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Are users getting as smart as smartphones?

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By: Tan Suat Ying

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Picture from pocketpcfaq.com Sagem WA3050, launched in 2000, one of the first smartphones.

Almost a decade ago, Tan revelled in the fact that having a Microsoft Pocket PC smartphone conferred an almost intellectual air upon him. But things are different today: “Anyone can look tech-savvy nowadays with an iPhone”, he said with a tinge of dismay.

Tan’s first smartphone was a Sagem WA3050, which he used for four years. He recalls fondly, “It was merely a PDA with phone functions, and it would often fail to receive SMS messages. But I loved reading email and e-books online.”

Smartphones are phones that offer advanced capabilities, such as a PC-like operating system and Internet access, and their growth shows no sign of stopping. Research firm Gartner reports that the sales of smartphones grew 27% in the second quarter of 2009.

Behind this growth is the easy availability of smartphone applications, or “apps”. Productivity tools, games and multimedia are offered conveniently via online “app stores” such as Apple’s iTunes App Store and Blackberry App World.

And users seem to be having fun, in particular Apple’s App Store, that has over 100,000 applications and a staggering two billion downloads last year. Developers, who create these applications, keep the apps coming.

Cyph Ho Ming Shun, a 25-year-old Java developer, is selective about the type of apps that he writes. He believes that only the top iPhone developers get most of the money.

He said, “For me, I’d rather try out the Android platform as it is a new and growing market.” Android is the latest mobile phone operating system by Google. Other mobile operating systems include Windows Mobile and Symbian. The latter comes preloaded in most Nokia phones.

But with that much technology at our disposal, some smartphone users are not using their devices as productivity tools. A recent article in The Sunday Times headlined “We’re the iPhonatics” features several iPhone users, who call it as a status symbol above all of its capabilities. The article is also peppered with mentions of games with no mention of e-mail, Internet browsing or corporate messaging capabilities in sight.

Josef Foo, a technical manager, swears by his iPhone for social reasons.

2“Pull out an iPhone and you have instant social currency, even with strangers”, said Foo, an ex-Nokia smartphone convert. “Not even Nokia phones had this kind of effect. Owning one was only like being a member of a club, just that. With the iPhone, you’re talking about apps, things that express your individuality.”

Simon Sim, a 29-year-old sales executive, is another one of those who joined the crowd, having purchased his iPhone 3G for free with a $80-per-month plan that includes unlimited Internet access. Sim says that it helps him stay connected on Facebook, and in particular, having games in his phone helps him kill time when he is bored.

He does not use the navigation capabilities or read e-books on his phone either, and judging by the numbers, he is hardly alone in just wanting to use his phone as a fun tool.

Handango, a popular online app store, reports that game sales grew from 6% to 25%, while a quick search of metrics for Apple’s App Store reveals that games and entertainment apps are tops for popularity.

On the other hand, some refuse to jump on the smartphone bandwagon for practical reasons. Tan Yin Loo, a 22-year-old university student who does not own a smartphone, confesses to being “clumsy”.

She said, “I drop my phones all the time so it would cause me a lot of heartache to drop a smartphone”.

However, it could well be that these non-smartphone users would have to join in the game eventually.  According to PEWinternet, the mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the Internet for most people in the world in 2020.

23-year-old Kristine Aquino, a student and a non-smartphone user, echoes a familiar sentiment when she said this about smartphones.

“Smartphones are complicated to use, but eventually I will have to get a smartphone. I will need it to stay connected, even if it means having to deal with the hassle of learning to adapt.”

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

Pirated software? Yes please.

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By: Christine Chua

Click. A dialogue box pops up: “Install program?” Sam clicks “Yes” and runs the illegal download in the background. He then plugs on his iPod and listens to music illegitimately ripped from a banned website while editing his photos for Facebook with the illegally downloaded Photoshop application.

The technological age today has given birth to a whole new generation of cyber pirates whose appetites grow as internet bandwidth increases.

