Tag Archives: htc

Android and Carrier IQ: alarming claims, immediate questions

The claims of security expert Trevor Eckhart regarding data collection by Carrier IQ are among the most alarming of any I can recall in the IT industry. I dislike the way Facebook gets you to publish data about yourself almost without realising it, and the amount of personal data collected by Google, for example, but this is more worrying.

Eckhart says:

The very extensive list of Android security permissions granted to IQRD would raise anyone’s eyebrow, considering that it’s remotely controlled software, but some things such as reading contact data, Services that cost you money, reading/edit/sending sms, recording audio(?!??!?) and writing/changing wireless settings seem a bit excessive


The only choice we have to “opt out” of this data collection is to root our devices because every part of the multi-headed CIQ application is embedded into low-level, locked regions of the phones.

So what does Carrier IQ gather? Eckhart lists webpages visited, location statistics, media statistics, SMS texts, keys pressed, apps opened and focused, and even text sent over SSL (HTTPS) in browser sessions that you thought were secure.

If these claims are correct, then nobody who deals in confidential information should use an Android mobile with this installed. Since most of us have online bank accounts or other secure logins that we use on our mobile, that makes an Android phone a risky proposition for almost anyone.

My immediate questions:

  • Which Android devices have this software installed?
  • How soon will the affected operators give us a way to remove or disable it?
  • How can a concerned user discover whether or not his mobile is leaking private information?

Finally, now is the time for rivals such as Apple, RIM, or Microsoft and its partners, to explain in plain English how their devices compare in terms of privacy. What data is gathered in the interests of:

the Carrier IQ solution gives you the unique ability to analyze in detail usage scenarios and fault conditions by type, location, application and network performance while providing you with a detailed insight into the mobile experience as delivered at the handset rather than simply the state of the network components carrying it.

as Carrier IQ puts it.

Something has changed for Windows Phone

When Windows Phone 7 launched last year, it was obvious that it could not succeed since it was all-but invisible to most people. In my local small town centre, which has several mobile phone shops, it was nowhere to be seen.

I went out to post a letter just now and was astonished to see this poster in the window of Phones4u:


I went in and discovered only a dummy of the Radar and Titan on display. I asked to see a Titan and they got one out for me to see.

The Nokia Lumia 800 was also on display, this one a working model.


The Titan has a gorgeous large screen, but while it is slightly bulky it is slim and does not feel heavy to hold. I put it alongside the Lumia; the Titan screen does look larger and better. Unfortunately I could not see the Lumia out of its clip. The Lumia does benefit from Nokia Drive (not working because no internet connection) and seems to be around £100 cheaper than the Titan. The Lumia also has the free British Airways app pre-installed.

I asked the assistant what she thought of Windows Phone and she said she had not tried it. I said I had an HTC Desire (true) and she seemed slightly puzzled about why I would want a Windows Phone though she thought it would be good for work because of Office.

Still, Microsoft’s device has visibility at last, though this seems to be more because of moves by Nokia and HTC than from Microsoft itself. If it can win the support and enthusiasm of some of those influential retail assistants we may see significant growth in market share.

HTC’s new Android tablet has a stylus

A big surprise here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: HTC’s new tablet, the HTC Flyer, comes with a stylus. “People can rediscover the natural act of writing,” says the press release.

My first reaction is that this a mistake. I have had tablets with pens before, and while I like the ability to take notes, I also find the pen a nuisance. They are awkward in confined spaces like an economy seat in an aeroplane, and expensive to lose. HTC’s pen is battery powered, so I suppose you could also have the annoyance of a pen that runs out of juice. HTC’s stylus does not clip into a bay on the device, but does have a dedicated pocket in the case.


On the plus side, you can write, draw and annotate content using the pen, which has a variety of settings for colour and tip. For some tasks, a pen is the ideal implement.


The device does have other attractions. The pre-release devices have Android 2.4, but HTC says it may well run Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”, which is designed for tablets, by the time it is launched in Q2 2011 or soon after. It has a 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset; 7” screen; 1024 x 600 resolution; 1GB RAM and 32GB storage, expandable with micro SD cards. Battery is said provide 4 hours of video playback, which sounds less than ideal. HTC will also offer a video download service “HTC Watch”.

