Archive for the ‘Mobile Computing’ Category

Thin Phones


I got a new Samsung Galaxy S II.  It is an industrial engineering marvel.  It is modestly thin (about 3/8 inch) and about 2 3/4 inches wide and a little over 5 inches tall.  The LCD screen takes up almost all of the area.

I was dazzled by the resolution, the colors, and the features.  This was a phone to show off and be proud of.  I played and played with it initially, and slipped it into my pants side pocket with the greatest of pride.


OK, let’s engage brain.  A long, thin piece of glass with delicate electronics beneath it.  In a pocket where sitting down would likely put a little, if not a lot, of torque on this gorgeous piece of thinness.  Of course it cracked!

Now I could complain and blame Samsung for a not very robust design, but really, whose fault was it? Mine!  It was almost as bad as putting a cell phone in a shirt pocket and bending over to let it fall to its death.

Fortunately I had purchased insurance.  Unfortunately the deductible was $100.  Even more unfortunately, you don’t get a new phone you get a rebuilt one.  To be honest, I can’t tell the difference; however, out of the box it needed an upgrade for the OS (it’s now at Android 2.3.6, build Gingerbread EL 29), an upgrade for the firmware, and and an upgrade to Sprint’s current Preferred Roaming List (PRN).

Let me be clear.  If you buy one of these long, thin, expensive beauties, BUY THE INSURANCE!

Also, the guy at the Sprint store also recommended a stiff case.  He recommended against those rubbery ones that are supposed to protect against shocks when you drop your phone.  The one I bought comes in two pieces, a stiff backing and a stiff cover with a clip to clip the assemble on a belt or whatever.  Now my vanity usually prevents me from using the cover and belt clip.  It is too bulky in my pocket and I look like a dork (I am one, but I don’t like to look the part) with the phone clipped to my belt.

I’ve got some protective thin plastic covers to protect the screen when I put the phone in my pocket.  They work, but don’t last too long.  Somehow I feel like my pant pocket is safer than my shirt pocket.  I’ve dropped a lot of phones from the latter.  I try to slide the phone into my pocket with the screen against the cloth of the pocket.  Seems to work.


P.S. I see a lot of girls slip their cell phone in their hip pants pocket. In general I think this is not terribly smart.  How many cell phones get sat on?  For the thin phones, even bending over could be bad.

Blackberry Outages


Blackberry Outages


On the heels of a Blackberry outage on December 22, 2010, several Blackberry Messenger bugs widely reported in June 2011, and the Blackberry outage in July 2011, comes a huge outage in October 2011.

The following quotes are taken from RIM’s UK service site.

Monday 10th October -15:00(BST)

We are currently working to resolve an issue impacting some of our BlackBerry customers in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region (EMEA.)

Tuesday 11th October -21:30(BST)

The messaging and browsing delays that some of you are still experiencing were caused by a core switch failure within RIM’s infrastructure. Although the system is designed to failover to a back-up switch, the failover did not function as previously tested. As a result, a large backlog of data was generated and we are now working to clear that backlog and restore normal service as quickly as possible.

Wednesday 12th October – 12.00 (BST)

We know that many of you are still experiencing service problems. The resolution of this service issue is our Number One priority right now and we are working night and day to restore all BlackBerry services to normal levels.

Thursday 13th October – 17.05 (BST)

As BlackBerry services continue to return to normal, some users may still be experiencing delays with messaging and browsing. In some cases this can be resolved by a full device reboot. To reboot your device, remove and then reinsert the battery.

OK, so here are some of my thoughts on this outage:

The stated root cause was a core switch failure coupled with a failover mechanism that did not work.  A third problem (it seems failures always come in quantities of three or more!) was that the system couldn’t handle the subsequent backlog of messages.  In other words, it didn’t have the capacity to handle a large number of essentially simultaneous messages.  Also, the system seemed to affect certain users in theUnited States.  Perhaps this was because of backlogs of messages to or from EMEA.  I couldn’t find an acknowledgement or explanation from RIM.  I also find the level of disclosure from RIM to be far below the quality and completeness of Amazon’s disclosures that I reported on earlier. The bottom line is that the outage lasted from Monday afternoon to Thursday evening, or a little more than 72 hours, and it affected many users in EMEA and some inNorth America.