According to Business Software Alliance (BSA), the software industry watchdog, approximately 36 percent of computers locally were running pirated software last year. “Illegal downloads are easily available and convenient,” Tarun Sawney, Senior Director of BSA, said.

Although about 200 people queued for the midnight launch of the new Microsoft Windows 7 at Funan DigitaLife Mall last Wednesday night, thousands of bootleg copies were already available online even before its official release.

This is not new. According to Microsoft’s office in Singapore, the company spokesman said that they have observed users on popular local forums discussing ways to download Microsoft’s operating system since Windows 7’s predecessor, Windows Vista 2007.

However, one should not expect the quality of pirated software to be comparable to the originals’. Those who have downloaded the bootleg copies have complained in online forums that they did not work properly.

“I don’t trust pirated software. They come with all sorts of bugs and worms. Why risk it when the price of the original Windows 7 is slashed by more than half? I think it’s already quite reasonable!” Yong Huang, 47, a customer who queued up for the launch of Windows 7, said.

Indeed, there are risks that come along with pirated software. According to John Pozadzies, CEO of iFusion Labs, hackers embed many malwares in popular software then distribute them freely online for people to install. “There is a hidden payload. Your whole digital world can be at risk by downloading from illegitimate sources,” he added.

The Intellectual Property Academy Singapore conducted a research on 1000 adults about illegal downloading in 2005. 61% (of the respondents) felt that authorities are unlikely to take action against them if they download pirated materials, as it would mean having to take action against most Singaporeans.

“It is too easy. All you have to do is just type in the software’s name in Google. Then, install it with a torrent downloader like LimeWire or uTorrent. It’s almost idiot-proof!” Bryan, 21, an undergraduate in a private tertiary institution, said.

For the less technologically inclined, one can always rely on word-of-mouth. According to Jocelyn Tan, a first-year polytechnic student, she would consult her more technologically savvy friends for step-by-step instructions on downloading the software that she wants. Then, she would pass on that knowledge to her other friends.

The government is actively clamping down on the sale of illegal software. In 2006, an interior design firm was convicted under the Copyright Act. Just last year, police raided a company at Orchard Towers for using copyright infringing software. Plain-clothes police officers have also arrested countless illegal software pushcart stallholders.

Still, people find their way around legal enforcement. Illegal products can still be purchased across the Causeway or bought online from syndicates who will deliver these discs via a courier. These couriers then meet up at customers’ convenience with the condition of cash-on-delivery. The process is easy and leaves no trace of customers’ records.

There are also laws to keep piracy at bay. The Copyright Act punishes those who download pirated materials excessively, but this law is rarely enforced. Similarly, copyright owners shun from suing these people due to the high costs of litigation and possible public backlash against the corporate plaintiffs.

“Everyone around me is downloading illegally. The chances of me getting arrested are lower than striking Toto! I cannot bring myself to buy software at around 200 dollars when I know that somewhere on the internet, I can get it absolutely free,” Matthew, 34, a manager of an electronics company, said.

“Not everyone can afford expensive software that can only install up to three times. Pirated software can install for infinite times. Nobody is proud to be a pirate but it’s just too tempting,” he added.

 

 

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:34 am

iPhone fever hits new levels in Singapore

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By: Sidney Wong

Jenny Ng was once proud to be an iPhone 3GS owner, having braved the queues at SingTel’s ComCentre headquarters for nine hours to get her hands on the latest model during the Jul.10 launch event.

Her happiness faded, however, after M1 announced a successful partnership with Apple to offer the iPhone later this year.

“If I knew M1 is going to bring in iPhone, I would not have spent so much time and effort queuing up, thinking that I would be among the exclusive group of people owning the phone in Singapore,” the 35-year-old operations manager said.

SingTel has had a tight hold on the lucrative market since securing the exclusive rights from Apple in August 2008. But when M1 and StarHub’s discussions with Apple continued to show promise late last year, some iPhone fans decided to sit tight and wait before switching network providers.

“I have always wanted to get an iPhone but I did not want to switch service provider. Fortunately, I waited and my patience paid off now,” 20-year-old M1 customer Adeline Yeong said.

