A look at browsers and music

My friend (and mesh 2008 interview subject) Ethan Kaplan, the vice-president of technology at Warner Brothers Records, has posted an interesting analysis of the browsers and devices that have been accessing the websites of Warner artists. Internet Exploder still makes up the majority of the traffic, but the interesting part is what has been happening in the bottom 1 per cent or so of the access logs: a growing proportion of devices that aren’t computers. At those levels the numbers are going to be erratic, given the small proportion of users — most of whom are likely “edge cases” — but it’s still interesting.

There are iPhones and Nokia mobiles, not surprisingly, but also PlayStations (portables and PS3s), Nintendo Wiis, Danger smartphones and others. As Ethan notes in the post, this is just one part of an ongoing evolution in Web access, with more and more people using their phones and high-definition TVs (as billionaire Mark Cuban points out in typically bombastic fashion) to browse content — and that will have an impact on how content is designed, delivered and consumed. What exactly that impact is, of course, no one really knows, but there’s no question that Google is thinking about what that means.

Shifd: A solution looking for a problem?

I have to say, I think it is very cool that a couple of Web developers who work for the New York Times came up with Shifd, a mobile app that lets you store links, notes and maps that are accessible from your regular browser or from a mobile device. That said, however, I still don’t see why I would use it (although to be fair, I’ve only played around with it a bit). To me, it looks like a solution in search of a problem.

The idea behind Shifd.com is that you sign up for the app, which uses Adobe’s AIR platform, and then you can store links to sites or news stories you want to visit or read later, and you can store notes, and you can send yourself maps or location-type information. Like Erick Schonfeld, I’m wondering why I wouldn’t just do those things either inside a mobile browser — using a bookmarking service such as del.icio.us, for example — or through a mobile app like Google Maps.

The other alternative, of course, as mentioned by a number of commenters at TechCrunch and elsewhere, is to just email yourself the link or the note. I regularly send myself emails that have certain keywords in them, knowing that I can search through Gmail quickly and find them. All I really need is a way to aggregate those easily based on keyword and feed them into something like Remember The Milk. And this looks like a cool example of what can be done with tags and del.icio.us.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Wagstaff of Loose Wire has some thoughts about how something like Shifd could be used by newspapers and others as an information delivery and/or storage mechanism. Maybe it does have its uses after all. It wouldn’t be the first app that was designed for one thing and wound up being used for something else.

Microsoft buys Danger, renames it Safety

It’s been awhile since Microsoft did anything really game-changing in the mobile space. Windows Mobile devices, and they work fine most of the time, but they are about as exciting as dry toast (of course, if you’re British, dry toast is pretty exciting). Now, Microbeast seems to want to step up its game, with the purchase of Danger Inc., maker of the Sidekick. But will it bring any life to Microsoft’s mobile efforts?

Like my recuperating friend Om Malik at GigaOm, I’ve been following Danger from the early days, when Andy Rubin started the company and got backing from some senior VC types to shake things up in the mobile space. And the Sidekick handset did that — even the first version, which was kind of clunky, was a pleasure to use, with its flip-out swivelling screen and keypad, and the focus on instant messaging and text messaging.

The mobile industry is a pretty vicious place, though, and Danger was arguably underfunded from the beginning. It was also (as Om notes) a closed system, and so didn’t get a lot of juice from downloadable apps or plugins. And Andy Rubin has since left the company and is now running Google’s mobile Android project. I see the Microsoft acquisition going one of two ways: Danger could bring some creativity into Microsoft, or the beast from Redmond could crush all the life out of the tiny startup. I’ll leave you to guess which of the two is more likely.

Better browser = higher phone bills

Like my friend Paul Kedrosky, I think the reason for the jump in browser usage by those with iPhones should be fairly obvious: the iPhone browser is actually a pleasure to use, rather than a gigantic pain in the ass that renders pages badly and makes you want to stab yourself in the eyeballs or throw your phone off a bridge somewhere. Nevertheless, it’s still kind of amazing that the iPhone, with 2 per cent of the market, could overtake (even briefly) Symbian with 60 per cent of the market.

As a Canadian — and therefore a hostage to some of the most uncompetitive mobile-phone service in the northern hemisphere — this happy result for iPhone makes me wonder what the future holds when (or if) we ever get these magical devices in the great white north. Since even the “unlimited” data plans that some carriers have aren’t truly unlimited, I can’t help but think that a better browser means more browsing, which means higher bills. Unless Uncle Steve puts some pressure on.

Update:

At least one analyst is expecting Apple to announce the Canadian iPhone (hat tip to Mark Evans for the link). And if you’re listening, Ted Rogers? Don’t do this.

AT&T discovers that it’s “open” too

Is being “open” the new black? Now AT&T — jealous of all the free publicity that Verizon has gotten for opening up its network to any mobile device — is trying to get some mileage out of the idea too, by telling USA Today that it is more open than anyone else (unless you want to take your iPhone somewhere else, of course — they’re still pretty closed to that).

Of course, as Ryan Block at Engadget and Rafat Ali at MocoNews and Mike Masnick at Techdirt point out, the carrier hasn’t done anything to become more open; all it is referring to is the fact that GSM phones have a personal SIM card that can be taken out and put in any other phone (including an iPhone, as many Canadians have discovered to their delight), and that handset can then be used on the network. Presto — open. Nice try, AT&T.