Archive for the ‘iphone’ Category

Apple a victim of its own high expectations

October 5, 2011 2 comments

It was inevitable - Apple has become a victim of its own success. By repeatedly coming up with fancy new toys desired by zillions of people around the world, the much ballyhooed press events at which these gizmos are launched have become the tech world’s equivalent of must-see TV (except, ironically, they’re not video streamed, forcing interested parties to follow along on live blogs that frequently crash). So, whenever one of these things takes place, the pressure is on to deliver something to inspire oohs and ahhs.

That didn’t happen Tuesday with the company’s unveiling of its latest gadget, the iPhone 4S. The new device - which will be available in Canada on Oct. 14, presumably through Bell, Rogers and Telus - features faster download speeds, a better processor, a sharper camera and some voice recognition bells and whistles, some of which are already found in competing Android phones. But there wasn’t anything along the lines of “magical,” to use one of Steve Jobs’ favourite words, with everything new simply representing incremental improvements. Not only were the nerds not impressed, neither were investors, who sent Apple’s stock down nearly 3%.

Apple itself seems to have known that its new iPhone is only a marginal improvement, thereby opting with the “4S” rather than the “5″ appellation many had been expecting.

You almost couldn’t help but wonder if there’s some secret conspiracy going on where Jobs, who recently stepped down as CEO of Apple because of health concerns, had set up his successor Tim Cook with some dull material to work with in his first outing, thereby setting up for triumphant return somewhere down the line.

More likely, though, is the fact that smartphone technology has hit a wall in terms of amazing new developments. Someone, whether it’s Apple or one of its competitors, will eventually figure out how to revolutionize mobile technology and take it to another, higher level - perhaps with SIM cards that are inserted directly into our brains? Until then, it looks like it’s going to be more memory (ooh!) and sharper photos (ahh!).

Apple has a history of taking ideas and shining them up - it didn’t invent the smartphone or the tablet, but it made them spiffy enough for the masses to want one. If the company wants to maintain the rapt attention of tech enthusiasts and media everywhere, it’s going to have to keep coming up with such “new” categories. After all, people don’t tune in to Apple for incremental, they want “revolutionary” and “magical.”

That’s a lot of pressure, but it’s a position Apple has put itself in.

Categories: apple, iphone

It’s folly to underestimate Apple’s contributions

August 29, 2011 10 comments

I’m back from my short vacation and what’s the first thing I see? A character assassination attempt by my fellow Macleans blogger Jesse Brown.

Just kidding. I have nothing but respect for Jesse and love his stuff (his interview a few years back with Jim Prentice, where the industry minister hung up on him, is one of my all-time favourites). He messaged me while I was gone to ask if I was okay with him rebutting my blog post the other day about Steve Jobs and Apple’s importance to technology over the past decade. Of course I was, so he had at it.

To summarize, Jesse challenged my assertions that Apple changed everything with a slew of products that included the iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad. He went on to say that Google has been the far more important technology company over the past 10 years.

Just as he thought I was “off my nut,” I think he’s similarly out to lunch, not so much for his conclusion but for how he got there.

First, a mea culpa of sorts. Jesse says I was wrong to say that Jobs himself has been the most important person of the decade, that “Osama Bin Laden must be spinning in his grave.”

No argument there. I’m a technology journalist and commentator and don’t necessarily consider myself qualified to discuss who the most important and influential person overall might be. I thought it was a given that I was limiting myself to the world of tech, but perhaps not. If so, my bad.

As far as which company has been more important, it wouldn’t be as straightforward an argument as Jesse suggests. While I’d probably also favour Google in that debate, it wouldn’t be without reservations, which is where we differ. Jesse asserts that Apple’s biggest impact has been aesthetic - that all it has done is perfected the work of the previous century and only changed the way things look:

It’s essentially a hardware company, and it’s ill-prepared for a world where objects mean less and information means more. There’s no new God-gadget coming from Cupertino—all Apple can do once it’s done sticking cameras on things and offering them in different colors is to release cheaper iPhones and cheaper iPads, devaluing their gear until the gee-whiz factor is totally gone.

Google, meanwhile, is the company that has reinvented advertising, organized all the information on the internet in a meaningful way, driven cloud computing and created “a data-driven economy fueled by the input of individuals.”

