It’s Official: Smartphones Rule

Carl Weinschenk

Despite the fact that certain things are bound to happen, it seems a bit surprising when they actually do. One of the interesting stories from the past week is that IDC predicts smartphones will sell more than feature phones this year.

The firm, according to the story at CNET, suggests phones will ship around the world this year, which would represent 50.1 percent of the total cellular phone universe. By the end of 2017, IDC predicts that 1.5 billion smartphones – about two-thirds of the total – will ship.

This all makes sense. The one small caveat is to keep an eye on how the various firms define their mobile devices. How one generic category of phone is differentiated will differ between analysts and over time. Thus, IDC and other groups may not be comparing oranges to oranges (apples to apples seemed needlessly confusing when discussing smartphones). Also, what constitutes a smartphone in 2013 may well be a feature phone in 2017.

It may be a bit dramatic to say that do-or-die time has arrived for BlackBerry, but it appears that a major milestone towards its return to health on one hand or toward further marginalization and perhaps its demise will occur in two weeks: Bloomberg is reporting that the Z10, the snappier of the two phones will be introduced by AT&T on March 22.

The story said that the date has not been confirmed, however. Carriers in 21 countries already have introduced the phone, which runs on the new BlackBerry 10 operating system (OS). Longer test periods by American carriers have led to the later introduction, the report said.

It may not rise to the level of huge news, but Telecompetitor has an interesting story about a startup called Open Garden. The firm allows users to create their own Wi-Fi mesh networks and to bond together Wi-Fi connections (or combine Wi-Fi and cellular) to increase bandwidth.

The potential benefits of both approaches – used in isolation or together – is self-evident. They add flexibility and efficiency. What is important for IT departments, however, may be this sentence, which features a quote from CEO Micha Benoliel:

Benoliel said Open Garden doesn’t monitor service quality. But he said “our protocol adapts to find the best available off ramp within the mesh to route most of the traffic through it.”

The point is that it seems unlikely that Open Garden is promising – or even aware of – the level of security on such networks. Indeed, a link in this mesh could be a free airport or mall network that is as open to hackers as it is to CEOs. If such approaches become common – Telecompetitor mentions a second company, Devicescape, which offers a similar service – IT folks should confront the issue by establishing rules against their use if they are deemed unsound. It also may be possible to take technical steps to prevent access.

There was news a while back about Bouncer, a service that would keep watch for malware over Google Play, the marketplace for Android apps, and Android itself. Apparently, the bad guys either didn’t see the news or aren’t impressed. eWeek and other sites report that F-Secure found that 79 percent of all malware threats last year were against Android. The threats didn’t ebb toward year’s end:

In the fourth quarter alone, 96 new families and variants of Android threats were discovered, which almost doubles the number recorded in the previous quarter. A large share of the Android threats found in the fourth quarter was malware that generates profit through fraudulent short message service (SMS) practices, with 21 of the 96 Android threat variants found contributed by Premium SMS, a malware family that sends out messages to premium rate numbers.

One of the big differentiators between iOS and Android always has been the comparative lack of security of the open source approach. The question is whether the higher percentage of attempts made against Android was due to hackers’ belief that the OS is less secure or simply higher difficulty of getting malware through the App Store’s more rigorous screening.

And, finally, The New York Times’ Bits column has a nice description of technology from Alta Devices that could make solar panels on phones more efficient. The approach will use a form of gallium arsenide to largely do away with the portable device energy challenge:

It wouldn’t do away with the battery. But depending on the light level where the device was carried, it could add 80 percent to the battery life. The main benefit would be outdoors or on a windowsill, because sunlight has about 100 times more energy than the light typically provided by fluorescent or incandescent lamps. Indoors, it might add only 10 to 15 percent. But the efficient type, gallium arsenide, is not only better overall at capturing energy; it is also better suited to capturing energy in low-light conditions that the ordinary silicon solar cells.

There are a couple of points here. The first and most obvious is that this sounds like a great idea. Of course, many things sound like great ideas. Whether or not it actually is one remains to be seen. The other point is that new approaches to the device powering issue emerge on a regular basis. The problem is alleviating itself to some extent because devices, driven by the need for large screens capable of supporting video, are housing bigger batteries.

In the bigger picture, it is good to see the marketplace working so well: Technically smart people and the business-smart people willing to take a risk on them are addressing a major problem from a number of directions. What seemed a few years ago like an Achilles’ heel for mobility still is a serious issue. But it increasingly seems like one that is manageable.

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