A feature which will be familiar to OneNote users is called Timemark. This lets you take notes which synch to an audio recording, so tapping a word in your notes takes you to that point in the audio. Notes also synchronize with Evernote, a cloud-based note synchronization service.

An honest assessment of Windows Phone 7

I’ve been using Windows Phone 7 for a week and a half now, in the shape of an HTC Mozart on Orange. So what do I think?

I am not going to go blow-by-blow through the features – others have done that, and while it is important to do, it does not convey well what the phone is like to use. Instead, this is my first impression of the phone together with some thoughts on its future.


First, it is a decent smartphone. Take no notice of comments about the ugliness of the user interface. Although it looks a little boxy in pictures, in practice it is fun to use.

Some things take a bit of learning. For example, There is a camera button on the phone, and a full press on this activates the camera from almost anywhere. Within the camera, a full press takes a picture, but a half press or a press and hold activates autofocus. I did not find this behaviour immediately intuitive, but it is something you get used to.

There is plenty to like about the phone. This includes the dynamically updating tiles; the picture hub and the ability to auto-upload pictures to Skydrive, Microsoft’s free cloud storage; and neat touches such as the music controls which appear over the lock screen when you activate the screen during playback; or the Find your Phone feature which can ring your phone loudly even if it is set to silent, or lock the phone and add an if found message.

The People hub is fabulous if you use Facebook. I don’t use Facebook much, but even with my limited use, I noticed that as soon as I linked with Facebook, the phone felt deeply personalised to me, with little pictures of people I know in the People tile. The ability to link two profiles to one contact is good.

I also like the Office hub which includes Sharepoint workspace mobile – useful for synching content. Microsoft should push this hard, especially as Office 365, which includes hosted Exchange and Sharepoint, gains users.

There are some excellent design touches. For example, many apps have a menu bar with icons at the foot of the screen. There are no captions, which saves space, but by tapping a three-dot icon you can temporarily display captions. In time you learn them and no longer need to.

The pros and cons of hubs

Microsoft has addressed what is a significant issue in other smartphones: how to declutter the user interface. Windows Phone 7 hubs collect several related apps and features (between which there is no sharp difference) into a multi-page view. There are really six hubs:

  • People
  • Pictures (includes the camera)
  • Music and videos
  • Marketplace
  • Office
  • Games

I like the hubs in general; but there are a few issues. Of the hubs listed above, four of them work well: People, Pictures, Music/Videos, and Games. Marketplace is not really a hub any more than “phone” is a hub – it is just a way to access a single feature. Office is handy but it is not a hub gathering all the apps that address a particular area; it is a Microsoft brand. If I made a word processor app I could not add it to the Office hub.

Further, operators and OEMs can add their own hubs, but will most likely make bad decisions. There is a pointless HTC hub on my device which combines weather and featured apps. It also features a dizzying start-up animation which soon gets tired. I have no idea what the HTC hub is meant to do, other than to promote the HTC brand.

Speaking of brands, I have deliberately left the home screen on my Mozart as supplied by Orange. As you can see from the picture above, Orange decided we would rather see four Orange apps occupy 50% of the home screen (before you scroll down), than other features such as web browsing, music and video, pictures and so on. Why isn’t Orange a hub so that at least all this stuff is in one place?

The user can modify the home screen easily enough, and largely remove the Orange branding. But to get back to my point about hubs: it is not clear to me what a hub is meant to be. It is not really a category, because you cannot create hubs or add and remove apps from them, and because of the special privileges given to OEMs we get nonsense like the HTC hub, alongside works of art like the Pictures hub.

There is still more good than bad in the hub concept, but it need work.

Not enough features?

I have no complaint about lack of features in this first release of Windows Phone 7. Yes, I would like tethering. Yes, I would like the ability to copy an URL from the web browser to the Twitter client. But I am happy with the argument that Microsoft was more concerned with getting the foundation right, than with supplying every possible feature in version one.

