Bell and Telus teaming to create a mobile network to take on Rogers. The purchase of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment by Rogers and Bell, meanwhile, has led to competitors including Telus voicing opposition to the potential tying up of sports broadcast rights.

Flying beneath the mainstream media radar, though, is their harmonic "co-opetition" in a service designed to make it easier for application developers to bring their ideas to market: OneAPI, the service launched in Canada this month after a two-year trial, promises an instant gateway to all of Bell, Rogers and Telus. What used to involve an 18-24-month process of sorting out carrier contracts related to application programming interface can now be delivered within a minute.

Shopping Applications Want to Know Where You Stand

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The announcement of Visa's new digital wallet service is being heralded as the best bet for mobile payments to enter the mainstream. Privacy concerns don't seem to play into it. After all, the bills serve as a reminder that there's essentially no such thing as a confidential electronic purchase. Yet.

Still, how much about their shopping habits are people willing to reveal when presented with a choice based on their precise positioning?

Loyalty programs offer rewards in exchange for consumer disclosure, although that requires an actual purchase being made, rather than the browsing that draws people to retailers.

The new wave of shopping applications, however, are designed to keep tabs on consumer movements from one aisle to the next.

These developments could be seen as an opt-in equivalent of the involuntary ways in which online retailers can chase your business around the web — it's never a coincidence that you keep seeing banner ads related to products you recently researched. Bringing these methods between the walls of a mall — which is still generally perceived as a public space — might be a different challenge.

For now, the companies behind location-based shopping apps are either being cautious about presenting these innovations to the public, or have some lengths left to go before they catch on. Bee Media, which first tested its surveillance at the downtown Toronto location of Canadian Tire, has stated its ambition to go global.

Government Reports on Privacy: They're good for you

Two recently released reports (one from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the other from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario) offer thorough, carefully considered looks at security and privacy in a world that relies increasingly on mobile and Wi-Fi internet.

The Canadian Privacy Commissioner issued her annual report to Parliament on the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). What follows is a snippet from the introduction to her report.

"Personal information has become a valuable commodity. Companies make money from the use of personal information – it’s no wonder that some would like us to believe that privacy doesn’t matter. [...] The pressure on privacy is not just the result of new social standards or new and captivating technologies. In the commercial sphere where PIPEDA applies, it chiefly comes from the fact that there is big money to be made in pushing the privacy boundaries."

The Ontario-specific Commissioner's Office released a more focussed report, examining the implications of security flaws in the information architecture of Wi-Fi Positioning systems. They come out strongly advocating a Privacy by Design model, as opposed to Open by Default, since we all know "the default rules".

"Privacy is predicated on providing users with personal control along with openness and transparency associated with one’s practices, which demonstrates respect for the user, and builds greater trust."

They give strong examples to indicate why there's a need for policy:

Sharing Your Location Automatically

As smart phones explode in popularity they are prompting the development of new kinds of social media services, notably "location-based services" that reward people for actively sharing their physical locations, a process called "checking in". Now a new wave of similar services will accomplish this automatically, with little or no input from us. Does this demonstrate our newfound comfort with surveillance, and are we getting enough in exchange for the privacy we're discarding?

Briefly, location-based social media services are a rapidly emerging kind of application largely driven by smart phones. The use of these apps on smart phones helps connect the web to the physical world: the stores, places, and communities around us. Some of these services are game-like, such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Others are tied into review sites like Yelp, or map services like Google Buzz, Places, and Maps. Twitter and Facebook are also actively getting into the location-based services game, adapting their services and apps to take advantage of the world around you and help you connect not only with friends, but the places and business that are nearby.

Apple iAd Program Continues Company's Deliberate Disruption

Gather round the iPad

Apple has revolutionized multiple industries with their much coveted devices and influential services - just consider the way the iPod transformed the music industry. The company is set to do the same with the online advertising world with their new iAd service. Designed for the applications that run on iPads and iPhones, the iAd system is a departure both in terms of the content displayed and how users interact with the ads.

The key element of this system is all the data that Apple collects about its users, a disturbingly deep pool of behaviour and consumer choices that will allow advertising partners to engage in new frontiers of personalized and targeted marketing. Apple might be going too far when it comes to monitoring what people do with their devices: how aware are Apple users that all of their activity is being tracked by their beloved company?

The Rise of Mobile Commerce

A new mobile payment system introduced by the Canadian company
ZoomPass is the latest in a line of technology that has tried to
entice consumers into using wirless or chip based smart cards as a
means of making small payments. So far consumers have been resistent
to adopt these kinds of payment systems, however given our obsession
with mobile devices, and their ubiquity in our lives, this might be
the system that succeeds where others have failed.

ZoomPass is a Canadian mobile payment system that is owned by Canada's three largest mobile companies (Bell, Telus, Rogers) and backed by
MasterCard. Originally it started as a means of making payments via
text message, as well as a smart phone application. The person making

Technology Trends for 2010

As another year comes to a close I thought I'd share some brief thoughts on what I anticipate for the world of technology in 2010:

The Might of Mobile

Mobile technology will continue to be a dominant trend as smart phones go from being tools for professionals, to devices that just about everyone has or wants.

A lot of the growth in the mobile sector is driven by applications. A related platform that I think will thrive in 2010 is Augmented Reality (o/k/a AR).

Augmented Reality is an effort to bring the qualities of the web to the physical world by literally adding a layer of hypertext on top of our material reality. Often described and associated with the concept of the "Internet of Things", the idea is to unlock web-based information associated with each object or location.

As a concept AR has been receiving a considerable amount of attention and investment. The recent announcement of advertising in AR will have a powerful and also normative effect.

In this regard, "hyper-local" advertising will be a big trend in 2010, and it will be driven by mobile and AR applications. This will be a way that Twitter starts to cash in, for example, bu having localized ads that target people in particular cities or neighbourhoods. If you don't want to be exposed to these ads, you'll be able to pay a premium and get Twitter with spam filters.

Tablet Computing

I'm kind of excited about the (re)arrival of tablet computers. Apple has one coming out in the spring, Google is rumoured to have one out in early summer, and I've been playing with Nokia's N900, which calls itself a tablet.

What excites me is the combination of mobility with traditional computational power and abilities. On the one hand, it will further drive the development of mobile applications, with the tablets marketed and treated like mobile devices. On the other, they enable a truly rich multimedia experience with their expanded touch screens and user interfaces.

One of their impacts will be to continue to accelerate the rate of technological change as evolution happens faster and companies push out new products and upgrades to keep up.

Rockin the Revolutionary Nokia N900

Nokia N900After many weeks of anticipation I was finally able to obtain a Nokia N900, the new Maemo Linux-powered tablet computer. This is the device I wanted fifteen years ago, when the web was just taking off. While it resembles the smart phones that currently dominate the mobile marketplace, the N900 is more like a mobile computer because it runs on an open source operating system that potentially enables it to evolve faster than others.

When buying any new technology an important evaluation metric to is the health of the supporting community, including user groups, developers and the companies around it. This logic is even more important when it comes to open source projects, as community health and dynamics are explicitly tied to their usability and the direction of future development.