Tag Archives: mobile

Pokemon Go and the Post-Apocalyptic Future is Nigh

google-search-pokemon-go

Some have lauded Pokémon Go as the next great health and fitness enabler since the “invention” of running. After all, over the span of just a few days it has forced half of Western civilization to unplug from Netflix, get off the couch and move around, and to do so outside!

The cynic in me perceives deeper, darker motives at play: a plot by North Korea to distract the West while it prepares a preemptive nuclear strike; a corporate sponsored youth brain-washing program; an exquisitely orchestrated, self-perpetuated genocidal time-bomb wrought by shady political operatives; a Google inspired initiative to tackle the obesity epidemic.

While the true nature of this elegantly devious phenomenon unfolds over the long-term — and maintains the collective attention of tens of millions of teens and millennials in the process — I will make a dozen bold, short-term predictions:

  1. A legendary Pokémon, such as Mewtwo, will show up at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and it will be promptly shot by open carry fanatics.
  2. The first Pokémon Go fatality will occur by July 31, 2016 — a player will inadvertently step into traffic while trying to throw a Poké Ball.
  3. The hundredth Pokémon Go fatality will occur on August 1, 2016 — the 49th player to fall into a sewer and drown.
  4. Sales of comfortable running shoes will skyrocket over the next 3 days, as the West discovers walking.
  5. Evangelical mega-churches in the US will hack the game to ensure Pokémon characters appear during revivals to draw more potential customers.
  6. Pokémon characters will begin showing up on Fox News and the Supreme Court.
  7. Tinder will file for chapter 11 bankruptcy and emerge as a Pokémon dating site.
  8. Gyms and stadia around the country will ditch all sporting events to make way for mass Pokémon hunts; NFL’s next expansion team will be virtual and led by Pikachu as quarterback.
  9. The Pokémon Company, Nintendo and Niantic Labs will join forces to purchase Japan by year’s end.
  10. Google and Tesla will team up to deliver Poké Spot in-car navigation allowing players to automatically drive to Pokémon locations.
  11. Donald Trump will assume office of PokémonPresident of the United States on January 20, 2017; 18-35-year-olds forgot to vote.
  12. World ends, January 21, 2017.

Pokemon-Go WSJ screenshot 13Jul2016If you’re one of the few earthlings wondering what Pokémon Go is all about, and how in the space of just a few days our neighborhoods have become overrun by zombie-like players, look no further than the WSJ. Rupert Murdoch must be a fan.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

 

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Another Corporate Empire Bites the Dust

Motorola-DynaTACBusinesses and brands come and they go. Seemingly unassailable corporations, often valued in the tens of billions of dollars (and sometimes more) fall to the incessant march of technological change and increasingly due to the ever fickle desires of the consumer.

And, these monoliths of business last but blinks of an eye when compared with the likes of our vast social empires such as the Roman, Han, Ottoman, Venetian, Sudanese, Portuguese, which persist for many hundreds — sometimes thousands — of years.

Yet, even a few years ago who would have predicted the demise of the Motorola empire, the company mostly responsible for the advent of the handheld mobile phone. Motorola had been on a recent downward spiral, failing in part to capitalize on the shift to smartphones, mobile operating systems and apps. Now it’s brand is dust. RIP brick!

From the Guardian:

Motorola, the brand which invented the mobile phone, brought us the iconic “Motorola brick”, and gave us both the first flip-phone and the iconic Razr, is to cease to exist.

Bought from Google by the Chinese smartphone and laptop powerhouse Lenovo in January 2014, Motorola had found success over the past two years. It launched the Moto G in early 2014, which propelled the brand, which had all but disappeared after the Razr, from a near-0% market share to 6% of sales in the UK.

The Moto G kickstarted the reinvigoration of the brand, which saw Motorola ship more than 10m smartphones in the third quarter of 2014, up 118% year-on-year.

But now Lenovo has announced that it will kill off the US mobile phone pioneer’s name. It will keep Moto, the part of Motorola’s product naming that has gained traction in recent years, but Moto smartphones will be branded under Lenovo.

Motorola chief operating officer Rick Osterloh told Cnet that “we’ll slowly phase out Motorola and focus on Moto”.

