Vocabulary > Technology > Phones, Smartphones
ILLUSTRATION ELLIOT THOBURN
To hell in a handset
Watches are on the way out. The days of the
diary are numbered.
And cameras could be next.
The world is becoming a poorer place,
says Stuart Jeffries - thanks to the
G2 p. 4
Thursday March 8, 2007
9 June 2009
transatlantic wireless telephone service
the telephone market
app / mobile apps
taxi-hailing app USA
The Guardian iPhone app
The Guardian Windows Phone app
smartphone apps transform cellphone photos so they look
tag them with location data and post them in real time
to social networks on
phones and the Web
Research In Motion Ltd.
Canadian maker of the BlackBerry smartphone
Microsoft > Kin One and Kin Two
Apple > iPad
Apple > iPhone
Apple’s Feud With Google
iPhone > Shadow Cities
Apple > Steven P. Jobs
The Guardian > iPhone
iPhone > Cartoons > Cagle
Google Wallet mobile payments system
Google > Android operating system / Google's Android operating system for mobile phones
smartphones > tracking software
Smartphones running Google's Android software
collect data about the user's movements in almost exactly the same way as the
Google Nexus 4
Google phone > 'Nexus One'
cellphone software > Windows Phone
Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7.5.
Microsoft > Windows Phone 7
high-speed memory for iPods, smartphones, digital cameras and
some laptops > flash
internet phone calls / internet telephony / web telephony / VoIP
online phone calls
cheap internet calls
cheap long-distance telephone calls over the internet
free Internet telephony
mobile video calling
/ cell USA
cellphone safety USA
iPhone address book privacy
cellphones, mobile apps > privacy
payments via cellphone
camera phone /
flip camera phone
mobiles able to
download, share and
U.S. long-distance carrier MCI Inc.
lease access to...
Qwest Communications International Inc.'s local
integrated digital camera
answer / answer
short message service SMS
mobile phone text messaging (txt msg)
phone texting language / text message vocabulary
CU L8R 2NITE (see you later tonight)
The Guardian p. 8
20 December 2008
The Guardian p. 20
28 November 2008
Taking the battle online
Microsoft has become the latest big
to make a move into telephony over the internet.
The low cost of calls is attracting customers in ever-greater numbers
robbing traditional phone companies of business.
How worried should they be?
Sep 1st 2005
From The Economist Global Agenda
The best phone deal? It's your call
With a price war raging over home telephones it is impossible to escape
the barrage of adverts from companies who want you to switch to their service.
But are the offers as good as they look, and who really is the cheapest?
The Guardian Jobs & Money p. 2
Google Introduces an iPhone Rival Open to Whims
24 September 2008
A Billion-Dollar Turning Point for Mobile Apps
April 10, 2012
The New York Times
By JENNA WORTHAM
The path for Internet start-ups used to be quite clear:
establish a presence on the Web first, then come up with a version of your
service for mobile devices.
Now, at a time when the mobile start-up Instagram can command $1 billion in a
sale to Facebook, some start-ups are asking: Who needs the Web?
Smartphones are everywhere now, allowing apps like Foursquare and Path to be
self-contained social worlds, existing almost entirely on mobile devices. It is
a major change from just a few years ago, underscoring how the momentum in the
tech world is shifting to mobile from computers.
In that context, the Instagram deal looks like something of a turning point, as
even the Web giant Facebook tries to get a better grasp on a market that
requires a rethinking of old rules.
“For decades, the center of computing has been the desktop, and software was
modeled after the experience of using a typewriter,” said Georg Petschnigg, a
former Microsoft employee who is one of the creators of Paper, a new sketchbook
app for the iPad. “But technology is now more intimate and pervasive than that.
We have it with us all the time, and we have to reimagine innovative new
interfaces and experiences around that.”
Venture capitalists are eager to get in on the mobile trend. According to the
research firm CB Insights, mobile apps and companies attracted 10 percent of the
total investment dollars from American venture capital firms in last year’s
fourth quarter, and 12 percent of deals were mobile-related, up from 7 or 8
percent in previous quarters.
Ben Lerer, manager of the venture capital firm Lerer Ventures, said he preferred
to back companies that were building services for mobile first and the Web
second, because “businesses that are thinking that way are planning for the
Mr. Lerer was one of the early investors in OMGPop, a New York company that was
close to shutting down until it had an overnight hit in Draw Something, a twist
on Pictionary for the iPhone. Last month, OMGPop was snapped up for $200 million
by the game company Zynga, which has been trying to reduce its dependence on
Facebook-based games like FarmVille.
Another hit game, Angry Birds from the Finnish company Rovio, started out on the
iPhone before migrating to computers and video game consoles — an unusual
trajectory in the game world.
Cellphones are also prompting a shift in how people want to share things online,
creating a market for apps that make instant sharing easy, said S. Shyam Sundar,
a director of the Media Effects Research Lab at Pennsylvania State University.
In other words, many people want to post a photograph of themselves right from a
sun-drenched beach in Bali, rather than waiting until they are back home to
upload all 50 pictures onto Facebook.
“People are living in the moment and they want to share in the moment,”
Professor Sundar said. “Mobile gives you that immediacy and convenience.”
Instagram, a social network focusing on just that kind of instant photo sharing,
does have a Web site — but it is essentially there just to encourage people to
download the company’s apps. It is one of several social networks that have
established themselves entirely on mobile. Another is Foursquare, which lets
users share their location with a select few friends and has attracted nearly 15
“Mobile-first is the direction that many social networks are headed,” said
Holger Luedorf, the company’s head of business development. If done right, he
said, such services start to feel “baked into” the phone itself.
Dave Morin, who was at Facebook early on and left to create Path, a social
network for mobile phones, said he realized that the world was headed for a
mobile-centric future in 2009, when the influential analyst Mary Meeker
published a report saying that more people would soon connect to the Internet on
mobile devices than on personal computers.
Path does not release user numbers, but its app appears to have traction,
particularly among people who have become disenchanted with Facebook. “Because
you take your smartphone with you everywhere, you can quickly and easily take a
photo or video, map your location or jot down a note or a thought,” Mr. Morin
Companies that start with a Web site then try to shrink it into an app face a
tough challenge. Screen space on mobile devices is at a premium. And to avoid
turning off users, designers and developers have to cut back on clutter and
streamline their services, avoiding slow load times and stuttering
Start-ups that put their resources into mobile from the beginning can skip some
of the hassles. “You’re freed from worrying about so many of the things that you
have to think about when it comes to Web development,” said Oliver Cameron, one
of the founders of Everyme, an app introduced Tuesday that analyzes a user’s
contacts and generates miniature social networks around people it thinks belong
Then there is the relative ease in finding an audience. Web sites and software
packages have trouble standing out in the crowd. But apps have a simple
distribution mechanism in app stores, which can immediately bring an app to a
customer’s attention. “In February we had close to 900,000 downloads,” said
Andreas Schobel, chief executive of Catch, a start-up in San Francisco that
makes a note-taking app. “How would we do that on the Web?”
Mobile apps tailored to work for specific devices like the iPhone also run
faster than Web sites, Mr. Schobel noted. “When you’re on the phone you need the
experience to be instantaneous,” he said. “You just can’t do that yet on the
Brian X. Chen contributed reporting.
A Billion-Dollar Turning Point for Mobile
Apps, NYT, 10.4.2012,
Education Gets Directly to Youths, via Text
The New York Times
By JAN HOFFMAN
heading to class last year, Stephanie Cisneros, a Denver-area high school
junior, was arguing with a friend about ways that sexually transmitted diseases
might be passed along.
Ms. Cisneros knew she could resolve the dispute in class — but not by raising
her hand. While her biology teacher lectured about fruit flies, Ms. Cisneros hid
her phone underneath her lab table and typed a message to ICYC (In Case You’re
Curious), a text-chat program run by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Soon, her phone buzzed. “There are some STDs you can get from kissing but they
are spread more easily during sex,” the reply read. “You can get a STD from oral
sex. You should use a condom whenever you have sex.”
Ms. Cisneros said she liked ICYC for its immediacy and confidentiality. “You can
ask a random question about sex and you don’t feel it was stupid,” said Ms.
Cisneros, now a senior. “Even if it was, they can’t judge you because they don’t
know it’s you. And it’s too gross to ask my parents.”
Sex education is a thorny subject for most school systems; only 13 states
specify that the medical components of the programs must be accurate. Shrinking
budgets and competing academic subjects have helped push it down as a curriculum
priority. In reaction, some health organizations and school districts are
developing Web sites and texting services as cost-effective ways to reach
adolescents in the one classroom where absenteeism is never a problem: the
In Chicago, teenagers can subscribe to Sex-Ed Loop, a program endorsed by the
district that includes weekly automated texts about contraception, relationships
and disease prevention. Through Hookup, California teenagers can text their ZIP
codes to a number and receive locations for health clinics.
Many services, like Sexetc.org, a national site run by and for teenagers, offer
both privacy and communities where adolescents can learn about sexuality and
relationships, particularly on mobile devices, eluding parental scrutiny.
Services offer links to blogs, interactive games, moderated forums, and Facebook
and Twitter pages.
The messages, rendered in teenspeak, can be funny and blunt: for Real Talk, a
technology-driven H.I.V. prevention program run by the AIDS Council of
Northeastern New York, teenagers made a YouTube video, shouting a refrain from a
rap song, “Sport Dat Raincoat,” during which a girl carrying an umbrella is
pelted with condoms.
“When we ask young people what is the No. 1 way they learn about sex, they say,
‘We Google it,’ ” said Deb Levine, executive director of ISIS Inc., an Oakland,
Calif.,-based nonprofit organization that administers texting services and
checks content for medical accuracy. “But most of the time, the best information
is not coming up in those searches.”
Quantifying services is difficult. But Ms. Levine, who hosts Sex::Tech, a
conference about sexual health programs for youth, said that requests to make
presentations about online or mobile services had soared. Typically, she
receives between 40 and 50 applications. This year, she received about 120.
Unlike classroom lessons, which are supposed to follow local, state or federal
guidelines, Internet programs have no independent standards. And proponents of
abstinence-based sexual education argue that these digital services presume that
sexual activity among teenagers is the norm, and do not spend enough time on
“They are only focusing on the risk-reduction model,” said Valerie Huber,
executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, which hopes
to kick off its online service for teenagers next year.
Those who run digital programs say they simply want teens to have accurate
information, to help them make good decisions. Even though popular culture is
saturated with sex, facts and advice can be hard to find.
Few disagree about the need for more education. Although the teenage birth rate
dropped 9 percent in 2010 from 2009, the United States still has one of the
highest rates among developed countries, according to the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. Rates of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia among
American teenagers continue to rise.
Most online services receive grants from philanthropies, like the Ford
Foundation, and health and education agencies on the state and federal level.
Classroom content is largely controlled by school districts, but it is a low
priority in many areas. Chicago, for example, does not have a mandated sex
education curriculum, although teachers are encouraged to include material in
science or physical education classes. School officials see programs like Sex-Ed
Loop, which began in September, as vital.
Mary Beth Szydlowski, the H.I.V. education prevention specialist for Chicago
schools, said that Sex-Ed Loop not only reinforces what students learn in class
but can reach all teenagers, including dropouts. It is managed by the Illinois
Caucus for Adolescent Health, which enlists Chicago teenagers to create the text
messages as well as blog posts and testimonial videos for its site.
Juan Chavez, 19, a sophomore at DePaul University, remembers sex education
during ninth-grade health class as awkward.
“The teacher had been a nutrition major,” Mr. Chavez said. “He was really
uncomfortable. He just said, ‘I don’t believe you guys should be having sex, so
I’ll just say this because I have to.’ ”
Now, through the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Mr. Chavez texts and
blogs, with a focus on gay teenagers, about such subjects as what to do if a
condom breaks, which clinics are gay-friendly and where to find low-cost
lubricants — “things people need to know on the fly,” he said.
Parents who fear that sex education will encourage a child to experiment are
misguided, said Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a national
sex education organization that oversees Sexetc. Studies show the opposite is
true, she said.
But making sure that Web-surfing teenagers find these programs, rather than
pornographic sites, has been challenging.
Leslie Kantor, vice president for education at Planned Parenthood Federation of
America, said it was expanding its chat program, which teenagers can use with
handheld devices or online. The organization is trying, she said, to embed
material with search terms used by teenagers.
“How do I write content that says ‘sex’ 80,000 times so our page will pop up in
a kid’s search on Google near the top?” she said.
When it comes to marketing, programs are increasingly relying on the customer:
Real Talk held a classroom contest to see which student could send the most
texts containing this prevention message: “ROFL!!!” (Translation: rolling on the
floor laughing). “STDs and HIV can spread as fast as this message. Still
laughing? Pass on the message not HIV/STDs. 518-HIV-TEST.” Within an hour, the
message had been sent to nearly 450 phones.
Sex Education Gets Directly to Youths, via Text, NYT, 30.12.2011,
IPhone Gets Its Upgrade, All Under the Hood
October 4, 2011
The New York Times
By NICK WINGFIELD
CUPERTINO, Calif. — Apple introduced its long-awaited new
iPhone on Tuesday. But it wasn’t an iPhone 5. That will have to wait.
Instead, the company unveiled something that looks an awful lot like an iPhone 4
on the outside, with an innovative feature that turns the device into a
voice-activated mobile assistant for scheduling appointments and performing
It’s a measure of how Apple has habituated its legions of fans to regular,
eye-catching design changes that the news about the latest version of the iPhone
qualified as a disappointment for some. Grumbling about the announcement of the
new phone, the iPhone 4S, spread on Twitter throughout the day and the company’s
shares fell as much as 5 percent, though they regained most of those losses by
the end of trading.
“At the end of the day, there are still going to be long lines for this,” said
Gene Munster, an analyst at Piper Jaffray. “They could have been even longer if
they’d changed the hardware more.”
The new model of the iPhone, which will go on sale Oct. 14, with preorders
starting Friday, is virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor on the
outside. But beneath its skin Apple made big changes, packing it with a better
camera that shoots crisper pictures and video. The device also includes a more
powerful chip, the A5, the same microprocessor that is the brains of the iPad,
for producing better graphics and other improvements.
Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, presided over the event just as Steven
P. Jobs had on similar occasions before he left the top job in August. Mr. Cook
said that although the iPhone 4 is the best-selling smartphone in the world,
Apple believes that the company still has plenty of people it wants to convert.
“We believe over time all handsets become smartphones,” he said. “This market is
1.5 billion units annually. It’s an enormous opportunity for Apple.”
Mr. Cook and other Apple executives also highlighted an array of supporting
products for the new phone, but the centerpiece of the presentation, and of the
new device, is the “virtual assistant” feature, Siri, named after a company
Apple acquired last year that originally developed the technology. While the
iPhone 4 already responds to some basic voice commands — to make phone calls,
for example — Siri is designed to comprehend a much broader range of
instructions in natural language.
For example, Apple executives demonstrated the technology by asking an iPhone,
“Do I need a raincoat today?” to which the device responded, “It sure looks like
While Apple’s decision not to call its new phone the iPhone 5, as many expected,
raised some eyebrows, it has some precedent. A couple of years ago the company
introduced the iPhone 3GS, which made modest improvements over the iPhone 3G.
Michael Mace, the chief executive of a mobile application start-up and a former
Apple and Palm executive, said Apple most likely wanted to telegraph that the
iPhone 4S was an incremental change to the product, rather than a big redesign
denoted by a change in the model number.
“You don’t want to oversell what you’re doing so you hurt your credibility,” Mr.
Even incremental changes to the iPhone can help sales. Mr. Munster of Piper
Jaffray said the annual growth rate in the number of iPhones that Apple sold
during the fiscal year the iPhone 3GS was introduced was 93 percent, compared
with 78 percent when the iPhone 3G came out.
With the new phone, Apple is taking on a growing challenge in the mobile market
from the Android operating system made by Google. Smartphones powered by Android
now outsell iPhones by more than two to one. While Android phones also let
people use basic voice commands to do simple tasks, Apple is betting that the
more sophisticated capabilities of Siri will make it stand out.
Many of the best minds in technology in the last several decades have been
stymied by how to decipher speech, given variations in how people talk. Mr. Mace
called what Apple is doing the “holy grail” for mobile devices; voice
recognition could make it much easier for people to use them on the go without
having to peck words into a keyboard. But he said the technology needed to be
accurate or users would ignore it.
“When you start talking to a computer you expect it to really understand you,
and if it doesn’t, you get really frustrated,” he said. “If Siri is like that,
forget about it.”
Using Siri, the phone can set an alarm clock with the command “Wake me up
tomorrow at 6 a.m.” or provide a stock market quote if a user asks, “How’s the
Nasdaq doing today?” The command “Remind me to call my wife when I leave work”
will result in such a reminder on the phone, requiring a user to identify the
geographic boundaries of their office on the device through its location
In some ways, Siri is reminiscent of Hal 9000, the intelligent computer system
in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey,” though the iPhone presumably won’t be able
to turn on its users the way its fictional counterpart did. In one
demonstration, Apple’s senior vice president, Scott Forstall, asked Siri, “Who
“I am a humble personal assistant,” the phone responded, in an awkward
While the new iPhone was the headliner at the event, held at the company’s
headquarters in Silicon Valley, the executives spent nearly as much time
showcasing new features in an array of supporting products, including iCloud,
which allows users of Apple mobile products to automatically back up from and
synchronize information between devices.
Prices for the iPhone 4S start at $199 for a model with 16 gigabytes of storage.
Apple will continue to sell its older iPhone 4 through its wireless carrier
partners, which will drop the price to $99 from $199 when customers commit to a
two-year contract. An older model, the iPhone 3GS, will be free, instead of $49,
with a two-year contract.
The new phone will be available on the AT&T, Verizon and Sprint networks and
will also work internationally.
The event was a closely watched debut for Mr. Cook. Mr. Jobs was a master
pitchman for Apple’s products, captivating audiences with introductions that
seemed off the cuff but were always meticulously rehearsed. Mr. Jobs, the
company’s founder, left for health reasons and became chairman of Apple’s board.
“It’s impossible to replace Steve Jobs, and you could feel that in the energy
level in the room,” said Mr. Munster, though he said Mr. Cook “did an excellent
This article has been revised to reflect the following
Correction: October 4, 2011
An earlier version of this article misstated the previous price of the iPhone
3GS. It had been $49 (from AT&T), not $99. Because of an editing error, the
article also misstated the day of the Apple announcement. It was Tuesday,
IPhone Gets Its
Upgrade, All Under the Hood, NYT, 4.10.2011,
Hackers, the Next Lock to Pick
The New York Times
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
FRANCISCO — Hackers have broken into the cellphones of celebrities like Scarlett
Johansson and Prince William. But what about the rest of us, who might not have
particularly salacious photos or voice messages stored in our phones, but
nonetheless have e-mails, credit card numbers and records of our locations?
A growing number of companies, including start-ups and big names in computer
security like McAfee, Symantec, Sophos and AVG, see a business opportunity in
mobile security — protecting cellphones from hacks and malware that could read
text messages, store location information or add charges directly to mobile
On Tuesday, McAfee introduced a service for consumers to protect their
smartphones, tablets and computers at once, and last week the company introduced
a mobile security system for businesses. Last month, AT&T partnered with Juniper
Networks to build mobile security apps for consumers and businesses. The Defense
Department has called for companies and universities to come up with ways to
protect Android devices from malware.
In an indication of investor interest, one start-up, Lookout, last week raised
$40 million from venture capital firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, bringing
its total to $76.5 million. The company makes an app that scans other apps that
people download to their phones, looking for malware and viruses. It
automatically tracks 700,000 mobile apps and updates Lookout whenever it finds a
Still, in some ways, it’s an industry ahead of its time. Experts in mobile
security agree that mobile hackers are not yet much of a threat. But that is
poised to change quickly, they say, especially as people increasingly use their
phones to exchange money, by mobile shopping or using digital wallets like
“Unlike PCs, the chance of running into something in the wild for your phone is
quite low,” said Charlie Miller, a researcher at Accuvant, a security consulting
company, and a hacker who has revealed weaknesses in iPhones. “That’s partly
because it’s more secure but mostly because the bad guys haven’t gotten around
to it yet. But the bad guys are going to slowly follow the money over to your
Most consumers, though they protect their computers, are unaware that they need
to secure their phones, he said, “but the smartphones people have are computers,
and the same thing that can happen on your computer can happen on your phone.”
Cellphone users are more likely than computer users to click on dangerous links
or download sketchy apps because they are often distracted, experts say. Phones
can be more vulnerable because they connect to wireless networks at the gym or
the coffee shop, and hackers can surreptitiously charge consumers for a
There have already been harmful attacks, most of which have originated in China,
said John Hering, co-founder and chief executive of Lookout.
For example, this year, the Android market was hit by malware called DroidDream.
Hackers pirated 80 applications, added malicious code and tricked users into
downloading them from the Android Market. Google said 260,000 devices were
Also this year, people unwittingly downloaded other malware, called GGTracker,
by clicking on links in ads, and on the Web site to which the links led. The
malware signed them up, without their consent, for text message subscription
services that charged $10 to $50.
Lookout says that up to a million people were afflicted by mobile malware in the
first half of the year, and that the threat for Android users is two and a half
times higher than it was just six months ago.
Still, other experts caution that fear is profitable for the security industry,
and that consumers should be realistic about the small size of the threat at
this point. AdaptiveMobile, which sells mobile security tools, found that 6
percent of smartphone users said they had received a virus, but that the actual
number of confirmed viruses had not topped 2 percent.
Lookout’s founders are hackers themselves, though they say they are the good
kind, who break into phones and computers to expose the risks but not to steal
information or behave maliciously. “It’s very James Bond-type stuff,” Mr. Hering
A few years ago, he stood with a backpack filled with hacking gear near the
Academy Awards red carpet and discovered that up to 100 of the stars carried, in
their bejeweled clutches and tuxedo pockets, cellphones that he could break
into. He did not break into the phones, but publicized his ability to do so.
He started Lookout in 2007, along with Kevin Mahaffey and James Burgess, to
prevent such intrusions. It has free apps for Android, BlackBerry and Windows
phones, but not for iPhones. They are less vulnerable to attacks, security
experts say, because Apple’s app store, unlike Android’s, screens every app
before accepting it. Also, Android is the fastest-growing mobile platform, so it
is more attractive to hackers.
Google says it regularly scans apps in the Android Market for malware and can
rapidly remove malicious apps from the market and from people’s phones. It
prevents Android apps from accessing other apps and alerts users if an app
accesses its contact list or location, for instance.
Lookout also sells a paid version for $3 a month, which scans apps for privacy
intrusions like accessing a user’s contact list, alerts users if they visit
unsafe mobile Web sites or click on unsafe links in text messages, backs up a
phone’s call history and photos, and lets people lock or delete information from
T-Mobile builds Lookout into its Android phones, Verizon uses its technology to
screen apps in its app store and Sprint markets the app to customers. The
cellphone carriers and Lookout share the revenue when a user upgrades to the
“In mobile security circles, you never wait on it to become a problem and it’s
too late,” said Fared Adib, vice president of product development at Sprint.
Meanwhile, because mobile phone attacks are still relatively rare, Lookout’s
free app includes tools, including a way to back up a user’s contacts and a
feature that enables users to turn on an alarm on their phone when it is lost.
“You’re way more likely to just leave it in a cab than you are going to be
attacked by a hacker,” said Mr. Miller, the security researcher.
And in addition to collecting money from paying subscribers, Lookout plans to
sell the service to businesses. It has a chance because consumers are
increasingly bringing their own technologies into the workplace, and Lookout’s
app is consumer-friendly, said Chenxi Wang, a security analyst at Forrester
“It’s something a lot of I.T. guys are worried about because they have no
control over what consumers are doing and what these apps are doing,” Ms. Wang
Giovanni Vigna, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who
studies security and malware, said it was only a matter of time before mobile
security was as second nature to consumers as computer security.
“The moment malware starts using text messages and expensive minutes people have
to pay for, things will move a lot faster,” he said.
For Hackers, the Next Lock to Pick, NYT, 27.9.2011,
the World’s Eyes and Ears on Protests
February 18, 2011
The New York Times
By JENNIFER PRESTON and BRIAN STELTER
For some of the protesters facing Bahrain’s heavily armed
security forces in and around Pearl Square in Manama, the most powerful weapon
against shotguns and tear gas has been the tiny camera inside their cellphones.
By uploading images of this week’s violence in Manama, the capital, to Web sites
like YouTube and yFrog, and then sharing them on Facebook and Twitter, the
protesters upstaged government accounts and drew worldwide attention to their
A novelty less than a decade ago, the cellphone camera has become a vital tool
to document the government response to the unrest that has spread through the
Middle East and North Africa.
Recognizing the power of such documentation, human rights groups have published
guides and provided training on how to use cellphone cameras effectively.
“You finally have a video technology that can fit into the palm of one person’s
hand, and what the person can capture can end up around the world,” said James
E. Katz, director of the Rutgers Center for Mobile Communication Studies. “This
is the dagger at the throat of the creaky old regimes that, through the
manipulation of these old centralized technologies, have been able to smother
the public’s voice.”
In Tunisia, cellphones were used to capture video images of the first protests
in Sidi Bouzid in December, which helped spread unrest to other parts of the
country. The uploaded images also prompted producers at Al Jazeera, the
satellite television network, to begin focusing on the revolt, which toppled the
Tunisian government in mid-January and set the stage for the demonstrations in
While built-in cameras have been commercially available in cellphones since the
late 1990s, it was not until the tsunami that struck southeast Asia on Dec. 26,
2004, and the London subway bombings the following July that news organizations
began to take serious note of the outpouring of images and videos created and
posted by nonprofessionals. Memorably, in June 2009, cellphone videos of the
shooting death of a young woman in Tehran known as Nedawere uploaded on YouTube,
galvanizing the Iranian opposition and rocketing around the world.
Now, news organizations regularly seek out, sift and publish such images.
Authenticating them remains a challenge, since photos can be easily altered by
computers and old videos can resurface again, purporting to be new. YouTube is
using Storyful, a news aggregation site, to help manage the tens of thousands of
videos that have been uploaded from the Middle East in recent weeks and to
highlight notable ones on the CitizenTube channel.
But journalists are not the only conduits. Cellphone images are increasingly
being shared between users on mobile networks and social networking sites, and
they are being broadly consumed on Web sites that aggregate video and images.
The hosting Web sites have reported increases both in submissions from the
Middle East and in visitors viewing the content.
Among the sites, Bambuser has stood out as a way to stream video. Mans Adler,
the site’s co-founder, said it had 15,000 registered users in Egypt, most of
whom signed up just before last November’s election. He said there were more
than 10,000 videos on the site that were produced around the time of the
election, focusing on activity at the polls, in what appeared to be an organized
Afterward, the level of activity settled down to 800 to 2,000 videos a day, but
then soared back to 10,000 a day again when the mass protests erupted in Egypt
last month, he said.
In Bahrain, the government has blocked access to Bambuser.
At training sessions to help activists use their cameras, Bassem Samir, the
executive director of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, said that improving the
quality of the images and video was a high priority.
“Videos are stories,” said Mr. Samir. “What happened on the 25th and 28th of
January, it’s a story. It’s like a story of people who were asking for freedom
and democracy, and we had, like, five or three minutes to tell it.”
Robert Mackey contributed reporting.
Cellphones Become the
World’s Eyes and Ears on Protests, NYT, 18.2.2011,
Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime
August 24, 2010
THe New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday and Dianne Bates, 40,
juggles three screens. She listens to a few songs on her iPod, then taps out a
quick e-mail on her iPhone and turns her attention to the high-definition
Just another day at the gym.
As Ms. Bates multitasks, she is also churning her legs in fast loops on an
elliptical machine in a downtown fitness center. She is in good company. In gyms
and elsewhere, people use phones and other electronic devices to get work done —
and as a reliable antidote to boredom.
Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with
high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising,
the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.
The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially
productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people
keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that
could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new
Ms. Bates, for example, might be clearer-headed if she went for a run outside,
away from her devices, research suggests.
At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when
rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show
new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their
exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a
persistent memory of the experience.
The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.
“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had,
solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren
Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university,
where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the
brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”
At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly
better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment,
suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.
Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while
exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip,
they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.
“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,”
said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.
Regardless, there is now a whole industry of mobile software developers
competing to help people scratch the entertainment itch. Flurry, a company that
tracks the use of apps, has found that mobile games are typically played for 6.3
minutes, but that many are played for much shorter intervals. One popular game
that involves stacking blocks gets played for 2.2 minutes on average.
Today’s game makers are trying to fill small bits of free time, said Sebastien
de Halleux, a co-founder of PlayFish, a game company owned by the industry giant
“Instead of having long relaxing breaks, like taking two hours for lunch, we
have a lot of these micro-moments,” he said. Game makers like Electronic Arts,
he added, “have reinvented the game experience to fit into micro-moments.”
Many business people, of course, have good reason to be constantly checking
their phones. But this can take a mental toll. Henry Chen, 26, a self-employed
auto mechanic in San Francisco, has mixed feelings about his BlackBerry habits.
“I check it a lot, whenever there is downtime,” Mr. Chen said. Moments earlier,
he was texting with a friend while he stood in line at a bagel shop; he stopped
only when the woman behind the counter interrupted him to ask for his order.
Mr. Chen, who recently started his business, doesn’t want to miss a potential
customer. Yet he says that since he upgraded his phone a year ago to a
feature-rich BlackBerry, he can feel stressed out by what he described as
internal pressure to constantly stay in contact.
“It’s become a demand. Not necessarily a demand of the customer, but a demand of
my head,” he said. “I told my girlfriend that I’m more tired since I got this
In the parking lot outside the bagel shop, others were filling up moments with
their phones. While Eddie Umadhay, 59, a construction inspector, sat in his car
waiting for his wife to grocery shop, he deleted old e-mail while listening to
news on the radio. On a bench outside a coffee house, Ossie Gabriel, 44, a nurse
practitioner, waited for a friend and checked e-mail “to kill time.”
Crossing the street from the grocery store to his car, David Alvarado pushed his
2-year-old daughter in a cart filled with shopping bags, his phone pressed to
He was talking to a colleague about work scheduling, noting that he wanted to
steal a moment to make the call between paying for the groceries and driving.
“I wanted to take advantage of the little gap,” said Mr. Alvarado, 30, a
facilities manager at a community center.
For many such people, the little digital asides come on top of heavy use of
computers during the day. Take Ms. Bates, the exercising multitasker at the
expansive Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center. She wakes up and peeks at her
iPhone before she gets out of bed. At her job in advertising, she spends all day
in front of her laptop.
But, far from wanting a break from screens when she exercises, she says she
couldn’t possibly spend 55 minutes on the elliptical machine without “lots of
things to do.” This includes relentless channel surfing.
“I switch constantly,” she said. “I can’t stand commercials. I have to flip
around unless I’m watching ‘Project Runway’ or something I’m really into.”
Some researchers say that whatever downside there is to not resting the brain,
it pales in comparison to the benefits technology can bring in motivating people
“Exercise needs to be part of our lives in the sedentary world we’re immersed
in. Anything that helps us move is beneficial,” said John J. Ratey, associate
clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and author of
“Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”
But all things being equal, Mr. Ratey said, he would prefer to see people do
their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing
it outside, for your mood and working memory.”
Of the 70 cardio machines on the main floor at Bakar Fitness, 67 have
televisions attached. Most of them also have iPod docks and displays showing
workout performance, and a few have games, like a rope-climbing machine that
shows an animated character climbing the rope while the live human does so too.
A few months ago, the cable TV went out and some patrons were apoplectic. “It
was an uproar. People said: ‘That’s what we’re paying for,’ ” said Leeane
Jensen, 28, the fitness manager.
At least one exerciser has a different take. Two stories up from the main floor,
Peter Colley, 23, churns away on one of the several dozen elliptical machines
without a TV. Instead, they are bathed in sunlight, looking out onto the pool
and palm trees.
“I look at the wind on the trees. I watch the swimmers go back and forth,” Mr.
Colley said. “I usually come here to clear my head.”
Digital Devices Deprive
Brain of Needed Downtime, NYT, 24.8.2010,
Chain for iPhone Highlights Costs in China
The New York Times
By DAVID BARBOZA
China — Last month, while enthusiastic consumers were playing with their new
Apple iPhone 4, researchers in Silicon Valley were engaged in something more
They cracked open the phone’s shell and started analyzing the new model’s
components, trying to unmask the identity of Apple’s main suppliers. These
“teardown reports” provide a glimpse into a company’s manufacturing.
What the latest analysis shows is that the smallest part of Apple’s costs are
here in Shenzhen, where assembly-line workers snap together things like
microchips from Germany and Korea, American-made chips that pull in Wi-Fi or
cellphone signals, a touch-screen module from Taiwan and more than 100 other
But what it does not reveal is that manufacturing in China is about to get far
more expensive. Soaring labor costs caused by worker shortages and unrest, a
strengthening Chinese currency that makes exports more expensive, and inflation
and rising housing costs are all threatening to sharply increase the cost of
making devices like notebook computers, digital cameras and smartphones.
Desperate factory owners are already shifting production away from this
country’s dominant electronics manufacturing center in Shenzhen toward
lower-cost regions far west of here, even deep in China’s mountainous interior.
At the end of June, a manager at Foxconn Technology — one of Apple’s major
contract manufacturers — said the company planned to reduce costs by moving
hundreds of thousands of workers to other parts of China, including the
impoverished Henan Province.
While the labor involved in the final assembly of an iPhone accounts for a small
part of the overall cost — about 7 percent by some estimates — analysts say most
companies in Apple’s supply chain — the chip makers and battery suppliers and
those making plastic moldings and printed circuit boards — depend on Chinese
factories to hold down prices. And those factories now seem likely to pass along
their cost increases.
“Electronics companies are trying to figure out how to deal with the higher
costs,” says Jenny Lai, a technology analyst at CLSA, an investment bank based
in Hong Kong. “They’re already squeezed, so squeezing more costs out of the
system won’t be easy.”
Apple can cope better than most companies because it has fat profit margins of
as much as 60 percent and pricing power to absorb some of those costs. But
makers of personal computers, cellphones and other electronics — including Dell,
Hewlett-Packard and LG — deal with much slimmer profit margins according to
several analysts. “The challenges are going to be much bigger for them,” Ms. Lai
said. Most other industries, from textiles and toys to furniture, are under
considerably more pressure.
One way to understand the changes taking shape in southern China is to follow
the supply chain of the iPhone 4, which was designed by Apple engineers in the
United States, sourced with high-tech components from around the world and
assembled in China. Shipped back to the United States, the iPhone is priced at
$600, though the cost to consumers is less, subsidized by AT&T in exchange for
“China makes very little money on these things,” said Jason Dedrick, a professor
at Syracuse University and an author of several studies of Apple’s supply chain.
Much of the value in high-end products is captured at the beginning and end of
the process, by the brand and the distributors and retailers.
According to the latest teardown report compiled by iSuppli, a market research
firm in El Segundo, Calif., the bulk of what Apple pays for the iPhone 4’s parts
goes to its chip suppliers, like Samsung and Broadcom, which supply crucial
components, like processors and the device’s flash-memory chip.
In the iPhone 4, more than a dozen integrated circuit chips account for about
two-thirds of the cost of producing a single device, according to iSuppli.
Apple, for instance, pays Samsung about $27 for flash memory and $10.75 to make
its (Apple-designed) applications processor; and a German chip maker called
Infineon gets $14.05 a phone for chips that send and receive phone calls and
data. Most of the electronics cost much less. The gyroscope, new to the iPhone
4, was made by STMicroelectronics, based in Geneva, and added $2.60 to the cost.
The total bill of materials on a $600 iPhone — the supplies that go into final
assembly — is $187.51, according to iSuppli.
The least expensive part of the process is manufacturing and assembly. And that
often takes place here in southern China, where workers are paid less than a
dollar an hour to solder, assemble and package products for the world’s
No company does more of it than Foxconn, a division of the Hon Hai Group of
Taiwan, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer.
With 800,000 workers in China alone and contracts to supply Apple, Dell and
H.P., Foxconn is an electronics goliath that also sources supplies, designs
parts and uses its enormous size and military-style efficiency to assemble and
speed a wide range of products to market.
“They’re like Wal-Mart stores,” Professor Dedrick said. “They’re low-margin,
high-volume. They survive by being efficient.”
The world of contract manufacturers is invisible to consumers. But it’s a $250
billion industry, with just a handful of companies like Foxconn, Flextronics and
Jabil Circuit manufacturing and assembling for all the global electronics
They compete fiercely on price to earn small profit margins, analysts say. And
they seek to benefit from tiny operational changes.
When a company is operating on the slimmest of profit margins as contract
manufacturers are, soaring labor costs pose a serious problem. Wages in China
have risen by more than 50 percent since 2005, analysts say, and this year many
factories, under pressure from local governments and workers who feel they have
been underpaid for too long, have raised wages by an extra 20 to 30 percent.
China’s currency has also appreciated sharply against the United States dollar
since 2005, and after a two-year pause by Beijing, economists expect the
renminbi to rise about 3 to 5 percent a year for the next several years.
“It takes 3,000 procedures to assemble an H.P. computer,” says Isaac Wang, an
iSuppli analyst based in China. “If a contract manufacturer can find a way to
save 10 percent of the procedures, then it gets a real good deal.”
Contract manufacturers like Foxconn are now searching for ways to reduce costs.
Foxconn is considering moving inland, where wages are 20 to 30 percent lower.
The company is also spending heavily on manufacturing many of the parts, molds
and metals that are used in computers and handsets, even trying to find larger
and cheaper sources of raw material.
“We either outsource the components manufacturing to other suppliers, or we can
research and manufacture our own components,” says Arthur Huang, a Foxconn
spokesman. “We even have contracts with mines which are located near our
Many analysts are optimistic the big brands will find new innovations to improve
profitability. But within the crowd, there is growing skepticism about China’s
manufacturing model after years of pressing workers to toil six or seven days a
week, 10 to 12 hours a day.
“We’ve concluded Hon Hai’s labor-intensive model is not sustainable,” says Mr.
Wang at iSuppli Research. “Though it can keep hiring 800,000 to one million
workers, the problem is these workers can’t keep working like screws in an
This type of low-end assembly work is also no longer favored in China, analysts
say, because it does not produce big returns for the companies or the country.
“China doesn’t want to be the workshop of the world anymore,” says Pietra
Rivoli, a professor of international business at Georgetown University and
author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy.”
“The value goes to where the knowledge is.”
Bao Beibei and Chen Xiaoduan contributed research.
Supply Chain for iPhone Highlights Costs in China, NYT,
You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That
July 2, 2010
The New York Times
By PAUL VITELLO
An explosion of smart-phone software has placed an arsenal of trivia at the
fingertips of every corner-bar debater, with talking points on sports, politics
and how to kill a zombie. Now it is taking on the least trivial topic of all:
Publishers of Christian material have begun producing iPhone applications that
can cough up quick comebacks and rhetorical strategies for believers who want to
fight back against what they view as a new strain of strident atheism. And a
competing crop of apps is arming nonbelievers for battle.
“Say someone calls you narrow-minded because you think Jesus is the only way to
God,” says one top-selling application introduced in March by a Christian
publishing company. “Your first answer should be: ‘What do you mean by
For religious skeptics, the “BibleThumper” iPhone app boasts that it “allows the
atheist to keep the most funny and irrational Bible verses right in their
pocket” to be “always ready to confront fundamentalist Christians or have a
little fun among friends.”
The war of ideas between believers and nonbelievers has been part of the Western
tradition at least since Socrates. For the most part, it has been waged by
intellectual giants: Augustine, Spinoza, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche.
Yet for good or ill, combatants entering the lists today are mainly everyday
people, drawn in part by the popularity of books like Richard Dawkins’s “The God
Delusion” and Christopher Hitchens’s “God Is Not Great.” The fierceness of their
debate reflects the fractious talk-show culture unintentionally described so
aptly in the title of the Glenn Beck best seller “Arguing With Idiots.”
In a dozen new phone applications, whether faith-based or faith-bashing, the
prospective debater is given a primer on the basic rules of engagement — how to
parry the circular argument, the false dichotomy, the ad hominem attack, the
straw man — and then coached on all the likely flashpoints of contention. Why
Darwinism is scientifically sound, or not. The differences between intelligent
design and creationism, and whether either theory has any merit. The proof that
America was, or was not, founded on Christian principles.
Users can scroll from topic to topic to prepare themselves or, in the heat of a
dispute, search for the point at hand — and the perfect retort.
Software creators on both sides say they are only trying to help others see the
truth. But most applications focus less on scholarly exegesis than on scoring
One app, “Fast Facts, Challenges & Tactics” by LifeWay Christian Resources,
suggests that in “reasoning with an unbeliever” it is sometimes effective to
invoke the “anthropic principle,” which posits, more or less, that the world as
we know it is mathematically too improbable to be an accident.
It offers an example: “The Bible’s 66 books were written over a span of 1,500
years by 40 different authors on three different continents who wrote in three
different languages. Yet this diverse collection has a unified story line and no
“The Atheist Pocket Debater,” on the other hand, asserts that because miracles
like Moses’ parting of the waters are not occurring in modern times, “it is
unreasonable to accept that the events happened” at all. “If you take any
miracle from the Bible,” it explains, “and tell your co-workers at your job that
this recently happened to someone, you will undoubtedly be laughed at.”
These applications and others — like “One-Minute Answers to Skeptics” and
“Answers for Catholics” — appear to be selling briskly, if nowhere near as fast
as the top sellers among the so-called book apps in their iPhone category: ghost
stories, free books and the King James Bible.
