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Spillikins 180. The Calamity and The Technology

It was yet another eventful week so once again I exceed the regular size of the Spillikins. Firstly, I want to boast a little about our achievements.

Number one of them is our YouTube channel that has got now over 20,000 subscribers and over 20 million views. I think it is a very decent result since it is only three years old and we only began to actively use it about 18 months ago. Subscribe and enjoy!

Secondly, my book From Brick to The Smartphone has made it into the short list of the Russian Internet Book Award 2012. Other nominees are all very respectable people and I am glad to be associated with them.

Here are some of the topics I wanted to discuss here but had to leave for a while: HTC financial troubles, rumors about the Amazon phone (I hope Ill have the time to discuss it in the next Spillikins), security issues and malicious links on smartphones. However, the news has brought up some more serious matters.


  1. Kuban Floods
  2. The Chinese Offensive
  3. Lytro: A New Approach to Photography or Useless Toy?
  4. RIM: Nowhere To Run
  5. Nokia: Market Criticism or New Horizons

Kuban Floods

I want to express my deepest condolences to all the families that suffered the Kuban floods.

On that day I was away from civilization and when I got back I got an avalanche of news coming from everywhere about the disaster. I was appalled by people who spent their time on the Internet talking politics and overlooking that people were dying there. Suddenly there were thousands of experts on the web cursing the authorities and telling everyone how they would have handled the situation. Unfortunately, no one can handle nature we can only be prepared. But I dont want to ponder over things I have very little knowledge of instead I want to discuss how mobile technologies can help people during natural disasters.

International experience differs a lot depending on the country, its technological level and the mentality of the people. I have discussed in the Spillikins 110 how the Japanese get ready for earthquakes and always stay vigilant. Check it out for more info.

Earthquake in Japan: Consequences for Mobile Communications

The Japanese experience is very specific and as we learned was not enough for large technological disasters. Since this summer the US has got a national warning system that uses cell networks to warn people about natural disasters, terrorist attacks etc. This system was founded in 2007-2008 when the US government laid down the specs for it. This system is based on the 2006 project called Personal Localized Area Network (PLAN). The whole class of these alert systems is called CMAS (Commercial Mobile Alert System).

In the US this system can be accessed by president, the national weather service and various emergency agencies. As of now the system operates in a semi-automatic mode requiring people to make decisions to alert people with texts or with Emergency Alert System that can broadcast messages through TV consoles. In future the system will be completely automatic to give people a few extra minutes to take measures or evacuate from a hazardous area.

There is no alternative system in Russia but the Russian emergency services had Ericsson build them a similar system called 112 in 2011. It will be a while before it will become operational but it is clear that the country needs it. These systems sound like a very good idea but there a few issues with them like the case of a faulty alert in New Jersey in December 2011. All New Jersey Verizon clients received a text saying that they should find a shelter signed simply the Government.

In Japan everyone knows exactly what needs to be done in case of emergency and such a text would cause no harm and I guess people would seek shelter. However, in the US people acted very differently and started calling 911 exceeding the average number of calls four times. Many used Twitter trying to learn whether there is actually a threat. Turns out that Americans were not ready to be informed of threats that way and very few of them actually did cower in a shelter.

The social aspect plays a huge role in emergency warning systems. What is the point of alerting people if they instead of taking the necessary measures will just be sitting and calling asking whether the threat is real at all. I am pretty sure that at first in Russia it will be the same story as in New Jersey: rumors, panic and hysteria. Media should have a single plan how to act in such situation too because some of them begin to fire up panic while others say that the threat is no big deal. I think governments should oblige all the media to send a coordinated message to the population. It is actually a very easy thing to do the government only needs to create an official emergency web page with all the necessary instructions.

Another issue is integration of warning systems. If you are watching TV and your program is interrupted by an emergency broadcast you will certainly pay attention. But what of texts sent to mobile phones? It is very easy to miss it or just ignore it. In Japan the government solved it by introducing hardware and software requirements for cell phones so that when an emergency message is received your phone begins to vibrate and sounds an alarm ignoring all user settings so you cannot miss it. I see it crucial for all countries to adopt this experience and create such spec requirements for phones.

