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There might be hope, after all


BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry Messenger

BlackBerry will not give up. Even though their latest generation of SmartPhones is not really taking off, the Canadian firm is still trying to find avenues to stay afloat. There was a first move opening BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) to other platforms, followed by the latest announcement of a pilot to allow monetary transactions over BBM. There might still be hope for the Canadian manufacturer, by focusing in monetising what once made them strong: Their level of security, and giving up what they are not really catching up with: Mobile Devices.

There are certain markets where BlackBerry remains strong, and where BBM enjoys a greater market share than WhatsApp (India, Indonesia and Canada amongst a few others). Seems logical to capitalise on their success in these core markets as well as the dominant position of BBM as the messaging app of choice.

Indonesia, once known as BlackBerry country, still accounts for more than 15 million users, and is the market of choice to launch their latest proposal, one that could definitely help increase the loyalty of Indonesians to the brand, but not sure whether it would be enough to attract new users to the platform. Named BlackBerry Money, the app allows BlackBerry users to link a bank account to their BBM identity, allowing to send money to other BBM users. In essence, a stored value account gets associated to the users BBM identity, where money can be used to make payments to friends and merchants. It can also be used to buy airtime from the user’s carrier and to send money back to their bank account upon receiving payments.

Fragmented market

There are quite a few mobile person to person payment solutions available, but the market is quite fragmented, with no proposition really having the critical mass required to become the de facto mobile payments standard. Barclays is one of the market players, with Pingit seeing quite a success in the United Kingdom. For BlackBerry Money to have a chance, it would need to be made available to all platforms where BBM is available. Only this way could it have the critical size to become the mobile payment platform of choice for consumers.money

Processing the payment

One of the key aspects when monetising mobile payments is the payment processor. Google still looks shy with Wallet whilst Apple is yet to make a move. Both companies have an enormous amount of Customer credit cards on file, and would probably be tempting for them to materialise payments by using credit card issuers, although this might be a gross misinterpretation and they might have bigger plans in the making to eat the credit card issuers cake. In the meantime, BlackBerry is teaming up with local banks and going towards a stored value model which gives them a certain degree of freedom on processing and eventually establishing (and receiving) the fees.

Quite an interesting move from the Canadian manufacturer, and one that could mean there might be hope, after all.

 

BlackBerry to Become a Platform?


With the launch (and success) of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) for iOS and Android platforms, BlackBerry opens up an important piece of their mobility ecosystem to non-Blackberry platforms.  It is not the first time the Canadian firm makes its software platform available outside the devices manufactured by themselves.

BlackBerry users would remember BlackBerry Connect, which allowed non-BlackBerry devices to offer BlackBerry email service to their users.

Times have changed enormously since BlackBerry Connect was released, and the company that then was quickly gaining market share concentrating on email, is now struggling for survival. Their devices have lost the battle agains the strong contenders from Apple and the Android ecosystem, but they still play a strong role in the Corporate world.

Would the launch of a multi platform BBM, a fundamental piece of their puzzle that’s underpinned an important portion of their success in former times, be actually the first step in their new strategy?. Would we see a release of the whole BlackBerry suite of productivity tools (Email, Calendar, Browser, Messenger) for iOS and Android?.

I believe this would be a brilliant strategy to follow. Focus on what is still a strength rather than on the devices where they seem to have lost their edge. They would enter with a potentially very strong proposition a market in which probably now only Good for Enterprise is playing, with the advantage of plugging it to their large base of BlackBerry Enterprise Servers already deployed across the globe.

Given the 20 million downloads of BBM in the first week after its launch looks like there definitely is an appetite for BlackBerry as a platform.

Transplacing and the second life


The ubiquitous nature of technology and the frenetic pace at which it evolves becomes dramatically obvious when products with a traditionally longer lifecycle embrace electronics and software traditionally only available in computers. The flooding of technology into these consumer products can be seen everywhere, with TV sets becoming closer and closer to computers with Internet connection and multiple apps that go well beyond the original intention of the base product, or cars with multiple, software-powered, onboard systems such as Navigation, Audio, Phone and Voice command, just to name a few.

This increased affordability of computing power and ubiquitous connectivity brings a whole new world of possibilities to enhance the traditional concept of certain consumer products,  it has also had a number of downsides. Some products have seen their life cycle accelerated and a TV set that not so long ago had its lifecycle measured in decades, is now reduced to a few years. The adoption of advanced operating systems to power day to day consumer products accelerates obsolescence of these bringing it closer to that of computers.

iOS in the car

iOS in the car

Cars, for obvious reasons, are a different story. Long lasting products by nature, and with manufacturers integrating more and more technology (both hardware and software) onto them, a situation is created in which the (expensive) technology onboard vehicles, such as GPS Navigation, gets quickly outdated, with very few options for upgrading the hardware part of it. These systems soon pale when compared to the much more affordable, and easily upgradable features available in smartphones for a fraction of the cost.

