Tag Archives: Mobile software

The Real Revolution

This is also a podcast, from my weekly BBC piece. 

While folks at the annual tech show in Vegas are getting all excited about a glass-encased laptop, the world’s thinnest 55″ TV and a washing machine you can control from your phone, they may be forgiven for missing the quiet sound of a milestone being crossed: there are now more smartphones in the world than there are ordinary phones.

According to New York-based ABI Research, 3G and 4G handsets now account for more than half of the total mobile phone market. Those old ‘dumb phones’ and the so-called feature phones–poor relations to the computer-type iPhone or Android device can–are now officially in decline.

This is, in the words of ABI Research’s Jake Saunders, “an historic moment.” While IDC, another analyst company, noticed that this happened in Western Europe in the second quarter of last year, Saunders points out: “It means not just mobile phone users in Developed Markets but also Emerging Market end-users are purchasing 3G handsets.”

So why is this a big issue? Well, a few years back it would have been hard to convince someone in an emerging market to shell out several hundred bucks for a phone. A phone for these folks was good for talking and sending text messages. That was a lot. And enough for most people–especially when the handset cost $20 and the monthly bill was even less.

Now, with prices falling and connectivity improving in the developing world a cellphone is so much more: It’s a computer. It’s an Internet device. It’s a portable office and shop front. It’s a music player. A TV. A video player. A way to stay in touch via Facebook and Twitter.

And for the industry these people in emerging markets are a life saver. For example: The developed world is pretty much saturated with smartphones. People aren’t buying them in the numbers they used to.

But that’s not to say the feature phone is dead. In fact, for some companies it’s still an important part of their business. Visionmobile, a UK based mobile phone research company, says that Nokia–busy launching its new Windows Lumia phones in Vegas–is still the king of feature phones, accounting for more than a quarter of the market.

And they just bought a small company called, confusingly, Smarterphone, which makes a feature phone interface look more like a smartphone interface. So clearly at least one company sees a future in this non-smartphone world. In a place like Indonesia, where the BlackBerry leads the smartphone pack, nearly 90% of phones sold in the third quarter of last year were feature phones, according to IDC.

So companies see a big chance for growth in these parts of the world. But they also need the spectrum. If you’re a mobile operator your biggest problem now is that smartphone users do a lot of downloading. That means bandwidth. The problem is that one piece of spectrum is for that 3G smartphone, and another is for your old-style 2G phone. The sooner you can get all your customers to upgrade their handset to 3G, the sooner you can switch that part of the spectrum you own to 3G.

So this is a big moment. We’re seeing a tipping point in the world’s use of cellphone use, from a simple, dumb communication device to something vastly more useful, vastly more exciting, vastly more lucrative. All those people moving over to smartphones

ABI Research reckons there’ll be 1.67 billion handsets sold this year. That’s one in four people buying a new device. Forget fancy Vegas. The real revolution just started.

Carrier IQ Bits and Pieces

Some background about Carrier IQ before the hullabaloo started.

  • People had found about this before
  • Some in the industry questioned why such an expensive solution for a relatively simple problem
  • Data was available to ‘market researchers’
  • Software was installed on modems too
  • A lot of carriers were involved

This is not new. Several people have pointed this out before. This from December 2010: xda-developers – View Single Post – **warning** you can get your phone to a unrecoverable state:

On whether or not it’s possible for Sprint to dig up data after a complete Odin wipe may be debatable, but I lean toward supporting the “yes, they can” side. Sprint has been, for – as far as I can tell – a while, since the Moment at least, been including Carrier IQ in Android ROMs. Carrier IQ – which you can get more info on here (browse around there) is highly invasive, to the level of being spyware. It tracks signal data, application usage, and much else – its services and libraries are tied deeply into the system, to the point that killing just the client (not the server) will destroy the battery meter.

And this, even earlier, from a potential rival: Carrier IQ: Mobile Service Intelligence ?’s – DeadZones.com. They point out that Carrier IQ is very expensive, and has raised a lot of money, for something that is supposedly very simple (finding dropout zones). Commenters point out the pitfalls (lower battery life, data in the hands of faceless corporations):

I did not give consent for this and see the use of such software unethical. I can see no positive effect this can have for the end user. I can see many scenarios in which these corporations could heinously profit from it, though.

