Smartphone Smackdown on the Cards?

A great smackdown among the world's mobile phone makers is on the cards as they head towards the smartphone battleground to shape the future of the mobile phone industry. And all this could be a good thing for the consumers.

The four-day Mobile World Congress that kicked off in Barcelona on Monday Feb 15 is expected to unveil potential announcements by key players.

Apple's dominance of mobile apps will be challenged by an "alliance" of some of the world's leading mobile phone operators such as AT&T, Telefonica, Orange, China Mobile, Sprint, Vodaphone and others who are reported to be planning an open technology platform that will deliver apps to all mobile phone users.

As the apps market is fragmented at present without a common standard, it makes sense to see these players come together to establish one. There are indications of support from Samsung, Sony Ericsson and LG, including the GSM Association, the industry body that organises the Barcelona trade show.

The alliance, which they called the Wholesale Applications Community, is believed to have access to more than three billion customers in the world.

This initiative was unveiled at the Congress, attended by some of the world's largest mobile phone operators and more than 47,000 people and 1,300 exhibitors, on the first day.

It's interesting to note that the company everyone wants to take a bite at - Apple - is not present in Barcelona. But Apple's shadow still hangs over the show.

Expectations are high that the show will reveal upcoming technology trends and the directions companies are taking as the mobile phone industry shifts its focus from hardware to software.

Samsung unveiled its Wave smartphone on Monday generating great interest. Sony Ericsson, not to be outdone, unveiled two high-end smartphone models - the Xperia X10 Mini and X10 Mini Pro. Both are shrunken versions of Sony's high-end Xperia X10 smartphone that was launched end of last year.

More mobile phone makers are expected to unveil new smartphones that are as versatile as a PC and allow users to surf the Internet.

According to the United Nations' telecommunication agency, the number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide has reached 4.6 billion and is expected to increase to five billion this year.

"Even during an economic crisis, we have seen no drop in the demand for communications services," AFP reported ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure as saying.

The number of mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide is expected to exceed one billion this year and there were around 600 million such subscriptions at the end of 2009, the agency said.

Could this be exciting times for smartphone makers and users as we expect the market to open up and expand? And has Apple something up its sleeves? - Markk

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Beat it, Buzz, get out of my face!

Has Google overreached in its attempt to break into the competitive social networking space?

Did Google foresee a privacy backlash when it launched its Google Buzz service that is integrated with Gmail?

Can't say that Google was blind not to see it coming but the backlash did come with tons of Gmail users up in arms against the intrusion into their private email contact lists by turning them into social network friends lists.

By signing up with Buzz, you will allow other users to know who you are in contact with or having a liaison with someone for that matter. It's like you becoming an open book.

There have been media reports of cases on social networking sites where people have faced abuse or intimidation. People need to be circumspect in their activities online to avoid landing themselves in a sticky situation.

When I logged on to my Gmail the other day, I got Google Buzz sign-up splash page starring at me. Thanks to meself, I usually don't leap into things until I look around first. I didn't sign up.

But many users who did sign up for Buzz have discovered to their horror that their email privacy were being compromised. It is no surprise that complaints and outrage are coming in thick and fast.

Google may be an Internet search engine giant and a top brand name, but its attempt to join the "lucrative" social networking communities as a service site should have been tempered with some wisdom and decency to understand that people have rights to maintain personal goings-on as private matters.

Privacy advocates feel that Google's gathering of personal data is done with relatively no consent from users and without notifying them.

The Los Angeles Times reported that watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center planned to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission alleging an unfair and deceptive trade priactice. Its executive director Marc Rotenberg said: "This is one of Google's biggest blunders."

The consensus among critics was that Google should have a default request asking for permission first before including people's contacts in Buzz. And they should have allowed users to change their privacy settings.

As many have pointed out, Google should have the decency to allow an opt-out option which it finally tweaked on Thursday after all the hue and cry from privacy watchdogs. - Markk