Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warming Up to the iPhone

I've been playing around with an iPhone 3G for the past week, and I have to admit...I'm warming up to the device.

While I'm still not too keen on touch-screen typing, it is getting easier and easier. However, I still haven't mastered the "two-thumb" typing method, and continue to use one thumb or finger to type one letter at a time. If you're used to sending quick e-mail replies and text messages from your mobile device, the touch-screen will probably be just fine. But for those who often compose long e-mails on-the-go, you might find the task a bit trying at times. For example, I'll often attempt to hit a key 2 or 3 times until I accurately hit the one I want, constantly punching in the one beside it by accident. It's a pity that the keyboard doesn't orient horizontally when e-mailing and text messaging so I'd have a larger space to work with, but it does expand in the web browser.

There are small, intuitive features that I appreciate as well, like logical button placement, easy navigation of menus, and that one, centre button that always brings you back to the main screen. Another feature I like is that the device can be set to automatically pick up WiFi signals whenever they're available so you can instantly connect and get off the cellular network to save minutes. Cute, but fun, features, include the option for a "swooshing" sound whenever an e-mail is sent; and the slide to unlock function. Of course the popular "pinch" action to zoom in/out (just pull your thumb and index finger together to zoom out or move them apart to zoom in) is amazingly useful. Within the web browser, each site you visit is automatically saved as a different page, which is really handy if you're often surfing several sites at a time.

Some drawbacks: you can't send MMS (multimedia messages) to other mobile phone users, which is odd since the built-in digital camera offers only 2 MP resolution (what else can you do with a 2 MP photo?) There's also no ability to capture short video clips; and no tactile feedback (slight vibration) which you depress keys. When web surfing on sites that require a lot of scrolling (e.g. long news stories), I found that it often took two or three finger swipes for the scroll-up act to actually register and the screen to respond and take action. Speaking of finger swipes, I feel like I have to wipe down both the screen and back of this glossy-finished phone every 5 minutes because it's so prone to smudges!

The biggest drawback with the phone, however, is the battery life. I don't think there has been one day that I haven't had to recharge it because the battery was either fully, or almost, depleted. This is even with just a few hours per day of downloading e-mails and Web surfing; plus a few phone calls. My advice to anyone buying the iPhone 3G is to charge it whenever you're not using it! And buy a 12-volt charger, because you'll almost definitely need one.

Last night, I decided to sift through the available third-party apps, and I finally understand their addictive qualities. There are so many of them! I saw everything from $1.99 fun games to $139.99 full-fledged health program applications. I downloaded a few free apps including Facebook access, weather reports, and a Magic 8 ball: ask a question, press the button, shake the phone (OK, so you don't really have to shake the phone), and your answer will mystically appear. My favourite app is called More Cowbell, which includes an audio clips of Christopher's Walken's catch-phrase from the popular Saturday Night Live comedy sketch, along with a huge image of a cowbell that appears on the screen. Touch your finger on the image, and you'll hear an authentic cowbell sound. Sure, there really is no functional purpose for this app, but it did make me laugh!

While the iPhone won't be for everyone, it's clear that a bit of play time with one can really convince naysayers that it is, in many ways, a very intuitive and functional device. And the limited time, $30/mo. add-on plan for 6 GB of data isn't too shabby. In one week of constant e-mail access and web browsing, I used up only about 100 MB of data. Times four, and add more time on the weekends, and I'm still not likely to use more than 1 or 2 GB at most.

If you're holding out for an unlimited plan, you can pretty much forget about it. Liz Hamilton, Director of Corporate Communications for Rogers Wireless confirmed with me that Rogers "does not believe in unlimited data plans," calling the term itself an "urban myth". And that's that.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dell to Launch iPod Competitor?

Dell is reportedly working on a portable music player and complementary music download software that will rival the Apple iPod and iTunes. We've heard the "rival the iPod" strategy over and over, but no one has really succeeded in coming even close to the iconic device. Could Dell's product be the one to do it?

According to reports, the device Dell is currently testing sounds pretty basic, and is rumoured to sell for around $100 should it become available (some say as early as September). It would use WiFi, and have the ability to connect to a number of different music download services, which are somehow accessed and organized through a Dell software program.

I'm tempted to "yawn" at this announcement. Why? 1) nothing has really been confirmed yet, and 2) many have tried, and none have succeeded in surpassing the iPod in user interface, design, and, most important, consumer demand.

Keep in mind that I'm not an iPod fan nor owner, despite what it might sound like. But you'd have to have been living under a rock for the past few years not to realize that it'll take a heck of a player and software suite to turn people's attention away from their precious i-devices. A few suggestions that might help sway the decision: make music transfer and acquisition easy, find a way to rid the device and the tunes that are loaded onto it completely of DRM, make it accept all music file types, and add an SD or microSD card slot for expandable storage.

Aside from that, it's too bad that Dell just announced it would be getting rid of its standalone kiosk locations in Canada (it has already done so in the U.S.) They could have served as great music downloading stations!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SMS Alert: Class Action Suit Filed Against Bell, Telus

Bell and Telus announceed earlier this month that each would begin charging customers without a packaged plan for received text messages in addition to sent ones. The decision has now spurred a class-action lawsuit by a man in Quebec who says the change requires a change in the terms of one's contract.

If you're signed up with a locked in agreement with either carrier, and have selected your desired plan option, the Quebec man is arguing that the carrier is not permitted to change the terms of said plan until the contract has ended. Charging per text message received is a new condition to the plan. Customers from both carriers, as well as GSM carrier Rogers Wireless, have always paid to send text messages.

The charges don't apply to people who already have a text messaging bundle, or add one to, their existing plan. For example, Bell customers can get 100 text messages for $5/mo.

At the time both carriers made their decision, Industry Minister Jim Prentice openly expressed his disdain, calling it a "poorly thought-out decision", and asking the President of both companies to meet with him in Ottawa prior to August 8 to discuss the issue.

"While I have no desire to interfere with the day-to-day business decisions of two private companies," Prentice said back in early July, "I do have a duty as Minister of Industry to protect the interests of the consuming public when necessary."

I find it strange that, as e-mail and MMS continue to gain popularity among phone users, undoubtedly resulting in increased revenues for carriers, Bell and Telus would decide to nickel and dime the occassional users. Meanwhile, both conpanies offer unlimited data plans to smartphone users that browse the web and check e-mail, essentially awarding the heavy users. The situation is oddly contradictory to Bell's Internet "traffic shaping" issues, whereby the company allegedly slows down the services of heavy Internet and peer-to-peer users to appease those who don't engage in such activity.

