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What Does Google Wallet Need to Succeed? A Habit

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 29-05-2011

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MasterCard

What does Google need to do to make its Google Wallet mobile-payment system a success? Give people confidence. Then make it a habit.

Think about it. So many slight modifications to our daily lifestyle mean so many millions to manufacturers, especially as they’re repeated, day in and day out. And, once established, the cycle self-perpetuates.

Checking email on a BlackBerry. Tweeting. Checking in on Foursquare. A few more actions in CityVille. Planning the fastest route to your destination on a traffic app like Inrix. Keeping tabs on friends in Facebook. All actions that can be performed in a minute or two, several times a day.

The problem with financial applications is that people are afraid of giving up access what they consider to be their most valuable possession: money. My father, an engineer, avoided carrying a pager, a cell phone, or an ATM card until his employer (and his family) dragged him into the twenty-first century. I still haven’t joined Mint.com because, deep down, I’m terrified that my financial information will leak out. For Pete’s sake, Intuit can’t even keep their cloud services up consistently, it seems.

But mobile wallets are another matter. As with the GPS market, the U.S. lags behind Europe, where chips have been built into credit cards for years. When I lived in England, I made the leap from our magnetic-stripe cards to what’s known as “chip and PIN” rather easily; as a chip reporter, I instinctively felt comfortable with my financial information automatically encrypted within a chip, with my four-digit PIN code as the key.

Frankly, I have a difficult time understanding while the technology hasn’t crossed the pond to the U.S., where smartcards are nearly ubiquitous in most corporate enterprises, and are increasingly being used in universities and as stored-value cards for transportation. Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) are now a staple of most business laptops. There’s still a barrier of unfamiliarity that may hold back Google Wallet or a similar technology, but a smart marketing campaign should overcome it.

Launched in beta Thursday, ‘Google Wallet’ is a free Android app that securely stores multiple credit cards, or a Google prepaid card linked to your credit card (one that Google provides). When opened on an NFC-enabled smartphone, you can tap your phone against a supported payment reader and the item you want to purchase is instantly charged to your credit card.

I think there are four problems that need to be solved to assure consumer confidence in Google Wallet. First, customers need to be assured that if they lose their phone, they won’t give a thief access to their bank account. I haven’t seen too many people report that the NFC chip still requires a PIN code to unlock it. I think that’s a critical piece of the puzzle.

Second, the carrier needs to convince the customer that their bank account won’t be vulnerable, period. Customers need to be reassured that their accounts won’t be remotely drained by a malicious NFC reader built into a subway staircase, for example.

Third, compatibility can’t be an issue. I may prefer my local bank because of their service, but I also have to be assured that their checks (and debit cards) can be used at any ATM I please, even if there’s an extra fee. Visa’s proposed alternative with Google Wallet must interoperate, period.

Fourth, if this is a digital wallet – make it one! A year ago, I argued that iPads could be fitted inside cases equipped with Bluetooth keyboards, making them a netbook. By that fall, they were in the market. The same could be done with a case for an NFC phone: include a clear sleeve on the back for an driver’s license or other ID, with maybe a slot for a backup mag-stripe credit card, or cash, for tips.

Make it a habit

One of the best presentations I’ve attended in recent memory was by Kendra Markle, a researcher at the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, who explained how mobile apps hook you. Essentially, she said, apps that successfully modified a user’s behavior to make using the app a habit, succeeded.

I doubt this will be an issue with existing Mastercard Paypass customers: there’s not much of a leap between tapping a card and tapping a phone. And U.K. customers shouldn’t have too many issues with “tap and PIN,” assuming Google brings Wallet there, too.

But U.S. consumers need to feel comfortable with tapping their phones. To do that, Sprint, Citibank and Google need to establish a habit. How? Discounts, discounts, discounts. Visit a Starbucks, get 50 percent off a latte – but only if you tap. Movie tickets? A $ 2 discount at your local AMC, for those who use Google Wallet. (Here’s your commercial: Enter customer, dressed in spacesuit. Taps NFC reader. Announcer: “That’s one small tap for man…” Cue 2001 theme.)

If you want cold, calculated behavior modification, look no farther than the morning commute. People sit in the same seats, park in the same spots, buy the same ticket. They’re tired, frazzled, stressed-out zombies. Establish Google Wallet as an adjunct to BART’s Clipper pass, a MetroCard, or other stored wallet system and you win, if only because of habit.

A virtual wallet isn’t going to establish itself overnight. Google’s single phone, the Nexus S, won’t change the world. But over a few years, it might. One tap at a time.

For more from Mark, follow him on Twitter @MarkHachman.

For the top stories in tech, follow us on Twitter at @PCMag.


Future of Tech: Huge Screens, ARM Servers, Geosocial Everywhere

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 29-05-2011

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A new “geosocial” app called Sonar is getting the attention of Steve Peltzman, CIO of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

The app, which is loaded on his iPhone, combines location information with Twitter and Facebook networks, creating an opportunity for making connections. “It will be able to tell us who is in the museum right now,” Peltzman said.

Some might see this capability as potentially creepy, and Peltzman is aware of social media’s downside. But he sees a way to make it work, as well as a need to use the kinds of capabilities Sonar and others will offer.

Participating in social media is critical, Peltzman said. “If you want to be a business leader today, you have to be on it,” he said.

Peltzman meets regularly with social media developers, investors and authors to get a sense of future trends for social networking.

Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester, is also focused on the future and is forecasting some of the changes in hardware over the next five years. Both he and Peltzman made presentations at Forrester’s IT Forum here.

“Hardware innovation will continue to rile the tech ecosystems through 2016, forcing software and services strategists to adjust continuously,” Gillett said. “We are entering a period of significant turmoil.”

Here are some of their predictions:

Data center diversity will increase

The “Wintel” monoculture will see increasing pushback from application-specific servers. Oracle’s Sparc-based Exadata Storage Server is one example. “There will be a growing category of application-specific boxes,” which may or may not have x86 chips in them, Gillett said.