Again, I don’t disagree with the arguments for Google, but I do take umbrage with the serious undervaluing of Apple - and every other hardware maker, for that matter. Such a position completely discounts a full half of the internet because without the things that actually connect to it, there is no internet. It’s just an electronic ether that doesn’t really exist, much like heaven (as far as science can prove). Until we can connect our brains directly to this virtual miasma of data that Google has done such a good job organizing, we’re going to be reliant on companies to make hardware that acts as the intermediary.

There are many hardware companies that are important to the internet, from Cisco and network equipment manufacturers to HP and other server makers. Apple and other consumer-facing companies, however, are the ones that decide how every-day people access and use that miraculous internet.

Apple is just one of many makers of this sort of stuff, but its impact has been far more than aesthetic. It hasn’t just made things look nice, it has led the market and invented entire categories of products, all of which exploit, expand and bring value to the internet that we treasure so much. And before the Apple haters jump down my throat, there is a big difference between inventing a “product” and a “category.” Apple may not have invented the tablet computer, for example, but it sure did motivate the section for them at Best Buy. Apple didn’t invent smartphones either, but it absolutely kickstarted demand for them.

That said, isn’t a company that has expanded the ways and means in which people access all that information and data on the internet just as valuable as the company that organized it and did nifty things with it? I think so.

Jesse also argues that much of what Apple has done was inevitable:

If the iPod and iTunes never existed, online music sales might have taken years longer to develop from the ashes of Napster. But it still would have happened… [With the iPhone Jobs] may have jumpstarted the popularization of the mobile Internet by a year or so.

Couldn’t the same be said of Google? There were search engines before it - all Sergey Brin and Larry Page did was come up with a particularly effective algorithm that eliminated human labour from the equation. While Yahoo had employees manually surfing the web and inputting search results, Google had computers doing the same, which gave it a huge efficiency advantage that ultimately crushed all competitors. Google Maps is similarly a fine tool, but isn’t it just a shinier version of Mapquest? Gmail is also great, but isn’t it just a better Hotmail?

Google’s real innovation was in figuring out how to apply ads to all of this stuff and make piles of money from them, which in turn enables everything else it does. In a way, all Google did was get to that now-logical conclusion before anyone else.

The point is, it doesn’t matter if it’s Apple or Google - it’s wrong to disparage a company just because it thought of a better way to do something that somebody else did before. That’s the essence of innovation.

Getting back to the iPhone, it’s hard to overstate just how big an impact it has had. Prior to its release, when corporate users were busy punching emails into their BlackBerrys, mobile data was unbelievably expensive. Here in Canada, a single gigabyte cost somewhere in the realm of $2,500. If Jobs’ biggest accomplishment over the past 10 years could be pinpointed, my vote would go to his convincing AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPhone for less than $100. From his perspective, there was no point in releasing a handy data- and web-enabled device if people weren’t going to use it because of its prohibitive cost, so he somehow forced AT&T to play ball. Carriers across North America had no choice but to follow suit, which is why we now have a smartphone and mobile internet boom - one that Google is coincidentally profiting from.

The smartphone originators - BlackBerry, Nokia or Microsoft - could have tried to do that, and for that matter so too could have Google, but they didn’t. It was Apple that dragged the internet off of computers and into the mobile light of day. That’s a huge accomplishment.

Jesse is also a self-avowed non-believer in the iPad and, by extension, tablets at large:

I’ve yet to notice any real impact of the gadget… Tablets are not the written word’s savior or the future of the digital age. They’re just a different kind of computer that adds comfort while subtracting control.

That misses the point of what a post-PC world is - it’s a future where computing is made invisible and divided into different devices in different situations (until we get that direct brain-internet connection, that is).

A few years ago, if you wanted to do any sort of computing work - write an article, look up movie showtimes, edit a video or watch a movie - you had to either sit down at your desktop or pull out your laptop. Now, smartphones are cutting into all of that, as are tablets.

I took this tablet hating to task a few months ago in a post where I professed my love for them. That love has only gotten stronger since. I write my stories and blog posts on a computer, but I do everything else - read books, watch movies while on the go, play games, hotel check-ins, social media, mapping, check the weather, you name it - on an iPad. A few weeks ago, I had coffee with an editor who told me about how her elderly parents had taken up computing thanks to the iPad. The former Luddites used it to book a trip out west, then emailed photos once they were there. My old Polish mother has also expressed an interest in tablets. That fact alone, if you knew her, is a major impact.

