Author Archives: Peter Nowak

Chipotle bringing vegan burritos to Canada

sofritasVegetarian burrito fans in Canada rejoice – Chipotle is bringing Sofritas north. Starting Monday, the fast casual chain will be serving up the vegan tofu filling in burritos, tacos, salads and taco bowls alongside regular meat options in its one Vancouver and eight Toronto outlets.

The Denver-based chain has been testing Sofritas in a few U.S. markets over the past year. My vegetarian wife and I happened to be in one of them (San Francisco) last week and we just happened to pop into a Chipotle for a quick lunch. Now, I wouldn’t dream of eating a vegetarian option when meat is available, but my wife wasted no time in ordering it. Chipotle’s only other option for vegetarians has typically been burritos or tacos with a few veggies and a big dollop of guacamole, so she was quite excited for the new tofu choice.

The verdict? She liked it quite a bit. The tofu is as close as it gets to sausage – it’s modeled on chorizo. “It doesn’t taste like tofu because of the spices,” she says, and it includes chipotle chilis and poblanos.

Vegetarians already account for about seven to 10 per cent of Chipotle’s business, according to communications director Chris Arnold, who I chatted with in Toronto this week. Despite its newness, Sofritas is already accounting for about three to four per cent, he said. The tofu option is obviously proving popular.

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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in food, mcdonald's, taco bell


Microsoft aiming ‘to be all things to all people’

windowsUnder new chief executive Satya Nadella, Microsoft is charging ahead with a “universal app” strategy – the idea that software developers can create an app once and then deliver it to each of the company’s devices, whether it’s PCs, tablets, phones or even Xbox consoles, without much additional work. This one-app-to-rule-them-all approach is how the company plans to overcome its disadvantage in phones and tablets, where it is way behind Apple and Google in terms of market share and total number of apps. A simplified and unified experience could indeed be the secret to luring developers away from its two rivals, both of whom run different operating systems depending on which devices they’re using.

I spoke with Windows Phone director Greg Sullivan last week at Microsoft’s annual Build conference in San Francisco about the plan and why it could work. I also sat down with Mary-Ellen Anderson from Microsoft Canada to get the local perspective. As vice-president of the developer and platform group, she’s in charge of recruiting companies and individuals to create apps for Windows devices here in the snowy north. With the company having success in securing the biggest app developers, its focus is now shifting to a more local level.

“We need to get the [apps] people care about in Canada,” Anderson said. “That’s a big, big deal for me.”

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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in amazon, apple, Google, microsoft, roku


Digital strategy is government’s Phantom Menace

"Me'sa so happy to get 5-megabit broadband!"

“Me’sa so happy to get 5-megabit broadband!”

The year was 1999 and nerds around the world were abuzz for something they had been waiting a seeming eternity for: a new Star Wars movie. Anticipation and expectations couldn’t have been higher going into George Lucas’ long-promised return to the pop culture phenomenon he had set in motion with the Original Trilogy back in 1977. But then, The Phantom Menace happened. And things got even worse with the next one, Attack of the Clones. Lucas redeemed himself somewhat with his third prequel, Revenge of the Sith – I know this because I just rewatched them – but in the end, there was no denying it. The new Star Wars movies were terrible.

And so it is with the equally long-awaited digital strategy from the Canadian government, titled Digital Canada 150. Believe it or not, there are actually a number of similarities between the movies and this bit of government policy. Nerds like me have been waiting for it forever and it has indeed been in the works for a long time. But most crucially, it’s also abjectly terrible.

Divided into five “pillars” – connecting Canadians, protecting Canadians, economic opportunities, digital government and Canadian content – there’s almost no actual “strategy” in the short, 25-page document, which is perhaps why that word isn’t actually in its title despite it being presented as such. Rather, Digital Canada 150 is more a collection of bullet-point reminders of the government’s recent efforts across a number of technologically-related subjects, such as its development of an app commemorating the War of 1812 and the lowering of corporate taxes. And oh yes, there are lots of pretty pictures and useful factoids, like the one that predicts internet usage is going to increase over the next few years. Good thing that’s in there.

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in government


Canada’s wireless policy has lacked ambition

Is Industry Minister James Moore out of wireless tricks?

Is Industry Minister James Moore out of wireless tricks?

With the imminent unveiling on Friday of Canada’s long-overdue digital strategy – titled Digital Canada 150 – it’s perhaps timely to take a look at how the federal government has fared in its most visible – and often volatile – technology-oriented policy: wireless. Since the declaration in 2007 by then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice that the Canadian wireless market suffered from too high prices and too little choice, the Conservatives have effectively waged war on the country’s three big incumbents, Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Its main weapon in this battle was spectrum, or the public airwaves that all wireless carriers need in order to operate. In 2008, the government held a spectrum auction that blocked off 40 per cent of these airwaves for new companies, which ultimately gave rise to the likes of Wind, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, as well as new wireless operations from cable companies Videotron and Eastlink. Six years later, the cable companies are doing well, but the other three are either dead or on their way to the grave.

Consumers apparently reaped the benefits over that time, with one government-funded study finding that prices had generally gone down nearly 20 per cent thanks to all the new competition. Even if subscribers didn’t sign up with any of the new carriers, the very presence of these companies in the market forced the Big Three to moderate or lower their prices. But, with competition now ebbing, the status quo – and inevitably continual price hikes – is re-establishing itself once again. Here’s how things look, according to the latest figures from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix, otherwise known as the industry’s bible:

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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in government, mobile


Review: Roku Streaming Stick facing tough battles

roku-streaming-stickJust when the war for the living room couldn’t get any hotter, here comes Amazon with the Fire TV set-top box. No, it’s not a porn-delivery device – it’s Amazon’s answer to Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast, the company’s best foot forward into getting some of that lucrative living room entertainment pie.

Canadians aren’t likely to see the Fire TV any time soon. Tech companies often like to try out new products in the United States first before expanding internationally, but that’s even more so the case with much of what Amazon does. The company has been offering music downloads and video streaming down south for years and has yet expand them northward. With its set-top box predicated on such content, there’s no reason to believe Canada is a priority market for it.

There is another related battle unfolding here, however, and it involves sticks – media-streaming sticks, to be precise. It’s not a hockey game, but it could be just as bruising.

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Posted by on April 3, 2014 in Google, roku


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