GPU chips, which are good for highly repetitive parallel compute tasks, will also gain traction. Gillett also expects ARM chips to enter the server market, with tiny, low-power 64-bit processors that, for the right workloads, will be more efficient than x86 systems. One company working on low-power ARM servers is Calxeda.

Big displays become the norm

Users will move to 27-in. and bigger displays and increasingly use two of them, expanding the desktop to the limits of peripheral range. But by 2016, the notion of what is a display will change as well and will include opportunistic display technologies that, for instance, project desktops on walls, Gillett predicted.

There will also be increasing use of natural user interfaces with sensors that can detect movement, interpret facial expressions and get data on the local environment.

Minority Report-type advertising enters the scene

In the 2002 movie Minority Report, as lead actor Tom Cruise walks into a mall, his retinas are scanned to identify him, which leads to a series of personalized ads. Peltzman doesn’t believe retina scans will be utilized anytime soon, but he clearly sees the rapid approach of advertising connected to users via geolocation, with more one-to-one ads based on who you that arrive via social media networks.

Peltzman said he can imagine using Sonar to send a message to someone via a social network, such as a discount on museum membership.

Illustration: Christoph NiemanSmartphones won’t necessarily rule

The idea that the smartphone will morph into an all-purpose device doesn’t ring true with Gillett. He expects to see multiple devices and displays, and big improvements in the PC. He is expecting hybrid PCs that use SSDs to speed the system, but disks as well. This blending of storage with the system will require application changes to take advantage of it, he said.

Social media’s relationship to the bottom line comes into focus

MoMA has made social media a key IT direction and has a Web page devoted to all of its networking links, including a Flickr group for people to upload photos they have taken at the museum.

It has more than 750,000 fans on Facebook and 582,000 followers on Twitter.

To help manage its social networking, the museum’s IT and marketing departments share an employee who reports to both.

But Peltzman said it isn’t easy to show how social networking generates money. Using social media for direct funding efforts can undermine it, he argues.

That also makes it difficult to tell the business exactly how much value is delivered by social media. But he believes that in time, analytical tools will arrive that can show how social media does contribute.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick’s RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

Computerworld

For more enterprise computing news, visit Computerworld. Story copyright © 2011 Computerworld Inc. All rights reserved.

Google Is in Your Wallet

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 26-05-2011

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Google’s new mobile payment, offers and rewards system may be open and secure, but it won’t be alone.

Google Wallet

Years ago I met with an NFC technology company that promised me that, someday, NFC chips would be in phones and we’d be paying with them instead of using old-fashioned credit cards. Back then, France already had NFC-enabled phones. Unfortunately, it took years for the technology to reach U.S. phones and, apparently, Google to figure out how to make a system that could replace not one, but potentially all the credit cards (and rewards cards) in your wallet.

Google’s announcement today was as everyone expected an official unveiling of its NFC-based Google Wallet payment system. The addition of Google Offers was somewhat less expected and probably not exactly welcomed by daily-deal competitors Groupon and LivingSocial.

The Internet giant appears to have thought of everything. This in-phone system will not only work with a select set of Citibank MasterCard credit cards, but with the use of the built-in, prepaid Google card, it’ll let you add funds from virtually any credit card (but you’ll use the Google Card to pay). Paying with an NFC-enabled phone (which Google optimistically says will account for 15% of the mobile phones on the market by the summer) is pretty much like paying with any of the tap-and-go credit cards and fobs you’ve used in the past.

When I looked at NFC years ago and in most of the years since, the biggest question has always been security. By definition, NFC or “Near Field Communication” only works if you are millimeters away from the corresponding transceiver. Still, many consumers I’ve spoken to have expressed concern about the ability of hackers to brush by you and either charge on your cards or pick up your credit card info.

During the Google Wallet rollout, Google made clear that nothing is more important to them than the security of this new commerce ecosystem. Well, except for openness. That’s right; this is an open, free system. Now, Open and Secure seems like a perfect oxymoron, but Google insisted that it’ll make sure it’s “open as possible as long as we do not sacrifice choice or security.” Fair enough. I do think that Google stressed “open” as a way to attract more partners beyond the formidable likes of Citibank, MasterCard, Subway and Walgreens. On the other hand, will credit card competitors and currently not-a-partner Visa see it the same way? Or perhaps we’ll be seeing another mobile payment system from Visa and, maybe, Microsoft or, much more likely Apple.

What if during the upcoming Apple World Wide Developer Conference, Apple’s Steve Jobs stands on stage with an iPhone 4s and announces integrated NFC support and welcomes its new commerce partner Visa? What happens to Google’s open plan then? Nothing really, but we will end up with competing mobile phone payment, ecommerce and rewards plans.

This somehow seems more than likely.

Getting back to what Google unveiled here, I was impressed with its security plans, which includes a PIN number for the Wallet. Google, though, answered the concern about someone slurping your NFC data by turning off the NFC chip when the phone’s screen is dark (as it often is when it’s in your pocket) and the addition of a smart card reader chip that talks to the trusted partner First Data, the company that actually processes the transaction data. That chip will self-destruct if someone tries to hack or crack it. Sounds pretty good.

What Google didn’t say is which phones beyond Sprint’s Nexus S 4G, will have the combination of these two chips. Speaking of Sprint, it is interesting that with the heavy focus on open, Google doesn’t have more carrier support for its Wallet. That’s probably because the other three major U.S. carriers have their own plans for NFC payments in the form of Isis, but that system won’t be rolled out until next year. Sprint promises to work with Android partners Samsung, HTC and others to integrate the chips, but without Verizon and AT&T (two favored Apple partners), one wonders how many NFC- and Google Wallet-enabled handsets will actually arrive.

Google Wallet is free to users and partners, but if you give Google permission, it will use your location and transaction data to deliver you geo-specific offers. I assume Google will make money on those offers in much the same way they do ads. With all the recent issues Google has had with privacy concerns, I’m dubious as to why Google believes any consumer would trust Google with that information (though they’ve trusted credit card companies with it for decades).

For now, the Google Wallet field tests and Offers is only in New York and San Francisco. There are thousands and thousands of merchants ready to accept touch payments, but without the phones, Google Wallet will likely be sampled by a relative few.

