The UpStream

In-flight Experiences Improving Only Days After FAA Eases Restrictions

posted Sunday Nov 10, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

In-flight Experiences Improving Only Days After FAA Eases Restrictions

We've been covering the FAA's committee to ease restrictions on electronic usage during flights and the group made a decision last week. JetBlue and Delta, upon hearing the announcement, immediately said that each company would be willing to implement the changes as fast as possible, with a rep from JetBlue saying it could've been done "yesterday." Well, I have some good news for those of you wanting to keep reading your e-book or listen to music to calm your nerves during take off and landing.

Upon flying into Newark Airport this weekend on Delta Airlines for CES Unveiled New York, I was able to successfully use my phone's media player from "gate to gate" as Delta has been putting it on both of my flights so far. Just like the FAA's statement, there are still some rules. First, any device with cell service must be placed into Airplane Mode. Next, larger devices like laptops and DVD players (do people still carry those around?) must be stowed during take-off and landing, just like old times. However, I was also able to watch TV shows I've loaded onto my tablet without problem during the entire duration of the flight, so tablets, even 10-inch ones, seem to be fine. It was nice to see, just days after an announcement like this, companies jumping on board to allow passengers to take advantage of a federal change right away.

This also ties into in-flight WiFi services, which haven't been so great on many flights across the country. Or, more commonly, the service simply isn't available. Because of the restrictions being lightened on portable electronic usage, I'd expect to see airlines start to adopt WiFi on more flights. IHS data indicates that wireless connectivity should be available on over 4,000 aircraft globally by the end of this year, which accounts for just over 20 percent of the entire fleet. Comparatively, WiFi has only been available in 12 percent of planes in 2011 and 15 percent in 2012. By 2022, IHS predicts that half of all planes in the world will have this feature onboard, allowing business to be conducted during long or short flights, and even letting parents calm their kids down with a favorite TV show or movie.

Analysts have said that this low number of adoption isn't surprising, as many customers don't even use the WiFi on a plane. That reason is probably two-fold however, and my team here at PLuGHiTz Live can definitely speak as to why. First, the WiFi isn't very good and you can't do much on it. Recent tests on our previous CES flight saw a laptop net .4 Mb/sec download speed and .1 Mb/sec upload. Can't get much browsing done on a device when it can't even load the front page of Yahoo or Bing. Secondly, much like the rent, the price of WiFi is just too high for what it deliver. Combined with the low speed, the sometimes $10 or even $20 service, for maybe an hour of access, simply isn't worth it. Customers aren't willing to pay a premium for poor connection speeds and quality, especially when there isn't much recourse after purchase if the connection doesn't even worked, which has happened to us in the past.

In the end, all of that probably ties into the slow rate of penetration to start. But as we progress into the new realm of less restrictions while in-flight, it seems that trips across the country might be more bearable if we can get some work or browsing done while we're waiting to get back on the ground.

Sony's Turnaround Not as Bright as Thought

posted Saturday Nov 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Sony's Turnaround Not as Bright as Thought

While Kaz Hirai might be certain of his revival plan, the numbers are not looking to be in his favor. After a rebound last quarter, Sony is back in its comfort zone, having lost nearly $200 million this quarter.

Sony has attributed much of this loss to the abysmal failure that was White House Down. Compare this quarter with its equivalent from last year, which included The Amazing Spider-Man and you can understand, and should expect, a poor quarter this year. One exceptional performance followed by one exceptionally dismal performance can be the difference between a stock rise or fall.

Clearly, this quarter's results will re-open discussions within the corporation about the possibility of spinning off the media division. Recently, Sony publicly stated that they had no interest in the proposal, yet still blamed the division for the poor quarter.

Shortly before rejecting the proposal, Hirai said that he believed the consumer electronics division was the biggest problem, not the media division. It is an interesting thing to say in public before blaming the media division for a bad quarter and knowing the PlayStation division has been a financial black hole for them.

