Posts tagged WiFi
Denials Over Google Street View via the New York Times reports on some of the Google Street View engineers declarations when it came to the Wifi data collection done by Google’s Street View project. Reading those declarations you see engineers stating “it was not part of my…
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Ironically we couldn’t find each other. I’d arranged to meet Glancee founder and CEO Andrea Vaccari at 2pm in the Hilton Austin lobby, during the height of SXSW Interactive. But with hundreds of geeks running around, I couldn’t see him anywhere. The wifi, as always the case at SXSW, was spotty and I didn’t have his cellphone number. So for about 10 minutes we each wandered around the lobby, inside and out, looking for the other. Until a message popped up on my iPhone. Ah, WiFi at last! The message was from Vaccari and came via Glancee, one of a number of so-called “ambient location” apps competing for attention at SXSW.
Although we eventually connected, the unreliable WiFi was one reason why neither Glancee nor any of its competitors took off at SXSW. The other main reason – which turned out to be a particular problem for the most popular one, Highlight – was that the apps drained your smartphone battery. I sat down with Vaccari to find out his reaction to the ambient location hype, his frustration at Highlight’s Silicon Valley connections, and the disappointment many SXSW users felt with these apps.
Andrea Vaccari is a tall, cherub-faced 28 year old with dark hair. He’s talkative and his eagerness to tell you about the product he created makes him a natural Silicon Valley entrepreneur. But like many in the Valley, he’s an import. In 2006 Vaccari moved from his native Italy to live in the USA. Despite his friendly nature and Italian charm, Vaccari found it difficult to meet people when he first moved here. He also traveled a lot and wanted to find new ways to make friends and connections. This was his inspiration for creating a mobile app that enables you to meet like-minded people around you.
What Glancee Does; And Why Isn’t Foursquare Doing It?
Glancee – like competitors Highlight, Kismet, Sonar and Ban.jo – is a mobile app that lets you discover who is around you at whatever location you’re in. It does this mostly using GPS, which is also the reason for the battery drain. Through its API connection to Facebook and Twitter, Glancee can identify people around you who share interests with you. For example, you may be at your local cafe and discover that a fellow cafe dweller you haven’t met before also loves literature. You can then send a message to that person via Glancee (maybe also wave at them across the room, although that would cross the freaky line). A new feature of Glancee, introduced just before SXSW, is a time-based diary of who was at the location before you. So you could try and connect with someone next time at that location.
These apps are slightly different from Foursquare, the market leader in location “check ins.” Foursquare doesn’t show you what, if anything, you have in common with others who check in to the same location. Glancee, Highlight and others aim to uncover those social connections. Vaccari did admit, however, that he’s surprised Foursquare hasn’t done this yet.
2009-2010: How Glancee Was Born
I first met Vaccari in Boston in mid-2009, when he was a research assistant at the MIT SENSEeable City Lab. At the time, mobile real-time technologies were coming into fashion. Vaccari was working on MIT projects such as WikiCity, which monitored cell phone traces in Rome and created visualizations from them.
Andrea Vaccari at SXSW 2012; photo by gui ambros
Even though he worked at an educational institution, Vaccari had an entrepreneurial pep about him. So I was curious, at the time, how he would go about commercializing the real-time cellphone data ideas he was researching. It turns out that Glancee was his answer.
Vaccari told me the spark of the Glancee concept came to him early 2010. Later that year, he went to work with Google in New York as a Software Engineer Intern. He tested out the initial concepts to Googlers, as a web page (not a smartphone app). He then started Glancee in November, with the idea of creating an iPhone app.
2011-2012: Ambient Proximity Social Location Apps (Or Something Like That…)
Glancee launched in June 2011, at O’Reilly Media’s Foo Camp. It had 15,000 users at the time of SXSW.
