Friday, March 30, 2012

Will every mobile phone become a smartphone?

Mark your calendars, everyone: February 2012 may mark a turning point in the high-tech lexicon and how you refer to that mobile communications that probably sleeps under your pillow or on your nightstand.

That's because research firm Nielsen is reporting that the month marked a turning point in terms of smartphone adoption, versus that of what we've been called mobile "feature" phones.

Almost 50 percent of all mobile phones users are now using smartphones, almost exactly the same number of people who own feature phones.

In case you're wondering what the difference is and what makes a fun "dumb," it mainly comes down to two things: first, the price (smartphones usually have higher price tags) and second, the extent to which the phone can be updated and improved through updates to the operating system used to run it.

Speaking of which, Android is the leading operating system for smartphones in the United States with 48 percent of the smartphone owners; the Apple iPhone operating system accounts for another 32.1 percent.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Are we raising a generation of narcissists?

Next time you get jealous about whether one of your Facebook friends has, well, more friends than you do, you might want to sit and ponder a new survey that suggests the more that you (or I) worry about this, the more narcissistic we are.

The CBS News article that I have referenced was about an article titled "Narcissism on Facebook: Self-promotional and anti-social behavior," published in a journal called Personality and Individual Differences.

The self-promotional aspect of Facebook I get; the anti-social part, not so much. But it turns out there may be a psychological root cause if this is something you worry about.

Me, personally, I'm conflicted. I would love to have more fans for the page that aggregates my writing activities, but I am constantly rechecking my friends list on my personal profile to make sure I actually know that people with whom I am (for real) connected. I force myself to be public because I'm a journalist, but sometimes I really wonder why people I don't know at all want to follow my updates there.

Maybe I am just insecure, but I do think your motivations for being on Facebook are worth thinking about every once in a while.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Attention, please! Children's game uses brainwave feedback to reward concentration

I was just reading about a computer game called Focus Pocus that uses new brain-computer interface technology from NeuroSky to help children aged 7 to 13 that have challenges with memory retention and concentration. In my mind, this is the sort of relevant software development and innovation that it would be great to see more of.

What on earth is a brain-computer interface, you ask?

Before you fret about the implications, take a quick look at the innocuous image I've included with this post. (Image is courtesy of NeuroSky).

The device, called MindWave, is not an invasive interface, it's sort of like a super-duper headset that can detect real-time brain waves and then adjust the application according to the sorts of results you're hoping to get. Probably the biggest challenge you'll have is making sure this thing stays on a fidgety child's head.

Focus Pocus was created through a collaboration between NeuroCog Solutions, roll7 and NeuroSky. As the name suggests, this is a wizard-themed world. Players have certain tasks to complete before making it to other levels (such as brewing a potion or fighting a dragon). The MindWave interface helps identify areas where the player needs more attention or training. "Positive" mental habits are rewarded.

Focus Pocus comes with what the game developers describe as a parental reporting application (called FocusIn) that allows you to keep tabs on how your child is faring.

Focus Pocus carries a pricetag of $149; the MindWave headset is $99. A bummer: the software currently only works on Windows computers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Why I deleted my LinkedIn account

I received an entirely strange and distressing message via my Facebook account last week, which prompted me to update my message access settings (friends only, now).

I have struggled with my social networking accounts a great deal this year: as a journalist and technology commentator, it is sort of strange for me not to be "public" but there is a limit. Cyber harassment is the same thing as harassment, even if the words are typed not spoken.

Turns out that I am not alone in reconsidering my privacy management stance. A survey released by Pew Research Center at the end of February found that more people are updating their privacy settings and pruning the members of their social networks. Indeed, 63 percent of those surveyed as part of Pew's ongoing Internet usage tracking study said they have deleted people from their friend list. That's up from 56 percent in 2009. (The survey covered about 2,277 adults.)

The graphic below shows the privacy settings trends shared by the survey respondents.

It turns out that women are more likely than men to be selective. Approximately 67 percent of the women who told Pew that they maintained a social network profile said they had unfriended someone; that compares with 58 percent of men. I think that is a pretty telling statistic.

I actually had such a hard time figuring out who to delete from my LinkedIn account that I finally deleted it altogether about a week ago.

Mind you, I made sure that my contact records were complete before I did so. But the fact is, I was spending very little time there. Most of my contacts were people I didn't know in person, many of them were public relations and marketing professionals who follow my Twitter feed anyway. I have to admit, I paused for a moment when I realized that the recommendations that I wrote for a number of really super professionals would dematerialize.

I may regret this decision later -- and I certainly don't recommend it for everyone as LinkedIn is super important for people in sales and business development and recruiting -- but for me, the all-or-nothing approach to simply deleting this account has prevented a lot of headaches. I no longer fear that people are harvesting my contacts in order to pitch them or solicit business -- I have no evidence that this happened, just a paranoia. Plus I don't have to listen to people bitch at me about why they were selected for elimination.

If people really want to know what I'm writing about, it's all there on Twitter or Google +, within the limits of my social network paranoia. If they really need to pitch a story, ditto. Many of my best contacts and business colleagues are already covered by my Facebook account, my Facebook fan page, and a couple of groups that I belong to there. And if they aren't, I will be thrilled if they find me there.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Future touch screens might work through fabric

How many times have you been in a situation where you're running late and want to alert someone, but social etiquette makes it just plain rude to look down at your phone and send a text message?

If that sounds like you I'm describing, you might want to read this New York Times story about PocketTouch, a new prototype technology being worked on by a couple of Microsoft researchers and a Carnegie Mellon University student that (in theory) will let you text someone without looking at the screen.

The technology borrows from the principles of shorthand, in that it would use sensors to interpret your gestures and translate them into messages. (If you think autocorrect is bad now, just imagine, but I digress.)

This new approach to touch in itself is pretty cool, but what is even cooler in my opinion is that the screen being tested can be touched through fabric. So you could discretely reach into your coat and do this without even taking your device out of your pocket. Of course, most women I know don't exactly keep their mobile phones in their breast pockets, so the researchers might want to do a little bit more demographic homework. Still, the idea that future smartphone screens might not require me to take my gloves off in the winter is definitely very, very appealing.

PocketTouch is just a prototype right now, so don't get too excited, but this is another example of the evolution that smartphones will continue to undergo as humans continue to become ever more mobile and we seek ever more intuitive and simple ways to interact with these devices other than our much-overused thumbs.