Wearables or swearables? Mobile World Congress panel raises the questions but not the answers

An event called Wearable Wednesday, which took place last night at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress, promised to explain the “State of the Wearable Economy”; but anyone hoping to better understand the economics of wearables after the event would have been largely disappointed – the closest it came was a statement by an Intel spokesperson that the number of connected devices is growing by 300% per year – but it was a fun and thought-provoking event nevertheless.


The event was organized by Redg Snodgrass of Wearable World and featured some product pitches and a panel discussion. 

Raimo Van der Klein from GlassEffect, which offers apps and services for Google Glass, talked about contactless payments using Glass and showed a video in which a payment (using Bitcoin) is confirmed with a nod of the head. It sounds dangerously easy, but he went on to explain that you also have to read a QR code and make a voice command: still hands-free, but veering towards being too complex.

Despite wearable technology being cutting-edge and with obvious huge potential, the panel discussion was somewhat downbeat. Wearable technology lacks a killer app, we heard. Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit, emphasised that wearable technology has to be “either beautiful or invisible”, with both characteristics rare today. Wearables look like they are designed by engineers for engineers, he said.

That is a fair description of Google Glass, which seems to me more of a prototype than a product, fascinating though it is. One speaker declared that his wife will not let him wear Google Glass “because you look really stupid”. Add to that the unsettling “you are spying on me” effect that Glass has on others, and you get something that is less than attractive to most people.

Other issues discussed were power, with agreement that having to charge a device every few days is hopeless for something you are expected to wear all the time,  and fragmentation; there is no standard wearable platform.

Journalist Ina Fried who moderated the panel posed the question: is the future of wearables in low-power sensors, which talk to your smartphone where the intelligence resides,  or smart devices (some with displays) that do more but suffer from high power requirements?

In discussion with Vu afterwards he observed that the wearable technology that is already proven to be big business is the watch. Watches are proven and attractive devices that we use constantly. Someone asked me, why bother with a watch when you have a smartphone; but there are good reasons we still wear watches, including hands-free access, security (much harder to grab a watch than a phone) and instant results.

You can therefore see the logic behind smart watches: take something we use already and extend it. Unfortunately it is easy to make the watch concept worse rather than better, by adding complexity or the burden of constant recharging.

Another big theme is fitness sensors, and here at Mobile World Congress they are everywhere (Sony’s SmartBand and Samsung’s Gear Fit are two examples from big players). Is the public as fitness-obsessed as these companies hope? That is unknown, but it seems likely that health monitoring via wearable sensors will only increase. Questions raised include who owns the resulting data, how we can prevent it being used in ways we dislike (such as raising health insurance premiums if you have “bad” results), and whether it will breed hypochondria. Doctor, my heart rate is up a bit …

Privacy tends not to be a theme at this kind of event. “In a couple of years you will have the camera on continuously” enthused Snodgrass. As ever, the technology is there before we have learned what is appropriate usage or how it should be regulated, if at all.

X is for Xamarin: One company that is pleased to see Nokia X

Xamarin, which provides cross-platform development tools for targeting iOS and Android wtih C#, is not exhibiting here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but does have a presence for meetings, and I caught up with Joseph Hill who is Director of Developer Relations.

Xamarin has just announced a joint SDK with SAP along with some SAP-specific support in its cloud testing service; but Monday’s announcement of Nokia X, Android smartphones from soon-to-be-Microsoft Nokia, was even bigger news from Hill’s perspective.

If you are a Windows Phone developer with apps written in C#, Xamarin gives you a way to port your code to Nokia X. Apparently Nokia itself has taken advantage of this to port Nokia Mix Radio, as described by Nokia’s developers here. Nokia also used MVVM Cross in order to take cross-platform abstraction beyond what Xamarin itself gives them (Xamarin is deliberately restricted to non-visual code).

Nokia states that it will do all future development using Microsoft’s Portable Class Libraries, and is also refactoring existing code:

The final step in our journey towards the common architecture is to throw out the legacy code from the Windows Phone and Windows 8 apps so they’re stripped back to existing PCL shared assemblies and then integrate them with our fully shared codebase. Now that the Nokia X has launched that’s the next major goal we’re striving towards and work begins now.

I imagine that Xamarin could prove useful in some of Microsoft’s other internal projects as it prepares for a world in which there is an official Microsoft Android platform.