Yeong added that she contemplated long and hard about switching to SingTel, having been a loyal M1 customer for four years. She was relieved that M1’s successful partnership with Apple finally dissolved her two-year excruciating dilemma.

M1’s partnership with Apple certainly ended the agony of many Singaporeans like Yeong, who have waited anxiously for M1 or StarHub to break SingTel’s monopoly over the iPhone market in Singapore.

M1 stated in an Oct. 13 press release that the company looked forward to offering iPhones, along with a range of tailored service plans to customers. While information on pricing and availability dates are still unavailable, the smart phone’s fans foresee pricing competition between M1 and SingTel.

“I think there is going to be cut-throat competition between M1 and SingTel. I think M1 will be embarking on an aggressive marketing campaign. Customers like me stand to benefit,” 16-year-old iPhone fanatic Lin Jiamin said.

Anticipating potential competition from M1, SingTel has assured customers in an Oct. 16 press release that it will review price plans on a regular basis to ensure they get the best value.

M1’s announcement also drew attention to StarHub, the only telecommunication company in Singapore left negotiating with Apple. The iPhone mania has reached fever pitch for StarHub customers, who feel that the company is  not doing enough to close the deal.

“It is time for StarHub to wake up its idea. It has already lost the EPL broadcast rights. What is next? Mobile phone subscribers? I am going to switch service provider when my contract ends in November,” 35-year-old restaurant manager Marcus Pang said.

He added that he has been waiting since last year for a ray of hope that StarHub will clinch the deal with Apple. Pang has rejected numerous mobile phone upgrade promotions from StarHub, thinking that he will one day re-contract his line to get the iPhone.

Despite customers’ outcry and dissatisfaction, StarHub remains firm that it values customers’ feedback and they are important to the company.

“We are still interested in the iPhone and are working out a deal with Apple. There is no time line set as to when we are going to secure the deal. Meanwhile, StarHub will continue to provide attractive smartphone prices and plans for our customers,” marketing executive Adrian Wong said.

StarHub’s sales seem to be unaffected by the iPhone saga, as evidenced by the huge crowd of customers queueing up for phone promotions in the provider’s main outlet at Vivocity.

Seven out of 10 customers interviewed said that they were nonchalant about the iPhone fever and did not buy into the hype as they wanted simple phones without the bells and whistles.

“I don’t need the multimedia features of iPhone. I prefer the Nokia E-series mobile phones for their strong business features such as long battery life and user-friendly interface,” 40-year-old assistant manager Raymond Wong said.

M1 hopes to capitalize on the upcoming Christmas festive season as shoppers look to end the year on a good note. M1 Sales representative Lee Fang Mun believes that M1 stores will be flooded with both new and existing customers when iPhone arrives in stores.

“There seems to be no cure for the iPhone fever now. The hype and novelty of owning an iPhone can be too irresistible for some people who may consider jumping on the bandwagon,” Lee added.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:33 am

Internet Vigilantes in the Making

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By Kuik Kian Wei
October 28, 2009

“BOOMZ!”

The word was all over the web page as Jason Tan scrolled down the News Feed section of his Facebook account. He was both shocked and amused by the phenomenon, as the eye-catching word was posted by many of his friends as comments.

It did not take him long to satisfy his curiosity towards the phenomenon. Edited videos depicting the sensation were being shared frantically on Facebook as well.

Ris Low, the original Miss Singapore World 2009, was the protagonist of the sensation. Weeks after being crowned in August, edited videos that mocked Low’s deficiency in the English language during an interview with RazorTV were posted on YouTube and circulated via Facebook.

“If I’m feeling naughty, then I’ll wear something red and loud, something you know… Boomz,” Low said in the interview.

The exclamation that Low introduced generated a wave of commotion towards the interview on the Internet. Some netizens began to take the role of internet vigilantes and posted their strong opinions about Low’s language proficiency and poor representation of the country’s image.

One comment on YouTube read, “She just gives us all a bad name, like we can’t speak our first languages.”

