Weekly Wrap: Go Go Google SMS
By Carlo Longino, Fri Oct 08 08:00:00 GMT 2004

Google finally gets hip to mobile search, Intel moves into the Symbian smartphone market, one company says handset sales are slowing, and more.

Search engine giant Google announced this week an SMS interface for users in the US, offering local business information, price comparisons, definitions and snippets of search results to mobile users via a short code. The service shows that Google has taken to heart mobile users don't have the same needs as PC users, and are merely interested in search-engine results formatted for mobile devices.

Intel this week said it would work with Symbian to develop a reference design for a 3G handset running the smartphone operating system, and that it would work with Nokia to develop chips to support the company's Series 60 platform. While Intel looks to gain ground in the mobile world, Symbian hopes the chip competition for Texas Instruments and STMicroelectronics will help push down component costs, allowing the OS to be used in handsets throughout the market, rather than just high-end devices.

Intel's move also illustrates a growing trend in future handset design to develop devices with not just faster communications abilities, but also more powerful processors and speedier memory to handle the megabit speeds of the future.

Sony Ericsson President Miles Flint predicted this week that growth in the mobile-phone market will slow this year, though as he points out, the growth rate is still high enough to make many industries envious. The question for Flint's company, however is where that slowdown will come -- in mature markets that have seen a lot of replacement sales, an area in which Sony Ericsson has done well, or in emerging markets, where handsets from the like of Nokia have served it well.

While replacement handset sales might be a big boon to device manufacturers, they can cause plenty of headaches for operators, particularly when they're not purchased through a carrier's retail channels. Improperly configured devices can mean that operators miss out on additional service revenues, though some carriers are trying to make things easier for users by using systems that can recognize new devices on their networks and send out over-the-air configuration messages to them automatically, or even by offering something as simple as an address book backup system.

Users frustrated at their carriers over improperly configured devices is one downside to the oh-so-important argument that's long raged on between operators and phone vendors over who "owns" the customer, a battle that the operators look to have won, at least for the time being. Symbian subsidiary UIQ this week announced a new feature of an upcoming version of its interface that allows carriers to quickly and easily customize a number of features in the UI to fit their services and look and feel.

The latest mobile security fear-mongering come courtesy of the latest J2ME MIDP, which some "experts" are saying opens new phones up to hacker attacks. Presumably, since the new MIDP allows Java apps to access parts of handsets previously closed off, including contact data and telephony functions, phones that use it are a security risk. Never mind that it was a features developers clamored for, explaining it would help them build more useful and compelling applications.

One very real mobile security worry is in South Korea, where criminals have been cloning people's handsets, then using them to purchase all kinds of physical goods, highlighting a potential problem of having a device act as a wallet. As the functionality of phones expands, so too must security mechanisms to protect users.

NTT DoCoMo is off to a lot of early success with its FeliCa contactless IC system, which among other things, can can be used to make physical purchases. But the operators is still riding the wave of its prescient move back in the early days of i-mode to focus its resources on creating an environment in which developers could succeed and create successful applications.

European carriers were excited at the prospects of push-to-talk services earlier in the year, but it looks like the hype has worn off, with most operators putting plans to launch PTT on the back burner. While T-Mobile has started service in Germany and Orange launched (several months behind schedule), most other carriers appear to be waiting for some evidence that people will actually use -- and pay for -- PTT on the continent.

Elsewhere on the site this week, Steve Wallage analyzes the impact of grid computing on the mobile space, David Pescovitz gets under your skin with news of implantable medical sensors, and Howard Rheingold makes a note of how one Microsoft researcher is annotating the world with mobile devices.