Aside from the fact that a 72 hour outage spoils one’s MTTR and availability numbers, it appears that the client base was a bit upset.  This was not so much due to an outage, but it seemed to be due to a loss of confidence in RIM and its Blackberry system.  Here are a few quotes posted on

From Andrew Baker, Director, Service Operations,SWNCommunications Inc., posted onOct. 13, 2011,

“RIM has been having lots of PR problems and corporate customer problems of late.

“Based on my own personal sampling of several dozen customers who use RIM services, the sentiments generated by this set of outages are not good. There were a few hold-outs who were adamant that RIM would survive all the talk of doom and gloom, that are now looking to implement alternatives.

“This is at both the technical level and the executive level within these organizations.

Confidence has suffered considerably, and the timing for them could not be worse. And they totally botched the PR associated with this outage.

“They do not appear to have a sound strategy to deal with the many competitive challenges of their market, and they are poor communicates even in crisis. They failed to capitalize one of their core strengths, which was device security, and have undermined confidence in their other, which is their network.

“RIM is in the midst of a death spiral — the only question is how long it will take. Look for a number of highly publicized defections over the next few months, which will add fuel to the perception of their demise, and hasten it.”

From Patrick Adams, Director, Adduce:360: “In my experience the BB BES approach is still seen as the mainstream messaging solution for [corporations] – however, I do think that BB has a big challenge to maintain their position – irrespective of this recent outage.

From Adele Berenstein, Consultant and Trainer, Customer Satisfaction and Reputation Management: “I believe that RIM (the manufacturer of BB) has a unique position as the secure provider for email for corporations. Unless there is an alternative with equivalent functionality, corporations and governments will not have a choice but to forgive. I am sure the big corporations are putting pressure on RIM to fix their problems.

“When an alternative comes along, then RIM could conceivably loose their significant market share in the business and government markets.”

From Philip Sawyer, Managing Member, Voyage Media Group: “Honestly, I’m not sure RIM will ever get back on track. The well-established iPhone and Android devices have been steadily eating away at BB’s user base…and with Windows Phone rapidly gaining traction with their recent innovations, I think we’ll see another migration begin to take place, as die-hard business users begin to notice the growth of another trusted name in the corporate world (Microsoft) into the smartphone industry.”

And finally from Juan Barrera, “There is no way I am going back to BlackBerry, I waited over 5 years for them to come up with something remarkable, only saw excuses after excuses from its very-high-egos Co-CEOs. Now 100% Apple! at all levels.”

My personal opinion is that BB BES is a very nice product.  I loved it when I was using it, in spite of a few quality problems.  What is sad is to see RIM’s image erode with individual customers abandoning the BB, and with corporate customers looking for an alternative.  With competition on the horizon, RIM should have been focusing on cementing their customer base.  They clearly have not.  The moral here is that becoming lax on quality and not working seriously to protect availability can really ruin a company.


Smart Appliances and Energy


Smart Appliances and Energy

With more and more household appliances using microprocessors to add “smart” features, their energy consumption can become an issue.  In fact, even the dormant state of these appliances can consume significant amounts of electricity.

One of the worst offenders is the now ubiquitous cable TV box, of which my house has half a dozen.  These use power to retain state.  This is superficially reasonable, since the catalog of the next several days of TV shows is part of that state (as is all the personal settings.)  Downloading this catalog takes several minutes, which would be annoying for most consumers, who want “instant” access to their TV show listings.  As these boxes contain Internet connections, which take time to establish a connection, there will be a tendency to use power to maintain that connection 24 hours per day.  Here some design work is required to minimize energy consumption while maintaining fast reaction times when the TV is turned on.

Now we move to refrigerators.  One can imagine quite a number of applications for a microprocessor in the refrigerator.  Recipes from the Internet that pop up when a food bar code is scanned, or entered into the computer, but probably a more useful feature would be an inventory of what is being stored (fresh or frozen).  While storing an item, swipe its bar code so that the system knows when you first stored it and hence how old it is later.  Enter its expiration date and location in the refrigerator.  Coming back to recipes, how about a list of recipes that can be made from ingredients in the refrigerator?  Nice!  Even nicer would be to access this inventory via cell phone when at the market.  “Do I have any fresh cilantro at home?”  My current refrigerator simply beeps at me with the door is left open, but why not send my cell phone a message?  Of course, access to the Internet allows access to video based cooking instructions to be downloaded and played.  Want to see that technique to whip up a great soufflé?

