The report highlighting mushrooming mobile broadband usage as a key area of worldwide growth [GALLO/GETTY]
|About one-third of the world’s population now has access to the internet, but more needs to be done in order to achieve internet penetration targets as set out in the Millenium Development Goals, the International Telecommunications Union has said in a new report.
Currently, 20.5 per cent of households in developing countries have access to the internet, which the ITU says puts them on target to achieve the 40 per cent target by 2015.
The findings are part of a comprehensive report released by the ITU’s Broadband Commission for Digital Development on Monday.
The “State of Broadband 2012” report evaluates the deployment of broadband services around the world and tracks progress towards achieving targets set by the commision regarding increasing the affordability and use of broadband.
More than 170 countries have been evaulated in the report.
The report found that while household access was increasing at an acceptable rate, individual internet use was continuing to lag behind. The ITU said that mobile broadband could provide a platform for achieving an increase in individual use. By the end of 2011, the report said, new mobile broadband subscriptions were outstripping fixed connections by two to one.
It said that by 2020, connected devices would outnumber connected individuals by a ratio of six devices to every person online.
“Broadband networks and services are transforming our way of life. The Broadband Commission is committed to ensuring that the benefits of broadband are available to all. I am delighted by the dedication and enthusiasm shown by the many senior business leaders and top policy-makers on the Commission to advancing the global broadband policy agenda,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, the ITU’s secretary-general, on the release of the report.
The report also notes that a “strong linguistic shift is now taking place online”. If current rates of growth continue, the number of users accessing the internet in languages other than English (primarily Chinese) will outstrip English-language users by 2015.
Social network participation was also ranked, with the Philippines coming in in the top spot, with more than 70 per cent of active internet users using social networking sites. Indonesia came in a close second, with Malaysia, Brazil and Russia rounding out the top five. The global average rate was around 55 per cent, the report said.
The report also ranks countries based on their rates of internet use. Iceland, at 95 per cent, boasts the world’s highest internet usage rate, while Timor Leste has the lowest rate at 0.9 per cent.
The United States ranks at 23 in the world in percentage of individuals online in 2011.
The ITU is the primary United Nations agency dealing with information and communications technology. In addition to gathering statistics and making policy recommendations, it also plays a key role in co-ordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbits. It also develops international telecommunications standards.
I wrote a piece on why iPad might not turn out to be the next best thing after bread for humans.
As a gadget, iPad is very good. It can be better but with mostly dumb competitors, it is as good a tablet as you can get at the moment. My problem is the kind of relationship iPad enforces between a company and a user. In that blog post, I wrote that it might fundamentally change the way people approach and use computers.
Today, I have decided to go back to what I had written and see how it holds up a year later. I wish I could say that I was wrong. Unfortunately, it looks like I had underestimated the pace of the shift.
Computers are turning into appliances. Very fast!
With iPad model a huge success, more and more companies are adopting it. The results are:
ANDROID IN DISARRAY
Android, which allows a degree of freedom and choice to users, is faltering. Most OEMs simply want to ape Apple instead of believing in the core ideas of Android. It doesn’t help that Google is failing to provide a clear vision to its hardware partners.
Recently I spoke to Ajit Pillai, who often tinkers with Android devices. His take: Most Android tablets and smartphones ship with locked bootloaders, making it difficult for users to make changes that they may (or may not) want to make. Some companies unlock bootloader, at a user’s request, but the process requires a few extra steps.
Then there is this recent post from Cyanogen, who started CyanogenMod project several years ago. Cyanogen’s team is trying to port their OS, so that many Android users, who have been abandoned by manufacturers, can get the latest version of Android. But the task is proving very difficult because hardware drivers for components like camera, graphics chip, GPS, etc are proprietary, and companies are not willing to share them with users. On a computer, drivers are always available to users. They can delete, reinstall or modify drivers. But with smartphones and tablets, users are given no choice.
APPLE’S WALLED GARDEN
Apple continues with its walled-garden approach. After success with app store on iPad and iPhone, it has brought a similar concept to Mac, its traditional computers. Though, for now, programs can still be bought or downloaded outside Mac app store, it is not clear for how long it will continue. Chances are that in the future, Apple may mandate that all programs should be obtained through its app store. Once that happens, Mac users will be able to install only the programs approved by Apple. Already, there are a number of programs that are available only through Mac app store.
Microsoft, the company that powers over 85% of all personal computers, is heading towards Apple’s walled-garden approach. It follows almost the same model on Windows Phone devices. With Windows 8, the concept will reach more devices. Microsoft mandates that all devices using ARM processors will have to use a feature called secure boot if manufacturers wish to use Windows 8 on them. In simple words, this means the tablet will be locked and WOA (Windows on ARM) will come pre-installed.
So, what’s the big deal? Aren’t Android and iOS tablets locked?
For now, there is nothing different. Initially all WOA devices are likely to be tablets. But what about future? When these ARM processors go into laptops and computers, will Microsoft allow manufacturers to ship unlocked devices? On the same note, as tablets get more functional and replace traditional computers, will Microsoft, Android OEMs, Google and Apple relax their iron grip on them?
Microsoft will also introduce an app store for its computers with Windows 8. Again, the implications are same. Less control to user and more control to the firm that made the device or Microsoft. People using WOA systems will get programs or drivers only from Microsoft’s app store. No more going to the web, downloading .exe file and installing it. Just use the programs approved by Microsoft. This means computer users in future may never see something like Daemon Tools, uTorrent or Libre Office or thousands of other programs on WOA.