On the one hand, charging for receiving SMS messages might help to encourage those who aren't very interested in anything but voice to partake in features like text messaging more often. But on the other, it might deter people from using the functions altogether, choosing to just stick to voice, and revert to their laptops and home PCs for communicating via text.

Unlimited data or not (the answer being "not"), Rogers certainly has a leg up on the two CDMA carriers when it comes to good, ol' reliable texting.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Web Search is Cuil

A new Web search engine called Cuil was brought to my attention this morning by several sources. The reason it's been gaining consumer attention is that Cuil is actually owned by a power-couple: Anna Patterson, who headed up Google's search index and Web page ranking team; and Tom Costello, a former researcher and developer of search engines at Stanford University and IBM. Clearly these guys hope to take a big hunk out of Google's considerable search engine pie.

What makes Cuil different from other search engines, says the company, is its method of indexing. Results from a total of 120 billion Web pages are organized in such a fashion that the most relevant content appears first, rather than the sites that are most highly trafficked. It sounds like a small difference, but if Cuil were to take the lead in the web search arena, it could mean huge changes in online activity, and major benefits for smaller-scale Websites.

For example, many ad agencies base their dollar spends on not just Website ranking, but also the amount of traffic a site receives. If a site doesn't get a lot of traffic, but has really relevant content, it would, in theory, become the top-ranked result. Naturally, of course, these top ranks will eventually lead to more traffic. But if Cuil were to become the standard, it could shake things up from an advertiser perspective. More attention would have to be paid to relevant content (something that requires deep, and often subjective, analysis to measure) rather than a set of numbers.

Conversely, as smaller sites might benefit, the bigger, more highly-trafficked sites could become lower-ranked. If a site's content tends to be sporadic, quick hits that attempt to reel in users, for example, it might not make it as high in relevancy ranking. Of course the sites that will benefit from Cuil's methodology the most are those that have a nice balance of good, relevant content and high traffic.

"Cuil presents searchers with content-based results, not just popular ones," explains Costello, "providing different and more insightful answers that illustrate the vastness and the variety of the Web."

Results are organized into groups and sorted by category. While it sounds appealing, this could frustrate some that are used to the line-listing method. Search refinement suggestions are also provided to help web surfers narrow down what they're looking for.

Those sensitive about Internet security will also appreciate another facet of Cuil: since clicks have no bearing on the search results, the company will not collect any personal data on users.

I tried to give Cuil a go, but I got the following message:

We’ll be back soon...
Due to overwhelming interest, our Cuil servers are running a bit hot right now. The search engine is momentarily unavailable as we add more capacity.
Thanks for your patience.

You'd think that with owners of such calibre, they'd have anticipated and prepared for an overwhelming response on the day of launch, but I digress...

With that said, the best I can do for now is include a screen shot of what the search page would look like (above). If you want to try giving it a go, you can visit the site at Hopefully it will be back up and running soon!

Will you try Cuil?

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The Green Theme: Are Customers Buying It?

Everyone and their grandmother is focused on the "green" environmentally-friendly theme these days, but are customers actually buying into it, both literally and figuratively? A study conducted by Gandalf Group (on behalf of ad agency Bensimon Byrnes) set out to find out, and the results might surprise you.

While many Canadians consider themselves environmentally-conscious, or at least concerned about our environmental impact, few are willing to pay more for a product that's labeled as such. Why? Some feel they're getting "hosed" since the products tend to be more expensive, while consumers don't believe that they actually cost any more to produce. Others say they are simply not financially able to support these sometimes more costly initiatives.

So what can manufacturers do to help convince customers that an environmentally-friendly label really means what it says, and that their commitment to helping the planet is sincere rather than just a marketing ploy? There are a number of things.

First, the study found that consumers might be more willing to buy a green product if there was a government-enforced standard for products, along with detailed labels that explain terms like "green", "organic", and "low emissions". If you can avoid using the word "green" altogether, that might also help. Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed said that the term has been used so much, it doesn't have as much impact on them anymore.

Women are the most likely seekers of environmentally-friendly products, so tailoring marketing and packaging toward this gender might help build sales. Gandalf Group discovered that 88% of women are more likely to consider environmental impact when making a purchase versus just 71% of men.

If you're looking to take the leap into the green theme but aren't sure where on the development scale you should put your money, consider that Canadians are really keen on recycling because it's seen as credible, and doesn't require a whole lot of additional effort on their part. Surprisingly, focuses on energy efficiency aren't as successful as we might hope: while 93% of consumers surveyed said they believe purchasing energy-efficient appliances would benefit the environment, only 38% are willing to fork over the extra dough to buy them.

A small, but significant, move a manufacturer could take is to reduce the amount of packaging used (why use a huge, plastic cartridge for a miniscule product?), and utilize renewable energy sources for production, like solar and wind. There's a simple way for retailers to help reduce their carbon footprint: turn down the lights, and turn down the heat/AC. While a nice blast of cold air on a hot summer day is welcome, I don't want to have to bring my jacket into a store so I don't freeze!

As for consumers, it's important to note that many environmentally-friendly claims are backed by stringent requirements. For example, any product labeled as Energy Star-certified must meet certain criteria set by Natural Resources Canada. The RoHS-compliance logo confirms that a product has not been manufactured using certain hazardous substances.

The bottom line is that if you're ever skeptical about the truth behing a "green" claim, research it before you buy. In many cases, the manufacturer is involved in a much larger scope environmental initiative that will be easy to substantiate.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Can Audio Be Successfully Sold Online?

More and more manufacturers are turning to the web as another medium to sell their products. Of all the CE categories, you'd think that audio brands would steer clear of e-tailing altogether. After all, how can you sell a sound system that you can't hear? But it appears this isn't the case, as several A/V companies have joined the online retailing foray over the past few years.

In April of this year, it was Klipsch that, after many years of lawsuits against unauthorized sellers of its products online, decided that it would go the online route legitimately. At the time, President Paul Jacobs said that the move was made for several reasons, including helping to prevent customers from unknowingly getting B-stock inventory or used products; and to make it easier for customers to find products in "markets where retail consolidation has made this an increasing difficult task." Naturally, the six online retailers that Klipsch selected for authorized sales had to meet very stringent requirements.

One of these retailers was Crutchfield, and in Canada, that company has just made agreements with Bose, Logitech, Mirage, and Onkyo to offer their products to Canadian consumers online. While the Website does offer plenty of educational material about buying an audio system, and things like customer reviews, can one really buy audio online?