I am less happy with the notion that Microsoft can afford for the initial devices to be a bit hopeless, and fix it up in later versions. I am not sure how much time the company has, before the world at large just presumes it cannot match iPhone or Android and forgets Microsoft as a smartphone company.

Is it a bit hopeless, or very good at what it does? I am still not sure, mainly because I seem to have had more odd behaviour than some other early adopters. Example: licence error after downloading from marketplace; apps that don’t open or which give an error and inform me that they have to close; black screens. A few times I’ve had to restart; once I had to remove the battery – thank you HTC Notes, which has been updated and now does not work at all. It is possible that there is some issue with my review device, such as faulty RAM, or maybe the amount of memory in a Mozart is inadequate. I am going to assume the former, but await other reports with interest.

The one area where Windows Phone 7 is weak is in app availability. I would like a WordPress app, for example. Clearly this will fix itself if the device is popular, though there are some issues facing third-party developers which will impede this somewhat.

App Development and the Marketplace

The development platform for third parties is meant to be Silverlight and XNA, two frameworks based on .NET which address general apps and games respectively. These are strong platforms, backed up by Visual Studio and the C# programming language, so not a bad development story as far as it goes.

That said, there are a couple of significant issues here. One is that third-party apps do not have access to all the features of the phone and cannot multi-task. Switch away from an app and it dies. This can result in a terrible user experience. For example, I fire up the impressive game The Harvest. Good though it is, it takes a while to load. Finally it loads and play resumes from where I got to last time. I’m just wondering what to tap, when the lock screen kicks in – since I have not tapped anything for a bit (because the game was loading), the device has decided to lock. I flick back the lock. Unfortunately the game has been killed, and starts over with resume and a long loading process.

The other area of uncertainly relates to native code development. C/C++ and native code is popular for mobile apps. It is efficient, which is good for devices with constrained resources; and while native code is by definition not cross-platform, large chunks of the code for one platform will likely port OK to another.

Third party developers cannot do native code development for Windows Phone 7. Or can they? Frankly, I have heard conflicting reports on this from Microsoft, from developers, and even from other journalists.

At the beginning, when the Windows Phone 7 development platform was announced at the Mix conference last year, it was stated that the only third-party developers allowed to use native code were Adobe, because Microsoft wants Flash on the device, operators and OEM hardware vendors. At the UK reviewer’s workshop, I was assured by a Microsoft spokesperson that this is still the case, and that no other third parties have been given special privileges.

I am sceptical though. I expect important third parties like Spotify will use native code for their apps, and/or get access to additional APIs. If you have a good enough relationship with Microsoft, or an important enough app, it will be negotiable.

In fact, I hope this is the case; and I also expect that there will be an official, public native code SDK for the device within a year or two.

As it is, the situation is unsatisfactory. I dislike the idea that only operators and OEMs can use native code – especially as this group does not have the best track record for creating innovative and useful apps. I have more confidence in third party developers to come up with compelling apps than operators or hardware vendors – who all too often just want to plug their brand.

I also think the Marketplace needs work. If I search marketplace, I want it filtered to apps only by default, but for some reason the search covers music and video as well, so If I search for a twitter client, I get results including a song called Hit me up on Twitter. That’s nonsense.

I wonder if the submission process is a too lax at the moment, because of Microsoft is so anxious to fill Marketplace with apps. I suppose there will always be too many lousy apps in there, on this and other platforms. Still, while nobody likes arbitrary rejections, I suspect Microsoft would win support if it were more rigorous about enforcing standards in areas like how well apps resume after they are killed by the operating system, and in their handling of the back button, two areas which seem lacking at the moment.

Complaints and annoyances

One persistent annoyance with the HTC Mozart is the proximity of menu bar which appears at the bottom of many apps, with the with “hardware” buttons for back, start, and search which are compulsory on all Windows Phone 7 devices. The problem is that on the Mozart, these buttons are the same as app buttons, triggered by a light touch. So I accidentally hit back, start or search instead of one of the menu buttons. I have similar issues with the onscreen keyboard. I’m learning to be very very careful where I tap in that region, which makes using the device less enjoyable.

