Mobile Applications – Voice on the Web http://voiceontheweb.biz Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Thu, 01 Jun 2017 17:02:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Mobile Applications – Voice on the Web Facilitating Personal and Business Conversations Across a Voice 2.0 World Mobile Applications – Voice on the Web http://voiceontheweb.biz/wp-content/plugins/powerpress/rss_default.jpg http://voiceontheweb.biz/category/mobile-root/mobile-applications-mobile-root/ 103460194 Experience Skype to the Max: 2nd Edition http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-software/experience-skype-to-the-max-2nd-edition/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-software/experience-skype-to-the-max-2nd-edition/#respond Tue, 17 Mar 2015 11:47:27 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=11150 So why has the widget in the Voice On The Web sidebar changed recently?

Experience Skype to the Max, 2nd EdtionAugust 2012 and I self-published Experience Skype to the Max, an Amazon eBook that pulled together all my experience of the previous six years using, and blogging about, Skype as my primary real time communications application on PC’s and mobile devices as well as the hardware that supported Skype.

Last spring I was approached by Apress, a division of Springer – one of the world’s largest publishers of technical books, about authoring an updated version. Today I am pleased to announce the publication of Experience Skype to the Max, 2nd Edition through Apress.

In the intervening three years, Skype has made several updates, offered new features and migrated its back end infrastructure onto Microsoft’s Internet Messenger servers including:

  • Video messaging – leave video messages up to three minutes duration
  • Chat message buffering – if you leave a message for a Contact who is not online, the message appears when the recipient comes back online (within 30 days)
  • Significantly improved support for Skype on mobile devices including:
    • the launch of Skype for BlackBerry 10, Skype for Windows Phone 8 and Skype for Amazon Fire
    • significant reduction of the impact of Skype on device battery life
    • deeper integration of Skype for iPhone, taking advantage of iOS 8’s notification features.
    • Skype for iPhone hosts up to a four-party group voice call.
    • a more consistent user interface across all mobile devices: Recent, Favorites, People
    • support for HD (720p, 1080p) or quarter HD (960 x 540) video resolutions
  • New file transfer interface – when a file transfer is made, it appears in the chat panes of both the sender and recipients as either a graphic or Office application icon. Click on the icon and it either opens in your default graphics or appropriate Office application (except on iOS devices). It’s also stored on the back end servers for later recall. This one merits a separate post.
  • A new user interface on Skype for Windows Desktop and Skype for Mac which has had a mixed reception. Frankly with a few changes to Options, outlined in the book, I actually am very comfortable with this new user interface. However, I do have a couple of other issues with it; this also merits a separate post.
  • Integration with Outlook.com, Outlook and Office 365 (Word, PowerPoint) document collaboration.

On the other hand there have also been some other changes, the most notable of which is the Skype Shop; users are now directed to Chat and Vision’s shop. At the same time Skype’s hardware certification program has been discontinued as most native PC and third party audio and video hardware today supports Skype’s “SILK” superwideband audio and HD video.

One other major change has been the significant reduction of support for third party applications due to reduced API support under Microsoft. Only call recording utilities (Pamela, Call Recorder for Skype) and support for various TV sets, as well as TelyHD, remain. On the other hand the entire nature and modus operandi of customer support via call centers is changing with the evolution of usage of both chat and WebRTC-based offerings; Skype changes how users participate in customer service operations.

During this time several new players have emerged or matured on the IP-based communications front:

  • Facetime, provided all participants are on an Apple device, has developed a significant following.
  • Google Hangouts has become a standard for video conferencing
  • Wire, developed by some former Skype employees, has recently launched with an interesting new, but far from complete, feature set.
  • WhatsApp has certainly proved the case that people prefer chat because you can carry on multiple conversations simultaneously and asynchronously but it only works on one mobile device along with a web browser app due to its reliance on a phone number as the unique identifier.
  • BBM, with over 140 million users, has its own set of unique features such as building a group picture library and supporting the hosting of group video calls from a mobile device.

However, none has the comprehensive feature set of Skype; the last chapter of the includes a list of questions to ask when evaluating new offerings and Skype’s changes as well as a discussion of the potential for the invocation newly emerging technologies such as WebRTC. And then there’s the Directory issue that Dan York has articulated so well; having 300 million Skype users was one justification Apress used for proceeding with this project.

Personally I continue to use Skype as my primary real time communications offering in my home office for both business and personal communications. It’s so handy to just pick up a headset and launch a conversation, including to landlines, on my PC or smartphone as a matter of convenience. Both voice and video quality have improved with respect to robustness and reliability over time maybe it’s due to my high speed (60 down/10 up) Internet connection and/or my desktop PC configuration. I continuously encounter users who rely on Skype for their everyday activities, especially when it comes to business operations and keeping in contact with friends and family spread out worldwide.

Working with Apress, Experience Skype to the Max, 2nd edition will have both a print (black & white) and an eBook (colour) version, available on Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble and other eBook platforms. In addition they have other marketing programs, similar in concept to Amazon Prime, on both Apress and Springer that encourage much wider spread adoption of the book.

Involving editors and logistics personnel in London, New York, Bay Area and western NY state, the entire production of the book was executed using Skype (95% being chat) and Sharepoint. Print editions are created using Print-on-Demand services, including Amazon’s CreateSpace. Overall the experience of this project is one more example of how the Internet can radically alter and disrupt a business model, in this case, book publishing.

Special acknowledgement needs to go to Gwenan Spearing at Apress London as the Acquisitions Editor, who championed production of the book and who was also Lead Editor critiquing the content, and to Christine Ricketts at Apress New York who, as Coordinating Editor, kept me sane while managing all the logistics aspects. Greg Kettell, as Technical Reviewer, also helped enrich the content through his comments and feedback.

With the completion of this project I intend to return to more frequent blogging. Not only has lots changed on the IP-based communications front but also mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

So it’s time to head on over and order your own copy. Reviews are much appreciated.

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BlackBerry 2014: Reaching Out in New Directions http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/mobile-devices-mobile-root/blackberry-2014-blackberry-passport-and-blackberry-blend/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/mobile-devices-mobile-root/blackberry-2014-blackberry-passport-and-blackberry-blend/#respond Wed, 24 Sep 2014 14:15:00 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=11061 BBPassport.TheHubOnce more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with smartphone innovation.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a mobile
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the hardware keyboard;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up innovative formats,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d communications process enhancements

with apologies to William Shakespeare (and my grade 12 English teacher)

Today marks the launch of an ambitious series of BlackBerry product launches during the 2014 fall season:

  • BlackBerry Passport – new dimensions in smartphone ergonomics
  • BlackBerry Blend – taking BlackBerry email, BBM and other activities cross-platform
  • BlackBerry Classic – restoring the true legacy BlackBerry hardware keyboard user interface
  • BES 12 – managing business or enterprise communications securely across multiple platforms: legacy BlackBerry, BlackBerry 10, iOS, Android and Windows Phone

But let’s go back a step. Over the past few months, including a 24 day trip to seven European countries, I would ask anyone I saw with a legacy BlackBerry  or BlackBerry Q10 what their experience was and why they were still using BlackBerry. The answers boiled down to two reasons:

  • hardware keyboard – they just could not envision working with a touch keyboard
  • it’s a true communications platform – viewed as far superior for productive business communications activities.

One more recall: a year ago the post BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto envisioned a world where we simply carry around a core smartphone with a handheld form factor but as we move about:

  • connect to any display panel via either HDMI or a DLNA certified device
    • ranging in size from Playbook’s 7 inch screen to 100 inch meeting room displays
    • available in your home, automobile, Internet cafés, libraries and business friendly locations
  • connect to a keyboard via Bluetooth or use the smartphone’s physical keyboard
  • connect to the Internet via WiFi or whatever high speed carrier technology is available
  • access printers remotely at the end point where paper documents are required

This provides some background for the initial discussion of today’s announcements combining new directions in smartphone ergonomics with one form of implementation of that vision. BlackBerry’s theme for today’s introduction is “See the Bigger Picture” but it’s about a lot more than physical device size.

BlackBerry Passport

Passport.front.backOffering a completely different format and keyboard, BlackBerry Passport also brings along the horsepower to serve as the core element of a complete personal computing system:

  • An innovative super high resolution 4.5” square display with 1440 x 1440 full HD resolution packed in at 453 dpi.
  • An innovative hybrid touch and hardware keyboard with three rows for alpha characters and a touch screen for numbers and symbols. But here’s the rub (pun intended): the keyboard also serves as a touchpad, bringing back the fine cursor control of legacy BlackBerry 9000 series devices.
  • 3GB RAM and 32GB flash memory with an SD card slot
  • a 13Megapixel rear camera with Optical Image Stabilization
  • a 3450 mAh battery – the largest of any smartphone
  • a higher quality audio experience

Passport.Specs

Its 5” x 3.5” size duplicates that of today’s high security passports; thus the name. And if your citizenship Passport fits into your shirt pocket so does the BlackBerry Passport.

In addition to the “swipe cursor control” overlaying the keyboard to emulate a touch pad it also incorporates the “flick-to-type” predictive text feature of the touch screen BlackBerry 10 devices (Z10 and Z30). Touch the “123” softkey and you get a touch version of a standard PC keyboard Number Pad.

On the applications side, start with the Hub, BlackBerry 10’s message management that allows you to receive and send messages across email and social networking platforms without the need to open the individual applications. Other features include:

  • BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3
  • BlackBerry Assistant, providing access to work-related information: dictate a corporate email message or setup a calendar appointment. Interacts with voice, or, in a noisy environment, the keyboard or handsfree on a Bluetooth connection to a car audio.
  • Amazon App Store in addition to BlackBerry World accessing over 200,000 applications running in an upgraded Android player.

That’s just an introduction to the BlackBerry Passport. I had a brief experience with one two weeks ago but one really needs to use it for a few days to do a more complete review.

Now onto a new communications paradigm.

BlackBerry Blend

Here’s where we get into the world of using your BlackBerry as the core of a world where we also have tablets and PC’s. BlackBerry Blend uses your BlackBerry 10 device as a communication server that provides access to your BlackBerry applications from any of the other devices.

On my recent European trip I only used my BlackBerry Z30 and my iPad Air. I came home with the feeling that there are times when It would have been more convenient to have access to the larger display and/or the larger Logitech Ultrathin keyboard to send, say, BBM messages or view websites. And handling email or social networking messages on the iPad is, frankly, a pain requiring access to each of the individual applications. BlackBerry Blend surmounts those barriers.

And one of my frustrations with using BBM is the fact it does not support working on multiple platforms. Set up BBM and you’re stuck with using it on one single device.

BBBlend.WorldHasChanged

BlackBerry Blend seamlessly brings messaging and content from your BlackBerry smartphone to your PC or tablet. Designed for both power professionals but including security management for IT managers, BlackBerry Blend works across USB, WiFi and cellular connections. Install BlackBerry Blend on your iPad and connect to your BlackBerry that you left at the office or hotel room. The user interface says it all.

BlackBerryBlend.dashboard

While BlackBerry Passport uses BlackBerry 10 OS 10.3, current BlackBerry 10 owners will have access to BlackBerry 10.3.1 in a few weeks along with BlackBerry Blend.

Did BlackBerry just justify my recent purchase of an iPad Air? And it’s a great replacement for Playbook without all the overhead involved with supporting operating systems and hardware while achieving the goal of viewing BlackBerry 10 device content on a larger display (and accessing the relevant keyboards). BlackBerry Blend is an initial implementation of the mobile word envisioned in The BlackBerry Manifesto: access and use content on one core mobile device but on multiple hardware platforms.

One has to have the BlackBerry device at the same location for the initial association between the BlackBerry 10 device and the tablet/PC. Otherwise only an appropriate internet connection is required even if the two devices become geographically separated.

The Challenge

With its focus on the enterprise (and specifically regulated enterprise), BlackBerry has taken major steps to address productivity and security issues in today’s “always connected” world. But one has to remember that we also have a personal side and want to use applications that enhance our personal experiences, whether finance, travel, entertainment, sports or whatever.

These new offerings are definitely targeted at the enterprise audience but it’s going to become even more difficult to differentiate our business lives from our personal lives. Life with a BlackBerry 10 device and an iPad, Android tablet or PC delivers more productive communications while accessing the range of applications available across all these devices.

The challenge now for BlackBerry is to get the message out to appropriate target audiences with the hope that it will diffuse to a broader public. And to execute soon on BlackBerry Classic and BES 12.

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Truphone World – My Universal World Carrier Experience http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/wireless-carriers/truphone-world-sim-my-universal-world-carrier-experience/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/wireless-carriers/truphone-world-sim-my-universal-world-carrier-experience/#respond Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:28:49 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=11031 The Truphone StoryLast spring Truphone, which has been developing both VoIP clients and multi-country SIM technology since 2001, announced its Truphone World plan, expanding the use of its SIM to seamlessly and transparently support wireless carrier voice and data access in 66 countries. During my recent 24 day trip across seven European countries I was able to obtain first hand user experience with this SIM.

The Truphone SIM provides you with:

  • Voice channel and data channel over carriers in 66 countries
  • Local phone numbers in the eight Truphone Zone countries1
  • Seamless migration across participating carriers as you cross borders
  • Ability to create a mobile WiFi hotspot in the eight Truphone Zone countries
  • Volume plans for voice minutes, SMS messages and data that are transparent to the participating countries.

Z10 Mobile HotspotRecently I reported on my BlackBerry Z30 experience during this trip where I mentioned that I installed the Truphone World SIM on a BlackBerry Z10 which essentially became a WiFi access point or hotspot for my other devices, such as the Z30, an iPad Air, an iPhone 5 and my wife’s BlackBerry Q10 and iPad mini. All those devices were put in Airplane mode for the duration of the trip. I did have to carry around a spare Z10 battery pack to get through a full day as turning on the WiFi hotspot feature did impact battery drain.

One SIM, Eight Countries

With the Truphone SIM I basically had seamless voice and data services as I crossed borders. The only limitation was that I could only use the Z10 as a WiFi hotspot in the four Truphone Zone countries we visited (U.S., U.K., Netherlands and Germany).The Z10’s WiFi hotspot feature allows me to connect up to eight devices.

In the other four countries (seven days across Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic) my Z10 had voice access and data access only on the Z10 itself; phone-based WiFi hotspots and tethering were not allowed in these countries (see below). In those countries we still had WiFi access on our river cruise boat, at our hotel in Prague as well as at restaurants in Budapest and Prague. In several cities we found there was free WiFi access in or near the main squares.

Inbound Phone Numbers in Four Countries

Truphone supplied me with phone numbers in U.S., U.K. Netherlands and Germany. A call to any of these numbers would be answered on my Z10. For the purpose of this vacation trip I only gave the numbers out to my family should there be a need for, say, an emergency call. On the other hand if I made a call out to any of these countries, the callerID would be the number for the local country (and in Canada it provided the U.S. number).

TruphoneWorldSIM.4Numbers Truphone.NoHotspot
Truphone Numbers No Hotspot
outside Truphone Zone countries

Voice Calling

I made voice calls to Canada, U.S., U.K., Netherlands and Germany during the trip, usually using the Contacts directory on my Z10. In all cases the call quality was excellent at both ends; no complaints, very clear voice, no background interference or white noise. Calls to my family back in Canada lasted anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour.

