Mobile

More On Cars (And Mobile Data)

Wrecked cars
CES has been taking place recently and one of the themes seems to have been the increased amount of sophistication in the in-car audio market. In particular Pandora is getting a lot of support from major manufacturers like Toyota and Ford. But there are plenty more besides.
Last month I wrote a piece about in-car listening in the UK. I tried to compare the UK’s 19.3% share of radio listening taking place in-car with the US, but it quickly became clear that getting accurate data to compare wasn’t going to be straightforward.
Now this raises a number of questions. Firstly, I think I need to take issue with some of the stats being bandied about. In this piece from the BBC’s Maggie Shiels at CES, Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren is reported as claiming that “Half of all radio listening is in the car. If you want to be a truly anytime, anywhere complete radio solution for someone, you have to have something for the car.”
While that sentiment is certainly true, the “half of all radio listening is in the car” statement is almost certainly not true. I bow to the superior knowledge of Vision Critical’s Jeff Vidler and Edison Research’s Larry Rosin who commented on my previous piece to between them point out that in the US, Arbitron doesn’t actually measure in-car listening (PPMs aren’t smart enough), but that the last data for 2008 gave a 35.5% share of listening as being in-car. A substantial amount, but not nearly “half.”
Secondly, and perhaps more pertinently for the UK market, following the retrenchment of T-Mobile in the last few days to offering only 500MB like most of its peers in the sector (although they now say that current subscribers will maintain their contracted entitlement of up to 3GB a month, at least until the end of their current contracts), listening to a significant amount of in-car audio in the UK delivered via mobile phone networks is pretty much a non-starter. While there are differences of opinion about how much internet radio you can stream a month with a 500MB allowance, it’s clearly not enough.
Global’s Nick Piggott calculates that you can perhaps listen to 34 minutes a day for a month on a 500MB mobile data plan, but unfortunately, UK radio consumers currently listen for an average of two and a half hours a day.
The mobile networks tend to be more concerned about video than audio, although that’s still an issue for them. I wonder how these moves will play with car manufacturers who are investing significant amounts in implementing in-car internet listening devices which their customers probably won’t be able to afford to use for any meaningful durations? And where does that leave the mobile advertising market? The geo-location facilities that an always-on internet enabled smartphone offers for mobile marketing suddenly aren’t so attractive if consumers are scared to even switch on data for fear of running up huge bills if they stray over their monthly data quota.
It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over time. In the meantime, the radio industry probably does need to maintain a broadcast model…
[Update] James has written about this too!
[These views, as ever, are mine, and don’t necessarily reflect, blah, blah, blah]

Data Reductions Hurt Mobile Media

The news that T-Mobile is dropping its mobile data usage limit to 500MB from 1GB is not great news. This is not just about one operator, but a trend across the industry.
While T-Mobile says that “over 90%” of its customers use less than this a month (does this include customers without smartphones?), it’s not actually an enormous amount of data to be getting through each month. They say that this brings them into line with sister company Orange who already sit at that same level. Of course Orange could have increased its limit, but the reality is that as more people use more smartphones more of the time, the networks just can’t cope. And putting limitations on data usage is their way of coping. Of the main providers, only Three still has decent usage levels left.
But this isn’t great news for any media suppliers, and by that I mean anyone serving video or audio. As one person wrote on a phone blog I follow wrote:
When I first got my Android phone a few months back I installed 3G watchdog just to see exactly how much I used (having had a Sony Ericsson, then Nokia phones I wasn’t really interested up until this point). Within the calendar month, my “normal” usage (surfing, market, 24/7 push email and *the biggie* internet radio) I hit ~1GB. This has been pretty steady since.
Personally, I get through my 500MB without much use beyond email and a bit of surfing. I have WiFi at work and at home, but nonetheless, I get through “a lot” in the operators’ eyes.
My employer has been very successfully developing apps for many handsets, but these data limits do have the potential to limit growth for every media supplier. Of course, there is WiFi, and depending on your plan and location, you might get inclusive WiFi from someone like BTOpenzone which is helpful. But that doesn’t help me on the train in the morning.
The same data issue is true for streaming services like Spotify or (should it ever launch here again) Pandora. You can buffer music in advance to an extent, but downloading is still part of the deal. And this is going to become harder, or more expensive, for consumers.
[These are my own views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer.]

