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RIM, RIP: How BlackBerry Lost its Way, and How iPhones and iPads are Tapping to Success

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April 2, 2012 – I admit to being taken in yesterday by Google’s April Fools prank – Gmail Tap. This priceless video promises to bring Morse code back for the smart phone era.

Gmail Tap hit a powerful nerve: how to make smart phones more useful for the things we do besides talking on them.

“Think of the size of the device…, and we are trying to cram an entire 26-key keyboard into that space,” said “David Brook,” listed as VP, Communications Services for Google. “It’s so many keys. I feel constricted by the keyboard,” says “Beth Dunning,” listed as Engineer, Gmail Tap.

Well, Morse code may be too far of a stretch. (“It’s just a dot and a dash. What’s simpler than that,” says “Mitch Fedenko” of the Tap team.) But the concept is a testament to the spirit of constant innovation in order to use technology to make our lives simpler.

Indeed, Gmail Tap is the perfect foil for the problem now faced by Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion. The lead story in Friday’s Wall Street Journal described the scale of the problem faced by the Canadian company RIM – with sales tumbling 25 percent in the last quarter, long-overdue devices now further delayed, and corporate customers beginning switch accounts to iPhones and Android devices.

It’s time to let RIM to Rest in Peace – but not before we can learn some lessons about its saga.

The ‘Crackberry’ Did One Thing Right

For many years of the past decade, I was one of many “Crackberry” users who loved the device for what it did right: e-mail. Blackberrys once weren’t even telephones. They were merely portable e-mail retrieval systems. And they weren’t just for enterprise users: I bought my first Blackberry for personal use, never synchronizing it to a Microsoft Exchange Server.

By 2006, Blackberry worked seamlessly with Gmail: was a good app. Because I could use it with my wireless provider at the time, I happily upgraded to the Blackberry World Phone. While I never found the web browsing experience entirely satisfactory, the Blackberry met most of my needs: email, robust contact management, a decent interface for mobile maps, one of the earliest Twitter Apps, and the ability to talk wirelessly.

Here’s where the Morse code joke comes in: I didn’t find the keyboard constricting. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have “fat fingers” (watch the Gmail tap video, ;->), but typing quick messages on my Blackberry was about as good as e-mail could get, I thought.

Rely on Other Companies to Do Their Part

We all know that the iPhone – which is less than five years old, having been released on June 29, 2007 – changed so much in mobile computing and connectivity. Not the least was the savior-faire that it brought to what we now know of as the App economy. But because the iPhone was restricted to the AT&T network, Apple forced users to choice between device and network.

This tension was captured by the difference between Apple’s slogan, “there’s an app for that,” and a short-lived counter-punch from Verizon Wireless: “there’s a map that that.” Verizon was referring to maps of its extensive wireless network.

As Apple maneuvered out of its exclusivity contract with AT&T, the iPhone has become ingrained into America’s psyche as the premier smart phone, a class-busting phenom that appeals to the elite and to the masses. I find it hard to say which one thing the iPhone does right – because of the elegant way in which it puts so many disparate things together. But Apple needed to break out a single-carrier deal.

Nearly 18 months after I began using my first iPhone, I now prefer the one thing I didn’t like about it –Apple cramming in an entire 26-key keyboard into a tiny, virtual space. I can type faster and more pleasurable on the iPhone 4 than on my late-model and last-legged Blackberry Curve.

Discover New Needs

The personal computer emerged victorious over specific purpose instruments because of its flexible platform for innovation. The PC can do a lot of things – but can it do any of them well?

I’ve written frequently about how telephone, computers, radios and televisions are no longer separate objects. They are all central processing units, with radio-frequency communications capabilities – but with different “form factors” for input and output.

The ever-so-slight ways in which our preferences evolve – beveled keyboard or touch-screen device – shift market power among the equipment-makers. The same goes for the alliances between CPU-makers and network operators. Apple can sell more iPhones if it works with more wireless companies.

This past Christmas, I briefly considered ditching by Sprint-network Blackberry for an Android device running on Verizon or Sprint. (My iPhone is on AT&T’s network, the only one available at the time of purchase.) Nothing grabbed me.

Then, less than a month ago, the iPad 3 came along. It was Apple’s first device that can access broadband through Verizon’s LTE (for Long Term Evolution) network. The speed results are astounding. In a head-to-head comparison test using the Federal Communications Commission’s mobile broadband test on March 16, the Verizon LTE iPad yielded 13.38 megabits download, and 13.26 megabits upload; while the AT&T iPhone yielded 0.70 megabits download, and 0.51 megabits upload.

Speeds and coverage areas of networks are constantly changing, so these results are no more than a snapshot in time. But in partnering with the best wireless providers, Apple opens new opportunities for consumer use of its device.

