Current Affairs

91 posts categorized

March 21, 2016

Chinese Mobile Companies Muscle in on Apple and Samsung's Territory



Do you like the idea of a cell phone that has all the latest technology at a cheap price? A lot of people in China do, which is why Chinese brands like OPPO and TCL are closing in on the mobile market that Apple and Samsung have dominated for years.

It’s likely that the European and United States markets will appreciate an all-the-frills cell phone for a steal, too. 

Little-known tech companies in China are hoping that consumers will find their low-cost Android mobile devices attractive and turn to them over the now-more-popular competition. Even small Chinese brands, such as Xiaomi and Huawei, are giving the front-runners in the industry a bit to think about in terms of product cost.


What Does the Future Hold for Chinese Mobile Brands?

At the recent Mobile World Congress, a wireless show that was held in Barcelona this year, TCL, Hauwei, and Xiaomi revealed high-end cell phones that are part of an ambitious plan to take over the market. Xiaomi usually launches its phones in China, but the company was compelled to announce its new Mi 5 at the Mobile World Congress and steal the show from its well-established competitors. 

Will there be an audience for this new type of Chinese smartphone? Probably, considering what AndroidPIT editor Shu On Kwok implies when he says, “The Chinese smartphone vendors have a very unique feature - it is the price.” 

In today’s market, it’s common to get a standard collection of features from one Android device to the other. With a large group of consumers not needing functionality beyond what’s typical and necessary, innovation might take a backseat to price.

With the new Chinese phones coming on to the market, cell phone buyers get nearly the same features as high-end Apple and Samsung model phones for a much lower price. 


What Do Consumers Really Want?

During 2015, Samsung’s market share declined, and Apple forecasted its first decline in revenue in more than 12 years. These companies are going to need to prove that their products are worth the significant difference in price if they’re going to succeed and keep dominating the market.

Apple has tried to keep a stronghold on the smartphone market by positioning itself as a company with many exclusive hardware and software offerings. However, consumers have often been able to get features on Android devices that are similar to the brilliance that Apple is touting, and these buyers are completely okay with that “close enough” ideology.

So, if “close enough” is good enough to keep people from buying Apple products, it may be all that’s needed to make them opt for Chinese brands that offer similar features and functions. Samsung has all but stated that it’s not concerned about the Chinese mobile companies. Its mobile chief, D.J. Koh, said, "We have other ideas,” meaning that Samsung is depending on technology beyond mobile phone features, such as a virtual-reality headset that offers a 360-degree camera and is compatible with the company’s Galaxy phones. 

It seems that Apple and Samsung might need to keep reaching beyond their mobile phone markets to stay dominant in the future, and they might need to adjust their attention to include the needs of gamers and other tech enthusiasts.  

March 18, 2016

TCPA Court Cases Resulting Favorably for Text Marketing Companies



Less than four years have elapsed since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adapted the Telephone Consumer Protections Act (TCPA) to include text messaging. When the changes to the TCPA were first announced in 2012, text marketers - and companies that use text marketing services - were concerned that the changes would have a negative impact on their business models. To an extent, they’ve been proven right - but the fallout has been largely confined to the inconvenience of facing down and defeating lawsuits, rather than actually losing them.

In fact, since 2012, there have been five major court decisions to have gone the way of text message marketers. Far from wreaking havoc on the text marketing industry, the updated TCPA has had the effect of protecting honest business practices, and the aforementioned court decisions could set crucial precedents for the future. 

First, a brief recap of the story so far:

Created in 1991, the TCPA required businesses to gain express written consent before making automated phone calls. In 2012, the FCC took the view that consumers should have similar protections from automated text messages.

Initially, mobile marketers were not worried by the update. The concept of ‘prior express written consent’ was a core tenet of text message marketing. One of the reasons mobile marketing has been so successful is that it came of age well after the irritation of spam emails and late night robocalls had been felt by everyone. It simply didn’t make good business sense to follow that model for SMS. The majority of practitioners of text marketing were already doing what the law now required of them.

This was precisely the problem. The FCC’s new rules used language that could be interpreted as an invalidation of existing consent agreements. Because those agreements had not previously been required by law, companies’ record-keeping was not as good as it could have been. The quibble between the FCC and telemarketers came down to whether or not new consent was required from existing B2C relationships.