Orange World

Sometimes I think that Orange really is very classy. Orange is currently trying to merge with T-Mobile in the UK. If they get regulatory approval, the combined company will be the biggest mobile operator in the UK.
So isn’t it charming when you open Orange World, their website which is set to be the default homepage on all Orange phones, and see the following?
Orange World
“Full On Adult Films”?
Really?
I’m no prude, but is this deemed appropriate advertising for a company to offer to its customers who include all manner of people? Orange knows that I’m over 18, and it probably also knows that I’m male. But why serve this kind of advertising front and centre?
Most major media operators offer adult material. Many hotel chains offer adult films, and all the TV suppliers have their adult sections for pay per view films. But you wouldn’t expect to turn to the inside front cover of Sky’s magazine and see an ad for their porn offerings would you? Nor would you expect to see BT Vision owning up in those cuddly ads with its couple that they can seek additional material beyond the usual Hollywood blockbusters or old TV series. Those companies tend to promote their more “mainstream” products and programming.
This page was opened while I was taking the train home last night. As far as I can tell, they only deliver these ads after hours – probably aiming it at the post-pub market.
I just find it all very curious, and mostly a bit sleazy on Orange’s part.

HTC Desire – Initial Thoughts

IMAG0005.jpg
I’ve got a new phone, and it runs Google’s Android OS which is a first for me. It’s an HTC Desire, and I’ve had it less than 24 hours. So these are just some intital thoughts.
I previously used the company’s Nexus One phone, and essentially this is the same phone as Google’s own phone. There are some subtle hardware differences in that the Desire has an FM Radio (no RDS), while the Nexus has a noise cancelling microphone. The Desire has improved camera software with face recognition. The Desire also has the HTC Sense UI sitting on top of it.
Synchronisation with my Gmail account is a breeze, and with links to Facebook, Flickr and Twitter, most of my social media life quickly gets hooked up. Like INQ phones, the phone grabs Facebook imagery for my contacts.
One thing I do know about these phones is that my days of getting five days on a single charge are numbered for a bit. I’ve not tried a complete 24 hour period without any kind of charging, but the combination of WiFi (at home and at work), GPS and 3G obviously takes its toll on the battery.
The phone feels lovely, and the keyboard responded better to me once I’d been through the callibration tool as someone online suggested.
I’ve obviously gone mad downloading lots of recommended apps, but I’ll thin what I use later. I still think Google Sky is the coolest app around, although Layar is also great.
Because the phone is linked to my Google account, that also means Google Checkout, which could be dangerous over the long run!
I’m on Orange and they’re an operator who can never help fiddling with a phone before letting it go, and there lies my only gripe so far. Yes the phone has an Orange logo on the back of it – but I don’t really care about that. And yes, they install some of their own applications on the phone including an alternative “App Shop” to the default Android Market (which is so rubbish that when I launched it in a WiFi zone, it gave an error message because it only works over 3G, and promptly crashed completely requiring the removal of the battery to fully kill the application). But you can quickly move these icons around and hide them from the main screen.
There are some game demos that seemingly can’t be uninstalled which is a bit annoying. But the most annoying thing is that Orange has seemingly removed Google Talk.
A bit of Googling around Android and smartphone websites reveals the fact that Orange has done this before. I remember that previously when using an Orange Windows Mobile device, they removed the Messenger application.
More recently, Orange removed Gmail, YouTube and Google Talk from their version of the HTC Tattoo.
This time around, they’ve included the Gmail and YouTube applications, but Google Talk seems to be missing (I say “seems” because it could be there somewhere, but I’m not sure where). The thing is that Google Talk is there somewhere in the background. If I go to Settings > Applications > Running Services, the phone tells me that GTalkService is running in the background and starts up when the phone starts up.
Somewhere in the depths of the internet, I found the Google Talk apk for the Tattoo, but while that installs it fails to run. I guess I need to wait until I find a similar version extracted from a Desire ROM.
Is this all a deal-breaker? Not really. I know that in due course, should I want to, I’ll be able to download a generic HTC Desire ROM from somewhere and fully expunge Orange’s additions. But I’ll leave that for now. Why Orange does this, I really don’t know. They have their own IM application, but it doesn’t work with Gmail, so I’m not interested.
It does annoy me, and if you happen to know how I can restore Google Talk please do let me know below.
But I won’t let that small gripe detract from what seems to be a really nice device. The camera takes pretty decent quality pictures (see above for an example), and I was also pretty impressed with the video capabilities. The sound’s poor on this sample movie, but I was impressed by the way it handled the changes in contrast.