The reality is that Google’s plan for the future on mobile commerce, rewards systems and offers, is the right one, but my bet is it will not be the only one and that, in and of itself, could slow down the adoption of your phone as your Wallet. That would be a shame, because I think I’m ready to start carrying around something like a Google Wallet.

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New Sony Hack Nabs User Data of 2000 Customers

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 25-05-2011

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Another day, another hack attack against Sony.

More than 2000 users of Sony Ericsson’s Canadian Website are impacted by the latest hack attack to hit a battle worn Sony. According to Sony hackers made off with e-mail addresses, passwords and phone numbers–but no credit card details. Sony has now shut down the affected site.

Around 1000 of the stolen records from the Sony Canadian Website are already online, posted by Idahc, a “Lebanese grey-hat hacker”. Sony Ericsson is joint mobile phone venture between Sony and Ericsson.

“Sony Ericsson’s Website in Canada, which advertises its products, has been hacked, affecting 2000 people,” a Sony spokesperson told AFP. “Their personal information was posted on a Website called The Hacker News. The information includes registered names, email addresses and encrypted passwords. But it does not include credit card information.”

“Sony Ericsson has disabled this e-commerce Website,” Sony detailed to IDG News. “We can confirm that this is a standalone website and it is not connected to Sony Ericsson servers.” For security, Sony has shut down the Canadian Sony Ericsson eShop page, which currently reads: “D’oh! The page you’re looking for has gone walkabout. Sorry.”

The news of the Canadian site attack comes just one day after Sony admitted hackers attacked on Tuesday the Sony BMG Greece website, where details of over 8,500 people were stolen. A Sony Music Entertainment page in Indonesia was also hacked at the weekend, but Sony believes not information was stolen.

More than 100 million account details were stolen from Sony last month in a cyber attack of the PlayStation Network, which has returned to normal operation in the U.S. and Europe, but not in Asia (after more than a month of downtime).

Sony doesn’t know yet whether the recent incidents have any link to the attacks on the PlayStation network. Sony hopes to fully restore the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services by the end of May, but the massive data breach is expected to cost the company at least $ 170 million.

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Geek Crafts: Geeks Show Their Artistic Side

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 25-05-2011

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Over the last several years, two equipment-heavy stereotypes have formed out of the ether and the Internet: the DIYer and the geek. The stereotypical geek comes armed with soldering irons, sci-fi shows on DVD, and encyclopedic knowledge of multiple branches of science, while DIY enthusiasts carry glue guns, a lot of yarn, and books about reinventing t-shirts. They may seem diametrically opposed, but closer examination of the two reveals an overlap that contains both crafty geekery and deeply nerdy art.

Inspired by Geek Canon

[Photo: 'Angry Angel' on Flickr]

Amigurumi is a popular subset of the fiber arts, wherein cute things (usually animals, but sometimes inanimate objects) are rendered in knitting or crochet and stuffed. The amigurumi world didn’t know what it was missing until this 3.5-inch Boba Fett came along, created by Flickr user Angry Angel/Etsy shop owner Lucy Ravenscar. She sells crochet patterns for a wide variety of Star Wars denizens, including Darth Vader, C-3PO, and ewoks (it seems she specializes in Wicket).

My Little Pony, in addition to entertaining millions of five-year-old girls (and, with the Lauren Faust cartoon reboot, a growing contingent of 18-to-35-year-old guys), also provides many artists with adorable pony-shaped canvases ripe for customization. Inspired by Battlestar Galactica, DeviantArt user Spippo created My Little Starbuck.

Colorwork in knitting stereotypically takes the form of snowflakes, Nordic stars, and simple geometric shapes. A growing contingent of geeky knitters, however, would rather their blankets and sweaters be emblazoned with more current–or time-traveling–fare. This TARDIS blanket, made by Carrie Fritsche, is both available as a free pattern and is warmer on the inside.

The Internet Comes to Life

[Image: Allie Brosh]

Allie Brosh of hyperboleandahalf enthralled the grammar sticklers of the Internet with her April 2010 post on the habits and characteristics of the alot, a creature that resembles a mix between a bear, a yak, and a pug. When faced with a phrase containing the grammatical error “alot”, Allie re-imagines the sentence as could be applied to a big furry squash-faced animal.

The artists and crafters of the Internet went wild, up to the making of a (sadly, infrequently-updated) website ilikethatalot.com, which collects various versions of the grammar animal. This awesome watercolor, created by redditor MoonMonstar, received enthusiastic support from Allie, who happens to be a redditor herself.

In the three-dimensional realm of the crafting world, Alix Banegas of arixystix creations rendered the alot in plush. Then, true to the conventions of the Internet, she posed him with her cat.

[Photo: Alix Banegas]

Geeky Formulation

Many craft forms are surprisingly digital in execution, which means much of their planning is facilitated by judicious applications of graph paper. Knitting and quilting patterns often resemble a very geometric form of color-by-numbers. The pattern for this Fiery Phoenix quilt, created by instructables user, was created using Microsoft Excel, with support from MATLAB to make sure the flame effect was properly randomized.

Knitting machines are catching on in installation art: the clock that knits a scarf makes a point about creative potential, while a wind-powered model allows Mother Nature to express her crafty side. The Interactive Knitting Machine (above) displayed at Dev Camp 2010, however, takes the robot-knitter to the next level. Powered by viewers’ breaths, the machine dyes yarn in a pattern determined by the strength of the blow and the specific straw blown into, and then knits the yarn into a collaboratively-knitted piece with a colorful signature from each of many, many co-creators.

The stage curtain at the Oslo Opera House may look like it’s been Photoshopped, but it’s actually a piece of textile art made by Pae White called “Metafoil”, is as real as its component cotton, wool, and polyester fibers. Created by a computer-controlled loom from a scanned image of crumpled aluminum foil, the enormous curtain knocks viewers off balance, reminding them not to take superficial images for granted and always take a closer look.