Back in 2008, it could claim, according to Company 2008: FierceWireless, Fierce 15 – FierceWireless, that

Carrier IQ’s client list includes Sprint and Sierra Wireless. CEO Quinlivan says the firm works with at least seven of the top 10 major OEMs. Look for the firm to increase its scale in the coming year through more vendor and carrier deals.

Huawei is a customer, not only for handsets, but also for modems: Huawei to Embed Network Diagnostic Tools into 3G Modems in 2009 says:

Announcing the partnership, Carrier IQ CEO, Mark Quinlivan, said: “These new cards will make for smoother delivery of Mobile Data services, improvements in Customer Care services, identification of network coverage gaps and increased awareness of actual user behavior.”

This from Sept 2010 Carrier IQ Powers Android Platform with Mobile Service Intelligence makes clear a number of things.

Experience = behavior for Carrier IQ, so this is not just about logging dropouts:

On-device measurement of the mobile user experience is the key to better understanding user behavior and ultimately optimizing product offerings to match market demands.

This data was not just available to the telcos. The press release also includes an unlikely end-user:

Carrier IQ enables mobile operators, device manufacturers, application developers and market researchers to improve their offerings based on direct insight into the customer experience.

As of last year, 12 leading vendors were using Carrier IQ:

Deployed on over 90M devices from 12 leading vendors worldwide, Carrier IQ is the leading provider of Mobile Service Intelligence solutions that use mobile devices to provide detailed metrics in a highly secure environment.

Phantom Mobile Threats

How secure is your mobile phone?

This is an old bugaboo that folks who sell antivirus software have tried to get us scared about. But the truth is that for the past decade there’s really not much to lose sleep over.

That hasn’t stopped people getting freaked out about it.

A security conference heard that some downloadable applications to phones running the Android operating system would “collect a user’s browsing history, their text messages, the phone’s SIM card number and subscriber identification” and send all this data to a website owned by someone in Shenzhen, China. Some outlets reported that it also transmitted the user’s passwords to their voicemail.

About 700 outlets covered the story, including mainstream publications like the Telegraph and Fortune magazine: “Is your smart phone spying on you?” asked one TV station’s website.

Scary stuff.

Only it isn’t true. It’s not clear who misreported all this—the journalists and others covering the event, or the company releasing the fruits of their research, but it gradually emerged that the applications—downloadable wallpapers—only transmitted a portion of this data. (See a corrected version of a story here.)

Indeed, the whole thing got less suspicious the more you dig.

This is what the developer told me in a text interview earlier today: “The app [recorded’] the phone number [because] Some people complained that when they change the[ir] phone, they will lose the[ir] favorite [settings]. So I [store] the phone number and subscriber ID to try to make sure that when [they] changed the phone, they have the same favorites.”

Needless to say the developer, based in Shenzhen, is somewhat miffed that no one tried to contact him before making the report public; nor had any of the 700 or so outlets that wrote about his applications tried to contact him before writing their stories.

“I am just an Android developer,” he said. “I love wallpapers and I use different wallpaper every day. All I want is to make the greatest Android apps.”

Now of course he could be lying through his teeth, but I see no evidence in the Lookout report or anything that has appeared subsequently that seems to suggest the developer has done anything underhand. (The developer shared with me some screenshots of his app’s download page which show that they do not request permission to access text message content, nor of browsing history.)

In fact, he seemed to be doing a pretty good job: His apps had been downloaded several million times. He declined to give his name, but acknowledged that he was behind both apps provided under the name Jackeey, and under the name iceskysl@1sters!

Not much longer. One website quoted Lookout as saying “We’ve been working with Google to investigate these apps and they’re on top of it.” They have: Google has now removed the apps from their site. So I guess Jackeey, as he asked me to call him, is going to have to look for other ways to spend his time. (He told me that Lookout had contacted him by email but not, apparently, before going public.) 

Seems a shame. Obviously, there is a mobile threat out there, but I’m not sure this is the way to go about addressing it. And I don’t think a guy in Shenzhen doing wallpaper apps is, frankly, worth so much hysterical column ink.

Let’s keep some perspective guys, and not embark on a witch-hunt without some forethought.

Lookout has since been backtracking a bit from its original dramatic findings. “While this sort of data collection from a wallpaper application is certainly suspicious,” it says on its blog, “there’s no evidence of malicious behavior.”