Make sure that 480p is selected for best quality.
I’ll write in more detail once I’ve used it more in the real world.

BBC Mobile Apps

The big news eminating from the BBC today is that they’re finally getting around to releasing some mobile applications.
That’s not entirely true: the BBC has previously released other applications, such as the iPlayer for various Nokia mobile phones. But notably, it hasn’t released any applications on the mobile daddy of them all – the iPhone.
As I understand it, this isn’t a reluctance on their part – I’m sure they were sitting by watching other media organisations put together some excellent applications and “steal a march”. I think this was more to do with the terms and conditions imposed by Apple and the BBC’s status under the Charter.
And then there’s the small matter of concern over users being landed with astronomical data bills because they watched last night’s Eastenders via 3G, and don’t have a good data package with their operator. I suspect that we’ll see stern warnings on-screen before you can embark on streaming over 3G.
Obviously those little local difficulties have been overcome, because as the BBC News site, the press office, the BBC Internet blog and Erik Huggers himself all announce today – apps are coming.
With the BBC not having done anything up until now, others have filled the void. A number of applications use BBC RSS feeds to serve up news and sports stories. Other applications gather together links to radio and television services – including the BBC’s – and are sold for profit.
So it certainly makes sense that the BBC does this itself.
And it’s pleasing to see that unlike some media outlets, the BBC understands that it needs to develop for platforms beyond the iPhone, including Blackberry and Android. Notably, S60 isn’t on that list. I don’t suppose that means it’s not being developed for, but it’s clear that despite a massive user base, it’s not a great development environment from what I can gather, and the variety of devices available for it can make coding for it problematic.
Anyway, having resolved that my next phone will be an Android device (HTC Desire – I have my eyes on you), I look forward to playing with these later in the year.