The Moto line will be joined by Lenovo’s Vibe line in the low end, leaving the fate of the Moto E and G uncertain. The Motorola Mobility division of Lenovo will take over responsibility for the Chinese manufacturer’s entire smartphone range.

Read the entire story here.

Image: Motorola DynaTAC 8000X commercial portable cellular phone, 1983. Courtesy of Motorola.

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Intimate Anonymity

A new mobile app lets you share all your intimate details with a stranger for 20 days. The fascinating part of this social experiment is that the stranger remains anonymous throughout. The app known as 20 Day Stranger is brought to us by the venerable MIT Media Lab. It may never catch on, but you can be sure that psychologists are gleefully awaiting some data.

From Slate:

Social media is all about connecting with people you know, people you sort of know, or people you want to know. But what about all those people you didn’t know you wanted to know? They’re out there, too, and the new iPhone app 20 Day Stranger wants to put you in touch with them. Created by the MIT Media Lab’s Playful Systems research group, the app connects strangers and allows them to update each other about any and every detail of their lives for 20 days. But the people are totally anonymous and can interact directly only at the end of their 20 days together, when they can exchange one message each.

20 Day Stranger uses information from the iPhone’s sensors to alert your stranger-friend when you wake up (and start moving the phone), when you’re in a car or bus (from GPS tracking), and where you are. But it isn’t totally privacy-invading: The app also takes steps to keep both people anonymous. When it shows your stranger-friend that you’re walking around somewhere, it accompanies the notification with images from a half-mile radius of where you actually are on Google Maps. Your stranger-friend might be able to figure out what area you’re in, or they might not.

Kevin Slavin, the director of Playful Systems, explained to Fast Company that the app’s goal is to introduce people online in a positive and empathetic way, rather than one that’s filled with suspicion or doubt. Though 20 Day Stranger is currently being beta tested, Playful Systems’ goal is to generally release it in the App Store. But the group is worried about getting people to adopt it all over instead of building up user bases in certain geographic areas. “There’s no one type of person what will make it useful,” Slavin said. “It’s the heterogeneous quality of everyone in aggregate. Which is a bad [promotional] strategy if you’re making commercial software.”

At this point it’s not that rare to interact frequently with someone you’ve never met in person on social media. What’s unusual it not to know their name or anything about who they are. But an honest window into another person’s life without the pressure of identity could expand your worldview and maybe even stimulate introspection. It sounds like a step up from Secret, that’s for sure.

Read the entire article here.

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Big Data Knows What You Do and When

Data scientists are getting to know more about you and your fellow urban dwellers as you move around your neighborhood and your city. As smartphones and cell towers become more ubiquitous and  data collection and analysis gathers pace researchers (and advertisers) will come to know your daily habits and schedule rather intimately. So, questions from a significant other along the lines of, “and, where were you at 11:15 last night?” may soon be consigned to history.

From Technology Review:

Mobile phones have generated enormous insight into the human condition thanks largely to the study of the data they produce. Mobile phone companies record the time of each call, the caller and receiver ids, as well as the locations of the cell towers involved, among other things.

The combined data from millions of people produces some fascinating new insights in the nature of our society.

Anthropologists have crunched it to reveal human reproductive strategiesa universal law of commuting and even the distribution of wealth in Africa.

Today, computer scientists have gone one step further by using mobile phone data to map the structure of cities and how people use them throughout the day. “These results point towards the possibility of a new, quantitative classification of cities using high resolution spatio-temporal data,” say Thomas Louail at the Institut de Physique Théorique in Paris and a few pals.

They say their work is part of a new science of cities that aims to objectively measure and understand the nature of large population centers.

These guys begin with a database of mobile phone calls made by people in the 31 Spanish cities that have populations larger than 200,000. The data consists of the number of unique individuals using a given cell tower (whether making a call or not) for each hour of the day over almost two months.

Given the area that each tower covers, Louail and co work out the density of individuals in each location and how it varies throughout the day. And using this pattern, they search for “hotspots” in the cities where the density of individuals passes some specially chosen threshold at certain times of the day.