As an aside, it seems to me unlikely that Microsoft will do anything other than run with Nokia X after the acquisition. Microsoft is supporting Nokia X with Skype and OneDrive, which is an indication of its attitude.

Samsung evolving KNOX into complete mobile device management solution

Samsung introduced KNOX at the 2013 Mobile World Congress (MWC). It is a secure app and data container for Samsung mobiles, backed by hardware, enabling businesses to run apps that are isolated from a user’s personal apps (which might include badly behaved or even malicious apps). Data is encrypted so that business secrets are safe if the device goes astray.

The core of Knox is a hardware process called TIMA (Trustzone Integrity Measurement). This checks for tampering in the core operating system (trusted boot) and sets a tamper bit if it detects a problem. The tamper bit cannot be set in software alone.


A device with KNOX activated can be flipped between personal and business (KNOX) personalities. It is like having two smartphones in one. Whether this is a desirable approach is up for debate, but it does secure business apps and data.


We did not hear much about KNOX after last year’s MWC. It was released a few months later, but snags included limited device support (only the latest Samsung devices), the need to prepare apps with a special KNOX wrapper before they could be used, and the need to hire a Samsung partner like Centrify to provide administration tools.

All that has changed following last night’s announcement of the next generation of KNOX. Highlights:

Most apps can now be installed in KNOX without any special wrapper

You can use a third-party container such as Good, Fixmo Safezone, or MobileIron AppConnect in place of the KNOX container, but still using KNOX hardware protection.

Two factor authentication (for example requiring a fingerprint swipe as well as a password to access a KNOX container)

KNOX supports Microsoft’s workplace join (a kind of lightweight domain join) for secure access to Microsoft network resources.

Samsung has introduced a cloud-based Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool called KNOX EMM (Enterprise Mobility Management). This runs on Microsoft’s Azure platform and integrates with Azure Active Directory (which can itself link to on-premise Active Directory) so that small businesses on Office 365, or large businesses which prefer a cloud tool, can manage both Knox and other devices. EMM is primarily aimed at SMEs but apparently can scale up without limit.

EMM will also support non-Samsung devices.

EMM includes an app marketplace allowing businesses to purchase and deploy apps. The example we were shown was the Box cloud storage service.


Availability is promised for the second quarter of 2014.

Samsung Galaxy S5 with Gear 2, Gear Fit: quick hands-on, screenshots

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 Android smartphone at an event last night in Barcelona, during Mobile World Congress. I attended the launch and spent some time trying the new Galaxy after the event.


The first thing that struck me is how light it feels. It is 145g according to the spec.

Here is the home screen:


The UI in general is clean and easy to use:


I was interested in the camera, having looked at the camera on the new Sony Xperia Z2 yesterday, in comparison to the Nokia Lumia 1020. The S5 has a 16MP camera and Samsung showed off its fast automatic focus in the press launch. Here are the camera options:


I took a couple of snaps with both the S5 and the Lumia 1020 for a quick comparison. The Lumia easily bested it. I’d judge that the Xperia Z2 would easily best it too. That said, the camera is fine and I doubt users will be disappointed; it’s just not the best choice if you are particularly keen on photography.

Health is big theme, especially in conjunction with the Gear Fit band. Samsung’s JK Shin said that keeping fit is a third key feature in a smartphone alongside camera and connectivity. Here is the fitness app:


Samsung has included a heart rate sensor, so I took my pulse:


There is a Kids Zone, reminiscent of what Microsoft has done for Windows Phone:


Other notable features are water and dust resistance, fingerprint sensor with PayPal integration, and apparently new Enterprise security features of which I hope to learn more later today.

It looks like an excellent phone. A game changer? Enough to draw users from Apple? It feels more like just another smartphone, albeit a good one, but that may be just what the market wants. No silliness like the S4’s air gestures, just a solid new smartphone.

On sale date is April 11 2014.

Key specs:

  • LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps)
  • 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display
  • 2.5GHz Quad core application processor
  • Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat)
  • Camera: 16MP (rear), 2.0MP (front)
  • Video: UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization
  • IP67 Dust and water Resistant
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2×2)
  • Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+
  • USB: USB 3.0
  • NFC
  • IR Remote
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart rate sensor
    2GB RAM
  • Storage:Internal Memory: 16/32GB, microSD slot upto 64GB
    Size and weight:  142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
  • Battery: 2800mAh Standby time: 390 hrs / Talk time: 21 hrs

The Privacy Panel in Firefox OS

I tweeted about the privacy panel in Firefox OS, which attracted considerable interest, so I’m posting the snap I took of the feature.