Moves like iOS in the car, announced as a yet-to-be-implemented feature in iOS 7, can be game changing by going far beyond just providing a pretty interface for your iPhone when shown on your onboard screen. They can go as far as transplacing the complete onboard technology of vehicles into a smartphone, by basically getting all the software to run remotely in you

r handheld device, rather than in the onboard processors.

Huge move

First of all, the obsolescence is over. All your car will provide is a screen, and that is the only thing that can get obsolete. The Navigation software available on iOS (despite the Apple maps fiasco) is on par with any onboard GPS system, and comes for free. No in car GPS hardware required, no more slow processors that can only run simple maps, no

more costly upgrades to onboard maps. Online maps permanently updated, real time traffic information and all the necessary hardware packed in your smartphone, which you can upgrade as frequently as you wish.

Audio is another key application brought by iOS in the car, creating a specific interface for managing your audio library while on the move, together with the phone interface.

Siri is King

Lexus Remote Touch

Lexus Remote Touch

In my humble opinion this is the moment that Siri has been waiting for. Interacting with onboard technology in cars has been, and still is, a big safety concern. Whilst all manufacturers have invested obscene sums in creating intuitive interfaces (BMW’s iDrive, Lexus’ Remote Touch or Audi’s MMI as an example), they still require attention from the driver. Of course most of the premium brands have implemented voice command systems, but in most cases require learning or following very specific instructions with accuracy being low enough not to be a full alternative to the physical interaction.

But here comes Siri, with the ability to understand natural language and take dozens of different instructions without the need for the driver to learn how to enumerate them.

Online Car

Basing your car electronics in a naturally connected device brings new possibilities by being able to make use of Siri’s current (and possibly future) capabilities like finding restaurants, petrol stations around the current location, finding movies to watch and maybe booking hotel rooms in the future.

Development

If Apple opens iOS in the car to developers, I bet we will be seeing cars giving away most of their onboard technology transplacing it to apps implemented in iOS which will manage most of the car functions, with Siri as the main way of interacting with your vehicle systems, from your Navigation,  Climate control, Audio, Video and even car adjustments to be managed easily by interacting with apps in your Smartphone while talking to Siri.

Not a bad move, and one that would increase customer loyalty once a long lasting good like your car is tied to a particular Smartphone platform, on top of possibly transforming the way we understand technology onboard vehicles. And bring a second life to them.

Cars: The next app frontier


This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

This is the next territory to be conquered by your apps

It’s no secret that apps have changed the way we consume content and software, and expressions like “I have an app for that” are now part of our daily lexicon. Little by little, the appmania has been overflowing SmartPhones and Tablets. TVs where the next conquered territory, and now it seems that cars, and more specifically, on board infotainment systems are the next frontier.

Key players in the industry like Denso, QNX, Magneti Marelli and the traditional car manufacturers are already working in their respective strategies for bringing apps to your car. While most of the current trends are around driving performance and self-diagnostics, extending the features currently available on most infotainment systems, some brands are already introducing very popular general purpose apps. Read Lexus here, and the recently launched latest version of their on board system, Enform, which includes some interesting apps available on board the car. Things like buying movie tickets or booking a table at your destination are now possible, even through the cars voice commands. Even checking in your destination on Facebook is now something you can do behind the steering wheel.

This probably opens a new question behind the technology on which these on board infotainment systems are based. Will we see Android or iOS based in car navigation systems?. It would definitely be very exciting as this would mean instant availability of thousands, if not millions, of apps right to be installed in your car. Interesting potential advantage for Android as some of the current platforms are already based on Linux, which could mean easier integration of Android-based apps onboard.

iTV – Continued


Rumors intensifying and details being leaked suggest that bringing App Store to your TV set will not be the only killer feature in iTV. Following Apple’s philosophy on user experience, it seems that they have managed to completely revamp the overcomplicated interface of current TV sets.

Pile of remote controls

Pile of remote controls

It is not only the growing number of remote controls  you surely have on your coffee table, but also the complexity of them. On screen menus actually did not deliver any simplification, all of the opposite, they added more and more features hidden under long lists of complicated options. So will Apple be able to change this?.

If we take a look at their history, the answer is quite clear. There is one fundamental thing the guys in Cupertino have been able to do. They have been able to make technology that is not felt as technology, and does not look like technology. They look like sophisticated products that anyone can use and enjoy.