Much has and will be written about the new iPad as more consumers get their hands on it. My first impression is similar to many others: a gorgeous reading machine, which will be a killer-app for newspapers, magazines and books. At its heart, the iPad appears to be nothing more than an oversized iPhone, so why would anyone want both? For the same reason that consumers want a small screen for “everywhere” tasks, a bigger screen on a laptop computer for “work” tasks, and a super-big screen for a home theater television “entertainment.”

The new iPad is striking the next balance between the three screens. In doing so, it’s putting a screen on another industry that once had a dim future of its own: the newspaper business.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Antitrust

Federal Trade Commission Will Likely Not Be Able to Implement Competition Rules, Panelists Say

Panelists at TechFreedom event said judiciary will prevent the FTC from developing proposed antitrust policies.

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Photo of Peter Wallison from C-SPAN

WASHINGTON, October 22, 2021 –The Federal Trade Commission’s attempts to use rulemaking authority to issue antitrust policy governing technology companies will be struck down in federal courts, said panelists participating in a TechFreedom event on Thursday.

Recently formed conservative majorities on the Supreme Court and other panels have expressed opposition to the idea that the FTC possesses such rulemaking authority, these panelists said.

Hence, unlike past supreme courts, they current bench is likely to strike down FTC-issued binding rules.

Panelists highlighted former President Donald Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch as justices who have opposed legal reasoning often used to permit FTC rulemaking.

Indeed, some panelists said early 20th Century legislation governing the FTC makes the case that the agency was created as an investigative body rather than a regulatory one.

Peter Wallison, senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, said that between five and six Supreme Court justices would ultimately vote to weaken precedents that allow for FTC rulemaking.

The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives recently advanced six antitrust bills that attempt to regulate the tech industry and foster greater competition, including the Ending Platform Monopolies Act and the Platform Competition and Opportunity Act.

FTC rules have taken on increased importance in terms of economic regulation due to the frequent inability of Congress to pass major legislation due to partisan gridlock. The FTC has proposed new procedures to ensure competition since Lina Khan was appointed as chair.

However, NERA Economic Consulting on Wednesday concluded that legislative proposals to regulate competition would impose costs of around $300 billion while impacting 13 additional American companies in the near term and more than 100 companies in the next decade.

Study author Christian Dippon contends that the legislation would limit American startup growth and international competitiveness while at the same time increasing costs for Americans.

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Section 230

Democrats Use Whistleblower Testimony to Launch New Effort at Changing Section 230

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act seeks to target large online platforms that push harmful content.

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Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California

WASHINGTON, October 14, 2021 – House Democrats are preparing to introduce legislation Friday that would remove legal immunities for companies that knowingly allow content that is physically or emotionally damaging to its users, following testimony last week from a Facebook whistleblower who claimed the company is able to push harmful content because of such legal protections.

The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act would amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – which provides legal liability protections to companies for the content their users post on their platform – to remove that shield when the platform “knowingly or recklessly uses an algorithm or other technology to recommend content that materially contributes to physical or severe emotional injury,” according to a Thursday press release, which noted that the legislation will not apply to small online platforms with fewer than five million unique monthly visitors or users.

The legislation is relatively narrow in its target: algorithms that rely on the personal user’s history to recommend content. It won’t apply to search features or algorithms that do not rely on that personalization and won’t apply to web hosting or data storage and transfer.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-California, Frank Pallone Jr., D-New Jersey, Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, plan to introduce the legislation a little over a week after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen alleged that the company misrepresents how much offending content it terminates.

Citing Haugen’s testimony before the Senate on October 5, Eshoo said in the release that “Facebook is knowingly amplifying harmful content and abusing the immunity of Section 230 well beyond congressional intent.

“The Justice Against Malicious Algorithms Act ensures courts can hold platforms accountable when they knowingly or recklessly recommend content that materially contributes to harm. This approach builds on my bill, the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, and I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this important legislation.”

The Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act was introduced with Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-New Jersey, last October to hold companies responsible for “algorithmic amplification of harmful, radicalizing content that leads to offline violence.”

From Haugen testimony to legislation

Haugen claimed in her Senate testimony that according to internal research estimates, Facebook acts against just three to five percent of hate speech and 0.6 percent of violence incitement.

“The reality is that we’ve seen from repeated documents in my disclosures is that Facebook’s AI systems only catch a very tiny minority of offending content and best content scenario in the case of something like hate speech at most they will ever get 10 to 20 percent,” Haugen testified.

Haugen was catapulted into the national spotlight after she revealed herself on the television program 60 Minutes to be the person who leaked documents to the Wall Street Journal and the Securities and Exchange Commission that reportedly showed Facebook knew about the mental health harm its photo-sharing app Instagram has on teens but allegedly ignored them because it inconvenienced its profit-driven motive.

Earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was developing an Instagram version for kids under 13. But following the Journal story and calls by lawmakers to backdown from pursuing the app, Facebook suspended the app’s development and said it was making changes to its apps to “nudge” users away from content that they find may be harmful to them.