In one case I needed to change my homeward bound flight reservations after we learned a critical flight was cancelled; I spent ~40 minutes on hold waiting for an Air Canada representative (while that call was made at 7 a.m. in Munich, it was only 1 a.m. in Montreal) and within ten minutes of answering I had a satisfactory resolution of my issue; Air Canada put us onto a non-stop into Toronto instead of having to make a transfer in Frankfurt.

On a few occasions, such as where I did not have a phone number in my BlackBerry contacts, it was more convenient to make a voice call using my SkypeOut subscription over the Truphone SIM’s data channel; once again I had excellent voice quality.

Internet Access

Over the data channel supported by the SIM I was able to carry on normal Internet activities – email, web browsing (including Google Maps), social networking (especially FourSquare and Untappd), dedicated applications with access to my bank accounts, sports activities (World Cup and MLB), BlackBerry Maps, and all the BlackBerry 10 Share features.

Data Usage

Supporting five devices at various times and relying on the Internet Access described above for information, it turns out I used about 12GB of data during the 24 days of the trip. Probably a significant portion of this data (~20% to 30%) would be replicated as I had multiple devices using email and social networking accounts. As mentioned in my previous post I only used the iPhone 5 for panorama pictures which eventually would be loaded up to iCloud; otherwise I would occasionally use it to check out any differences with the iPhone experience.

Carrier Speeds & Protocols

In the course of traveling through both cities and “remote” countryside I also had a chance to learn a lot about the European carrier infrastructure. Also one needs to take into consideration that, especially in remote areas, there were mountains or high hills that could interfere with signals. (Grape vines on river valley hillsides do not serve as wireless carrier sites.) Unless I was in a city or large town, I found I was usually dealing with 2G/EDGE connections which basically only updated email and handled text type messages. As a test of speed I also turned on Rogers new European roaming plan during a couple of days and, while I could get LTE in cities, I found similar 2G/EDGE or 3G results in the rural areas.

In the larger towns and cities I would get either 3G or HSPA+ signals on my Z10 using the Truphone SIM (see my examples from the Czech Republic and Slovakia below); using the Rogers roaming test I would get LTE only in the areas of large cities.  However 3G or HSPA+ gave me sufficient speed to deal with everything from Maps (BlackBerry and Google) to viewing videos.

TruphoneNetworkCZ.EDGE TruphoneNetworkSK.3G TruphoneNetworkCZ.HSPA
EDGE
(rural Czech Republic)
3G
Bratislava, Slovakia
HSPA+
Prague, Czech Republic

Truphone World Plans

However, the bottom line is that Truphone keeps the traveler’s communications access costs down while delivering reliable, robust access to voice and data.

Truphone has several comprehensive individual and shared plans for businesses, comprising voice minutes, SMS messages and data usage.

In my particular case I was initially given a 500 minute/500 SMS/500MB “500” plan; however while I only used 160 minutes of voice and no SMS messaging2, I did use 12GB of data over that period. Here’s where you see the Truphone cost advantage:

Truphone’s 500 Plan has a cost of $70 per month but also provides for data add-on plans; in my case 10GB of excess data would have cost $132 per month ($13.20/GB). As a result the total cost of my Truphone World SIM usage would have been US$192 – significantly lower than Rogers roaming at $9.95/20MB plus 160 minutes of voice at $200 – including 200MB of data. In the Truphone Zone countries it also meant I did not have to buy the rather expensive hotel WiFi offerings ranging from €10 to €25 per day.

Note that using Truphone’s business plans do require a multi-month subscription commitment; otherwise consumer plans are also available.

Bottom Line

For businesses with frequent travel to Europe or other countries outside North America Truphone’s offerings can provide significant cost savings while providing excellent voice quality and more than adequate data network speeds where 3G/HSPA+ is supported by their partner carriers. Whereas low data speeds would preclude using real time voice applications such as Skype, the voice channel remains available independently of the data channel speeds.

Check out this video, produced by Truphone, for an overview of Truphone World and how it work.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mFwMu49Rvg

1United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Spain, Hong Kong, Australia

2For text messaging I used Skype and BBM, including daily photos to a family Group, with the occasional Facebook message.

Full disclosure: Truphone provided me with the Truphone SIM and did not charge me for its usage; they simply were looking for a customer experience use case. The expectation was that I would use it during this multi-country trip to see if it would provide the services I needed to keep connected to the Internet and make voice calls as appropriate. No monies were paid for providing this post. Being on vacation I did not have expectations for inbound calls other than family emergencies; it did, however, provide significant amounts of information supporting our trip as we traveled, such as weather, location on the ship, buses and train used. Also useful for researching additional information to that we learned at the various tourist tours taken, such as the story behind the plaque I found about the developer of the first Pilsner beer in 1842.

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BlackBerry 10: My European Travel Companion(s) http://voiceontheweb.biz/featured/blackberry-10-european-travel-companions/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/featured/blackberry-10-european-travel-companions/#respond Wed, 23 Jul 2014 10:51:00 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10999 BBZ30.EuropeScreen.450pxOver a recent 24 day period I traveled through eight countries, providing an opportunity to determine the level of access and travel support I could get from my BlackBerry 10 devices (a Z30 and a Z10). I also had available an iPad Air and an iPhone 5; however, they quickly became ancillary to my activities.

We visited England to attend a long time friend’s memorial service, participated in a two week river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest (Rhine, Main and Danube), and spent three days in each of Prague and Munich.

Why two BlackBerry 10 devices?

My Z30 is my primary mobile device when in Canada; its configuration is such that I did not want to lose any of the its features and application set. In addition to about 160 native BlackBerry 10 applications it also contains about 35 Android applications that have been downloaded and installed via Snap, a free Google Play client for BlackBerry 10. It contains a Rogers SIM that was put into airplane mode for the duration of the trip except on two days where I wanted to test out Rogers roaming.

Z10MobileHotspotThe Z10 served fundamentally as my Internet access point. Why? Because I had been asked to review the recently launched Truphone World SIM that provides carrier voice and data access in 66 countries on a single plan, including eight countries in the Truphone Zone. I put the Z30 into airplane mode and connected to the Internet through the Z10 or other WiFi access points such as on the ship, in a hotel or at a restaurant.

Of the eight Truphone Zone countries we traveled through four: a U.S. hub airport, U.K, The Netherlands and Germany. In those countries I could use BlackBerry 10’s WiFi access point feature which provided an Internet connection to my Z30, iPad Air and iPhone 5 – all of which remained in Airplane mode during the entire trip. It also provided connections to my wife’s Q10 and iPad mini.

In the four Truphone World countries outside the Truphone Zone (Austria,  Slovakia, Hungary and Czech Republic) the ability to create a WiFi access point via carrier data was disabled; however, the Truphone World SIM on the Z10 could still deliver voice and data for the Z10 itself. In these countries WiFi access came through our ship’s WiFi, a hotel, restaurants and the free WiFi found in the centre of several of the cities we visited.

More details on my Truphone World SIM experience are provided in a separate post. In that post I’ll also discuss how European carriers still have a lot of work to do in providing higher speed coverage outside major cities and towns. Often I would only find 2G/EDGE service whether using the Truphone SIM or, in a couple of test cases, Rogers roaming where we could get LTE in the cities but only 2G/EDGE in rural regions.

In the remainder of this post I want to cover some of the activities for which I used the Z30 and, where necessary, the Z10.

The Hub

With this setup I continued to receive and send messages via the BlackBerry Hub – not only two email accounts (MS Exchange and GMail) but also Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and FourSquare. With Rogers One Number service I could access any text messages sent to my Z30 via the RON application on my iPhone 5 or iPad Air (and also send out SMS text messages).

The Markers

Over the course of 24 days one can start to lose track of where you have been and what you saw. Two programs helped to provide trip markers that I could reference once I returned home and started editing my 3,000+ pictures into a reasonable presentation: FourSquare and Untapped. Suffice it to say I now have 70 new checkins and 47 new photos on FourSquare along with 14 new distinct beers on Untappd.

Untapped.4Sq.Europe14

Note: the Budweiser Budvar is the original Czech beer; suffice it to say they have sued the U.S. company for intellectual property infringement. Pilsner Urquell is the original Pilsner beer brewed in Pilzn, CZ; it was originally brewed in 1842 to address a problem with long term storage of beer..

BBM: Sending “postcards” daily to all members of my family in a single step

BBMCourtneyGroupIn the past one might mail a few postcards to family members, say, once a week during a trip such as this – and often they would arrive at their destination after we returned home. Plus you had to find a way to buy stamps and a mailbox. With a BBM Group that comprises my family members I was able to send a daily “postcard” comprising a photo and some text commentary in a single action from any location with an Internet connection.  Basically I found a suitable Z30 photo amongst those taken on a particular day and, using Share options, would simply send it to the Courtney Group on BBM. Occasionally these entries would result in engagement with some follow up text conversation.

For instance, as we sailed into Budapest late in the evening, we were treated to a light show of all the buildings along the Danube – parliament buildings, palaces, university buildings, museums, etc.  This experience turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. In almost real time and with a single action we were able to send a photo of the Hungary Parliament Building lit up at night to my family members.

Social Networking

Often my FourSquare and Untappd entries would be forwarded to Twitter and Facebook. But, of course, I was also able to engage directly with friends’ entries on Twitter and Facebook. I certainly checked Facebook at least daily to follow what others were doing; surprisingly two of my acquaintances were also on trips to England and France during our trip; they also provided some interesting and relevant Facebook commentary. I was also able to follow LinkedIn activity but provided no entries as i was really on a vacation and did not feel the need to participate in business-related discussions.

News and Sports

During our trip we were able to track major news events via various BlackBerry 10 News apps (Globe & Mail, New York Times, CBC News and CNN). We were also able to follow activity involving the World Cup, Wimbledon Tennis and the decline and fall of the Toronto Blue Jays from first place in their division. Weather Eye kept us informed of the daily local weather forecasts. Of course I was also able to keep up to date on BlackBerry and other personally selected activity via BBM Channels. The XE Currency BlackBerry 10 app came in handy for doing conversions involving the Euro, the Hungarian Forint and Czech Crown.

Music

The memorial service in England was for a long time friend and mentor with whom I had produced a music record back in the 60’s. I had copied the tracks to my PC and subsequently transferred the files to my Z30. At the reception following the service i was able to play a couple of the pieces as a tribute through my BlackBerry Mini-Stereo speaker – which had enough volume to easily be heard by all attendees across the medium size hall.

Maps

During the trip I often used either BlackBerry Maps or, in the browser, Google Maps. When we arrived in Amsterdam at Amsterdam Central Station we needed to know which tram would take us to the Rijksmuseum. We quickly got the answer in Google Maps to look for tram 2 or 5. When we had to switch ships between Nuremburg and Passau due to low water levels on the Main-Danube canal, BlackBerry Maps told me we had a three hour trip; not the two hours mentioned by our tour guide. As long as I could get 3G service on the Z10 we could usually locate our ship location as we passed through locks or mountain valleys.

MunichHotelMap

When an acquaintance wanted to locate my hotel in Munich I simply used BlackBerry Maps to capture our location (near the main train station on Bayerstraße) and sent him a BBM message with the screen capture.

Voice Calling

Since Truphone World plans include voice calling I made several voice channel calls back to Canada as well as to contacts in England and Germany. The clincher was a call where I had wait 50 minutes to rebook my Air Canada reservation for our home bound flight due to a connecting Lufthansa flight cancellation – we ended up on a non-stop flight that brought us home one hour earlier than our original reservation. (It was 1 a.m. in Montreal when I made that call; that probably speaks volumes about the reason for the long wait).  Over Truphone World’s data channel I also made a few SkypeOut calls. In all cases I had excellent voice quality. I was also able to follow several Skype chat threads during the trip via Skype for BlackBerry.

Photos

While my primary camera was a Canon SX40 with telephoto capabilities, I often used the Z30 camera for photos that I wanted to include with BBM (Group) messages, FourSquare, Twitter and Facebook entries as well as emails or Skype file transfers. It was convenient to be able to take the photo and then simply “Share” the photo immediately to my destination of choice.

The BlackBerry 10 Touch Keyboard

GermanKeyboardAs I occasionally went back to using the touch keyboard on my iPad Air and iPhone 5 I was constantly reminded of the power of the BlackBerry 10 touch keyboard. In summary I probably typed about 25% of the characters I sent due to the powerful predictive text feature. For caps I simply held on the key until I saw a cap; no Shift key required!

However, being in Germany and having familiarity with the German language, I had also activated the German keyboard. Holding down a letter long enough also gave me the option to select characters with the umlaut accent or the Eszett (ß) “double s” character.   And if I typed “Mü”, predictive text would suggest München whereas typing “Mun” would suggest Munich.

Usually if I had entered a local name once in either language it would appear as a suggested word the next time I wanted to use it after only typing the first two or three characters. This often helped when I wanted to type a word ending in either “berg” or “burg” and not recalling which was correct.

OK, so why the iPad Air and iPhone 5?

Fundamentally the iPad Air, with the Logitech Ultrathin keyboard, replaced my need for a laptop PC. I used it for longer email messages and responses; while I had brought my recently upgraded MacBook Pro, it never left its case during the trip. The iPad Air also served to receive photos from the EyeFi Mobi card on my camera via the card’s WiFi access point. (Clumsiest tourist activity witnessed on the trip: taking photos with a 10-inch iPad – any version.)

As for the iPhone 5, the only use I made of it was for panorama photos of some of the spectacular plazas, cathedral interiors and scenery we encountered during our travel. Yes, there is a 360 Panorama app for the BlackBerry 10; however, it does require post-photo editing to crop it down to a rectangular format; hopefully we will see a panorama mode in the forthcoming BlackBerry 10.3 OS.

Prague.OldTownSquare

Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Bottom Line:

This 24 day trip provided an excellent opportunity to check out the versatility of the BlackBerry 10, especially the Z30 as a primary mobile device across eight countries. Where there was not an application, the browser usually provided the access and information we were seeking out (Google Maps is a primary example); responsive design and HTML5 contribute significantly to this capability. Did I miss anything? … probably not. My Z30, assisted by my Z10, served all my communications and Internet needs to capture travel activity, maintain communications via voice, email and social networking and deliver news, sports, reference and other information on request.

With all these features – predictive keyboard, excellent display, very powerful browser, messaging integration, BBM, excellent music audio, the browser Reader feature and most importantly the overall productivity benefits – going forward I expect to travel only with my Z30 and iPad Air to keep connected as I travel.

Inside BlackBerry: Why I Still Sell BlackBerry: Tales from a Smartphone Sales Rep

Some Android applications used: TripIt, Yammer, Starbucks (but they would not take my Starbucks Canada card in Prague for payment), PayPal, Flickr, Kayak, National Post, FIFA World Cup, National Post, Würzburg Tourism, British Airways (LGW-AMS)  and Marriott. Other Android apps installed but not used include NetFlix (the ship TV had lots of movie choices), Instagram (just not into it), Harmony TV controller (only works in my family room), IMDb, MailChimp, Event Brite and WestJet amongst others.

Full disclosure: The BlackBerry Z30 and Z10 were provided to the author as a member of BlackBerry Elite, a group of BlackBerry users who provide user feedback to BlackBerry and assist with evangelizing the merits of this unique multi-tasking smartphone platform (but we don’t have any advance information on upcoming OS developments). There are no affiliate links in this post, nor has there been any monetary compensation provided for publishing this post. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author who does have a very small holding of BlackBerry shares and decades of business experience with multi-tasking environments. His main interest is in supporting a Canadian technology pioneer while at the same time getting maximum benefit from his smartphone.