So far, the legal system has sympathized with companies who had gained consent prior to the legislation. The most high profile example was an action brought against Microsoft. In a ruling on November 17th 2015, Judge Manuel Real of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted Microsoft’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by two plaintiffs claiming the company did not seek fresh consent after the TCPA update. Judge Real wrote in his judgement: 

“Plaintiffs voluntarily sought specific information about Microsoft promotions, providing both their phone numbers and their express consent to receive that information by texting specific keywords from their mobile phones. There is no cognizable legal theory that could support liability against Defendants, and dismissal with prejudice is appropriate.”

In other words, he deemed the lawsuit frivolous - a cynical ploy by the plaintiffs to extract damages from a huge tech company. Text marketers everywhere hope this - along with a handful of other cases - sets a precedent that will prevent future litigation and allow fair business to carry on unobstructed.

March 06, 2016

Richmond Becomes First Northern Californian Jurisdiction to Add 911 Texting



If you have an emergency in Richmond area of Northern California, you now have another way to reach 911 dispatch services. The city is the first in Northern California to offer the ability to reach its emergency dispatchers via text message, which means it can now provide help to more people in need.

While texting 911 can be useful in a variety of situations, such as in a domestic violence dispute or an emergency in which an individual is hearing impaired, dispatchers warn that the public should not rely on texting as a first means of communicating with 911. 


When Is Texting 911 a Good Idea?

In the past, a victim of an emergency might not have been able to make a phone call to 911 for fear of an attack. Or, a person who couldn’t hear might have had to take the time to call a third-party service just to get assistance reaching 911. In emergencies, time is crucial and being able to easily reach 911 can make the difference in saving a life. Dispatchers caution that the best way to reach help fast, in most cases, is to call. 

Sometimes, 911 dispatchers receive phone calls from people who say something to the effect of, “Not right now, Aunt Betty, I can’t speak,” says Richmond Police Department dispatcher Michael Lusk. From that type of message, dispatchers are often able to infer that something is not right and send emergency personnel. This is not as easy to do with a text. 

However, texting messages to 911 can be effective in cases where an individual must remain silent in order to dial for help, such as a kidnapping situation. If a person cannot describe aloud what’s happening, a text message can be the ideal solution to requesting aid. Lusk states that he has received six 911 text messages since the program went live at the end of January. 


The Benefit of Voice Calls to 911

The benefits of voice calls to 911 services include the speed with which dispatchers can give answers, and assistance, to those in need. In addition, when an individual calls 911 from a landline phone, their location is automatically sent to dispatchers so that emergency services can be sent out.

Sometimes, dispatchers rely on background noise on a 911 phone call to better determine what’s going on during an emergency, and to turn in as evidence should a court case be held later.


Call 911 If You Can, But Text If You Can’t Call

Communications shift supervisor for the Richmond Police Department, Deana Norton, says, “If placing a voice call is going to endanger yourself or others, please text us.” She adds that you should always text your location along with your message. This part of your text is crucial, because it will help get emergency services out to you immediately.

To text your emergency to Richmond 911 emergency services, all you need to do is type 9-1-1 into the space where you would normally type a phone number. Emergency dispatchers are logged into a website where they can view text messages that come in to 911. Their screens look like a chat platform, and have drop-down messages from which they can choose to send appropriate responses, such as, “Do not move the patient unless it’s necessary.”


Texts Are a Last Resort for Help

While the ability to text message Richmond 911 emergency services will likely prove useful in some instances, it has not been heavily relied upon yet, and it shouldn’t be. According to Michael Lambton, a communications shift supervisor, the Richmond Police Department’s 911 dispatch center takes in about 20,000 calls every month throughout Richmond, San Pablo, Kensington, El Cerrito, and Contra Costa College. Since January, dispatchers have received fewer than a dozen 911 texts, and most of them weren’t even emergency texts. 

Having the 911 text emergency system will surely provide Richmond residents with additional help, but the program should be treated as supplemental and not a primary means of assistance. 