Nerds the world over have succumbed to the soothing radiance of UV-reactive substances of all varieties. But while fluorescent paints and dyes make wearable glow possible, they also use a great deal of water, chemicals, and labor to obtain results. A new development by the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering in Singapore could render the conventional dye process obsolete: dyes, colorants and other materials, when fed to silkworms in the last four days of the larval stage, become integrated into the worms’ silk cocoons.

The technique could potentially be used to introduce many other compounds and properties into silk, creating a wide variety of functional fabrics. So it’s not just about the surprising stuffed toys or using tech to generate textiles – that intersection between craft and geek leads to fascinating applications of both art and science.

How have you applied non-standard nerd knowledge to your geeky endeavors? Answer in the comments!

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Where Is iOS 4.3 For Verizon?

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 15-05-2011

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When iOS 4.3 was released on March 9, Verizon users were surprised they would not be getting the update simultaneously with AT&T customers. 4.3 added AirPlay functionality, improved Safari browsing, and a slew of bug fixes. It wasn’t the most jaw-dropping update, but most assumed the new iCDMA devices would be up to speed in a matter of days…

Fast forward a month and a half. While Verizon users have been getting minor point updates ala bug fixes (remember that whole location tracking thing?), the latest version is still 4.2.8 (AT&T is up to 4.3.3 now). CDMA users still can’t take advantage of iTunes Home Sharing, nor does their mobile Safari use the speedy Nitro rendering engine. This is the sort of fragmentation that has plagued Android developers almost since the start but has always seemed rather un-Apple. iOS developers used to be able to build once and rest easy knowing Apple’s entire gadget line would be able to run their app. Now with the unsupported iPhone 3G, the soon to be unsupported 3GS, iPads, Retina Displays, and now this? Developers don’t have it quite so easy anymore.

If you are a Verizon user still expecting 4.3 to drop any day now, it might be time to stop holding your breath. Developers have begun receiving e-mails from Apple kindly asking that they re-build and re-submit their apps for iOS 4.2 if they were previously built with 4.3 as the deployment target (and don’t require any of the new frameworks such as the newly renovated AirPlay). I recently had an app approved that when submitted I respectfully ignored the warning it would not yet be compatible with Verizon phones, under the assumption it would be compatible in the following days. If the App Store team is going as far as asking developers to re-build and re-submit their iOS 4.3 apps (with an approximate approval time of 7 days), it sure doesn’t seem like the Verizon release is coming any time soon.

So what is the cause for the delay? Is it a technical one or a business-related one? Is this sort of fragmentation just something iOS developers will have to learn to get used to, as Android devs did? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Catch Diary of a Developer every Tuesday here at GeekTech.

Comcast Updates iOS App to Fix Crash Bug

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 10-05-2011

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Comcast Xfinity Logo Comcast has updated the iOS version of its Xfinity TV app to address a bug that crashed the app at launch.

The Xfinity app, version 1.5.1, also expands available video content through Comcast’s “TV Everywhere” network, lets users filter their content by genre and network, and gives users mobile access to the same TV channel lineup they’d find in their home TVs.

Apple iPhone, iPod, and iPad users can download the update for free at the Apple App Store. Meanwhile subscribers who own a Mac can also stream movies and TV shows at the Xfinity TV website.

“Whether our customers are relaxing around the house or traveling around the country, we’re bringing them a huge selection of great content at their fingertips, all for free,” said Matt Strauss, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Comcast Interactive Media, in a statement. “Our development team will continue to add even more choices and personalized options to the Xfinity TV app, giving our customers access to the entertainment they want, where and when they want it.”

This is Comcast’s fourth update of the iOS app since it launched in November. Since then the app has reached more than two million downloads, the company said in a statement.

Comcast released a major update to its iOS app in February that let users stream on-demand content, which the Android version still lacks. Since February, Comcast said it has doubled the amount of content available for streaming to nearly 6,000 hours, by partnering with 25 more publishers.

Apart from mobile, on-demand streaming, Comcast’s Xfinity TV app works as a remote control that lets users browse and schedule videos remotely, as well as program and manage multiple DVRs.

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Report: HTC CEO Is ‘Very Committed’ to Windows Phone, Mango

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 09-05-2011

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HTC Trophy Following yesterday’s announcement of “Mango,” the next version of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 operating system, HTC CEO Peter Chou said he was “very committed” to Windows Phone.

“We have some Windows Mango phones,” Chou told Reuters in an interview at the e-G8 summit in France. “We are very committed to Windows phone products.”

HTC was one of the launch partners for Windows Phone 7 last October, and currently has three devices out in the market, theHTC Arrive, HTC HD7 and HTC Surround. Like other WP7 devices, all three ran into some delays when Microsoft tried updating devices to ‘NoDo.’ HTC’s fourth WP7 device, the HTC Trophy (pictured), hits Verizon stores on Thursday.

At the “Mango” launch on Tuesday, Microsoft also announced hardware commitments from Samsung, LG, Acer, Fujitsu, ZTE, and “especially Nokia,” according to mobile communications president Andy Lees.

In February, after Nokia announced its partnership with Microsoft HTC spokesman Keith Nowak said the partnership would not affect HTC’s commitment to Windows Phone.

“Having Nokia join into the Windows Phone ecosystem validates our decision to commit to the platform,” Nowak said.

Athough HTC has a longstanding partnership with Microsoft, its mobile fortunes come from its numerous Android devices. Earlier this month IDC reported that HTC sold nearly 10 million devices in the first quarter, its best performance ever, capturing 8.9 percent of the market.

In late 2009, before the WP7 operating system rejuvenated Microsoft’s slagging mobile strategy, Chou let slip his frustration about Windows Mobile. “Windows Mobile innovation has been a little slow and interest in Windows Mobile phones has been declining,” he told Chinese publication Alibaba News. The next month he backpedaled, calling Microsoft its “stronger partner.”

For more on “Mango,” see Windows Phone Mango Adds 500 New Features.

Editor’s note: This story corrects an earlier version. HTC has launched three, not two, WP7 phones: Arrive, HD7, and Surround.