Sean McDowell, the editor of “Fast Facts” and some textbooks for Bible students,
said he has become increasingly aware of a skill gap between believers and
nonbelievers, who he feels tend to be instinctively more savvy at arguing.
“Christians who believe, but cannot explain why they believe, become
‘Bible-thumpers’ who seem dogmatic and insecure about their convictions,” he
said. “We have to deal with that.”
“Nowadays, atheists are coming to the forefront at every level of society — from
the top of academia all the way down to the level of the average Joe,” added Mr.
McDowell, a seminary Ph.D. candidate whose phone app was produced by the B&H
Publishing Group, one of the country’s largest distributors of Bibles and
Jason Hagen may be that average guy. A musician and a real estate investor who
lives in Queens, Mr. Hagen decided to write the text for “The Atheist Pocket
Debater” this year after buying his first iPhone and finding dozens of apps for
religious people, but none for nonbelievers like himself.
In creating what became the digital equivalent of a 50,000-word tract, he
gleaned material from the recent antifaith books and got the author Michel
Shermer’s permission to reprint essays from Mr. Shermer’s monthly magazine,
Skeptic. Mr. Hagen pitched his idea to Apple, which referred him to an
independent programmer who helped him develop the application; the company pays
Mr. Hagen 50 cents for each download of the $1.99 app. He said a few thousand
What inspired him, he said, was a lifetime of frustration as the son of a
fundamentalist Christian preacher in rural Virginia.
“I know what people go through, growing up in the culture I grew up in,” said
Mr. Hagen, 39, adding that his father had only recently learned of his true
beliefs. “So I tried to give people the tools they need to defend themselves,
but at the same time not ridicule anybody. Basically, the people on the other
side of the debate are my parents.”
Still, some scholars consider that approach to the debate the least auspicious
way of exploring the mystery of existence.
“It turns it into a game,” said Dr. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological
Seminary, in Manhattan. “Both sides come to the discussion with fixed ideas, and
you have what amounts to a contest between different types of fundamentalism.”
Indeed, the new phone applications seem to promise hours of unrelieved,
“When someone says, ‘There is no truth,’ ” the Fast Facts app advises, “ask
them: ‘Is that true? Is it true there is no truth?’ Because if it’s true that
there is no truth, then it’s false that ‘there is no truth.’ ”
Mr. Hagen’s atheistic app resonates with the same certitude. If Jacob saw the
face of God (in Genesis 32:30), and God said, “No man shall see me and live” (in
Exodus 33:20), then “which one is the liar?” he asks.
His conclusion: “If we know the Bible has content that is false, how can we
believe any of it?”
Unavailing as such exchanges may seem, they are a fact of life in parts of the
country where for some people, taboos against voicing doubt have lifted for the
“I don’t know that there’s more atheists in the country, but there are
definitely more people who are openly atheist, especially on college campuses,”
said the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and author of “Atheism Remix: A
Christian Confronts the New Atheists.” He said students have asked him how to
deal with nonbelievers.
“There is not one student on this campus who doesn’t have at least one person in
his circle of family and friends voicing these ideas,” he said.
If smart-phone software can improve the conversation, all to the good, he said.
“The app store is our new public commons.”
Michael Beaty, chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University, a
Christian university in Waco, Tex., was not so sure.
“We’d be better off if these people were studying Nietzsche and Kant,” he said.
You Say God Is Dead?
There’s an App for That, NYT, 2.7.2010,
Phone Software Takes the Taps Out of Typing
June 20, 2010
The New York Times
By JENNA WORTHAM
SEATTLE — Back in the 1990s, typing out “hello” on most
cellphones required an exhausting 13 taps on the number keys, like so:
That was before the inventor Cliff Kushler, based here in Seattle, and a partner
created software called T9, which could bring that number down to three by
guessing the word being typed.
Now there is a new challenge to typing on phones. More phones are using virtual
keyboards on a touch screen, replacing physical buttons. But pecking out a
message on a small piece of glass is not so easy, and typos are common.
Mr. Kushler thinks he has a solution once again. His new technology, which he
developed with a fellow research scientist, Randy Marsden, is called Swype, and
it allows users to glide a finger across the virtual keyboard to spell words,
rather than tapping out each letter. [Watch a demonstration of Swype on
While many smartphones have features that auto-complete words, correct typos on
the fly and add punctuation, Mr. Kushler is aiming for the next level.
“We’ve squeezed the desktop computer, complete with keyboard and mouse, into
something that fits in a pocket. The information bandwidth has become very
constricted,” he said. “I thought, if we can find a better way to input that
information, it could be something that would really take off.”
Mr. Kushler says Swype is a big breakthrough that could reach billions of
people. That’s not as ambitious as it sounds. To date, the T9 technology has
been built into more than four billion devices worldwide. In 1999 its creators
sold it to AOL for a reported $350 million; it is now owned by the
speech-recognition company Nuance.
Swype’s software detects where a finger pauses and changes direction as it
traces out the pattern of a word. The movements do not have to be precise
because the software calculates which words a user is most likely trying to
Capitalization and double letters can be indicated with a pause or squiggle,
while spacing and punctuation are automatic. Mr. Kushler, who is chief
technology officer of Swype, estimates that the software can improve even the
nimblest text-messager’s pace by 20 to 30 percent.
Swype is now being used on seven smartphones in the United States, across all
major wireless carriers, including the HTC HD2 and the Samsung Omnia II. By the
end of the year, the company says its software will be on more than 50 models
It does not have a deal with Apple, the king of touch-screen phones, but it is
tinkering with software for the iPhone and the iPad and hopes to show it to
To make money, Swype charges phone makers a licensing fee for each device sold.
It also sees opportunity in add-ons.
“We could have custom dictionaries for doctors or lawyers,” said Mike McSherry,
chief executive of the company.
But Swype’s appeal goes beyond mobile phones, said Won Park, director of United
States technology sourcing at Samsung.
“It could become the de facto standard for tablets, next-generation TVs or
next-generation remote controls,” Mr. Park said. “It has tremendous potential.”
Swype’s executives also see its reach extending into public kiosks, smart home
appliances, video game consoles and in-car navigation systems.
Some older input methods for mobile devices were based on scribbled gestures,
like Palm’s Graffiti. But using Graffiti was slower than typing and forced
people to learn an entirely new handwriting format to produce accurate results,
said Gavin Lew, co-founder of User Centric, a consulting firm that studies user
experiences with mobile devices.
“Swype-like applications rely on a well-known layout, the full qwerty keyboard,”
he said. “One simply needs to target a specific letter rather than relying on a
memory of how to draw a letter.”
As cellphones take on the functions of personal computers, Mr. Lew said, the
need increases to quickly enter and search for information on them.
“These devices aren’t just phones anymore, which is why you’re seeing all these
new technologies emerge,” he said. “The more we use them in our daily lives, the
greater the need to be more efficient at inputting information.”
Mr. Kushler began experimenting with input methods in 2001, guided in part by
his earlier work in helping people with disabilities use technology. He took
note of the popularity of devices like those from Palm that used a stylus for
input, but he saw room for improvement. He worked with Mr. Marsden to fine-tune
the Swype software — which took a laborious seven years.
“The most important thing was that it could accurately figure out which word you
wanted to spell,” Mr. Kushler said. “It needed to work no matter what.”
Swype is not the only start-up hoping to profit from innovations in this area.
Many companies are trying to improve the way people type on touch screens, which
are proliferating swiftly. The research firm Gartner expects global sales of
touch-screen devices to reach 326.7 million in 2010, an increase of 97 percent
from last year.
SlideIT, a start-up with offices in the United States and Israel, sells
applications for touch-screen text input with a finger or stylus for Symbian,
Windows Mobile and Android phones. The company says that since February its
software has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
Nuance, a company best known for speech recognition software, acquired a
start-up called ShapeWriter that matches patterns traced onto a touch-screen
keyboard with those of commonly written words. It is negotiating with phone
makers to use its software, called T9 Trace.
Google is trying to let people skip the screen entirely by developing voice- and
image-recognition technologies. Its Goggles application can analyze a photo of
some text and translate it into a different language — no typing required.
Meanwhile, Swype is moving ahead with its own voice recognition feature, which
it expects to add to smartphones this summer.
“We’re all about improving how people input information into their phones,
whether through swiping or speaking,” Mr. McSherry said.
Phone Software Takes
the Taps Out of Typing, NYT, 20.6.2010,
Attached to Technology and Paying a Price
June 6, 2010
The New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO — When one of the most important e-mail messages
of his life landed in his in-box a few years ago, Kord Campbell overlooked it.
Not just for a day or two, but 12 days. He finally saw it while sifting through
old messages: a big company wanted to buy his Internet start-up.
“I stood up from my desk and said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’ ” Mr.
Campbell said. “It’s kind of hard to miss an e-mail like that, but I did.”
The message had slipped by him amid an electronic flood: two computer screens
alive with e-mail, instant messages, online chats, a Web browser and the
computer code he was writing. (View an interactive panorama of Mr. Campbell's
While he managed to salvage the $1.3 million deal after apologizing to his
suitor, Mr. Campbell continues to struggle with the effects of the deluge of
data. Even after he unplugs, he craves the stimulation he gets from his
electronic gadgets. He forgets things like dinner plans, and he has trouble
focusing on his family.
His wife, Brenda, complains, “It seems like he can no longer be fully in the
This is your brain on computers.
Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can
change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being
undermined by bursts of information.
These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and
threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that
researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.
The resulting distractions can have deadly consequences, as when
cellphone-wielding drivers and train engineers cause wrecks. And for millions of
people like Mr. Campbell, these urges can inflict nicks and cuts on creativity
and deep thought, interrupting work and family life.
While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows
otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting
out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.
And scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured
thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off
“The technology is rewiring our brains,” said Nora Volkow, director of the
National Institute of Drug Abuse and one of the world’s leading brain
scientists. She and other researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation
less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but
counterproductive in excess.
Technology use can benefit the brain in some ways, researchers say. Imaging
studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding
information. And players of some video games develop better visual acuity.
More broadly, cellphones and computers have transformed life. They let people
escape their cubicles and work anywhere. They shrink distances and handle
countless mundane tasks, freeing up time for more exciting pursuits.
For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has
exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as
they did in 1960. And they are constantly shifting their attention. Computer
users at work change windows or check e-mail or other programs nearly 37 times
an hour, new research shows.
The nonstop interactivity is one of the most significant shifts ever in the
human environment, said Adam Gazzaley, a neuroscientist at the University of
California, San Francisco.
“We are exposing our brains to an environment and asking them to do things we
weren’t necessarily evolved to do,” he said. “We know already there are
Mr. Campbell, 43, came of age with the personal computer, and he is a heavier
user of technology than most. But researchers say the habits and struggles of
Mr. Campbell and his family typify what many experience — and what many more
will, if trends continue.
For him, the tensions feel increasingly acute, and the effects harder to shake.
The Campbells recently moved to California from Oklahoma to start a software
venture. Mr. Campbell’s life revolves around computers. (View a slide show on
how the Campbells interact with technology.)
He goes to sleep with a laptop or iPhone on his chest, and when he wakes, he
goes online. He and Mrs. Campbell, 39, head to the tidy kitchen in their
four-bedroom hillside rental in Orinda, an affluent suburb of San Francisco,
where she makes breakfast and watches a TV news feed in the corner of the
computer screen while he uses the rest of the monitor to check his e-mail.
Major spats have arisen because Mr. Campbell escapes into video games during
tough emotional stretches. On family vacations, he has trouble putting down his
devices. When he rides the subway to San Francisco, he knows he will be offline
221 seconds as the train goes through a tunnel.
Their 16-year-old son, Connor, tall and polite like his father, recently
received his first C’s, which his family blames on distraction from his gadgets.
Their 8-year-old daughter, Lily, like her mother, playfully tells her father
that he favors technology over family.
“I would love for him to totally unplug, to be totally engaged,” says Mrs.
Campbell, who adds that he becomes “crotchety until he gets his fix.” But she
would not try to force a change.
“He loves it. Technology is part of the fabric of who he is,” she says. “If I
hated technology, I’d be hating him, and a part of who my son is too.”
Mr. Campbell, whose given name is Thomas, had an early start with technology in
Oklahoma City. When he was in third grade, his parents bought him Pong, a video
game. Then came a string of game consoles and PCs, which he learned to program.
In high school, he balanced computers, basketball and a romance with Brenda, a
cheerleader with a gorgeous singing voice. He studied too, with focus,
uninterrupted by e-mail. “I did my homework because I needed to get it done,” he
said. “I didn’t have anything else to do.”
He left college to help with a family business, then set up a lawn mowing
service. At night he would read, play video games, hang out with Brenda and, as
she remembers it, “talk a lot more.”
In 1996, he started a successful Internet provider. Then he built the start-up
that he sold for $1.3 million in 2003 to LookSmart, a search engine.
Mr. Campbell loves the rush of modern life and keeping up with the latest
information. “I want to be the first to hear when the aliens land,” he said,
laughing. But other times, he fantasizes about living in pioneer days when
things moved more slowly: “I can’t keep everything in my head.”
No wonder. As he came of age, so did a new era of data and communication.
At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent
with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares
with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San
Diego. Computer users visit an average of 40 Web sites a day, according to
research by RescueTime, which offers time-management tools.
As computers have changed, so has the understanding of the human brain. Until 15
years ago, scientists thought the brain stopped developing after childhood. Now
they understand that its neural networks continue to develop, influenced by
things like learning skills.
So not long after Eyal Ophir arrived at Stanford in 2004, he wondered whether
heavy multitasking might be leading to changes in a characteristic of the brain
long thought immutable: that humans can process only a single stream of
information at a time.
Going back a half-century, tests had shown that the brain could barely process
two streams, and could not simultaneously make decisions about them. But Mr.
Ophir, a student-turned-researcher, thought multitaskers might be rewiring
themselves to handle the load.
His passion was personal. He had spent seven years in Israeli intelligence after
being weeded out of the air force — partly, he felt, because he was not a good
multitasker. Could his brain be retrained?
Mr. Ophir, like others around the country studying how technology bent the
brain, was startled by what he discovered.
