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TR: Smart Phones, iRobots and the Week in Review

Smart phones have killed PDAs and become a remote control for users’ lives…the U.S. readies its iRobot snipers…digital television and recorders are at a crossroads.

The Ubiquitous Smart Phone:

That cell phone which people have become so attached to is rapidly evolving into the life remote control dreamed about so many years ago. It’s not just a communication device. It’s a video-game system, a bus pass, a doctor, and holds the collected works of Voltaire.

School’s out, and the smart phones are about to rush home.

The Associated Press reported last week that the smart phone market is expanding so fast that it’s eliminating the personal digital assistant. Sony just dropped its entire PDA line, and there is little wonder why.

The folks at eWEEK reported back from the 3GSM World Conference in Cannes that, next year, there will be phones that scan documents and send them as high-quality faxes. Phones that use their camera as a mouse control. And, in Asia, there will be camera phones that top 6-megapixel resolution.

Imagine what doctors could do with that. There’s a report in JAMA this month that current camera phone technology already offers sharp enough images that a doctor sitting in the University Hospital of Geneva can diagnose leg wounds on a man in Botswana.

Ok, forget the doctors. Imagine what video-game companies could do with that. According to SiliconValley.com, companies like Digital Chocolate and Sorrent are vying for their share of the soon-to-be $1.5-billion mobile gaming industry by using smart phones’ voice and camera features to create new interactive games.

For the intellectual smart-phone users, AP reports that Random House has bought into VOCEL, a San Diego-based company that provides downloadable applications for cell phones. The publishing house probably won’t start offering full-fledged cell phone novels at least not in the United States. Its first project will be to provide foreign language tutorials that combine text with audio content – and a steady stream of video game how-to guides.

In Japan, though, the smart phone is getting into more practical applications. NTT DoCoMo announced it will begin testing smart cards that work as train passes.

But with all those other smart phone users around, be careful not to keep the sniffer on F-Secure reported that the mobile-phone worm Cabir is making the rounds.

The Robots Among Us:

What good is it to be human? Robots seem to be more disciplined, durable and efficient. This is why, as the New York Times reported, there will be gun-totin’ bots in Iraq as soon as April.

But let’s give humanity its props too. For example, we’re pretty good on two feet, even thought the AP is reporting robots that have finally managed to get pretty good at strolling along.

The Life and Times of Digital Television:

As the TechnologyReview.com reported last Friday, a District of Columbia Circuit panel said the Federal Communication Commission stepped too far out of its sphere of influence when, in November of 2003, it stated that every consumer electronics device that can receive digital television broadcasts must be able to recognize embedded “broadcast flags” by July 2005.

The flags are meant to halt unauthorized distribution of programming over the internet. “Are washing machines next?” one judge asked.

In the meanwhile, SiliconValley.com is wondering whether TiVo, the pioneer of digital video recording, is shopping for a buyout to survive; while the tech gurus at PC Magazine are wondering why everyone doesn’t just use the free software system MythTV.

Identity Crisis:

The first lawsuit was filed last week arising from ChoicePoint’s mistake of selling the personal data of at least 145,000 people to scam artists who had set up phony companies. But, as Wired News reports, those seeking compensation are going to have a rough time of it. Courts historically have been unwilling to hold companies responsible for identity theft when the victims are not direct customers.

On the bright side, the AP reported that a Senate committee will soon be holding hearings to decide if information brokers like ChoicePoint should be federally regulated.

HPothesis:

It’s been a rough month for the folks at Hewlett-Packard. After firing CEO Carly Fiorina, in part over her decision to focus the company resources on the printer and ink departments,  Reuters reported last week that HP is being sued by a Gerorgia woman who claims that the microchips in the company’s printer cartridges shut off ink flow at a predetermined date, regardless of how much ink is actually left.

The hits just keep on coming as well. HP also faces a lawsuit former employee turned whistleblower Robert Hinden who claims that the company and its spin-off Agilent Technologies knowingly produced faulty medical equipment. Hinden won a $ 7 million judgment in 2002 based on the similiar claims.

Shuffling Numbers:

IDC reported Thursday that Apple is probably making a 35 percent profit on each IPod Shuffle it sells. The device retails for $99, but the components only cost about $59. This number doesn’t include other costs like labor or shipping.

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