<IT WORLD> Smart phones get smarter
By Martin J Young
HU HIN, Thailand - Companies from across the globe have been showcasing their
latest offerings to the ever-expanding but increasingly crowded smart-phone
market at the International CTIA Wireless Convention in Las Vegas this week.
Many countries in Asia, such as Thailand and the Philippines, are still
struggling with the adoption of third-generation connectivity services (3G)
largely due to government red tape. This hasn't stopped Sprint and Taiwanese
handset manufacturer HTC pressing on with their latest smart phone, which has
4G capabilities, due for release in the United States at middle of this
year. A 4G Apple phone may also be available in South Korea this summer,
according to reports in the Korean press.
The HTC Evo 4G will be powered by Google's Android version 2.1 with Chrome and
all the latest bells and whistles from the Google-sphere of ever-increasing
software applications to make your life easier and them richer. The unit also
comes armed with an eight megapixel camera with high-definition (HD) video, 4.3
inch screen, 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor, and built in WiFi hotspot.
It will run on CDMA and WiMax networks, offering data transfer speeds up to 10
times those currently available on 3G networks. It's just a shame that the
governments of many Asian countries still can't get their act together with the
general adoption of 3G services as they remain preoccupied with squabbling over
slices of the telecommunications pie.
South Korean electronics giant Samsung have also been busy launching new smart
phones; the Galaxy S, which also runs on Google's Android, will use
advanced-screen technology, which will enable it to run HD video and display
brighter out in the open. The unit has a similar specification to HTC's Evo and
will be suitable for 4G networks. It is not expected to hit the shelves until
later this year. It is likely that the company will make deals for content such
as movies and e-books to be use with its new phone.
American tech titans Dell and AT&T have teamed up to produce yet another
Android-powered smart phone. The Aero has a number of features for
social-network addicts, including Facebook integration and a built-in GPS. It
also boasts a 5 megapixel camera and a custom designed user interface and “PC
like” web browsing.
Not to be left out, Motorola has introduced what it claims to be the world's
first "push to talk" one-touch handset. The i1 comes with the usual array of
gadgetry to compete with its rivals,
including touch screen, video, flash capabilities, geo-tagging and of course the
Android operating system.
All that is without mentioning the market leaders - Nokia, Apple's iconic
iPhone, which may well have spurned the surge, or Google's much-hyped Nexus
One. The world's "do no evil" search company does seem to be getting the lion's
share of the exposure with its mobile operating system, which is good news for
Google, but maybe not so for data privacy activists and a wary public convinced
the company is taking over the planet.
The mobile phone has come a long way since the brick-type devices of the 1980s,
and it seems that there is no limit to what technology companies are trying to
squeeze out of them these days.
Google this week defied the Chinese government with an attempt to clamber over
its great firewall. Contrary to previously agreeing to filter its search
results in China, Google re-routed all traffic from its Chinese mainland search
portal to servers in Hong Kong, which are uncensored. The move followed the
company's threat to pull out of the mainland due to the government's Internet
Mainland government spokespeople condemned the move, stating that it was
totally wrong and against the law. Google claimed it was meaningfully
increasing access to information for people in China.
Users of Google.cn were redirected to Google.com.hk from Tuesday. The estimated
30,000-strong Internet police force in China wasted no time in censoring
websites with sensitive content, so that only the search results showed up -
the websites in question remained inaccessible from the mainland. At the time
of writing they have yet to block Google's Hong Kong search portal.
It is unlikely that China's almost 400,000 Internet users will lose a lot of
sleep if the American corporate giant does pull out of the country, although
academics, journalists, researchers and students are likely to be affected.
They will have less of a choice and are likely to be stuck with Chinese search
site Baidu, which does toe the line and self-censor.
Using a proxy or virtual private network (VPN) to bypass web filters is likely
to become the norm in a country that continues to tighten its grip on the free
flow of information. There is even a term for it now fan qiang, which
loosely translated means "circumventing the firewall".
Small businesses have also expressed concern about the continuation of Google's
other services, such as Gmail and Docs. Without them, many enterprises will
need to restructure their business practices and seek local alternatives, which
may also come under the ever-watchful eye of the information censors.
Another company following the anti-China sentiment is one of the world’s
biggest domain name registrars, GoDaddy, which this week followed bigger rival
Network Solutions in calling a halt to registering domain names in China.
Company spokesperson Christine Jones stated: "We believe that many of the
current abuses of the Internet originating in China are due to a lack of
enforcement against criminal activities by the Chinese government" - a
reference to dozens of cyber-attacks that GoDaddy has repelled this year.
GoDaddy said it would continue to maintain .cn domain names for existing
customers but would no longer be registering new ones as new government
legislation in China required extensive information about registrants, which
includes a photograph and business license.
Network Solutions said this week it had stopped registering domain names in
China last December, when the new legislation came into force.
GoDaddy, which has been registering domain names since 2000 and reportedly has
more than 40 million domain names under management, said its experience had
been that China was focused on using the Internet to monitor and control the
legitimate activities of its citizens, rather than penalizing those who
committed Internet-related crimes.
If the soured sentiment continues, as no doubt the censorship will, and more
large global Internet companies stop working with China, the country could be
on the way to having its own closed-door "Chinternet".
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.