February 17, 2016

Victoria's Secret Sued Over Unsolicited Texts



What is it with these class action lawsuits lately? It seems like companies are having a hard time complying with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Last September, Yahoo was back in court challenging the legitimacy of a class action lawsuit filed early 2014. Now, Victoria Secret appears to want a piece of the action; the lingerie company faces litigation for excessive text messaging. 

The plaintiff, Michael Hannegan, willingly signed up for the company’s SMS notifications under the contract condition the company would send no more than six messages per day. Something went wrong in November last year, because according to Hannegan, Victoria’s Secret sent almost 100 unwanted text messages in a single day.


Seeking Class Action 

According to the pending class action suit: “Victoria's Secret undertook a misguided effort to increase sales by causing the mass transmission of spam text message advertisements in the form of mobile alerts.”

Hannegan is currently seeking class action status; the law says he (and potentially others harmed in this case) may be eligible for damages up to $1,500 per text message. 

Aside from wondering what Mr. Hannegan wanted from “generic advertisements for various products and sales,” most people are wondering if the case will even go to trial. 

At first glance, the excessive texts that occurred in November seem covered by the TCPA. What’s not clear at this point is whether the messages were all the same, perhaps duplicated, or sent by mistake. 

A judge will have to decide whether or not to grant Hannegan class action status on behalf of other cell phone users who may have also been victims. Based on past cases, the odds seem to be in Hannegan’s favor.


Similar TCPA Cases 

In January of 2014, Reuters reported that the U.S. District Judge Manish Shah “rejected Yahoo's arguments that a class action could subject it to damages that were disproportionate to the alleged harm…” Shah also allowed multiple plaintiffs to sue as a group. Yahoo is still battling it out in court and trying to deny the legitimacy of the class action altogether. 

In 2013, a similar case filed against well-known shoe brand, Steve Madden, was settled for $10 million.

Steve Madden had been accused of sending thousands of unsolicited texts through third-party advertisers, defending its actions with these two principles: 1) “That consumers had implicitly consented to receive text message solicitations by providing their cell phone numbers while visiting Steve Madden stores; and alternatively, that a third party advertiser sent the text messages and should be responsible, not Steve Madden.”

These defenses were both covered under the TCPA, and the cobbler didn’t have a leg to stand on. 

These kinds of lawsuits will become more popular as people become more aware of these legal protections. In fact, some legal firms are soliciting people who may have legal claim in similar scenarios.


February 15, 2016

Most People Prefer Mobile Money Transfers Over Their Banks, Says Survey



Is mobile technology the key to alleviating money transfer frustration? It certainly seems so. A new Amdocs survey noted that 83 percent of the 3,000 respondents were displeased with current international money transfer services available through banks and money transfer operators (MTOs), while almost half of respondents said the speed at which their money is transferred is the biggest issue. These respondents also said they’d be very willing to use their mobile devices to send money internationally. 


Seven Remittance Corridors

The study centered around seven main remittance corridors and their users: US-Mexico, US-Rest of CALA, US-Philippines, UK-Nigeria, US-Vietnam, US-India, and Germany-Turkey. These corridors make up $78.6 billion in annual remittances.


Mobile’s Opportunity

According to Sharath Dorbala, the vice president and head of products, sales, and marketing for mobile financial services at Amdocs, mobile technology has a fantastic opportunity to overtake other money transfer possibilities and become the dominant option. Dorbala further remarked to eWeek that mobile devices provide the ultimate convenience regarding transfer accessibility, ease of use, and availability. Mobile is making over the money transfer business the same way Uber changed the transportation business. 


The Right Time

Dorbala also cited people’s serious dissatisfaction with current money transfer options as another reason that mobile is poised to become the dominant choice. Convenience, cost, and security are among the top features people look for when sending money internationally, and mobile offers all of these things. Survey respondents even said they’d be willing to pay as much as $4 or $5 per transaction. 


Security Issue

Security is unsurprisingly a huge issue with international money transfers, and while MTOs aren’t the most convenient option, they have proven secure. Mobile money solutions are subsequently raising security standards to provide users with the reassurance they need. Biometrics such as facial recognition, fingerprinting, two-factor authentications, encryption technologies, and mobile network security are receiving adjustments to create the high standard of security associated with more traditional options. 