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7 Essential Things Every Geek Should Know or Own

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 09-05-2011

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[Photo: Pop + Shorty]Happy Geek Pride Day! May 25 is here, and while the date coincides with other events such as the 1977 theatrical release of Star Wars: A New Hope, Towel Day, and a celebration of Terry Prachett’s Discworld, it’s a day to bask in being a geek. But just to make sure, you may want to check the GeekTech list of things a good geek should own or know. If you have or know a few of these things, congratulations. If you don’t, see this as a shopping list of what you need.

(And a special thanks to those who contributed ideas via our Facebook page!)

A Geek Should Own…

Flash Drives: Any self-respecting geek should have some form of portable drive. And not just one or two–you should have an entire collection of them. You should know then how to partition your flash drive properly. Your flash drives should contain a collection of system utilities and perhaps a Linux installation or two (hat tip to Joe S. on our Facebok page for the tip!).

My box o’wires. Yours needn’t be this messy!Cables-Lots of Cables: Having a box of miscellaneous cables is great. It isn’t only useful for finding a spare in case a cable goes missing, but you’ll also have cables for just about any unforeseen circumstance. You’ll probably find the box will be mainly made up of Ethernet cables, but this is good for wiring up your whole house.

Don’t forget to put a cable in your bag (be it a USB or a specific charger cable) just in case your latest cool gadget, laptop, or otherwise runs out of juice, or needs hooking up to a PC.

A Home-built PC: Nothing shouts Geek cred like a homemade computer. Not only are you proving how well you can navigate yourself around a PC, but it also means you got to pick what went inside–faster RAM, big memory, impressive graphics and maybe more than one monitor are just a few examples of how cool a geeky homebuild is. You should have just about every screwdriver imaginable, as well as an anti-static wrist-strap set (hat tip to Simon on our Facebook page for the tip!).

A Soldering Iron: Because…well, why not? You never know when you’ll have to hack together some hardware. (Hat tip to Joe S. on our Facebok page for the tip!)

Geek Tech blogger Chris Brandrick modelling a geeky Threadless tee.A Geeky Tee (Or Two. Or Twenty.): Chances are, you’ll wear your geekiness on your sleeve–literally–with a geeky tee. A geek slogan or motif or something to do with geek culture are all legitimate and potentially cool. If you’re looking for a cool geeky tee, there are plenty of places online to find good ones: Pop + Shorty has a couple of sweet t-shirts aimed at the fashion conscious geek, and Threadless occasionally sells some great geek-friendly designs too.

And of course, it never hurts to add some geeky buttons. If you’re a Web designer, you might appreciate this one (pictured at top).

Should Know

How to Code: All geeks should have even a basic degree of coding knowledge. Depending on what coding you find most interesting–be it computer programming or Web design–you should be able to lay down the basics from memory. For instance, if HTML is your thing, you really ought to know your img src from your a href. If you know the HTML basics–plus a little about CSS and how it works–you get bonus points.

Keyboard shortcuts: Knowing your way around the keyboard is pretty useful, especially if the time comes when your mouse stops working and you need to stop what you are doing and shut down (and we have all had those kinds of mouse issues). Plus, keyboard shortcuts are mega useful in programs such as Photoshop–they save a ton of time.

On the desktop, the best of you will know how to rotate screen (and know that not all computers can do this, as it depends on the graphics card), bypass the recycle bin, run the command prompt as an administrator, or create your own shortcuts. Then there are all the neat shortcuts available to a savvy time-saver in web browsers too (here’s a good one for mainly IE users: type a word into the address bar, then press CTRL and enter).

Any other ideas and suggestions? Leave a comment!

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Motorola Droid X to Get ‘Gingerbread’ Upgrade on Friday

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 09-05-2011

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Droid x Pop the champagne! A member of Motorola’s Droid family is getting upgraded to Android 2.3, aka Gingerbread!

On Wednesday Verizon Wireless announced that Droid X users would start receiving the update on Friday, May 27.

According to Verizon, enhancements that come with the update include a new user interface with new colors, a download manager for your apps and attachments, faster access to the numeric keyboard mode, and autosuggestions to group your contacts faster.

Update instructions are posted here. You can either download it manually, which is useful when you’re roaming, or wait for the over-the-air update.

This means that a Motorola employee wasn’t fibbing on Monday when he told a forum of disgruntled Droid users, all still running Android 2.2 Froyo, that their Gingerbread updates were on the way. He specified that Droid X was scheduled to receive the update by “the end of the second quarter of the year,” (i.e. June), barring Verizon’s approval. Other Droid phones are scheduled to receive the update by the end of the third quarter, he said.

Last year, Motorola launched a number of Droid phones through Verizon Wireless, including the Droid X in June, the Droid 2 in August, and the Droid 2 Global and Droid Pro in November. All currently run Android 2.2.

Google’s newest available Android OS build, Android 2.3 Gingerbread, debuted in December on the Samsung Nexus S smartphone. So understandably Motorola Droid users, like numerous other Android device holders, have been wondering when they are getting some Gingerbread. Oddly, even Motorola’s newly-launched Droid X2 device comes with Froyo.

Earlier this month Google announced that the next OS version, Android 3.0, or ‘Ice Cream Sandwich,’ will come out in the fourth quarter. But so far handset manufacturers and carriers have not given Android users much confidence that they will receive their OS updates in a timely manner.

According to Google, by the end of April only 4.3 percent of Android users were using six-month-old Android 2.3 and above.

For more on Android fragmentation, see “Android Fragmentation: FUD and Facts.”

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Sony Hackers Take Canada

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 08-05-2011

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Sony PlayStation 3 Hack Apparently it’s still “cool” to hack anything to do with Sony.

On Tuesday, Sony Ericsson Canada’s eShop, an online store for mobile phones and accessories, was breached, exposing the personal details of thousands of users. Sony Ericsson has disabled the website and claims it was not conncted to any Sony Ericsson servers.

“On 24 May, Sony Ericsson can confirm that it experienced a security breach of an externally hosted website in Canada,” said a spokesperson. “As a result, approximately 2000 customer records, including first name, last name, email addresses and the hash of the encrypted passwords were obtained by an outside party.