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PamFax: Who Uses Fax Today? http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/pamfax-uses-fax-today/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/pamfax-uses-fax-today/#respond Fri, 13 Jun 2014 13:46:56 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10964 Over the past several years I have followed the evolution of PamFax from initially a Windows application seven years ago through to today’s fully cross-platform application versions such that your mobile smartphone or tablet can be your sole requirement for sending, receiving and archiving faxes.

But the question arises as to why does one still need availability of a fax communications option? PamFax has evolved to serve as a convenient pay-as-you- go offering that has eliminated my fax phone line (cost saving ~$40/month) yet made faxing available on all these platforms. In fact, I also forward received faxes to Dropbox making them available via the cloud on any platform.

BBZ30.PFMenu.PhonePersonally I have found that fax is still required to work with healthcare (medical practices and pharmacies), legal, real estate and financial operations. Here are some examples:

  • Healthcare: no waiting at the pharmacy. Recently I had a procedure at a hospital on the east side of Toronto; they gave me a prescription. I took a picture of it with my BlackBerry 10 smartphone while in the hospital. While my wife drove me off the hospital campus, I used PamFax for BlackBerry to send the prescription to my pharmacy about a 45 minute drive away. When I arrived at the pharmacy my prescription was ready. (I hate waiting for prescriptions to be filled.) For regulatory reasons they also wanted the original to release the prescription, which of course, I had with me.
  • Real estate: don’t go looking around town for a fax service. Recently I have been involved with the sale of a vacation property in Quebec. All signed documentation was delivered by fax. Because fax has delivery acknowledgements within its protocol with a fixed end point at an assigned phone number, these signed documents are considered as legally binding. While demonstrating PamFax to a BlackBerry manager at a recent BlackBerry event, he wished he had had it the previous day when he was finalizing a house purchase that required him to run around Waterloo to find a publicly accessible fax machine. Now his BlackBerry 10 device is his “fax machine”.
  • Financial. Sometimes it’s the only legal option. While I can place orders over the Internet for trading, my broker requires signed documents for certain activities. It’s only once every few months but it is certainly convenient when I have to send a fax.

Check out PamFax’s white paper, Why Fax Remains Relevant, for more background, including more sectors that continue to rely on fax communications.

The recently released PamFax 3.0 for Windows and mobile devices requires only five or six steps to send a fax:

  1. Designate recipients (on mobile devices from your native Contacts directory or manually) – single or multiple, in over 200 countries
  2. Scan (PC’s) or photograph (mobile devices) a document (or select a document stored locally or accessed via an online services).
  3. Optional: add a (customized) cover sheet.
  4. Preview the fax
  5. Send the fax

You then can receive notification of successful delivery via e-mail, SMS and/or Skype chat. These options also are available for notification of new inbound faxes.

As for charges:

  • PamFax is completely Pay-As-You-Go. Initially buy a credit pack that never expires until you have used it up.
  • Inbound fax numbers involved a 3- or 12-month subscription that amounts to about $6.00/month (available in 32 countries)

One more benefit: in evaluating online fax services, not only is PamFax fully secure (it only delivers notifications by email, not the actual fax), but also it filters our spam faxes.

Check out the feedback from PamFax’s recent customer survey.

Bottom line: If you occasionally have to send or receive faxes, give PamFax a try. It’s obligation-free, pay-as-you-go and worldwide. It’s a productivity app that’s suitable for both the office and road warriors while freeing up fax phone lines. An initial free trial provides, on registration, three free fax pages and a one month inbound number subscription to try it out.

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Full disclosure: there are affiliate links in this post and the linked post to the PamFax overview (but not with the mobile app store links). The author also served as Product Manager for the recently released updates to PamFax 3.0 for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Amazon Fire. All mobile apps were developed using Phonegap and are native to the relevant device.

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Voxeet – Bringing New Dimensions to Conference Calls http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/voxeet-bringing-new-dimensions-conference-calls/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/voxeet-bringing-new-dimensions-conference-calls/#respond Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:15:00 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10857 VoxeetSplashScreen.200pxIn a recent post, Why voice is the next big Internet wave, telephony futurist Martin Geddes discusses “a wave of innovation that fundamentally alters the definition” of voice as “a mature technology that simply connects people in real-time across a distance”. In one of his points he talks about “Beyond the Call”:

Sadly, we are still replicating the patterns and limitations of 1876 telephony with the idea of a call today. We either schedule calls with fixed timing, length and attendees or blindly interrupt people. Future voice communication will mirror the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts. We will invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly. Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.

Recently launched Voxeet, a unique voice conference call platform, provides a sampling of the user experience accompanying some of these concepts. While Voxeet allows you to either launch an ad hoc conversation or schedule a conference call, the conference call session itself introduces spatial reality to immerse participants in a 3D audio experience where, from the audio perspective, you feel like you and the other participants are around the table in a physical office or conference room. It also takes advantage of superwideband codecs, such as Opus, to ensure the same crisp voice experienced in a physical office or boardroom.

Voxeet.ScheduleCall.200px.shortAvailable on Windows or Mac PC’s as well as iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, Voxeet employs WebRTC to make accessing a call as simple as tapping on a contact or accepting an incoming call notification. No third party plugins are involved.

On installation Voxeet can search your address book for those who are registered on Voxeet; you can also invite selected contacts to install it.

Voxeet.CallLaunch.WinDesktop

Starting an ad hoc call is as simple as selecting a Voxeet contact and tapping on the Call button. Scheduling a call involves setting up a meeting in Outlook, iCal, Google Calendar, etc. and adding meet@voxeet.me to the attendees invited to participate. No passcodes or PIN numbers are involved at any point; you have to be invited and answer an incoming call to join a Voxeet conference call.

A scheduled call launches by making outbound calls to all the participants and bringing them into the call. Clicking on “Answer” immediately brings up the call manager screen showing the “position” of all the participants in the room.

Voxeet.4party.nonames.Jimleft

Voxeet recommends using a headset but also a stereo speaker set will provide the 3D “office table” immersion experience. Initially I heard “Jim” in the left speaker of the headset and “Sue” in the right one. But while using a touch gesture to move Sue across the room “to my left” Adrianne joined the call. Then  I hear “Sue” on the left and “Adrianne” on the right while “Jim” is now across the table on the left. Also notice that by tapping on the arrow on the upper right, a bar showing the status of each participant also pops up.

Voxeet.5party.names.Sueleft

Voxeet also incorporates “Talk Over”. Instead of  hand raising and moderator control over who is speaking on the call Voxeet, emulating the experience of a physical meeting, allows multiple participants to speak at the same time. On the other hand there is the capability to mute a participant to address background noise issues such as barking dogs, crying babies, revved up Honda Civics, etc. When a participant is speaking, the speaker volume level indicator to the right of the speaker’s avatar becomes active, identifying who is speaking.

Participants without access to the Voxeet client can dial into calls via local dial-in numbers in over 40 countries; however, those participants will require a PIN number from the meeting invitation and will not experience the 3D HD immersive call experience.

Voxeet definitely provides an innovative new “Natural Conferencing” call experience:

  • Joining a call is an “instant” process; simply touch the Accept button and you are immediately in the call management interface
  • Launching a call with an individual Voxeet contact is simply a matter of clicking on the Call button on the Contact’s card
  • Participants in your Voxeet Contacts can be readily added to a call simply by clicking the “+” icon in the upper left and selecting from your Voxeet Contacts list
  • The 3D effect allows you, at your discretion, to position participants “around the table” as if all participants are in the same room.
  • Incorporating superwideband codecs provides the crisp, clear audio as if all participants were physically in the same room.
  • “Talk over” emulates the reality that in many meetings two or more participants may try to speak at the same time.
  • Participants can join a call from PC’s and mobile devices (very handy for road warriors)
  • Participants can move a call between supported devices during the call

In our initial trials, we found some minor issues that have since been addressed with new releases across all supported platforms two weeks ago. Speaking with one of their spokespeople, Voxeet has been doing some pioneering development work using WebRTC and continue the fine tuning.

Going forward it will be interesting to see if Voxeet can round out to a complete collaboration experience incorporating additional features such as document sharing and call recording as well as Bluetooth audio support.

Bottom line: Voxeet provides a unique and immersive conference call experience mirroring “the more fluid activity streams on Facebook, Yammer or Google Hangouts”. Participants can “invite others into a call as needed, allowing them to jump in and out of conversations seamlessly”. “Outside calls or cold calls will come with a “conversation request,” [Ed: or meeting invitation] where the caller pitches the receiver on why he or she should answer and invest their time.”

It’s definitely one incremental step contributing to “ a wave of innovation that fundamentally alters the definition” of voice calling as well as an excellent demonstration of the potential of the WebRTC voice calling user experience.

Note: Screenshots come from a call on my iPhone 5 (iOS7) while sitting in a restaurant parking lot using my carrier connection and Voxeet’s recently released version 2.1.0; however, the user experience is similar on all supported platforms and devices.

Give it a try; it’s free to sign up

Andy Abramson comments on the state of WebRTC: WebRTC is Here, Now and You’re Already Using It

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BlackBerry Z30: Setting the Bar for Smartphone Platform Performance http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-ecosystem/video-calling/blackberry-z30-setting-bar-smartphone-platform-performance/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-ecosystem/video-calling/blackberry-z30-setting-bar-smartphone-platform-performance/#respond Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:29:46 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10836 BBZ30.JACScreen.450pxOver the past three weeks I have been experiencing the recently released BlackBerry Z30 and uncovering what I feel is the best user experience from a platform perspective of any smartphone (or tablet) to date. Yes, there are applications I would like to have but, as will be mentioned further along, that is also improving significantly over time.

What do I mean by platform? It’s a combination of the hardware and the underlying operating system, including the browser, the display, the user interaction and, frankly, the device and screen size. As background I should mention that I also have an iPhone 5, an iPad Air and an Android tablet.

BBZ30.TorontoArrivalsThe Browser: building on its HTML5 speed and with several enhancements, it is definitely the fastest browser (check the HTML5 test, amongst others). Key is that using the browser I can meet the need for several mobile apps via their mobile web applications or Responsive Design websites, starting with Google Maps, Google+ and Google News. While the resolution of the display allows me to view most web pages without difficulty, when font size becomes a challenge, simply switch to Reader mode and font size issues go away. The larger screen size allows me to view most websites, especially in landscape mode, without the need for scrolling. For instance, I can readily follow activity in the Jira bug tracker portal for a current software development project when in landscape mode. Toronto Pearson Airport arrivals is another example of a Responsive Design site that accommodates the screen size.

The Display: The most surprising finding with the 5-inch, 1,280 x 720 Super AMOLED 295 ppi display is that I find it meets much of the need for the even larger display of the iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina. In addition to its support for browsing mentioned above, YouTube videos are crisp and non-pixelating; photographs are rich in color depth. In the end reaction to any display is somewhat subjective; however, in practice, I have no hesitation to look up and follow communications, web activity, view live sports programming and use applications due to the screen size when I am away from my home base. My iPad Air usage has gone down significantly since acquiring the Z30, largely due to the visual impact of the display size and its overall color-rich graphics performance.

BBZ30.HeritageClassic
Watching the Heritage Classic NHL game over LTE while waiting for a car wash. The fast pace of hockey action certainly tests out the overall graphics display quality of the Z30. There was no pixelating or lag at all. (Teams are wearing the “Heritage” sweaters used in the 1919 Stanley Cup final between Ottawa and Vancouver.)

 

BZ30.ClassicKennedyAudio: I have always been impressed with the stereo audio quality on BlackBerry. But, with the Z30, BlackBerry has incorporated what they call Natural Sound technology with improved audio hardware as well as the support for superwideband codecs on voice and video calling. I have noticed crystal clear audio on both BBM voice and video as well as Skype voice and video calls. Don’t know what superwideband codec (SILK?, Opus?) they are using, but its implementation is definitely noticeable compared to the voice quality of narrowband calls over the carrier voice channel.

One test for audio quality involves listening to a couple of symphony pieces that cover the entire bass to treble audio range as well as the dynamic range of the audio volume. The fourth movement of Beethoven’s 9th as well as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture with orchestra, chorus, carillon and canons provide excellent tests of the Z30’s overall audio. First, when listening on the Z30’s speakers, they have no issue with dynamic range; there no audio saturation. As for audio bandwidth, only the canons of the 1812 overture challenge the Z30 hardware; however, when streamed to either a top quality headset or an external Bluetooth amplifier/speaker (such as in my car – see below), the full deep bass of the tympani through to the explosions of the canons come through with ease. Instrumental soloists or groups, such as Classic Kennedy or the Canadian Brass, demonstrate the full audio dynamic of their individual instruments.

BBZ30 - BlueTooth.AutoAutomobile Integration: One low profile feature of BlackBerry 10 devices is its connection to vehicle audio systems. In fact, I can connect via Bluetooth to my Volvo CUV; beyond handling (hands-free) phone calls it also streams audio for BlackBerry Maps directions and my music collection. The music automatically streams from random playlists when i start up the vehicle if I don’t set up a previous album; often I find that is quite satisfactory. Caveat: results may vary by vehicle brand but I also find it works on Ford vehicles with Microsoft Lync. Warning: In Ontario distracted driving is becoming very expensive and about to also involve demerit points; hands free capability is becoming a requirement for using phones while driving.

The Hub: the key feature of the Hub is the consolidation of all my messaging and notification activity into a single application that is always running in background. Beyond multiple email accounts it also handles all my Facebook, Twitter direct,  BBM, SMS and FourSquare messages. Notifications advise me of Skype activity, BBM Channel posts, new app upgrades. The BlackBerry 10.2.1 Hub has added a feature giving one touch access to all your message attachments – very handy when trying to recall them later.

Android Player: Not only has the Android Player in the BB 10.2.1 OS been upgraded to support the Jelly Bean feature set but it is also now possible to install many Android applications directly from their .apk files. Personally I use the Snap application as my Android store that connects to Google Play; once Snap is sideloaded it works like any other store – find the app and install directly. At this point my apps include Instagram, Netflix, PayPal, Starbucks, Harmony (for remote control of my home theatre system), TripIt, Yammer and several others. There are some limitations at this time, especially if an app involves yet-to-be supported Google Play Services’ location-based services. (Google Maps itself, along with Google+ and Google News can be accessed easily via the web browser.)

BBZ30.BlackBerryMaps.SunnybrookBlackBerry Maps: This is one application I regularly use in place of an embedded GPS in my car. Tap on an address in Contacts or a Calendar item and it brings up routing directions as well as estimated time to destination, incorporating real time traffic congestion information – very useful during Toronto’s rush hours or holiday weekends with clogged highways. As mentioned above it also provides audio instructions through the car audio system. BlackBerry Maps finds restaurants, hospitals and many other categories of points-of-interest by simply entering a name. Google Maps via the web browser provides a handy alternative that is also linked to the Z30’s GPS hardware.

BBZ30 Battery: 25 hoursBattery Life: Whereas I was changing the 1800 mah batteries on my Z10 at least once daily, I find I can get through an entire day without needing a recharge of the Z30’s 2880 mah battery (on which it is not possible to change batteries). The BB OS 10.2.1’s new App Manager is very helpful in identifying applications which can be heavy on the battery drain.

The Touch Keyboard: While many prefer the hardware keyboard of the Q10, I am totally comfortable with the touch keyboard of the Z30 for the same reasons as I mentioned about the Z10 keyboard. Most importantly I probably type about 20% – 25% of the characters I send in messages, logins, etc.