According to Dorbala, sending money internationally using a mobile device is just as secure if not more so than a credit transaction. 

Consultancy firm Juniper Research conducted the money transfer study on behalf of Amdocs. Dr. Windsor Holden, head of forecasting and consultancy at Juniper Research, echoes Dorbala’s comments about mobile’s position to take over as the main international money transfer option. He noted that mobile provides banks and MTOs with much-needed competition, and that its affordability lends itself to further evolution and efficiency. 


Yet Another Application

Mobile technology’s emerging role as a viable money transfer option is yet another way the technology is changing how people pay for goods and services. There are already numerous apps dedicated to bill-splitting and similar practices, including Google Wallet and Lovely, which take the headaches out of determining who owes what. Mobile is increasingly the popular way to pay for anything and everything, and there are suggestions it might overtake credit cards and cash as the favorite way to pay. 

Transferring money overseas, paying bills, splitting is arguably making these processes much, much easier. 


January 28, 2016

mPulse Mobile Boosts Funding to $10m



What if I said your healthcare plans could fit in the palm of your hand? For a topic so significant, especially on the political stage, it would seem impossible to assume that all our daily healthcare needs could be met with something small enough to hold—something, say, the size of your cell phone. 

But that’s exactly the direction some mobile apps are turning, as healthcare costs continue to soar and our need for personalized healthcare grows. mPulse Mobile is a perfect example of how one little startup from California is making the most of this gap in medical demand by securing almost $10 million in series A funding last week.

But this is not a story about altruism and improving the lives of the general public—those are welcome byproducts of what mPulse is doing, but certainly not at the core of their endeavors. mPulse was simply in the right place at the right time. 

Chris Nicholson, mPulse Mobile’s CEO, is the former COO of Humana, a Kentucky-based health insurance company. Humana and Nicholson were working with mobilStorm, a secure messaging company and mobile marketing firm. Nicholson was looking for ways to save administrative costs, but instead decided to spin off of mobilStorm and create mPulse Mobile. 


Value of mPulse in Society 

mPulse Mobile is a secure messaging service designed for healthcare organizations, patients, pharmacies, medical providers, and medical device companies. Messages can be sent using a variety of systems including basic SMS and secure web portals or integrated into existing apps. mPulse aims to offer a more transparent healthcare experience with tailored features to meet growing patient need, while also cutting costs for medical providers, pharmacies, and other related healthcare industries. 

Right now, the app is really in its infancy, offering services that aren’t more complex than fancy calendar reminders about doctor appointments and prescription refills. But that’s all going to change, thanks to funding by HLM Venture Partners, a firm that invests exclusively in market-leading technologies for the healthcare industry.  

With the funding, mPulse plans to take its fancy calendar to the next level by expanding on proven tools to enhance analysis, natural language processing, and text messaging in real time. In essence, the app will attempt to fill several voids caused by administrative error, lack of human resources, and limitations on imparting sensitive information effectively. 

mPulse has made some impressive partnerships as well. Digital health pioneer Inland Empire Health Plan, a not-for-profit also from California, is working with mPulse to help its 1.1 million users improve patient engagement as well as the overall medical outcome. 

"Our sole focus on healthcare combined with extensive experience delivering mobile consumer solutions makes us the ideal partner for companies who need provider, plan, pharmaceutical, and population health solutions," said Nicholson. 

What he really means to say: mPulse can save you money. 


January 24, 2016

Honolulu PD to Introduce Text 911



Nobody wants to wind up in a life or death situation; but in the event that an emergency occurs, it is certainly good fortune to be carrying a cell phone, right? In general, the use of cell phones in emergency situations has helped dispatchers and first responders act quickly—which in turn has saved countless lives. This fact is due, in part, to the location features in most smart devices that allow emergency services to track a caller. Moreover, explaining a situation over a mobile device is far more efficient than typing up an email or sending smoke signal—most of the time. 

In some rare cases, it’s not possible or safe to communicate orally during an emergency. Who can forget the intense moment from Liam Neeson’s 2008 hit Taken, when his daughter is lying facedown under a bed praying her attackers don’t find her? Meanwhile, her father waits helplessly on the other line while she is carried away, presumably for making too much noise on her cell phone. 

