UMPC power, Web 2.0 - recent link roundup

Chippy has posted an analysis of UMPC power consumption. The conclusion is that the display makes up a good deal of the power consumed. This probably applies to devices like Nokia 770 as well, and may explain why the display usually doesn't seem to cover as much of the device's surface as would seem theoretically possible. Perhaps the vendors should develop smarter software which would be more adaptive to real usage and context, turning off the display more aggressively for applications on which you will just take a quick look, and keep it on longer for applications where you tend to stare - such as e-book reading or mahjongg.

An interesting background on the UMPC scene are the Wintel camp's attempts to develop power-saving technology (or in the case of Microsoft and ACPI, to break it). Meanwhile, other vendors like VIA and AMD have taken (again) the role of technology leader in these areas. The Register recently commented on the performance per watt and multicore developments by Intel. In Chippy's carrypad blog you can read about VIA's CPU+chipset offering for UMPC-like platforms. AMD is bringing up desktop CPUs that cut power consumption (ie. heat dissipation) by about 60-70% for next summer, a welcome move for people who are thinking about putting together new PC systems.

Collin R. Mulliner noticed that some UMPC devices will incorporate a Windows Security Button. Hopefully future versions of the button will help users to tackle security problems on Windows, like disable Internet Explorer perhaps?

In other news, CNN has written a list of 25 web 2.0 companies which just might turn out to become the next-generation Google or Microsoft.

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Battlefield2 sigs as a web 2.0 service

Recently I have been tinkering with a personal sig for the PC game Battlefield2. When you play the game on a ranked server, the stats of your session are logged and archived. You can compose an image and include a selection of these stats on dedicated web sites for BF2 sigs. Once you have created a sig on the site, you can attach that under your postings on BF2-related forums.

For example this sig uses an image of apache longbow attack helicopter found with http://images.google.com/, and on top of that there is displayed the player nick and rank, general scores, kill/death ratio, times, kills and rankings for certain vehicles/weapons, and finally pictures of badges, ribbons and medals you can earn when your stats are good enough. The sig was created at http://img.tehsig.com/

Web 2.0 is a marketing term endorsed by O'Reilly Associates, and can be taken to mean anything. A part of my interpretation is that currently there is evolving a free service ecosphere in the web, where users provide services to each other using various engines. For example the sig sites give you an editable profile where you can define the layout and data in your sig using a special markup language. thesig.com apparently parses your ML with PHP, then does some magic and produces a .jpg image (which is updated as new stats come available). The user can then link to this image from his signature on various web forums - for example with clan forums like ESAD - and gain virtual egoboo in the gamer community. The catch here is that the publisher of the game - Electronic Arts - benefits from this kind of community services as part of its revenue on Battlefield2 comes from licensing ranked server software.

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Nokia 770 vs UMPC, part 1

The Nokia 770 Internet Tablet has created a good deal of excitement since it first entered the market in early November 2005. Most readers are probably familiar with this device but this post will give the essentials to the rest. The 770 measures 141 x 79 x 19 mm and weighs 230 g. The cost is around 360 euros. It is a general purpose mobile computing device that runs Linux. With its 800x480 screen it's best suited for web browsing but here's a list of major uses you can put the device into:

  • E-mail
  • News reading (RSS feeds)
  • Instant messaging
  • mp3 playing
  • Video playing
  • Image viewing
  • Games
  • E-book reading
  • Word processing
  • Note-taking
  • Remote access for computers (SSH, VNC)
  • GPS navigation
  • Voice calls via Internet, VoIP (coming in 2006)

Link: Official Nokia site for the 770

The UMPC is a similar concept which also has created hype recently but also massive controversy. These devices are provided by multiple manufacturers, though no products are yet on the market. They measure about 230 x 140 x 25 mm and weigh around 800-900 g. The marketing department apparently wanted to alter the average consumer's perception that this device is rather large and heavy - to the point of not being a mobile device at all - and therefore gave the device its name "Ultra-Mobile PC" (UMPC). No details on pricing are available yet but it is likely to be around 800-1000 euros. Screen resolutions and use cases are very similar to the Nokia 770. The UMPC devices will run a reworked version of Windows XP and are based on common PC components - the first technology providers here are Microsoft and Intel.

Link: Official Intel site for the UMPC

Both types of device use a stylus-like pen and a touch screen, together with some buttons, for control. In the future they will likely feature QWERTY keyboards as well. Similar options are provided for connectivity as well: 802.11b/g and bluetooth wireless, USB, memory card.

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Canadian record industry sees the light?

Michael Geist, a Canadian researcher at the University of Ottawa, summarizes a recent report by the CRIA. The study is ground-breaking as it goes contrary to the long-term claims of the record industry about mp3 downloads and their effects on record sales. The study found that P2P downloads only constitute 1/3 of music on people's computers, while the main source is still ripping CDs owned by the users. Also in the findings was that people who download most also buy most CDs.