The results reveal some fascinating patterns in city structure. For a start, every city undergoes a kind of respiration in which people converge into the center and then withdraw on a daily basis, almost like breathing. And this happens in all cities. This “suggests the existence of a single ‘urban rhythm’ common to all cities,” says Louail and co.

During the week, the number of phone users peaks at about midday and then again at about 6 p.m. During the weekend the numbers peak a little later: at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. Interestingly, the second peak starts about an hour later in western cities, such as Sevilla and Cordoba.

The data also reveals that small cities tend to have a single center that becomes busy during the day, such as the cities of Salamanca and Vitoria.

But it also shows that the number of hotspots increases with city size; so-called polycentric cities include Spain’s largest, such as Madrid, Barcelona, and Bilboa.

That could turn out to be useful for automatically classifying cities.

Read the entire article here.

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5 Billion Infractions per Day

New reports suggest that the NSA (National Security Agency) is collecting and analyzing over 5 billion records per day from mobile phones worldwide. That’s a vast amount of data covering lots of people — presumably over 99.9999 percent innocent people.

Yet, the nation yawns and continues to soak in the latest shenanigans on Duck Dynasty. One wonders if Uncle Si and his cohorts are being tracked as well. Probably.

From the Washington Post:

The National Security Agency is gathering nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, according to top-secret documents and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.

The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices, according to the officials and the documents, which were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. New projects created to analyze that data have provided the intelligence community with what amounts to a mass surveillance tool.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.

U.S. officials said the programs that collect and analyze location data are lawful and intended strictly to develop intelligence about foreign targets.

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.

Still, location data, especially when aggregated over time, are widely regarded among privacy advocates as uniquely sensitive. Sophisticated mathematical tech­niques enable NSA analysts to map cellphone owners’ relationships by correlating their patterns of movement over time with thousands or millions of other phone users who cross their paths. Cellphones broadcast their locations even when they are not being used to place a call or send a text message.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Duck Dynasty show promotional still. Courtesy of Wikipedia / A&E.

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Listening versus Snooping

Many of your mobile devices already know where you are and what you’re doing. Increasingly the devices you use will record your every step and every word (and those of any callers), and even know your mood and health status. Analysts and eavesdroppers at the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) must be licking their collective their lips.

From Technology Review:

The Moto X, the new smartphone from Google’s Motorola Mobility, might be remembered best someday for helping to usher in the era of ubiquitous listening.

Unlike earlier phones, the Moto X includes two low-power chips whose only function is to process data from a microphone and other sensors—without tapping the main processor and draining the battery. This is a big endorsement of the idea that phones could serve you better if they did more to figure out what is going on (see “Motorola Reveals First Google-Era Phone”). For instance, you might say “OK Google Now” to activate Google’s intelligent assistant software, rather than having to first tap the screen or press buttons to get an audio-processing function up and running.

This brings us closer to having phones that continually monitor their auditory environment to detect the phone owner’s voice, discern what room or other setting the phone is in, or pick up other clues from background noise. Such capacities make it possible for software to detect your moods, know when you are talking and not to disturb you, and perhaps someday keep a running record of everything you hear.

“Devices of the future will be increasingly aware of the user’s current context, goals, and needs, will become proactive—taking initiative to present relevant information,” says Pattie Maes, a professor at MIT’s Media Lab. “Their use will become more integrated in our daily behaviors, becoming almost an extension of ourselves. The Moto X is definitely a step in that direction.”

Even before the Moto X, there were apps, such as the Shazam music-identification service, that could continually listen for a signal. When users enable a new feature called “auto-tagging” on a recent update to Shazam’s iPad app, Shazam listens to everything in the background, all the time. It’s seeking matches for songs and TV content that the company has stored on its servers, so you can go back and find information about something that you might have heard a few minutes ago. But the key change is that Shazam can now listen all the time, not just when you tap a button to ask it to identify something. The update is planned for other platforms, too.

But other potential uses abound. Tanzeem Choudury, a researcher at Cornell University, has demonstrated software that can detect whether you are talking faster than normal, or other changes in pitch or frequency that suggest stress. The StressSense app she is developing aims to do things like pinpoint the sources of your stress—is it the 9:30 a.m. meeting, or a call from Uncle Hank?