The answer is definitely yes if the person knows the system they're buying ahead of time and has listened to it live at some point. Even a referral shouldn't be enough. Don't get me wrong: a fantastic listening experience will likely be universally agreed upon. But in many cases, the choice can be very subjective, based on the particular application for which the system is being used, the type of music the person listens to, and of course just simple preference. If buying online is your thing, go for it. But keep in mind that either way, nothing can replace a true demo...not even a virtual one.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Averting a Hack: Hits the Big Leagues

Actors on-screen often say they know they’ve hit the big leagues when they’re asked to appear on a popular late-time talk show like David Letterman or Jay Leno. In the Web world, perhaps that equivalent is when you get hacked.

About a month ago, the site for ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the company that manages many popular domain names, was hacked into. If that wasn’t a wake-up call to everyone that no one is immune in the web world, I don’t know what would be. It just reinforces how important Internet security is to any business. If you think you’re immune, you’re probably not. Take efforts and look into extra security measures with your web and hosting team, and always, always, always back up information to ensure that you’re safe in the event of an attack. While the hack might simply be a group of tech-savvy punks playing jokes on you, the reality is that they will come back for more; and each time, it could get worse.

Nevertheless, if reaching the big leagues online means that hackers target you, then our sister sites and have finally officially been initiated as worthy of a hacker’s time. We woke up this morning to a mocking redirect page that indicated the Marketnews and here's how websites had been “hacked”. Really, all they did was take over our homepages and redirect it to theirs. Ironically, we discovered that it happens to be by the same group of people that hacked into ICANN. They cleverly call themselves the Turkish Hacking Federation.

You never really understand how invasive a site hack can feel until it happens to you. What makes it worse is the ridicule the hackers often impose on not only you, but everyone that attempts to access your site. The message that appeared when you tried to access the Marketnews and here's how sites earlier this morning went something like: “Did you know you’ve been hacked? If not, you know now :) ” (Yes, the smiley face was included). I use past tense because we have managed to avert the crisis and move forward with efforts to prevent this from ever happening again. Unfortunately, anyone who attempted to access our Websites early this morning will have seen this message.

With that said, I may only be fueling the fire by adding to the attention and press that these punk hackers likely feed upon. But perhaps in doing so, they’ll become popular enough to want to start their own sites instead of hacking into everyone else’s.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Tips for Saving a Wet Mobile Device

Most people think that once an electronic device gets wet, that's it. Chuck it into the garbage, because it'll never work again (unless, of course, it's water-proof or resistant). But this weekend, I was amazed to see a mobile phone come back to life after having been rained on for a full 8-hour night. Here's what happened.

My friend accidentally left her phone out in the rain all night on a patio table. Although it was partially covered by an overhead umbrella, the phone was still considerably drenched when it was retrieved. We removed the battery and SIM and proceeded to sick my blow dryer on the device. At the same time, I did what any sane tech-savvy person does in an emergency like this one: "Google" the situation for some tips. I surfed a few sites, some confirmed to be reputable and others blogs from people around the world who had similar situations (or just knew what to do). Here's what I came up with on what to do in such a situation:

1) Always, always, always remove the SIM (if it's a GSM phone) and the battery

2) NEVER use a blow dryer. Because this simply blows air into the device, it could cause water to seep into hard-to-reach spots, eventually damaging the insides of the phone. It's better to use a vacuum of some sort that will suck the water out.

3) Stick the device in a bag of rice for a few hours. Yes, rice. Apparently it will help to remove moisture. If you want to help keep rice particles out of the insides, you can also add a few bags of silica (that stuff that comes in a jacket or purse pocket when you first buy it).

4) Try the phone first by plugging it into the wall socket without the battery, then with the battery. It might just be the battery that's gone kaput.

Despite the fact that we did initially use a blowdryer in a panic, the phone came back to life by the end of the day, and has been working ever since. Although there's no telling how long it will continue to function, I was amazed that it was even able to power back up after being exposed to a full night of pouring rain.

Nevertheless, if these tips help to save just one device, then I've done my part.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Spam Doesn't Just Come in a Can

When I was growing up, SPAM was an odd-looking meat byproduct that was found in a can in your local grocery store. That kind of spam still exists today, but now something other than that sliceable hunk of food immediately comes to mind when you hear the word "spam": bogus e-mails that try to get you to release personal information, make promises of financial freedom, or ask you to "click here" to see a funny joke that really puts a virus on your PC."

What's even scarier is that e-mail spam is becoming more frequent and even more creative. Internet security company Secure Computing claims that, in the month of June, more than 85% of all e-mail sent was spam! Aside from wasted time sifting through this junk, spam can also cost consumers in PC repairs and virus removal services. Even worse, it can cost people thousands of dollars if they unknowingly release personal financial information to a spammer.

One of the most frequent types of spam, according to Secure Computing, has been phishing, where an e-mail contains a link to a Website that mimics a legitimate one (like a bank or online shopping site) and requests personal account information from the recipient. But some other interesting types have been popping up over the years, each playing on different reader's weaknesses. For example, fashion spam promises discount prices on brand name merchandise; while loan spam targets those in financial need by offering a solution that really just further perpetuates the problem by hijacking their PCs.

Penny Stock Spams are another relatively new category in the e-mail space. In this case, the spammers purchase a large amount of stock, then send out a massive e-mail campaign that hypes it up, only to sell it off before they're found out, and pocket the easy cash. Secure Computing notes that many use stock symbols close to legitimate ones, like HBSC and FIMA.

While the "win a BlackBerry" scheme has been going strong, I wouldn't be surprised to see that change to "win an iPhone" some time soon! You have to admit: people typically find it tough to resist the chance to win anything, so it's no shock that this scam is still going strong.

Finally, there's the false headline spam e-mails that pretend to send you to a site with juicy details about a real, or even fake, news story. Spammers ensure they cover all types and age groups by making these headlines range from timely war and natural disaster-related topics to the latest Hollywood starlet gossip.

While it's tough, the easiest way to combat this stuff is simply not to open an e-mail if you don't know who it's from; and especially don't open attachments. If it's a legitimate e-mail and important enough, the person will manage to get in touch with you somehow. It's much more sensible to hit that delete button than it is to risk damaging your PC or worse, your bank account. While times have changed, it still remains that the only kind of spam you should be opening comes in a can.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Gaming Market Heats Up as Players Duke it Out in Online Video

With E3 Expo currently taking place in California, it's prime-time for the gaming industry. And all three major console manufacturers have made some really promising announcements.

While Nintendo is extending its focus on family-friendly and physically active games, both Microsoft and Sony are duking it out in the online video arena. Both companies will be offering movies and TV shows for rental and purchase through their respective consoles and online counterparts. Microsoft has even kicked things up a notch further to partner with movie rental company Netflix. But which service is more enticing?