Businesses are adopting them too. A few months ago, when I was taking a shuttle from the L.A. airport, I couldn’t help but notice the buses all used iPads for route planning and organization. Similarly, The Guardian had an article over the weekend about how airlines are using tablets for their flight plans. These are anecdotal examples, but more and more of them are popping up every day. Add them up and you have the makings of a real impact. The actual numbers, which show that PC sales are sliding because of tablets, are starting to show the same thing.

A post-PC world, therefore, isn’t one where computers are made obsolete - it’s one where the majority of computing is done on mobile devices.

The bottom line to all of this is that it’s easy to like Google and hate Apple, especially if you’re a journalist. One is relatively open and preaches the same while the other jealously guards its secrecy and is otherwise a closed book. Despite that, Apple still manages to get an undue amount of media attention, which rankles many.

By the same token, it’s easy to hate on the top dog - and let’s face it, that’s what Apple is in consumer tech (it has near-monopoly status with iPods, iTunes and iPads; has the top-selling smartphone by far despite Android’s collective market share leadership; and is on the verge of finally conquering Microsoft in computers). While the company amassed an army of fanboy followers over much of its history as the underdog in the epic struggle against the “evil empire” (Microsoft), it’s perhaps understandable that haters are now popping out of the woodwork. It’s poetic justice and all that.

As a neutral observer with no stake in this issue either way, I can’t say I particularly care whether Google or Apple is the more influential and important company of the past decade. Both have been drivers of major change and will likely be vital to the continued evolution of the internet and technology in general, at least for the next few years. To dismiss or discount the accomplishments of either, however, is folly.

Categories: apple, Google, internet, ipad, iphone

Apple’s Lion: a step toward a unified operating system

July 26, 2011 8 comments

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I stopped caring about computer operating systems, but it was definitely at some point over the past two and a half years. I bought my first Mac back in March 2009, which is when I started delving into the heavy-duty writing of Sex, Bombs and Burgers, and since then I honestly haven’t thought much about the software powering my computer because it simply just worked.

That’s opposed to my previous experiences with other operating systems, where I generally spent more time worrying about getting the computer to run properly than on what I was actually supposed to be doing with it.

So when Apple released the updated Snow Leopard OS later in 2009, I really didn’t care. I was quite pleased with what was already on my computer, its predecessor Leopard, so I didn’t even bother upgrading. Similarly, I wasn’t too excited about the newest Lion operating system, released last week. I did download Lion onto a Macbook Air laptop, however, just to check it out.

Thorough reviews are all over the web, so I won’t delve too deeply into what’s new. Essentially, there are a couple nifty improvements among the 250 new features touted by Apple, most of which are likely to be familiar to anyone using the iOS found on Apple’s iPads, iPhones and iPods.

Chief among the new features is gesture control, which is available on compatible computers with trackpads - either on laptops or as side accessories. Besides just controlling the cursor on screen with one finger as we’re used to doing, now swiping up or down with two fingers will scroll the screen correspondingly. Swiping up with three fingers, meanwhile, will bring up Mission Control, which we’ll get to in a second. The feature also brings the pinch-to-zoom capability, made famous by the iPhone, to computers. Pinching in and out on websites zooms in on them the same way as it does on an iOS device.

Although it’s a neat feature, I’m not too crazy about gesture control on computers. As other reviewers have noted, tablets and phones are mostly media consumption devices while computers are largely devoted to creation. While whooshing around with your fingers is great if you’re watching movies and reading websites, that sort of interface isn’t the best for when you’re editing videos or, ahem, writing blog posts. Whether or not this particular feature proves practical is up for debate.

Mission Control is a sort of home screen where you can look at everything you’ve got open, then switch to what you want quickly. It’s handy if you often have tons of stuff running at once. I’m not exactly a power user in that I only have a few things going at any given time, so I can’t see myself using this feature much, the same way I barely touched its predecessor, Exposé.

Lion’s other main feature is the Launchpad, which is instantly recognizable to anyone who has used an iOS device. Launchpad calls up essentially the same grid of applications found on an iPad or iPhone. And, just as on those devices, the app pages can be navigated by swiping sideways on the touchpad.