Bottom Line: The BlackBerry Z30 has become my primary smartphone. Its focus on managing communications, high quality display (including the 5″ display size), predictive text touch keyboard combined with its fast and versatile browser, all contribute to meeting my requirements to keep connected both at home and while on the road. I am quite comfortable leaving home with only the Z30 yet remaining current with email, news, sports and social networking activity while having access to public transit schedules, travel itineraries, lodging and coffee shop applications. As mentioned earlier it has reduced the use of my iPad Air and has me rethinking under what circumstances I will find it appropriate.

The one concern, applications, is being addressed by the features of the new Android player as well as the ongoing release of new “Built for BlackBerry” applications. Yes, there are a few apps I would like to have but they are not critical to, nor hindering, my ongoing personal or business activities. From another perspective, there are very few apps I use on the iPhone 5 or iPad Air that I would like to have on the Z30.

Best Smartphone Reader’s Choice – Mobile Madness 2014: The Winner Is…

The BlackBerry Challenge, Cheating On My iPhone With A BlackBerry Z30

Full disclosure: The BlackBerry Z30 was provided to the author as a member of BlackBerry Elite, a group of BlackBerry users who provide user feedback to BlackBerry and assist with evangelizing the merits of this unique multi-tasking smartphone platform (but we don’t have any advance information on upcoming OS developments). There are no affiliate links in this post, nor has there been any monetary compensation provided for publishing this post. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author who does have a very small holding of BlackBerry shares and decades of business experience with multi-tasking environments. His main interest is in supporting a Canadian technology pioneer while at the same time getting maximum benefit from his smartphone.

And now see why J_Caloy is saying Bye, Bye BlackBerry Z10:

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTpnTAhp5vA

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Reprise: BBM for iOS and Android – A Positioning Exercise http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/bbm-ios-android/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/bbm-ios-android/#respond Thu, 14 Nov 2013 14:32:46 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10708 Since its launch three weeks ago I have been recruiting BBM Contacts amongst friends and acquaintances who have an iPhone or Android phone. I now have over 20 new contacts on iPhones and Android phones and have established five common interest BBM Groups. But for some it required a more detailed explanation of what BBM is about and why you should try it out.

If you came via the QR code and wish to install BBM, click on the BBM logo and go straight to the app in the Apple or Google Play store. A link to BBM help is at the end of this post.

BBM4iOS.Notification

As a result I have summarized the features and the various issues they address:

  • Cross platform: With BBM for iOS and Android instant messaging (chat and presence) can be carried out with users of any generation of:
    • BlackBerry devices (both legacy and BlackBerry 10),
    • iPhones (with iOS 6 or later) and
    • Android smartphones (4.1 – Jelly Bean – or later).
    • New today! iPads and iPods (with iOS 6 or later)
  • Almost no limit to length of messages; message content can go well beyond the 160 character limit of SMS messaging and can include photos and voice notes (messages) at no additional cost (see carrier charges discussion below).
  • It’s free. While many users will have “local” SMS messaging included in the carrier’s voice plan, BBM simply requires that you have data access through either WiFi access points and/or, optionally, a carrier data plan.
SMS.MMS.MessageCharges.Sept13

SMS and MMS charges that would be avoided using BBM on iPhone and Android Phones

However, the major cost advantage comes when roaming outside your home country: find a WiFi access point when traveling outside your home country and BBM messages continue to be free. No extra SMS/MMS billing as happened on my last trip to Florida (pre-BBM for iOS and Android):

Another cost aspect: there’s no charge for sending pictures and voice messages (Voice Notes in BBM); these are extra charges when using MMS and often not included in any SMS messaging plan.

  • Groups: BBM allows the creation of Groups of contacts with common interests.
    BBM.Group.Example

    BBM Group Features

    • Administrator option to allow other members to make invitations into the Group
    • Within a Group, in addition to sending and receiving chat messages across the group, you can share and archive pictures, create lists and share events.
    • The simplest example of using lists is a couple who have created a group where they share a shopping list to not only list what’s needed but also to avoid duplicate purchases. Once an item has been bought by one partner, it’s scratched off the list. But the applications of List are only limited by the user’s imagination.
    • Events are sent into the local Calendar application
    • Option for allowing chat messages and pictures to show up in BlackBerry Hub (BlackBerry 10 devices only)
  • Sharing or Attachments: you can send pictures (stored or camera) and voice notes (messages) to individual contacts.
  • Message Status and Confirmation: Know if your message has been Delivered “D” to recipient and then Read “R” by recipient.

    BBM.DandR.demo

    BBM Delivery and Read Notifications

  • Instant receipt: BlackBerry uses a delivery architecture that avoids any potential lags in delivery of email or SMS messages.
  • Security: While not making any claims about NSA security, the use of a unique PIN number avoids:
    • Unsolicited Contact requests: Almost daily I block unknown Contact requests on Skype (and usually report them for abuse).
    • Unsolicited messages/requests from messaging apps that use your phone number or email address to initiate contact (WhatsApp, Facetime).

Using the PIN number also will allow BBM to work on WiFi-only iPads and iPods as they do not have an associated phone number.

As for monitoring agencies viewing content even though BBM messages are encrypted, I follow the guidance of my Government Relations professor: never say anything you would not want to appear on the front page of (Name a widely read newspaper such as Globe & Mail or NY Times). Additional features:

  • “Toast” notifications: new messages appear briefly as a banner across the top of the display while in any other application.
    BBM.iOS.ToastNotification

    BBM Toast Notification

    • They also appear in the device Notification Center either on the Lock Screen or in the iPhone’s Today View resulting from a downward swipe from the top in any application.
  • Multi-party chat: start a chat and add Contacts to the chat to become a multi-party chat (this does not create a permanent group)
  • Broadcast message: Select multiple Contacts and “broadcast” a message to them. Not an interactive chat but rather an “announcement” feature.
  • Chat History: all chat sessions are “stored” until such time as you Delete Chat History in the Settings.
  • Categories: you can organize your Contacts display by user-designated Category
  • Send FourSquare notifications to BBM (but only on one device).
  • You can invite additional contacts via PIN number, QR code, Email or SMS message. But, to repeat, you must initiate the invitation; nobody can arbitrarily try to send you an unsolicited message (such as spam)
BBM Group Menu

BBM Group Menu

The one limitation of BBM is that you can only have a BBM account running on one device; for my own testing I had to set up a separate BBM account on my iPhone but then that account has been included on all my Groups so that I at least participate in Group activities on both my Blackberry 10 and my iPhone. But BlackBerry needs to look at supporting accounts managed on multiple mobile devices, especially if they go into supporting WiFi-only iPads.

Warning: BBM can optionally use a data plan. However, when roaming outside your home country, data plans can become very expensive. I recommend putting your phone into Airplane mode and using WiFi access points when traveling internationally.

Coming Soon

Currently enhanced Chat  and the Group features across multiple smartphone platforms are the major distinguishing features of BBM for iOS and Android at the moment; however, we are told to expect BBM Channels, BBM Voice and BBM Video to appear by year end. I am particularly interested in the quality of BBM Voice and BBM Video. Based on my personal experience with calls between BlackBerry 10 devices, it appears that BBM voice and video are supporting superwideband audio (a la Opus – BlackBerry calls it Natural Sound) and very high resolution video (1080p?). It is definitely as good as, if not better than, Skype’s SILK audio technology and 720p video.

But acquiring those 20 or more Skype for iOS and Android contacts exposed me to the broader issue of building awareness of the advantages of over-the-top offerings, whether BBM, Skype, WhatApp or FaceTime as examples, across the smartphone market space. But that’s the topic of a follow up post. In this post I will talk about the real issue limiting adoption of BBM on iOS and Android devices, based on my seven years’ experience using various instant messaging applications.

Become.BBM.Master.180pxAnd there still needs to be awareness built amongst smartphone users about the overall cost advantages of these offerings relative to carrier charges, especially when it comes to roaming and attaching photos or voice messages.

Meantime, BBM is free. Download BBM by going to BBM.com on any iPhone, iPad, iPod or Android phone. That will take you directly to the application in the Apple App Store or Google Play store. BlackBerry Help provides additional information on Getting Started with BBM on Android and iPhone.

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BlackBerry: BBM for iOS and Android Launches http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-bbm-ios-android-launches/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-bbm-ios-android-launches/#respond Tue, 22 Oct 2013 15:51:24 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10684 BBM.logoYesterday BlackBerry began the rollout of its BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) service for iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Android phones. For several years I have used BlackBerry Messenger for fast, efficient text communications with other BlackBerry users.

Last winter BlackBerry introduced a free BBM voice calling service for legacy BlackBerry owners; with the launch of BlackBerry 10 in February, they added high definition video calling between BlackBerry 10 devices. With the video calling also came a screen sharing capability that allows users to share their BlackBerry screens during a video call.

Some BlackBerry 10 BBM screens:

BBM.Z10.LeftMenu BBM.Z10.RightMenu
BBM for BlackBerry Activity Menu BBM for BlackBerry Action menu
BBM.Z10.ChatWithKeyboard BBM.Z10.AttachMenu
Chat Session
(with launch voice/video)
Message attachment options

 

Over the next few months BlackBerry will introduce all these features into BBM for iOS and Android. In addition it will include a feature called BBM Channels which supports social networking via unique mini-blog posts using BBM.

Some screen shots from BBM for iOS (6 or 7 only):

BBM.iOS.Contacts BBM.iOS.ChatSession BBM.IOS.Chat.ActionMenu
Contacts Screen (Group) Chat Session
with Action Bar
Chat Action Menu
BBM.iOS.ActivityMenu BBM.iOS.InviteMenu BBM.iOS.Notification
BBM Application Menu Invite Contact Options Message Notification

 

A very similar navigation interface to BBM on BlackBerry 10. So what does BBM (or BlackBerry Messenger) for iOS and Android do initially?

  • Exchange text/chat messages
    • optionally accompanied by photos/graphics and/or voice “notes” or messages,
  • Share these messages with individuals or groups.
    • Within a group share Lists, Pictures and schedule Events as well as chat sessions
  • Create your own user profile with a picture, your name and your status (which may be linked to, say, FourSquare for updates).

BBM.Group.MenuIn the next few months, BBM for iOS and Android will add voice calling, video calling with screen sharing and BBM Channels.

Why use BBM?

  • It’s fast
  • It’s  cross platform: BlackBerry 10, BlackBerry OS (legacy devices), iPhone, iPad (iOS 6 or 7); Android phones
  • It bypasses SMS messaging and the associated charges
    • messages can be longer than 140 characters.
  • Groups support collaboration through shared pictures, lists and event scheduling
  • It’s free!

There are over 60 million users of BBM on BlackBerry devices. Over six million had registered to use BBM for iOS and Android prior to its launch. On its launch day it topped the free iPhone Apps charts in the U.K. and Canada and was number 2 in the U.S.

BBM.Canada.AppStore

It works over both WiFi and carrier data channels. It replaces the need to use SMS messaging with its associated charges (especially when traveling outside your home country). And it’s fast; no delays.

Getting Started:

  • On your iPhone, iPad or Android phone browser go to BBM.com. That will take you directly to the app in the relevant app store for installation.
  • Open the app; Enter your email and request access; they are queuing the requests so that servers are not overloaded. (Over 6 million had requested to be notified when BBM for iOS & Android became available.)
  • Look for the response email (this may take a few hours) and then go back to the application and set up your account.
    • Note: if you previously had an BlackBerry Messenger account on a former BlackBerry device, you will be able to access that account, with all its contacts, and move it to your iPhone/iPad/Android phone.
Hint: if you get the email and the registration process appears to freeze, close the app totally and restart it. To close on iPhone double click on the Home button, swipe across to find the BBM and swipe up to close (iOS 7 only); or hit the minus sign (iOS 6). On Android go into Settings | Applications, find BBM and close it.

Bottom line: BBM for iOS and Android brings along not simply enhanced cross-platform messaging but also collaboration features. Being free, it’s also a great app to overcome SMS messaging charges, (WiFi or carrier data plan is required). Having used it extensively for a few years (and especially as it has evolved into a full conversation and collaboration platform), definitely recommended.

Go to BBM.com on your device to get started.

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BlackBerry Messenger – As Viewed at TIFF http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/blackberry-messengeras-viewed-tiff/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/blackberry-messengeras-viewed-tiff/#respond Sat, 14 Sep 2013 11:30:34 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10620 TIFF.BBMChannel.LogoEarlier this week I visited the BlackBerry Experience at the Toronto International Film Festival.  In addition to hosting three well received “seminars” on film production over a five day period there was a display of BlackBerry Messenger running on an iPhone 5 and Samsung Android phone. I not only listened in on an excellent interview session with Academy Award winning screen writer and director Paul Haggis but also had a chance to observe the BBM preview .

Even before entering the building you had a foretaste of what was to come in the BlackBerry exhibit.

BlackBerry.TIFF.KingSt.11Sep13 BBMForAll.TIFF.11Sep13

 

BlackBerry Messenger on iPhone and Android

During the time leading up to the presentation I had a chance to check the BlackBerry Messenger display comprising an iPhone 5, a BlackBerry 10 and a Samsung Galaxy 3(?) communicating with each other as BlackBerry Messenger contacts. Note that these are photos taken on my BlackBerry Z10 after requesting permission; they are not screen captures.

BBM.Android.Chat.TIFF BBM.iPhone.TabMenu
Chat Session on Android
Note the Action Tabs across bottom
Tabs Menu on iPhone 5
BBM.iPhone.ActionMenu BBM.iPhone.Contacts
Action Menu on iPhone 5 Contacts Screen on iPhone 5

 

BBM.iPhone.MenuScreen

A few comments:

  • They both incorporate the familiar BlackBerry 10 BBM user interface, effectively adhering to Built for BlackBerry design criteria
  • Consistent with the original announcement, it only supports chat with support for BlackBerry Channels, BBM Voice and BBM Video calling to follow, hopefully by year end.
  • It supports not only individual contacts but also Groups. (Mention was made that the user fully controls her/his group participation, unlike WhatsApp where joining a Group also brings in your other “unaware” contacts – effectively a privacy violation)
  • And a question: will BlackBerry Messenger appear on the associated tablets? We never really got a feel for BBM on a larger size display format with the PlayBook.
  • Whereas the Samsung device and BlackBerry 10 did not reflect a ceiling light, the iPhone 5 screen did, thus, the light blob in the images. iPhone displays need a non-reflective coating.

At this point all we need to see is actual availability on the Apple App Store (submission was apparently made about three weeks ago) and Google Play.

One question: if Apple is taking so long to approve, why doesn’t Apple clean out the other impostor apps that come up when you search for BlackBerry Messenger and BBM on the Apple App Store?

A lesson in building a career in the film industry

BlackBerry.TIFF.PaulHaggis.Interview

Paul Haggis captivated his audience of budding film producers and aficionados for 90 minutes. He spent his 10,000 hour “Outliers” internship in London, Ontario and Los Angeles before really breaking out as a widely acclaimed screen writer, producer and director. Lots of lessons learned. Kudos to BlackBerry for sponsoring this and two other similar informational sessions that had also been well attended.

And a small world story: turns out he attended a high school in London, Ontario where my mother had been a teacher at the time. But he probably did not take home economics as a subject.

TIFF.BBMChannel.ComingSoon.300pxBottom line: BlackBerry’s sponsorships at TIFF are not going to save the company but their participation certainly has been one of their more widely received marketing and sponsorship efforts. There definitely was a unique learning experience – in a subject area of interest to a largely non-technical audience.