Suspicious? We seem very quick to attribute suspicious behavior to someone we don’t know much about, in some scary far-off place, but less to those we do closer to home: Lookout’s main business, after all, is prominently displayed on their homepage: an application to, in its words, “protect yourself from mobile viruses and malware. Stop hackers in their tracks.”

Conflict of interest, anyone?

Sponsoring Theft

Are companies like eBay knowingly peddling stolen goods? Surely not, but I wonder about their advertising strategy.

I get confused about how sponsored results work. You know, those textual ads that appear alongside search results or on a webpage. I mean, I thought I knew how they worked: someone buys a word and when that word appears they get their ad next to it. But when I look for “laptop stolen” on Yahoo! Answers, I get this:

So what keyword are eBay, DealTime and Shopping.com sponsoring here? Or do they really have good stolen laptops for sale? And if so, wasn’t I told? Or these poor folks, whose tales of woe appear right next to these add:

Interestingly, trying the same search but for “laptop vomit” throws  up no sponsored ads at all. So “stolen” must be a sponsored word? (It does throw up, so to speak, cases of people feeling unwell over their keyboard. I guess that’s the Yahoo! Answers type of crowd. )

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Dud of the Week: eBay Anniversary

I shouldn’t boast too much about this, I know, since you’re all going to get horribly jealous, but I just received a very exciting email, courtesy of the nice folks over at eBay, congratulating me on an impressive year (or is it 10?) of dedicated custom:

Now my friend Jim says this is the lamest bit of spam he’s seen in a long while, and points out that since I haven’t actually sold anything on eBay the sentiments expressed therein are as genuine as the Microsoft Office on his computer, but I think he’s just green with envy. Not least because the email contained a picture of the eBay Green-Pants Wearing Party Dude (pictured below for your convenience):

 I think it’s a great idea to send congratulatory emails to your customers on the anniversaries of their signing up. Everyone could do it – ‘This is Microsoft here, congratulating you on the anniversary of buying Windows 98! Oh, and buy the way we don’t support it anymore, so you’ll have to buy Vista real soon! Have a good one!’ or ‘Hi! It’s your friendly cellphone company here. Congratulations on the 3rd anniversary of using our service! You’ll be pleased to know that with all the hidden fees and ridiculous per-kilobyte charges we tag onto your bill we’ve been able to send all our kids to finishing school in Switzerland! Keep talking and downloading and not looking too closely at your phone bill!’ It might clog our inboxes but it’ll be worth it to feel wanted.

And I think I’m going to make the Green Pants Dude my Dud of the Week emblem. After all he’s already wearing a dunce’s hat.

The Online Dutch Auction

Good piece by my old friend Rani about how online auctions work in Singapore: 

When I tried to sell my xda II online, I was surprised to find out that the logic of online auction is almost totally different in Singapore. At first, I tried to sell my xda II in Singapore Pocket PC user group (PPCSG). However, I can say that, although PPCSG market place forum is a great place to buy stuff, it is not a great place to sell stuff. People from the forum would mercilessly bargain 40-50% from the initial price. Having been unable to sell my xda II with a good price in PPCSG, I looked for other alternatives.

Enter auctions sites, namely, Yahoo Auctions Singapore and ebay Singapore. And I was surprised to find out that… nobody bids on those auctions sites. It was not long until I find out the unwritten rules of the online auction game in Singapore, which is totally different from my experience doing online auction in the US and UK.

Basically it’s like a reverse auction: Put your highest price as the opening bid, and wait for folk to call you with lower bids. Then you just seal the deal over the phone. I wonder how true this is elsewhere? And I wonder, too, whether Rani’s suggestion that eBay and co actually build the capability for reverse auctions into their software, so that in places like Singapore, people actually use their services?

Wikipedia on Your Cellphone

Further to my posting last week on how it might be possible to access Wikipedia (and other localised content) via Wi-Fi, here’s a service that makes it available via GPRS: Wikipedia goes mobile with JAVA-solution

Wikipedia is now available on mobile phones. The interactive media platform JOCA allows immediate, continuous and free access to the famous online encyclopedia via GPRS. With more than 1.6 million articles (about 678.000 in English and 275.000 in German), Wikipedia offers the largest free accessible knowledge pool worldwide. Via JOCA, a Java program developed by Interactiv, the German specialist for interactive services, mobile phone users are able to screen the entire Wikipedia encyclopedia within a few seconds. JOCA quickly displays the Wikipedia answers on research requests in English or German and offers additional links recommended by the community’s authors.

