Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"In five years, everyone will have one of these."

"One of these" is a smart card.  A smart card is basically a card (credit, check, ID, medical, membership, etc.) with a computer chip embedded in the plastic.  Since the hacking attack on Target's payment card system, "chip and pin" or smart credit cards are back in America's spotlight.

As for the title of this blog, I made that bold claim in a speech I wrote and delivered around the country in 1985.  While it was considered bleeding edge technology, the original smart card patent was issued over a decade earlier to Roland Moreno in 1974.  Surely this pre-teen technology phenom would hit the big time by its 16th birthday.  At least that is what the smart card industry was promising.  I bought into their vision of this brave new world of intelligent identification and financial transactions.  By 1987 I was living in Midtown Manhattan and working for the premier smart card company in the United States.  At SmartCard International, we were pitching smart card systems to clients from the State of Wisconsin (drivers licensing) to Robert Morris University (student identification) to Visa (credit cards).  In 1987, this tweener tech (now 13) was actually easy to manufacture and opportunities were lurking around every corner.  Instead of focusing on this established technology, SmartCard International put its development and marketing efforts behind a "super smart card" with an integrated screen and keyboard.  The traditional smart card never got the attention it deserved.  The super smart card, while brilliant, was just too far ahead of the manufacturing technologies of the day.  The super smart card never really saw the light of day and SmartCard International eventually shuttered its doors.

Flash forward to 1990.  Our 16 year old technology was now starting to get noticed around the world.  While banks were still a bit hesitant to adopt this "technology in search of a problem," the telecommunications industry had taken notice.  Outside of the United States, the majority of payphones were now accepting highly decorated and boldly branded debit cards built on smart card technology.  While none of the people who saw my speech in 1985 probably had a smart card, the rest of the world was getting closer to realizing my brazen prognostication.

Flash forward to 1997.  We are now a decade removed from my promise of a smart card in everyone's wallet.  Sure, the rest of the world has adopted smart pay phone cards and international payment card standards are being finalized.  In the United States, only a handful of security applications are using smart cards.  At 23 years of age, the smart card looks to be a failed technology in the United States.  Or is it.  This same year, a number of small cellular companies launched new digital voice service around the United States using GSM technology.  A key component of the GSM technology standard was the Subscriber Identification Module or SIM card.  While a handful of early GSM phones used credit card sized SIM cards with a computer chip in them, most companies just punched out the piece of the card with the computer chip.  The smart card had finally arrived on American shores disguised as a SIM card.

Flash forward to today.  Smart card technology is now 40 years old.  This middle aged technology is now in everyone's hand (the SIM card in phones issued by all wireless phone carriers around the world).  It is also in the majority of credit cards in Europe, but it is still in only the most elite bank customers wallets in the United States.

Now that several major retailers have had their payment card files hacked, their is an outcry from security experts to implement the "chip and pin" style payment systems used in Europe here in the States.  I have two responses to the whole idea of implementing smart payment card solutions in the United States: finally and no.

Finally, the American market is seeing the benefits of a technology that I was evangelizing 30 years ago.  My ongoing dalliance with smart cards has been a never ending lesson in the adoption of new technology.  Now that smart cards are just hitting their prime, the United States banking community is ready and willing to spend millions of dollars to update or replace outdated credit card terminals with newer credit card terminals.  That leads me to my second response.

No, we should not replace one outdated technology with another soon-to-be outdated technology.  U. S. banks have been testing NFC (Near Field Communications) technologies for years.  NFC is the generation after the chip in "chip and pin".  There is still a computer chip in your card that encrypts and protects your data.  NFC allows the card to communicate with the terminal without physically coming in contact with it.  NFC also allows your protected data to be stored in something other than a traditional credit card format.  One such alternative format is your smartphone.  And the technical world swings full circle, back to a solution that securely stores your financial, identification, or membership data and allows you total access to it through an integrated screen and keyboard.

If I had the venture capital, I would invest in the following future payment options.

Coin (onlycoin.com)  I would invest in integrating "chip and pin" and NFC capabilities into their existing card concept.