Nokia’s Ovi Store

Now I’ve genuinely been looking forward to a decent competitor to Apple’s iTunes App store, so today’s launch of the Ovi store by Nokia has been something to look forward to.
Sadly, all is not that great with it.
Early in the day there were issues of too many people hitting the servers too frequently. The store was falling over. That’s partially Nokia’s fault and partially not in my view. Yes – lots of people coming from high traffic tech sites like Engadget or Slashdot mean that even the most robust sites can struggle, but this is the biggest mobile phone operator in the world we’re talking about. Nokia really should be able to cope.
Accessing the store can be done in three ways as far as I can see. You can either visit via a PC, visit by going to the site with your mobile’s browser, or use a specially designed app that lets you browse the store.
My first problem was logging in: I have a Nokia account, had a MOSH account, and also have an Ovi account – that is, the Ovi that was there to sync data and let me backup contacts etc. Earlier today, using my current details just didn’t work. That was fixed later in the day, but the site still seems to know very little about me. In particular, it took a while before acknowledging what phone I have, despite me having tied a model to my account previously. Again, that now seems fixed.
OK – never mind all that. What about getting an “application.” As others have noticed, there are a lot of videos and ringtones amidst these apps. And Nokia seems keenest to push it’s various Star Trek related downloads – the worst thing about the recent Star Trek film was the clunky product placement. Is it really worth film companies’ while doing these deals?
From the website on my PC’s browser, there’s a handy “Send to mobile” link that sends a text message to your phone with a direct over-the-air link. The first time I tried it there was a significant delay of about fifteen minutes, but the next time it arrived fairly promptly. But on neither occassion could I download the application. The first time around, I was told that it was no longer available. Well it had been fifteen minutes earlier. There was not a lot I could do.
The second time, it was available, but wanted me to log-in with my registered details. I’d done this on the website anyway, but now I had to do it again on the phone’s browser. But it wouldn’t let me: “Sorry, you cannot sign in at this time. Try again later.”
So no download.
There’s no PC download ability even though I have the requisite cable. They’re pushing over-the-air downloads and I just can’t get them to work for this log-in reason.
While I’m moaning about that, I’d have thought it’d be nice for Nokia’s text messages to come from the “Ovi store” or similar. Instead, they come from “1234.”
There’s one other way of getting to the store. That’s via their application. I know that others either already have the Ovi app pre-installed (on recent phones), or can get to it via the Download! application. I have the latter, but no matter how much refreshing I do, it doens’t make the Ovi app appear. And searching for Ovi on the Ovi store doesn’t seem to show the app itself (not that I’d be able to download it anyway).
So as it stands, I can get to the store one of two ways – but they all route to my mobile browser. But I can’t log in when I get there for no obvious reason preventing me from downloading anything.
Now it’s early days, and some of these problems can be fixed. But really they should have been ironed out during beta testing. I really want someone to take on the Apple app store. I get enormously fed up that people consider the iPhone to be the only smartphone on the market – perhaps alongside the Blackberry. So I can’t tell you how frustrating this all is.
I know they’ll get this sorted out, but how quickly? And will I bother going back.
Others have made their own comments here, here and especially here.
As an aside, isn’t it a ridiculously stupid thing for Palm to make their Pre available solely on O2? That puts it in competition with the iPhone which is also exclusive to that network. Even if, as rumoured, the iPhone goes non-exclusive, that leaves a lot of people on two-year iPhone contracts unable to upgrade, and everyone who already wanted a state of the art smartphone, already on the iPhone.
Surely going to another network would have been best for Palm if they really had to do an exclusive deal?
Or how about this – going on all networks to build market share? It really seems daft deliberately limiting your market share unless you really don’t think you can reach projected sales levels beyond a single network. If Kellogg’s launches a new cereal, they don’t tend to do an “exclusive” deal with Tesco. Not if they want to shift lots of boxes. So why do the same with phones? I know others have done deals in the past, but I don’t mind so much if the Nokia xyz is available “exclusively in black on Orange.” I don’t change my electricity provider because I want to use a Sony Vaio. And I won’t change my mobile supplier just for a handset.