Lets now get back to Kuban. Water destroyed many buildings including a number of cell base stations. Many power lines went down too so all the avalanche of calls had to go through a handful of remaining base stations that are not very good at handling peaks even on regular days. In Hollywood movies you can always see people talking on the phone during disasters saying their goodbyes. In real life however, cell networks are very quick go down when something goes wrong. Base stations fail because of the power grid and the avalanche of calls in times of emergency.

I dont think foolproof power grids are possible but we can be responsible when it comes to phone calls. When you see on the news that there is something bad going on and you know someone who lives there then please dont start calling them unless you are sure your call can save them. Otherwise, you will only load the network and make helping people there even harder. Remember that some people whose lives might be in danger are using the very same networks that are so unreliable in times of need.

Carriers in Russia unfortunately have plenty of experience in handling such situations. Just last year they had to work in the conditions of the wildfires in Central Russia. They have mobile equipment that can get cell networks up and running anywhere in almost no time. These mobile base stations are usually placed somewhere near the emergency management HQ and I am proud to say that it never takes longer than 2-3 days to restore the network. There are, of course, some dead zones where no signal or equipment can get as it often was the case due to the wildfires. But usually restoring the network is done swiftly.

Another aspect I want to discuss is the measures the government takes when an emergency occurs. In Russia it is a part of the national culture to blame the government for everything and believe they can never do anything right. I for one think that the Russian emergency services did a very good job except for the first few hectic hours. I think the best proof of the professionalism and competence of emergency agencies is that other countries very often ask them for assistance.

Another side to this is that people are not aware what the responsibilities of the federal agencies are. This is very easy to remedy thanks to all the social networks. Any official can make himself clear by spending just a few minutes on Twitter. I hope all officials will adopt this practice and improve the communication with people who especially need it in crisis.

I am talking to any officials who are reading this: I would like to take all my expertise and experience and participate in development of alert systems. So just drop a line if you need some help.

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The Chinese Offensive

We know that China wants to become a big player on the electronics market. To become not just the biggest factory but the developer and the designer as well. I often talk about China in the Spillikins because I am sure that China has it all to become a major player on the market of consumer electronics.

MIUI Creators Announce Their First Phone

Prejudicial Myths. The Country of Origin Myth Illustrated by China

Chinese Phones Under Local Brands Pros and Cons

It is my experience that makes me sure. I take the same highway to Moscow and sometime ago I noticed row of garden gnomes on sale along the highway. A few months later I saw half a mile of garden gnomes there. The success of the very first guy who came up with selling gnomes on that highway very soon led a great diversity and competition. The very same market rules apply to any market.

The more people are involved in the mobile industry the greater are the chances someone will get a brilliant idea and save his company money, get a market advantage and so on. In time the quality of the products increases too as the competition becomes tougher. In China there are now many small companies that do not have billion dollar budgets per product but they influence the market all the same. You might have heard of the Chinese manufacturer Meizu that was on news some time ago due to the resemblance of its products to Apple iPhone.

Here is our review of Meizu MX:

Review of Meizu MX

There is also MIU phones that look a lot like Meizu ones. Chinese manufacturers have acquired enough expertise to begin turning quantity into quality. Take OPPO for example. This mp3 player manufacturer belongs to the BBK Corporation and has been making phones since 2005. I have recently laid my hands on their flagship called OPPO Finder and according to OPPO it is the slimmest Android smartphone at only 6.65 mm (0.26 in). They got a nice ad for it too.

However, this phone is a lot more than a fancy toy and is packing a 1.5 GHz dual core CPU, a 4.3 SuperAMOLED Plus screen, 16GB of storage and an 8MPix camera all in a very well built chassis. The box looks nice too and there is nothing that could suggest that OPPO has only been on the mobile phone market for seven years. On board this smartphone does not only have Android 4 but a company own shell that looks pretty well. In China Finder is a premium phone at $600 and competes with the most renowned brands.

I think the trend is obvious: local Chinese manufacturers are beginning to introduce top-notch products and no longer only deal in budget phones (there are, of course, still lots of manufacturers that only make very cheap phones in China). Samsung as a phone manufacturer began with making rather expensive high quality phones and the management were OK with sacrificing initial sales for a good name. It worked for Samsung and now a number of Chinese manufacturers are following in their wake.