And looking forward to being able to communicate with my acquaintances who are encumbered with iPhones, iPads and Android mobile devices. As for confirmation of including BBM Channels, the TIFF BBM Channel post on the right, appearing as I completed the draft of this post, confirms they will be included.

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Calliflower Renewal: WebRTC, Opus and Emerging from Under the Radar http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/calliflower-renewal-webrtc-and-emerging-from-under-the-radar/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/calliflower-renewal-webrtc-and-emerging-from-under-the-radar/#respond Tue, 20 Aug 2013 11:37:43 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10500 Calliflower.Logo.Aug13

Voice conferencing provide Calliflower delivers a new user interface that takes full advantage of WebRTC and the superwideband Opus audio codec to deliver a simple, robust, crystal clear and reliable moderator and participant experience.

It’s been over two years since covering Calliflower, a worldwide voice conferencing service which I had frequently been using up to then. In the interim founder Alec Saunders took on the challenge of building BlackBerry’s Developer Relations program (now with over 120,00 applications) and Jason Martin took over as CEO of iotum, Calliflower’s business entity. Alec remains a member of iotum’s Board.

Jason and his team have not exactly been idling in the interim. They have been bringing in new customers, including a couple of larger enterprises, and servicing small-to-medium businesses while also serving as a resource for special interest groups and non-profits that may want to meet up regularly. Some use it for revenue generating services such as coaching, training and other professional services. And they have been working on a totally new user interface.

As background recall that iotum’s goal for CalliFlower has been, and remains, to provide a complete end-to-end conferencing service from participant invitations and scheduling through to a recording archive, incorporating voice, chat and document sharing. But it’s the user interface that has changed significantly.

Their product management and developer team has been listening to feedback from their users and watching the evolution of new technologies. As a result two weeks ago iotum announced an entirely new, easy to navigate, Calliflower user interface.

Want to launch an ad hoc session immediately, click on Meet Now; want to schedule a session, click on Meet later. (Click on the image for a larger size)

CalliFlower.NewUI.Aug13.info

Invite participants from your Address book and send out the call information via email, chat or SMS text messaging.

The most significant new feature of the press release was the announcement of Calliflower Connect, providing access to Callliflower calls using WebRTC:

In terms of functionality, the introduction of Calliflower Connect is the most significant development.  “Adding this tool allows participants to call directly into Calliflower meetings through their WebRTC-enabled Google Chrome or Firefox browsers,” he [Martin] said. “The availability of WebRTC means Calliflower users will see access via Skype nearing the end of life later this year, as WebRTC access will be providing a richer and more complete experience.”

How significant is it? To access my interview with Martin to discuss the press release, it was real simple. With Google Chrome as the default browser, click on the “Join Online” link in the call invitation,

CalliflowerReminder

ensure your have your headphones on or an available mic/speaker and click on the Call Now button!

CalliflowerConnect.ScreenBlur

Voilà – I was on the call with the full portal in view on my browser, shown above. And the voice quality was crystal clear; it turns out that Calliflower is using the superwideband, royalty-free Opus audio codec. No special setup was required; no software to install; no number to dial, just a simple click-to-call. Development of Calliflower Connect took over six months with the goals of optimizing call quality, ensuring audio synchronization within a conference call and designing an appropriate web user interface.

Calliflower has three levels of security. Calls may be open, closed or locked down. Closed calls require a PIN or a registered Caller ID (in my case my legacy CallerID registration was still active); locked down calls involve the combination of a PIN number and a conference code; the latter is commonly requested by users in the finance, legal or even political space.

Calliflower on BlackBerry Z10In addition to using Calliflower Connect from a Chrome/Firefox web browser, inbound calling to a conference session can be connected using one of over 100 “Local” numbers in 41 countries worldwide using the web or iPhone, iPad, Android phone or BlackBerry 10 Calliflower applications. From Calliflower’s “How It Works” page:

Your callers can dial-in with their phones OR use their browser (we call it ‘Calliflower Connect’) OR use Skype. We recommend using your phone or Calliflower Connect because it’s technology we can control. Skype can be unreliable.

Meeting set up can also be done from the various mobile device applications.

In response to user experiences and requirements, Calliflower has established new monthly subscription options in addition to a Pay-As-You-Go option. Minutes are counted as length of session time times the number of participants, regardless of the actual connection.

Bottom line: Calliflower remains a viable consideration when looking at teleconferencing services. Ease of setup, a single user interface, “who’s speaking” identification, chat, document sharing and  recording/archiving all contribute to its completeness.

Adding in crystal clear voice (when connecting via the web) and moderator call control tools (such as hand raising and user mic muting) results in a significantly easier offering for those businesses and special interest groups who have to meet often, securely and in a way that ensures participants clearly hear every word. Document sharing and chat, with the ability to include active URL’s, complement the real time conversation with appropriate support tools. In summary, you do not need to be a technophobe to set up or participate in meetings.

Just as importantly my interview call with Jason Martin was my first experience using WebRTC from a user perspective and my first experience with the Opus superwideband codec. The combination demonstrates how easily launching conversations can be embedded into the web and how readily one can have the experience of crystal clear voice using the new Opus audio codec.

Let’s hope that Opus is gradually worked into all IP-based conversations. Personally I am at the point where, when I receive calls where I can’t clearly understand the caller, I simply cut off the call. (And it makes a great excuse for cutting off those telemarketers who get past my Do Not Call registration.)

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Bria BlackBerry Edition: A SIP-based Softphone for Enterprise Communications http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/wireless-carriers/bria-for-blackberry-10-a-softphone-for-enterprise-communications/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/mobile-root/wireless-carriers/bria-for-blackberry-10-a-softphone-for-enterprise-communications/#respond Thu, 08 Aug 2013 13:15:29 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10422 Bria4BB.SplashScreenFor several years CounterPath has offered softphone clients, initially the free XLite with a limited feature set and later the more scalable, robust, secure and versatile Bria series supporting SIP-based PBX installations. Over the past few years I have covered CounterPath’s Bria softphone client and its evolution across multiple platforms, including iPhone, iPad, Android (phones and tablets) as well as Windows and Mac. When appropriately configured it can become a desktop extension phone on a PC or a mobile extension of the PBX on a smartphone or tablet.

Bria’s target market includes enterprises with SIP-based PBX’s, either hosted or premise-based, and service providers who need to offer their clients a reliable, robust and versatile softphone end point, whether desktop or mobile, to complement their SIP-based PBX offerings. Personal use of Rogers One Number service, based on the Bria technology, provides me the option to answer (and place) my BlackBerry calls via my Windows PC or Mac as well as follow SMS text messages threads. Rogers One Number becomes especially valuable when traveling outside Canada as I can simply use WiFi connections and avoid roaming charges. Customers can add their own technical requirements and incorporate their own branding (as Rogers did). CounterPath’s website includes a demonstrative case study where Bria is supporting 30,000 employees at Bosch operations in Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Today CounterPath has announced the launch of Bria BlackBerry Edition providing the basic features of a SIP end point, initially with a focus on voice calling and voice call management. Bria BlackBerry Edition will follow a similar evolution as happened with Bria for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Initially available for the Z10, the Q10 version will follow in a few weeks. Over the next six months Bria BlackBerry Edition will evolve to include support for video calling,  wideband codecs (including SILK and Opus), IM, social networking integration,and multiple SIP accounts.

I have been testing it out over the past week; here are the significant screens (click on the image to launch slide show):

Bria4BB.CallingBria BlackBerry Edition’s basic feature set addresses the needs of the majority of CounterPath’s Bria customer base and includes:

  • Call display and voicemail indicator
  • Call history – list of received, missed and dialed calls
  • Speakerphone, mute and hold functions
  • Multiple call support
  • Swap between two active calls
  • Merge and split calls (three-way conferencing support)
  • Call transfer (attended and unattended)
  • Ringtones and contact avatars
  • Dial plan support with ability to add and remove prefixes
  • Audio codecs include G.711, G.722 (HD), iLBC and GSM
  • Automatic codec selection to ensure optimal call quality
  • Support for DTMF: the ability to enter numbers to use an auto attendant
    • Via RFC 2833, SIP INFO and in-band

In addition it supports network traversal issues as well as secure call signalling and audio encryption protocols. I put two questions to Todd Carothers, CounterPath’s Executive Vice-President of Marketing and Products:

  • Why BlackBerry 10?,
  • Why a native application?

Todd pointed out that, with several million downloads and installations, their enterprise customer base had been asking for a BlackBerry 10 client; in effect, it was an issue of fully supporting requests from their existing customers. In addition CounterPath wants to be able to expand their potential market by offering a complete enterprise solution, especially as a secure complement to BlackBerry’s BES 10 server and BlackBerry Balance. As a result CounterPath customers can elect to use PC’s and mobile phones and tablets, depending on each user’s individual platform/device, work patterns and requirements. Bria can be concurrently installed on, say, a PC and BlackBerry 10; the user can receive and place calls on whichever is convenient at the time of the call.

After considering the developer options, such as an Android port, CounterPath elected to go with a native application to be able to take full advantage of BlackBerry’s inherent API’s. There were speed issues as well as the ability to take full advantage of integration with the native Contacts directory, call Notification in the Hub, and other features of BlackBerry 10. For instance, once it supports instant messaging, Bria’s IM could easily become a Share card option. Other issues addressed by a native app include support for BES and BlackBerry Balance, and support for headless / background operation in the forthcoming BlackBerry 10.2 OS.

Carothers sums it up in the press release:

“CounterPath’s leadership in softphones is built upon having a broad and deep feature set across multiple devices and operating systems,” said Todd Carothers, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Products at CounterPath. “With the introduction of Bria BlackBerry Edition, we are furthering our commitment to giving organizations and their employees maximum flexibility in the selection of their devices especially as BYOD continues to proliferate. BlackBerry 10 rounds out our coverage for the most demanded devices and operating systems within the Enterprise and SMB channels.”

Bria BlackBerry Edition is available on BlackBerry World. The one-time $7.99 price includes upgrades as they become available. Options are also available to automate user installation within an enterprise via the Bria Client Configuration Server which can be hosted or premise-based.

Bottom Line: Bria BlackBerry Edition complements BlackBerry’s focus on supporting enterprises and turns the BlackBerry 10 into robust, reliable and versatile end points on a hosted or premise-based PBX, taking full advantage of the PBX’s features whether in the office or at a remote location. Beyond the inherent security of BES 10, it provides additional security for the audio stream and media handling. From the BlackBerry viewpoint Bria BlackBerry Edition becomes one more resource to complement BlackBerry 10’s focus on delivering a unique communications portfolio.

Or as Alec Saunders, Vice President of Developer Relations and Ecosystems at BlackBerry stated:

“Bria from CounterPath provides a secure cross-platform VoIP solution that suits Enterprise and SMB customers and we’re pleased it is launched for BlackBerry 10,”

Full disclosure: The author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. He is currently has a service provider consulting client where Bria on all platforms is a critical offering with their PBX solution. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets.His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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BlackBerry: Staying the Course and Transitioning to the Future http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-staying-the-course-and-transitioning-to-the-future/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-staying-the-course-and-transitioning-to-the-future/#respond Mon, 15 Jul 2013 00:55:34 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10384 Observations from last week’s BlackBerry Annual General Meeting at the University of Waterloo.

I attended, with one of my MBA classmates who is a retired IBM employee, BlackBerry Limited’s Annual General Meeting in Waterloo whose highlights were:

  • Formal approval of the company name change to BlackBerry Limited
  • Formal approval of management’s slate for Board of Directors with three new directors, including former C-level executives at  Sony Ericsson and Verizon with their extensive mobile communications experience
  • CEO Thorsten Heins presentation on BlackBerry’s achievements of the past year and where they are going for the next couple of years.
    • followed by a Q&A with some shareholders.

Transformation.3Stage

The major take-away for me from this presentation was the importance of building up the infrastructure and customer base for offering mobile computing services:

  • BlackBerry will continue to provide BlackBerry 10 end points, beyond simply smartphones to automobiles, healthcare devices and other offerings considered as end points on “the Internet of Things”.
  • However, BlackBerry’s key goal for the next year is to build up the customer base of the BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 platform. It’s the cornerstone to building value add for customers while building sustainable value for shareholders.
  • BYOD support is important; the launch of Secure Work Space supporting management of iOS and Android devices is critical to building an enterprise user base. Whereas previously RIM had seen other smartphones as competition, BlackBerry’s new management team recognized a significant opportunity for leveraging their existing carrier-embedded network operations infrastructure.
  • While providing secure cross-platform device management services it also creates a foundation for delivering  new mobile computing services.
    • Brings the Personal/Work features and security of BlackBerry Balance to a broader range of devices. It elevates BES10 to a cross-platform offering, critical to the scaling BlackBerry is looking for and a key strategic direction for BlackBerry and its enterprise offerings.
    • The on-site demonstration of Secure Work Space on an iPad and Samsung Galaxy phone showed the simplicity of securely getting started and keeping up to date with approved applications on the Enterprise VPN, once a user has been approved for participation. Of course it also allows disconnection of devices for those who no longer have a relationship with the enterprise.
BES10.PrimaryBenefit BES10 Installations.Jul13
  • The most significant metric provided in the presentation: 19,000 – the number of BES10 installations ordered, installed or downloaded.
    • It’s not simply a precursor to how many potential BlackBerry 10 device sales it may bring.
    • The key selling point for BES10 is “enabling a company to focus on managing its business, not on managing its devices.” Reminds me of how one of my acquaintances replaced 12 employees in a larger enterprise with a fully automated way of managing password activities across a 12,000 employee company. Build services that address routine, but boring, business processes with automated processes.
    • It’s an increase of 7,000 from the number provided at BlackBerry Live in May.
    • Heins stated that this is the key metric for BlackBerry’s future growth.

The successful adoption of BES 10 in enterprise remains the most important driver for us, for future unit sales and service revenue opportunities.

  • Combined with BlackBerry’s Global Data Network, with secure connections to over 650 carriers in 175 countries, BlackBerry can move beyond offering secure communications to offering a secure mobile computing platform supporting communications and data services that build a sustainable business.

Bottom line:

  • The course is not only set for future directions but also backed by the board, who received almost unanimous support from shareholders. Forget about suggesting a sale or other alternatives. When you have $3B in cash you not only can control your destiny but also build value in the company.
  • The primary challenge and metric going forward is how many enterprises adopt BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10 (“BES10”).
  • It also explains why the company has elected to stop supplying numbers of BlackBerry smartphones sold and the size of the user base. These become secondary to BlackBerry’s primary focus.
  • Security is the stealth driver. To quote Heins at the meeting:

We all follow the news and, let’s be very, very clear, the topic of security in enterprises, the topic of privacy for consumers, is coming back full force. That is where BlackBerry 10 helps protect corporate assets and information. That is where, on the device side, BB10 also helps to keep your privacy. It matters; nobody loves to talk about it but it’s there.