Listening to the Radio via a Nokia N82

The other day I talked about the frustration I suffered when I tried to listen to BBC Radio Five Live on my mobile streaming via 3G.
I thought that it might be worth exploring that a little more.
Most of the news about listening to the radio via your phone is about the iPhone. Of course unlike many phones with lesser specifications, the iPhone doesn’t have an FM receiver built into it, so if you want to listen to the radio with it, you’re probably looking at getting an app to do the job.
Many radio broadcasters are busily bringing out feature packed applications that do more than just play the radio. Absolute Radio, my own employer, has recently released its very well received application, and the team at Global have just received a Sony Radio Academy Award nomination for the work on their Capital FM app (which is being rapidly rolled out to other stations in their portfolio).
That’s all well and good, but what about the other smartphone platforms?
Getting accurate market share data for this is not easy. Some of the data is jealously guarded by various manufacturers and operators, and other data is available at a nice premium.
For the purposes of this analysis I’m using data from AdMob. They release regular reports based on the traffic they see for the mobile sites that they serve advertising for.
Their February 2009 report suggests that globally, the Symbian operating system (as used by Nokia) remains the most popular amongst smartphone users. This is followed by the iPhone OS, although traffic from the iPod Touch is excluded since, well, it’s not a phone (although obviously it can be used for online apps with a WiFi network).
In the UK the two are reversed and it seems that the iPhone is the smartphone platform of choice for developers to first concentrate on. However, it should be remembered that the data is not based on device ownership however – it’s based on traffic. And because Apple’s devices have a usefully large screen and excellent data packages, they are likely to be used significantly more than smaller “phone-sized” devices.
To return to my original question. How could I listen to the radio, via 3G or GPRS, on my N-Series Nokia phone? I have listened to Five Live in the past and it was a hit-or-miss affair. But websites have changed since I last tried it in 2008, and I was unsuccessful this week.
A little bit of Googling revealed that Nokia does indeed have an internet radio application. But there was a problem (although I didn’t discover it at first).
The first search result takes you to a Nokia site that insists that the first thing you have to do is download PC Suite. This is a bit of problem for two reasons. First, because Nokia, in its infinite wisdom, keeps releasing different “suites”. And secondly, because it turns out that Internet Radio is included with more recent phones (with superior “Feature Packs” in Nokia’s terminology). Unfortunately, if like me, your phone is locked to your network, and your network provider insists on tweaking the firmware (take a bow Orange), then you’ll never have updated firmware made available for your phone.
When I got my N82 it came with a CD from Nokia with N Series Suite which is fine – but is different to the regular PC Suite and from the newish Ovi Suite. Ovi is the brand that Nokia will be launching for its forthcoming app store.
Unhelpfully, Nokia keeps links to all three of these alive making it hard to know which version I should be using. I’m pretty sure that it’s Ovi, but Nokia does a dreadful job explaining that to the consumer. For all my moaning about new versions of iTunes everytime Apple adds a new property to some other device in its portfolio, at least it’s easy to track down the correct piece of software.
But back to my radio issue. The only obvious way of installing the Internet Radio application was to install PC Suite which I didn’t want to do as I’m now using Ovi. Surely the application existed on its own? It did. The problem was that searching initially led me to this old open source version that involves using Shoutcast. Adding stations is a complicated affair involving using something like Winamp to create a playlist and then export that list to your phone. Not exactly friendly. I installed it and played with it for a while, getting very frustrated.
In the end, I found the version I wanted at S60.com. This works pretty well and is a standalone app with no messing around using Shoutcast or PC applications. It lets you bookmark your favourite stations, allows you to choose quality depending on your connection (3G, GRPS or WiFi), and does a very neat fade in and fade out when changing stations. And of course, unlike a certain market leading smartphone I could mention, you can listen to the radio and do other things at the same time like sending text messages or reading email.
If the station includes the data correctly, as Absolute Radio does, you get details of the current song playing too.
So no problem then?
Well not quite. You see, while Nokia’s directory includes many of the main UK commercial stations – I’ve mentioned Absolute, but Global’s main brands like Classic FM, Capital 95.8FM, and a couple of Heart FMs are in there – there’s a notable absentee. The only BBC service available is the BBC World Service (I should also mention that Bauer services aren’t included, and neither is Talksport).
Now I rather suspect that unless these services aren’t that bothered, the reason they’re missing is to do with geo-IP blocking. Does Nokia have the functionality to allow this? The BBC wouldn’t be allowed to serve much football on Five Live to Nokia phones outside the UK, and for all I know, all these radio services are streaming through a big server in Finland.
The Internet Radio application does allow you to plug in streams directly, but that rather supposes you can find the streams’ details. Have a good look around the BBC website and see if you can find them. I suspect that if I had a working internet radio I might be able to find the stream details that way, but rooting around the website turns nothing up.
So if I can’t get an application to play BBC radio, can I just visit their website and listen there?
Um. No.
Visiting bbc.co.uk on the Nokia cleverly sends me to their mobile website (or a version of it), and that doesn’t include any listening links. I believe that the BBC is concerned that people will run up huge data bills on their mobiles listening to the radio without realising it. So to avoid all complications, I just don’t see the links.
That’s the reason that my N82 isn’t up to date enough to (officially) run the Nokia iPlayer application. In my firmware, Realplayer, which plays the files back, doesn’t refer to your application’s choice of data connectivity and so even if you think you’ve connected on WiFi, without changing a fiddly Realplayer setting, you might end up listening via 3G – and get a big data bill to boot. Once we’re all on all-you-can-eat data plans this will go away, but in the meantime, it’s a bit like stepping back into 56k modem days.
Anyway, I couldn’t find a listen live button on the mobile radio site. Visiting the iPlayer site presents a non-mobile friendly site, but it also doesn’t think that I have Real installed despite the fact that I do, and implores me to load it before I can listen to the live stream.
So there’s no way I can see of using the BBC website, on my mobile at least, to listen to a live radio stream.
I’m obviously not the only person with this problem, because someone has set up this page which works. It’s just a mobile friendly page of links to RAM streams and they play fine. The only downside is that you can’t use another application while listening – unlike most Nokia applications. But that’s a Realplayer shortcoming.
It’d be really good if there was a nice 32k AAC+ stream publicly available to listen to via the Nokia Internet Radio application (128k AAC+ streams are being used for iPlayer, but that data rate’s a little high for mobile). But in the meantime, this non-authorised workaround is the only way I can find.
In summary – radio on the Nokia really should be better, and much easier for the consumer. At the moment with the iPhone we’re seeing nearly every station produce their own application which feels a little silly, albeit providing good additional functionality. Nokia’s Internet Radio application is a nice start, but it really needs the support of the nation’s biggest and most popular radio broadcaster. Listening to the BBC on the iPhone or Windows Media devices, is also difficult, and sites like bbcstreams.com are filling the hole currently.
15-24 listening is declining across the board, and if your station is not on the one device that you know that this age group carry and use, then it’s harder to make sure the next generation keeps the radio habit.
As ever, these are my thoughts and don’t represent those of my employer. And I’m not really trying to bash the BBC who are doing an excellent job in so many ways with radio. I’m just frustrated with the difficulties I had over this earlier in the week, and my attempts to work around them.