Lion also installs the Mac app store right on the computer’s dock. While the store was available to users of Snow Leopard after they downloaded it, with Lion it’s a little more front and centre. Launching it brings up the same sort of one-stop software house found on iOS devices - free apps such as Twitter are available, as are paid ones (the Lego Star Wars Saga video game is only $29.99!).

The app store is a nice-if-not-entirely-necessary concept in that it brings a lot of software together into one place. However, anyone who wants to buy an Adobe product probably already knows they can simply get it from the company’s own website.

When all of the above is put together, it’s very clear Apple is trying to nudge its computers closer to working like its mobile devices. Gesture control and a focus on apps are basically what made the iPhone such a phenomenon. It’s no surprise then, that the company wants all of its products to be more like the iPhone. The Lion operating system therefore seems to be the first real step in that direction.

The complete OS can be downloaded for $30, a measly price for anyone who wants to stay up to date on the latest features. But, like I said at the top of the post, there’s still no real urgent reason to upgrade. Mac users really can’t go wrong either way.

Lion’s biggest accomplishment, however, is in proving that the race for the unified operating system is most definitely on. Microsoft last month issued a video that gave a first glimpse at its upcoming Windows 8 operating system, which will evidently work on computers, tablets and phones. Google also has some work to do in unifying its computer-based Chrome operating system with the various flavours of Android that run on phones and tablets.

A unified operating system that works across all devices is something of a holy grail in that it can tie customers to one specific company. If you have an iPhone, for example, you’re likely to want your computer and tablet to work nice and smoothly with it, which might motivate you to also buy a Mac and an iPad.

A unified operating system is therefore not unlike the telecom service provider’s bundle, where getting multiple products from the same company provides a benefit to the customer. In the telecom world, that’s usually a discount on each service, whereas in the computing world it’s ease of interoperability.

Ironically though, the real success of these eventual unified operating systems may not lie in how well they succeed in tying their own devices together, but rather in how well they work with the other guys’ OSes. While there are benefits to using only one company’s products, nobody likes to be forced to do so. The smart ones will do well to remember that and not get too myopic.

Categories: apple, ipad, iphone

Nexus S: the next Jesus phone?

January 25, 2011 5 comments

One of my keen areas of interest when it comes to technology, especially when it comes to wireless services, has always been whether it’s friendly to consumers or not. By that, I don’t mean whether it’s easy to use, but whether it puts power into the hands of the individual as opposed to some company. For Canadian wireless users, the ultimate consumer-friendly phone may therefore be the new Samsung Nexus S. I’ll explain why in a minute.

As we all know, cellphone service here in North America is considerably more expensive and restrictive than it is in, say, Europe and Asia. With all due respect to our American friends, who also get the royal shaft from their service providers, it’s pretty well established that we Canadians have had it worse than just about anybody.

That said, things are also getting better in Canada at a much quicker pace than in the United States. The secret, of course, is that new companies such as Wind and Mobilicity are making things very competitive for the established trio of Bell, Rogers and Telus. But even before the new guys came along, things were getting somewhat better because Rogers was beating the snot out of Bell and Telus thanks to a plain old lucky choice of technology.

Many years ago, Bell and Telus decided to follow the likes of their bigger U.S. brethren Verizon and Sprint in choosing a wireless technology known as CDMA. Rogers, however, gambled on a different standard, GSM, that was emerging in other parts of the world. There are arguments for and against both, but ultimately GSM grew to critical mass and was essentially anointed the winner.

The crown, of course, came in the form of the iPhone in 2007. While there has been much speculation about why Apple ultimately chose to release its hotly anticipated device on AT&T’s GSM network over Verizon’s CDMA network, the fact that more than 80% of carriers worldwide were using GSM made the decision a no-brainer. By going with GSM, Apple guaranteed at least the potential of mass acceptance of its new venture around the world.

In Canada at the time, Rogers was the only GSM carrier. When the company got the device, it quickly started seeing the benefits: more customer sign-ups and higher monthly revenue from the associated data charges. Bell and Telus users, meanwhile, were stuck with CDMA phones that were not only un-sexy, but they also didn’t work in those GSM-using countries. On the inverse, people coming to Canada with their GSM phones obviously ended up roaming on Rogers’ network.