Some comments were even defamatory in nature, either towards the Low or a netizen with opposing views. There were also some comments in her defence. One comment on the same page read, “I think people should give her a break. She’s like only 19.”

The amount of comments show no signs of stopping, as new comments still appear on a daily basis. The proliferation of criticisms reveals a trend of social policing on the Internet.

Social policing, which is done by these internet vigilantes, used to be a phenomenon that was common only in STOMP, where perceived bad behaviours of people are being photographed and posted online.

Today, it is becoming more prevalent with Facebook and YouTube.

For instance, there were more then 2,000 comments on a YouTube video featuring an interview of Low  even though the video had only been online for  less than two months. On the other hand, discussions about a hot topic on STOMP, has only approximately 150 comments at its very best, illustrating a stark contrast to YouTube.

Ho Chi Sam, the winner of the Most Insightful Blog Award for the Singapore Blog Awards 2009, said that netizens posted such comments despite their defamatory nature as they think their  comments are  justified.

“People definitely are more brazen when they air their opinions online, and all the more are they brazen in upkeeping what they feel is politically correct,”Ho said.

Ho also commented that the Internet offers a domain for people to voice their suppressed opinions.  Social media networks are now becoming outlets for internet vigilantes to vent and voice out their opinions.

“Perhaps we are so politically and economically disempowered, we seek a release in social policing to maintain our idea of what is politically correct,” Ho said.

“We do what we feel is politically correct, and around public figures we feel comfortable in attacking,” he added.

Such disempowerment has caused even the mainstream media to turn to YouTube; the latest stint on YouTube about Ris Low was a parody done by Phua Chu Kang, a sitcom character from Channel 5, who “gets interviewed Miss Singapore Style”.

Such participation of the mainstream media created more awareness and controversies towards the issue.

One comment on the parody video read, “Go and watch her interview with Channel NewsAsia! Just when I was about to forget about this incident.” This fuelled more opinions from netizens.

“The Internet will continue to expand as a space for the public to voice their opinions as the print, radio and television media are too limited in space and too constraining in their demands, including the proper use of languages,” said Dr. Chua Beng Huat, a lecturer teaching at the Department of Sociology in the National University of Singapore.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:28 am

Tertiary students hooked on Facebook games

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By Basu Mallick Koustav

The bell rings, signaling the end of school. Classes file out quickly as students rush to attend unscheduled project meetings, leave school for dinner appointments..

This is not the case for Gan Cheng Chuan, a 25-year-old marketing major at the Singapore Institute of Management. He rushes home to check the status of his Facebook account. He gets through the basic tasks of responding to friend requests and updating his status. For him, the highlight of Facebook are the games that he gets to play. Facebook is a social networking site for individuals to maintain and expand their social network. Facebook usersadd games as applications which will then appear on the user’s profile.

A straw poll revealed that 4 out of 5 university students who own a Facebook account play at least one Facebook game. Though there is no harm in relieving stress from daily activities, university students are playing Facebook games to such an extent that it appears to be disrupting their student life.

Gan said, “I am always checking the status of my games online. I do it during lectures and during study sessions with friends. I even do it on the bus home. I really think I am addicted”.

Gan checks the status of his games online, thanks to “Facebook for iphone”.   The latest version of “Facebook for iphone”, a free application for the phone and iPod Touch, was recently launched in August 2009. Such applications  reinforce this constant need to check one’s status of Facebook games.

This seemingly addictive behaviour is not due to the game itself. Alex Mitchell, a lecturer at the National University of Singapore Communications and New Media Department said, “I don’t think the medium causes disruption, it just provides a new outlet for existing predispositions.”

According to http://www.topfacebookgames.com, the current top Facebook games include Mafia Wars, Pet Society, Farmville, CastleAge and Restaurant City. The format of the more popular games now could why tertiary students are attracted to them.