INQ1

I got invited along to the launch of a mobile phone the other day – the INQ1 (pronounced “Ink”). But just calling it a mobile phone is a bit harsh – it’s more of a communications device than anything.
It comes from a new company who are looking to target people for who iPhones, Blackberrys, and Nseries Nokias are out of their price range (or desire). These are great, but expensive devices, and that means that the bulk of the market aren’t interested in them. (I, of course, am interested in them, and currently quite like my Nokia N82).
What INQ has done is produce a device that serves a purpose and does it well. This, if you like, is the Facebook phone. Indeed we got a pre-recorded message from Mark Zuckerberg (a bit wooden, but then he’s not an actor), telling us how much he loved it. Facebook is essentially built into the phone, along with Skype, eBay, MS Live Messenger et al. What is very clever, and has been done nowhere else, is the way it imports your contacts from these social networks into the phone.
So your Facebook contacts are now your phone contacts, along with photo profiles, and other data. The phone grabs similar data from your other networks and then lets you merge the various people together. You have to do this because in one system I might be “Adam Bowie”, in another “A Bowie” and in another… well something very different.
The always on nature of the phone along with the built-in all-you-can-eat data seems good value, and it means that your Facebook updates ping the phone as they come through.
This is a basic phone, but at a reasonable PAYG price point or free on contract, it’s going to appeal to a lot of people who don’t need all the bells and whistles but just want internet connectivity wherever they go.
What is clear is that INQ and Three do seem to understand the market, and where there’s a gap in it. I think that this could be pretty popular.
Disclaimer: I was invited to this launch presentation, and was given a memory stick, a poster and a t-shirt. So I think I’m being impartial!

