Speaking of broadband access, Ben Popper at The Verge has a detailed breakdown of plans of both Google and Facebook to deliver high-speed Internet access via balloons and drones. As Popper writes:
There is actually a long history of failed attempts to provide aerial internet access. Starting in the 1990s at least five big projects were announced, including Iridium and Globalstar, both of which aimed to provide cellphone coverage. They were actually built but promptly went bankrupt. Teledesic, a venture funded by by Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, got a lot of people interested but was scrapped before it launched its first constellation. One problem with these early efforts was that people on the ground required bulky, custom handsets in order to receive the signal. But the rapid and widespread proliferation of cheap, powerful smartphones means that’s no longer a major obstacle.
If Google and Facebook are able to pull these projects off, it could revolutionize the developing world.
Once again Holman Jenkins offers terrific insight into the dynamic broadband marketplace, highlighting the true forces driving investment (competition) and the forces holding back progress (outdated regulations). Referring to Google’s much-celebrated fiber investments in key cities Jenkins observes in the Wall Street Journal:
“Google’s real innovation was to tunnel under the regulatory morass that inhibits physical broadband deployment. Why is Google introducing Google Fiber in Kansas City and not its native California? Google’s own Milo Medin has explained repeatedly that regulatory brambles make California ‘prohibitively expensive.’”
Jenkins turns to the FCC’s failure to launch reasonable proposals to allow carriers to shift investment from older technologies carrying increasingly less traffic, to newer technologies carrying an exponentially growing volume of voice, video and data. The need for modernizing our regulations becomes even more critical when one reads a study authored by Dr. Anna-Maria Kovacs, a visiting scholar at Georgetown’s Center for Business and Public Policy. Dr. Kovacs’ analysis estimated that incumbents telcos spent a total of $154 billion on their communications networks, with more than half maintaining fading legacy networks that carry less than 1 percent of all data.
While so much else is crippled by Washington paralysis, broadband deployment should be freed.
Via the Associated Press, Yahoo! scored a rare victory recently:
For the first time in more than two years, more Americans visited Yahoo’s websites than Google’s, according to comScore Inc.‘s Internet traffic data for July.
The research firm said Wednesday that Yahoo Inc.‘s websites saw 196.6 million unique U.S. visitors last month, while Google’s sites had 192.3 million. The last time Yahoo was ahead of Google was in May 2011, according to comScore.
While Google still rakes in far more cash from its various web properties, it still has to feel good for the folks at Yahoo! to see things turning around.
Over at TechCrunch, Ingrid Lunden offers a look at some surprising numbers when it comes to mobile broadband use:
Android has convincingly overtaken Apple as the most popular OS in the smartphone industry both in terms of sales and overall penetration. But when it comes to how much wireless devices are actually used on cellular networks, those who own Apple handsets are disproportionately the biggest users of apps and the mobile web.
All told, users of the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, and iPhone 5 account for more than half of all 3G traffic. That’s a lot of iPhone owners online.
Like most high-tech companies, Google is highly secretive—one of the reasons Brad Stone’s glimpse at the company’s secret lab for Bloomberg makes for great reading. Here’s a taste:
Since its creation in 2010, Google has kept X largely hidden from view. Over the past month, Bloomberg Businessweek spoke to many of X’s managers and project leaders, who work with abundant resources and few of the constraints that smothered similar corporate research efforts in the past. “Anything which is a huge problem for humanity we’ll sign up for, if we can find a way to fix it,” Teller says.
Google X seeks to be an heir to the classic research labs, such as the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bomb, and Bletchley Park, where code breakers cracked German ciphers and gave birth to modern cryptography. After the war, the spirit of these efforts was captured in pastoral corporate settings: AT&T’s (T) Bell Labs and Xerox (XRX) PARC, for example, became synonymous with breakthroughs (the transistor and the personal computer among them) and the inability of each company to capitalize on them.