CREATE ECOSYSTEM, LOCK USERS
The sentiment that companies should own the ecosystem and carefully curate it is widespread in the industry now. Earlier, companies used to sell products to people. “You pay the money, get the ownership of the product. You manage the device.” Now, the focus is on selling service. “You pay the money, we rent the device to you. We manage the device. Its usage is governed by our rules and regulations.”
Even firms like Micromax have their own app stores in smartphones.
As more and more companies take total control of their devices, they are less willing to support industry standards. They want to lock users to services and products of one company. In future this will lead incompatibility between devices.
An example is iBook Author, an app recently announced by Apple. The app can export projects into e-pub, an industry standard format for e-books. Unfortunately, the e-pub used by Author is a tweaked version. The eBook saved in this particular format can be used only on Apple’s devices.
A few weeks ago, I had a short discussion with Zdnet’s Ed Bott on Twitter, after he wrote a post saying there is nothing wrong with ‘secure boot’ in Windows 8. He did not agree with my viewpoint and I did not agree with his. But he did make an important point. He said:
I am sure you are aware that Meryl Streep won an Oscar on Monday for her performance in The Iron Lady. Before that her performance as Margaret Thatcher in the film brought her accolades at BAFTA and Golden Globe. No wonder, there are many cinema aficionados in India interested in seeing the film. At least, I am.
But how do I watch it? In a cinema hall, you say.
At the moment, I can’t.
The Iron Lady is yet to arrive in the cinema halls of my country. I hear it is releasing tomorrow. Till then I am supposed to sit tight and curb my excitement.
Even when it gets released, I am not sure that I will want to watch it in a cinema hall.
I can get a DVD, you say. Yes, right. But the DVD will not be available before mid-April. And when it is out, I will have to make sure that I get the DVD selling in India and not from a global website like Amazon. You have worked with manufacturers of DVD players to put these regional locks in their devices. DVDs bought outside those regions may not play on them.
But here is a revelation for you. The whole world knows it except you. There is an easier way out for me. I can watch The Iron Lady. Now!
I can go to a torrent site and download the torrent file of The Iron Lady. I can even pick and choose from various torrent files, depending on my requirements. If I am going to play the film on a big TV, I can select the file with high video quality. A 1080P BDRip they call it. These BDRips are beautiful little files. They have extremely nice resolution. They play on most of the digital video players. There are no locks or restrictions.
For smaller screens, I can opt for lower quality (and smaller in size) videos. To play on iPads or tablets, I can download specific files (MP4 formats), something which is not available on your DVD or BluRay disks.
Downloading a torrent and queuing it takes barely five minutes. Depending on the internet speed and the size of the video file, it would take me anywhere from one hour to six hours to download a full film using torrent. In the meantime, I can do my other work.
It’s convenient. It’s easy. I get to watch the film I so badly wanted to see. On my terms. Inside the convenience of my house. I can play, pause and rewind the film. I can use subtitles. But there is one problem. It’s illegal.
I can already hear you whisper. You are calling me a thief. A robber out to destroy the creative industry!
No sirs, I am not a thief. I love good films. I will spend reasonable money to watch them. But I want to watch the films at my convenience and when I want.
Unfortunately, you don’t agree.
And you don’t understand.
The way people consume media has changed. It’s a connected world. You can no longer release a film in the US and not release it in India. The releases have to be simultaneous. Rolling out the film gradually is invitation to people to pirate it.
Then, even if you release film simultaneously across the world, people will pirate films because a large number of them just don’t want to go to cinema halls to watch it. Maybe, they don’t have five hours that area needed to make a trip to a multiplex. Maybe, they don’t have patience to suffer fellow audience who talk loudly on phone in cinema halls or the teeny couple that steals kisses every time screen turns a dull grey (happens in India a lot). Or maybe, they don’t like intervals.
Many reasons. So, as soon as you launch a film, why can’t you give millions of people an option to watch it at home, or in their car, or in their planes?
And for god’s sake, don’t shake those DVDs or Blu-Ray disks in our face. Nobody uses them willingly.
Disk-based devices are dying because they are more trouble than convenience. Half the time, DVD won’t play because there are regional locks. Hooking up DVD players to TVs, etc, is a hassle. Many people, nowadays, watch films on iPad, which doesn’t have a DVD slot. Almost all thin and light laptops have done away with DVD or Blu-Ray slots. People want movies or videos as digital files, which can be played on any computing device. And they want it in the resolution and format they like.
If you are really serious about tackling piracy, show the audience the films the way they want.
It’s not difficult. Most people aren’t thieves. They do realize that making films costs money. Truckloads of it. They are willing to pay a reasonable fee to watch their films. After all, haven’t they paid billions and billions of dollars to Apple (and music studios) to listen to their favourite songs?
But people want to enjoy films. They want to relish the experience. Herding them like cattle into cinema halls and forcing them to watch something is not a solution. Yes, some people like multiplex experience. Many don’t. If you don’t provide alternative, they will use torrent sites.
Torrent sites exist because of your inefficiencies. They exist because if I want to watch The Iron Lady today in India, I have no option but to use a torrent site. And that puts cinema lovers in a dilemma.