The answer is both for U.S. consumers, but neither for Canadians. Why? Because neither movie offering has been extended to Canada...yet, at least. While a spokesperson for PlayStation Canada implied that Canadians would be able to enjoy the feature eventually, Microsoft would only state that the partnership with Netflix doesn't extend to Canada. Indeed, to my knowledge, the Netflix video service in and of itself isn't available here, so that would definitely have to happen before Canucks could even dream of using it through their Xbox 360s.

Nevertheless, here's a run down of both services:

Sony's PlayStation 3 video download service will offer:
  • Almost 300 full-length movies and more than 1,200 TV episodes from major studios like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures Entertainment; as well as exclusive content, like a Sony-produced anime series

  • Rentals from US$2.99-$5.99 each that must be viewed within 14 days. Once playback begins, the viewer has 24 hours to watch it; and purchasable videos for US$9.99-$14.99

  • The ability to transfer to and view videos on a PlayStation Portable (PSP)

  • Full integration with the PlayStation Network

  • Instant video playback

  • A searchable database
Microsoft Xbox 360's video download service will offer:
  • Access to Netflix's library of more than 10,000 movies and TV episodes

  • Instant video playback

  • Requires a Netflix subscription (starts at $8.99/mo.)

  • Ability to fast forward, rewind, and pause video using the Xbox 360 controller or media remote

  • Individual "Queues" where players can store selected movies and TV shows for later playback

  • No additional cost per video

In addition to competing with one another, both services will also be competing with existing Canadian video download services from the likes of Bell and Apple TV. With either gaming console already positioned as part of a customer's home theatre system, and customers already actively visiting their respective online marketplaces for content like video games and movie trailers, Sony and Microsoft could very well have greater appeal in this area.

Meanwhile, Nintendo remains in a league of its own, focusing on creating 3D-like motion with a new MotionPlus attachment for the Wii Remote; and enticing new gaming titles that involve everything from beach and resort sports, to animal-populated virtual worlds where players can chat with one another and bid on friend's possessions.

Gaming certainly has come a long way from the days of two rectangular-shaped "paddles" and a dot we once called a ball.

[Photo: by Frank Lenk].

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back on Track with Wii Fit

It's been just shy of two months since I've been logging my progress via Wii Fit, and somehow between my last entry a month ago and today, I've been playing a new game called "slacking off". Nevertheless, with the onset of E3 EXPO in California, North America's biggest gaming trade event, I thought I'd pick up the pace and try to get back on track. That's why this past weekend, I dusted off and revisited that Balance Board of mine, and made some more observations for you.

First, I'd like to reiterate that the male trainer's hair does indeed grow if you haven't played for a while. Upset with his mocking, I decide to switch to the female trainer, who's voice is much more soothing and encouraging, I discovered. Surfing through various yoga poses and strength exercises, I noticed that tons were unlocked but were still labeled "New!" because I hadn't played them yet. One of the main reasons is because I don't have an exercise mat at home, and with hardwood flooring, it isn't exactly comfortable to do push-ups or sit-ups with my feet on the Balance Board and back on the ground. Nintendo, if you're listening, a floor mat would be a great accessory for Wii-Fitters! I'll certainly be picking up a mat of some kind to hopefully encourage me to finally engage in these untapped exercises.

Before selecting an activity of choice, keen-eyed players will notice that, in the background of the main screen, the virtual Balance Board sometimes hops on the treadmill to do some running. Place the cursor over it and click, and you'll have the opportunity to take the "Ultimate Balance Test". I'll warn you: if you can't conquer the normal balance activities provided in the regular Body Tests, you might wish to save this one for another day!

A new favourite activity of mine is rhythm boxing, where you follow a trainer to block/punch in sequence. I especially like the end portion when he lets you take out the day's aggressions in a 10-second punch-fest! The final balance game, the first that requires you to actually sit cross-legged on the Balance Board, is a bit frightening: sit still and stare at a candle flickering in the dark for as long as you can while doors creak and footsteps bang in the background. Weird...

While I've been regretfully neglecting my Wii Fit, I have taken part in other, non-virtual activities, like tennis and roller blading. For the first time, I used the Activity Log feature of the game that lets you log things you do outside of the game. Select from three types of activities within the Wii Fit Credits menu: light, which includes things like bowling, cooking, stretching, or laundry (examples are obviously targeted to the stay-at-home mom); normal (walking, gardening, or golf); or hard (tennis, cycling).

I was disappointed that I couldn't actually log an activity on the exact date it was performed, but only on the day I enter the information (unless I go back into system settings and change the date each time, which I'm not about to do). So now it looks like I played tennis for an hour and rollerbladed for an hour-and-a-half on the same day when, in fact, these activites were a week apart. Hopefully date-stamping will be a feature that Nintendo adds in future. After all, the only reason I would want to log outside-of-the-game activity would be to see what I do, and when. Without being able to track by day, it almost defeats the purpose of the function. For now, serious players might just keep in mind to log on whenever they perform an activity and enter it that day to keep proper track of their progress.

Clearly Wii Fit thought I should take it easy having taken such a long hiatus from the game: I was advised after 10-15 minutes to take a break. Hopefully if I get back into the swing of things, it'll be a full hour before I'm told to grab some water and relax. Weight and BMI: still hovering around the same numbers, but I'm working on it!

Wii Fit Week Three
Wii Fit Week Two
Wii Fit Week One

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Monday, July 14, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?: Speakers for Your Stroller

While the Stroll-a-Tune sounds a bit odd to me, perhaps it's something that parents of young babies will appreciate. The gadget consists of a bracket that mounts to the handle of a stroller and a tiny stereo speaker system that can connect to an iPod, satellite radio, AM/FM radio, or many other portable audio players (virtually anything with a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack). Then, just listen to tunes while you literally stroll down the street; or keep your baby entertained or lullabyed!

It can mount to any round stroller handle between 0.85" and 1.25" in diameter, while foam inserts help keep it from slipping. Powered by three AAA batteries, the speakers are 5.75" wide by 2.75" high (3" wide when folded), and weigh just 2.6-0unces without batteries.

The same company offers a similar clip-on speaker accessory for cyclists. Called the iRIDE, it works in much the same manner, except that it mounts to a bike handle rather than a stroller handle. Really, however, the iRIDE can fit any handle-like device that measures 21.8-32mm. Both models are easily detachable to move from one bar to another, or safely tuck away when not in use.