Online Privacy

A couple of weeks ago, I started playing with Geode – a Firefox plugin that allows your browser to use geolocation technology to determine whereabouts you are.
When you reach a Geode compatable site, a bar at the top of the browser asks you how much information you want to pass to the requesting site – Exact, Neighbourhood, City, Nothing.
When I tested it, I decided it could have my exact location. Now I was trying this using a WiFi laptop sitting at home. A Google map appeared and I was shocked to discover that it had my location within perhaps 10 metres.
My laptop has no GPS to position me, and it isn’t connected to a cell-network for triangulation via cell towers. So how did it locate me?
Geode currently uses Skyhook who essentially maintain a database using GPS, cell tower locations and, importantly, a reference list of WiFi websites that are geocoded.
Mine is not the only wireless network in the flats where I live. I can see eight or ten other networks to one extent or another. And my neighbours are technical enough to have security enabled their networks (I discovered this when I was between routers and tried to find someone to leach from before my replacement router arrived). It’s entirely possible that someone else’s router is registered to Skyhook.
I assume that this is how my location was determined. I have a fixed IP Address and my ISP does know where I live, but it doesn’t know whether or not I have WiFi, so I don’t think that there’s any data it could be selling on about me. In any case, if I beef up my WiFi security to the maximum, there’s no way to discover my IP Address simply by sniffing my router.
But I would like to know for certain that one of my neighbours has registered their router, and my location is not somehow coming from my own router. While I’m sure that Skyhook’s privacy is strict, I like to be in charge of my own data.
I was thinking about that when I was looking into another technology – satnavs. At the weekend, Something For The Weekend, the Tim Lovejoy vehicle, had their regular gadget review. A lady came on to demonstrate a couple of new pieces of technology. One was a TomTom satnav that included the usual mapping and traffic information, as well as things like local petrol prices.
Lovejoy asked a very fair question: how did the satnav know the prices? “From the satellites” came the answer. He tried again: he understood how the device knew where it was, but where was the petrol price information coming from. Satellites was again the answer. Eventually he gave up and moved on.
It was a fair question, because of couse, the only information coming from GPS satellites is location information – or more to the point, information about the satellites’ positions to allow the device to triangulate its position on Earth. GPS satellites do not transmit UK petrol prices.
So how was it getting its info? Many devices have traffic information – usually provided by Trafficmaster. This is broadcast in the UK using RDS TMC technology on the FM network. Classic FM, the only national commercial FM operator carries the data and so as long as your satnav can receive Classic FM, it can pull that data down and use it to plot alternative routes etc. A separate system
But that’s not how TomTom is getting either its traffic info, or its petrol price info. The petrol price info actually has to be downloaded via your home PC. I guess you just plug your device in regularly to keep it up to date. You’re not storing your satnav in your glove compartment are you? TomTom buys the data from a third-party company.
But it’s their HD Traffic I’m more interested in. Devices with this technology have SIM cards fitted, and we’re told that the system uses 16.7m anonymous mobile phones. By capturing location detail from these phones, the system is able to monitor traffic flow – and you can be sure that these devices also contribute to that information. TomTom is, of course, keen to point out that this is an anonymous service, and you can’t be tracked with it (there are mobile phone tracking services out there elsewhere mind you).
But given that the technology is fairly new, whose 16.7m phones is it using, and do the owners of those phones know?
The initial Dutch data utilised the Vodafone network, and it’s that network that’s also being used in the UK.
So if you’re a Vodafone subscriber, did you know that Vodafone is monetising the data they collect about your location? To be clear, that’s essentially data about which mast or masts your phone can see when it pings them. I’m sure that buried away in the terms and conditions you signed when you took our your contract, you agreed to let them use said data. But I feel uncomfortable about this.

Mobile Data Costs

The failure of the BBC’s Dr Who mobisodes, with an average of just 3000 people downloading each episode, only further highlights the problem with mobile data in this country. As the Mediaguardian piece points out, despite the fact that episodes were offered free, they cost users between £1.50 and £2.00 each to download. The versions served online saw 2.6m plays, mainly because it was free (or as good as) for most users.
The cost of data is further analysed in a good comment piece in last week’s New Media Age which also highlights the differential pricing we get in the UK compared to other parts of the world. It’s surely in the mobile industry’s interest that we all start using these data services, yet if the cost to a user is so great, then where’s the incentive. I certainly couldn’t even conceive of downloading music via a mobile. Nevermind the cost of the tracks themselves, the data charges would be crippling.
Nope, data usage for me remains limited to football results on a Saturday afternoon if I’m out, and a few railway timetable lookups.
As for Dr Who? Well my three month old smartphone was completely incompatible, so it’s all pointless for me.