  • Between Heins’ presentation and the follow up Q&A, as well as a couple of personal meetings later, it is very clear that BlackBerry management not only has its strategy but also is very aware of their challenges in returning to the mobile communications (and computing) market as a major player.
  • It all hit home when my IBM retiree acquaintance said after the meeting: “We saw the same transition at IBM 20 to 30 years ago when IBM transitioned from a hardware vendor to focus at a higher level on delivering enterprise services as total solutions”. IBM is a very different, yet successful, company today. They still offer hardware but it is secondary to, and in support of, the services they deliver.
  • The real risk for investors is not penetration of the smartphone market but rather BlackBerry’s execution on delivering these services to the enterprise market and, where feasible, on end point devices that have the potential to address both personal and work requirements on a single device.
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BlackBerry: It’s Time for a Rally Cry http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/blackberry-its-time-for-a-rally-cry/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/conversation-providers/blackberry-its-time-for-a-rally-cry/#respond Fri, 05 Jul 2013 13:44:59 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10333

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace, there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility,
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger:
Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon. Let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a gallèd rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swilled with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On! On, you noble English,

William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act III, Scene 1

The Reality

Last Friday’s earnings report certainly provided a lot of fodder for the negativists.  But it once again proved that BlackBerry’s goals and focus are definitely out of alignment with those of the market analysts. It adds overhead to executing on a turn around with a public company. Why did they miss the somewhat artificial “expectations” of analysts? A few obvious ones:

  • Carrier launches of Q10 sales in the U.S. were delayed beyond the quarter end. This is the one product form factor that the market readily identifies BlackBerry with.
  • Unexpected withholding of $72 million of service revenue by an unpredictable loose canon South American government
  • Retail store visits and parts order information from vendors is not an indicator of actual revenue recognition; they are definitely not in time sync with revenue recognition.

The good news: cash rises to a new high; revenues are rising as are unit sales.

The bad news: BlackBerry is no longer providing two key metrics: BB10 device sales breakout and number of users. Getting to an operating break even in the short term is a challenge.

However, at this point BlackBerry continues to be a company in transition; there is really no historical or market data for analysts or anyone else external to BlackBerry to base any claims on. Hugh McLeod describes it very graphically in his recent Gaping Void cartoon: “Portrait of a Sale”. On the other hand BlackBerry needs to “keep moving” internally … rallying again to the challenge of “once more unto the breach”.

Where does BlackBerry go from here?

If I sensed one message coming out of the analyst call it was “Focus”:

  • It is clear that BlackBerry management is going to “stay the course”, becoming even more focused on BlackBerry 10 and its existing customer base market demands. They are not going to be distracted by stock market volatility and critics’ “instant solutions”.
    • Recall there are many successful startup companies who stayed a course and combined their vision with market feedback and user experience to eventually become successful.
  • We know that Heins is not a fan of doing a tablet; the support runout announcement for PlayBook was not a surprise. There was obviously no business case for another tablet. (More in a follow up post)
  • Announcing a new BB7-based device says they have market information and customer feedback looking for ongoing acquisitions of the most recent OS7 devices. I know of one enterprise customer who has just signed a contract with their carrier/ISP to continue using OS7 devices for the next couple of years. Three other points:
    • There are various markets in, say, southeast Asia where any BlackBerry is the leading product. At a recent local event a lady who had just returned from India came up to me to mention that BlackBerry is a status symbol in India.
    • BlackBerry is supporting OS5/6/7 devices for the BBM Channels beta. I see lots of feedback from their users pointing out issues that would be expected in a beta. And they support BBM Voice calling on these devices.
    • You cannot ignore an element of your legacy business where there are at least prospects for a sustainable ongoing profit. Basically both are business decisions based on the potential market for the relevant device.
From my own experience with a product wind down. In the late 1980’s AST was the leading supplier of 384KB add-on boards for the original IBM PC’s and clones with 256KB of RAM ; they held, by far, the majority market share. When 640KB RAM became the PC vendor standard it took three years for the sales of these boards to drop to 50% of their highest levels. Just because users see a new device, they all don’t immediately jump to it. Those millions of original 256KB PC’s stayed in action but either their AST board – or just as importantly – their boards from competitors – needed replacement; AST had the only long term solution. There is a long term market drop off when the market for a popular device goes into decline. Installed base matters; while technology changes rapidly some business basics are very long term.

Bottom line: BlackBerry’s total focus is on BlackBerry 10 and extending its reach onto other devices, such as the automobile and healthcare markets. Leadership requires both focus and passion; it requires staying a course not governed by three month deadlines. Clearly the current C-level team is on a mission to create a mobile computing platform that is unique, sustainable and profitable. At the same time they need to support their legacy customers where the product currently has strong sales and the prospect of taking the customer eventually to a BlackBerry 10 platform. It’s a transitional period that will last for at least a couple of years.

(Recall Playbook has about 500,000 users vs over 60 million with an OS7 device.)

But what would help BlackBerry become more successful?

A few observations from my own perspective:

Marketing

Two observations:

  • Carrier sales reps at the retail level are either uninformed or not motivated to promote BlackBerry. It’s too easy to make the iPhone or Android sale.
  • End users are having difficulty transferring from their previous device and getting set up, especially if they had been synchronizing with Outlook via the BIS server algorithm
    • Or often I find I am pointing out basic features, such as how to use the camera’s features, including Time Shift

In today’s socially networked world it’s all about engagement. Engagement with consumers, engagement with carrier customer sales and support reps and engagement with enterprise IT departments. Sales aids and user guides over the Internet are definitely useful resources. But two aspects of marketing related engagement come to mind, based on my past experiences dealing with retail distribution channels:

  • Getting focus and mind share with the retail sales and support reps. While training videos and collaterals are available using the Internet, there still need to be activities that capture the eyeballs, mind share and attention of the individuals reps. In-store beer and pizza training sessions, distributor/carrier road shows, incentive rewards  were all part of the equation when it came to selling PC hardware and software 20 years ago; why should it be any different today? At some point they need at least one personal one-on-one contact and training with a live BlackBerry representative; then they remember. Technology changes; human nature does not.
  • Supporting a new user experience. The “Keep Moving” focus is at odds with the targeted user’s need to adjust to the new gesture and touch-based experience (even on the Q10) as seamlessly as possible. They need more interactive help in an easily digestible format.
    • When migrating to a BlackBerry 10 from a legacy device they need to be able to not only bring up Outlook synchronization via MS Exchange and BES Servers but also achieve synchronization for prosumer and consumer users (who formerly used the now legacy BIS route). While recently resolved by upgrades to BlackBerry Link, it was a major contributor to “stop moving” when transitioning.
    • You only have one shot a this “keep moving” target customer; fundamentally they are very busy and resistant to any peripheral changes in their activities. They don’t want to spend time finding issues and, eventually, deciding to return product out of frustration; they can deal with a short learning curve but not an extensive one.

Bottom Line: Marketing needs to step up their approach to retail representatives and provide tools that help users transition more seamlessly with easily absorbed training collaterals.

Enterprise adoption

In my experience, there was a time when everyone looked at “enterprise” markets as the killer business. But the challenge has always been to get through the lengthy sale process of enterprise adoption. It means focusing on IT and communications managers as well as C-level executives to agree to adoption; it’s a “team” decision. It’s a long process – anywhere from a few months to years (look at how slowly Microsoft Windows upgrades are adopted at the enterprise level).

With over 60% of Fortune 500 companies evaluating BES 10 and a migration path, we should not only see a breakout of BES 10 installations (with their highly secure support of iOS and Android devices through Secure Work Space) but with no specific time frame. It would probably would also drive significant numbers of BlackBerry 10 device sales. I am aware of one major multi-national who has put all their BlackBerry purchases on hold while they transition to BES 10 but it will take a few months to cover their worldwide locations.

Updates

In the normal progress of a product, BlackBerry is devoting significant efforts to upgrading the Operating System. From one employee’s BBM Channel we know there is a OS 10.1-MR mid-summer update coming. OS 10.2 is probably due at some time later in the fall. This is standard practice in the evolution of a product; BlackBerry’s challenge is to get these out in a timely manner and to figure a way to remove some of the hurdles to carrier adoption (especially in the U.S.) Unlike the evolution of Microsoft Windows over its initial eight years, we cannot wait for a “version 3.1” before getting viral market traction.

Applications

While BlackBerry 10 has had the fastest ramp up of applications, there are still some popular apps that need to appear. While I don’t have any great desire for Instagram and Netflix, they are certainly near the top in popularity. Some application developers are starting to build an appreciation of the benefits of native apps (Songza and WordPress) and many Android apps are being ported successfully (Skype, even in Preview). Many developers also want to see the user volume grow yet some BlackBerry developers are seeing significant revenues relative to their iOS and Android versions.  It’s a challenge to the developer relations team but with the experience and relationships they are building and their ongoing training and developer support centres, the next year should see significant growth not only in popular applications but also in native applications that take full advantage of the BlackBerry 10 OS.

Bottom Line:

As Henry V said “Once more onto the breach, dear friends.” Stay the course with more focus; add in some marketing activities that involve a more personal approach, build the enterprise base and continue the aggressive approach to developers.

“Stiffen the sinews, conjure up the blood.” “Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height.”

Chris Umiastowski, CrackBerry.com: Is BlackBerry stock now at rock bottom?

Full disclosure: The author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that BlackBerry stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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BlackBerry 10: A Four Month Report Card http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-software/blackberry-10-a-four-month-report-card/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-software/blackberry-10-a-four-month-report-card/#respond Fri, 28 Jun 2013 16:18:10 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10307 On February 19, 2013 I received my BlackBerry Z10. As we await the arrival of Friday’s Q1 earnings release, it’s time to reflect and review the impact it has had on my communications and overall computing experiences. In summary it has changed my computing patterns and activities significantly.

Update: Due to personal commitments I was not able to publish this until the morning of the earnings release but it serves as a reference post for both those who ask me why I like the BlackBerry 10 and, now, also as a reference post for my forthcoming comments on the Q1 results.

As I have stated previously my theme has been “Did I say it was fast?” The most difficult adjustment was the speed at which activities happen. But it has also made significant changes to my work patterns with respect to how I use my various computing and communications platforms and devices in the context of where I am at any moment and what I need access to. More on this in the Report Card Bottom Line at the end.

Here’s what contributed to the speed:

HTML5Test.25Jun131. The web browser. It’s the fastest “draw” on a smartphone according to HTML5Test.com. Click on a URL in Twitter, Facebook or a Skype chat session and the website comes up almost instantly. (It’s even slightly faster than Google Chrome on my Windows 8 PC which scores 463.)

Often it will access the mobile version of a website; to some degree this has negated the need for an independent app, especially for news and sports sites. The  Reader feature lets me easily read sites that are not mobile friendly.

Bottom line: I now do much more browsing on my Z10 and less on my PC. For the most part browsing “just works” –  no hesitations, no delays. I now do a lot more web browsing when away from my home office than with previous smartphones. It has become a “natural” thing to do. No spinning clocks; no egg timers.

2. The keyboard. Did I say this keyboard was smart? I probably type 20% to 30% of the actual number of characters sent in text messages, Twitter tweets, Skype IM and other character-based messaging applications. It continues to amaze me with how smart, and customized, it has become after four months usage.

3. The Hub. It’s the “always on” messaging centre. Receive and send email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, SMS (Text), FourSquare and BlackBerry Messenger messages all at one location. Swipe up and to the right to take a glance at messages while in another application. It’s basically my easily accessed “Go To” action center for all messaging activity.

Share.Combined.All4. The Share card: This is a feature for which I continuously am finding new uses. Want to share a web page URL? A picture or video?  The weather forecast from a weather app? A New York Times news item. A baseball report from At Bat MLB?

The Share card presents multiple options for how to distribute an item of interest, without going into the relevant app, if applicable. Use NFC to share to another BlackBerry 10 that is physically present. Use BBM Channel to start another BBM Channel post. Send email; share to Twitter (or Blaq), Facebook or LinkedIn. Or make “note” of the item using Reminder.

Bottom line for Share: it’s convenient and it’s fast. And has more flexibility than any Share feature I have encountered on a PC.

5. BlackBerry Flow: This is the time saving feature that eats at all the little gotcha’s that can hold up getting at the information you want. Gesture up and the to right – in any application – and you can peak at your Hub’s messages. Go to the Active Frames screen, click on an open app (I mean really open) and it instantly comes back to the foreground – no waiting for an app to “re-open”. Gesture to the right to get to the Hub; gesture to the left to browse through your applications.

One other feature: you can carry on messaging activity associated with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn without the need to open the relevant application. It’s all done using the Hub.

Flow is subtle but it’s significant in contributing to “Did I say it was fast?”.

6. The Display: Only with the use of my BlackBerry Z10 have I watched so many videos on a mobile device. The size is right; little, if any, buffering delays or pixilation. YouTube videos come up quickly and run smoothly. It’s become a “natural” to click on a video link and watch it. Its size also a major reason to prefer the Z10 over the Q10.

As for reading text, I had always been leery of reading on a hand size device. But with a pixel density slightly larger than Retina, I have again just found myself not thinking twice about reading documents, web pages, messages, etc. It’s just there to be read.

The overall display size along with the super smart keyboard is a major reason for favouring the Z10 over the Q10 with its hardware keyboard. Yet I can see why others would favour the Q10, especially if you are doing a lot of typing.

7. LTE: Can’t overlook the fact that it supports LTE. It’s not a BlackBerry exclusive but it makes a difference to the speed perception when away from a WiFi access point.

So much for the contributions to its speed; it also has some other interesting features:

1. Time Shift: capturing 10 shots of a small child’s unpredictable expressions is amazing. Then select what you consider to be the best face shot. I still like to use my Canon SLR camera for its versatility but I find myself taking many more pictures with the Z10. While it comes with a photo editor, a most interesting editing application is Photo X Pro which will superimpose location and weather information onto a photo.

2. Story Maker – make up a 15 second video of multiple still shots. Easy to do provided you have the content.

3. Voice and Video calling: I have two options – Blackberry Messenger and Skype. Each has its advantages and I’ll probably continue to use both in the context of whom I am calling and what platform or end point s/he is using.

I could go on about the “small but important” applications and services that come with the BlackBerry 10. But one final issue:

Applications

I’m not a gamer; I don’t “get” Instagram (yes I have it on my iPhone) and if Netflix’s limited Canadian content does not interest my wife, then it will definitely not interest me. Many of the widely used applications have become available, especially Skype, Amazon Kindle and professional sports apps (baseball, hockey, golf, soccer, etc.). Expect many more to arrive over the summer.

But we are also seeing a pattern of releases of not only applications on other devices but also some that are unique to BlackBerry. Blaq is by far the best Twitter app I have encountered on any device; just hope Twitter does not make more API changes that would hinder Blaq’s evolution. I have also found many applications that perform the same functionality as “competitors” on other devices. GasBuddy provides me with gas prices anywhere I travel in North America; I don’t need Tomorrow’s Gas Price Today. FidMe is great for storing loyalty card information and thinning out my wallet (in lieu of StoCard). Red Rocket takes a unique approach to letting me know when the next Toronto Transit bus or streetcar is coming.

But then, beyond news and sports sites, there are many sites that present a mobile friendly format for the browser. Three examples follow:

UPS.Tracking.Jun13 Wimbledon.2013.News GlenErin.Brunch.Jun13
Tracking a UPS Shipment from Spain Following Wimbledon’s most surprising day ever Checking out a restaurant for a Father’s Day brunch

Bottom line on applications: I focus on features and content that are useful to me. Whatever the underlying technology is really does not matter. If an Android port, such as FidMe works, it works. I now have my loyalty cards accessible on my Z10 and a thinner wallet. If I want to make a video call I can use BlackBerry Messenger with my 35 BBM contacts (about to increase significantly when it goes cross-platform) or I can call my 800 Skype contacts on multiple end point platforms using Skype, another Android port that just delivers.