The Myth of Multitasking
The test subjects were divided into two groups: those classified as heavy
multitaskers based on their answers to questions about how they used technology,
and those who were not.
In a test created by Mr. Ophir and his colleagues, subjects at a computer were
briefly shown an image of red rectangles. Then they saw a similar image and were
asked whether any of the rectangles had moved. It was a simple task until the
addition of a twist: blue rectangles were added, and the subjects were told to
ignore them. (Play a game testing how well you filter out distractions.)
The multitaskers then did a significantly worse job than the non-multitaskers at
recognizing whether red rectangles had changed position. In other words, they
had trouble filtering out the blue ones — the irrelevant information.
So, too, the multitaskers took longer than non-multitaskers to switch among
tasks, like differentiating vowels from consonants and then odd from even
numbers. The multitaskers were shown to be less efficient at juggling problems.
(Play a game testing how well you switch between tasks.)
Other tests at Stanford, an important center for research in this fast-growing
field, showed multitaskers tended to search for new information rather than
accept a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work.
Researchers say these findings point to an interesting dynamic: multitaskers
seem more sensitive than non-multitaskers to incoming information.
The results also illustrate an age-old conflict in the brain, one that
technology may be intensifying. A portion of the brain acts as a control tower,
helping a person focus and set priorities. More primitive parts of the brain,
like those that process sight and sound, demand that it pay attention to new
information, bombarding the control tower when they are stimulated.
Researchers say there is an evolutionary rationale for the pressure this barrage
puts on the brain. The lower-brain functions alert humans to danger, like a
nearby lion, overriding goals like building a hut. In the modern world, the
chime of incoming e-mail can override the goal of writing a business plan or
playing catch with the children.
“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain
thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But
we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that
something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”
Mr. Nass says the Stanford studies are important because they show
multitasking’s lingering effects: “The scary part for guys like Kord is, they
can’t shut off their multitasking tendencies when they’re not multitasking.”
Melina Uncapher, a neurobiologist on the Stanford team, said she and other
researchers were unsure whether the muddied multitaskers were simply prone to
distraction and would have had trouble focusing in any era. But she added that
the idea that information overload causes distraction was supported by more and
A study at the University of California, Irvine, found that people interrupted
by e-mail reported significantly increased stress compared with those left to
focus. Stress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory, said Gary
Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Preliminary research shows some people can more easily juggle multiple
information streams. These “supertaskers” represent less than 3 percent of the
population, according to scientists at the University of Utah.
Other research shows computer use has neurological advantages. In imaging
studies, Dr. Small observed that Internet users showed greater brain activity
than nonusers, suggesting they were growing their neural circuitry.
At the University of Rochester, researchers found that players of some
fast-paced video games can track the movement of a third more objects on a
screen than nonplayers. They say the games can improve reaction and the ability
to pick out details amid clutter.
“In a sense, those games have a very strong both rehabilitative and educational
power,” said the lead researcher, Daphne Bavelier, who is working with others in
the field to channel these changes into real-world benefits like safer driving.
There is a vibrant debate among scientists over whether technology’s influence
on behavior and the brain is good or bad, and how significant it is.
“The bottom line is, the brain is wired to adapt,” said Steven Yantis, a
professor of brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University. “There’s no question
that rewiring goes on all the time,” he added. But he said it was too early to
say whether the changes caused by technology were materially different from
others in the past.
Mr. Ophir is loath to call the cognitive changes bad or good, though the impact
on analysis and creativity worries him.
He is not just worried about other people. Shortly after he came to Stanford, a
professor thanked him for being the one student in class paying full attention
and not using a computer or phone. But he recently began using an iPhone and
noticed a change; he felt its pull, even when playing with his daughter.
“The media is changing me,” he said. “I hear this internal ping that says: check
e-mail and voice mail.”
“I have to work to suppress it.”
Kord Campbell does not bother to suppress it, or no longer can.
Interrupted by a Corpse
It is a Wednesday in April, and in 10 minutes, Mr. Campbell has an online
conference call that could determine the fate of his new venture, called Loggly.
It makes software that helps companies understand the clicking and buying
patterns of their online customers.
Mr. Campbell and his colleagues, each working from a home office, are
frantically trying to set up a program that will let them share images with
executives at their prospective partner.
But at the moment when Mr. Campbell most needs to focus on that urgent task,
something else competes for his attention: “Man Found Dead Inside His Business.”
That is the tweet that appears on the left-most of Mr. Campbell’s array of
monitors, which he has expanded to three screens, at times adding a laptop and
On the left screen, Mr. Campbell follows the tweets of 1,100 people, along with
instant messages and group chats. The middle monitor displays a dark field
filled with computer code, along with Skype, a service that allows Mr. Campbell
to talk to his colleagues, sometimes using video. The monitor on the right keeps
e-mail, a calendar, a Web browser and a music player.
Even with the meeting fast approaching, Mr. Campbell cannot resist the tweet
about the corpse. He clicks on the link in it, glances at the article and
dismisses it. “It’s some article about something somewhere,” he says, annoyed by
the ads for jeans popping up.
The program gets fixed, and the meeting turns out to be fruitful: the partners
are ready to do business. A colleague says via instant message: “YES.”
Other times, Mr. Campbell’s information juggling has taken a more serious toll.
A few weeks earlier, he once again overlooked an e-mail message from a
prospective investor. Another time, Mr. Campbell signed the company up for the
wrong type of business account on Amazon.com, costing $300 a month for six
months before he got around to correcting it. He has burned hamburgers on the
grill, forgotten to pick up the children and lingered in the bathroom playing
video games on an iPhone.
Mr. Campbell can be unaware of his own habits. In a two-and-a-half hour stretch
one recent morning, he switched rapidly between e-mail and several other
programs, according to data from RescueTime, which monitored his computer use
with his permission. But when asked later what he was doing in that period, Mr.
Campbell said he had been on a long Skype call, and “may have pulled up an
e-mail or two.”
The kind of disconnection Mr. Campbell experiences is not an entirely new
problem, of course. As they did in earlier eras, people can become so lost in
work, hobbies or TV that they fail to pay attention to family.
Mr. Campbell concedes that, even without technology, he may work or play
obsessively, just as his father immersed himself in crossword puzzles. But he
says this era is different because he can multitask anyplace, anytime.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” he said. “If you’re not careful, your marriage can fall
apart or your kids can be ready to play and you’ll get distracted.”
The Toll on Children
Father and son sit in armchairs. Controllers in hand, they engage in a fierce
video game battle, displayed on the nearby flat-panel TV, as Lily watches.
They are playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a cartoonish animated fight between
characters that battle using anvils, explosives and other weapons.
“Kill him, Dad,” Lily screams. To no avail. Connor regularly beats his father,
prompting expletives and, once, a thrown pillow. But there is bonding and mutual
“He’s a lot more tactical,” says Connor. “But I’m really good at quick
Screens big and small are central to the Campbell family’s leisure time. Connor
and his mother relax while watching TV shows like “Heroes.” Lily has an iPod
Touch, a portable DVD player and her own laptop, which she uses to watch videos,
listen to music and play games.
Lily, a second-grader, is allowed only an hour a day of unstructured time, which
she often spends with her devices. The laptop can consume her.
“When she’s on it, you can holler her name all day and she won’t hear,” Mrs.
Researchers worry that constant digital stimulation like this creates attention
problems for children with brains that are still developing, who already
struggle to set priorities and resist impulses.
Connor’s troubles started late last year. He could not focus on homework. No
wonder, perhaps. On his bedroom desk sit two monitors, one with his music
collection, one with Facebook and Reddit, a social site with news links that he
and his father love. His iPhone availed him to relentless texting with his
When he studied, “a little voice would be saying, ‘Look up’ at the computer, and
I’d look up,” Connor said. “Normally, I’d say I want to only read for a few
minutes, but I’d search every corner of Reddit and then check Facebook.”
His Web browsing informs him. “He’s a fact hound,” Mr. Campbell brags. “Connor
is, other than programming, extremely technical. He’s 100 percent Internet
But the parents worry too. “Connor is obsessed,” his mother said. “Kord says we
have to teach him balance.”
So in January, they held a family meeting. Study time now takes place in a group
setting at the dinner table after everyone has finished eating. It feels, Mr.
Campbell says, like togetherness.
For spring break, the family rented a cottage in Carmel, Calif. Mrs. Campbell
hoped everyone would unplug.
But the day before they left, the iPad from Apple came out, and Mr. Campbell
snapped one up. The next night, their first on vacation, “We didn’t go out to
dinner,” Mrs. Campbell mourned. “We just sat there on our devices.”
She rallied the troops the next day to the aquarium. Her husband joined them for
a bit but then begged out to do e-mail on his phone.
Later she found him playing video games.
The trip came as Mr. Campbell was trying to raise several million dollars for
his new venture, a goal that he achieved. Brenda said she understood that his
pursuit required intensity but was less understanding of the accompanying surge
in video game.
His behavior brought about a discussion between them. Mrs. Campbell said he told
her that he was capable of logging off, citing a trip to Hawaii several years
ago that they called their second honeymoon.
“What trip are you thinking about?” she said she asked him. She recalled that he
had spent two hours a day online in the hotel’s business center.
On Thursday, their fourth day in Carmel, Mr. Campbell spent the day at the beach
with his family. They flew a kite and played whiffle ball.
Connor unplugged too. “It changes the mood of everything when everybody is
present,” Mrs. Campbell said.
The next day, the family drove home, and Mr. Campbell disappeared into his
Technology use is growing for Mrs. Campbell as well. She divides her time
between keeping the books of her husband’s company, homemaking and working at
the school library. She checks e-mail 25 times a day, sends texts and uses
Recently, she was baking peanut butter cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day when
her phone chimed in the living room. She answered a text, then became lost in
Facebook, forgot about the cookies and burned them. She started a new batch, but
heard the phone again, got lost in messaging, and burned those too. Out of
ingredients and shamed, she bought cookies at the store.
She feels less focused and has trouble completing projects. Some days, she
promises herself she will ignore her device. “It’s like a diet — you have good
intentions in the morning and then you’re like, ‘There went that,’ ” she said.
Mr. Nass at Stanford thinks the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it
diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in
the same room.
“The way we become more human is by paying attention to each other,” he said.
“It shows how much you care.”
That empathy, Mr. Nass said, is essential to the human condition. “We are at an
inflection point,” he said. “A significant fraction of people’s experiences are
Technology and Paying a Price, NYT, 6.6.2010,
On Web and iPhone, a Tool to Aid Careful Shopping
June 15, 2009
The New York Times
By CLAIRE CAIN MILLER
SAN FRANCISCO — These days, every skin lotion and dish detergent on store
shelves gloats about how green it is. How do shoppers know which are good for
them and good for the earth?
It was a similar question that hit Dara O’Rourke, a professor of environmental
and labor policy at the University of California, Berkeley, one morning when he
was applying sunscreen to his young daughter’s face.
He realized he did not know what was in the lotion. He went to his office and
quickly discovered that it contained a carcinogen activated by sunlight. It also
contained an endocrine disruptor and two skin irritants. He also discovered that
her soap included a kind of dioxane, a carcinogen, and then found that one of
her brand-name toys was made with lead.
And in looking for the answer, he hatched the idea for a company that used his
esoteric research on supply chain management. “All I do is study this, and I
know nothing about the products I’m bringing into our house and putting in, on
and around our family,” Mr. O’Rourke said. But when he wanted to find that
information, he could. Most consumers would struggle to do so.
Hence GoodGuide, a Web site and iPhone application that lets consumers dig past
the package’s marketing spiel by entering a product’s name and discovering its
health, environmental and social impacts.
“What we’re trying to do is flip the whole marketing world on its head,” said
Mr. O’Rourke. “Instead of companies telling you what to believe, customers are
making the statements to the marketers about what they care about.”
A few years ago, Mr. O’Rourke noticed that at the end of his lectures, audience
members were raising their hands to ask which kind of laptop or sneaker or
lotion to buy. Americans are becoming increasingly interested in what is in the
stuff they buy. (Mr. O’Rourke’s research caught mainstream interest once before
when, in 1997, his report on Nike’s factories in Vietnam led to an uproar over
that company’s labor conditions.)
Although the GoodGuide Web site, which started in September, had only 110,000
unique visitors in April, Mr. O’Rourke is encouraged that it is growing about 25
percent a month. Lately, interest in GoodGuide has begun to extend beyond
techies and the Whole Foods crowd to the Wal-Mart crowd, as Mr. O’Rourke put it.
One sign of that broader appeal: Apple recently featured the app in its iPhone
GoodGuide’s office, in San Francisco, has 12 full-time and 12 part-time
employees, half scientists and half engineers. They have scored 75,000 products
with data from nearly 200 sources, including government databases, studies by
nonprofits and academics, and the research by scientists on the GoodGuide staff.
There are still holes in the data that GoodGuide seeks to fill.
Users enter a product’s name to get scores. For instance, Tom’s of Maine
deodorant gets an 8.6 in part because it has no carcinogens, while Arrid XX
antiperspirant rates a 3.8 because it contains known carcinogens. Another click
leads to information behind the scores, like whether an ingredient causes
reproductive problems or produces toxic waste, or whether the company has women
and racial minorities in executive positions or faces labor lawsuits.
Mr. O’Rourke began gathering data in 2005 with the help of computer science
graduate students at Berkeley and $300,000 from foundations. The do-gooder in
Mr. O’Rourke, however, did not prevent him from seeing the commercial
possibilities of what was being compiled.
Persuading venture capitalists to finance his idea was trickier. In 2007, he was
rejected by dozens of firms over six months. The green tech investors were not
interested in a start-up that did not make alternative energy. The Web investors
were not interested in one that was not going to get 50 million users overnight
and sell ads.