I haven’t tried it out but it sounds excellent. Particularly if this kind of thing were integrated with sound technology so one could just say to one’s phone, say, ‘Heidelberg, Philosopher’s Walk (Philosophenweg), English’, while walking along that path, and get the appropriate page delivered to one’s cellphone. (I don’t know why I thought of that particular place, and actually there’s no separate reference to the path there. Sorry. Still, it’s a nice path. Really.)

Vmyths Up For Sale On eBay

Vmyths, the web site that takes a skeptical look a the anti-virus industry, is for sale on eBay: item 5762562547  at a starting bid of $200,000. (Or you can buy the whole thing for $280,000:

Vmyths.com is the leading independent voice in the computer security and computer virus industry. The site is owned by an investor not directly involved in the industry and is looking to sell the site to either another investor or to a someone directly involved in the industry that could benefit from the editorial exposure from being associated with the site. We have an exclusive contract to Rob Rosenberger, editor-at-large. The site comes with URL, all content, and rights to Rob’s contract.

Rob Rosenberger, the editor, explains in his newsletter (not available on the website at the time of writing) that co-founder Eric Robichaud wants to sell Vmyths, and he’s got experience selling websites on eBay. But our readers will want to know: “why now?” Robichaud called to say he’s riding on the coattails of a bombshell we dropped in our latest “Whisper” Update. He told me to announce the eBay auction in a special newsletter or he’d do it himself in an advertisement.

I’ve not always agreed with Vmyths, believing sometimes that a threat is a threat and not always a hype. But its skeptical approach has been a useful antidote to the often inflated claims made by some security vendors. Indeed, Rob’s fear is that one of the companies he has been most scathing of, Britain-based mi2g, could shut down one of their most vocal critics with a meager $200k bid. Oh, sure, I could still rant — but years of historical insight would disappear overnight.

That would definitely be a shame.

News: Nokia Confirms N-Gage Cracked

 Nokia has confirmed a story doing the rounds yesterday: that hackers have cracked the copy-protection codes for its newly launched N-Gage gaming device, allowing copied games to be downloaded over the Web, according to Reuters.
 
 
Nokia has high hopes for N-Gage, aiming to challenge market leader Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance. A vital part of the revenue from N-Gage will come from games, which are sold separately, but Nokia said it did not expect the illegal downloads to become widespread. The cracked versions of the games can in principle be installed and played on any phone that uses the same basic operating software, Series 60, used in N-Gage. Other models include Siemens’s SX1.

Update: The EBay Scam

 Sydney Low from anti-spam service AlienCamel warns of a new take on the email scam which tries to get you to hand over all your personal details. This one, which has been reported in a couple of places elsewhere, is worth repeating here to show how realistic these things are.
Thought you might want to alert your readers to a very dangerous scam that we’ve just observed in our Aliencamel.com service. It’s a very cleverly constructed email that purports to be from ebay - getting users to reconfirm their details.

The email contains a graphic which is designed to look like “text” with a hyperlink – but is actually a mime part that has a gif. Clicking on the graphic causes you to jump to a web page purportedly from ebay.

It disguises the fake web page using hex encoding of parts of the URL so that when the user opens the web page with a web browser, it apppears to be from scgi.ebay.com, but they don’t observe that the real site is at 211.217.224.10 on port 4901. If you click on the email, it  sends you to: <scgi.ebay.comindexupdateyourinformationsecure@211.217.224.102:4901/check1/index.htm>

What’s unbelievable is that it the scammers attempt to get:

– Your ebay userid and password
– Your name
– Your date of birth
– Your US Social Security number
– Your Credit card number
– Your Expiration date
– Your credit card’s verification code
– Your ATM PIN number

This is clearly a very well orchestrated attempt to fraudulently obtain banking information as well as ebay account info. You should alert people to it ASAP.

Thanks, Syd. Definitely these scams are getting better. My advice: never trust any email that asks you to do anything, unless it’s to call your mother more often.