Similarly, audio analysis could allow the phone to understand where it is—and make fewer mistakes, says Vlad Sejnoha, the chief technology officer of Nuance Communications, which develops voice-recognition technologies. “I’m sure you’ve been in situation where someone has a smartphone in their pocket and suddenly a little voice emerges from the pocket, asking how they can be helped,” he says. That’s caused when an assistance app like Apple’s Siri is accidentally triggered. If the phone’s always-on ears could accurately detect the muffled acoustical properties of a pocket or purse, it could eliminate this false start and stop phones from accidentally dialing numbers as well. “That’s a work in progress,” Sejnoha says.  “And while it’s amusing, I think the general principle is serious: these devices have to try to understand the users’ world as much as possible.”

A phone might use ambient noise levels to decide how loud a ringtone should be: louder if you are out on the street, quiet if inside, says Chris Schmandt, director of the speech and mobility group at MIT’s Media Lab. Taking that concept a step further, a phone could detect an ambient conversation and recognize that one of the speakers was its owner. Then it might mute a potentially disruptive ringtone unless the call was from an important person, such as a spouse, Schmandt added.

Read the entire article here.

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Tracking and Monetizing Your Every Move

Your movements are valuable — but not in the way you may think. Mobile technology companies are moving rapidly to exploit the vast amount of data collected from the billions of mobile devices. This data is extremely valuable to an array of organizations, including urban planners, retailers, and travel and transportation marketers. And, of course, this raises significant privacy concerns. Many believe that when the data is used collectively it preserves user anonymity. However, if correlated with other data sources it could be used to discover a range of unintended and previously private information, relating both to individuals and to groups.

From MIT Technology Review:

Wireless operators have access to an unprecedented volume of information about users’ real-world activities, but for years these massive data troves were put to little use other than for internal planning and marketing.

This data is under lock and key no more. Under pressure to seek new revenue streams (see “AT&T Looks to Outside Developers for Innovation”), a growing number of mobile carriers are now carefully mining, packaging, and repurposing their subscriber data to create powerful statistics about how people are moving about in the real world.

More comprehensive than the data collected by any app, this is the kind of information that, experts believe, could help cities plan smarter road networks, businesses reach more potential customers, and health officials track diseases. But even if shared with the utmost of care to protect anonymity, it could also present new privacy risks for customers.

Verizon Wireless, the largest U.S. carrier with more than 98 million retail customers, shows how such a program could come together. In late 2011, the company changed its privacy policy so that it could share anonymous and aggregated subscriber data with outside parties. That made possible the launch of its Precision Market Insights division last October.

The program, still in its early days, is creating a natural extension of what already happens online, with websites tracking clicks and getting a detailed breakdown of where visitors come from and what they are interested in.

Similarly, Verizon is working to sell demographics about the people who, for example, attend an event, how they got there or the kinds of apps they use once they arrive. In a recent case study, says program spokeswoman Debra Lewis, Verizon showed that fans from Baltimore outnumbered fans from San Francisco by three to one inside the Super Bowl stadium. That information might have been expensive or difficult to obtain in other ways, such as through surveys, because not all the people in the stadium purchased their own tickets and had credit card information on file, nor had they all downloaded the Super Bowl’s app.

Other telecommunications companies are exploring similar ideas. In Europe, for example, Telefonica launched a similar program last October, and the head of this new business unit gave the keynote address at new industry conference on “big data monetization in telecoms” in January.

“It doesn’t look to me like it’s a big part of their [telcos’] business yet, though at the same time it could be,” says Vincent Blondel, an applied mathematician who is now working on a research challenge from the operator Orange to analyze two billion anonymous records of communications between five million customers in Africa.

The concerns about making such data available, Blondel says, are not that individual data points will leak out or contain compromising information but that they might be cross-referenced with other data sources to reveal unintended details about individuals or specific groups (see “How Access to Location Data Could Trample Your Privacy”).

Already, some startups are building businesses by aggregating this kind of data in useful ways, beyond what individual companies may offer. For example, AirSage, an Atlanta, Georgia, a company founded in 2000, has spent much of the last decade negotiating what it says are exclusive rights to put its hardware inside the firewalls of two of the top three U.S. wireless carriers and collect, anonymize, encrypt, and analyze cellular tower signaling data in real time. Since AirSage solidified the second of these major partnerships about a year ago (it won’t specify which specific carriers it works with), it has been processing 15 billion locations a day and can account for movement of about a third of the U.S. population in some places to within less than 100 meters, says marketing vice president Andrea Moe.