Isis (paywithisis.com)  I would invest in industry standards development for mobile payment solutions.

Pie in the Sky  I would develop a credit card thin card with an interactive flexible touch screen, NFC and "chip and pin" capabilities.

Today my fear is that in five years we will all be carrying smart cards instead of newer, more secure, and more adaptable payment and identification technologies.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The proper care and feeding of your cell phone battery.

I have been in wireless sales for over 16 years.  In all of that time, one of my pet peeves was sales people giving customers bad information about how to get the most life out of their cell phone batteries.  I was driven to finally blog about this when I heard some wireless sales people I respect telling customers that they should not "overcharge" their cell phone.  The fact is that you can't overcharge a cell phone.  I had to write a blog that set the record straight.  

Fortunately, I did some research so I could document my knowledge of  battery care and feeding.  You see, without this research, I would have been just as guilty of misleading you as the sales reps have been guilty of misleading their customers.  Let me explain a few key battery care and feeding facts.  For the sake of this blog, I am only discussing modern LiIon cell phone batteries that have been the standard for almost a decade.

Can you overcharge a battery? NO.  My research supported my understanding on this issue.  Modern cell phones include circuitry that shuts down the charging process when a battery reaches full charge.  This means that charging your phone overnight is perfectly O.K..  The phone will prevent the battery from "overcharging."  I have been charging my phones overnight for years.  I have never seen a noticeable decline in battery life because of this.

Can a battery overheat? YES.  My research, and personal experience, agree on this issue too.  A battery can be damaged and lose life expectancy if it overheats.  I have had multiple experiences working in the heat of summer where my tablet or cell phone have actually popped up a message to tell me the device was getting too hot to function properly, and then had the device shut down for its own protection.  One way to tell if your battery has suffered its own form of heatstroke is to hold the battery and see if there is any bulging in the battery.  Repeated exposure to excessive heat will cause the battery components to break down and expand in the battery case causing it to bulge.  

Can a battery be overworked? YES.  Here is where my understanding of batteries has been wrong for a long time.  I assumed that a battery's life expectancy was the same whether it worked 24/7 or just a few hours a day.  I thought a battery had X hours of lifetime use no matter how those X hours were used.  I was wrong.  This is actually where the overcharging myth comes into play.  While you can't overcharge the battery, you can overwork it by having it constantly charging and discharging at the same time.  If your phone is powered on and checking your email and listening for calls and doing any of a dozen background operations that are normal for a powered up cell phone, it will be using charge from the battery. If it is plugged in at the same time, it will also be recharging at the same time.  Too much simultaneous discharging and recharging will cause more than "normal" wear and tear on a battery.  This will reduce a battery's life expectancy faster than normal.  

Another way to overwork your battery is to run several applications simultaneously for long periods of time.  One time I was driving to an appointment several hours away.  I had my GPS navigation application running, was streaming a podcast from my phone to my car stereo, and was charging the phone with my car charger, all at the same time.  Of course, my phone was also doing its normal duty of listening for phone calls, checking my email, updating my social media notifications with the phone's screen on and bright the whole time.  When I stopped for gas along the way, I found out quickly how to tell if your phone is overworked.  The phone was hot to the touch.  In this case, it was not warm, it was hot.  You see, an overworked phone is often an overheated phone.  Having this happen once or twice probably won't kill your battery.  Doing this frequently certainly will.

An interesting note on battery life expectancy.  During my research I discovered that you can actually extend the life expectancy of your battery by keeping the normal charge level below full, or maximum.  A full battery has to work harder to maintain that level of charge than a partially charged battery.  The less charge a battery has to maintain the longer the life expectancy of the battery.  An example would be a smartphone battery that last a day and a half on a full charge.  That battery may go a full year before it starts to lose charging capacity.  If that same battery was only charged to 3/4 capacity, and only held enough charge to get through a single day, it may be expected to go for as much as two years before it starts to lose charging capacity.

With this new knowledge, I have a number of recommendations.  

1. Don't "overcharge" your battery.  I know that I said this can't happen, but it is easier to say it this way than to explain the science of overworking the battery by charging it for too long.  Restrict charging sessions to less than 24 hours at a time.