So, will Sony be able to pull off their turnaround plan, or are they so disconnected from the reality of the situation that they will chase profits in divisions that don't matter? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Rockstar Consortium Uses Patents for Lawsuits

posted Saturday Nov 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Rockstar Consortium Uses Patents for Lawsuits

In 2011, a group of companies came together to purchase the patent portfolio of the failed Nortel. The group, called Rockstar Consortium, was formed by some major players, including Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Sony. Despite being asked, Google declined the offer, instead deciding to bid solo, losing to Rockstar.

It was only a matter of time before those patents were used to generate revenue for the group, and that time is now. The first target is Google, who would have obviously been better served to not turn down the offer to join the group. The seven patents in question, "Associative Search Engine," describe the process of associating advertising with search terms for a search engine. For those keeping track, that is Google's entire business model.

The fact that Google was obviously aware of the patents, seeing as they were bidding on them, will not work in Google's favor. In the complaint, the company said,

Despite losing in its attempt to acquire the patents-in-suit at auction, Google has infringed and continues to infringe the patents-in-suit.

Google isn't the only one in the cross-hairs. Samsung and HTC are also under suit from Rockstar for a collection of seven different patents that describe an operating system designed "to support Gallery, Email, Maps and Browser functionality." While this system described covers all modern mobile operating systems, most of the designers of said systems are owners in the patent, making it a non-issue. In addition to the seven, Samsung is also being sued for an eighth, entitled "Internet Protocol Filter." This covers Samsung's Hotspot feature, which is also present on most modern devices.

While many of these patents will probably not stand up to the law, it is about to be an interesting case against Google. While the other companies being sued can claim ignorance of the patents and possibly even have them canceled, Google knew about and understood the value of said patents, evidenced by their bids. Their battle against Rockstar will be more involved, and could even result in massive royalty payments to continue their only real business model.

Nintendo Neuters Sharing Features on 3DS

posted Saturday Nov 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Nintendo Neuters Sharing Features on 3DS

Mama Nintendo has announced this week that her children have disappointed her and shall be punished. In this instance, she has discovered that some of her children, particularly the minors, have been using their devices for naughty purposes, so she has taken away that capability.

Nintendo has learned that some consumers, including minors, have been exchanging their friend codes on Internet bulletin boards and then using Swapnote (known as Nintendo Letter Box in other regions) to exchange offensive material. Nintendo has been investigating ways of preventing this and determined it is best to stop the SpotPass feature of Swapnote because it allows direct exchange of photos and was actively misused.

The feature at hand is Swapnote's capability to share photos between friends over the Internet. As anyone who has ever worked in the technology world will tell you, the first thing that happens when you give people a camera and direct connection is pornography. You can make it request only, as Nintendo has, but people will find a way around that as well.

In my exploration of the Windows Phone Store, I discovered a promoted application called Kik, which is a messaging service, seemingly for people who don't pay their cell phone bills. The service, however, has been coopted by children trying to talk dirty. You can prove this theory by reading the reviews of the app, which are all kids sharing their usernames and posting whether or not they will talk dirty.

Obviously, the company tried to keep it secluded to only people you know, but there is always a way around that; in this case sharing in reviews. For Nintendo, the process was slightly different, via forums, but with the same result. The difference here is, Kik doesn't particularly care what people use the service for, as they are protected from litigation based on what their users do with the service.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is known for their maternal instinct. Features that have been commonplace for Microsoft and Sony were delayed with Nintendo as they tried to figure out how to implement them without safely. For instance, online play came to the Nintendo world several generations later than it should have, all because of Nintendo's parental decision-making process.

Overall, this is not really a loss for the handset - it's not like the ability to share photos was the reason people owned a 3DS; that's what they have a phone for. It does, however, emphasize the odd difference between Nintendo and the other rest of the industry. For better or worse, it is who they are and they are proud of it.

