Weekly Wrap: Counting Chips
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jan 23 09:00:00 GMT 2004

Earnings season is in full swing, Palm looks to smartphones for growth, saving cash with your cameraphone, and more...


Several mobile companies reported earnings this week, and it came as little surprise after the holiday season's strong sales reports that the money was in the handset business last quarter. Companies like Nokia, Siemens, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung all had strong showings thanks to a heavy demand for new handsets with cameras and color screens, while Motorola missed out, due to component shortages and delays. All the companies gave positive outlooks, though, so 2004 should shape up to be a good year for them.

PalmOne, the spun-off hardware unit, said this week it would shift its emphasis to smartphones, following its acquisition of Handspring and amid slowing PDA sales. It's quite a shift for the company, even if only a semantic one, given the emphasis it's given the low end of the PDA market lately, and while Handspring suffered for some time after dropping their Visor line to focus solely on smartphones, it looks to be the right long-term decision. PalmSource, what was Palm's software unit, is still keeping smartphones at arm's length, however.

Last week we told you how some opressive regimes are looking to crack down on cameraphones -- could retail stores be next? Several companies are developing software that works with cameraphones to help users comparison shop. Users take a picture of an ISBN or UPC code with their phone, and they're then given pricing information from other sites and retailers. One company even sends out coupons for online vendors in an effort to lure customers out of shops and online.

Just as TheFeature got certified as standards-compliant, the W3C released a new standard to better enable web server-to-mobile device communication. The new standard uses RDF to to describe to a server how much data a device can handle, and how it handles it, essentially letting the device tell the server its limitations and preferences.

One place where we're still waiting for money to be made is in online multi-player mobile gaming, even as PC-based online games rake in the dough. One estimate says the games will bring in $1 billion this year, while the mobile world is still waiting for things to happen. Speaking of mobile gaming, it looks like the N-Gage can rest easy a little longer, as Nintendo announced its next-generation Gameboy this week. While it will evidently sport dual screens and processors, still no built-in communication functionality.

Details of another new take on an old technology emerged this week, as Nokia prepared to present its "Visual Radio" concept to the music industry. Visual radio works alongside a standard broadcast to present additional multimedia information to the listener, things as basic as artist or song titles or more complex like interaction with a DJ or a way to buy the music they're hearing. It's got the potential to shake up the radio industry, if it's not a case of media companies biting off more than consumers can chew.

One problem with emerging location-based and tracking services is that users want -- and need -- a measure of control over who can access their location information. So far, that control (if any) has been just an on/off switch, but researchers at Bell Labs said this week they'd developed a system that allows users a great deal of control using a rules-based method. For example, a user could set their phone so that their family could always track their precise location, while co-workers or employers could only do so within a given radius, say 15 miles. While this system goes much further than previous efforts, it remains to be seen if it's far enough to satisfy concerns about location privacy.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Mark Frauenfelder tells about new wireless technologies designed to engender human relationships, while Howard Rheingold takes a look at the state of wearable computing.