Over 2011 and leading up to SXSW, Vaccari said that two key technologies evolved for Glancee: location and finding a good way to match people. With the location part, Vacarri claims that Glancee is more sophisticated than Highlight in terms of conserving battery power. He explained that with Glancee, the GPS is not always on and therefore it isn’t a constant battery drain. GPS turns off and on in Glancee, depending on how active you are. For example if you’ve been in the same cafe for an hour, it won’t constantly check your GPS. But if you’re out and about, it will check the GPS more often. Vaccari said that it took two months to get their location technology right. Highlight, by comparison, is “battery heavy” according to Vaccari.
Highlighting Silicon Valley Connections
Glancee’s main competitor, Highlight, only launched in January this year. Yet Highlight has gotten most of the attention from tech media and was more popular with SXSW users. The skewed media coverage has been a source of frustration for Vaccari all year, who came back to the subject a few times during our interview.
It’s a fact of life that some products get more attention from industry influentials than others – particularly if they’re backed by powerful investors (a.k.a. the Silicon Valley mafia), as Highlight is. But Vaccari has a point: Glancee launched 7 months before Highlight and is clearly technologically superior.
Vaccari got particularly incensed (or at least as incensed as an affable guy can be) by a favorable write-up that TechCrunch gave Highlight in early February. The article failed to mention Glancee at all. Vaccari left a comment calling the post an “advertorial” and bemoaning that “because we don’t have connections in the valley it’s impossible for us to get the word out about it.” Although eventually TechCrunch and others did write more about Glancee, it’s undeniably been an uphill battle for Glancee competing against the more socially connected Highlight.
Where To Next For Glancee & Ambient Location Apps?
While SXSW was a damp squib for Glancee, Highlight and the other apps, Vacarri unsurprisingly remains bullish. He thinks “social discovery” (his term for these types of apps) is a market ripe with potential.
One thing is for sure, no one has really cracked it. Foursquare isn’t even in the social discovery game (yet), early proximity app Color never took off, and Glancee and Highlight still have technical and market challenges to overcome.
I myself am not a convert at this time, but I do see potential in this space. Do I want to meet more like-minded people as I travel and even in my own local cafes and places like the library? Sure I do! But I’ll either need to become a lot more extroverted, or hope a lot of other people start using ambient location apps too.
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Internet users usually think of Wi-Fi networks as either open (hey, let’s steal Internet from our neighbor instead of paying for it!) or closed (only those with a password can access the Internet). If you leave your network open, how often do you actually know the people who are also logged on?
Wifis.org, a new site created and operated by Berlin-based Mathias Nitzsche and “Robert,” turns your WiFi network into a contact form of sorts, making you accessible to others via private messages that are transmitted through your WiFi network. To create an account on WiFis.org, login using your Facebook or Google account.
After you have logged on account, go to your wireless router or modem and change your Wi-Fi network’s name (SSID). This won’t change anything about the service itself.
Should Wi-Fi networks be more social? WiFis.org seems like it might be more useful for a Wi-Fi network you would access while traveling. Take the case of hotel lobbies, for instance. If anything, you may want to stop sharing your files with others in the lobby, but you still may want to find some way to connect with people around you in a less-than-awkward fashion.
WiFis.org is not designed for the hotel experience, however. It’s best for the everyday home Wi-Fi user who might not know who their neighbors are, and might actually want to.
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My tablet goes everywhere I go. I use it for work, for navigation, for music streaming in the car. It always has my work email, which I do not push to my Android phone for fear that it would never stop buzzing. I tweet from everywhere, all the time with it, read my Kindle and various news apps.
I fundamentally disagree with the assertions made by the R. Paul Singh, the CEO of SocialNuggets, in his guest post on ReadWriteMobile earlier today. He said that Wi-Fi is all you need for a tablet. I want to have 3G/4G cellular data on my tablet. Otherwise the device is more or less useless to me outside the house.