This is just one exaggerated example but, truth be told, the ability to text 911 could come in handy under certain circumstances.


How Texting 911 Works

Just last week, the Honolulu Police Department announced its plans to launch a Text 911 system, an emergency service that will allow anyone with text features on a phone to text for help. This system includes police, firefighters, and paramedics and works similarly to the phone system we commonly use.

According to the Honolulu PD, the system is not yet available but expected to launch sometime in the next few months. While this is a great service to offer residents of Oahu, it’s most certainly not the first of its kind. 

Vermont, in fact, was the first state to organize a statewide text-to-911 system in 2014. A successful trial run with Verizon in 2012 dispelled any doubt naysayers had about flooding dispatchers with negligent texts. In 2013, Vermont received approximately 150 text-to-911 messages, ten of which helped victims of domestic abuse successfully communicate their situations without compromising their safety. 

However, Vermont’s success is tightly linked to a centralized public-safety system that makes room for fast action and changes to protocol. This is not the case everywhere. Most of the time, public safety initiatives like the text-to-911 system require participation from city or county level officials—which amounts to a lot more time and money. 

The bottom line: state emergency call centers will have to adopt several new technologies in order to make text-to-911 a viable solution for everyone in the US. Despite support from the FCC, this has not come to fruition just yet and will likely proceed slower than expected for obvious bureaucratic reasons. 

For now, emergency services still emphasize the importance of making a voice call to 911 in the event of an emergency. While texting may be necessary under obscure circumstances, one huge disadvantage of the service is that emergency call centers are not yet able to track an emergency text. 

Smoke signals are also not advised. 


January 04, 2016

Nintendo Launches First Mobile Game



Nintendo fans can finally celebrate their beloved gaming system on their handsets. In March of next year, Nintendo will launch its first-ever mobile app, Miitomo, a communication focused game interface with customizable personal avatars.

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced its partnership with DeNA, a fellow Japanese company focused on mobile apps and development. Together, the duo is committed to bringing Nintendo’s familiar game style to the handsets of millions of users around the world, as well as launching a new online gaming community. 

In addition to its social focus, Miitomo will also focus on entertainment and include internal mini games and other gasification features. There are even discussions about linking the game to users’ Facebook friend lists so that players can communicate with people already in their social spaces. 

Currently, the only revenue potential built into the free-to-play game is clothing users will be able to purchase for their avatar. 

Despite obvious links to the gaming community, Nintendo hasn’t been on the forefront of handset gaming. The partnership with DeNA has been something Nintendo avoided speaking about as recently as January 2014. 

According to Nintendo’s rep at the time, “Nintendo’s intention is not to make Nintendo software available on smart devices.”

Despite Nintendo’s early resistance, the company has made a few things about the mobile developments perfectly clear. For one, DeNA and Nintendo will only be working on original games specifically optimized for the smartphone experience—that means you’re not going to see Mario or Luigi on your handset anytime soon. 

What’s more, all the existing Nintendo IP will be eligible for development by the new license. So, even though Nintendo says no Mario Cart for the iPhone 6S, it’s possible all of that might change sometime in the future. 


What the Future Holds

In some ways, it feels like Nintendo is testing the waters before it dives straight into the mobile game world. Depending on how things go with Miitomo, the company may gain some much-needed confidence.

However, all of this raises interesting questions about the success of one gaming platform and its potential success crossing over into new territory. Can Nintendo make a successful game for handsets? Or will it regret the discussion to cross over if Miitomo doesn’t play out to plan?

Nintendo fans should be open-minded come March of next year. They may not get exactly what they’re expecting, but it could be something better.

December 11, 2015

Net Neutrality: Confusion Reigns Over Text Messaging's Status



The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified fixed and mobile Internet access this year as “common carrier services.” This reclassification falls under Title II of the Communications Act. It aims to use net neutrality rules to prevent carriers from blocking text messages. 

What kind of text messages? Bulk text messages, which at this time aren’t exactly regulated. Bulk texting, as with bulk emailing, is a huge business, and many bulk texts are useful. Others fall under the spam variety, such as those saying the receiver has won the lottery and has to pay a certain amount to “unlock” the winnings. And while blocking “spammy” text messages may seem like a good idea, what constitutes spam is currently under review. 

