Category Archives: mobile

In telecom, is Canada the new North Korea?

What a contrast a few days can paint. On Friday, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris was everywhere in the media, lambasting Canada’s federal government for failing to encourage competition in telecommunications services by keeping foreign investment restrictions up. Two days later, on Sunday, reports started trickling out of North Korea that the strict and isolationist country is opening up to cellphones. Sawiris is, strangely enough, the common denominator in both bits of news.

Sawiris, who is the main financial backer of Wind Mobile - the biggest of Canada’s new cellphone companies - delivered a strong and clear message to Canadian media through his circuit of interviews last week. He said he “totally” regrets spending money on Canada, wishes he could get his money back (minus 10%) and tells other investors to steer clear of the country.

His comments were made in the context of trying to influence the rules of the next government auction of wireless airwave licenses, expected to happen some time in 2012. The big boys (Bell, Rogers and Telus) don’t want the same kind of special exceptions for new companies that happened in the previous 2008 auction, which gave rise to Wind and a few others. They want an open auction, where they can bring their considerable billions to bear and outbid the likes of Wind et al.

Wind and other newcomers want the big guys prohibited from bidding on some of the licenses, thereby ensuring that they can actually afford to acquire some. The government will (hopefully) outline the rules of the auction some time soon. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 21, 2011 in mobile, telecommunications


Apple killed the Flash star

Ding dong, the witch is dead. And by witch, I mean Flash, that multimedia web platform that enables everything from video to games. That’s good news for just about everybody, except for the people who are losing their jobs, natch.

Adobe announced on Wednesday that it is ceasing development of Flash for mobile devices, which basically translates into its death knell. The company says it will concentrate its Flash development on computers, but with more and more web traffic happening on phones and tablets, there really isn’t much of a future there. After all, if you want people to view your website, you’re going to want to make sure they can look at it on their mobile devices. From this day forward, only the foolish will bother using Flash in their website design.

Many observers have already pointed out that Steve Jobs was right. A year and a half ago, the recently departed Apple guru famously wrote his declaration of war on Flash. The software was unstable, proprietary, not friendly to touch interfaces and a drag on battery life:

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short. The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content… New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

On the surface of it, it looks like Jobs was indeed right, or even prescient. In reality, though, it’s more of a chicken-or-the-egg situation: Was Apple correct in its criticisms, or did Apple itself kill the Flash star?

With zillions of iPods, iPhones and iPads out there not running Flash, it’s more a case of the latter. Apple simply brought its considerable weight to bear and killed Flash.

Google, which has long said it supports openness on the web in all its forms, could have done the same thing but didn’t. It’s understandable why. With Apple’s big lead in mobile devices to overcome, Google had to look for every possible leg up, which is why Android devices have so far run Flash. That’s also why porn is big on Android - Jobs was notoriously against porn and probably would have liked to have killed it too. Apple may not be able to achieve that particular goal, but piracy is doing a nice job of it.

Ultimately, HTML5 - which is supported by both Apple and Google - looks like it will rule both mobile devices and computers. It shouldn’t be too much longer before those infuriating blue boxes with questions marks - illustrated so ingeniously by the picture above (where is it from, anyway?) - become a thing of the past.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 10, 2011 in apple, Google, mobile


Starbucks mobile: towards a money-free world

Coffee lovers rejoice: Starbucks is finally launching mobile phone payments in Canada. Starting this Tuesday (Nov. 8), the chain is updating its iPhone app so that customers can pay for their super-tall-mega-grande-low-fat-soy-mocha-frappucinos with their devices instead of with cash or plastic.

I got a run-through of the feature last week and it’s pretty neat. You load up your account with credit, which can be done on the phone itself, then call up its bar code through the app, which the counter clerk scans. The amount of the order is then deducted from your balance. Simple. The app also ties in to Starbucks’ loyalty program, so you can earn free drinks the more you frequent the place.

The mobile payment feature was introduced in the United States earlier this year and Canada is the first international expansion. While it’s available across iPhone, Android and BlackBerry down south, at launch it’s iPhone-only in Canada. The folks at Starbucks tell me the other two platforms should be added early next year.

One thing I was hoping for that Starbucks has yet to introduce is some sort of advance ordering option. Several food companies, such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, have such a thing - it lets customers place an order on their phone, then show up to pick it up. With its often huge lineups, it’s a feature Starbucks and its customers could surely benefit from. Alas, no luck so far, representatives say.

Perhaps the niftiest part of the mobile payments option is that it works cross-border, so Canadians can also pay for their coffees at U.S. Starbucks with their phones and vice versa. The exchange rate is apparently kept up to date and calculated at the point of purchase, so no banks are involved.

I asked the obvious question, of whether this feature will be rolled out to other countries, and while I didn’t get a reply in the affirmative, that certainly would be the plan.

If so, it may not be too long before you’ll be able to walk into a Starbucks anywhere in the world and order a coffee with your smartphone. No paper, coins or plastic necessary. The currency-less world, evidently, is beginning at Starbucks.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 8, 2011 in iphone, mobile


Motorola execs talk Google, carriers and Canada

I had a chance to lob some questions at Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha and Motorola Canada president Michelle Digulla on Tuesday following the announcement of the company’s latest phone, the Droid Razr (just Razr to us foreigners). We discussed a variety of topics, including the company’s impending marriage to Google and new cellphone carriers in Canada. So, with no further ado, here’s a transcript of some of those conversations.

What sort of changes do you anticipate in the merger with Google?

Jha: It’s too early to tell. You guys probably have the same laws in Canada, it’s called gun-jumping laws. You can’t start acting as one company [before you actually merge]. It’s really when the deal closes that you can get together and plan out what you want to do. So we haven’t got engaged in thinking about what strategy we’re going to pursue post-consummation, but I would say the following. Google is a scale company, they care about scale. I have constraints in that I have to meet quarterly numbers, which is a good thing - it’s certainly good discipline - but it’s a bad thing as well because if I wanted to invest, for instance, a $100 million to just make my brand name more accepted for two quarters and in the third quarter I’ll get traction, that’s not an option I would consider without a lot of pull. In Google’s structure, that’s what we could do, that’s more of an option.

So you could become more of a long-term-thinking company?

Jha: That option exists. Again, I don’t know what we will do, I can’t tell you, but that option exists.

The Razr is exclusive to Verizon in the U.S. and Rogers in Canada. Why go the exclusive route and what is the future of that strategy?

Jha: It gets tied pretty closely with two things. One is what technology are they employing. When I say technology it’s not just the radio access - Verizon obviously has CDMA - but we end up having to do so much extra work with carriers porting what we call their carrier-branded services.  There comes a point where you say it’s sort of exclusive anyway, so we might as well work closely and meet their requirements even more fully. In return, we get more marketing dollars [from them] and we both succeed in the market together. That’s how the tradeoff usually works.

By and large, if it’s a device that launches across multiple carriers, the motivation the carriers have to put marketing dollars behind it is not that large. Then you have to say, ‘I’d better be very large so I can put marketing dollars behind it.’ That’s the tradeoff you have to make. Samsung and Apple, because of their scale, can make that tradeoff. Not all of us can make it. Once we get that scale and have that option, we’ll make that tradeoff.

How have carriers treated Android in Canada? There have been conflicting reports that they’ve pushed it or held it back in favour of iPhone and BlackBerry.

Digulla: Android brings a completely new set of requirements so you could say it has a wider price range. You can see devices, and you see this from Motorola, come down to a very low tier up to the very high end with the Razr, so it provides more breadth. You could argue it provides a better ecosystem because it’s open and all of us are building on what’s already there, so there are definitely some advantages from a pricing and capability perspective.

But what sort of marketing push have you seen for Android phones from carriers?

Digulla: The Razr particularly will have a huge push with Rogers. It’ll be part of their “hero” campaign at the beginning of November.

What’s the roadmap for new carriers such as Wind and Mobilicity, who use a similar frequency to T-Mobile in the U.S.? Are you waiting to see what happens with AT&T’s attempted takeover of T-Mobile?

Digulla: I can’t share with you specifics on roadmaps with different carriers, but I do think it’s tied. Having a major AWS-banded U.S. carrier that demands millions of phones will impact the availability of global [devices].


Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Google, mobile, motorola


Motorola’s path forward looks easier than RIM’s

As many had speculated, Motorola has indeed dusted off the old Razr name for its new smartphone, unveiled here in New York Tuesday. In the U.S., where the handset maker has licensing rights with the Star Wars folks, the phone actually combines two of Motorola’s most successful brands - it’s called the Droid Razr. For the rest of the world, including Canada, it’s just the Razr.

The new Razr: super-thin and very light.

If you’re into specification porn, Mobile Syrup has you covered. For our purposes here, suffice it to say that the phone is ridiculously light and thin, yet still sturdy, fast and powerful. I played with one briefly and was amazed at how light it felt in my hand. It’s got a steel core and Kevlar on the outside though, so it’s made not to break. Sadly, as a Motorola representative told me, it’s not strong enough to stop bullets (vests apparently have many layers of Kevlar while the phone only has one).

What I found most interesting during Motorola chief executive Sanjay Jha’s presentation was the mention of how the Razr will be aimed at corporate customers as well as the every-day consumer. The device can accommodate secure enterprise email systems and has remote wipe capabilities, which means it’ll probably pass muster with many businesses’ IT departments.

This has bearing on Canada, particularly BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, which counts business users as its main bread and butter. RIM’s recent woes have been well documented here and elsewhere, but its problem ultimately comes down to this very factor: it is much easier for consumer-facing companies such as Motorola to delve into the business world than it is to go the other way, which is what RIM has been trying and failing to do for some time now.

I asked Jha about this afterward and he agreed to an extent, although he isn’t taking RIM lightly. The BlackBerry maker, which was coincidentally showing off its upcoming BBX operating system at a developer conference in San Francisco, is still a very strong competitor, he said:

There is something at the gut level that resonates with consumers about Android, and we know it because we’ve tried something like three or four OSes. To win in this business, the only learning for me so far is that there is not just one factor that gets you a win. It’s a combination of multiple factors that gets you there. It’s not just cheap, it’s not just the best, you have to hit the appropriate [spots]. They have to do that and it’s work in front of them. Can they do it? Absolutely, it has been done before and it can be done again.

Motorola Canada president Michelle Digulla also acknowledged RIM’s position, but she was a bit more specific in the opportunity for her company:

At the beginning it was the CTOs saying here are the three phones you can pick from or that you can use. That whole dynamic is completely changing. People are like, ‘No, no, no, I’ll pick the phone, you just make it work.’ To be honest, iPhone really pushed the envelope for enterprise people to start doing that. We need to start educating the market about Android for business. It’s an uphill battle, especially in Canada where people are entrenched with RIM, but this is exactly what we need to take hold of.

As I put it on Twitter, Motorola’s hip and cool phones (i.e. the Droid and the original Razr before it) seem to be almost the antithesis of business devices, where staid, sturdy and reliable are the watch words. Motorola could therefore have as much of a tough time getting accepted within companies as RIM is having in the consumer space. The difference, however, is that all the momentum is coming from the much bigger consumer market. It’s obvious which side any handset maker would rather be on.

Motorola will likely benefit greatly in this regard once it is absorbed by Google, a topic that Jha also discussed. More on that in tomorrow’s post.

Comments Off

Posted by on October 18, 2011 in apple, Google, mobile, motorola, RIM


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,478 other followers