Stone’s full piece is definitely worth checking out.
Google believes the future is in wearable computing, and that their innovative glasses Google Glass is going to lead the way. But as Brendan Sasso of The Hillreports, at least some members of Congress aren’t too keen on where Google is attempting to go:
Eight members of Congress raised privacy fears about Google’s wearable computer, Google Glass, expressing concern the device could allow users to identify people on the street and look up personal information about them.
The lawmakers, members of the congressional Privacy Caucus, said they are concerned users could access individuals’ addresses, marital status, work history and hobbies.
“As members of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Google CEO Larry Page.
In response, Google has reassured the members of Congress that privacy concerns are very much on their radar:
“We are thinking very carefully about how we design Glass because new technology always raises new issues,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “Our Glass Explorer program, which reaches people from all walks of life, will ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology — and we’re excited to hear the feedback.”
Google Glass, the company’s innovative eyewear computer, is currently garnering a lot of attention. Christina Chaey of Fast Companylooks at a recent contest asking people for ideas the high-tech glasses could be used for:
A daily calorie tracker. A lifeline to a 911 operator. A real-time sign language translator. These are just a few of the thousands of entries submitted to Google’s If I Had Glass competition, which ended on Wednesday. The competition was an open call in search of early-access testers, or Glass Explorers, for the highly anticipated augmented reality headset the company says will be on sale by the end of 2013.
While Google Glass has many techies excited, Mark Hurst of Creative Good fires a warning flare about the device (italics his):
Yes, the glasses look dorky – Google will fix that. And sure, Glass forces users to be permanently plugged-in to Google’s digital world – that’s hardly a concern for the company or, for that matter, most users out there. No. The real issue raised by Google Glass, which will either cause the project to fail or create certain outcomes you may not want (which I’ll describe), has to do with the lifebits. Once again, it’s an issue of experience.
The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience – not of the user, but of everyone other than the user.
$1 billion, which is the amount Google pays Apple each year to be the default search engine in iPhones and iPads. Just goes to show how important mobility — and mobile broadband — now are. (Via Cult of Mac.)
Chico Harlan of The Washington Posthighlights a cool — and important — new addition to Google Maps:
Until Tuesday, North Korea appeared on Google Maps as a near-total white space — no roads, no train lines, no parks and no restaurants. The only thing labeled was the capital city, Pyongyang.
This all changed when Google, on Tuesday, rolled out a detailed map of one of the world’s most secretive states. The new map labels everything from Pyongyang’s subway stops to the country’s several city-sized gulags, as well as its monuments, hotels, hospitals and department stores.
Interestingly, Google updated the map only a few weeks after the company’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt visited the dictatorship.
In this day and age, passwords for the various online services and devices can be hard to manage. Now, Robert McMillan of Wiredreports, Google is aiming to revolutionize how we protect ourselves online:
[Google is] experimenting with new ways to replace the password, including a tiny Yubico cryptographic card that — when slid into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) reader — can automatically log a web surfer into Google. They’ve had to modify Google’s web browser to work with these cards, but there’s no software download and once the browser support is there, they’re easy to use. You log into the website, plug in the USB stick and then register it with a single mouse click.
They see a future where you authenticate one device — your smartphone or something like a Yubico key — and then use that almost like a car key, to fire up your web mail and online accounts.
In the future, they’d like things to get even easier, perhaps connecting to the computer via wireless technology.
“We’d like your smartphone or smartcard-embedded finger ring to authorize a new computer via a tap on the computer, even in situations in which your phone might be without cellular connectivity,” the Googlers write.
Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission closed its antitrust investigation of search giant Google. At Politico, Tony Romm examines how the company “beat the feds.”
Instead of ignoring Washington — as rival Microsoft did before its costly monopolization trial in the 1990s — Google spent about $25 million in lobbying, made an effort to cozy up to the Obama administration and hired influential Republicans and former regulators. The company even consulted with the late Robert Bork and The Heritage Foundation and met with senators like John Kerry to make its case. In other words, these traditional outsiders worked the system from the inside.