“No additional personal or credit card details have been compromised.”

This is the tenth known Sony hack since attacks against the Sony PlayStation Network and Qriocity online services in early April. According to The Hacker News, the personal details of a thousand users in Canada were exposed and posted not only on Pastebin, a storage ground for text files mostly used by programmers, but in users’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. Lebanese hacker “Idahc” claimed responsibility for the attack.

Yesterday we reported that Sony Music Japan’s site was breached through an SQL injection; on Sunday the personal details of users of the Sony Music Greece website were posted. Hackers also managed to infiltrate Sony’s subsidiary ISP, So-net Entertainment Corp., and make off with around $ 1,225 in redeemable gift points; another hack launched a phishing site on one of Sony’s servers in Thailand.

As a result, Sophos security consultant Chester Wisniewski recently wrote in a blog post that “there is an enormous target on Sony’s back.”

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Nokia Plans Frequent Windows Phone Releases

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 07-05-2011

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Nokia Windows Phone Concept 2

Nokia’s Windows Phones will start coming out at a relatively rapid clip after the first one appears later this year, Nokia’s executive vice president of smart devices, Jo Harlow said today.

“We should be launching new devices in a rhythm that might be every couple of months, every three months, something like that,” she said.

The first Windows Phones came out in October, and we haven’t seen many devices since then. According to recent sales figures from Gartner, the phones haven’t sold very well, although our Reader’s Choice survey shows that the relatively few people who own Windows Phone devices love them.

The slow pace of Windows Phone hardware may be due to Windows Phone 7 being a “secondary platform” for manufacturers like HTC and Samsung, Harlow said. But as Windows will be Nokia’s primary platform, Nokia will focus more heavily on Windows Phones, she said.

“We’re going to keep coming with new devices in order to have something to talk about,” she said.

Nokia already seems to be influencing the Windows Phone platform. Along with the mapping software that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discussed when they made their agreement in February, Harlow said that some of Nokia’s cloud services may help fill Microsoft’s gaps in countries where Microsoft doesn’t have a major presence. For instance, the Nokia Music Store may take the place of Zune in countries where Microsoft’s music store isn’t available.

Nokia’s future Windows Phones may also come on CDMA networks in the USA and use non-Qualcomm chipsets, Harlow said.

Nokia’s attitude towards CDMA “has changed” and “we are in discussions with all of” [the U.S. wireless carriers], Harlow said, then saying nothing, but smiling when I responded, “CDMA devices are in the works.”

Microsoft’s existing relationships with U.S. carriers will help Nokia get on shelves here, she said.

“We are working in a collaborative way across the triad of Nokia, Microsoft and the operators,” she said.

Nokia has been a Texas Instruments customer for many years, but switched to Qualcomm for its first Windows Phones, as Microsoft requires Qualcomm chipsets in Windows Phone devices. That may change, though.

“You have to have multiple chipset suppliers that allow you to address different levels of performance, different parts of the business geographically given different modem requirements, etcetera. So the starting point is clearly with Qualcomm … we are in the process with Microsoft of defining other chipset suppliers as well.”

 

Meet the GeekTechers

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 07-05-2011

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Oh, hi there! Welcome to GeekTech, PCWorld’s blog devoted to covering the latest in cutting-edge tech. We cover new PC components, future tech, hacks and DIY projects, robotics, Lego, and more–nerdvana might be a good way of putting it. If this is your first time here, take a look around and see if you like the place.

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Meet the Crew

Who are the people behind GeekTech? We’re writers, students, rocket scientists, astronomers, musicians, programmers. We come from all different backgrounds. We’re, well, geeks. Here’s what got us into geekdom to begin with, what our favorite geeky books are, our geek role models, and our favorite geek WIN/FAIL moment. Enjoy.

Dan Berg

Geeky lure: Growing up in Alaska, my family always emphasized the outdoors rather than computers or even TV. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I became interested in gaming enough to track events and tech growth online. Even then, it was more of a passing interest rather than something I became enthralled in. I think that my interest in tech was more of a slow growth rather than a sudden urge.

Favorite book: Oh jeez… I haven’t read anything in, literally, years. I’ve read textbooks, but not much more than that. Seeing as that’s the case, I’ll just say The Dresden Files. I really enjoyed the series and would have gotten into it even more if I hadn’t lost one of the books while riding a four-wheeler down a beach.

Geek role model: I have two, and I refuse to choose between them. The first is the literary genius Stephen Fry. The way the man can string a sentence together is inspirational. My other geek hero is Dr. Michio Kaku, the physicist. I love all things physics and the way Kaku can describe physics makes it all the more interesting.

WIN/FAIL moment: I think the best geek moment I can remember was a few weeks ago. I found a graphic of a shirt decal of several of the Doctors from Dr. Who playing as the band The Who. I shared it with [PCWorld editorial assistant] Armando Rodriguez, and a frenzied search began between the two of us to find the shirt. As it turns out, the shirt was on a site called TeeFury, who sells one shirt type of shirt everyday and only once. As it happens, we came across the site on just the right day to purchase the Dr. Who shirt, despite randomly stumbling across the the two month old graphic. It doesn’t sound very epic, but it was to me.

Geeky lure: From as early as I can remember I have always had an interest in tech, which exploded when our family got our first PC in the mid-nineties (It was a Gateway). Following the PC’s introduction, I spent hours playing Transport Tycoon, until that is, the Internet arrived in Brandrick household.

Favorite book: My student cookbook. It got me through some tough times.

Geek role model: My grandad was always tinkering with random gadgets, which without doubt sparked an early interest in my now inner geek. Oh and although not a true geek, Gary Vaynerchuck is a pretty inspiring chap.

WIN/FAIL moment: A definitive fail: Recording a special Christmas podcast for another Website, only to leave my laptop on all day before uploading. I return to get the podcast online only to find the hard drive wiped and the podcast deleted. Hardly a personal fail, more of a technical one, but a disappointing one all the same. The lesson? Always back up.