The Cost Is Not As Great As You Think
Foremost, let’s be clear here. My 3G tablet is an iPad 2. I pay Verizon $20 a month for 1GB of cellular data. I can change that plan on a month-by-month basis if I so chose, dropping it one month or increasing my limit the next month. So, I pay $240 a year for the convenience of having connectivity everywhere I go, $480 for two years. Less if I drop the coverage for months when I know I am not going to need it. As of yet, I have not needed to change the plan once.
For most users, 1GB is going to be more than enough data for their particular uses. Twitter, maps, email, news apps and nominal music streaming do not consume mass amounts of bandwidth. With the extra cost of a 3G iPad, my total cost-of-ownership is about $600 more over a two-year span. Again, less if I turn off the cellular plan for months when I do not need it. The choice is a decent ploy that Apple has pushed on the carriers.
The carriers do not sell iPads on contract. The device costs the same no matter where you go. If you are looking at buying an Android tablet you then will get into the realm of carrier contracts. That was more of a concern before Android tablets started dropping in price. The first real Android Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola Xoom, cost $799 without a contract, $599 with a contract when it was first released. Samsung 10.1-inch Galaxy Tabs costs $529 on a two-year contract then the data plan you get roped into. What Singh maybe should have said is that you may not want to buy an Android tablet that has 3G/4G capabilities.
Image: Motorola Xoom
Wi-Fi Is NOT Everywhere Nor Is It Always Free
I hate coffee shops. I do not spend a lot of time in McDonalds or Starbucks. The coffee shop down the street from me in Boston charges for Wi-Fi as do most of the other coffee shops in the general area. The fact of the matter is that, while Wi-Fi is increasing in prevalence across the U.S. and Europe, it is far from ubiquitous. Also, I do not like shared Wi-Fi. There is little I dislike more in life than having to pay to use someone else’s insecure Wi-Fi.
Another place where I rely on the my tablet is in the car. The car does not have Wi-Fi unless it is one of those new-fangled cars that come with its own hotspot. My iPad and Android smartphone have completely replaced physical maps for me. The maps app is more powerful and accurate on the iPad than on my Android.
I have stopped getting lost. It does not matter where I am, I rely on my 3G tablet to show me where I am. Part of Singh’s argument also has a tint of urban-bias. Yes, in the city, there is going to be more Wi-Fi available with AT&T Hot Spots, restaurants and coffee shops offering wireless service. All those different Wi-Fi spots are not going to help me when walking down the street looking at a map trying to figure out where I am going or if I leave the city. A good portion of the U.S. does not have ubiquitous Wi-Fi. In terms of abroad, I was recently in London and Montreal trying to figure out where I was. I had no cellular data because international roaming rates are outrageous. So, I tried logging onto various Wi-Fi spots available around me. This proved to be a complete nightmare, especially as I started moving around the cities.
I do not believe that I have to make a concerted effort to pre-cache all of my reading material on Wi-Fi before I leave the house. Maybe it is part of my profession, but I want the news, in real time, wherever I am. If I am getting on a plane? Sure, I will pre-cache my reading material but the plane is one of the only bandwidth-less places in all of modern society.
Hotspots & Tethering Are Not Always Practical
Mobile hotspots through carriers like Sprint, AT&T and Verizon are not really cheap. The hotspot receiver is often on contract and will cost anywhere from nothing to $250. On Sprint, you get 3GB a month for $35 with 6GB and 12GB options for $50 and $80. You want to talk about total-cost-of-ownership (TCO)? A MiFi hotspot is going to cost you more than most any tablet data plan. It is also probably more data than you need for your tablet. The people who use these are professionals that are often out of range of Wi-Fi or are trying to create their own secure and private connection at a crowded conference (smart reporters love them, if they can write the bill off to their companies).
Then there is the matter of tethering you phone. What that comes down to is you are more or less going to spend the same amount with that tethering plan that you would on tablet. It is convenient at times to tether your computer but the tablet is a stand alone device. Users should not need to rely on one device to power the other. The rates for tethering from At&T and Verizon are the same they charge for data on the iPad. AT&T charges an extra $10 for a single GB above the threshold.