"Tune into your favourite music without tuning out the world around you," advises the company.

That sounds great; but who says that the world around you wants to be tuned into your tunes while you walk with your baby down the street? I guess as long as parents keep volume levels at a relatively low point, the latest lullabye or pop hit from Fergie is much better than a baby crying! As for cyclists, it's hard to imagine that songs will be at all audible as you peddle away and the wind blows in your face. But hey, at least you can one-up even the buddy with the super high-end bike; I'll bet his doesn't have speakers!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

iPhone is Here, Hundreds Line up, Now Can We Get on With Life?

It seems like all we've been hearing about for the past few weeks is iPhone, iPhone, iPhone. The device has finally made its way to Canadian stores today. In Toronto, hundreds lined up outside the Dundas St. store on the corner of Yonge & Dundas in the pouring rain just to have the chance to fork out at least $200 for the device, plus $30/mo. in data (in addition to the price of a voice plan) for the next three years. (see related story) Is it all worth it?

Whether the iPhone is a fantastic phone or not, why wait in line for hours upon hours (some were even waiting since last night!) to give someone your money for anything much less a phone? Of course, as with anything, it's mostly for the prestige and honour of being one of the first to own it. Keep in mind, people, that your 15-minutes dies out pretty quick.

Either way, it would have been a shame not to see all the hoopla. I strolled down to Yonge & Dundas this morning not really knowing what to expect. I was pretty confident there'd be a long line, but a small part of me was dreading a ghost town, especially in light of the severe consumer backlash against the data pricing for the phone, and the 3-year term requirement. Part of me even thought I might see protesters outside! But alas, there were plenty of happy faces, not an ounce of negativity, and tons of red shopping bags leaving the store. Sadly for many, there were likely more people in line than the store had iPhones (one spokesperson told me the location probably had about 100 devices vs. 300 people!) So I wasn't surprised to see the long tail-end of the line having disappeared by the time I left at about 9 a.m.

I left the store with one question on my mind: what happened to all those angry people that spoke out with detailed comments online about how they'd never buy one, they'd cancel their contract, and how they were going to buy an iPhone, but not anymore. Judging from the line in Toronto (and reported lines elsewhere in Canada), it looks like the dedicated Apple fans outnumber the naysayers. One customer I spoke with even revealed that he bought the device simply because he is an Apple fan, and owns all their products.

If Apple can calm even the wrath of angry Canadian cell phone customers (and believe you me, they are angry!), there's no telling what else the company can do!

See video footage from the launch event on our sister Website.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

People Using TVs to Listen to Music

I'm not surprised at the results of a new Parks Associates survey that discovered that one-third of U.S. and Canadian broadband households use their TVs to listen to music. Remember this previous post about my dad's surprise discovery that he could do this, and subsequent frequent use of the feature?

"iPods are sexy, but not everybody has one," explained John Barrett, Director of Research at Parks Associates. "TVs are ubiquitous and increasingly capable of delivering a range of content, especially with new features like digital music delivery and place-shifting services. This is just the tip of the iceberg for TV applications."

Indeed even in my own tech-savvy household, I find that we often use the TV as a conduit for background tunes, either by using the dedicated music channels provided by our cable company; or via a concert DVD. This way, we can not only enjoy the full surround sound speaker system, but also catch glimpes of the live performance when in need of some visual stimulation.

In addition to the TV, two-thirds of consumers said they use a PC to play back music at home.

If nothing else, this study reinforces how every format for content distribution is connected; we're no longer just watching TV, listening to the radio, and word processing via the PC. We're engaging in every medium in more ways than we ever have.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bell, Telus Will Charge to Receive Text Messages

According to reports, while the negative rate plan spotlight is currently being shone on Rogers Wireless for its decision not to offer an unlimited data plan for the iPhone, both Bell and Telus are trying to slip a fast one past the media's radar. Both carriers cleverly (and stratetically) announced they would offer an unlimited data plan for smartphones, including two new touch-screen models similar to the iPhone. But less than a week later, each more quietly announced that they would begin charging customers without a text messaging bundle for receiving SMSs.

Currently, it costs $0.15 to send a text message, but it's free to receive them. While $0.15/received message doesn't sound like a lot in the grand scheme of things (after all, heavy finger-happy users will probably already have a bundle plan), it does add up.

I don't consider myself to be a heavy text messager, but I do send a few every now and then when I don't have the time to chat, or in response to a message sent to me. Usually, it will add up to about $2 additonal bucks per month, which I've learned to live with. If this now doubles to $4 every month; or potentially even more counting finger-happy friends that are on the Rogers network (it is still free to send text messages through Rogers), I could be looking at more than I bargained for some months; or be forced to buy a bundle and then pay for something I don't use half the time. What's more, this will just be another nickel-and-dime fee to add with the rest, like "System Access Fee", and even hefty charges for voice mail: somehow mine has increased by $3 in the past few years without my ever being notified about it!)

If this move is in an effort to cover costs associated with heavy text usage, I don't see how it will work. What will likely happen will be that people sign up for these bundles, then start texting more often to justify the extra cost, resulting in even more usage (and more money in the carrier's pocket).

Bell's new text messaging charges will come into effect on August 8 and Telus' on August 24. Both will charge $0.15/received message.

According to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), Canadians send 43.5 million text messages per day. By my count, that equates to $6.5 million per day. Do carriers really need to charge more?

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Roger Debunks iPhone Myths

I have been communicating extensively with Elizabeth Hamilton, spokesperson for Rogers Wireless regarding all the controvery surrounding the upcoming release of the Apple iPhone 3G in Canada.

For those who have been sleeping under a rock for the past few weeks, here's the gist of the issues: consumers are protesting the high data plans that Rogers is imposing on the device, mainly because there is no option that would include unlimited data: the most extensive plan includes 2 GB of data for $115/mo. (a limited time option will supply 6 GB for $30; see below for more information). The other terms that has consumers livid is the fact that the iPhone will only be purchaseable with a three-year contract.

The most recent myth that Hamilton was quick to debunk is that Apple will be scaling back shipments of iPhones to Canada, diverting them to other countries because of all the negative consumer attention that the carrier has been getting. While she prefaced her stance with the typical "Rogers does not comment on rumour and speculation", she did confirm that inventory remains "unchanged throughout our announcements." Despite this, the iPhone will not be sold through Apple stores in Canada; but rather just through authorized Rogers and Fido dealers. This makes sense, given that the customer has no choice but to sign a contract to get it: how would he have done so at the Apple store anyway?