Geeky lure: My family came quite late into technology, so I was actually in my mid-teens before we picked up a computer. I was a big, horrid machine that always seemed to break down. However, I got a great deal of satisfaction from tinkering with it and mending it myself. I guess my love for tech kind of blossomed from there.

Favorite book: If I’m honest, I haven’t read a lot of geeky books. I generally prefer to read scraps of information online from others (feel free to suggest some to me though as I love to read!). Though I want to get into coding etc when I have some spare time so I’ll probably be picking up a few chunky textbooks on the subject and reading up!

Geek role model: Not so much a role model, but I have great admiration for some of the developers and modders out there with their great hacks. So… you!

WIN/FAIL moment: I have more fails than wins. One ultimate fail was trying to install an operating system onto my parent’s computer, but wanted to do a fresh install, rather than run it straight over the OS. However I made an error somewhere, got too technical and what should have taken under an hour ended up taking three days and having to ask someone else to do it for me–I still blame it on my parents having a bad computer!

Sarah Jacobsson Purewal (@geeklil)

Geeky lure: Let’s see…when I was in kindergarten we had our first group computer class. The teacher was showing us how to open word documents or something, and I was bored so I started pressing random keys on the keyboard. I discovered that if I combined them, they did things (yes, I discovered keyboard shortcuts). Suddenly computers were much more interesting to me.

Favorite book: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

Geek role model: My keyboarding/web design teacher, Marguerite Arnote. She gave me practically unrestrained control over the school website. Also my AP CS teacher, Christina Devitt. It was during her class that I learned you really can start dreaming in code.

WIN/FAIL moment: Heh. I was at a Broadway show with a group of people from work. I was chatting with the guy next to me, and during intermission I asked him how old he was. He asked me to guess, then he said, “You know what? I’ll tell you…in hexadecimal. I’m 1…D.”

I looked at him and said, “Okay, so you’re 29.”

His jaw dropped, and he sputtered “Wait…what…you know hex?!

I nodded and he turned to the guy sitting next to him and said, “I just met the woman I am going to marry.”

Geeky lure: My interests have been in the nerd camp for as long as I can remember. Roleplaying games, computers, gadgetry; I dig it all. My dad is a gadget lover as well, and we went from an Amiga to a Commodore 64 when I was a kid. Loved those things. I still have an original Radioshack Pong TV game console in the basement, somewhere.

Favorite book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I happened to get that before Snow Crash et al, and it really pushed me into that genre. I’ve since devoured all I can of it. I should note that I’ve got a soft spot for Roger Zelazny as well. <3 The Amber Chronicles. Terrified that Disney owns it.

Geek role model: Will Wheaton. That dude went from Wesley Crusher to, well, whatever he is today. But I follow him on twitter so he must be doing pretty well for himself. That’s my answer, don’t judge me and no it isn’t a man crush.

WIN/FAIL moment: I think this is a little bit of both. When I was a young teen ager, a friend and I used to be addicted to a strategy war game on his Apple2c. I can’t remember what it was called, some 2D bit of awesomeness. Well, one summer we huddled around that computer and built a map to play on, but not any ordinary map. We drew out The Forgotten Realms (of AD&D) with it entirely from memory and discussion. Fact checking after (via my Forgotten Realms Atlas!) showed we were pretty on the mark. Oh, the map had balance issues, as you can imagine. All those mountains in the west suck.

Mike Keller

Geeky lure: Circa 1991, my dad would bring home his insanely great 16MHz Powerbook 100 from work. You gotta love those monochrome, passive matrix displays- perfect for text-based adventure games.

Favorite book: Give it up for Tolkien! The Hobbit is just as great today as it was when I was 10.

Geek role model: I’ve streamed every Steve Jobs keynote since QuickTime 4 came out in 1999. Sure, the man is a bit eccentric but I was one of the few who actually remembers his triumphant return as iCEO, and I still get a little excited for a good old fashioned Stevenote.

WIN/FAIL moment: For my CS capstone project I wrote a 3D racing game in openGL called DeathKart. It featured a sweet Batmobile car model and a soundtrack furnished by Iron Maiden. Playing a video game that I wrote, on a huge projection screen, while Maiden blasted at my professor and peers was a wholly satisfying moment. I’m pretty glad that “Aces High” actually played a pivotal role in my graduating college.

Geeky lure: My earliest memory of using a computer was an old, third-hand Macintosh II. It had an encyclopedia and being the 7-year-old boy I was, I immediately started looking up dinosaurs and printed pictures of them using the dot matrix it was attached to. Since then, whenever there’s anything electronic in the room I have an irresistible urge to try it out.

Favorite book: 1984 by George Orwell.

Geek role model: Stephen Hawking. The man is at the forefront of theoretical physics and cosmology, while he cheats death everyday for the last 50+ years.

WIN/FAIL moment: During my early High School years I storyboarded my trilogy of RPGs, and spent about a week in total, trying to program the intro in RPG Maker 2000. In the end I drew sprites for all the main characters, got musical themes for each of them, cobbled together the first village and a tenth of the dungeon. Then I tried to make my first animation which took a day itself. It was crap. After that, I promptly closed the program and never looked back.

Rachel Martin

Geeky lure: My family is all engineers and scientists; my teenage rebellion consisted of insisting that I’d major in English. That went out the window with my first chemistry class and the realization that, while writing about made-up things is fun and interesting, actually making the made-up things happen is even more satisfying.

Favorite book: Matilda, hands-down. Hitchhiker’s Guide runs a close second.

Geek role model: Douglas Adams infused all his writing, no matter the topic, with a passionate fascination that I as a reader couldn’t help but catch. The Salmon of Doubt showed that he was interested in just EVERYTHING, all at once. I can only hope to capture that kind of curiosity and enthusiasm, worded with such articulation.

WIN/FAIL moment: I’m particularly fond of the Scrabble hack on the MIT Media Lab, from 2007.

Nick Mediati (@dtnick)

Geeky lure: I was hooked from the first time I touched an Apple IIe (with a green screen, no less) in Kindergarten. Up to that point, I had never touched a computer before.