Holding the phone is Alex Fowler, Mozilla’s Global Privacy and Policy Leader. The Location Blur feature is OS-wide, not specific to any app.


I find the feature interesting, because the ability to hide your location (somewhat; operators will still know which mast you are connecting to) is one that users deserve, but which runs counter to location-based marketing or data collection. Mozilla as an open source foundation is more likely to promote such a feature than corporations like Google whose business is based on advertising – having said which, Mozilla’s income comes to a large extent from Google thanks to search revenue, which is paid for ultimately by advertising. It’s complex.

Smartphone Camera fun: Nokia Lumia 1020 vs Sony Xperia Z2

Sony has announced the latest Xperia, the X2, here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.


The Z2 boasts “a pro-grade camera far beyond smartphone class performance”, and captures images at 20.7MP, as inscribed on the rear:


Sony calls its imaging sensor technology Exmor, and the Xperia Z2 uses Exmor RS for mobile.


The camera software on the Z2 has an extensive range of options, some of which are shown below.


How does it compare though with Nokia’s PureView technology, and in particular the Lumia 1020 with its 41MP camera?

First, I tried taking a similar point and shoot picture of the delightful view from the Sony stand.

Here is the Sony. It is a detail from the full image, so you can view it at full resolution:


and here is the Lumia:


Note that I am not using a tripod so the quality is influenced by how good the image stabilisation software is, as well as the inherent quality of the optics.

Sony has a special demo to show off the low-light performance of the Z2.


See that small hole? You align the phone so that the camera can see through the hole, and take a picture. It looks like it will turn out blank, but actually picks up an image from the low light:


This is not full resolution, but you get the idea.

My first effort with the Lumia was a disaster:


I was sure it could do better, so I whacked up the ISO sensitivity and set the shutter to 4s:


Still, in terms of automatic settings detection, the Sony proved more effective.

Which camera is better? On this quick and dirty test I felt that both phones performed well, but I am not ready to give up the Lumia 1020 yet. Then again, you do have to live with the slight protrusion of the Lumia 1020 lens from the body, whereas the Z2 is perfectly smooth.

Disclaimer: I am not a photographer and my interest is in taking quick pictures of decent quality conveniently rather than getting the best that can be achieved. I look forward to more detailed comparisons of the Z2 vs Lumia 1020 from photography enthusiasts in due course.

Nokia’s puzzling Android announcement: Nokia X

Nokia has announced the X range: Android smartphones connected to Microsoft/Nokia services including Bing search, OneDrive cloud storage, Nokia Here maps, and Nokia Music.


The phones, according to Nokia, are aimed at the “affordable” market especially in “growth markets” or in other words, less developed territories.


The stated reason for Nokia X is combine the rich Android app ecosystem – apart from Google’s own apps which largely will not run because of their dependence on proprietary Google Play services – with a “feeder” for the cloud services which are shared with the Lumia range. The UI is tiled and the phones have the look and feel of cut-down Lumia more than Android. Nokia’s Stephen Elop stated that Lumia and Windows Phone remains Nokia’s primary smartphone strategy.

Note that although Nokia is being acquired by Microsoft, the deal is not complete, and Nokia’s management is equally as independent of Microsoft as it was this time last year.

Here’s the puzzle though. Elop also announced that the low-end Windows Phone, Lumia 520, outsells Android in the €75-150 price range, exactly the range also occupied by Nokia X. It is no more affordable than Windows Phone. The real rationale then is about the Android app ecosystem rather than affordability.

There are several reasons why Nokia X might not be a big hit.

First, consumers will pick up that these do not offer the same experience as mainstream Android devices running Google services. This might not matter if the Microsoft/Nokia services were superior to those from Google, but that is hard to see. Bing vs Google for search?, Nokia Music vs Google Play music? Google Now vs no equivalent? Play Store vs Nokia Store?

Second, if you want a Microsoft services device, how likely is it that the supporting apps on Android will be superior to those on Windows Phone? Take Office 365, for example. Windows Phone has better support than Android, and that is part of Microsoft’s differentiation.