Qualcomm Considering Entering BlackBerry Bid

posted Saturday Nov 2, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Qualcomm Considering Entering BlackBerry Bid

Six weeks ago rumors began to circulate about another bidder for BlackBerry, led by founder Mike Lazaridis. Since then, the plans seem to have gotten more detailed. The addition of co-founder Doug Fregin brings the current holdings of the equity group to 8%, making a buyout a little easier. Adding Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm, into the mix brings guaranteed money to the table.

At this point, the only thing missing from the group is a company already in the wireless space with enough money to prop up BlackBerry until it can get a new direction firmed up and an ability to execute. That is where Qualcomm comes into the picture. In Qualcomm comes an ability to deal with the exit of Jabil Circuit, who has manufactured BlackBerry handsets for years, by providing manufacturing and component relationships.

With an easier path to takeover, enough money to make the purchase and an increased ability to pivot and execute, this bid could be the one that wins and ends an extremely messy auction. The only question is, is it possible for this group to make an effective pivot that will not alienate Qualcomm's other business interests.

In being a major supplier of processors for smartphones of several categories, including Android and Windows Phone, Qualcomm has a lot of potential to lose business if suddenly they become competition against the platforms they support. On the other hand, Google purchasing Motorola or Microsoft purchasing Nokia has not discouraged either ecosystem, nor has Samsung's dominance prevented them from supplying screens to Apple.

So, is it possible to turn BlackBerry around under new management, or is the company worth less than the sum of its parts? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

FAA to Finally Ease Up Electronic Usage, Agrees with Committee Recommendation

posted Friday Nov 1, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

FAA to Finally Ease Up Electronic Usage, Agrees with Committee Recommendation

Just five months after putting together the committee and only a month after the committee's recommendation, the FAA has actually agreed to ease restrictions on portable electronics during takeoff and landing. E-readers, MP3 players and other small devices have been approved by the FAA to be used during all phases of domestic flights.

From the FAA press release about the news,

Due to differences among fleets and operations, the implementation will vary among airlines, but the agency expects many carriers will prove to the FAA that their planes allow passengers to safely use their devices in airplane mode, gate-to-gate, by the end of the year.

The FAA based its decision on input from a group of experts that included representatives from the airlines, aviation manufacturers, passengers, pilots, flight attendants, and the mobile technology industry.

Delta and JetBlue will be the first two airlines to implement the changes, and both companies have said all of their aircraft are "ready to go" for use of portable electronic devices. JetBlue even said that, technically, they could make the change "today" but would wait until the FAA issued the guidelines for the new policy.

Obviously, the use of a cell phone or tablet for making phone calls will still not be permitted during any portion of the flight and connecting to the Internet will still not be allowed during times when a plane is less than 10,000 feet in the air. The FAA also mentioned that the group agrees with the committee's recommendation that devices can still be requested to be turned off by flight staff for safety. The administration cited one percent of flights operating in low visibility noticed significant interference in guidance controls from portable electronic devices, so in those circumstances, passengers would have to comply with instructions to turn the gadgets off.

Here's the ten things you should know, according to the FAA, about PEDs. And we're not talking about A-Rod stuff here.

  1. Make safety your first priority.
  2. Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline. Check with your airline to see if and when you can use your PED.
  3. Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
  4. Cell phones may not be used for voice communications.
  5. Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled. You may use the WiFi connection on your device if the plane has an installed WiFi system and the airline allows its use. You can also continue to use short-range Bluetooth accessories, like wireless keyboards.
  6. Properly stow heavier devices under seats or in the overhead bins during takeoff and landing. These items could impede evacuation of an aircraft or may injure you or someone else in the event of turbulence or an accident.
  7. During the safety briefing, put down electronic devices, books and newspapers and listen to the crewmember's instructions.
  8. It only takes a few minutes to secure items according to the crew's instructions during takeoff and landing.
  9. In some instances of low visibility - about one percent of flights - some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
  10. Always follow crew instructions and immediately turn off your device if asked.

So there you have it. We'll have to see how long airlines take to implement these changes, and if it's anything like the dreaded "carrier testing" for smartphone updates, it might take a while. The good news is that I finally have a use for Airplane Mode again.

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