This calculated and expensive charm offensive paid off Thursday when the Federal Trade Commission decided not to challenge the company’s dominance of the Internet search business in court and settled the investigation with what critics allege is a slap on the wrist.
One of those critics of the decision, Microsoft Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner, called the FTC’s investigation a “missed opportunity” on the company’s blog Technet:
As we know from experience, one of the litmus tests of any antitrust outcome is the set of statements made by a company on the day that the outcome is announced. Has the company truly learned from the experience? Does it acknowledge that its practices raise serious antitrust issues?
In response to a question at his press conference today, Chairman Leibowitz said that he doesn’t believe that Google will be emboldened by today’s FTC decisions. But Google seems to be walking with a new spring in its step today. As Google’s official statement on its public blog today put it, “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”
In other words, there appears to be no reason, despite the FTC’s optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace.
Via Brendan Sasso of The Hill, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has been approved by the Senate for another term on the Commission:
In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he looks forward to continuing to work with her.
“Commissioner Clyburn is an excellent and dedicated public servant and has been a strong advocate in seeking to extend the benefits of broadband to all Americans,” he said.
Also approved was Republican Joshua Wright for the Federal Trade Commission. Interestingly, Wright has agreed to recuse himself from any FTC cases involving Google for at least two years due to the search/advertising giant having funded Wright’s academic research.
Here’s something cool. Via Frederic Lardinois of TechCrunch, Google has updated its Gmail service to support a new language:
Google just announced that it has added Cherokee as Gmail’s 57th supported language. While Google has continuously expanded its language support for Gmail and its other services, this marks the first time that Google has added a Native American tribal language to its repertoire.
Evidently, despite a diminishing number of Cherokee-speaking people, Google worked with the Tribe in order to help keep the language alive for future generations.
Back in 2011, search giant Google bought Motorola Mobilty for $12 billion. At the time, it was believed a driving force behind the acquisition was Motorola’s extensive patent portfolio. Now, as Sara Forden of Bloomberg reports, that portfolio has gained the attention of the Federal Trade Commission:
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission should sue Google Inc. for trying to block competitors’ access to key smartphone-technology patents in violation of antitrust law, the agency’s staff told commissioners in a formal recommendation, according to four people familiar with the matter.
A majority of the agency’s five commissioners are inclined to sue, according to the people, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. A final decision on the staff recommendation, made last month, isn’t likely until after the Nov. 6 presidential election, they said.
A new report from Gartner (via Erik Pineda of the International Business Times) predicts mobile computing, via smartphone or tablet, will continue to grow:
Personal computers will inevitably be relegated behind the pacesetting smartphones and tablet computers, research firm Gartner said in a new report made public on Wednesday, adding that mobile phones are likely to emerge as the preferred computing tool by 2013.
Gartner also predicts Google’s Android platform will soon be the dominating operating system in the mobile space.
Yesterday, online advertising giant Google found itself in a colossal blunder. As Antone Gonsalves of Read Write Web reports:
The fiasco began early Thursday morning Pacific time, when Google accidentally released its third-quarter earnings ahead of schedule. The results were supposed to come out at the end of the day.
Worse yet, the earnings were terrible - so bad that the stock plummeted 9% within 20 minutes after the release of a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Compounding the error was the fact that the release that was, well, released wasn’t fully baked yet:
The press release filed with the SEC contains the note “pending Larry quote.” Apparently, “Larry” refers to Chief Executive Larry Page. In other words, Google was holding a spot in the release where it would pop in a quote from Page, but then someone, somehow, went ahead and hit “send,” and put the release out before it was completed.
Sure, it’s not the end of the world. But the combination of bad news and inept rollout of that bad news is not what Google needs right now.
After halting trading on its stock, Google eventually released the fully vetted results later on the day.
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