Games such as Farmville and CastleAge differ in their format from previous games such as Bejeweled Blitz and Text Twirl. Bejeweled Blitz and Text Twirl involve a one off experience where a time limit is set and a player needs to achieve a high score. Games such as Farmville and CastleAge, on the other hand, require the player to build up his game character over time in order to move on to the next stage.

The game continues even after the player has logged out. Cheng Lim Wan Ian, a 24 year old Chemical Engineering student at the National University of Singapore said, “I have a test on Thursday so I plant potatoes (on Farmville) which take three days to harvest. So I plant it on Monday and then I can harvest them after my test.”

Another reason why Facebook games are popular is that they are a free and convenient source of entertainment. Facebookgames also require a communal effort  as players need to invite friends to move on to the next stage. This creates a new platform where current friendships can be strengthened. Kelvin Pang, a 24-year-old mass communication student at the Nanyang Technological University said, “Facebook games can help to strengthen ties between acquaintances and adds another aspect to the relationship.”

Alternatively, players can add random people and create false profiles to advance in the game. Pang , who spends 2 hours daily playing Facebook games, said, “I have created four other profiles to add them as friends. I am just desperate to add more people to advance in the game.”

The popularity of Facebook games do not seem  waning anytime soon. Tertiary students have to decide for themselves the appropriate amount of time they are going to spend on Facebook harvesting carrots, killing dragons and taking care of pets.

In the meantime, university students should take this piece of advice from one of their lecturers, Iccha Basynat, at the National University of Singapore Communications and New Media Department. She says “ Online games are a blessing and a curse. it is only as disruptive as one lets it to be.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:24 am

“Tweeting” in the campus

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By: Audrey

A tweeting sound interrupts NUS undergraduate Ngeow Jiawen’s concentration as she looked up from her revision notes and checked her Blackberry. After tapping on some keys, she set her phone aside and turned back to her notes. Seconds later, another tweeting sound had Jiawen checking her phone again.

Sitting at the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum listening to the Prime Minister’s speech, Bernard Chen was tapping away on his iPhone, “tweeting” about what the minister was talking about and giving his thoughts about the different topics.

“I first used Twitter during the AWARE general meeting and was microblogging live from the event,” Chen, a first year undergraduate, said.

“I started tweeting on an almost daily basis when I obtained my iPhone and I usually tweet about my thoughts and comments on socio-political issues,” Chen added.

Since Twitter’s public launch in March 2006, Twitter has grown exponentially, gaining 32.1 million users in May 2009 according to The Wall Street Journal. This growth shows no signs of stopping.

Everybody is on Twitter; from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey to Barack Obama who used Twitter for his presidential campaign. Even Singapore’s own press publications such as Straits Times, TODAYonline and Channelnewsasia tweet daily.

Sam Ho, a teaching assistant from the Communications and New Media department said he signed up for Twitter after hearing that it was used in President Obama’s presidential campaign and wanted to see “what the fuss was all about.” Ho, an avid blogger on race, religion and sexual minority issues, said he uses Twitter to expand his web presence and tries to update daily.

A number of NUS undergraduates have also jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. Tweeting is fast becoming a familiar activity among students as many have incorporated Twitter into their personal lives and are active users.

Fourth-year Communications and New Media majors Atticus Foo and Jeremy Teo signed up because they were curious about this new social media platform. Both of them said that they use Twitter to receive news updates on issues that interest them such as sports and technology.

Peer pressure also contributes to the heightening interest in Twitter. Psychology majors Shawn Tan and Angela Koo said they joined because their friends were already on it.

Twitter is used differently by Audrey Tan, a fourth year new media major to complement her work in Qik, a start-up company that streams videos, using it as a “support tool to help answer questions that Qik users are facing”.

While the students are quick to adopt this new trend, the institution is not lagging behind.

Aaron Tay, a librarian for the Central Library, said that the NUS libraries’ Twitter account is used to “push quick updates or announcements to our users as well as respond quickly to their short queries on library resources and services”.

Tay added that the Library is still at the exploratory stage of using Twitter so they have not publicized much about their presence on Twitter. In future, the Libary intends to incorporate Twitter in its website.

