Archive for December, 2012


Thursday, December 20th, 2012


Air quality is one of those things that many of us should be more concerned about, but aren’t. According to some people, this is because we’re not easily able to know how clean the air around us really is – we just assume it’s “clean enough.” Computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego have set out to change that. They’re developing a compact, portable air pollution sensor that communicates with the user’s smartphone, to provide real-time air quality readings for their immediate surroundings.

Known as CitiSense, the device is able to measure local concentrations of ozone, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, which are the pollutants emitted most by internal combustion vehicles. That data is wirelessly transmitted to the user’s smartphone, where it’s displayed on the screen via a custom app – along with an actual number rating, the display also utilizes the EPA’s color code scale, where green is good and purple … isn’t.

One of the ideas behind the sensors is that if commercialized, they would allow everyday people to be more proactive when it comes to air pollution. Users could avoid areas where the levels are dangerously high, for example, and would perhaps be more motivated to pressure local authorities to do something about the problem.

Also, data gathered from a multitude of the sensors throughout a region could provide the public with much more detailed and accurate air quality reports than is currently possible. According to the university, although San Diego County measures approximately 4,000 square miles (10,360 sq km), it is currently served by only about ten air-quality monitoring stations.

A prototype of the CitiSense sensor

A prototype of the CitiSense sensor

To test the technology, 30 people were given prototype CitiSense sensors to use in their everyday lives for a period of four weeks. Among other things, the test subjects discovered that air pollution is worse in particular highly-localized areas – it’s not just evenly diluted throughout the air. Not surprisingly, it was likewise noted that certain times of day are more hazardous than others.

Unfortunately for those of us who do our part to reduce pollution, it was also found that people who cycled or waited for the bus along a given route were exposed to more airborne pollutants than those who drove the same route.

The sensors presently cost US$1,000 per unit to build, but the researchers are confident that the price could be greatly reduced by mass production – they could conceivably even be incorporated into commercial smartphones. Although the constant data exchange between the prototype sensors and their paired phones is a considerable drain on the phones’ batteries, that could reportedly be addressed by limiting such exchanges to spaced intervals, or only when requested by the user.

North Carolina-based tech firm RTI International is developing a somewhat similar gadget known as the MicroPEM (Personal Exposure Monitoring device), although it doesn’t provide real-time readings. The University of Southern California has also created an Android app that uses the phone’s camera to measure particulate matter in the atmosphere, but it doesn’t determine what those particles consist of.

Source: University of California, San Diego


Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Thursday, December 13th, 2012

A staggering unbelievable $147,908 for a mobile phone bill. WOW..!!

And it’s not the only one that seems too staggering to believe, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. He says some phone customers travel overseas, only to find a phone bill more expensive than their trip upon their return.

After the ombudsman got involved, the bill was reduced to reflect Australian charges only – $1147. But other consumers have also complained to the ombudsman’s office about bills of $38,000 and $18,000.

Have you received a shocking bill? Email us.

The six-figure bill near $150,000 belonged to a woman who went on a nine-week trip to Europe. She told ombudsman Simon Cohen that she had arranged a special plan while she was away, but it failed to come through in time.

The three bills were among $8 million worth of disputed global roaming charges between July 2011 and last September.

The figures are revealed in the ombudsman’s quarterly report, released on Thursday.

The number of complaints has decreased, Mr Cohen said.

Many are about mobile services and bills of more than $5000.

The number of new complaints decreased by almost 19 per cent, he said, between April and June this year, and fell another 11 per cent between July and September.

“Complaints about customer service, complaint handling and billing have reduced, which is good news for consumers and service providers alike,” Mr Cohen said in a statement.

“The challenge will be to keep up this positive trend over the summer months, when demand for new services and products is high.”

Mr Cohen’s office reported that the postcode with the most complaints was Docklands in Melbourne, with 4.9 for every 1000 people. Parramatta in Sydney followed, with 4.7 complaints per 1000 people.


Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha


Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

China’s Xiaomi Technology is a fairytale for nerdy entrepreneurs.

Less than three years after its founding, the smartphone maker is valued at $US4 billion and evokes Apple-like adoration from its fans, some of whom are desperate enough to skip work for a shot at buying the latest product the day it goes on sale.

China’s media say I am China’s Steve Jobs, 

Founder Lei Jun dresses like the late Steve Jobs, in jeans and a black top. He has created a fervent fan base for Xiaomi’s moderately priced high-end smartphones by mimicking Apple’s marketing tactic of attaching an aura of exclusivity around its products.

Lei Jun, founder and CEO of China’s mobile company Xiaomi. Photo: Reuters

Before Xiaomi, the 42-year-old Lei was a key investor in China’s early internet scene, co-founding start-ups including, which was eventually sold to, and the recently listed YY Inc.