Could it be that P2P downloads of music are actually not a threat to the music industry, but a nice new marketing opportunity? At least 2/3 of artists believe they benefit from music downloads, though the new technology might mean that the traditional record industry loses some of its control over the music industry. In any case, one has to really wonder if lawsuits against P2P downloading have really been a good PR move by the record industry. Taking one's potential customers into court can only serve to alienate them. The same with CD copy protection (even if we don't consider Sony's rootkit blunder) - this makes CD purchases less attractive to consumers, and pushes them into P2P downloads instead.

What's been happening in the music industry is another example that corporations which fail to adapt to the free and unrestricted Internet style service concepts risk their business withering. Today's consumers don't want to be limited by what's offered by technology vendors, operators and content providers. They want to use the latest technology to its best potential and get value for their money. If companies can create this kind of markets, they will see strong growth coming from various new opportunities on them. PC based Internet (eg. web 2.0) is the prime example of this kind of a market, and one of the reasons why users have been slow to migrate from this market to mobile 3G services has been the restricted nature of the latter - the so called walled garden concept, where operators limit the access to Internet and 3rd party services in the greedy hopes of creating huge revenues on users who are locked into their own vertical services.

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UMPC finally unveiled

Today, the Wintel camp has provided us with a bunch of tangible information on the upcoming Microsoft Origami devices, or as they more likely should be called, Ultra-Mobile Personal Computers (UMPC). It appears that the UMPC will run the plain old Windows XP from Microsoft, with some Origami software layers on top. Intel's role as the technology provider will be crucial as it has been using many R&D bucks to develop technology that is ready for mobile products. However, it is yet rather doubtful whether the early UMPC will be powerful enough, cheap enough, yet have passable battery life and no heating issues.

The first generation appears to run on Celeron processors, not the latest (and priciest) mobile technology Intel has to offer. First devices are due in April, but the manufacturers face the challenge of making them attractive to customers. Windows XP is not optimised for mobile devices - in fact it is probably the reason the devices have PC-like specs, and Intel's technology - especially the older variant - may not be that suitable for an UMPC-like product. Likewise, the small screen and the lack of a proper keyboard mean a radically new user experience which may be a tough job to smoothen out.

Microsoft and Intel will still likely benefit from this whole project, in terms of licensing fees and adoption of their technology. In fact some commentators point out that Microsoft has been trying to push devices like these to the market for 15 years now. Still, time may be right now and the UMPC concept at least takes us much closer to the carrypad vision. As time goes by and if the market grows, Intel may be able to offer us suitable technology at prices comparable to laptops in a few years...

Some links with additional information:

Intel has an overview of the UMPC/Origami tablet concept and a list of upcoming devices

Slashdot is running the usual huge discussion thread

The Register seems dryly sceptic about the devices in their traditional fashion. But at least it seems the devices would not run as hot as the OQO...

As the devices run on a well-known computing platform (Intel-based x86), it should be possible for a vendor to select the used operating system, or even the user to install it post-purchase. Would it be the time for Nokia or MontaVista to show us what a UMPC can do when supplied with Linux?


The 9 migrating markets

In the near future, we are going to see people migrating into various mobile, smart gadgets from their conventional communication/computing devices. There is (at least) two kinds of migration: people may replace their old device or they may use the new gadget as complementary to the old device. To illustrate the migration paths, I drew a figure about which devices people are migrating to which. I divided the interesting gadgets into 9 overlapping markets:

Desktop is your regular Pc (or a device like the Mini-Mac)
Laptop likewise is rather self-explanatory, though the smallest models get very close to Tablets. (This category would include the so called Tablet PCs, as they too are rather bulky for mobile devices.)
Tablets are a fresh category, the Pepper Pad is the best example and the upcoming Microsoft Origami devices may fall into this category. This is a fairly large device with a 7"-9" screen and a broad range of capacity.
Handtop is a high-end pad. Essentially a full PC in a very small form factor, such as OQO or Vaio U-series.
Surfboard is a low-end pad. For example Nokia 770.
PDA likewise is familiar, a Palm or PocketPC is a good example.
Communicator is a smart phone with a keyboard and various application/communication functions. Eg. Treo, Blackberry, Nokia 9500, 9300.
Smart phone is a cell phone with a capable operating system, good connectivity and capacity to run various mobile applications. This includes the various series60 phones from Nokia. Only the regular cell phone keyboard here.
GSM phone is your regular cell phone.

Tablets, handtops and surfboards define the triangle of the so called carrypad territory.

Click image to see the full picture. Bulky, less mobile devices are in the upper left corner of the picture. Obsolescent devices, from which users are only migrating from, are on the left side of the picture. High-capability, high-performance devices are on the upper side of the picture. Futuristic (many users are migrating to these), convergence devices are on the right side of the picture.

This figure is useful for assessing which markets might start growing, and when. I can see 3 key factors why users would migrate to a new market of devices:

Convergence For example a user going from a PDA or GSM phone to communicator can do multiple tasks with a single device.
Mobility A handtop can do many of the things a laptop could do, but it nicely fits into your pocket.
Capability A user who migrates from a communicator to a handtop gains not only better performance, but a larger, better screen for a better web browsing or application experience.

I didn't draw all the arrows, to avoid the picture becoming messy. For example, a user might well go directly from a PDA to a surfboard or a handtop, because she will gain capability (and convergence) while maintaining essentially the same mobility. Can you spot any other omissions, glitches or dubious assumptions in the figure?


