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August 31, 2009

Thought Leadership for the Wireless Industry
In This Issue
Taking on the Talking/Texting While Driving Issue
Could Amazon Take on Apple?
Webcast: Wireless Trends and Directions- Planning for 2010
Aug. 13, 2009. Archived Version Available!

CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment
Oct.7-9, San Diego
Moderating Mobile Apps Panel

Open Mobile Summit
Nov. 4-5, San Fran.
Operator fireside chat

Crystal Ball Conference
April 7, 2010, Montreal
Speech on wireless

Always On Venture Summit East
May 20-22, Boston
Moderated Mobile Session
Hello all,
In this month's Lens, I take on the challenging issue of talking/texting while driving, arguing that rather than focusing on the legislative slide, we could be more pro-active as an industry in developing creative products and solutions. See also my August Fierce Wireless column, where I posit that Amazon could prove a viable competitor to the Apple App Store juggernaut.
Thanks to the many of you who joined the webcast, Wireless Trends and Directions: Planning for 2010. We received very positive reviews. For those who might have missed it, the full version - audio and presentation - is available for download.
Finally, I'd like to draw your attention to the Open Mobile Summit, which will be held November 4-5 in San Francisco. This is an important topic, as we debate new and alternative business models for a more open ecosystem. All of the major players in this debate will be represented. I'll be leading a fireside chat with representatives of mobile operators.

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Taking on the Talking/Texting While Driving Issue
OK, let's admit it. Nearly all of us talk on the phone while driving. And many of us occasionally check email or text - if not while actually driving, when we're stopped at a light or sitting in traffic. I don't really want to get into a "freedom vs. nanny-state" philosophical debate here, other than to say that this is becoming a high-profile issue: more users, more smartphones, more messaging - juxtaposed against more publicity about distraction-related accidents, numerous studies pointing to the dangers, and a growing number of states implementing some sort of legislation (Utah being the most severe, so far).
The issue is tough because it's nuanced - simply talking on your phone isn't any worse than a lot of other potentially "distracting" actions people regularly engage in while driving - from handing things to their kids in the back seat to adjusting their radios or checking their navigation systems. But if talking is OK, looking at the keypad or screen to dial a number or check an email or text is not safe, under any circumstances. Actually composing emails/tweets/texts while the car is anything but parked is way over the line. The more people who do that, the more it will cause over-regulation of behavior that might be considered more reasonable in certain contexts. 
Wireless operators and the CTIA have become more proactive on this issue of late, especially on the texting issue. Verizon Wireless has been the most aggressive - recommending on its Web site that people not use their phones at all while driving. But even Verizon has stopped short of advocating this as public policy, and we're not yet seeing "talk responsibly" messages tacked on TV ads.
Where I think we've really missed as an industry is not turning this issue into more of a product opportunity. Last week, I walked into several different wireless stores and asked what options there are for handsfree use. All defaulted to showing me a series of undifferentiated Bluetooth kits. A couple mentioned OnStar. None could recommend a good, affordable after-market car kit. And not one store rep mentioned the voice dialing/voice control solutions available on more than a third of U.S. handsets.
We need to take a cue from the TomToms and Garmins of the world, and develop an affordable, portable, after-market handsfree mobile kit - combining the best of Bluetooth, on-device voice solutions, and features of certain in-vehicle systems. The most important element is that it not be proprietary to a particular device or car. Here's my wish list of what it would consist of:
  • Dock. A solidly mounted dock, which would accept a variety of phone types and sizes (OEMs would provide an adaptor in the likely event we couldn't agree on a standard). A universal docking solution would better accommodate multi-phone and multi-vehicle households. As soon as the phone is placed in the dock, there can be a "car-mode", which might, for example, automatically disable use of the keypad and keyboard, turn on the phone's speaker, or route audio through the car's sound system.
  • Better echo-cancellation technology. All but the best car kits still don't do a good job of drowning out road noise and other ambient noise that exists in a car. It is interesting that some of the technology developed to improve Bluetooth performance in noisy environments has not been better adapted for cars.
  • More comprehensive voice control solutions. I still find that this space has too many "point solutions" or applications: voice dialing, voice search, voice SMS, and so on. And although speech recognition is much more reliable than it used to be, the experience is still not zippy enough and can often require too many steps to be effective. These solutions could also be better adapted to, and perform better, in a vehicle environment.
  • Better integration with phone's address book/speed dials/contacts. We need to more effectively accommodate the multiple types of contact and dialing databases, from speed dial list to phone address book to imported Outlook or even network-based lists. This is easier said than done, but APIs for proprietary phone databases are starting to be opened up.
  • Value-added services. Why must traffic info be a feature of navigation systems? How about leveraging the phone's GPS info with a voice command that says "traffic" and any tie-ups, accidents, construction, etc. within a 20-mile radius is spoken back?
  • Messaging should also be included here, as voicemail, email, and text are primarily visual and are becoming more integrated. There have been many attempts at voice-based email or SMS, using speech-recognition and/or text-to-speech. The technology here continues to improve, from vendors such as Nuance, Vlingo, SpinVox, and some good iPhone apps.
There are also a number of third-party solutions emerging to deal with the issue. A start-up called Zoomsafer has developed a solution that automatically detects when users are driving and activates a set of "vehicle mode" services, such as locking the keypad and suppressing inbound calls to priority contacts. Solutions such as these might be too over-the-top for some users, but recognizing the right context is important, and placing the onus on personal responsibility would be preferred to legislation that over-reaches.
The industry could also be more proactive about marketing and promoting available solutions. A good example here is Nuance. Their voice control solution is on hundreds of millions of handsets (no small feat here), yet only a small subset of subscribers use the product on a regular basis. Leading solutions vendors, OEMs, operators, and even the CTIA could get more involved and sponsor a Web site promoting best practices and available solutions. Retail store employees should also be made more knowledgeable about what's available and be more proactive in demonstrating their features and benefits to users.
If we can be more proactive as an industry, encouraging subscribers to  take on more personal responsibility in addressing what's clearly a hot-button issue, lives will be saved. And we might be able to avoid over-zealous legislation in the process.
Webcast: Wireless Trends and Directions: Planning for 2010

Still available for listening and viewing!

We had a very successful Webcast on August 13. The archived version is still available.  Mobile Dashboard: Wireless Trends and Directions, presented in partnership with Fierce Wireless. This fast-paced, metric and analysis packed presentation will help you start planning for 2010. Many reports and events focus on specific topics, but this Webcast will cover the breadth of the mobile value chain:
  • Operator strategies
  • Network evolution
  • Key device trends
  • Business model shifts
  • Developments in key product areas
  • VC and M&A trends
  • Our "hot list" of exciting companies and technologies 
I'll be joined by top-ranked Wireless Services analyst David Barden, Managing Director, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who will present the Street's outlook for wireless in 2010, and John Jackson, a leading device analyst with CCS Insights and a former Yankee Group VP.

CLICK HERE for more information and to register.  
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