2. Keep your battery cool.  Don't leave your phone in the sun, or any hot location, for extended periods of time.  Heat is your battery's worst enemy.

3. Don't try to keep the battery full at all times.  It is better to let the battery run with less charge than more charge.  Let the battery run down to 1 bar, or less than 10%, whenever you can.

4. Don't overwork your battery.  If you can, try to limit excessive multitasking on your phone.  Also be aware that the display is often the largest consumer of battery life.  If you don't need the display on, let it go to sleep to preserve battery health and battery life expectancy.

Following these four recommendations will keep your battery healthy, and will keep its life expectancy long and fruitful.

Science geeks will appreciate the following website for more technical information about the science behind proper battery care and feeding.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No, its not the cops. Its just my BlackBerry.

Have you ever noticed how bright the LED is on a BlackBerry. Have you also noticed that it is almost always blinking. Jump to my most recent post on BlackBerry Motion to learn how to turn off the incessant blinking.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Mobile Web is Ripe for Disruption

Lately, I’ve done a lot of reading about Flash vs. HTML5 on the mobile platform. The issues surrounding this debate are complex and entail technology as well as corporate strategy. The debate is also evolving on an almost daily basis with discussions of battery life, video speeds and resource consumption. I have read all of this knowing that the future of the mobile experience lies in the balance. Then it hit me, for all that this debate is, it may not decide the future of the mobile web after all. Let me explain.

The Past . . .

The history books are filled with examples of technologies that outgrew their user’s needs. Internet enabled Refrigerators that connected to our home computer so we could manage our grocery lists never could overcome the simplicity of notepaper and a magnet to do the same task. The supersonic Concorde proved that faster is not always better when it cost significantly more to move noticeably fewer people slightly faster than the new wide-body jets being designed at the same time. My final example can be found a lot closer to home for us in the mobile data industry. Windows Mobile is probably still the most technologically advanced mobile operating system available. In fact, many of the iPhone’s latest achievements and distant dreams (Skype over 3G, streaming media and video calls) premiered on Windows Mobile devices years ago.

So, what does this have to do with Flash, HTML5 and the future of mobile browsing? Nothing . . . yet.

Internet enabled refrigerators, the Concorde, and Windows Mobile 6 were all seen as technological leaps forward at the time they were introduced. The problem is that the user’s needs did not require these technological improvements in order to be met. The “smart refrigerator” was done in by the status quo; the pen and paper it hoped to replace. The Concorde was done in by failing to understand who their real customer was, the airlines, not the passengers. Windows Mobile was done in by over-engineering when customers wanted a phone that did not require a degree in engineering to operate.

. . . we are doomed to repeat.

The Status Quo

Outside of the tech savvy people we all tend to hang out with, most users don’t know what they don’t have. Most phones have a YouTube player, can stream media from many sources and have thousands of games to choose from. While Flash and HTML5 will make life easier for the developers, no one has created the need in the customer’s mind yet.

The Real Customer

The answer to this is still a bit foggy to me, which is why I worry. Who is Flash and HTML5 aimed at in the mobile ecosystem? I can see them making life easier for developers, yet the lack of platform standards (Apple vs. Adobe) is seriously undercutting this advantage. They should help manufacturers and carriers deliver more value, but so far neither has told the consumers what that added value will be. As stated in The Status Quo, no one has even begun to sell this to the end-user, so it is hard to believe that they are even being considered as potential customers.


Lastly, I am faced with the question of advancement versus necessity. While I have not seen a single survey, study or report that says that the end-users want Flash or HTML5, they seem to be interested in a richer and faster web experience on their phones. The more I think about this, the more I think that Henry Ford’s approach to technological advancement is right. "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse." I’m afraid that a “richer” media experience may be the mobile web’s equivalent to a faster horse.