Computers that do not look like computers, and do not require any technical knowledge to be used. How many technical messages, data, black screens do you see when your Mac starts. How many of you upgraded to OSX Lion with a few clicks?. SmartPhones and Tablets with an incredibly natural user interface, that does not feel techy at all.

So when the TV set industry is going on a completely opposite direction, are they ready to really break this trend and revolutionize the way you use your TV?.

Siri

Siri

Think Siri. This might be the answer to the way they would want to approach the relationship between you and your TV. No more remote controls. No more buttons. Talk

to your TV.

Thinking about it, probably the TV is one of the first stops in a long conquering journey. Voice interfaces have been there for a long time, but never this natural. Siri is an impressive piece of technology that… doesn’t look like technology. Game changer.

 

 

 

 

iTV?


In the last decade there have been various attempts to renew the old glorious days when the TV set was the king of the living room. Despite set top boxes, which promised a basic level of interactivity, and

some applications built into gaming consoles like PS3, the TV has remained pretty much a one way lane ever since. Yes, higher quality, definition and even 3D, but still a one direction street.

Samsung Smart TV

Samsung Smart TV

Only in the last few years some manufacturers brought some built-in applications and even internet connection to their TV set offering, like Sony with some members of the Bravia family, but the offer was still very limited and fixed to the device, with very little possibilities of upgrade, which meant it would become quickly obsolete.

But then came Apple and introduced AppStore in 2008, not only making the process of buying, installing and upgrading software as simple as 1-2-3, but also creating an incredible appmania that has been conquering other platforms and devices. So it seemed only a matter of time that the format hit the TV, and Samsung did it.

Even though the figures are nowhere near the rocketing figures of applications sold for Smart Phones and tablets, there is clearly an appetite for these on TVs, with Samsung having served 5 million downloads in the first 15 months. Clearly the technology renewal cycle of TVs is much slower than that of Smart Phones, and whilst supporting apps might be a factor in choosing a specific TV over another, might not justify the renewal of your working set.

Samsung serves over 5 million apps

Samsung serves over 5 million apps

Other popular manufacturers are joining the apps wagon and are starting to launch TVs with apps capability, but what about the most powerful apps market out there?.

Google is also joining the trend with Google TV and offering perhaps a more open approach to enjoying digital, interactive content and apps on your TV, will they ever make the jump to manufacture a Google TV Display?.

Closing the loop

No rumor around that yet, but yes around Apple. For a couple of years, rumors have persisted that Apple was preparing a revolutionary TV set, which would bring together the traditional simplicity and elegance of Apple products, with their massive app store and the power of iTunes and its possibility (in some markets) of purchasing digital content.

From a device point of view, if the rumors around iPad 3 and its retina display are accurate, its resolution will be far higher than any Full-HD TV, so iOS is already capable of feeding such a screen while granting you access to hundreds of thousands of applications. It supports WiFi, and has a front camera for doing videoconferencing over facetime. Can you imagine a better place to do facetime than your TV?.

Whilst all of these would probably justify consumers to turn their eyes on to an eventual Apple TV Display (not to be confused with the current Apple TV), Apple could possibly be behind something bigger. Think iCloud, iTunes and iTV (should they give it that name) all together. Looks like the perfect way of closing the loop of the iFamily, doesn’t it?.

Subscription

iTunes might start offering subscription services on which you might be access to all the content available via streaming, from any of your iDevices, including your brand new iTV. iCloud would allow you to store and share your existing, downloaded content and enjoy it full screen in the confort of your living room. Should they manage to do this with the quality, elegance and simplicity they usually do things, they could clearly do away with a big portion of the cable TV subscriptions.

The device

Only rumors from here onwards, but most of them point to iTV as the name of the device, and late 2012 as the launch date, with a huge 55 inch OLED screen to enjoy your apps and content from iTunes. It would be powered by iOS as a super-sized iPad, but no information on wether it would be a touchscreen or not. Limited use for this from your sofa, but still would be nice to play Angry Birds at full size…

NFC beyond payments


The spread and adoption of NFC seems to be gaining momentum in the industry, with a number of terminals either supporting or having the intention to support the technology. With the exception of Apple, who still have to make a move in this space, most SmartPhone manufacturers are already shipping NFC-enabled devices, updated list can be checked here.

With strong support from key industry players like Visa or MasterCard, and with Google redefining the whole payments ecosystem, the late 2011 and early 2012 will see the consolidation of NFC as a standard feature in mid to high-end SmartPhones. Yet more to see if Apple decides to include the technology in their yet-to-be-seen iPhone 5.