Another annoyance is the unpredictability of the back button. I am often unsure whether this is going to navigate me back within an app, or kick me out of the app.

Some of the apps are poor or not quite done. This will sort itself presuming the phone is not a complete flop. For example, in Twozaic, when typing a tweet, the post button is almost entirely hidden by the keyboard. I would like an Android style close keyboard button (update: though the back button should do this consistently).

I have already mentioned problems with bugs and crashes, which I am hoping are specific to my device.

It seems to me that Microsoft has taken a look at Apple’s extraordinarily profitable approach to devices and thought “We want some of that.” The device is equally as locked down as an iPhone – except that in Apple’s case there are no OEMs to disrupt the user experience with half-baked apps, and operators are also prevented from interfering. With Windows Phone we kind-of have the worst of both worlds: operators and OEMs can spoil the phone’s usability – though this is constrained in that clued-up users can get rid of what they do not want – but we are still restricted from doing things like attaching the phone as USB storage.

Still not completely fixed – the OEM problem

My final reflection (for now) is that Windows Phone 7 still reflects Microsoft’s OEM problem. This device matters more to Microsoft than it does either to the operators or the OEM hardware vendors – who have plenty to be getting on with other mobile operating systems. In consequence, the launch devices do not do justice to the capabilities of Windows Phone 7, and in some cases let it does badly. I do not much like the HTC Mozart, and suspect that HTC just has not given the phone the attention that it needed.

One solution would be for Microsoft to make its own device. Another would be for some hardware vendor to come up with a superb device that would make us re-evaluate the platform. Those with long memories will recall that HTC did this for Windows CE, with the original iPAQ, the first devices using that operating system which performed satisfactorily.

HTC could do it again, but has not delivered with the Mozart, or I suspect with its other launch devices.

I have also noted issues with way Orange has customised my device, which is another part of the same overall issue.

Despite Microsoft’s moves to mitigate its OEM problem, by enforcing consistency of hardware and by (mostly) retaining control over the user interface, it is still an area of concern.

Open season for patent litigation makes case for reform

It seems to be open season for software patent litigation. Oracle is suing Google over its use of Java in Android. Paul Allen’s Interval Licensing is suing AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Yahoo and others – the Wall Street Journal has an illustrated discussion of the patents involved here. Let’s not forget that Apple is suing HTC and that Nokia is suing Apple (and being counter-sued).

What’s next? I was reminded of this post by former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. He confirms the supposition that large tech companies refrain from litigation – or at least, litigate less than they might, refrain is too strong a word right now – because they recognize that while they may have valid claims against others, they also most likely infringe on patents held by others.

The gist of Schwartz’s post is that Microsoft approached Sun with the claim that OpenOffice, owned by Sun, infringes on patents held by Microsoft thanks to its work on MIcrosoft Office:

Bill skipped the small talk, and went straight to the point, “Microsoft owns the office productivity market, and our patents read all over OpenOffice.”

Sun’s retort was in relation to Java and .NET:

“We’ve looked at .NET, and you’re trampling all over a huge number of Java patents. So what will you pay us for every copy of Windows?”

following which everything went quiet. The value of .NET to Microsoft is greater than the value of OpenOffice to Sun or Oracle.

Oracle, however, seems more willing to litigate than Sun; and I doubt it cares much about OpenOffice. Might we see this issue reappear?

That said, Microsoft also has a large bank of patents; and who knows, some of them might be brought to bear against Java in the event of legislative war.

The risk though is that if everyone litigates, the industry descends into a kind of nuclear winter which paralyses everyone. Companies like Interval Licensing, which seemingly exist solely to profit from patents, have no incentive to hold back.

Can any good come of this? Well, increasing software patent chaos might bring some benefit, if it forces countries like the USA to legislate in order to fix the broken patent system.

Protecting intellectual property is good; but against that you have to weigh the potential damage to competition and innovation from these energy-sapping lawsuits.

We need patent reform now.