Not surprisingly, just over a year ago Bell and Telus did the only thing they could do: they converted to GSM (or technically, its HSPA offshoot). Now, all three companies have the iPhone, as well as all the other cool GSM BlackBerry and Android devices.

Theoretically, this was great news for Canadian consumers. The single-standard situation was actually looking better than the U.S., where the four major carriers use three essentially different standards. (Verizon and Sprint use CDMA, AT&T uses GSM and T-Mobile uses AWS, a different flavour of GSM.) Canadians could now buy a GSM phone such as the iPhone, get it unlocked and go shopping for a service plan, thereby making our providers compete for our business. You know, how the grown-up countries in Europe and Asia do it.

Not so fast. The consumer-friendly move to a unified wireless technology has not made our big three any more consumer friendly. I tried to get a deal with an unlocked iPhone 4 when it was released last summer and came up pretty short. Technology may allow Canadians to move between providers but they certainly don’t want us to, which is reflected in the fact that they’re reluctant to offer deals without tying customers to a long-term contract.

The new carriers were supposed to help in this regard, but they introduced a new problem. No sooner had CDMA been banished from Canada than a new frequency - Advanced Wireless Spectrum - was introduced by the likes of Wind and Mobilicity. There’s no need to get into the technical specifics, but suffice it to say that while AWS is still a flavour of GSM, it’s not a widely used one. Very few cellphone carriers in the world use this particular wireless frequency, which means there aren’t many phones being built for it. Why are the new Canadian companies using AWS? Well, it’s the only spectrum that has so far been made available to them, so it’s not like they have a choice.

I wrote about this issue recently for Canadian Business magazine. Basically, T-Mobile is the only big company using AWS, so our new Canadian minnows have basically had to buy whatever phones that company gets. T-Mobile’s selection hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been great either - and there is certainly no iPhone option.

Alas. If only there were a phone that could work on regular GSM and AWS frequencies, thereby truly allowing the Canadian consumer to leverage all Canadian wireless companies against each other and force them to compete for their business. Sigh.

Oh wait, there have been a couple available so far. First, there’s the Nokia N8. The N8 has something called a pentaband chip, which lets it work on five different frequencies, including regular old GSM and the new-fangled AWS. The device is a possible vanguard of truly consumer-friendly devices that will let the user, or the Canadian at least, bounce between all of our wireless providers. The only problem is, while the N8 has a mighty nice camera, it’s just not a very good smartphone and it’s also locked to Rogers.

Then there’s the Motorola Milestone XT720, also known as “the wha?” If you’ve never heard of this phone, you’re not alone. It’s Motorola’s follow-up to the Milestone, which was the international version of the wildly successful U.S. phone, the Droid. The new Milestone was released in the UK and in Canada through Wind in 2010, but it doesn’t seem to have done well, largely because it was barely marketed here, if at all. That’s what happens when you don’t have a deep-pocketed carrier getting behind a particular handset. It’s too bad because the original Milestone was great and by the look of the XT720′s specs, it can run on all of our carriers.

That brings us to the Samsung Nexus S. I haven’t actually seen the device yet, which only became available in the U.S. and UK in December, but it sounds very much like an amalgamation of the Nexus One and Galaxy S, two very good Android phones. The Nexus S is getting solid reviews and will soon be coming to Canada - Mobilicity CEO Dave Dobbin recently spilled the beans that all carriers will have it in March.

I’m not sure if the Nexus S has a pentaband chip, but if you look at the technical specs, it matches up with the high-speed wireless networks of Bell, Rogers, Telus, Wind and Mobilicity. Samsung’s Canadian PR folks won’t confirm it, but I did check with a friend who’s an expert and we both believe this phone will work to its full capacity on all of them.

Imagine that: a good phone with some cachet attached to it that will work on all Canadian wireless carriers. This is truly a momentous first. (I’m being genuine there, not sarcastic.)

The phone is currently being sold unlocked and contract-free in U.S. Best Buy stores and I have half a mind to go and get one. The thought of being able to leave my cellphone provider any time I want for greener pastures is very appealing. It’s downright revolutionary for Canada. I’m actually wondering if we’ll be able to buy it contract-free and unlocked when it comes out here. There’s something about those consumer-friendly ideas that seems un-Canadian. (Okay, now I’m being sarcastic.)