Applications such as WordPress and Songza, currently Android ports, have recognized the benefits of going native and have announced plans to do so. BlackBerry 10 gives developers new and open tools to work with; hard core developers are always trying new things. Over the next year, as developers and businesses see BlackBerry 10 grow into a multi-million user base, they will not want to be missing out on that market.

Report Card Bottom line: My BlackBerry 10 has, with few exceptions, essentially replaced my need to take a laptop or even a tablet when I leave the home office. It has changed my computing patterns and how I operate, especially when away from the home office. It’s a time saver; it’s a complete communications tool; it’s a productivity tool; it encourages me to keep exploring. I’m always up-to-date.

In 1983 I had my first “luggable” (or portable computer), an 10 kg Hyperion out of Ottawa that served as both an email PC and support for demonstrations of a product for which I had sales responsibility; subsequently I carried around several Compaq and Dell portables or laptops. Today BlackBerry 10, whose core functionality also comes out of Ottawa, gives me most of what I need when leaving my office.

I’ll still take a laptop as a complement to my BlackBerry 10 for traveling as it’s better suited to creating documents but for following messages, keeping up to date on news, sports and social network, searching for buyer information, my BlackBerry 10 is really a rather complete mobile computing platform.

Note to BlackBerry: Build out from the “keep moving” theme and market BlackBerry as a mobile computing platform. After all that’s what you really have been claiming; that’s what is really is. Now make the world aware of it.

And where does it go from here? Check out BlackBerry: A Smartphone Manifesto and BlackBerry 10: If the Tablet is Going Away, Then What? Everything I’ve seen in the mobile space since writing those posts supports going in this direction.

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Building a Robust Skype in the Microsoft Ecosystem. http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-ecosystem/video-calling/building-a-robust-skype-in-the-microsoft-ecosystem/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/skype-ecosystem/video-calling/building-a-robust-skype-in-the-microsoft-ecosystem/#respond Tue, 25 Jun 2013 14:42:49 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10268 Warning: this has nothing to do with NSA and the associated debates.

During my career I have worked with several high tech companies, as both employers and clients. One common thread is that you build new offerings or modify existing offerings based on performance experiences and opportunities that the previous offerings exposed. Developer toolkits become more efficient, cloud-based services demonstrate significant cost savings, new platforms, such as smartphones and tablets become popular. And the back end infrastructure of an offering can significantly impact both features and performance.

The migration of an offering from PC’s to mobile also has exposed some significant challenges for many applications, especially with resource hungry offerings such as Skype. Initially relying heavily on direct connections between local PC’s with a minimum of servers, such as a directory server, it has become apparent that a much more robust server-based backend was necessary to support its growing user base and the increased focus on mobile devices. Skype’s acquisition by Microsoft provided the level of both the financial and technology resources required to address these issues.

A recent email authored by Skype’s Principal Architect, Matthew Kaufman, provided an overview of what Skype/Microsoft have been working on over the past couple of years to improve both the robustness (who wants another outage?), reliability (is it a dial tone ready service, especially on mobile?) and communications efficiency of Skype (who wants to miss a message when one party is not available?). Not only do we get a subtle feel for infrastructure issues that arose during the eBay and Silver Lake ownership periods but also:

…..  what is driving Skype to move not just the supernodes but actually many other parts of our calling and messaging infrastructure “to the cloud”, …. is the amazing growth of mobile and tablet computing. The Skype peer-to-peer network, and many of its functions (such as instant messaging) was built for a world where almost every machine is powered by a wall socket, plugged into broadband Internet, and on for many hours a day.

Dealing with issues that are exposed to the user:

1. Outages and how to avoid them.

Turns out that Skype’s original peer-to-peer architecture, while providing totally tight encryption but “electing” certain users’ PC’s as supernodes, was subject to triggering an outage caused by a crashing bug in a Windows Skype client. (recall December 2010 and August 2007). Like recharging a superconducting MRI magnet that has lost its liquid helium (been there), “bootstrapping the network back into existence afterwards was painful and lengthy,”. By providing nodes through deploying servers that Skype/Microsoft control, there is not only improved robustness but also the ability to scale more reliably and use much more efficient code.

“… nodes that we control, can handle orders of magnitudes more clients per host, are in protected data centers and up all the time, and running code that is less complex that the entire client code base.”

2. The challenges of running Skype on mobile

Seeking CreditSkype on a PC has an infinite power source, takes advantage of very fast processors and runs effortlessly over WiFi and broadband Internet connections. (Recall that Skype’s initial success ten years ago was in part due to the rapidly expanding availability of broadband Internet connections at the time. ) For the most part users either do not have data caps or have large data caps and the connection was “always on”. Users could see your availability; etiquette evolved such that you would initially ask if the other party could take a call. With sufficient upload bandwidth, a robust Internet connection and the right webcam video calls are supported up to 1080p resolution.

But when it comes to mobile it’s been a different story:

  • Battery drain is probably the major issue. If you have a few hundred contacts, the presence monitoring can take you down in a few hours. I’ve seen my iPhone drained in less than four hours.
  • Processor speeds challenge the video resolution that can be supported as well as the ability to deal with the stability of the network connection, amongst other issues.
  • Mobile phone plans usually have a data cap. A “free” 10 minute Skype-to-Skype voice call can use up 15 to 25 MB. And more with video calling.
  • When roaming outside the home carrier’s territory, use of WiFi only is advised due to high roaming data charges.
  • A user is not “always on”. Receiving requires the application to be “loaded” on the contact’s device but even then iOS suspends the  application when not  the foreground application until there is a “notification” activation. It’s not a true multi-tasking OS.
  • Following several instant messaging threads can contribute to battery drain.

Yet the number of Skype users on mobile devices has become a significant portion of Skype activity. From Kaufman’s email:

And these devices are a lot different: they’re running on battery, sometimes on WiFi but often on expensive (both in money and battery) 2G or 3G data networks, and essentially “off” most of the time. On iOS devices, applications are killed and evicted from memory when they attempt to do too much background processing or use too much memory. On Windows RT and Windows 8 Modern applications, when the application is not in the foreground we only get a few seconds of CPU execution time every 15 minutes and again, strict memory limitations if we want to stay loaded.

3. Instant Messaging has its own challenges

If the receiving party is not online messages were being lost. There was no buffering or recall when the other party did come online. The need to support asynchronous messaging became apparent with the rise of mobile device use.

Today instant messages are buffered and are available when you log into Skype. You will see recent activity show up in the messaging/call logging screen. You can even mark them all as read, especially useful if your account is also on a PC.  On PC’s they go back 30 days; on mobile devices they can be recalled going back 2 weeks.

How has Skype/Microsoft addressed these issues? Again, quoting Kaufman:

Servers. Lots of them, and more and more often in the Windows Azure cloud infrastructure. In the case of instant messaging, we have merged the Skype and Windows Messenger message delivery backend services, and this now gets you delivery of messages even when the recipient is offline, and other nice features like spam filtering and malicious URL removal. For calling, we have the dedicated supernodes already, and additional services to help calls succeed when the receiving client is asleep and needs a push notification to wake up. And over time you will see more and more services move to the Skype cloud, offloading memory and CPU requirements from the mobile devices everyone wants to enjoy to their fullest and with maximum battery life.

Bottom line: Yes, with the Microsoft acquisition Skype’s back end has changed significantly. But with the goal of making Skype more robust and more reliable and scalable to billions of users. On mobile devices it needs to be a “dial tone” offering where whenever someone calls, there is no technology impediment to answering the call. When you make a call select a contact and launch the call; if the called party is on the device, receive the call regardless of any other activity. Keep instant messages in chronological order (one recent improvement); make instant messaging truly asynchronous.

Making a $8.5B investment and ignoring these issues only opens up opportunities for others and also negates efforts to infiltrate business communications, whether for small business using Skype or large enterprise using Lync connected to Skype. Skype has stated their focus is on improving the mobile experience; we now have some exposure to the level of effort required to get there.

Question: how much similar infrastructure will be required when WebRTC calling becomes mainstream. Will it only make the voice/video connection? What will support robustness, reliability and scalability? To what extent will it evolve into having the complete scope of Skype’s offerings? Who will be responsible for putting this level of infrastructure in place?

BestPartOver40And as for government monitoring, etc. I’ll leave that to others to discuss. However, as pointed out indirectly in Kaufman’s email, it was not the driving force for making back end changes. I have worked with several developer teams over the years; they are quietly proud (in a positive sense) and want to bring the best performance to their users. But it’s also an ongoing evolutionary process building on previous experience and feedback; if it means the end of peer-to-peer so be it.

In the end it’s the user experience that is important; it should be transparent to the underlying technology. As traxanderson.com points out in the post linked below:

And that as long as  you are not discussing how to go on a crazy shooting spree or blow some innocent folks to thine kingdom come, you shouldn’t really bother much.  This is just the beginning and there won’t be any ending soon or ever so better get use to it.

And Skype still passes the AmberMac test.

Following the U.S. government efforts and the travels of Edward Snowden is starting to read like a Tom Clancy novel. Where’s James Bond when we need him? Oh, I forgot – M died! But there are times when you make changes for the sake of a more reliable, robust and scalable offering; that appears to be the horse that goes before the cart in this case.

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BlackBerry 10: Mobile Websites Proxy Mobile Apps. http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-10-mobile-websites-proxy-mobile-apps/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-10-mobile-websites-proxy-mobile-apps/#respond Fri, 07 Jun 2013 15:05:11 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10202 BB10.Browser.ProxyApps.MenuOr, how I saved 35% on patch grass seed using my BlackBerry web browser.

Previously I have followed the theme of “Did i say it was fast?” when covering the BlackBerry 10 mobile computing platform. Yesterday this “speed” allowed me to save 35% on a commercial product because the fast HTML5-compliant browser serves as an excellent proxy for an application for some categories of websites.

One of the challenges for BlackBerry has been to build a BlackBerry 10 application store that brings to BlackBerry the choice that is seen on competitive smartphone application ecosystems. Given BlackBerry only started just over a year ago to build out BlackBerry World with BlackBerry 10 applications, coming up with over 120,000 apps in fourteen months has been no easy feat. In his interview last Friday on the weekly VoIP Users Conference podcast, Alec Saunders explained some of the innovative programs BlackBerry’s developer relations team invoked to achieve this record level of adoption within such a short time frame.

However, we still await BlackBerry apps for many other well known applications. Yet BlackBerry’s support of HTML5 in the BlackBerry 10 web browser and the rise of mobile-enabled websites, using techniques such as responsive design, serve as a proxy for many of these missing apps. Simply go to a mobile-enabled website and it’s formatted in a manner that makes for easy viewing and navigation on a mobile screen size. These sites can then be added to the BlackBerry Home Screen for easy future access.

The most poignant example has to be some of Google’s offerings. As seen below I have built a Google Home Screen folder that includes GMail, Google+, Google Search,  Google News and Google Maps. In the cases of Google Maps it even interacts with the BlackBerry 10’s GPS sensor. I could also do the same for Google Docs, Apps and Blogs but these are not applications that I use in the normal course of my activities. The BlackBerry 10 comes with a YouTube icon pre-installed on the Home Screen; again it uses the browser. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube video on my device.

BB10.GoogleApps2

BB10.Google

BB10.GMail

News and Sports are two more categories where a mobile website serves as an excellent proxy for a mobile app. Below is my News Home Screen Folder, where those that access a mobile website are encircled, along with a couple of site examples. Those without an enclosure are actual apps.

BB10.NewsFolder.HiLite BB10.CP24 BB10.GigaOm

 

Yes, a mobile website may miss a few features of a native app; however, they do deliver the content that is really the primary goal for visiting these sites. And at this point in time accessing a mobile website is not a substitute for many apps, especially games. But it does achieve my goal of catching up on the news at these sites without waiting for an application to become available.

However, having a mobile website came in very handy for a couple of retailers yesterday morning when our gardener mentioned I should get a new Scott’s product for filling in the holes in our lawn. Just as importantly he also mentioned he had found it on sale.

I was on my way out anyway and started my trip by going to the local franchise of a hardware chain. Found the product but not at any discounted price. So I searched for the product via the BlackBerry browser and ended up on the Canadian Tire site where it was about 25% lower in price. But the hardware store would only do a price match if I had the “paper” flier; they also did not have an email address to which I could send an image of the Canadian Tire webpage for the product using the BlackBerry Share feature. I left the container on the checkout counter and drove over to the local Home Depot but first checked out the Home Depot Canada website where I found it had a 35% discount.

Into Home Depot I went, found the product display and bought it. In both cases Canadian Tire and Home Depot had a mobile-enabled website that was easily searched and provided a web page for the individual product sought. Here’s the backup:

ScottsEzSeed.CTire.ca ScottsEzSeed.HomeDepotca EZSeed,HomeDepot.Display

 

I now have Home Screen icons for Canadian Tire and Home Depot. Using BlackBerry 10’s browser is at least as fast as opening an app; once again I have quick access to the content I need and a 35% saving. And these web pages remain open in background if you go to another application or the Hub. Fortunately all three retail store locations were close enough such that I did not spend my saving on gas; they were on the route to my final destination.

Bottom line: the combination of a fast web browser, support for HTML5, responsive design (or mobile-enabled websites using other techniques) and cloud computing are all serving to gradually disrupt the need for customized applications in many cases; these features also have the potential to eventually replace proprietary application ecosystems. It’s not going to happen overnight but I’m sure Apple, Google and, definitely BlackBerry, are seeing this trend and will deal with it as it evolves.

In the meantime, accessing mobile websites, in many cases, is mitigating my need for many mobile apps. (Sorry, folks, Instagram and Netflix are not even applications I am looking for.)

In the meantime I still need to wait 2-3 weeks to see if my gardener’s suggestion works. Repetitions of the dreary, wet spring weather today will certainly help.

Full disclosure: The author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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BlackBerry Development & WebRTC – An Extensive VUC Videocast Featuring Alec Saunders et al. http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-development-webrtc-an-extensive-vuc-videocast-featuring-alec-saunders-et-al/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/blackberry-development-webrtc-an-extensive-vuc-videocast-featuring-alec-saunders-et-al/#respond Sun, 02 Jun 2013 00:23:55 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10158

VUC.BlackBerry.WebRTC.logoJoin Alec Saunders, vice President of Developer Relations and Ecosystem Development at BlackBerry for a discussion with BlackBerry VoIP app development expert Gurtej Sandhu and Chief Architect of Hookflash, Robin Raymond about supporting theWebRTC platform and the opportunity for developers in voice and communications in mobile.

This was the promotional content for yesterday’s weekly VoIP Users Conference videocast that turned out to be one of the most comprehensive discussions of the BlackBerry Developer Program, WebRTC and the role it has the potential to play, not only for BlackBerry but also for its overall disruptive potential. Here’s the YouTube video that came out of the Google Hangout:

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jD-0jeQlRs

It’s a one hour and 17 minute panel discussion.To parse it down into topics:

After providing a brief update on iotum, his previous startup venture, Alec spends about 17 minutes discussing BlackBerry 10 and its development story. Once again Alec dispels myths about BlackBerry 10 and goes on to explain the evolution of the BlackBerry Developer program over the past 18 months.