Today ZTE and Huawei are known mostly for their size as OEMs. Tomorrow they might be competeing with Samsung over the market. China is now a fertile soil for new phone manufacturers and one of them just might make it big. The Chinese phone market has got the toughest competition than anywhere else in the world making it perfect for spawning tough players. The Chinese market evolves at such a rate that it is impossible to predict where it is going to go next. That is why I am so interested in it and itching to try out OPPO Finder.

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Lytro: A New Approach to Photography or Useless Toy?

All weekend I have been playing with the new toy in the shape of a Lytro camera. The model was announced in 2011, which gave me a hope to test it by the end of that year, but it was not to be. It received an award at CES2012 fuelling my expectations. It happened that I missed the start of sales this spring. Anyway, you can already buy it.

This newcomer can change our current understanding of photography. Take a picture and only then you can select a depth resolution of the foreground or background. Does it look like magic? In fact the technology behind this feature is simple, but it is awfully tough to implement! To feel the magic it is worth looking at samples on the company's website. Here is one of them.

It is difficult for me to have a complete understanding of the camera. This toy does not come cheaply with the price tag of 500 USD for 16 GB or 400 USD for 8 GB. It is another accessory on the market, but will definitely make you stand out from the crowd. Within two days Lytro in my hands attracted attention of many. I have never come across such an unprecedented interest with other phones and cameras. Designers achieved an excellent wow-effect.

The build is outstanding and I will mention it in the review. The viewfinder screen is unfortunately below par. I would like to share one important point now. The unique selling point of the camera is that it allows for virtually immediate shots. There is no need to focus on objects, which is attractive. Just press the button and the shot is ready. Later on you can select a foreground on the PC or even convert the shot into a standard JPEG file with the resolution you pick yourself. The opportunities for creativity are almost infinite. It resembles 3D chess. The only question is do many people need that? I am slightly skeptical here! Do you think such products have future?

On the Lytro website you can assess decent photos taken by ordinary users. The camera is a successful tool for artistic endeavors, but it is unlikely to become a mass market model with a unique feature. What do you think? Are you interested in the product?

You can look at samples here. Work around settings and focuse on different points.

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RIM: Nowhere To Run

Sometime ago RIM reached the point when a company could not realistically expect to survive its current downfall. What is happening today is a complete shambles. A companys top manager in Russia promotes Blackberry through his Twitter account, which is weird as RIM is not present on the local market.

President and CEO Torsten Heins made a keynote speech with the main message that things are not going as bad as others believe. It seems even the top manager of the company fails to understand the gravity of the troubles ahead. Torsten Heins column is available from Globe and Mail online.

The column appeared on July 3 or one week before the annual shareholders meeting. The intention was quite clear, because the management cannot say anything more positive to their shareholders.

As if to contradict Torsten Heins Ottawa Citizen published an article claiming that developers responsible for Blackberry 10 in the capital RIM office switch to a 6-day working week and their vacation schedules will be revised to make sure that the company can offer Blackberry 10 at the start of 2012. I cannot understand why this OS, which did not prove its unique worth, should be successful and save the company. It is still not clear when and for which target audience this OS will be launched. Until the end of this year RIM may lose too much for its new products to attract anyone.

An online leak of 2013 roadmap from RIM features four models on BB10. Is it enough? If the handsets are as good as, lets say, iPhone, then it is more than enough, but we cannot expect much from the company responsible for such a big flop as Playbook. The solutions are surprisingly similar, which is a bad sign. Instead of effective moves we have to read excuses from the CEO and promises of the brave new world. Dates are not given as forecasts from RIM have been not accurate of late.

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Nokia: Market Criticism or New Horizons

Frankly speaking developments around Nokia point to the final countdown before the once mighty phone manufacturer shuts down its production. I have mentioned it before, but nowadays we witness more and more comic moments in this sad story. Everyone wants to kick the lame duck. Much media talk was generated by an interview of Jean-Louis Gassee in Computing.co.uk.

The interview starts from a modest remark that according to Jean-Louis Gassee Nokia urgently has to change its Board of Directors and the President. Their place should be taken by those, who truly understand how the mobile industry works. This loud claim garnered a lot of attention from the media, though not many remember who Gassee is and what kind of record he has in the field. In 1970s he worked in HP and then moved to Apple. By leading the Macintosh department he tried to emulate Steve Jobs, who was no longer with the company. Under the leadership of Gassee Macintosh miserably failed. Afterwards he started Be Inc and offered the eponymous OS. Its a pity, but he clearly lost to Steve Jobs and NeXt. Surprisingly this Silicone Valley veteran is still active despite the lack of success in the past and in 2010 he served as an external consultant helping Nokia to stop the rot. The story is weird, because consultants are not supposed to discuss the fortunes of the company, where they worked before.