While contactless payments will continue to be the source of growth for a number of years, however there are many other uses and applications that are strongly emerging, which promise a bright future for this technology. NFC is here to stay.

SmartPhones have been gradually conquering other devices space, replacing your agenda, phone, photo and video camera, business card holder… and even computer with very advanced applications being available out there in the respective appstores. The next thing to come is clearly your wallet, changing your old-fashioned plastic credit cards for their virtual counterparts.

Cash Cards have been successfully implemented in some markets, whilst others are still hesitant to make use of them. The burden of balance top-up is still something to be resolved. NFC can boost the usage of these, as they are really convenient for day to day micro payments where a contactless, signatureless payment can be really convenient. Vending machines, public transportation, paying a taxi or your coffee at Starbucks are likely to be done with a cash card, which now you will be able to store in your SmartPhone. And guess what, recharge it directly from your banking account too!.

But there is room for NFC beyond payments.

Merchants offering loyalty cards, with or without stored value can benefit of this technology. You have loyalty cards from a couple of airlines, half a dozen hotels, your favorite coffee shop and a myriad of other merchants. Now all of them can fit comfortably in your NFC-enabled phone, and you can easily track your points, miles and rewards easily in one single place.

Access Control through NFC

Access Control through NFC

Access control

Modern houses use cards and readers to access doors and gates instead of traditional keys, pretty much like you would see in any hotel. Wouldn’t it be nice to use your SmartPhone to access home?. And it would not stop here, home automation might be one of the next things to be conquered by your SmartPhone, so start guessing the possibilities here.

Anywhere requiring identification in the form of a card can benefit of NFC for access control, so will no longer have to carry your identification badge with you. Your phone does.

Information sharing

The next best thing is information sharing. In the era of Social Media, it is all about sharing. Also in the physical world, where you are likely to exchange your business card when you meet someone, give your phone number or your facebook profile to someone you just met, or leave your card to participate in the next lucky draw. All of them can now be done by putting your phone close enough, so you can transfer your contact details, social media profiles or leave a reduced version of your contact details on a merchant. How many times have you been asked to write down the same contact details on a hotel at check-in?. Guess what, never again.

And the last, yet best

Angry Birds Magic

Angry Birds Magic

It had to be Rovio and in had to be Angry Birds to give us the latest example of NFC. The latest version of their ultra-popular game, still only available on the new NFC-enabled Nokia C7,

allows gamers to contact other gamers to unlock new levels of the addictive game. Fun?.

Does Apple bet for NFC?


There is something I quite missed on today’s Apple event. It was not Steve Jobs, and it was not iPhone 5. Actually, whether it was an upgraded iPhone 4 (as it finally turned out to be) or the long awaited iPhone 5, the feature I really missed is the NFC chip built into the latest object of desire.

NFC Enabled Phone

NFC Enabled Phone

Taking a look at the recent movements by Google, announcing Google Wallet and Offers, which create a whole ecosystem to make the most out of the NFC hardware, as well as the list of

iPhone 4S

iPhone 4S

manufacturers announcing -or even shipping- NFC-capable phones, it is surprising that Apple chose not to make a move on this space. The whole set of actors in the industry, from hardware and software manufacturers to card issuers, financial institutions and merchants are positioning themselves on what looks like one of the next big things in both Mobile Technology and Financial Services.

Apple is known for not leaving anything to chance, so either they do not believe in NFC (clearly unlikely, considering the push and support the technology is getting) or they are preparing something really big that is worth waiting for their next generation SmartPhone to be unveiled.

So is Apple preparing a move similar to Google’s in this space, by combining the hardware -probably linked to the iPhone 5 launch sometime next year- with a complete ecosystem of applications and platforms to cover the whole, end to end payment experience?. Is it wise for Apple to reach the market at least half a year later if they want to have a predominant position in this space?. Time will tell, but it looks that either they have an ace under their sleeve or it will be a big leap to cover if they wait for iPhone 5 to step in.

This is not an app review


Technology packed

Technology packed

This is not an app review. It is rather some thoughts and reflections on how much technology and features are packed in any of the SmartPhones you can buy today. We have taken it for granted, but it is truly amazing to see that you can carry in your pocket a device that contains a GPS, a compass, a high definition photo and video camera, plays music, browses the internet and is capable of doing all at the same time through powerful multitasking. But does anyone need so many features?. I thought not.

