Cybernaut 

Touchy feely

Although the Apple iPhone is not the first touch-sensitive device out there — information kiosks have been using touch screen technology for 20 years — there’s no question it’s reawakened interest in the technology. Probably a dozen touch-sensitive phones and PDAs have followed in its wake, and it seems that’s only the beginning.

Using new technology that allows a screen to detect multiple touches, Apple is reportedly developing a touch-screen minitablet computer, or possibly a line of laptops and desktops with touch-screen capability.

Microsoft is releasing a tabletop touch-screen computer for use in boardrooms and geekier homes, while their next operating system, Windows 7, reportedly supports touch interfaces and will encourage manufacturers to include touch sensitive features in their systems and software.

One of the bestselling computers this year has been the little Asus EEE PC, a Linux and flash memory based minicomputer that retails for around $300 for a 4 GB version. The next version will reportedly have a touch screen, as the cost of the technology decreases even further.

But one of the most interesting applications I’ve seen for touch technology is the second generation OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) system that was announced last month and is currently in research and development. The OLPC XO-2, which could be available for $75 (buy two for $150, and one gets sent to a child in a developing country), will open like a book with screens on both sides. At least one of the screens will be touch sensitive, and can be used to type, write with a stylus, play games, and navigate the system by finger instead of a mouse.

Computer World (www.computerworld.com) has called it the future of laptops, and if it functions as intuitively as the XO-1 I think I’ll definitely want to invest in an XO-2. Visit http://laptop.org for more information.

I can definitely see the benefits of touch screen technology — working with a mouse can be really tedious at times, and allowing for multiple touches permits some neat interactivity (visit www.microsoft.com/surface for a few examples of how touch screen technology can be employed). The only drawback is that touch screens require constant cleaning, and the screens have to be made out of hardened glass to make them scratch-proof.

The neat thing is that touch technology isn’t around the corner somewhere, it’s already here in phone-form. The Microsoft Surface is also being displayed at AT&T locations, and should be released in the fall.

 

Going once, going twice…

It didn’t get a lot of attention, but the Canadian government recently ended its second week of selling public airwaves once used for television to cell phone companies. The sale came about after a federal review determined last November that cellular costs were too high in Canada, and that one of the main culprits is the fact that the industry is concentrated in too few hands with too little competition in many markets.

So far the sale of public airwaves has raised about $3.1 billion. Canada’s biggest wireless providers — Rogers, Bell Canada and Telus — were excluded from the latest round of bidding where 292 licences were sold region by region. Montreal’s Quebecor had the high bid on about 27 licences, Calgary’s Shaw Communications picked up about 25 licences in Western Canada, and Bragg Communications picked up 21 licences in the Maritimes.

Telus, Rogers and Bell were able to bid on the other 60 per cent of licences up for grabs, and picked up 54, 51, and 44 licences respectively.

The sell-off is expected to continue for another week or two, at which point all the available licences should be accounted for. Bid prices were highest for urban areas, and in areas where two or more companies are already in direct competition for marketshare.

Canadians currently pay about one third more for cell service than customers in the U.S., where there is more competition. We also have the highest rates of 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The result has been a slower uptake of phones, less use and less customer loyalty. Many Canadians have been forced to choose between phone options, and cut their landlines in order to be able to afford a cell phone.

While I can applaud the federal government for increasing competition in the cell phone industry, I worry that there are no absolute guarantees that those licences won’t simply be purchased by the large telecoms down the road, or that the smaller companies won’t get taken over.

Besides, doubling the number of large telecoms in Canada isn’t going to have as much impact as they think — something like 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities, and people living in cities like Vancouver and Toronto already have a lot of choice when it comes to purchasing a cell phone service plan. Letting a few more companies into these areas isn’t going to rock the boat all that much, given how much companies spend on marketing just to be competitive in the first place.

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