There is then the issue of the battery. When you turn on tethering on your device, a pop-up warning comes up saying that you might want to make sure you plug your device in because it is about to suck through its battery. What if I am trying to navigate or I am not close to a charger but would like to conserve my battery? My tablet becomes useless because I am going to burn through my phone’s battery. What am I stuck with then? A tablet without connectivity and a smartphone with no battery.
To be honest, the lack of 3G/4G is not going to affect the majority of users. It has been pretty well established that most people use their tablets in the home anyway. Wi-Fi tablets outsell cellular versions. Mostly, that is because they are cheaper.
Is Wi-Fi fine for your tablet? Maybe. But that is only if you do not plan on using the device to its fullest functionality anywhere you are at anytime. To me, that is handcuffing the capabilities of these great devices.
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While walking through one of the T-Mobile or AT&T or Verizon stores this holiday season, you may be tempted to buy a tablet after looking at the low price tags on some of them. However, before you buy a tablet from your mobile service provider, understand their total cost and see if you even need a tablet with 3G/4G, or if Wifi will suffice. You might be surprised at how much money you can save.
Indeed, according to a new study from NPD/Connected Intelligence, a higher percentage of tablet users are buying Wifi-only tablets.
Do I need 3G/4G on my tablet?
Most tablet manufacturers (except Amazon Kindle) offer either Wifi or Wifi plus 3G/4G options. Wifi access is available in most homes and offices, as well as in most coffee shops worldwide for free or for a nominal fee. In my last 18 months of owning a tablet, there have been few days when I wished 3G was available on my tablet. You can read books, most magazines on flipboard and even email even without connectivity by caching part of these files before leaving the house.
With 3G/4G connectivity, your tablet can always be connected (subject to availability of 3G/4G connectivity from your mobile operator) to the Internet. However, unlike smartphones, tablets are not generally used on the go and so having always on connectivity just doesn’t offer the same benefits for the cost incurred. So if you need 3G/4G connectivity there are other options besides owning a tablet with such a capability for lot lower price.
Getting a 3G/4G tablet will cost you over $600 for 2 years
Most tablets cost about $100 or more for including the 3G/4G options in addition to Wifi which is standard on most tablets. For most Android tablets, many mobile operators offer a discounted price for a 2 year contract. I looked at some of the tablets at T-Mobile and AT&T stores and saw that for an initial discount of about $200, you end up committing to an additional cost of $960 for T-Mobile, $840 for AT&T and $720 for Verizon Wireless. So the discount of $200-$300 upfront ends up costing you an additional $100 on the price of the tablet plus $500+ of extra cost for getting that 3G/4G connectivity which you could get much cheaper in other ways.
For Apple’s iPad, no mobile operator offers any discount upfront but the tablet ends up costing $130 more plus you pay a minimum of $15/month (250MB) to AT&T or $20/month (1GB) to Sprint or $30/month to Verizon (2GB).
How to get always on-connectivity on your tablet without buying 3G/4G tablet
If you have a Wifi tablet and are not in the Wifi zone, there are two choices available for getting your tablet hooked up to the Internet.
- Get a mobile hotspot
- Get Tethering option on your smartphone
Get a mobile hotspot
This could actually get expensive as the data charges are similar to that of the tablet. However, this alternative is only beneficial if you have a need to connect your laptop to the Internet all the time for the same reason you need to connect your tablet.
Get Tethering option on your smartphone
This option, available on most Android, Blackberry and iPhone models, allows you to turn your smartphone into a mobile hotspot. With this option, you can have 5 devices including your tablet and laptop connect to the Internet. The good news is that this option can be turned on and off on most mobile networks in the US. Sprint charges only $10/mo extra for this option while other mobile operators including AT&T and Verizon charge $20/mo. The only negative of this option is the battery drain that your smartphone will experience.