The Future

If Flash and HTML5 are indeed the faster horse, who is going to invent the car? Harvard business professor, Clayton Christensen points out that truly innovative products enter the market from beneath the entrenched products. Mini computers aren’t as powerful as mainframe computers; PCs aren’t as powerful as minis; laptops aren’t as powerful as PCs and smartphones aren’t as powerful as laptops. Yet, each of these evolutionary steps in computing displaced its predecessor. Why? Because convenience trumps power in the mass market. Today, Smartphones are the number one selling computing device around the world because they are more convenient for everyday tasks, not because they are more powerful. I think web developers and designers should keep this in mind as they plan for the future of mobile browsing. While there will always be a fraction of every industry that continues to push the technological envelope, consumers will eventually opt for convenience over power. If you don’t believe me, let’s return to the example set by Windows Mobile. Windows Mobile was the pre-eminent mobile platform for a decade. Every new model had a faster processor, better screen resolution, more features and more applications. Yet, as the platform evolved, it got bloated with features and functions that consumers didn’t need, or worse, got in the way of a convenient mobile experience.

I can’t say that Flash and HTML5 will be the beginning of the end for the mobile web. I won’t know that for many years. What I can tell you is that the time is right for someone to disrupt the relatively consistent evolution of the mobile web experience. While technological advancement requires us to look forward, survival does require us to look over our shoulder every now and then.

“Gmail vs. Gmail” on a BlackBerry

Check out my comparison of Gmail on the BlackBerry to Gmail on the BlackBerry on Monica Simons' BlackBerry Motion website.

If you have to ask, you have to click through to find out for yourself.

The Past, Present, and Future of Flash on Mobile

Check out my report on Flash in the mobile environment on, author and international speaker, Janine Warner's Mobile Web Design Blog.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Options for the Verizon BlackBerry Bing application

Verizon BlackBerry users discovered a little something extra in their phones this December. Verizon added an icon for Microsoft’s Bing application. For some users, this is an extra treat, for others it is the technical equivalent to a lump of coal. If you fall into the first group, you can stop reading now and enjoy Microsoft’s reasonable attempt to match Google in the mobile app space. If, on the other hand, you feel blindly assaulted by Verizon and Microsoft for forcing this application upon your pristinely configured device, there are options.

First, let me tell you that the Bing icon is not an application, so you cannot uninstall it like an application. Think of the icon as a placeholder. It is just like many of the other icons that are pre-installed when you power up your BlackBerry for the first time (V Cast Videos, V Cast Music, VZW Tones, Visual Voice Mail, etc.). Clicking on the Bing icon actually launches a website from which you can install the Bing application. With this in mind, here are three options for dealing with the Bing icon.

1) Delete the Bing VPL service book. Go to Options / Advanced Options / Service Books. Highlight the Bing VPL service book, press Menu and select delete. This will remove the Bing icon from your device. While this sounds like a simple solution, it is not a onetime task. The Bing service book is re-installed whenever the device reloads service books. Service books are reloaded as part of creating a new BlackBerry Internet Service email account as well as whenever the phone is reset (taking the battery out without powering down the phone first). For some users, the Bing VPL service book may never reappear, for others it may turn up again and again.

2) Hide the Bing icon. While this doesn’t remove the icon from your phone, it does place it out of site. To do this, highlight the Bing icon, press Menu and select Hide. The icon has now been hidden from view. You can unhide the icon by going to the home screen, pressing Menu and selecting Show All. Highlight the Bing icon, press Menu again and select Hide to uncheck that option. Press Menu again and select Show All to uncheck that option if necessary.

3) Lastly, you can just leave the Bing icon on the screen. It doesn’t take up much memory if you don’t install the application. It is just another icon on your Home Screen.

While some users see the Bing icon as an invasion of their BlackBerry’s Home Screen, it really is no different than the V Cast and VZW apps that come pre-installed. In this case, I guess it is more accurate to consider Bing a post-installed icon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

GSM encryption code cracked wide open, leaked to the Internet

This is the headline to Boy Genius Report’s (BGR’s) article regarding a group of 5 hackers that claim to have cracked a 64 bit GSM encryption scheme. While their headline implied doom and gloom for security engineers around the world, the content of the article is more reasoned and accurate. According to BGR, “it is important to point out that the GSM algorithm that was cracked was the older and less secure 64-bit A5/1 algorithm, not the newer 128-bit A5/3 algorithm.” Other news sources also report that the cracked codes still require thousands of dollars of computer and radio equipment to access the wireless conversations they want to compromise. What is left out of the article is actually more important than what is said. Let’s cover what BGR did not.