While Hamilton refused to comment on competitors Bell and Telus, both of which have recently announced unlimited data plans for competing touch-screen phone models (the Samsung Instinct and HTC Touch Diamond, respectively), she was quick to point out that Rogers isn't the only country foregoing the unlimited option: carriers in the U.K., U.S., Germany, and Sweden are the only four of the 12 countries to launch unlimited plans for the 3G device. "Unlimited plans are clearly not offered by the majority," she adds.

Further to this, Hamilton advises that Rogers has been conducting its own internal testing on mobile Websites and other data applications to determine what a customer can actually get on an iPhone in the way of data consumption with the existing plans. Her samples indicate that, with 2 GB, customers would be able to get 51,2000 text-based e-mails, 11,703 Web pages, 6,827 photos, or 2,048 minutes on While certainly extensive, it seems that, at this point, in the consumer's mind, the issue has gone way beyond the amount of data consumption used, and well into the way of becoming a matter of principle. The four biggest countries are getting unlimited, as are customers on CDMA networks in Canada, so why can't we?

Meanwhile, it seems like all the negative consumer attention has convinced Rogers to add at least something to appease us: aside from opening select store locations early at 8 a.m. on Friday for advance purchase of the device, Rogers has also launched a new, limited-time plan. While it still doesn't include unlimited data, it does up data limits to 6 GB for $30, which can be added to any voice plan. This offer will only apply to customers who sign on (for three years, of course) prior to August 31, 2008.

Rogers is clearly also expecting the device to sell out, despite an online petition that is asking customers to boycott the device. The site, calle RuinediPhone, currently has over 56,000 virtual signatures. As of this morning, a note at the very top indicates that MP David McGuinty will be making a video statement on the issues posed by the site today at 3 p.m. Stay tuned.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wireless Spectrum Auction Winding Down

The Canadian Advanced Wireless Spectrum Auction, which commenced on May 27, is finally winding down. In its final stages, there's no surprise that current national providers Rogers, Telus, and Bell lead the bidding. But the most enticing part of the auction is the companies that come next in line; one or more of which will become Canada's newest wireless carrier.

This year, Industry Canada set aside a portion of spectrum, which consists of the wireless airwaves required for cellular services to operate, exclusively for new carriers to bid on. This means that there's a guarantee someone new will enter the playing field. In a best case scenario for fostering new competition (and potentially resulting in improved service plan rates for consumers), we'd see a new national carrier. While Bell and Telus compete with one another in the CDMA space (along with Virgin Mobile, which piggybacks on the Bell network and Koodo Mobile, owned by Telus).,Rogers currently has no competitor in the GSM space except it's own sub-brand, Fido.

At last check, a company believed to be Quebec-based Videotron ranked fourth in the bidding process, followed by Toronto, ON-based Globalive Communications Corp., which owns the Yak Communications brand, Shaw Communications, and DAVE Wireless (Data & Audio-Visual Enterprises Wireless), a venture that includes John Bitove, formerly of XM Canada and Vulcan Capital, an organization founded by Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.

At the onset of the auction, Globalive announced its intentions to become Canada's "fourth national wireless carrier". The company backed up that claim with a $235 million dollar deposit into the auction. Ranking right behind Videotron in the current status, Globalive has continued to show that the company means business, and indeed looks like a likely candidate to enter the market.

While the auction is set to close shortly, it's important to note that changes in the Canadian wireless landscape won't be as quick-to-action as the auction itself has been. It will likely be a year (or even two!) before a new national carrier (and/or regional ones) set up shop. What we can look forward to in the immediate future, however, is existing carriers re-thinking their current strategies to gear up for the inevitable competition. We've already seen evidence of this with both Bell and Telus recently emphasizing unlimited data plan offerings; an area where Canada has long been said to have fallen behind in comparison to other developed countries.

Meanwhile, Rogers Wireless has been taking a lot of flak because of perceived high data rates and failure to offer unlimited data plans. The spotlight has been shone even more on the GSM carrier as of late because of the upcoming release of the widely popular 3G iPhone. Any customer that wants to buy the highly coveted device will also have to sign on for a three-year term. While this has peeved many consumers to the point of a growing and widely publicized online petition, it just goes to show that Rogers is certainly thinking ahead. If the carrier ensures that customers are secured with its services for the next few years despite who or what might show its face in Canada in the next year or two, then it can buy a lot of time to examine possible plan options going forward. Stay tuned.

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Retailers Blowing Out or Hiking Up Price of HD DVDs

Since the end of the format war which saw Blu-ray emerge victorious, consumers that own HD DVD players have been doing one of two things: returning their players to the store, or stocking up on HD DVD discs while they're still available. After all, "winning" format or not, HD DVD produces some darned good quality content! Over the past few months, however, I've noticed some subsequent changes in how retailers have been dealing with the remaining discs.

The first step was logically to drop the price of HD DVDs. One that might have sold for $30 was all of a sudden $18.99, then $12.99, and so forth. Granted, I didn't see any earth-shattering deals, but the prices were certainly coming down more significantly than they likely would have if HD DVD remained in the market. Lately, however, I've noticed that the prices have gone back up as supply slowly dwindles and the discs become more difficult to find.

Interestingly, I was prompted to observe this by a fellow shopper in a discount retail shop this past weekend. As we stood side-by-side looking through the last few HD DVDs in stock (selling for just $6!), he commented about how the prices were going back up elsewhere. Funny enough, this was only after he proudly advised me that "you can't play that in a regular DVD player, you know?" While I enjoyed a little internal chuckle, I was genuinely quite pleased to see an example of an "average" consumer that appeared to understand the difference between HD and SD discs and was eager to share his knowledge.

Regardless of what the current average price is, the fact remains that HD DVD discs are still more affordable now then they were 6 months ago. If you still own a player, now's primetime to stock up on the last available titles. For now, they'll provide better quality content than you'll get via standard DVD, and will certainly tide you over before investing in a fancy new Blu-ray. And who knows: once these discs are completely out of circulation, you might be able to flip those discs to an A/V collector of some sort for a pretty penny!

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Online Video Complements, Not Replaces, TV; DVDs Still Being Copied

A new study conducted by The Nielsen Company shows that online video serves as a great complement to traditional TV, rather than threatening to replace it.

When asking U.S. consumers what sorts of video they watch online, many cited things like a TV show's new episode previews (38%), behind-the-scenes video clips (27%), bloopers (22%), and deleted scenes (20%). (I wish I knew of networks that offered bloopers and deleted scenes online; if such content is available, it really should be advertised more!)