If Nokia X is a worse Android than Android, and a worse Windows Phone than Windows Phone, what is the point of it and why will anyone buy?

Here is where Nokia X does make sense. It is a strong Plan B for a company that is having second thoughts about the long-term prospects of Windows Phone. Perhaps it could also replace Asha at the low end, if in time Nokia manages to drive the cost down. The Android operating system is free, if you leave out the proprietary Google bits, so there is some cost saving versus Windows Phone.

Unfortunately there is also a negative impact on Lumia, in that Nokia is seen to be wavering in its commitment to Windows Phone and distracted by supporting too many mobile operating systems. There was no Lumia announcement today at Mobile World Congress, which is odd considering that Nokia has a reasonable story to report in terms of platform growth.

New features in Windows Azure, including web site backup, .NET mobile services

Microsoft has announced new features in Windows Azure, its cloud platform, described by VP Scott Guthrie on his blog.

Aside: I agree with this comment to his post:

Thank you Scott for update. I wish dozens of MS folks and MS representatives would have a clue about Azure roadmap to help businesses plan their release schedules / migration plans. Till that happens, this blog will remain the main source of updates and a hint of roadmap.

The changes are significant. ExpressRoute offers connectivity to Azure without going through the public internet. Currently you have to use an Equinix datacentre, Level 3 cloud connect, or an AT&T MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) VPN. For enterprises that can meet the requirements and who are wary about data passing through the internet, or who want better connectivity, it is an interesting option.

Next up is backup and restore for Azure web sites. Azure web sites are a way of deploying web applications, ranging from free to multi-instance with automatic scaling. You need at least a Standard site for serious use, as I explained here.

Now you can set up scheduled backup for both the web site and a supporting database. The feature is in preview but you can try it now using the Azure web management portal.


I noticed a couple of things. One is that the storage account used must be in the same subscription as the web site. I also spotted this warning:


which states that “frequent backups can increase you database costs by up to 100%”. Still, it is a handy feature.

Azure mobile services, designed to supply data to mobile apps, has been extended to support .NET code (previously you had to use Javascript). If you download the code, notes Guthrie, you find that it is  “simply an ASP.NET Web API project with additional Mobile Service NuGet packages included.”

Mobile Services also have new support for notification hubs and for PhoneGap (a way of building mobile apps using HTML and JavaScript).

Another feature that caught my eye is easy linking of third-party apps to Azure Active Directory (which is also used by Office 365). For example, if you are struggling with SharePoint and its poor clients for Windows, iOS and Android, you might consider using Dropbox for business instead. Now you can integrate Dropbox for Business with your Office 365 user directory by selecting  it from the Azure management portal.


Alcatel OneTouch shows Pop Fit wearable smartphone at Mobile World Congress

Alcatel OnTouch has announced the Pop Fit here in Barcelona, on the eve of Mobile World Congress.

The Pop Fit is a tiny 2.8” 240×320 pixel phone running Android 4.2, but well equipped for wireless with wifi, Bluetooth and GPS. It is designed as a media and fitness phone that you can strap on your arm when out and about.


Here it is in action.


You can get your music from internal storage (there is a micro SD slot), or from apps like Spotify and Sound Cloud.

Also included is the Runkeeper app for keeping track of your running and fitness efforts.

A smart flip cover, included in the box, protects the phone and lets you control media playback through the cover. There is also a choice of coloured snap-on back covers in the box.

The Pop Fit will retail for around €89 and be on sale from May 2014.

Alcatel OneTouch is a mobile phone brand owned by Chinese giant TCL Corporation, whose origins are in a tie-up between French company Alcatel and TCL back in 2004. However Alcatel sold its stake in 2005 leaving only the brand name.

Visual Studio license expired: not what you want to see just before boarding a flight

While waiting to board I fired up Visual Studio 2013 thinking I might tinker with the game I am working on during the flight.


I got this unwelcome message. “Your license has gone stale.” This is because I have an MSDN version which apparently is no longer a perpetual license.

Thanks to what looks like a beginner programming error, I am also informed that the license will expire in 2147483647 days.

The other factor here is that I only use Visual Studio on this machine when travelling. Although my subscription is still in date, the software has to call home once in a while or it stops working.

Fair enough for Microsoft to protect its rights but I wonder if this could be fine-tuned.