Born in Xiantao, a small city in China’s central Hubei province better known for breeding Olympic gymnasts than billionaire technocrats, Lei brushes off comparisons to Jobs but concedes that the Apple visionary was an inspiration.

“China’s media say I am China’s Steve Jobs,” Lei said in an interview.

Dresses like the late Steve Jobs … Lei Jun. Photo: Reuters

“I will take this as a compliment but such kind of comparison brings us huge pressure,” said Lei, who grew up assembling radios as a hobby. “Xiaomi and Apple are two totally different companies. Xiaomi’s based on the internet. We are not doing the same thing as Apple.”

Hot sales and fans

Xiaomi has already sold 300,000 of its latest phone model, launched in October. The Xiaomi phone 2 has specifications similar to those of Samsung Electronics’ Galaxy S3 and Apple’s iPhone 5 but a top-of-the-line model sells for about $US370, half the price of an iPhone 5.

The late Steve Jobs. Photo: Getty Images

Unlike the big domestic smartphone players, such as Lenovo, ZTE and Huawei, which work with telecom carriers to sell a large volume of smartphones, Xiaomi sells most of its phones online and in small batches.

This small volume strategy creates pent-up demand that gives Xiaomi free marketing buzz. The first batch of 50,000 phones released on October 30 sold out in less than two minutes. Subsequent larger batches have also sold out in minutes.

Lei, who has nearly 4 million followers on China’s popular microblogging platform, Weibo, feeds the buzz by dangling teasers about new products and launch dates.

“We’re not a company that chases sales volume. We chase customer satisfaction. We look for ways to give the customer a great surprise,” Lei said.

His vision for an exclusive mid-tier brand that builds up incrementally, rather than swamping the market, has found financial backers. In June, Xiaomi raised $US216 million from Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp, and a few of Lei’s friends, local media reported, giving it a valuation of $US4 billion.

“China is ripe for its own Apple, HTC or Samsung,” said Hans Tung, managing partner at Qiming Venture Partners, a venture firm backing Xiaomi. “The country is big enough, there are enough mobile internet users and mobile phone consumers. Therefore having its own mobile ecosystem built up by a domestic brand makes sense.”

Xiaomi, which was founded in April 2010 and only started selling smartphones in October 2011, is on track to sell 7 million units this year, exceeding its target of 2 million.

Xiaomi is already profitable and is expected to rake in sales of up to 13 billion yuan ($1.9 billion) this year.

“Our product only sold for a year and hit sales of $2 billion. That is pretty impressive,” Lei said, adding Xiaomi was not considering an initial public offering within the next five years.

Tung said Xiaomi’s net margins were 10 per cent. This suggests its net profit could hit $US200 million this year.

Mo Xiaohua, a 24-year-old accountant, is a proud Xiaomi fan who only recently bought her first Xiaomi phone. For many who use Xiaomi phones, the customisable themes and the weekly updates are a big draw.

“I like Xiaomi because among China’s brand smartphones, its value is the best,” Mo said. “Now that we have such a good China branded phone, we need to support it.”


‘Black back flats’

Xiaomi has its fair share of detractors who doubt it will have a happy ending. They say the smartphone game in China can only be won with wide distribution and high volume or a big brand with distinctive designs.

Xiaomi, whose attraction is its price and high technical specifications, does not win points for cutting-edge design.

“This is a world where people are now cranking out ‘black back flats’, that’s what all these phones are when you put 10 on the table… Xiaomi is not going to stick out,” said Michael Clendenin, managing director at RedTech Advisors. “In this world, the market is driven by two things: one is massive volume and two huge brands.”

ZTE and Huawei have set smartphone sales targets for this year at about 30 million and 60 million respectively. The firms have traditionally dominated the cheap low-end smartphone segment but have been pushing into the mid-price range.

ZTE said it launched 11 types of smartphones in the mid-price range of 1500-2500 yuan ($229-$382) this year, up from six last year. Apple released its mid-range tablet, the iPad Mini, in China on Friday.

“Xiaomi had great headline appeal a year ago… but the problem is now you have got guys like ZTE and Huawei and Meizu with phones that are priced in a similar range,” Clendenin said.

China is expected to surpass the United States as the world’s largest smartphone market this year with 165-170 million unit sales, up from 78 million last year, Gartner said.

Analysts said Xiaomi had to ramp up volume and address technical problems and a shortage of customer service centers if it wanted a shot at the big league.

“One of the challenges of being in the middle is that you can get squeezed,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of Beijing-based consultancy BDA.

Lei is resolute that he will prove the naysayers wrong.

“In this industry, I think the most important thing is to get love from your customers,” he said. “If you are popular with your customers, you succeed.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha