Thursday, December 29, 2005

Article: Viruses for cell phones

One problem we get to deal with on computers is viruses. Most of us use anti-virus software, and most people have at one time been infected by one of the thousands of viruses, at least when we use a PC. On cell phones however, it's not something people think about. Yet, a cell phone is a small computer, and as long as you can download programs and run them, then the risk of viruses is there. In fact, in 2005 we've started to see alarming news headlines about viruses making their way to cell phones, especially smart phones like Symbian and Windows Mobile devices.

Going past the headlines, the situation is no where near as bad as on a desktop computer. There are several reasons for that. For one thing, your cell phone isn't an open access to the Internet, always connected with a broadband connection. Also, your cell phone isn't running Internet Explorer, or another full featured web browser with all kind of scripting technologies that can be exploited. And lastly, computer viruses cannot infect cell phones, since they are very different platforms running a different operating system. So only new viruses written specifically for the device can infect it.

So how can a phone get infected? There are two known ways currently. The most common way is if a web site tricks you into downloading a program that claims to be something other than what it really is, and install it. For example, there's an application floating on some web sites that claims to be a pirated copy of F-Secure anti virus software for smart phones, but instead is a virus itself. So anyone downloading this application (or receiving it by MMS) and then installing it, thinking it's a cheap way to get protection, would be infected. The second way to be infected is by using flaws in communication protocols. Right now the only known way to do this is by using Bluetooth. So if your device supports Bluetooth, and is open to the world, then an attacker coming near you could upload a virus, or otherwise hijack your device by using the Bluetooth connection.

How likely is it that you could be infected? For the first method, it all depends on you. Basically if you never download any applications, then you can never be infected. The rule to follow here is the exact same rule as for computers, which is only download programs from known sources. There are sites that review applications before posting them, but if you download things from P2P networks or from unknown private web sites, then you could be at risk. For the second way, there is an easy way to protect yourself, and that's by turning your Bluetooth setting from "show to all" to "hidden", this way you must manually make a connection to the devices you want to pair with, and no one else will see your device when scanning nearby devices. Plus, it's really unlikely that an attacker is following you around less than 10 meters from you.

What could happen if you do get infected? If your computer gets infected by a virus, it's a long but relatively simple solution to reinstall the operating system and then restore your backup. Plus the vast majority of viruses for computers don't do anything bad to your data, they simply try to hijack the computer to send spam mail. On mobile devices however, it's another story. You can't restore the operating system since it's stored on the device only, and most viruses are very bad. Some will send expensive MMS messages, but the most common thing that can happen is that it will erase the entire flash drive, or modify the operating system to crash on booting. So the next time you turn your device on it will be completely unusable. In most cases, there is a code you can input during the booting phase that will format the device back to factory settings, and it will allow you to recover from most viruses, but you do need to know this code and you will lose all your data.

The final word is that mobile viruses do exist, they are a worry and they will be on the rise this coming year. However, it's relatively easy to prevent yourself from being infected, and anti virus companies are working on mobile versions of their anti virus software such as Trend Micro, F-Secure, Symantec and more. The same issues apply to these applications as with their PC companions, mainly that they run all the time so they use system resources, and they can cause some incompatibilities with other programs, so your mileage may vary.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Trends: Mobiquette

Having more cell phones everywhere also means seeing more people using them, in the street, in restaurants, in parks, and so on. It can get very annoying when all you hear is people talking on the phone, often quite loudly, especially in places where almost everyone has a cell phone like Europe and Asia. That's why in Taiwan, LG and the government decided to launch a campaign to teach people about Mobiquette, or the art of not annoying others with your cell phone.

Mobile etiquette is something that is becoming more and more important. While some people are trying, others have no problem being annoying by answering their cell phone during business meetings, in school or in theatres. The truth is one of two things will happen, either these people will need to become more responsible, or we'll see more places banning cell phones. There are already technologies used to block cell phone signals, and the last thing we need is for this to become a popular thing because a few people can't behave in public.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Canada: Number portability

The CRTC (Canada Radio and Telecommunications Commission) just announced the timeline for the number portability in Canada. This will happen by March 14, 2007, in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Qu├ębec. It's important to note however that they will have until September 12, 2007 to accept these numbers from other providers. This means that people switching from a cell phone provider to another will be able to keep their phone number.

Number portability is one of the top things customers have been asking for a long while now, since losing their phone number when switching carrier is a big problem and it's how providers keep a lot of people locked in. The same battle occured in the US, and they now have number portability, so we knew it was coming to Canada. Now we have a date.

On the ground: RIM vs NTP

RIM (Research in Motion) and NTP have been in a court battle over patent issues for a while now, over the popular Blackberry device. The case is long and has had many unexpected turns, but now it's become just ridiculous. Basically the whole case is that NTP is a company that claims to have US based patents on some e-mail functionalities that Blackberry devices use, and want RIM to shut down all Blackberry services in the US. A settlement was negociated, but seems unlikely, and the case has been in court ever since. But the ridiculous part is that now the US patent office has revoked at least one of those patents, and now there's reports that the patent office supports RIM and claims NTP's arguments have no ground.

The sad thing in this whole story is that it cost RIM a lot of money to defend itself, and more importantly, all US owners of Blackberry devices have no idea if they will be able to use their device anymore. Even the US government said they can't have their Blackberry devices shut down. All of this points to a very flawed and unequiped patent system, where people can patent ridiculous things like a buy now web page button or how about the wheel.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On the ground: Exchange mail for Windows smart phones

The first device with MSFP (Microsoft's Messaging and Security Pack) has appeared. This is basically a Microsoft technology that allows things like MS Exchange mail servers in businesses to push e-mail to smart phones using Windows Mobile 5. This obviously gives a big edge to these devices, and Microsoft's plan is clear. Ever since they revamped the 2003 version, they have been leveraging every area they possibly can, from Windows XP connectivity, proprietary Windows Media Player formats, and even Xbox Live alerts.

Rumors hint that the next version of Windows Mobile nicknamed Photon is getting a lot of attention and will be a major revamp of the current software. Right now the smart phone market is dominated by a few big players. Most business users use a Blackberry since their e-mail integration services are so efficient, or a Treo using Palm OS for extra functionality. Recently Palm decided to go with Windows Mobile for the Treo. For home users, the two popular high end types are Symbian based devices such as Nokia phones, and Windows Mobile devices such as the Audiovox SMT5600 and the many upcoming HTC phones. I personally think competition is good, and while it's too early to draw any conclusion, I do believe the war of the smart phones is going to be in 2006-2007, and if I was a Microsoft competitor I would be very careful not to be pushed aside like so many companies were from leveraging.

Monday, December 19, 2005

News: Google Mail Mobile

Gmail has always been available to mobile users who have a device that support secure POP connections, or with a true web browser, although the formatting is less than ideal on such a small screen. Google now just announced Google Mail for Mobile, which is a portal for their Gmail site. It's not the first mobile product they release, following Google Local Mobile, and won't be their last for sure. They also aren't the only company aiming for that space.

Some interesting features of it include the fact that it is supported by any cell phone with Internet access. The site displays the text in a format nice for your phone. They also include a call to reply feature allowing you to call the person if you stored the number in your contacts. The site will also display MS Word and PDF files as plain text. An overall nice and as always free initiative for the mobile crew.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On the ground: This machine accepts cash, cards and phones

So it's no secret that many new things appear in Japan first in the cell phone business. They already use some very interesting technologies, and one of them is the ability to pay at a machine by bringing your cell phone near it, and having the money deducted from your virtual wallet. It also makes sense to use the ubiquitous cell phone networks to connect these machines to the Internet.

DoCoMo introduced the FOMA Ubiquitous Module, which is a small device that can be added to anything that has electricity in it, and will connect it to the cell phone network. It's an interesting idea and could bring some of the added convenience of having your vending machine have access to your online wallet faster in other parts of the world. Now I just hope they won't have the idea of connecting online advertisements to everything!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On the ground: Korea demands standard connector

So Korean providers have decided to demand a single connector for phones sold in South Korea. This means that phones from all manufacturers would have to use that standard connector for data and charge, which doesn't currently exist, since all manufacturers use their own proprietary ports.

In theory it's an excellent idea that would allow people to keep their existing accessories across phones, and stores could carry a single set of equipment for all phones. In practice however, manufacturers won't want that, because they sell their own accessories often at premium prices. If this rule is indeed implemented, I suspect we won't see manufacturers change their ports worldwide to comply. What I suspect is that they will just make a special South Korea model of a couple of their phones featuring this new connector. That country just isn't big enough to force companies to change their handsets worldwide, and what will likely happen is they will have access to a more limited set of phones.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Trends: Mobile gaming becoming big business

Mobile games used to be black and white snake games on tiny screens. In the last few years, we've seen the mobile gaming industry go from the classic Gameboy to the various high end portable consoles we now have like the PSP and Nintendo DS. Cell phones now have processors going up to 400 MHz, which is more than a PC had just 10 years ago. So it's pretty easy to see why Electronic Arts put in $680 Million in cash to buy Jamdat, a cell phone games maker.

The cell phone gaming industry is worth $2 billion in 2005, and is growing at a huge pace. Today a report came out saying up to 100 startups get into the game with wireless applications for cell phones. The most successful games right now seem to be mobile versions of new console or PC games, or mobile games that go with new movies. The big war over who will dominate the cell phone gaming market is just beginning.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Trends: Cell phone tracking

More and more, people use GPS to know where they are. The problem, however, is that law enforcement, marketing firms, and government agencies are more and more relying on cell phone tracking. The most surprising part to many people, is that you don't even need a GPS device to be tracked, all cell phones can be tracked by your provider. Your phone connects to cell towers, and it's trivial for your provider to know which tower you're connected to, and how strong your signal is, thus knowing where you are within a few meters.

While bringing criminals in because of cell phone tracking is obviously a good thing, once the cat is out of the bag, there is no bringing it back in. For example, Missouri allowed private companies to track users to monitor traffic conditions. What would you say if you went near a billboard with your bluetooth enabled phone, and the billboard would connect to your phone, customize ads for you, and beam them right to you. It's already happening in some parts of the UK. Plus there's all the privacy concerns of having people know where you were at a precise moment. Unfortunatly, all this is available to all providers without you being able to do anything about it, and the only solution resides in having decent laws.

Friday, December 09, 2005

News: Cellwatch domain and changes

I added some new features this week, including registering a new domain name so you can now access this site as www.cellwatch.ca. I also added a Canada section for posts aimed mainly at this country, so you can easily skip them if you aren't planning a trip around here! Finally I added a Featured Articles section so popular reference articles stay on the front page, on the right side. Look for more features soon!

Trends: Pet games

Pets living on mobile devices aren't exactly new, and they have been a huge success in some Asian countries, but they are just now gaining in popularity in North America. A new phone game called Twitchr is currently in testing. It's basically an application that loads on your phone and displays a garden, and a bird can visit you at random times. It also supports bluetooth so 2 phones can communicate and birds can go from one to the other, and users can capture them. This follows another similar game called Telegotchi from earlier in the month, which is an e-pet which has an emotional state linked to the physiological state of other players, via SMS.

More complex e-pet games exist for other mobile platforms, a well known one being Nintendogs for the Nintendo DS. Now all I want is someone to port Nintendogs to the phone so I don't have to buy a DS!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Canada: Rogers Wireless data plans explained

Data on a mobile device should be straight forward. You use the built in data applications such as the email client or WAP browser, or you download your own applications like Google Maps, and you can use them. Unfortunatly, all providers have complicated things very much, and finding the right information on what each plan means and what you need to access which service can be complicated. I'll explain how the Rogers Wireless data plans work and what they include, as well as links to more information.

Starting with the most basic, people using Pay as you Go (prepaid) have access to everything by default. You may need to call in to have the data block removed, just so they can warn you about usage charges, but once that's done you can use any Internet feature, except some streaming media. This includes both WAP and web pages (if you have a web browser such as Opera Mini) as well as email and other applications. The charges you have to pay currently are $0.02 per web page viewed, and downloads are free.

When you are on a contract, you need to add a Navigate or a Data plan. There are various Navigate plans available, and those are the most basic plans you can get to have access to data services. They will let you access WAP pages and download up to 500K ($3 plan) or 1M ($7 plan). You need to pay for all additional bandwidth. Note that you will only have limited access to the mobile Internet with these plans, and don't expect a lot of other applications to work.

For complete access, and a much bigger bandwidth limit, you can look at the Data plans. These will allow you to access almost everything from your mobile device, and will also allow you to use your device to connect a laptop. They also include a nice service called MyMail, which allows you to have your email forwarded to your phone.

Lastly, you may need to configure your phone to access the right network settings, depending on your plan. If you bought a Rogers branded phone, it should already be configured with several access points. The ones usually used are GoRogers for WAP, Internet (Data) or Goam (Navigate) for Internet access, and Media for MMS. Also remember to allow network access for any application you download in your phone settings. Their support line can help you configure an unbranded device.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

On the ground: Nokia N90 targets bloggers for marketing

Nokia targets blogs to help market their new N90 phone. They launched a vast marketing program based around the Internet and more especially blogs, and even sent 50 phones to bloggers for review. The real question is, where's my N90?! ;)

Forgetting the fact that I wasn't selected, it's actually an interesting concept, since professionals in the industry are increasingly using the Internet to get the latest coverage and reviews of new products. Those are the people who will then work in stores and companies and recommend these products. That kind of marketing also costs a lot less. They will, for example, launch podcasts soon, which are much more affordable to make than regular radio ads. I would make a N90 review, but I haven't gotten my hands on one just yet!

Monday, December 05, 2005

On the ground: Survey says cell phones are popular

There are surveys on anything and everything, and it seems cell phones are the focus of more and more surveys. You don't really need a survey to tell you cell phones sell well, are used everywhere, and will continue to sell even better. It can however be interesting to know the numbers.

For example, Gartner says sales of camera phones will reach 295.5 millions in 2005. What I found more interesting however is that this represents 34% of the phone sales this year, which means 66% are cell phones without a camera. This sorta hints that the low end market, especially in developing countries, is the biggest push right now, as we're seeing developed countries being saturated with cell phones.

Another study sorta confirms that, saying cell phones in china outnumber PCs 3.6 to 1. You'll find more than 3 cell phones for every PC, which is understandable for a country where most people still live in rural areas, with power issues and low connectivity.

A somewhat more amusing survey says 45% of students think it's ok to send and receive SMS in class. Now only 4% think it's ok to talk on a cell phone in class, which is good obviously, but text messaging is becoming part of kids lives, and teachers have to handle that.

Lastly, there are those studies which aren't really studies, but really a company executive doing some PR, like Nokia's CEO making predictions that others made before him, like that China will have more cell phones than the US.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Article: Mobile blogging

Blogging is what millions of people do now. Since it's such a popular and modern activity, it only makes sense to extend this to mobile devices, so you can blog anywhere in the world. This is called mobile blogging, and there are simply tons of ways you can blog from your phone.

The simplest way is with text via email. Any modern cell phone will allow you to send emails, if you have a data plan, and sending text usually costs very little. All you need is a blog that supports email posting. If you have a Blogspot account for example, in the settings there is an email tab with the option to turn on email blogging. Then all you need to do is send your blog entries to the email address you specify there, with the title in the email title and the post in the email body.

Posting images can be trickier. Some services exist that allow you to post images directly to your blog, but those usually require that you send them via MMS. The problem with that is providers usually charge a lot for sending MMS, such as $0.50 each. If you have a mobile web browser, then you can use one of the many image sharing web sites. Some even have a special mobile interface such as Flickr. Also note that if you're using Opera, they offer a mobile community that includes mobile blogging, but the pictures still have to be sent with MMS.

Then there are services that provide applications that will handle mobile blogs for you. Those are usually centered around pictures, since that's what most people want to blog about with a camera phone while on the road. There are some professional ones from phone manufacturers such as Lifeblog from Nokia. There are also free services such as SplashBlog, which is basically a web site that allows you to have an image gallery, and an application for your mobile device that allows you to select pictures on your phone and synchronize them to the web site.

Lastly, note that when you transmit data from your phone, like any wireless connection, information could potentially be intercepted. So it's best not to use this for private or highly sensitive information. From having tried several of those services, I think the free ones are plenty for most people. If you have the bandwidth for it, and remember that transfering pictures will take a lot of bandwidth and potentially cost a lot depending on your data plan, it's well worth it. I'll leave you with this nice site which is a blog host specialized in travel blogs, which contains thousands of blogs from tourists in every countries of the world.