Haugen’s testimony versus Zuckerberg’s Section 230 vision

In his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce committee in March, Zuckerberg claimed that the company’s hate speech removal policy “has long been the broadest and most aggressive in the industry.”

This claim has been the basis for the CEO’s suggestion that Section 230 be amended to punish companies for not creating systems proportional in size and effectiveness to the company’s or platform’s size for removal of violent and hateful content. In other words, larger sites would have more regulation and smaller sites would face fewer regulations.

Or in Zuckerberg’s words to Congress, “platforms’ intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content [should be made] conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread of harmful content.”

Facebook has previously pushed for FOSTA-SESTA, a controversial 2018 law which created an exception for Section 230 in the case of advertisements related prostitution. Lawmakers have proposed other modifications to the liability provision, including removing protections in the case for content that the platform is paid for and for allowing the spread of vaccine misinformation.

Zuckerberg said companies shouldn’t be held responsible for individual pieces of content which could or would evade the systems in place so long as the company has demonstrated the ability and procedure of “adequate systems to address unlawful content.” That, he said, is predicated on transparency.

But according to Haugen, “Facebook’s closed design means it has no oversight — even from its own Oversight Board, which is as blind as the public. Only Facebook knows how it personalizes your feed for you. It hides behind walls that keep the eyes of researchers and regulators from understanding the true dynamics of the system.” She also alleges that Facebook’s leadership hides “vital information” from the public and global governments.

An Electronic Frontier Foundation study found that Facebook lags behind competitors on issues of transparency.

Where the parties agree

Zuckerberg and Haugen do agree that Section 230 should be amended. Haugen would amend Section 230 “to make Facebook responsible for the consequences of their intentional ranking decisions,” meaning that practices such as engagement-based ranking would be evaluated for the incendiary or violent content they promote above more mundane content. If Facebook is choosing to promote content which damages mental health or incites violence, Haugen’s vision of Section 230 would hold them accountable. This change would not hold Facebook responsible for user-generated content, only the promotion of harmful content.

Both have also called for a third-party body to be created by the legislature which provides oversight on platforms like Facebook.

Haugen asks that this body be able to conduct independent audits of Facebook’s data, algorithms, and research and that the information be made available to the public, scholars and researchers to interpret with adequate privacy protection and anonymization in place. Beside taking into account the size and scope of the platforms it regulates, Zuckerberg asks that the practices of the body be “fair and clear” and that unrelated issues “like encryption or privacy changes” are dealt with separately.

With reporting from Riley Steward

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Big Tech

OECD Ratifies Global 15% Digital Tax Rate, Aims For 2023 Implementation

The OECD finalized an earlier agreement that would impose a 15% tax on companies operating in 136 member nations.

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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

WASHINGTON, October 11, 2021 – The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on Friday finalized an agreement to levy a 15 percent tax rate on digital multinational businesses, like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, starting in 2023.

The ratification of the tax rate comes after years of negotiations and after individual countries have proposed their own tax systems to keep up with internet businesses that have long skirted the tax of laws of nations they operate in because they don’t necessarily have a physical connection inside those borders. The Liberal Party in Canada, for example, had proposed a 3 percent tax on revenues obtained inside the country, while Britain, France, Italy, and Spain had been contemplating digital sales taxes on their own.

The 15 percent tax rate has been signed by 136 member nations, all OECD and G20 countries, out of 140 states (Kenya, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan did not join) and finalizes a July political agreement to reform international tax rules. The United States had proposed the 15 percent global corporate tax rate earlier this year.

Hungary and Ireland, the latter of which is a corporate tax haven for companies like Apple and Google, were two of the last holdouts. Hungary agreed to join Friday after they were guaranteed a ten-year rollout period for the regulation, and Ireland agreed Thursday after guarantees that the rate would not be subsequently increased.

The new tax rate is expected to generate US $150 billion annually for the countries involved and targets companies with revenues of over 750 million Euros. “The global minimum tax agreement does not seek to eliminate tax competition, but puts multilaterally agreed limitations on it,” the OECD said, adding the tax will not only stabilize the international tax system but also provide companies with more certainty as to their obligations.

The regulation would be the first foundational cross-border corporate tax rate regulatory change in over a century. Some are skeptical of President Joe Biden’s and Congress’s ability to ratify the agreement. The OECD hopes to sign a multilateral convention by 2022 and implement the reform by 2023.

The final agreement will be delivered to the G20 finance ministers meeting in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, then it will be charted off to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Rome at the end of this month, according to a OECD press release.

The United States was in a bit of a defensive pattern under former President Donald Trump, after the country made tariff threats if the European nations, particularly France, decided to tax its big homegrown corporations.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the agreement, “opens the path to a true fiscal revolution.” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the OECD has “decided to end the race to the bottom on corporate taxation,” referring to the practice of attracting large companies to headquarter in one’s country through purposefully incentivized lower tax rates.

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