Smart stoves and ovens have a different play when hooked up to the Internet.  My favorite would be to warm up my oven as I’m heading home from the market.  Integrated temperature probes are popular with microwaves, but should be integrated into ovens as well.  Sensors that turn off that stove when the pot has boiled away all liquid would be a nice safety feature.  OK, all these features are nice, but what is the cost of the energy?  Again, some design work is needed to minimize energy consumption and still to maintain fast power ups.

Refrigerators have another option that was discussed briefly in an earlier post.  When it is cheaper to use electricity at night, a refrigerator can wait until night time to make the system extra cold so that it can more easily ride out usage during the day.  Note that if the building has solar power to augment the utility provided electricity, the solar power is “free” during the day and expensive at night.  Thus, it makes sense to keep the system extra cold during the day and to almost power off at night.

My current microwave’s defrost features are terrible.  Look, I want to defrost a steak quickly without partially cooking it.  I also don’t want to wait an hour defrosting a big chicken.  The smarts to do this are SMOP (“simply a matter of programming”).  My microwave gives me a ridiculous choice for defrosting options.  How about getting the right option off the Internet by scanning its bar code?  Also, a microwave should probably be hooked up to a digital scale to weigh things, but putting the scale into the microwave itself has its charm.  A lot of these features can be implemented without using too much excess energy.  In fact, considerable energy can be saved, simply by not overcooking things!

Now, who is going to invent the “green” robot that does all my cooking for me?

Of course the moral here is that smart appliances are coming, and I hope that industry will embrace saving energy.


Google Buys Motorola


Google Buys Motorola

Well, today’s headline knocked my socks off!   I previously noted that Google was poorly “patent positioned” in the mobile space and was going to be increasingly challenged by patent holders.  This would potentially have damaged the Android mobile phone sector.  Now, armed with Motorola’s 17,000+ patent portfolio, Google can definitely play the patent exchange game with much greater power.  Let me illustrate.  I recall when Apple came to Digital with a claim that Digital was infringing on Apple’s claim to have invented the mouse.  It was more specific than that, but never-mind.  Digital countered by offering Apple to trade for a patent that claimed that Digital invented Ethernet.  The specifics aren’t important, but the issue went away with the trade of equally obtuse patents.

OK, that’s goodness for Android, but the Motorola purchase changes the dynamics of mobile computing tremendously.  Now, Android is no longer an operating system from a company that is hardware neutral, as was Microsoft in the formative PC days.  Now, Android is the product of a hardware vendor of cell phones and tablets.  Companies like Samsung, Nokia, and HTC have to rethink their strategy.  What was formally a no-brainer to adopt Android, is now a question of whether to use technology from a competitor.  What if Google were to decide to keep some OS technology for itself, or if it were to decide to charge for Android?  It also isn’t clear that Google won’t prioritize the development of Android features to favor its own (formerly Motorola) products.  Should a cell phone or tablet company hedge its bets and also support one or even two other operating system competitors to Android?

The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) officially maintains Android, but I don’t understand how its costs are covered.  My assumption has always been that Google covers most of the cost and has most of the influence.  It is one thing when Google makes such immense profits that Google’s Android development costs are lost in the expense round-off errors, and another if it gets public scrutiny. Of course, phone and tablet vendors could decide to equally fund AOSP, much like the “Gang of Nine” PC clone makers decided to fund EISA after IBM bullied the PC market with their proprietary Microchannel bus.  It will be interesting to see how Google will address this problem.

Another possibility is to hedge bets with another operating system.  Some cell phone makers already support Microsoft, and HP has WebOS.  My guess is that Microsoft’s OS will benefit from Google’s little dilemma, but I can only speculate on WebOS, which gets some good reviews in spite of HP’s meager market share.

My advice to Google:  Call in all your Android AOSP partners and address this RIGHT NOW.  Openness is really important to instill confidence and to keep the Android market penetration climbing.