One of the most prominent Internet investors in Silicon Valley walked out of the
room after snidely dismissing GoodGuide with: “Hmm, a noble cause.” GoodGuide
eventually raised $3.7 million from New Enterprise Associates and Draper Fisher
GoodGuide does not sell ads and does not plan to, in part because Mr. O’Rourke
will not take money from a company whose product is rated on the site. It makes
a small fee if customers click on links to Amazon.com or TheFind and buy the
The basic site will always be free, he says, but GoodGuide may someday charge
subscription fees for personalized versions. It also plans to license data to
governments and retailers. It could help a state avoid buying paper cups with
ingredients from a certain country, for example, or enable a drugstore chain to
list a product’s GoodGuide score next to the price tag.
This summer, GoodGuide will add a deeper database for users who want more detail
by, for example, reading the academic studies on which ratings may be based. The
next version of the iPhone will enable people to scan bar codes to get scores,
rather than type in the product’s name.
Some companies, including Clorox and SC Johnson, have agreed in recent months to
reveal more about the ingredients in their products because of gathering
consumer concern. That will enable GoodGuide to fill gaps in its data. Federal
law does not require makers of household products to list all ingredients.
“What we think of now as green is a marketing mirage,” usually based on a single
environmentally friendly practice, said Daniel Goleman, author of “Ecological
Intelligence,” who switched deodorants and shampoos because of GoodGuide. The
site could potentially “have a revolutionary effect on industry and commerce,”
he said, by educating shoppers about the ramifications of buying a particular
That could also be the problem with GoodGuide, said John R. Ehrenfeld, executive
director of the International Society for Industrial Ecology. He worries that by
collapsing dozens of data points into a single number, GoodGuide does not
adequately inform consumers about each consequence of each ingredient.
“Consumers need to be very carefully educated as to what these scores mean if
it’s going to serve the purpose GoodGuide says it does,” he said.
On Web and iPhone, a
Tool to Aid Careful Shopping, NYT, 15.6.2009,
Providing Cellphones for the Poor
June 15, 2009
The New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
John Cobb, 59, a former commercial fisherman who is disabled with cirrhosis
of the liver and emphysema, lives in a studio apartment in Greensboro, N.C., on
a fixed monthly income of $674. He has been hoping to receive more government
assistance, and in February, he did.
It came in the form of a free cellphone and free service.
Mr. Cobb became one of a small but rapidly growing number of low-income
Americans benefiting from a new wrinkle to a decades-old federal law that
provided them with subsidized landline telephone service.
In a twist, wireless carriers are receiving subsidies to provide people like Mr.
Cobb with a phone and typically 68 minutes of talk time each month. It is a form
of wireless welfare that puts a societal stamp on the central role played by the
Mr. Cobb’s cellphone is a Motorola 175. “I feel so much safer when I drive. If I
get sick, I can call someone. If I break down, I can call someone,” Mr. Cobb
said. “It’s a necessity.”
The users are not the only ones receiving government assistance.
Telecommunications industry analysts said the program, while in its infancy,
could benefit mobile phone carriers, who face a steep challenge of their own:
most Americans already own a cellphone, so the poor represent a last untapped
“The low hanging fruit is gone, and the wireless companies are going after the
nooks and crannies,” said Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst with
Nielsen. “Oh, the poor: How can we sign them up?”
Carriers can receive up to $10 a month in government subsidies, sufficient to
cover what amounts to about $3 in service, Mr. Entner said.
Since November, the number of customers receiving free or subsidized wireless
service has doubled to 1.4 million, he said. To be eligible for the program,
known as Lifeline, a person must meet federal low-income guidelines or qualify
for one of a handful of social service programs, including food stamps or
The opportunity has prompted interest from the nation’s biggest carriers,
including Sprint Nextel and AT&T. But at the forefront is a much smaller
company, Tracfone, a Florida provider of prepaid mobile service that has become
the face of the fledgling subsidized cellphone.
Tracfone began providing its service, called SafeLink, in Tennessee in August
and now does so in 16 states, including New York, North Carolina and
Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, according to its Web site. Each time
it enters a market — which generally requires state approval — it runs
television ads telling people how easy it is to get a free Motorola phone, like
The company says the economy makes the audience particularly receptive. “We’ll
read that more people are signing up for food stamps and look at our numbers and
see volume rising,” said Jose Fuentes, director of government relations for
Tracfone. “It’s not scientific proof,” he added. “But we know times are tough.”
He declined to say how many subscribers have signed up. But he said Tracfone,
whose paid service has 10 million subscribers, sees the Lifeline service as an
opportunity to make some money but, more pointedly, to eventually convert the
subsidized customers into paying ones if their fortunes turn around and they no
longer qualify for a free phone.
“It could make for a good business,” Mr. Fuentes said.
According to Nielsen, 90 percent of Americans have at least one cellphone. That
leaves 32 million, including the infirm, still up for grabs. “And the race is on
to get them,” Mr. Entner said.
He said the overwhelming majority of Americans with subsidized wireless service
receive it through Tracfone.
One of them is Leon Simmons, 52, of the Bronx, N.Y., who did stints in the Navy,
at the Post Office and as a security guard before becoming disabled with
emphysema. His wife, who works a minimum wage job at a laundry, heard about the
Tracfone service and he got a phone in April.
The free phone is not, as it is for some others in the program, their sole form
of telecommunications. Out of the roughly $1,600 they make each month after
taxes, they pay $159 for a landline telephone, high-speed Internet and cable
television. But the cellphone, Mr. Simmons says, gives him the flexibility to
tell his wife or daughter his comings and goings or to stay in touch when he is
at the doctor.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, Lifeline service was started
in 1984 to ensure that everyone had telephone service for emergencies. The
Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened competition to new wireline and wireless
More recently, companies, particularly Tracfone, have started pursuing the
wireless opportunity. Still, most of the $800 million in subsidies last year
went for landline service even as more Americans cut the cord in favor of
exclusively using a mobile phone.
The subsidy money comes from a tax applied to phone bills. Carriers seeking
eligibility for it apply to state utility commissions, though several states
have ceded their jurisdiction in the matter to the F.C.C.
The issue has created controversy in some states over how and even whether to
subsidize wireless service. In California, for example, the public utilities
commission plans to debate on Thursday a proposal to extend Lifeline services to
wireless — a matter backed by companies like AT&T and Sprint and T-Mobile.
The Greenlining Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group for low-income residents,
has lobbied the state to “move the California Lifeline program into the 21st
century,” according to public documents provided for the hearing on Thursday.
But State Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who represents a district in Los Angeles,
says the California legislature should ask some tough questions before moving
ahead — particularly if people contemplate making wireless their only form of
communication. Chiefly, he wants to know whether wireless service satisfies
crucial aspects needed in lifeline, like reliability in an emergency.
“What if the phone isn’t charged, or junior doesn’t know how to use it?” Mr.
Across the country, Mr. Simmons from the Bronx says he likes being able to
communicate when he is on the go. And he does not see what all the fuss is about
when it comes to cellphones.
“People walk around with their head stuck into these things, not paying
attention to what’s going on around them,” he said. Even though he thinks these
people look silly, he said, he is going to use his cellphone.
Why not? he said. “It’s free.”
Providing Cellphones for
the Poor, NYT, 15.6.2009,
Cellphones as Credit Cards? Americans Must Wait
January 25, 2009
The New York Times
By LESLIE BERLIN
IMAGINE a technology that lets you pay for products just by waving your
cellphone over a reader.
The technology exists, and, in fact, people in Japan have been using it for the
last five years to pay for everything from train tickets to groceries to candy
in vending machines. And in small-scale trials around the world, including in
Atlanta, New York and the San Francisco Bay Area, nearly everyone has liked
using this form of payment.
But consumers in the United States won’t be able to wave and pay with their
cellphones anytime soon: The myriad companies that must work together to give
the technology to the masses have yet to agree on how to split the resulting
“In Japan it was easier,” explains Gerhard Romen, director for corporate
business development at Nokia. “It was just the major guys saying, ‘This is how
it will be.’ ” A single carrier, NTT DoCoMo, accounted for more than half the
Japanese market at the time the system was rolled out and thus had significant
leverage with financial institutions and handset manufacturers.
This is not the case in the United States. For such payments to work here,
cellphone manufacturers, carriers, financial institutions and retailers must all
play roles. There also must be some sort of intermediary that is trusted by both
the financial institutions and the carriers to activate the virtual credit cards
inside the phone.
One problem is that anyone using a credit card inside a cellphone is
simultaneously a customer of the financial institution and of the carrier. “At
the end of the day, the question is, ‘Who pays whom and how much?’” Mr. Romen
says. “The carriers and the banks need to get their act together on payment.” He
adds that the back-and-forth is a necessary step in the creation of a complex
Short-range technology, called N.F.C., for Near Field Communication, enables a
phone to talk to an electronic reader. It is already in widespread use — though,
outside Japan, often not in phones.
In London, for example, the technology is embedded in the “Oyster” cards used to
access the transportation system. The technology is also used in credit cards
like payWave from Visa and PayPass from MasterCard that are waved over readers,
rather than swiped through them.
For a phone, the technology to store account information securely is advanced
enough so that several different virtual cards can be placed inside the phone;
users can select an account by using the screen.
Account information can be embedded in the telephone or on a SIM card or microSD
card, but no call over a network is needed to send the data. Proximity is the
key: for the payment to work, the phone needs to be within a few centimeters of
The idea of equipping a cellphone with virtual credit cards worries some people;
phones, after all, are easily lost or stolen. But Simon Pugh, group head of the
mobile payments group at MasterCard Worldwide, said that if the phone were lost,
the consumer could call the bank — using another phone, of course — to disable
the account. He also said that consumers could choose to protect the payment
part of their phone with an access code, but he added that the payment would
also be secure even without such measures.
The risk of account fraud from mobile payments is “small,” according to Kevin
Fu, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, who in 2006 uncovered several security holes in credit
cards that are waved rather than swiped. Credit-card companies say that these
problems have been fixed.
Mr. Fu is more concerned about privacy. He says that it may be possible to get
personal information, like a person’s name, from credit-card account data on a
mobile phone. Nonetheless, he predicts that with time, “these N.F.C. phones will
become one of the best ways to do mobile payments.”
It is almost certain that mobile-phone payments will eventually come to the
United States. After all, the technology promises something for everyone
involved: Credit-card companies would have a new way to attract and keep
customers and would save money by no longer sending cards through the mail.
Carriers would enjoy another source of revenue. Retailers would benefit from a
faster checkout process, and may find that people buy more when they pay with
And according to Joanne Trout, vice president of worldwide communications for
MasterCard Worldwide, there will not be an additional fee for consumers to use
credit cards on their phones.
Consumers, too, would probably like using their cellphone credit cards, if
wave-and-pay were secure and widely available. It may be another instance of the
phenomenon, so common in technology, of not knowing we want something until we
have it. “People really do like it,” said Key Pousttchi, head of the Wi-mobile
research group at the University of Augsburg in Germany. “It is easy. It is
convenient. It helps you.”
The group has surveyed thousands of people who have participated in mobile-phone
trials around the world.
Mr. Pousttchi says he expects that by 2012, most phones will contain the N.F.C.
technology that makes wave-and-pay possible. But he cautions that this doesn’t
necessarily mean that Americans will be paying with their cellphones in three
years. For that to happen, all the players will have to work together to define
standards, determine revenue-sharing, expand the network of electronic readers
and think through the other parts of what he calls “this 2,000-piece puzzle.”
The NFC Forum, an industry association based in Wakefield, Mass., whose 150
members include manufacturers, carriers and financial institutions, is a good
start. Mr. Romen and Mr. Pugh are both vice chairmen of the group.
Nonetheless, Mr. Pousttchi warns, “it is completely possible nothing will happen
in mobile payments in the next five years if everybody keeps thinking only about
their own piece of the puzzle.”
Leslie Berlin is project historian for the Silicon Valley Archives at Stanford.
Cellphones as Credit
Cards? Americans Must Wait, NYT, 25.1.2009,
BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe
The New York Times
By JEFF ZELENY
— Sorry, Mr. President. Please surrender your BlackBerry.
Those are seven words President-elect Barack Obama is dreading but expecting to
hear, friends and advisers say, when he takes office in 65 days.
For years, like legions of other professionals, Mr. Obama has been all but
addicted to his BlackBerry. The device has rarely been far from his side — on
most days, it was fastened to his belt — to provide a singular conduit to the
outside world as the bubble around him grew tighter and tighter throughout his
“How about that?” Mr. Obama replied to a friend’s congratulatory e-mail message
on the night of his victory.
But before he arrives at the White House, he will probably be forced to sign
off. In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential
Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately
up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas. A decision has not been made
on whether he could become the first e-mailing president, but aides said that
For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of
the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the
very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr.
Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st
century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk
in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.
Mr. Obama has not sent a farewell dispatch from the personal e-mail account he
uses — he has not changed his address in years — but friends say the frequency
of correspondence has diminished. In recent days, though, he has been seen
typing his thoughts on transition matters and other items on his BlackBerry,
bypassing, at least temporarily, the bureaucracy that is quickly encircling him.
A year ago, when many Democratic contributors and other observers were worried
about his prospects against Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, they reached out to
him directly. Mr. Obama had changed his cellphone number, so e-mail remained the
most reliable way of communicating directly with him.
“His BlackBerry was constantly crackling with e-mails,” said David Axelrod, the
campaign’s chief strategist. “People were generous with their advice — much of
Mr. Obama is the second president to grapple with the idea of this self-imposed
isolation. Three days before his first inauguration, George W. Bush sent a
message to 42 friends and relatives that explained his predicament.
“Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to
embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace,” Mr.
Bush wrote from his old address, G94B@aol.com. “This saddens me. I have enjoyed
conversing with each of you.”
But in the interceding eight years, as BlackBerrys have become ubiquitous — and
often less intrusive than a telephone, the volume of e-mail has multiplied and
the role of technology has matured. Mr. Obama used e-mail to stay in constant
touch with friends from the lonely confines of the road, often sending messages
like “Sox!” when the Chicago White Sox won a game. He also relied on e-mail to
keep abreast of the rapid whirl of events on a given campaign day.
Mr. Obama’s memorandums and briefing books were seldom printed out and delivered
to his house or hotel room, aides said. They were simply sent to his BlackBerry
for his review. If a document was too long, he would read and respond from his
laptop computer, often putting his editing changes in red type.