They said the iPhone was the “Jesus phone” when it came along because it “saved” consumers from the iron grip of wireless providers. It’s well known that Apple fought providers on a number of issues and forced them to lower their previously usurious data rates so that people could actually use the damn thing. Apple also took complete control of the device and, to the company’s credit, still doesn’t allow carriers to put their own crappy software on it.

The iPhone certainly did all that but the Nexus S could very well be the next saviour phone, at least for Canadians, because it looks to be the first contender that lets us force competition across the board. Bell, Rogers and Telus don’t want to offer deals to people who own unlocked iPhones because they know they can’t go to the cheaper carriers. It looks like that is about to change.

And even if the Nexus S doesn’t make a big splash, things are looking up as there is clearly already a trickle of phones that can cross networks in Canada (there may actually be more than the three I’m aware of). Whether the wireless carriers like it or not, we’re getting closer and closer to empowered consumers.

UPDATE: My readers write… a couple of folks wrote in (see the comments section) to clarify some of what I wrote up above. When covering this stuff it’s tough to keep it simple enough so that no one is bored to tears, so unfortunately sometimes I do get things confused. The problem is there are tons of wireless standards, frequencies and technologies out there and the carriers don’t make things any easier by how they market them. Take “4G” for example - U.S. carriers are marketing their new services as fourth-generation while the same thing here in Canada is considered 3G. The bottom line when it comes to devices such as the Nexus S is, yes, it looks like it will work on just about all Canadian networks… the only question is at what speed. Fortunately, network speeds are generally improving and phones are gaining the ability to work across networks, so the point of the post above still stands: we’re inching towards more empowered consumers.

Top tech stories of 2010

December 27, 2010 Comments off

I hope everybody had a nice and restful Christmas (even those people who don’t celebrate it). I know I did. It was a welcome break from the madness of the past few months.

Speaking of which, were I still working at the CBC, I’d likely have my hands full right now putting together my top story list of 2010, just like everyone else in the media. I don’t like to feel left out, so I thought I’d compile my own list and present it here. So, with no further ado, here are what I considered to be the 10 most important technology-related stories of the past year.

10. Privacy, privacy, privacy

It seems like every web business got nailed for some sort of privacy violation this year, especially here in Canada where we have a bulldog for a privacy watchdog. Whether it was Facebook and the convoluted system it has for sharing people’s information, or Google accidentally gathering such data with its Street View cars, internet companies really skirted the line of what is considered public and private in 2010. Personally, this isn’t an issue I really cared about that much because I’ve long believed that if you put a piece of information on the internet, you should expect it to be public - and permanent. My feeling is that society’s general view of privacy is changing to reflect this reality and we’ll probably stop caring so much about websites are doing and more about what we’re actually giving them. But there’ll be more on that in my 2011 predictions, coming soon.

9. Antennagate

The media loves to build things up and tear them down, and Apple got a good taste of it this year when it released the iPhone 4 in June. While the device formerly known as the “Jesus Phone” could previously do no wrong, suddenly it was having connection problems thanks to a redesigned antenna. Again, it’s another situation that I found dramatically overblown, but it did ultimately help open the door for competing smartphones - particuarly Android - which is probably a good thing.

8. Video games escape the ghetto

Games have typically been the domain of teen and adult males, but this year they really exploded to a much larger audience. The move actually started in earnest four years ago with the release of the Nintendo Wii, which brought many women and young children into the equation, but 2010 saw both Microsoft and Sony get into the action with the Kinect and Move motion systems, respectively. The duo have only been out a short time but it’s clear the video game market is much bigger than those males, and all the big hardware makers are now going after them. Social games also exploded, with Facebook recently saying that nearly half of its 500 million members log on to the site specifically to play games such as Farmville. Video games have never been bigger and there’s no end in sight to their growth.

7. 3D TV flops - or does it?

Recent reports suggest 3D TV, launched with great fanfare at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, have been a big flop, with sales in the low single percentages. That may be true, and the reasons for it are many: people have either recently bought new HD TVs, there’s little 3D content available for them, and people hate wearing the glasses. But, two things are happening: glasses-free technology is improving and all of it is getting cheaper every day. Like I said in January, 3D is likely to soon become a standard feature of all TVs - like the “gaming mode” they all currently have - and will not incur any premium. The media has a habit of pronouncing many technologies dead, but the reality is they often seep into everyday life without our even noticing. Such will be the case with 3D.