As users’ mobile devices ping cellular towers in different locations, AirSage’s algorithms look for patterns in that location data—mostly to help transportation planners and traffic reports, so far. For example, the software might infer that the owners of devices that spend time in a business park from nine to five are likely at work, so a highway engineer might be able to estimate how much traffic on the local freeway exit is due to commuters.

Other companies are starting to add additional layers of information beyond cellular network data. One customer of AirSage is a relatively small San Francisco startup, Streetlight Data which recently raised $3 million in financing backed partly by the venture capital arm of Deutsche Telekom.

Streetlight buys both cellular network and GPS navigation data that can be mined for useful market research. (The cellular data covers a larger number of people, but the GPS data, collected by mapping software providers, can improve accuracy.) Today, many companies already build massive demographic and behavioral databases on top of U.S. Census information about households to help retailers choose where to build new stores and plan marketing budgets. But Streetlight’s software, with interactive, color-coded maps of neighborhoods and roads, offers more practical information. It can be tied to the demographics of people who work nearby, commute through on a particular highway, or are just there for a visit, rather than just supplying information about who lives in the area.

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image: mobile devices. Courtesy of W3.org

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Blame (Or Hug) Martin Cooper

Martin Cooper. You may not know that name, but you and a fair proportion of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants have surely held or dropped or prodded or cursed his offspring.

You see, forty years ago Martin Cooper used his baby to make the first public mobile phone call. Martin Cooper invented the cell phone.

From the Guardian:

It is 40 years this week since the first public mobile phone call. On 3 April, 1973, Martin Cooper, a pioneering inventor working for Motorola in New York, called a rival engineer from the pavement of Sixth Avenue to brag and was met with a stunned, defeated silence. The race to make the first portable phone had been won. The Pandora’s box containing txt-speak, pocket-dials and pig-hating suicidal birds was open.

Many people at Motorola, however, felt mobile phones would never be a mass-market consumer product. They wanted the firm to focus on business carphones. But Cooper and his team persisted. Ten years after that first boastful phonecall they brought the portable phone to market, at a retail price of around $4,000.

Thirty years on, the number of mobile phone subscribers worldwide is estimated at six and a half billion. And Angry Birds games have been downloaded 1.7bn times.

This is the story of the mobile phone in 40 facts:

1 That first portable phone was called a DynaTAC. The original model had 35 minutes of battery life and weighed one kilogram.

2 Several prototypes of the DynaTAC were created just 90 days after Cooper had first suggested the idea. He held a competition among Motorola engineers from various departments to design it and ended up choosing “the least glamorous”.

3 The DynaTAC’s weight was reduced to 794g before it came to market. It was still heavy enough to beat someone to death with, although this fact was never used as a selling point.

4 Nonetheless, people cottoned on. DynaTAC became the phone of choice for fictional psychopaths, including Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko, American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman and Saved by the Bell’s Zack Morris.

5 The UK’s first public mobile phone call was made by comedian Ernie Wise in 1985 from St Katharine dock to the Vodafone head offices over a curry house in Newbury.

6 Vodafone’s 1985 monopoly of the UK mobile market lasted just nine days before Cellnet (now O2) launched its rival service. A Vodafone spokesperson was probably all like: “Aw, shucks!”

7 Cellnet and Vodafone were the only UK mobile providers until 1993.

8 It took Vodafone just less than nine years to reach the one million customers mark. They reached two million just 18 months later.

9 The first smartphone was IBM’s Simon, which debuted at the Wireless World Conference in 1993. It had an early LCD touchscreen and also functioned as an email device, electronic pager, calendar, address book and calculator.

10 The first cameraphone was created by French entrepreneur Philippe Kahn. He took the first photograph with a mobile phone, of his newborn daughter Sophie, on 11 June, 1997.

Read the entire article after the jump.

Image: Dr. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, with DynaTAC prototype from 1973 (in the year 2007). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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