But then I started running. I am not a big fan of it, so I just started to reduce a bit of extra weight gained during the holidays. However, I found an application that motivated me to start, and to continue doing it on a regular basis. It is called Runmeter. Probably there are a lot of applications similar to this one, but this is the one I chose, and with which I truly realized how wonderful applications and features you can build when you make use of all the powerful technology Smart Phones pack today.

GPS

You define a route, press the start button and there you go. It tracks your run by GPS pretty accurately. Not only it tracks where you go, but also how fast you go, so you get instant pace, average pace, pace per km, even altitude deviations, although these are not really accurate. The GPS bit in action. Good?. Wait and see…

Internet

Do you need Internet connection while running?. Not for web browsing, definitely, but one fantastic feature of this application is that it integrates with facebook and other social networks, so you can choose what the app publishes for you when you start, stop and finish running. Social Media is all about sharing and interacting, so now you can share your progress while you train. Nothing revolutionary here, but this becomes really fancy when you go to the next step, and you not only share but you also interact. How can you interact while you are running?. Easy, the application will monitor any comments your friends might do on your “Started run” post on facebook and guess what? It will read them out loud to you on your headset. This is my favorite feature, it is really motivating, and when your friends know that they are being read out loud while you run, they really become imaginative and encouraging. Really good.

And music!

What is running without music?. All of the above while you keep your pace listening to your music. Either with the standard iPod included in your iPhone or with my favorite Spotify, that allows you to find those disco hits from the early 90’s you used to dance to and remember the time while on the run. Superb.

Probably none of these are truly revolutionary aspects from a technology perspective, not even from the fact of being packed into a tiny little device. It is the combination of all of them working in harmony that makes really good applications possible.

Sensorconomy

We started by integrating data into applications, now we are integrating sensors like GPS or compass. Some analysts predict Sensorconomy would be the next big thing in Smart Phones by introducing temperature, humidity,light and other sensors into Smart Phones to extend the boundaries of your device and allow it to interact more. I really think the hardware is going further ahead than the applications in the mobile space, which is really thrilling. We have just started to take off in making use of the current possibilities so the future of mobile applications looks promising, at the very least.

The way back


New trends

Sometimes, implications are hidden by the glowing success of certain new technologies. This is exactly what is happening with the current smartphones, or I would better say AppPhones. A trend opened by Apple in 2007 when the first iPhone was launched, ever since then most of the companies providing end customer services through smartphones are choosing to do it over native applications that are downloaded from their respective application store.

So far nothing wrong with this, actually from an end user perspective I am personally a great fan of this way of delivering contents and services, as they can provide an incredible user experience as well as providing full integration with the smartphone features like the camera, in-built GPS, compass and whatever will come in the next generations, with NFC chips already knocking on the door.

A bit of history

80's computing

80's computing

It is, however, when you look at the evolution of technology in the last few decades that you find this trend quite curious, as it implies effectively going against some of the basic principles we have been enacting for long years.

Think about traditional systems up to the 80’s where client-server computing used to be the rule. No middleware systems in between, and full blown applications (with exceptions like mainframes accessed through emulators) installed in end users computers.

The web comes in the 90’s, and soon browser-based, thin client computing is understood to be the way to go. Numerous advantages, like eliminating the error-prone processes of software distribution and patching the distributed applications. Looked very good and actually was (and still is) the rule up to nowadays. Except for mobile applications.

Back for good, sometimes

Back to client-server architectures, albeit in most of the cases a middleware will be paving the way between the client application and the back end systems, but client-server, anyway. It must be said, though, that the traditional burdens of distributed computing have been brilliantly solved by the companies ruling the mobile platform industry, with simplified application download, update, install and uninstall processes that eliminate nearly all the issues while maintaining all the advantages of native applications in terms of responsiveness and user experience. So brilliant is the concept of an Application Store or Marketplace, that I bet we will be seeing more applications for this concept outside the mobile ecosystem.

So back for good, I would say, in this case.

Back to square one, in others

Another traditional battle, specially since the early days of the web, has been standardization. Not only a problem for users who had the freedom to choose their browser of choice, but also for developers which had to write, test and maintain

Standardization

Standardization

code for many different browsers which did their own interpretations of the existing standards. This had improved in the last years though through greater standardization, so now we could talk about tuned versions of the same development rather than multiplied developments for different browsers.

Now think about mobile applications from this perspective, and here is where I see clearly a return to the beginning. Multiple platforms, with no grounds in common and even different programming languages, means that a company developing an application for Apple, Android and RIM devices, needs effectively to write 3 different applications. Of course design and some coding frameworks will surely be reused, but most of the work needs to be redone. Promising frameworks are out there to help bridge this gap, however, it looks that in this case we are back to square one.