6. Ebooks (and tablets) explode

I wrote a little while back about how ebooks were growing exponentially and 2010 was really the year things caught fire. I can’t wait to see what the final numbers will be for the year - I wouldn’t be surprised if ebooks account for as much as 25% of all books sold. The iPad is fuelling at least part of that, and things are really going to get crazy next year once you’ve got a flood of competitors for the device. I’m told there will be up to 80 new tablet computers introduced at CES next week. Ebooks are a key app for these tablets, so sales of them are going to skyrocket even faster next year.

5. Google, Verizon and net neutrality

Google drew a lot of heat in the summer for becoming a “surrender monkey” on net neutrality by proposing a set of rules in conjunction with telecom company Verizon. Those rules were pretty much adopted to the letter by U.S. regulators last week, and it’s certain we haven’t heard the last of it as the proposal must now go through government, where Republicans have vowed to kill it. What was most noteworthy about U.S. efforts to protect free speech and innovation on the innovation is how bogged down and watered down they became once the lobbyists were set loose.

4. Broadband becomes a right

On a related note, a few countries - notably Finland - enshrined access to high-speed internet as a legal right for their citizens while other countries such as Australia moved to build their own publicly-owned access networks. The past year saw some pretty clear ideological lines drawn between those that believe in government having the best interests of the country at heart, and those that think businesses do. As far as broadband and innovation goes, we’ll see in a few years who turns out to be right (I suspect it’ll be the former).

3. The fight for copyright

After a long consultation process across the country, the Canadian government in the summer introduced Bill C-32, the copyright modernization act. Pretty much nobody was happy with it. Entertainment industry lobbyists didn’t like that the bill created a lot of rights for Canadians to copy material and artists didn’t like that there were no new compensation schemes suggested. What really riled most every-day people, though, was a clause that prevents the picking of digital locks placed on devices and content. That means if a record label decides it doesn’t want you to copy your CD onto your iPod, tough noogies. Internationally, the U.S. pushed ahead on getting consensus on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which has been characterized as just as restrictive as C-32. One possibility under ACTA is that border guards would be able to search your iPod for pirated music. Yikes. Obviously, both efforts were hugely controversial in 2010. It’ll be interesting to see how they play out in 2011. C-32, at least, has the possibility of dying if an election is called in Canada.

2. Facebook as a social phenomenon

Okay, personally, I still think Facebook will ultimately prove to be fad. Yes, the website makes lots of money and has tons of users, but I just don’t see the real value proposition. Maybe I’m just not among the target users. Regardless, I also can’t remember movies made about Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, much less good ones that will likely garner a few Oscar nominations. While watching The Social Network, one thought kept recurring to me: I can’t believe that a website (and web coding) is the central focus of a movie. Regardless of anything else Facebook is or isn’t, it has propelled technology to the forefront of pop culture like few other things have, and that’s a pretty big accomplishment. More amazing is that people actually went in droves to see a movie that was mostly about coding and litigation.

1. Cell Wars: A New (Wireless) Hope

Like several hundred thousand Canadians, I almost wept when I kissed my old cellphone provider (Rogers-owned Fido) goodbye and said hello to my new one (Mobilicity). I officially shaved $12 off my bill, but more importantly I added a whole ton of value with unlimited data, texting and calling - including North American long distance. Mobilicity is just one of several new independent wireless carriers that have sprung up over the past year - with Wind Mobile, Public Mobile and Videotron being the others. In their short existence, they have done wonders in breaking the stranglehold the big three - Bell, Rogers and Telus - have had on Canadians and brought prices down significantly to where they’re almost comparable to what users enjoy in much of the rest of the world. Even the big guys have flinched and are starting to lower their prices or change their terms, so the arrival of real competition is finally having an effect. I want to end my top-10 list on a good note, but I do have to bring up the long-smouldering issue of foreign ownership restrictions, which was one of the biggest bad-news stories of 2010. With the government continuing to waffle on lifting these onerous restrictions, there’s already talk that some of the new entrants - particularly Public Mobile - are in financial trouble. If the ownership rules don’t change quickly, one or more of those new carriers surely won’t be around this time next year.


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