Of consumers that do watch full TV show episodes online, the majority (82%) said that it was only because they missed the actual airing on TV. What's more, a whopping 87% said they viewed the show from the TV network's own Website; not some third-party piracy site like many would like us to believe. (Naturally, this study hails from the U.S., since online video offering through TV networks in Canada is relatively scarce).

If this is the case, why aren't more networks (especially in Canada) offering their programming online as a supplement to the TV versions? The answer is likely due to fear that online videos will steer viewers away from standard TV. I'd argue (and the study also reinforces) that this certainly isn't the case: each means represents a very different experience. I can't imagine opting to watch a show online instead of via TV for any viable reason other than that I can't access the show by TV at that particular time.

What's more, the Nielsen study discovered that most consumers prefer the Web for short videos, like movie trailers (53%), user-generated videos (45%), music videos and general news segments (37%), comedy programs (31%), and sports clips (31%).

"This analysis shows a continuing strong appetite for watching television the traditional way even as viewers begin to extend their viewing to the personal computer." said Susan Whiting, Executive Vice President, The Nielsen Company.

With that said, Nielsen also found that interest in things like HD programming and on-demand TV have also increased. 20% of the respondents who subscribe to HD channels say they watch HD programming "every time" they watch TV; while awareness of free on-demand TV jumped from just 49% in 2005 to 71% in 2007. Customers interested in jumping on the flat-panel HDTV bandwagon rose from 18% in 2005 to 28% in 2007.

A small portion of consumers is also exploring additional ways of viewing video content: 6% watch video via compatible mobile phones and 5% via other portable video players. Of those who own a video-capable iPod, 16% say they watch videos two to three times a month on the portable device. However, we certainly have a long way to go in this area: 35% of iPod Video owners have never watched a video on the player!

Interestingly, just as I was writing this, another study appeared in my inbox that reveals consumers are actively making copies of pre-recorded DVDs. The study, conducted by Futuresource Consulting, found that one-third of respondents from both the U.S. and the U.K. admitted to making a DVD copy in the past 6 months. The most likely culprits: 18-24-year-old males; and the most likely methods include copying via a DVD player and recorder, or using PC burning software. As for what they're coopying, it's, no surprise, new release movie titles.

Making a back-up copy of one's own purchased movie should, in my eyes, be permitted. But the study claims that a "significant portion" of copying is done with borrowed or rented movies. One argument many have made against the "lost revenues" argument from illegal copying is that the consumer likely would not have purchased a legitimate copy of the film anyway. However, Futuresource's study discovered that 77% of respondents in the U.S. and 63% in the U.K. said they would, in fact, have purchased legal copies of most of the movies in question had they not been able to make the copy.

One thing's clear from all of this information: consumers really are interested in video content every which way they can get it. Perhaps in making more video accessible in more ways, this will help curb piracy altogether; and satisfy consumer craving for vast amounts of media consumption.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Gaming Console Race Continues

The race for top ranks in the gaming console arena is beginning to look a lot like the situation in flat-panel TV; with just a few manufacturers constantly jockeying for top spot (granted there are only three main players in this race, versus many in flat-panel TV!) While Nintendo's Wii has consistently been number-one in Japan, Reuters reports that Sony's PlayStation 3 is slowly closing in on the family-friendly console. While Nintendo was outselling Sony at a ratio of 6-to-1, the gap has now closed to just 1.7-to-1!

This is somewhat surprising, especially given the widely successful launch of the Wii Fit fitness game that has undoubtedly seen a rejuvenated interest in the still-hot Wii console. However, the PS3, which attracts a completely different audience of hard-core, traditional gamers, has also seen some pretty enticing new game introductions as well. Arguably the most popular recent releases include Metal Gear Solid 4 and Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas. Another factor to consider is Blu-ray having won the high-definition DVD format war: the PS3 has a built-in Blu-ray player, which is certainly an appealing secondary function for its price.

In April of this year, The NPD Group reported that the Wii was the top-selling console in Canada. While the Wii has managed to entice an entirely new group of gamers, the other two consoles certainly have a stronghold on the core group of gamers. It will be interesting to see how each of the three main consoles (Sony PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft Xbox) fare by the end of the year; especially after the busy holiday shopping season.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

What's Had More Influence: the iPhone or the iPod?

The iPhone has stirred up the wireless industry like no other mobile device has. We haven't seen this much hoopla surrounding a product launch since, well, since the iPod came to market back in 2001. It's incredible that Apple has managed to challenge existing industry standard with not one, but two of its portable devices; especially since the company's history is as a PC manufacturer! But which product will have more of an impact on tech society as we know it: the iPod or the iPhone?

There's no doubt that the iPod is winning that race already. Not only because the device has been in existence for almost seven years now, but also because it has literally changed the way people listen to music and access content. Coupled with iTunes, the iPod defines a generation that surfs virtual albums on-the-go, and, arguably more important, downloads music from the 'net rather than purchasing physical CDs in store. The iPod used to be given flak as a device that encouraged low-quality music consumption and discouraged an appreciation for true audio. But with increasingly high-end docking systems, compatibility with a host of A/V receivers, and even audiophile tube amps from companies like Fatman, the iPod has been transformed into a gadget that simply encourages music in every way possible. And with the addition of photo and video playback, it has also helped fuel the shift toward portable media players, not just portable audio.

Meanwhile, the iPhone, which found its way into the U.S. market a year ago, has already shaken up the wireless industry. I'm not just talking about here in Canada, where the upcoming release of the highly-coveted gadget has caused consumer protest against high data rates. In the U.S., Apple managed to gain the kind of control over distribution and pricing of the phone that no other wireless manufacturer has been able to accomplish. Many have argued that the iPhone has begun an era where the wireless handset manufacturer has more control in what the consumer ultimately pays and receives, not the carrier.

So while the iPod has had a major impact on the industry, the iPhone, which is essentially a highly-sophisticated iPod that adds a larger screen, mobile phone, web browser, and WiFi functionality, will extend that reach. Add to these features its ability to accept third-party applications, and essentially transform into a full-fledged on-the-go computing device, and the iPhone will reach markets that the iPod merely skimmed.

The bottom line? Both of these devices have been influential to the technology sector. Perhaps 7 years from now, we can revisit this question again to see what each product has evolved into.

Happy Independence Day to our neighbours to the south!

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sony U.S. to Join Streaming Movie Foray?

According to the Financial Times, Sony will soon be offering movies from its own movie studio as streaming video files online. There are, however, a few catches.

First, the movies will reportedly only be available for download by people who own a Sony BRAVIA LCD TV along with the company's new Internet Video Link accessory. Second, although not really a catch, is that you'll have to pay for the streaming version, which will be available in standard definition format (given current bandwidth restrictions). And third, from the sounds of it, the price you pay for that streaming version will also include a price for the actual DVD. On the bright side, there is one plus: you'll get the streaming version before the physical DVD of the movie is released.

While innovative, I'm a bit skeptical about this arrangement. First, the Financial Times report implies that you can't actually buy a streaming version of the movie instead of the physical DVD, but rather purchase the streaming option as a secondary method of viewing the film along with the actual DVD when it becomes available. Many people choose to stream a movie online because they don't want to have to buy and store a physical DVD, they just want to watch it one time on-the-go, or they want to pay a lesser price. Although no pricing information for the streaming movies was revealed, I'd bet they'll be slightly higher than a standard physical DVD, especially if you're forced to buy that DVD as well.

The second downfall is obvious: you can only stream movies from Sony Pictures. This isn't surprising given other Sony initiatives, like the Sony-specific Memory Stick flash memory cards, proprietary connectors for Sony Ericsson mobile phones, and dare I point out beta? (It's worth pointing out that there are other formats that gain other manufacturer support, like Blu-ray). This system has worked for Sony for some time now, so why not in this new, innovative way to obtain online content? On a positive note, some fantastic movies hail from Sony Pictures. Hancock, starring box office golden boy Will Smith will be the first movie to launch in the new streaming format.

It's important to note that Sony U.S. has not yet made an official announcement about this service, so take this information with a grain of salt. Even so, no such service has been announced for the Canadian market (no surprise there), so it's really a moot point for us Canucks at this time. (Note that the Internet Video Link itself, however, is already available in Canada for $300).

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Canadians Petition iPhone Pricing with RuinediPhone Website-UPDATED!

There's no denying that Canadians are passionately angry about mobile phone data plan pricing in Canada. This issue has heated up to a blazing degree since the announcement of the iPhone and, most recently, new data plans for the device. In fact, things have gotten so hot that consumers have created their own protest Website at (do you think the site address gets their point across?) that's petitioning for Rogers to create more suitable plans for the device. Currently, more than 25,000 Canadians have signed the electronic petition, and several news report claim that many plan to congregate outside of the Rogers office to present the signed document.

Unknowingly making the situation worse is AT&T's announcement that the carrier will allow U.S. customers to purchase the 3G iPhone on its own...eventually. Sure, AT&T won't do so at launch, but the carrier giving customers a head's up on this small fact just adds salt to the wounds of Canadian cell phone users. Add to this the fact that U.S. customers can buy the device by signing up for a two-year plan rather than three years like in Canada, and you have the recipe for a lot of pissed off people.

A spokesperson for Rogers Wireless pointed out to me that, while the new pricing plans, which range from $60 to $115 per month, will be available to iPhone 3G users, customers don't have to sign up for one of those. They can still use most other previously existing plans provided that they renew or sign on for 3-years. As for their eligibility to upgrade to the iPhone, this all depends on where they are in their current contract.

"Customers do not need to take the value packs, and can order most other features a la carte, such as $7 for Caller ID," explained the Rogers spokesperson. "Any customer with a monthly service fee that is over $30 can upgrade to an iPhone 3G at $199 (for the 8GB model)."

In alluding to the absence of an unlimited data plan (the highest amount of data supplied is 2 GB for $115/mo.), the spokesperson said that "Rogers believes that unlimited data plans may well charge customers for more than they are using." Indeed, that's true. But I'd argue that anyone purchasing an iPhone is probably a heavy data user: why else would you want a highly-intuitive mobile device with a massive touch-screen interface? Surely not to make calls using oversized number keys! What's more, an unlimited plan could certainly be offered in addition to existing limited data plans rather than just in place of them.

Canadians quite obviously view these new plans as being the best of the worst. In an open letter to Steve Jobs posted on the RuinediPhone Website, the creator, James Hallen, pleads with the Apple head to do something about the situation. "We are loyal customers," he says, "[and] we don't want to lose faith in Apple." In an effort to make the point even clearer, a cute slogan beneath the Web address at the top of the page claims: "Screwing iPhone customers since '08".

While I have to agree that the new data plans are really not that appealing, I think the issue goes way beyond just the iPhone, and even just Rogers. Data consumption in Canada has reached all-time highs. Study after study reports that Canadians are one of the top Internet using countries in the world. Something needs to be done north of the border to accomodate our increasingly healthy appetites for data across the board, not just in the wireless space. The underlying issues behind this Website are indeed very important to the future of data in Canada. It's interesting, though, that a mobile phone is what spawned such a harsh backlash. After all, it is just a phone, guys!

On that note, will the RuinediPhone Website succeed in changing data plans or, at the very least, in convincing customers not to buy an iPhone 3G when it becomes available here? What's more, how will Apple react at all to the negative press surrounding the issue? By July 11, we hope to have that answer.

Read More on the ongoing iPhone saga:

Canadian iPhone Plan Pricing Revealed

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Plasma Reaches Less Than $600

Vizio is offering a 32", 720p plasma TV through U.S. Wal-Mart stores for less than US$600, further proving just how competitive the flat-panel TV arena has become. Additionally, the manufacturer is selling a larger, 42" model for just $200 more.

Has the $600 pricing decision been made because of the stronghold that LCD technology has on the 32" flat-panel HDTV market? After all, in Q1 2008, research firm DisplaySearch reported that 32" LCDs dominate the market, representing more than 40% of total LCD TVs shipped. Indeed, it looks this way since Vizio is also launching new LCD TVs for more reasonable pricing: $1,499.99 for a 42" 1080p model and $1,899.99 for a 47" model. If Vizio is looking to help plasma increase marketshare in the 32" category, these aggressive pricing can surely help.

It's mind-baffling to think of a company essentially "blowing out" plasma TVs. How will this bode for the category as a whole? DisplaySearch indicated for Q1 2008 that, although worldwide plasma shipments grew 53% year-over-year (Y/Y) to reach more than three million units, they have shown a quarter-over-quarter (Q/Q) drop of 19%. Interestingly, 32" plasma panels actually rose 4% in the first quarter of this year to account for 15% of the market. Will Vizio's new sub-$600 plasma, which is already available in all 3,400 U.S. Wal-Mart stores, take a huge bite out of LCDs 32" pie?

Indeed pricing in the plasma category (and arguably LCD) has been dropping to meet both consumer demand and the increasingly competitive landscape. There's no doubt that a $600 plasma from Wal-Mart won't do anything to help the price erosion crisis.

And to think that just a few years ago, plasma TVs were products for just the elite of society, costing in the thousands and thousands of dollars...

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