Verizon created a lot of controversy some eight years ago when it blocked messages to users from an abortion rights organization. The carrier reversed its stance following a New York Times article about the issue, however it caused Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups to petition the FCC. The groups urged the agency to disallow wireless carriers from refusing to provide short codes because of content.

The FCC didn’t respond to the request, however the agency recently solicited public comments regarding a petition started by Twilio, a messaging company who argues carriers must adhere to common carrier rules regarding text messages. 

"The wireless carriers' practices of blocking, throttling, and imposing discriminatory content restrictions on messaging services traffic is not only a daily occurrence, but an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network," Twilio said in a petition.


Free Reign

The messaging company received support from Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press, all of which stated carriers currently have "free rein to abuse their gatekeeper position,” and that "Discriminatory text message blocking by the carriers not only raises competitive concerns, but also interferes with free speech rights."

Unsurprisingly, AT&T, Verizon, and the CTIA—a trade group representing most wireless carriers—are asking the FCC to reject Twilio’s request. T-Mobile and Sprint did not make official statements, however they are represented by the CTIA. 

"Twilio frames its Petition as an effort to curb what it calls the 'blocking' and 'throttling' of messaging traffic but in fact, Twilio is asking the Commission to invalidate consumer-protection measures that prevent massive quantities of unlawful and unwanted mobile messaging spam from reaching and harming consumers," CTIA wrote.

Verizon’s comments to the FCC were similar: 

"Despite the successful growth of mobile messaging from a niche product to a massively popular means of nearly spam-free communication, Twilio wants to upend the status quo by subjecting wireless providers’ messaging services and the industry-developed common short code system to Title II," Verizon wrote. "That is a solution in search of a problem and would open the floodgates to spam, harming consumers that have come to depend on messaging services."

The FCC's net neutrality order was put in effect last March and prevents carriers from block messages delivered over the Internet. However, the FCC did not make clarifications regarding traditional text messages.

December 10, 2015

Napa Police Using Mobile Tech in the Fight Against Crime



When Apple released its fingerprint recognition feature on the iPhone 5S, consumers were pretty excited. Today, the identification feature once reserved for high-security has become mainstream, finding itself in the daily lives of millions of mobile users. But fingerprint recognition on your iPhone isn’t the only thing mobile tech is good for. For almost two years, the Napa County Sherriff’s Office has been using mobile fingerprint technology to help law enforcement with a variety of specialized tasks. 

The latest device features dual uses: fingerprint recognition for quick identifications and electronic ticketing. So far the Napa County Sherriff’s Office has nine devices, which they share throughout the county. 


What It Means for Law Enforcement

If this sounds like an advancement for law enforcement, it is in some ways—however, the technology may be lacking in others. For instance, the fingerprint recognition device scans a person’s finger and crosschecks it against other fingerprints that are already in California’s fingerprint database. These people are predominantly criminals but also include nurses, cops, teachers, and anyone who’s ever had a reason to be fingerprinted in the state of California. While this can be a huge advantage in some cases, in others, the identification technology would prove useless if the suspect had no prior record or had never been marked on the proverbial grid. 

Similarly, even if a suspect is found in the database, it doesn’t give law enforcement much information aside from their identification. For instance, knowing if a suspect has a previous record of violent offenses could be invaluable information for law enforcement working in the field, where quick decision-making can often mean the difference between life and death. 

Law enforcement is using the technology to help identify people in the field, especially individuals attempting to present fake IDs or avoid identification altogether.

“The alternative options for identifying individuals in the field are very lengthy or time-consuming,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike, “so this product allows us to do that in a rapid manner.”

In addition to cutting down time, the device also allows law enforcement to better handle people who forget, misplace, or lose their IDs. 

Cutting through the red tape and wasteful time expenditures is undoubtedly worth the expense law enforcement is willing to pay for these nifty mobile devices. Napa represents a small geographic area and a limited number of crimes. For other counties, the usefulness of mobile fingerprint recognition may not be fully realized in a practical way just yet.