The 64-bit A5/1 algorithm is only used to scramble voice conversations on older GSM equipment. This means that:

Good News
1) Your data transmissions are not impacted by this development.
2) Calls made with a 3G capable phone over a 3G connection are not impacted.
3) According to some sources, T-Mobile has converted its entire network to the newer encryption algorithm.
4) The same sources claim that AT&T has converted part, but not all, of its network to the newer encryption algorithm.
5) There are 3 pillars to information security. The pillar that this development impacts is Access, or the ability to listen to a voice conversation. It doesn’t impact Integrity or Identification. This means that no one can make phone calls or data transmissions posing as you. This also means that no one can alter your voice or data transmission.

Bad News
1) Because newer network equipment is designed to work with older handsets, even the latest in network equipment will accept the older algorithm. This means that any GSM user with an older handset (manufactured before 2007) may still be susceptible to eavesdropping even if the carrier (T-Mobile, AT&T, etc.) has upgraded the encryption algorithm in that area of their network.

In a nutshell, only very sophisticated and well funded criminal organizations will have the means to eavesdrop on your calls. Even if they try, they need to be very close to you to intercept your radio signal. They may need to be within feet of you in some buildings to within miles in some rural areas. They also need to catch you while your call is being handled by an older AT&T cellular site or they need to catch you while you are using an older model phone. Lastly, your conversation needs to be of such value that a very sophisticated and well funded criminal organization would want to go through all of the trouble we have outlined in order to listen in. If you regularly partake in these kinds of conversations, I would suggest you look into buying a TalkSecure Wireless phone from General Dynamics (http://www.gdc4s.com/content/detail.cfm?item=90bdc199-8775-4439-9b83-c021dc7e9e76) it runs your conversation through another 128-bit encryption algorithm on top of the one used by the carrier.

If you don’t partake in these kinds of conversations, I really wouldn’t worry about it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

T-Mobile 3G users get an upgrade for 2010

According to PhoneScoop:

"Today (January 5, 2010) T-Mobile announced that it has upgraded its entire 3G network to HSPA 7.2Mbps (peak speeds). That's an improvement from 3.6Mbps, and should allow for faster wireless downloads. T-Mobile also pointed out that its 3G footprint now covers some 200 million Americans. T-Mobile also said that it plans to be the first U.S. carrier to deploy HSPA+ across its network by mid 2010. T-Mobile currently has an HSPA+ trial under way in Philadelphia. Once fully enabled, HSPA+ will offer up to 21Mbps downloads."

This is great news for many of T-Mobile’s 3G subscribers, but not all of them. While the network supports the higher speeds, some T-Mobile 3G handsets do not. Here is the list of T-Mobile’s 3G handsets and their supported network throughput.

HSPA 7.2 (High Speed Packet Access)
T-Mobile Dash 3G
T-Mobile G1
T-Mobile myTouch 3G
HTC Touch Pro2
Motorola CLIQ
Sidekick LX 2009
T-Mobile webConnect
T-Mobile webConnect Jet
These devices can download data at speeds up to 7.2Mbps and upload at up to 1.8Mbps. In all honesty, these speeds are theoretical. Real world performance will be slightly slower. Other HSPA 7.2 networks are seeing roughly 3Mbps download speeds and 1Mbps upload speeds in real world usage. At 3Mbps, it would take 8 seconds to download a 3 MB file, or the equivalent of a 3 minute MP3 track.

HSDPA 3.6 (High Speed Download Packet Access)T-Mobile Tap
BlackBerry Bold 9700
Samsung Behold II
Samsung Comeback
Samsung Gravity 2
Samsung Highlight
Samsung Memoir
Samsung t659
Sony Ericsson Eqiunox
These phones can download data at speeds up to 3.6Mbps and upload at up to 384Kbps. As with HSPA, these speeds are theoretical. Real world performance will be in the neighborhood of 1Mbps download and 100Kbps upload. At 1Mbps, it would take 24 seconds to download a 3 MB file, or the equivalent of a 3 minute MP3 track.