Favorite book: The Macintosh Bible. It was a large reference/how-to book whose first edition came out before the “For Dummies” books were household names. It used a mix of humor and useful information that made it a fun read, even if you know everything in it.

Geek role model: My brother-in-law; to a young geek his room full of old PCs and equipment was a geek wonderland.

WIN/FAIL moment: One morning I came to the office, sat down at my desk, and powered on my PC, and heard the worst noise coming from it. Fearing the worst–a dead hard drive–I called the helpdesk and asked to have it checked. The helpdesk technician retrieved my PC, tested it, and found nothing wrong with it.

She brought it back upstairs, hooked it back up in my cube, and powered it on. It made the weird sound again. She then pulled out my keyboard tray and the noise stopped. It turned out that a key was stuck on the keyboard, which resulted in a rapid-fire system beep that sounded like something much worse.

Geeky lure: I’ve just always been interested in Geekdom for as long as I could remember, but the movie Apollo 13 was a movie that I watched frequently as a kid. I’d say that was my first small step toward the moon.

Favorite book: My favorite Geeky book is definitely Experimental Composite Propellant by Terry McCreary. What can I say? I fly rockets!

Geek role model: Mr. Scott Brielmaier, my high school Physics and AP Physics teacher. Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have gone into rocket science.

WIN/FAIL moment: So this one time(always a bad way to start a story) my friends and I were making rocket candy in our makeshift lab. And then the state of the art curing oven (toaster oven) exploded in flames. Good times were had by all.

David Saetang

Geeky lure: I grew up the son of a watchmaker, so I was always watching my father taking apart things and putting them back together. Ever since elementary school I was always playing with LEGOs and things like that, so that’s where my curiosity about “complex (multi-part) things” came from.

My father and older bother are both really into sound systems, so that’s where I started working with “real” electronics and discovering how things work.

Favorite book: I’m an absolute fan of the Ender series from Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game is my favorite book of all time. If that doesn’t count as geeky, I remember reading Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead wayyyy back in the day when it first came out.

Geek role model: I’m going to have to with a tie between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. I know that’s a cheap answer, but maybe I’m leaning more towards Bill Gates.

WIN/FAIL moment: I remember back in high school I got into an exclusive summer program at a top engineering school. My buddies and I installed Quake 3 Arena on every computer (including PCs and Macs because we don’t discriminate) in the network; and no one from that summer has any recollection of anything we were supposed to learn that summer. It was awesome.

Alessondra Springmann (@geektechlet)

Geeky lure: I got started by playing Beast on my dad’s IBM clone in the 1980s and making “art” with Kid Pix on my neighbor’s Macintosh. Eventually I graduated to repairing computers at my high school, working at my college’s computing helpdesk, soldering iBooks back together, and running Solaris boxes out of my closet to make up for my college’s lack of VPN.

Favorite book: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson, which taught me all the cryptography I needed to know. He even autographed my copy of Anathemwhen he spoke at MIT!

Geek role model: I’m a huge fan of Ethan Zuckerman who uses technology to improve the lives of people throughout the world, not just by improving access and legal infrastructure but also by helping individuals share stories. Plus, he talked at ROFLCon, likes lolcats, and taught a class I to ok called “Digital Democracy”.

WIN/FAIL moment: Anything from hacks.mit.edu (nerd pride!), especially the solar-powered subway car on the big dome.

[Last updated: May 24, 2011 / Originally posted: May 24, 2010 11:34 PM PDT]

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Nokia’s MeeGo Device Still Coming Out Soon

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 06-05-2011

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MeeGo Netbooks and Tablets: Hands-On Nokia is passionate about Windows Phone 7, but it’s still flirting with MeeGo.

“You’re going to see the first MeeGo device soon,” Nokia’s executive vice president of smart devices, Jo Harlow said in an interview on Wednesday.

Intel’s MeeGo OS, which was developed as a joint project between Intel and Nokia’s previous administration, was one of the losers when new Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said the company was switching to Windows Phone 7 in February. But, at the time, Elop said the company would use MeeGo for some cutting edge devices.

Since then, rumors about Nokia’s MeeGo device have been flying around the Internet; it might be called the N9 or the N950, it might run an Intel Atom processor, and it might or might not have a QWERTY keyboard. There are even YouTube videos purporting to show the device, but none of them are verifiable.

“I’m not going to comment on what’s been floating around the Internet,” Harlow said. “It’ll be more of a high-end device that certainly will attract the early-adopter geek. I think there’s some innovation there that we believe captures the imagination.”

Without Nokia, MeeGo has been drifting in the market. I was unimpressed with MeeGo tablets and laptops I saw at Mobile World Congress in February. Recent announcements by Red Flag and other Chinese software companies, though, show that the OS may have a chance in that market.

Windows Phone 7 is triumphant at Nokia, but Harlow had some kind words for the platform that could have been, and left the door open to more MeeGo devices in the future.

“We made the decision not to continue to develop the MeeGo platform simply because it wasn’t mature enough yet to build a whole portfolio around,” she said.

For the top stories in tech, follow us on Twitter at @PCMag.

 

Happy Geek Pride Day!

Posted by admin | Posted in Cell Phones & Plans | Posted on 06-05-2011

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Happy Geek Pride Day! That’s right; today (May 25) is an actual holiday of sorts celebrating one of nature’s finest creatures–the geek. And as you might expect, we here at PCWorld’s GeekTech blog have a couple fun stories up our sleeves to observe the occasion (we had to do something–we have “Geek” in out name!).

In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. What got you into geekdom? What’s your favorite part of being a geek? Any nerdy role models? What’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever done? And how do you plan on celebrating this illustrious occasion? Tell us in the comments!

And after you do that, why not take a few minutes to get to know your GeekTech bloggers?

Finally, we’d like to take a moment to say thank you to all our readers who have made blogging for GeekTech so much fun. If you’re a regular reader, thank you for the support, and for helping us grow. If this is the first time you’re visiting the blog, welcome; we hope you like what you see here–we like to think that we’re just getting started. :)