Although some students are aware that NUS departments are on Twitter, they are mostly dismissive of it.

“It’s just (that) the kind of information they are broadcasting is inappropriate for twitter and I’m perfectly happy with the emails that they send out,” Shawn Tan, a third year Psychology major, said.

“Putting them on twitter with a one liner and an external link is just an additional step that I think is unnecessary,” Tan added.

Similarly, Chen acknowledges the attempts to reach out to students who do not like to read long emails but thinks that direct communication such as roadshows are still more effective.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:21 am

Voyeuristic Singaporeans get their kicks on STOMP

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By: Chng Ming Li

3Yelling loudly, she whacked his groin and face relentlessly with her high-heeled shoe and then grabbed and yanked his genitals.

With the couple’s argument on a public street in broad daylight, it was easy for someone to capture it on tape and post the video on the Straits Times citizen journalism website STOMP.

Soon after, the video was posted on Youtube, garnered 52,000 views and led to endless forum discussions on Singapore websites such as singaporebikes.com and theonlinecitizen.com.

While some online commentators noted that the couple’s car plate number was easily visible from the many photos and videos of the incident, netizens did not bother tracking down the couple and were happy to keep the discussions online.

In other countries, however, netizens take more drastic action through a phenomenon known as human flesh search engines.

Human flesh search engines enable netizens to gather personal information about “offenders.” They use the information to expose and harass offenders through death threats and incessant phone calls, causing some of them to even lose their jobs.

Such was the case of China’s infamous cat-killer, who posted a video of herself killing her cat with stiletto heels. After the offending video was posted, netizens took action via these search engines and exposed her for public ridicule and shame.

According to Luis A. Tapia, director of a documentary on human flesh search engines, such incidents allow ordinary citizens to become watchdogs of sorts.

“Contributors become detectives and are entertained by it. They think it’s a good avenue to seek justice because China’s laws are imperfect,” he said.

Back in Singapore, netizens do not go to such extremes and stick to simply posting and discussing various examples of public annoyances, such as inconsiderate train commuters and students displaying overt affection in public.

Still, some think that this alone can be considered a privacy breach and should be curbed immediately.

Tan Yishu, one of the people behind the cause “Stomp out STOMP,” said the website should be revamped as it encourages the culture of voyeurism and destroys the lives of those Singaporeans who become unwitting public subjects.

“The type of news covered ranges from the banal to the mundane, to the downrightly outrageous invasion of privacy,” Tan adds.

On Oct. 21, STOMP user Chole posted a photo of National University of Singapore undergraduates who left their rubbish behind after a meal at a McDonald’s outlet.

On the Singapore Seen page, Chole asked, “Are NUS undergraduates too highly-educated?”

In response to the photo, fourth year New Media student Jaime Yeo said, “STOMP is completely pointless and resembles a gossip page where people with absolutely nothing to do will visit and make insignificant comments.”

Some students such as Joanna Koh are dissatisfied with STOMP and think that editors should take a closer look at where the portal is heading.

“STOMP is not fulfilling its aims to engage with citizen journalism, it is just generating complaints after complaints. There are repeated photos of ugly commuters eating in the train, refusing to give up their seats or taking up too much space. There is no substance or value in the reporting. It is not encouraging informative, deep discussion amongst Singaporeans,” said the third year Statistics major.

Don Sim, a fourth year Computing student, concurs and said that surveillance and embarrassment would not serve to educate Singaporeans.

These negative, however, remarks seem to have little effect on STOMP’s online presence. Statistics from Alexia.com show that STOMP’s visitor rates have steadily climbed since the 2006 launch of hyper local section Singapore Seen. The website also declares that the number of STOMP contributors are “growing every month.”

It appears that while STOMP critics have panned the website, it remains to have incredible appeal for a lot of Singaporeans. According to STOMP user Koh Yoke Chan, it is perhaps the website’s ability to resonate with its Singaporean audience that gives it staying power.

“It shows a slice of Singaporean life and portray issues that we should not ignore,” he said.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:20 am