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)Samsung t639
Samsung t819
Samsung Behold
Nokia 3711
The theoretical speeds for early 3G devices using UMTS are 384Kbps for the uplink and downlink. Most UMTS users are seeing speeds in the area of 100Kbps. At 100Kbps, it would take 4 minutes to download a 3 MB file, or the equivalent of a 3 minute MP3 track.

NOTE: Operating systems, processor speeds, and even display components can impact the apparent speed of any wireless device. Don’t think that your BlackBerry Bold 9700 is outdated or slow because other devices move data through the air faster than yours. Use these numbers to compare Beholds to Behold IIs or T-Mobile’s HTC Touch Pro2 (at 7.2Mbps maximum) to Verizon’s Touch Pro2 (at 3.1Mbps maximum). As Albert Einstein (or the punk band Cigar) would point out, speed is relative.

Happy new year T-Mobile 3G subscribers!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Twitter is the 21st century's CB radio

I have never felt that Twitter has that "aha!" feel that one blogger claims is ever-present with successful new technologies. I have always felt that Twitter was destined to be a very successful, but short lived, fad, just like . . . I could never figure that last part out. I have even twittered my thoughts about Twitter's eventual demise, but without the analog to its failure.

Then it hit me a couple days ago. Twitter is the 21st century equivalent of the 20th century's CB radio. Let me illustrate.

CB radios were the tools of over the road truckers. They allowed them to stay connected with their peers where other communication methods were inefficient, or non-existent. The CB was the domain of a small group of people who's business depended on it.

Twitter has always been intended for any user to post short comments about whatever they wish. Twitter did not have a small targeted audience like the CB radio.

As CB radios gained in popularity, more and more users from outside the trucking industry began using CB radios to talk to each other about nothing important. Sure, you would hear about the occasional speed trap if you were monitoring truckers on the highway, but there wasn't much riveting or valuable content on the CB for the regular citizen. Yet the lack of content couldn't counter the influences of C. W. McCall and B.J. and the Bear in the mass popularization of the CB radio.

While Twitter was always intended to be a mass market service, the popularity of Twitter mirrors the CB in the way that the media has driven its popularity more than the service itself. Twitter milestones like Ashton Kutcher's million followers, Shaq's mid-game tweets and U.S. Representatives who were caught twittering during the President's State of the Nation address, brought enormous exposure to the service. Twitter is now as overpopulated as CB radio channels were in the 1970's. Old boomers like me may remember when CB radio's went from 23 channels to 40.

So both services started small, had explosive growth because of the media and became overpopulated with "chatter". More evidence of the parallels of the two technologies can be found in their creation of community.

Many sociologist will look to a unique language when defining a community. CB radio users had slang and 10-codes. Twitter users have their own shorthand and hash codes. CB radio users were identified by their "handles" while Twitter users are also identified by their "handles" or "aliases".

Where most of the CB's public traffic flowed over channel 19, groups of friends would avoid the chatter on lesser used channels. This would be similar to creating a friends list in Twitter and only following them.

So, there is a lot of common ground under the CB radio craze and Twitter's recent popularity surge. Are they destined for the same fate? I believe so, and that is not a bad thing in my mind. The public got tired of listening to kids constantly breaking in on the CB with "What's your 20?" As for Twitter, I am already hearing from regular citizens and many news outlets that they don't care that the neighbor kid sneezed or what Shaq had for breakfast. I give Twitter 3 to 6 more months before the chatter causes the popularity to plateau. Twitter will remain relevant in the mainstream while celebrities continue to broadcast their lives to their fanatics (yes, fan is short for fanatics). As celebrities move on to some other fad, which always happens, so too will the everyday user of Twitter.

The good news is that like the CB, the user base will shrink but the content value will rise. Twitter may return to its original roots as a micro-blogging service with valuable content worth sifting through. Only time will tell.