3G/4G connectivity is generally not needed on most tablets.
If needed, don’t buy this from your mobile operator as it will set you back by $600 on a 2-year contract despite initial $200-$300 discount. If you need to connect your tablet to the Internet all the time, look at using your existing mobile hotspot or just add tethering option on your smartphone which will save you money and won’t lock you into a contract.
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Google’s cloud-based computers are getting a holiday-season push. Chromebooks are getting a price drop, the Chrome OS is getting some in-demand tweaks, and those taking plane trips for the holidays may get access to a free Chromebook during their …
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Today two Greek entrepreneurs launched a new iPhone app called 4sqwifi, which uses the Foursquare API to find locations nearby that offer free WiFi, along with the WiFi’s passwords. The app gathers nearby venues, searching for keywords like “wifi” or “password,” and then displays only those venues. There are also a small percentage of false-positive tips that might pop up, like “password for men’s toilet.” But if you can deal with (read: laugh, man!) this margin of error, then you’ll enjoy this app. To use the 4sqwifi app, you must have a Foursquare username. If you’ve resisted using Foursquare for some time, this might just be the app that changes your mind.
4sqwifi works in the opposite way that Yelp does. Whereas you type in your zip code and Yelp tells you about cafes nearby (and you can do an emphasis on free WiFi), 4sqwifi saves you that extra step by just targeting free WiFi connections. “4sqwifi is mainly about social location awareness in an everyday’s life-hack thingy,” says co-creator Apostolos Papadopoulous, who worked on 4sqwifi with Giannis Poulakas. “Tips are user-generated and the best thing is that 4sqwifi works immediately with and in Foursquare’s community – worldwide.”
There are no plans for releasing a similar app Gowalla, which feels increasingly game-ier.
This app gives users even more incentive for using Foursquare, which recently updated its website to better personalize places nearby.
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In response to complaints from the European Union, Google now allows any router to be opted out of the location-based tracking of access point. The router can be opted out by changing the SSID to end in “_nomap.”
The Change and How to Implement …
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At 11:00 p.m. Pacific on a Monday night, so as few people as possible would see it (yeah right), and at 7:55 a.m. Tuesday morning in Europe, Google posted a gem on its official blogs. “Greater choice for wireless access point owners,” the post is called. It’s a follow-up on a promise made in September to offer people with Wi-Fi networks a way to opt out of sharing their location data with Google.
If you want to opt out, Google says, you have to figure out how to add “_nomap” to the end of your SSID name. Can’t figure out how to do that? Oh well. Google, and I quote, “found that a method based on wireless network names provides the right balance of simplicity as well as protection against abuse. Specifically, this approach helps protect against others opting out your access point without your permission.” You hear that? Google wants to protect you from someone turning off your location sharing without your permission. It’s for your protection, citizens.
Google has caused uproars around the world for its practices of collecting Wi-Fi network data, initially refusing to comply with investigators in Germany. Google eventually discontinued collection of Wi-Fi data by Street View vehicles, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin admitted that Google “screwed up.”
After backing off of data collection by Street View vehicles, Google claimed in September that it would go further. It would build a program to let Wi-Fi providers opt out of sharing location data altogether. Even though, as the blog post took great pains to explain, these data are really, super-helpful for improving location services on phones, Google could see the lawyers’ points about privacy. So Google would build an “opt-out service” and make it “available globally.”
So what’s Google’s big privacy initiative? You have to change your own wireless network name, if you can figure out how. (How many “Belkin” and “Linksys” networks can you see in your Wi-Fi menu right now?) It’s a solution that is publicly visible, one which Google wants your neighbors to “be able to observe.” Change the name of your wireless network, so everyone can see it says “_nomap.” Whatever “_nomap” is. Google could at least have been more creative and tried to brand it “Google+ _Nomap” or something.
Is this enough of a privacy effort from Google, or is it Googleplus ungood? Share your reactions in the comments.
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