His messages to advisers and friends, they say, are generally crisp, properly
spelled and free of symbols or emoticons. The time stamps provided a window into
how much he was sleeping on a given night, with messages often being sent to
staff members at 1 a.m. or as late as 3 a.m. if he was working on an important
He received a scaled-down list of news clippings, with his advisers wanting to
keep him from reading blogs and news updates all day long, yet aides said he
still seemed to hear about nearly everything in real time. A network of friends
— some from college, others from Chicago and various chapters in his life —
promised to keep him plugged in.
Not having such a ready line to that network, staff members who spent countless
hours with him say, is likely to be a challenge.
“Given how important it is for him to get unfiltered information from as many
sources as possible, I can imagine he will miss that freedom,” said Linda
Douglass, a senior adviser who traveled with the campaign.
Mr. Obama has, for at least brief moments, been forced offline. As he sat down
with a small circle of advisers to prepare for debates with Senator John McCain,
one rule was quickly established: No BlackBerrys. Mr. Axelrod ordered everyone
to put their devices in the center of a table during work sessions. Mr. Obama,
who was known to sneak a peek at his, was no exception.
In the closing stages of the campaign, as exhaustion set in and the workload
increased, aides said Mr. Obama spent more time reading than responding to
messages. As his team prepares a final judgment on whether he can keep using
e-mail, perhaps even in a read-only fashion, several authorities in presidential
communication said they believed it was highly unlikely that he would be able to
Diana Owen, who leads the American Studies program at Georgetown University,
said presidents were not advised to use e-mail because of security risks and
fear that messages could be intercepted.
“They could come up with some bulletproof way of protecting his e-mail and
digital correspondence, but anything can be hacked,” said Ms. Owen, who has
studied how presidents communicate in the Internet era. “The nature of the
president’s job is that others can use e-mail for him.”
She added: “It’s a time burner. It might be easier for him to say, ‘I can’t be
on e-mail.’ ”
Should Mr. Obama want to break ground and become the first president to fire off
e-mail messages from the West Wing and wherever he travels, he could turn to Al
Gore as a model. In the later years of his vice presidency, Democrats said, Mr.
Gore used a government e-mail address and a campaign address in his race against
The president, though, faces far greater public scrutiny. And even if he does
not wear a BlackBerry on his belt or carry a cellphone in his pocket, he almost
certainly will not lack from a variety of new communication.
On Saturday, as Mr. Obama broadcast the weekly Democratic radio address, it came
with a twist. For the first time, it was also videotaped and will be archived on
Lose the BlackBerry? Yes He Can, Maybe, NYT, 16.11.2008,
Tell-All PCs and Phones Transforming Divorce
September 15, 2007
The New York Times
By BRAD STONE
The age-old business of breaking up has taken a decidedly
Orwellian turn, with digital evidence like e-mail messages, traces of Web site
visits and mobile telephone records now permeating many contentious divorce
Spurned lovers steal each other’s BlackBerrys. Suspicious spouses hack into each
other’s e-mail accounts. They load surveillance software onto the family PC,
sometimes discovering shocking infidelities.
Divorce lawyers routinely set out to find every bit of private data about their
clients’ adversaries, often hiring investigators with sophisticated digital
forensic tools to snoop into household computers.
“In just about every case now, to some extent, there is some electronic
evidence,” said Gaetano Ferro, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial
Lawyers, who also runs seminars on gathering electronic evidence. “It has
completely changed our field.”
Privacy advocates have grown increasingly worried that digital tools are giving
governments and powerful corporations the ability to peek into peoples’ lives as
never before. But the real snoops are often much closer to home.
“Google and Yahoo may know everything, but they don’t really care about you,”
said Jacalyn F. Barnett, a Manhattan-based divorce lawyer. “No one cares more
about the things you do than the person that used to be married to you.”
Most of these stories do not end amicably. This year, a technology consultant
from the Philadelphia area, who did not want his name used because he has a
teenage son, strongly suspected his wife was having an affair. Instead of
confronting her, the husband installed a $49 program called PC Pandora on her
computer, a laptop he had purchased.
The program surreptitiously took snapshots of her screen every 15 seconds and
e-mailed them to him. Soon he had a comprehensive overview of the sites she
visited and the instant messages she was sending. Since the program captured her
passwords, the husband was also able to get access to and print all the e-mail
messages his wife had received and sent over the previous year.
What he discovered ended his marriage. For 11 months, he said, she had been
seeing another man — the parent of one of their son’s classmates at a private
school outside Philadelphia. The husband said they were not only arranging
meetings but also posting explicit photos of themselves on the Web and
soliciting sex with other couples.
The husband, who like others in this article was reached through his lawyer,
said the decision to invade his wife’s privacy was not an easy one. “If I were
to tell you I have a pure ethical conscience over what I did, I’d be lying,” he
said. But he also pointed to companies that have Internet policies giving them
the right to read employee e-mail messages. “When you’re in a relationship like
a marriage, which is emotional as well as, candidly, a business, I think you can
look at it in the same way,” he said.
When considering invading their spouse’s privacy, husbands and wives cite an
overriding desire to find out some secret. One woman described sensing last year
that her husband, a Manhattan surgeon, was distant and overly obsessed with his
She drew him a bubble bath on his birthday and then pounced on the device while
he was in the tub. In his e-mail messages, she found evidence of an affair with
a medical resident, including plans for them to meet that night.
A few weeks later, after the couple had tried to reconcile, the woman gained
access to her husband’s America Online account (he had shared his password with
her) and found messages from a mortgage company. It turned out he had purchased
a $3 million Manhattan condominium, where he intended to continue his liaison.
“Every single time I looked at his e-mail I felt nervous,” the woman said. “But
I did anyway because I wanted to know the truth.”
Being on the receiving end of electronic spying can be particularly disturbing.
Jolene Barten-Bolender, a 45-year-old mother of three who lives in Dix Hills,
N.Y., said that she was recently informed by AOL and Google, on the same day,
that the passwords had been changed on two e-mail accounts she was using,
suggesting that someone had gained access and was reading her messages. Last
year, she discovered a Global Positioning System, or G.P.S., tracking device in
a wheel well of the family car.
She suspects her husband of 24 years, whom she is divorcing.
“It makes me feel nauseous and totally violated,” Ms. Barten-Bolender said,
speculating that he was trying to find out if she was seeing anyone. “Once
anything is written down, you have to know it could be viewed by someone looking
to invade or hurt you.”
Ms. Barten-Bolender’s husband and his lawyer declined to discuss her
Divorce lawyers say their files are filled with cases like these. Three-quarters
of the cases of Nancy Chemtob, a divorce lawyer in Manhattan, now involve some
kind of electronic communications. She says she routinely asks judges for court
orders to seize and copy the hard drives in the computers of her clients’
spouses, particularly if there is an opportunity to glimpse a couple’s full
financial picture, or a parent’s suitability to be the custodian of the
Lawyers must navigate a complex legal landscape governing the admissibility of
this kind of electronic evidence. Different laws define when it is illegal to
get access to information stored on a computer in the home, log into someone
else’s e-mail account, or listen in on phone calls.
Divorce lawyers say, however, if the computer in question is shared by the whole
family, or couples have revealed their passwords to each other, reading a
spouse’s e-mail messages and introducing them as evidence in a divorce case is
Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin, a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer, describes one client, a man,
who believed his wife was engaging in secret online correspondence. He found
e-mail messages to a lover in Australia that she had sent from a private AOL
account on the family computer. Her lawyer then challenged the use of this
evidence in court. Ms. Gold-Bikin’s client won the dispute and an advantageous
Lawyers say the only communications that are consistently protected in a
spouse’s private e-mail account are the messages to and from the lawyers
themselves, which are covered by lawyer-client privilege.
Perhaps for this reason, divorce lawyers as a group are among the most
pessimistic when it comes to assessing the overall state of privacy in the
“I do not like to put things on e-mail,” said David Levy, a Chicago divorce
lawyer. “There’s no way it’s private. Nothing is fully protected once you hit
the send button.”
Ms. Chemtob added, “People have an expectation of privacy that is completely
James Mulvaney agrees. A private investigator, Mr. Mulvaney now devotes much of
his time to poking through the computer records of divorcing spouses, on behalf
of divorce lawyers. One of his specialties is retrieving files, like bank
records and e-mail messages to secret lovers, that a spouse has tried to delete.
“Every keystroke on your computer is there, forever and ever,” Mr. Mulvaney
He had one bit of advice. “The only thing you can truly erase these things with
is a specialty Smith & Wesson product,” he said. “Throw your computer into the
air and play skeet with it.”
Tell-All PCs and
Phones Transforming Divorce, NYT, 15.9.2007,
Lost: These Phones Can Find You
The New York Times
By LAURA M. HOLSON
questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cellphone technology: Do
you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given
time? And do you want to know where they are?
Obvious benefits come to mind. Parents can take advantage of the Global
Positioning System chips embedded in many cellphones to track the whereabouts of
their phone-toting children.
And for teenagers and 20-somethings, who are fond of sharing their comings and
goings on the Internet, youth-oriented services like Loopt and Buddy Beacon are
a natural next step.
Sam Altman, the 22-year-old co-founder of Loopt, said he came up with the idea
in early 2005 when he walked out of a lecture hall at Stanford.
“Two hundred students all pulled out their cellphones, called someone and said,
‘Where are you?’ ” he said. “People want to connect.”
But such services point to a new truth of modern life: If G.P.S. made it harder
to get lost, new cellphone services are now making it harder to hide.
“There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people
who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society,” said Kevin
Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San
“We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each
other,” he said. “There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with.”
But the practical applications outweigh the worries for some converts.
Kyna Fong, a 24-year-old Stanford graduate student, uses Loopt, offered by
Sprint Nextel. For $2.99 a month, she can see the location of friends who also
have the service, represented by dots on a map on her phone, with labels
identifying their names. They can also see where she is.
One night last summer she noticed on Loopt that friends she was meeting for
dinner were 40 miles away, and would be late. Instead of waiting, Ms. Fong
arranged her schedule to arrive when they did. “People don’t have to ask ‘Where
are you?’” she said.
Ms. Fong can control whom she shares the service with, and if at any point she
wants privacy, Ms. Fong can block access. Some people are not invited to join —
like her mother.
“I don’t know if I’d want my mom knowing where I was all the time,” she said.
Some situations are not so clear-cut. What if a spouse wants some time alone and
turns off the service? Why on earth, their better half may ask, are they doing
What if a boss asks an employee to use the service?
So far, the market for social-mapping is nascent — users number in the hundreds
of thousands, industry experts estimate.
But almost 55 percent of all mobile phones sold today in the United States have
the technology that makes such friend-and- family-tracking services possible,
according to Current Analysis, which follows trends in technology.
So far, it is most popular, industry executives say, among the college set.
But others have found different uses. Mr. Altman said one customer bought it to
keep track of a parent with Alzheimer’s. Helio, a mobile phone service provider
that offers Buddy Beacon, said some small-business owners use it to track
Consumers can turn off their service, making them invisible to people in their
social-mapping network. Still, the G.P.S. service embedded in the phone means
that your whereabouts are not a complete mystery.
“There is a Big Brother component,” said Charles S. Golvin, a wireless analyst
at Forrester Research. “The thinking goes that if my friends can find me, the
telephone company knows my location all the time, too.”
Phone companies say they are aware of the potential problems such services could
If a friend-finding service is viewed as too intrusive, said Mark Collins, vice
president for consumer data at AT&T’s wireless unit, “that is a negative for
us.” Loopt and similar services say they do not keep electronic records of
Mr. Altman of Loopt said that to protect better against unwelcome prying by,
say, a former friend, Loopt users are sent text messages at random times, asking
if they recognize a certain friend. If not, that person’s viewing ability is
Clay Harris, a 25-year-old freelance marketing executive in Memphis, says he
uses Helio’s Buddy Beacon mostly to keep in touch with his friend Gregory Lotz.
One night when Mr. Lotz was returning from a trip, Mr. Harris was happy to see
his friend show up unannounced at a bar where he and some other friends had
“He had tried to reach me, but I didn’t hear my phone ring,” Mr. Harris said.
“He just showed up and I thought, ‘Wow, this is great.’”
He would never think to block Mr. Lotz. But he would think twice before inviting
a girlfriend into his social-mapping network. “Most definitely a girl would ask
and wonder why I was blocking her,” he said.
Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You, NYT, 23.10.2007,
iPhone Has a Keyboard, but It’s Not Mechanical
June 13, 2007
The New York Times
By JOHN MARKOFF
FRANCISCO, June 12 — If there is a billion-dollar gamble underlying Apple’s
iPhone, it lies in what this smart cellphone does not have: a mechanical
As the clearest expression yet of the Apple chief executive’s spartan design
aesthetic, the iPhone sports only one mechanical button, to return a user to the
home screen. It echoes Steven P. Jobs’s decree two decades ago that a computer
mouse should have a single button. (Most computer mice these days have two.) His
argument was that one button ensured that it would be impossible to push the
The keyboard is built into other phones, those designed for businesspeople as
well as those for teenagers. But the lack of a keyboard could be seen as a
clever industrial design solution. It has permitted the iPhone to have a
3.5-inch screen. A big screen makes the phone attractive for alternative uses
like watching movies and that could open up new revenue streams for Apple and
its partner, AT&T.
The downside is that typing is done by pecking on the screen with thumbs or
fingers, something hardly anyone outside of Apple has experienced yet. “The
tactile feedback of a mechanical keyboard is a pretty important aspect of human
interaction,” said Bill Moggeridge, a founder of Ideo, an industrial design
company in Palo Alto, Calif. “If you take that away you tend to be very
Mr. Jobs and other Apple executives argue that the keyboard that pops up
onscreen will be a painless compromise. The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard has a
dictionary-lookup feature that tries to predict the word being typed, catching
errors as they are made.
That, of course, requires users to learn the new system, a task that Apple
executives acknowledge may require several days. Last month at an industry
conference, Mr. Jobs dismissed doubts about the decision to rely on a virtual
keyboard, saying that users only had to learn to trust the keyboard, “and then
you will fly.”