Will work be mobile and free?

Asher Moses writes in the above C|Net article: "rather than obliterate our social lives, always-on connectivity and the increased flexibility it brings will allow us to break free from the office and actually socialise more." Work will be freed from the constraints of time and place.

While the technological capacity for this exists, I don't think our companies and employees are quite ready yet. For example, it has been possible to work from home for quite a few years already - we have DSL, cell phones, etc. Still this is not yet happening, and the utopians have a job of explaining why. There are psychological factors: it is easier to work if you have people bustling around you, doing similar tasks and bringing you to focus time and again by asking stuff. At home, it is easier to relax if there is little to remind you of work. There are cultural factors: the 8 to 4 office work is the traditional pattern of our society, and is what many employers expect from their workforce. They like the aspect of control, as they can - in theory - always easily check if a said employee is actually present and doing her job. They expect their employees to be available at set hours, either for contact by customers or to support the other employees who might need some help with their tasks. All this of course is nothing new, since the issue of cultural lag is well known to social scientists. For example in Marxist social theory one of the key tenets is that technology triggers the advance of society, but it takes time before the conditions of production and ideology adapt.

There are some workers whose productivity increases dramatically from mobility: reporters, inspectors, administrators that have to support multiple sites... However for most people to benefit from mobile technology, we have to change our way of how we view and structure our work. In my experience it is easy to get distracted working from home, meaning that it's hard to put in a full 8 hours day. However you may be able to concentrate better, meaning that you could achieve the same productivity with just 6 hours. Will employers agree to a 6 hour work day, would they not rather have us working the full 8 hours at full productivity? Certainly there already are forces that are pulling to a change in our models of work. There is outsourcing, freelancing, project work, temporary work contracts... All this means that man-hours become less important while the employee will assume more responsibility of her productivity. Perhaps the culmination of this development will be an anarchistic society where money is less important and work is voluntary - meaning that if somebody works, she is actually motivated for the task? Consider for example many free software developers - people who do not expect to be paid for their work - and p2p file sharers - people who do not expect to pay for various content.


Best phone to go with the 770?

My Nokia 7110 phone has served me faithfully for 6 years as a phone and an alarm clock. Now however I need a cellular data connection and a working calendar solution, so it is time to retire it. Phones are the popular convergence device of our day, but pads like the Nokia 770 make many of the smart phone functions almost useless. Symbian/s60 is a fairly limited platform in comparison to Linux (sorry to all s60 fans out there). Today's phones will mostly do what my 7110 used to do, and a bit more. They need to be miniature gadgets with some casual functionality.

I would prefer 3G for the fast data connection, but this limits my choice of phones quite a bit. One could go with the Nokia 6021 which provides the bare essentials for just 140 euros, but the network connection would be half as fast as for 3G phones. It seems the main candidates would be the small 3G clamshells from Samsung, alongside with the soon available Nokia 6280. Other 3G phones from Nokia or Sony-Ericsson might be worth a look as well, but don't seem that appealing.

The Samsung Z500 and Z300 (the music phone version at cheaper 350 eur) are two small clamshells, about 100x45x25mm, both with 3G networking. Today I had a close look at both, unfortunately the shop had only dummy versions of its phones, so I cannot comment on the functionality and user experience. They felt pretty ok as for design - the keyboard felt fairly good. The hinge area is maybe a bit too edged a form, they could have designed it into something smoother, more rounded and better looking. The phones have bluetooth, mp3 player, photo for incoming calls and SyncML. Doesn't sound bad but I rarely buy anything without proper research and this device might stick with me for years... The z510 (with 138MB memory) and z520 are the successors of these models, coming out this spring, but I don't think I want to wait that long, I need a new phone now. (Yeah I've become dependent on electronic calendar devices to remind me that I have a meeting with my customer...)

The 6280 is an interesting phone from Nokia, as it appears to be the first one that could really go with their 770. It has 3G data connectivity and the form factor is very close to the forementioned Samsung models - a little thinner, a little taller. It has a slide-under phone keyboard and silver/black colours. Features wise it sounds strong: 320x240 display (same resolution as on many PDAs), 2 Mpx camera (1600x1200), mp3 ring tones/alarms, plus the usual Bluetooth and mp3 players. I am not sure if it actually has a calendar of any kind or whether it supports SyncML. Also it's not a Symbian device, unlike other interesting models from Nokia, so no smart phone functionality. The camera functionality is a pretty interesting detail as I would consider a good 3 Mpx digital camera good enough for my general use, and if the optics on this phone are what I'd expect them to be, then I would really have little need for an additional camera device. Convergence scores another point, I would say! The 6280 is supposed to be available in Q1, but that might still mean weeks of waiting...

The open questions here are how these phones would work out in practice, and whether they have the syncing options I really need. I am hoping to handle my calendar entries on the 770, then sync via some means (software support still needs to be added on 770) to the phone directly. So maybe opensync, SyncML, whatever would be good to have... If you have any insight on these matters, please share. What kind of phones do you like to use?