  • Four months after launch BlackBerry World now has over 120,000 applications, a record for a new platform offering
  • The developer community targeting BlackBerry has grown from 30,000 to 70,000 with a doubling of developer intent to develop for BlackBerry growing from 47% to 88%. And goes on to discuss the results of other developer surveys, including how BlackBerry has grown to be the number 3 developer ecosystem of choice.
  • He dispels the myth that, while it addresses the business community, that is not the entire target user base. For instance, BlackBerry 10 also is a great entertainment and gaming platform. In today’s world, business users need a single smartphone platform capable of dealing with both secure, managed enterprise activities while allowing the user to have access to applications of the user’s choice.
  • How the portathons of last January came about to provide the lift to 70,000 applications available at the January 30 launch.
  • Where you go as a developer to get information on the developer program, its five open platforms for development and the activities undertaken to make available re-usable code to minimize the learning curve.
  • The power of BlackBerry’s Share framework and its ease of implementation.

The next 13 minutes: Questions re what challenges does BlackBerry face in addressing apps that are services dependent, such as Google apps, and other cloud services, such as Dropbox and Box.net, that can be accessed as HTML5 applications. James Body asks about VoIP on OS10 with responses from Alec and  Gurtej covering the wide range of what BlackBerry has done to support audio activities. Finally a query about how to access BlackBerry’s developers for assistance.

Just past 30 minutes Robin goes into discussing the Hookflash open peer-to-peer protocol and its use of the WebRTC engine. Their recent activity has involved bringing WebRTC to mobile devices. Robin lauds BlackBerry for both the documentation and the support he was given in completing this project. He then gives a demonstration of a sample application using beta code with the goal to have production code by the fall.

In the course of his presentation he discusses the benefits of open peer and provides an excellent articulation of what WebRTC is all about and the opportunities it provides to developers. Then he goes on to discuss the excellent echo cancellation incorporated into BlackBerry’s VoIP features and the ability to deliver high bandwidth audio. In response to a query he defines what impact WebRTC will have on IP-based communications. Security implications also come into the discussion. Alec Saunders goes on to explain how WebRTC has the potential to be one more tool in BlackBerry’s use of new web tools, such as HTML5, to deliver new customer experiences.

At 53 minutes the discussion goes into the sphere of BlackBerry’s audio quality, including its ability to support stereo audio streams and beam-directed audio.

At 57 minutes the discussion goes into more general questions about BlackBerry, including BlackBerry 10 on a PlayBook, and miscellaneous questions about developer support and BlackBerry’s unique user experience paradigm.

Bottom line: VUC brought together a unique combination of “panelists” who provide an excellent over of BlackBerry as a developer platform and WebRTC as an evolving web developer tools. And it’s interspersed with other useful information about BlackBerry’s performance and the maturing of IP-based communications.

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Reflections on BlackBerry Live http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/reflections-on-blackberry-live/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/ip-based-communications/reflections-on-blackberry-live/#respond Thu, 30 May 2013 13:24:43 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=10142 Two weeks ago I was in the midst of BlackBerry’s annual conference, renamed BlackBerry Live to reflect the spirit of rebuilding a brand to its former addictive levels of adoption through an innovative communications and information platform. Some of my lasting impressions:

A Positive Energy

Overall the event had a positive energy about BlackBerry’s offerings. BlackBerry employees were highly motivated and enthusiastic about both their accomplishments of the past year and the future direction of BlackBerry. Basic to BlackBerry’s ongoing recovery is employee morale; it was infectious on all those attending. Having real product to work with and talk about contributed to the overall positive, upbeat environment.

The Partners

Meeting developer partners impressed upon me the drive and motivation that are bringing about some unique and productive applications. Most impressive was meeting Hisham Hassan Bakr, an Egyptian developer who, in the course of all the political turmoil in Egypt over the past couple of years, came up with a unique application, AIO Remote – a native app that lets you control your computer remotely from your BlackBerry® 10 device with a comprehensive set of features, (including a touch pad for my Windows 8 “Modern” operations?). He covered a lot of bases with this unique application; only time and usage will tell. But there are many more like him around the world, including Jonah Lin, representing Mmmooo.com, China’s largest mobile applications publisher, who are participating enthusiastically in the developer program.

Without the enthusiasm and motivation of these tens of thousands of developers, BlackBerrry would be nowhere. Now their challenge is to create unique “must have” applications that take full advantage of BlackBerry’s developer platforms and BB10 operating system.

The Sessions

Over the course of the event I attended several sessions; in all of them I learned valuable information about BlackBerry programs, such as Built for BlackBerry, Event Driven Processing for Applications (headless BlackBerry), how BBM can be leveraged as a marketing tool for applications and BlackBerry in healthcare.

With a personal interest in healthcare processes, due to my own recent personal experiences, my previous client base that involved healthcare applications and my two sons’ involvement as medical professionals, the two healthcare sessions provided a window on how BlackBerry, and especially the features of BlackBerry 10, can be leveraged to drive efficiencies into patient care and monitoring. Suffice it to say between privacy issues and the emotional attachment to healthcare, these tools overcome many of the communications barriers and overheads inherent to healthcare processes. More in an upcoming post.

CrackBerry Live

Yes I did an interview on CrackBerry Live but, much more importantly, the CrackBerry team’s presence at BlackBerry Live has created a significant archive of the players and ongoing activities in the BlackBerry ecosystem. Interviews with BlackBerry executives and third party developers; commentary on BlackBerry’s announcements and more. Check it out if you want to get the real vibes that were coming out of the event.

CrackBerryStaff CrackBerryLive.Podcast

 

BBM on iOS and Android

Perhaps the most significant and controversial announcement was the forthcoming availability of BlackBerry Messenger on iOS and Android devices. From my perspective, it’s not about exclusivity to one platform but rather making an application available to as broad a public as possible that bodes for success in today’s Internet-enabled world. In my own business career, I never encountered a situation where an element of exclusivity, in any form, worked in the long run.

In the end it’s about building networks of friends, colleagues and partners for both synchronous and asynchronous communications across a BYOD world. Personally I feel BlackBerry needs to add BBM clients for Windows and Mac PC’s; while certainly taking on more limited roles in the Internet space, PC’s still have a role and are by no means going away. More in a future post but it will be interesting to see how this expanded access plays out in reality.

BBM Channels

It was while attending my first or second CES five or six years ago that I realized the value of BlackBerry Messenger. It was the most reliable means of instantly communicating with key colleagues in what was the very “noisy” environment and confusion of CES. Chat mutes the background noise of voice calls; over-the-top chat also overcomes the saturation of mobile voice channels. In those days BBM was a build out of PIN-to-PIN communications inherited from the days of being an enhanced pager. Its one limitation was that I only had about 50 contacts accessible but it pushed a message through on demand in the true sense of the word.

Building on today’s success of BlackBerry Messenger as a chat/voice/video personal communications platform, BBM Channels introduces an innovative social networking aspect whose role will be determined by its ultimate feature set and acceptance as a “must have” user engagement channel. To date it seems to be playing out as a “back channel” where hosts can put out background or complementary information to what is being delivered across the legacy social networking channels such as WordPress and Facebook. Will the fact that over 10 billion messages are delivered daily for 51 million users, with most of them being responded to within 20 seconds, play a role in determining its uniqueness?

For those who are using the beta, the Voice On The Web Channel PIN is C0004ABB2.

BlackBerry Q5

BBQ5.3ModelsWhen I was in the scientific instrumentation business, my employers had a product evolution process of creating initially a high end instrument with all the bells-and-whistles the scientific research community would request.  With the experience and feedback generated through these offerings, they would then develop a line of lower end products that allowed scientists to perform the majority of the experiments for more routine clinical analysis measurements at a significantly lower cost. The BlackBerry 10 devices, Z10 and Q10, certainly represent a high end mobile computing platform with all the bells-and-whistles for supporting real time and asynchronous communications, social networking, web browsing and third party applications.

On the other hand the newly announced Q5 brings the feature set of the BlackBerry 10 Operating System to a lower cost hardware device. Incorporating the Hub, the world’s fastest smartphone browser and access to BlackBerry 10 applications, the compromise comes from the processor (dual core, 1.2GHz SnapDragon), the keyboard design, 8GB internal memory, no battery access, LCD Display and a lack of external connections such as the HDMI port for viewing on any HDMI-enabled display.  There is a slot for a 32GB SD card.

The bottom line is that the BlackBerry Q5 brings BlackBerry 10 Operating System features on a device that should appeal to mid-range markets, not only in Latin America, Asia, Africa and eastern Europe but I expect we’ll be seeing it available later on North American and European carriers. Initially it helps to sustain BlackBerry’s presence in markets that have supported them strongly through BlackBerry’s challenges of the past two years.

BlackBerry Elite

BlackBerry.CxO.Live2103The major advantage of participation in this program was the opportunity to meet other BlackBerry enthusiasts and discuss their experiences, impressions and concerns. We had a couple of briefings, one of which is reported on CrackBerry Live. BlackBerry Elite provides an opportunity for frank exchanges across a demographic of developers, customers (both enterprise and consumer), bloggers and social networking activists.  Hopefully these exchanges contribute to the evolution of BlackBerry offerings.

Yes, there was a photo op session following a briefing by the BlackBerry C-level executive team. As this occurred prior to the keynote, there was really no news coming out of this session.

In Conclusion

BlackBerry Live presented an opportunity to both learn and network. Meeting customers from Qatar, service provider representatives from Sweden and a developer partner from Egypt contributed to providing a better feel for the enthusiasm and acceptance of BlackBerry 10 around the world. There was also some learning about the competitive space. I saw not only examples of BlackBerry 10 on automobiles but also its implementation as a healthcare platform in communications-critical applications.

While BlackBerry has achieved many accomplishments over the past years, as CEO Thorsten Heins stated a few times during the event, this is just the beginning; the challenge is the future. Getting the Q10 launched in the U.S., expanding the applications base  and migrating it to native apps, supporting enterprises to (re-)adopt BlackBerry as a corporate standard and connecting to the “Internet of Things” are just a few of the many challenges ahead.

And, for me, this was the first conference I had attended where my mobile device was more than a smartphone; it was all I needed for most of my conference computing activities. My BlackBerry Z10 kept me in touch with social networking activities, news reports on the conference (and the emerging political scandals back home), my Skype contacts – especially the group chats and, of course my email. Flying down to Orlando and back home, BlackBerry users could take advantage of the free Go Go Inflight WiFi offered on Delta (to June 30).  I only used my MacBook to prepare the PowerPoint presentation for the CrackBerry Live interview; I used the BlackBerry 10 to make the presentation.

Full disclosure: The author attended BlackBerry Live 2013 as a guest of the BlackBerry Elite program. Other than a non-disclosure agreement regarding confidential information, no conditions have been placed on any coverage I may provide of the event. At the time of authoring this post, I had no proprietary information regarding BlackBerry’s future direction but rather simply my own past experience and information provided at BlackBerry Live sessions.

The author has a small holding of BlackBerry shares. But he also has iOS and Android devices in order to experience a cross section of the smartphone and tablet market. These observations are based on publicly available information combined with his own past business experience at senior management levels in high technology markets. His main interest is in seeing several thousand jobs maintained in not only the Canadian economy but also in BlackBerry organizations around the world.

Given that RIM stock has been somewhat volatile for the past few months I can only say check with your investment advisor before taking any action. These posts are for information purposes only.

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How will WebRTC affect Skype? http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/how-will-webrtc-affect-skype/ http://voiceontheweb.biz/skype-world/how-will-webrtc-affect-skype/#respond Fri, 24 May 2013 12:56:48 +0000 http://voiceontheweb.biz/?p=9723 [Editor’s note: By now you have probably heard about WebRTC, the attempt to develop a standard for incorporating IP-based communications into web browsers. Does it pose a threat to Skype or is it simply a maturing of the Internet infrastructure? Phil Wolff recently made some comments in a Skype Group chat we both follow; I asked him to flesh out his points for a post. Here goes…]

WebRTC.LogoI live in the browser. So do you.

Skype’s been keen on the browser for a long time. They supported a java browser widget that talked to your desktop Skype client. They’ve released several browser toolbars that did fun things like turn phone numbers on web pages into clickable links that would launch Skype calls. Their partnership with Facebook included a browser extension that enabled Facebook Chat to launch video calls. Skype’s latest desktop clients use a little browser to render chat. And this week Microsoft announced a browser plug-in to enable Outlook.com to make Skype video calls within the browser.

Whatever the technology (which changes over time) I think their instincts are right: go to the part of user experience where people want to talk and make yourself available. Email offers great context for Skype to trigger live conversations or a switch from email to IM.

Plug-ins makes sense to me right now. Skype needs to have confidence that all the parts they need are deployed across all the kinds of computers and browsers. Until WebRTC is ubiquitous and implemented in a standard-enough way, Skype needs to prepackage parts.

Skype is always up for ways to reduce friction from user experience, to increase reach, to boost dialtone, to increase usage. The technology can be inelegant so long as it helps with those goals.

Browser plug-ins should deliver dialtone better than a pure web client. They might log you into the Skype network as soon as you open you browser and keep you connected without actually opening a tab to Skype.com, Outlook.com, Lync.com, or another Microsoft property. They may also have superior alerts and notifications than an app securely isolated in a tab. What about mobile? Mobile browsers don’t support plug-ins or toolbars. Those will rely either on Skype mobile apps properly integrated (open a Skype resource with the right app) or a pure web solution.

So what does this mean competitively?

There’s a race to launch developer-ready components and Google’s ahead. So how quickly can Apple, Google, Microsoft, and the telcos launch something minimal that works? [As an aside, is there a rule somewhere that says no two browsers ever implement a standard the same way? “Working” means working on at least one but preferably all new browsers.]

A stable WebRTC standard and its execution in browsers isn’t a complete communication client. A full client includes the components we expect from a Skype client, either in plug-in form or just loaded from the web. WebRTC doesn’t come with directories, authorization, presence services, user profiles, call/chat histories, billing, device sync, etc. Or UI, for that matter. So each competitor has a lot more to do than just implement the WebRTC plumbing. They need to build apps people are willing to use. Will people adopt Skype’s new browser apps?

There’s a fight brewing for browser real estate. Why deploy plug-ins if you can just build access to your network into your browser?  Chrome will come with Google’s version of a WebRTC client (Hangouts? Voice?), IE will come with MicroSkype’s, and Mozilla will likely sit this one out for Firefox. Microsoft will offer plug-ins to Chrome and Safari and Mozilla users. Google will do the same for non-Chrome browsers.

This is a time for alliances and partnerships.

  • The standards are still not standard. Standards efforts will continue. Everyone benefits when all the WebRTC browsers, developer toolkits, and operating systems mean the same thing by WebRTC.
  • Android has its own tension between being full of Google features and offering manufacturers an independent OS. But I’m pretty sure whatever Google does will show up in a future release of Android. But Skype may have to scale up negotiations for pre-installation privileges with each of the hundreds of phone makers and distributors.
  • Microsoft’s in-house developers can build atop Skype’s browser plug-ins or Skype’s WebRTC web framework. Bing advertiser click-to-call, anyone? Talk with your Xbox friends in your browser? Outlook click-to-chat? (Oh, wait, Outlook’s not hypothetical!)

Last, the long game depends on short term adoption and building up the architecture. The long game is about empowering whole ecosystems. Google is going to offer all its advertisers the ability to live-talk enable ads (click to call, click to chat, click to watch a video), to publishers (you provide the context, your visitors will stay longer to talk), to app developers (talk as a feature). Half the Internet will be wired in. Microsoft could do the same for its ecosystem, Apple too, maybe even Amazon (book clubs?). The one with the biggest dialtone, most conversation, and largest social graph wins. 

Dan York: How WebRTC Will Fundamentally Disrupt Telecom (And Change The Internet)

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