Yet in the days before the phone is scheduled to go on sale at Apple and AT&T
stores around the country, designers and marketers of electronic devices centers
are having a spirited debate about whether consumers will have the patience to
overcome the hurdle that will be required to type without the familiar tactile
feedback offered by conventional keyboards.
Apple is making other compromises. The AT&T Edge cellular network transmits data
more slowly than those of rivals, but the iPhone will still be equipped with
Wi-Fi for Web access. The phone will not accept memory cards.
The keyboard, however, is the biggest worry. At worst, customers will return the
products. Currently AT&T gives customers 30 days to return handsets, but it is
not clear whether it will maintain that policy for the iPhone. Any significant
number of returns of the iPhone could conceivably undermine what until now has
been a remarkable promotional blitzkrieg that culminates in the phone’s release
“There has never been a massively successful consumer device based solely on a
touch screen,” warned Sky Dayton, chief executive of Helio, a cellular network
service that has recently introduced an innovative handset that integrates
Google maps with a G.P.S. system and another feature that physically locates
friends using Helio phones.
Palm was successful, he noted, despite requiring the Palm Pilot’s users to enter
text with a stylus using its own writing system called Graffiti. But the company
eventually retreated and put a mechanical keyboard on its Treo smartphones.
“Texting” is central to an entire generation of people, Mr. Dayton argued, and
Apple is taking a risk in not making that a central design feature. “There is a
generation of users who are always online and who don’t communicate the way
their parents did,” he said. “They’re e-mailing; they’re texting; they’re
To be sure, Apple has had its share of product design hits and misses both under
Mr. Jobs’s command and while he was in exile from the computer maker from 1985
to 1997. The Apple III was a well-designed computer, but was undermined by
shoddy manufacturing. Several years later, the Lisa, the first commercial PC
with a graphical user interface, and an infamously poorly designed “Twiggy”
floppy disk drive, generated excitement but failed commercially. More recently,
the Apple Cube, which was perhaps Mr. Jobs’s most daring design statement, drew
critical praise and few sales.
But the comparison that could haunt the iPhone most comes from the specter of a
former Apple chief executive, John Sculley, and his Newton. Billed as the
original “personal digital assistant,” the Newton relied on a stylus for
entering text. When users fumbled with its character recognition system, the
machine went from hype to humiliation.
Although a small team of dedicated Apple engineers ultimately improved the
technology, it was too late to save the Newton as a product.
Few industrial designers believe that the iPhone will suffer the Newton’s fate.
Indeed, many leading designers argue that even before the iPhone has reached the
market, it has changed consumer electronics industry standards irrevocably.
Dispensing with a physical keyboard has given software an increased importance
over hardware in product design, said Mark Rolston, senior vice president at
Frog Design, an industrial design consulting firm.
A result, he said, has been a richer conversation between Frog’s designers and
customers because the software presents a much wider range of options for
features. “This is great for us because the carriers weren’t listening,” Mr.
Rolston said. “They were slightly adjusting the soft-keys.”
Overnight that has changed and that has resulted in significant new business for
design companies like Frog. “We’re being engaged by many more customers with
more aggressive ideas about what to do,” he said.
Mr. Rolston believes that Mr. Jobs will get away with his gamble. “They took a
risk and it’s a bold step for the industry,” he said. “This is a worthwhile
Indeed, the handful of users outside Apple who have been able to play with the
hand-held device report that the quirky company has made an important step
forward in the art of controlling computer systems. It may teach a new
generation of technology users to use their fingers rather than a mouse — a
four-decade-old technology — as a pointing and command device.
Apple’s multitouch technology — which permits control gestures with one or more
fingers or thumbs — and which is now also being explored by a variety of other
companies, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and others, is a much more
direct way to interact with a computer. Software designers have injected virtual
“physics” into the user’s experience. For example, sliding a finger along the
screen in a directory will cause the index to slide as if it were a piece of
paper on a flat surface.
Mr. Jobs’s new phone may resonate with a new kind of mobile user, said Donald A.
Norman, a product designer who is co-director of the Segal Design Institute at
Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
“Apple says, ‘We’re not selling to the person who lives on his BlackBerry, we’re
selling to the person who listens to music and surfs the Web,’ ” he said.
And even Mr. Jobs’s competitors are rooting for him to win.
“When I first saw iPhone I was very excited,” said Benjamin Bederson, co-founder
and vice president for client technologies at ZenZui, a Seattle-based mobile
phone software company, which is commercializing technologies that were
developed at Microsoft’s research labs. “It will raise the expectations. I think
that consumers have had the central assumption that cellphone experiences are
terrible and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
That iPhone Has a Keyboard, but It’s Not Mechanical, NYT, 13.6.2007,
Cellphone as Tracker: X Marks Your Doubts
November 19, 2006
The New York Times
By RANDALL STROSS
THE diminutive cellphone is turning out to be the most clever
of devices. As it connects to more networks, stores more kinds of data, delivers
more kinds of entertainment — wherever we happen to be — it effectively becomes
the most personal computer we own.
Now, as more of the handsets are equipped to use the Global Positioning System,
the satellite-based navigation network, we are on the verge of enjoying services
made possible only when information is matched automatically to location. Maps
on our phones will always know where we are. Our children can’t go missing.
Movie listings will always be for the closest theaters; restaurant suggestions,
organized by proximity. We will even have the option of choosing free cellphone
service if we agree to accept ads focused on nearby businesses.
None of this entails anything exotic. The technology has been ready for a while,
but not the customers. Prospective benefits have seemed paltry when placed
against privacy concerns. Who will have access to our location information —
present and past? Can carriers assure us that their systems are impervious to
threats from stalkers and other malicious intruders or neglectful employees — or
from government snoops without search warrants? Contemplating worst-case
scenarios, our hands holding these very mobile devices have been frozen,
hesitant to turn the location beacon on. Are we finally ready to flip the
Two wireless providers recently made separate announcements about new
positioning services, betting that the time has arrived. Two weeks ago, Helio —
a wireless service owned jointly by SK Telecom, a South Korean cellphone
company, and EarthLink, the American Internet service provider — introduced the
Buddy Beacon in its new phone, the Drift, which costs $225. With the press of a
button, the Drift shows on a map the location of up to 25 friends — if each is
also carrying a $225 Drift.
Last week, Boost Mobile, a unit of Sprint, and its technology partner, Loopt,
unveiled Boost Loopt, a similar offering described as a “social mapping
Both Helio and Boost Mobile market exclusively and unapologetically to a young
clientele. “We’re not going after soccer moms and businesspeople,” Helio’s
C.E.O., the veteran entrepreneur Sky Dayton, said last week. Freedom — to be a
hedonist — is the leitmotif in its materials. “Have a party,” Helio’s Web site
says invitingly, “not a search party.”
The Buddy Beacon serves at your pleasure, for your pleasure. “Turn it on when
you’re up for a party;” turn it off when you need “a night of privacy.” A press
release anticipates your feeling the urge to “slip out the back of the club into
the V.I.P. room.” (Yes! All the time!) In such instances, the beacon goes off.
Social mapping on cellphones is not all that new; it is just the next stage in
social networking. Dodgeball.com, which has been operating since 2004, should be
credited as a predecessor: a Dodgeball member uses a cellphone to send in a text
message about his or her whereabouts, and notifications are then sent
automatically to the member’s circle of friends. ( Google acquired the company
But Dodgeball can’t update a change of location automatically. With
G.P.S.-equipped handsets, the Beacon Buddy could remedy this shortcoming, but
Helio elected not to enable automatic updates: a user must push a button to
refresh the phone’s location. “We didn’t want a situation where someone left
their Buddy Beacon on and didn’t know it,” Mr. Dayton said. When the marketplace
is more familiar with the service, he added, it may introduce an auto-updating
Boost Loopt’s service has offered its first-generation users an option to
automatically send current coordinates every 15 to 20 minutes. Anticipating
potential security problems, it urges its users to admit only “good and trusted
friends” into the closed circle that can follow their movements.
Loopt suggests that all prospective invitees pass a number of tests of
trustworthiness: Do you have their phone numbers? Do you know where they live
and where they grew up? Would you lend them your car? Would you give them your
house keys to feed your dog?
Verizon Wireless has decided to hold off on social mapping. The only
G.P.S.-based program it now offers is a navigation service. Jeffrey Nelson, a
company spokesman, said Verizon was interested in social networks but felt the
need to “give a lot of thought to privacy and safety issues.”
Using a hypothetical 16-year-old customer to illustrate risks, Mr. Nelson said
it was one thing for the customer to imprudently send out her e-mail address to
a stranger, and still another for her phone to reveal her home’s location. “If
suddenly a bright light goes on above your house, saying, ‘This is me; this is
where I am,’ you’ve lost privacy and anonymity in your home,” he said.
The tattered condition of the wireless industry’s reputation for privacy
protection — which was not helped by the recent Hewlett-Packard pretexting
scandal involving phone logs — is not entirely the industry’s doing. Not so long
ago, industry players acted together to try to secure the Federal Communications
Commission’s help to tighten — yes, tighten — rules governing the privacy of
location information. It was the F.C.C. that let us all down, then and now.
Six years ago, the business potential of so-called mobile commerce was making
investors swoon the way online social networks bedazzle them today. To many,
this m-commerce — from on-the-go “concierge services” to location-specific ads —
was poised to exceed PC-based e-commerce. And that was when there were 106
million cellphones in use in the United States, versus 227 million today,
according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, a trade group.
But the potential of m-commerce could be realized only if consumers had ironclad
assurance that, except in emergencies, the service provider would never use
location information unless they expressly gave consent. The industry
acknowledged that customers who received unsolicited ads keyed to their
movements would have perfectly legitimate privacy concerns.
CTIA-The Wireless Association petitioned the F.C.C. to draft rules guaranteeing
basic privacy protections, like requiring that customers give explicit consent
before any information was disclosed to third parties and that all location
information be protected from unauthorized access. When the F.C.C. considered
the request in 2002, it declined to act, arguing that existing legislation was
One commissioner, Michael J. Copps, dissented. He pointed out the rarity of a
group in this industry seeking stricter rules for its members. That it would do
so, he said, showed that the statutory language had not resolved all questions
relating to the handling of customers’ location information.
The Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, known as the 911 Act,
requires that customers deliberately choose to have location information
collected. But some wondered whether customers gave “implied consent” just by
using the service.
Even the definition of what constituted “location information” was in dispute.
Cingular maintained that the location of the nearest cell tower was not,
strictly speaking, the customer’s location information, and so was not
encompassed by the 911 Act.
Mr. Copps pleaded that the commission “put in some sweat now” to create the
clarifying rules “before consumers make up their minds about whether they trust
location practices.” His plea went unheeded; the F.C.C. has remained inert.
LEGISLATION that provides stronger protection of location
information will come, said David M. Mark, a professor of geography at the State
University of New York, Buffalo. But, he added, it would probably take a
“horrific incident involving a celebrity” before legislators paid attention.
The Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 was passed after the video rental
records of the Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork were made public. Let us
hope that no one, famous or not, will be hurt because a cellphone’s location was
improperly leaked; one famous person in one headline, however, could lead to
swift passage of a Location Privacy Protection Act of 2007.
The stronger the protection of cellphone location data, the faster the public
will accept the new positioning services. The best policy would be to require by
statute that carriers continually purge location data. If location history is
never stored, the possibility of mishandling or theft of that information is
When families adopt positioning cellphone services, a new problem will likely
emerge, Professor Mark said. The very act of turning off one’s location beacon
may itself be seen as suspicious. “If you don’t want your location known,” he
asked, “does that mean you intend to do something improper?”
Randall Stross is an author based in Silicon Valley
and a professor of
business at San Jose State University.
Cellphone as Tracker: X Marks Your Doubts, NYT, 19.11.2006,
From The Guardian Archive
Starting the oven by phone
November 14 1927
Recently New York messages described a demonstration of the control of
machinery by sound transmitted by the telephone which was given at the offices
of the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.
By this system, it will be recalled, the Water Supply Headquarters in New York
is able to find the number of feet of water in a reservoir without having a
The interrogator rings up the reservoir and sets in motion by sound over the
telephone, a device which "replies" by giving a characteristic note so many
times, in accordance with the height of the water, which it is mechanically
Mr.R.J. Wensley, the inventor of the device, explains (in a Westinghouse
statement just received) that while it is theoretically possible to construct
sound sensitive relays that will respond to spoken words (at the Westinghouse
East Pittsburg laboratories there is a door which will open to the call of
"Open, sesame!" and to no other combination of sounds), such a system would be
highly complicated to work out in practice; whereas by the use of only three
notes of different pitches any combination of operations desired can be secured.
The operation of the televocal system, or Televox, can best be understood if one
were to listen in on a housekeeper calling her Televocally equipped home. She
has three small pitch-pipes, each giving a different musical note. Housekeeper
to telephone Central: "Give me 1234 Greenhill, please." Operator rings that
number. Housekeeper: "Peep, peep, peep," which means "Connect me to the oven."
Televox: "Buzz. buzz, buzz-buzz-z-z-z-z---" You are connected." Housekeeper:
"Toot!" which means "Start the oven." Televox gives a short, snappy "buzz".
Housekeeper: "Peep, peep, peep, peep." which means "Connect me to the furnace
and tell me how hot it is." Televox: Two buzzes mean "It's pretty low."
Housekeeper: "Toot!" or "Open the drafts!" Televox opens the drafts and gives a
long buzz. Housekeeper blows her third pitch-pipes which means " Good-bye."
Televox hangs up receiver.
Mr. Wensley, explaining this system, said that sounds that come over the
telephone to the televocal apparatus are received from the receiver by a
sensitive microphone, and the buzzing signals made by it are given out by a
loudspeaker close to the telephone transmitter. When the bell rings, a
sound-sensitive relay lifts the telephone hook, starts up the station-signal
buzzer, and sets the whole apparatus ready for action.
Starting the oven by
phone, G, November 14 1927, Republished 14.11.2007, p. 34,
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