In 2010 Gassee advised Nokia to pick Android as their future OS and integrate with it all Nokia services available at the time. I think Gassee is merely trying to attract media attention with the help of Nokia troubles by emphasizing the worth of his own recommendations. This question deserves a separate article as it is not clear what he really suggested. In other words we need details. Nevertheless, Gassee correctly pinpoints the reasons for the ongoing debacle within Nokia. Among other things he mentioned the so-called Osborne effect. It is a long and interesting story, which many of our readers may not remember as it happened many years ago.

Once upon a time there was a portable computer Osborne. In 1981 that stood for a handle and a gadget weighing 11 kg, which was sold cheaply for the product at the time (1750 USD) and became popular. You can read the story of the model here.

Rivals were not sleeping and in 1982 Osborne was under pressure. The company had to announce the second model, which it could not manufacture at the time of the announcement. When the second model was shown the sales of the existing product slumped and the company went bankrupt leading to the emergence of Osborne effect. When people are offered a shiny new product, they lose interest to the current model.

According to Gassee the first damaging decision was the remark of Stephe Elop in February 2011 that Symbian was no good, while customers had to wait for more than 6 months until the Windows Phone 7 handsets hit the shelves. The second blow was the news that Windows Phone 7.x phones will not be available for Windows 8 upgrade, which impacted Nokia sales too. Despite his previous failures it is impossible to disagree with Gassee in this case. These two developments were crucial in Nokias downfall. Stephen Elop and the Board of Directors are not competent enough to do the job.

I also mentioned on a number of occasions that the move from Windows Phone 7 to 8 will be painful for Nokia. Interestingly, no one blames Microsoft for the transition as the company had the moral right to do that. The blame belongs to Mr. Elop, who knew about the incompatibility between two OS, but still banked on Windows Phone. The President of Nokia was aware of the Osborne effect trap, but still went ahead. Interesting, eh?

Nokia investors understand even more than before, that the company is going to die sooner rather than later. On July 6, 2012 Nokia share prices reached an absolute trough of 1.94 USD per share at NYSE for the first time since 1996. Market capitalization currently stands at 7.5 billion dollars, which is equal to the price of Nokia assets as of the end of the previous quarter. I am sure that assets depreciated even further. We will learn new figures quite soon, which will surely drive share prices down. All forecasts point in this direction and Nokia itself warns that tough times are ahead. Several stories from local markets highlight the depth of the abyss.

Source: Lutskyi Artem

Some customers in Russia still go to Nokia branded stores to be surprised they now sell Samsung phones. Sales personnel convince them to buy new handsets by scaring them off Nokia products and highlighting the advantages of Korean solutions. This way Samsung targets die-hard Nokia fans, who believe that everything will be fine. The disappearance of branded stores means the opposite though.

The last Nokia news can be considered positive. Former top managers of the company responsible for Nokia N9 and MeeGO decided to come up with the Jolla startup, which means small boat. People in this boat are planning to create the successor to Nokia N9. Obviously, Nokia will not allow for the use of Nokia N9 interface. As I have already mentioned Nokia ordered to destroy all Meego legacy as Stephen Elop is afraid of the OS very much. It is difficult to believe that a tiny startup will manage to succeed due to hardware limitation. The new model will boast modest hardware features and will highlight the uniqueness of its software and the UI. A certain amount of media attention will be generated, but we cannot expect an easy ride for the company. It took them so long to start their new venture, that it is not clear how soon they will offer competitive products. The answer is blowing in the wind and we will have to wait for several months. On the other hand all media attention around Jolla can be helpful. I will follow the developments closely hoping for interesting products attracting ordinary consumers. So far everybody wonders only about huge amounts spent by Nokia on MeeGo.

Additional Reading:

P.S. Have a fabulous week and follow our articles and podcasts. Feel free to comment and stay positive!

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Spillikins 177. ARM Processors in 2014

Spillikins 178. Galaxy Madness

Spillikins 179. RIM to Embrace Microsoft

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
Translated by Maxim Antonenko (maxantonenko@ukr.net), Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 19 July 2012

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com



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