By adaptive - February 22nd, 2016

The US government gives a major endorsement to self-driving cars, Super Bowl 50 goes mobile, as Apple and the FBI take their data privacy rift global. Andrew Tolve reports.

In the news

Apple denied the US Federal Bureau of Investigation backdoor access to the iPhone 5 of one of the perpetrators in the recent San Bernardino terrorist attack. The FBI doesn’t want Apple to unlock the phone, it just wants it to create software that gives the bureau infinite opportunities to guess its code. Apple says creating that software would be tantamount to jeopardizing the data privacy of every iPhone on the planet. The two will now duke it out in the courts in a case that’s almost certainly destined for the US Supreme Court — and that will vault data privacy into the global spotlight in the process. It’s a thorny issue, to be sure. On the one hand, any information that can be gleaned from a terrorist’s personal property, including a smartphone, to prevent future attacks is for the greater public good. On the other, our most private information is increasingly digital and stored on devices that are far more permeable to outsiders (including government) than many of us are comfortable with. Thus, where to draw the line? Pull up a chair, this is about to get interesting.

In the money

Facebook plans to monetize its popular messaging platform, Facebook Messenger, in the second quarter of 2016. The news broke in Tech Crunch, which obtained a leaked document that Facebook sent around to a cohort of its big-buck advertisers. These advertisers will be able to send direct advertisements to any Messenger user who has initiated a chat thread with the company. Facebook is keeping mum for now.

In other news

Self-driving cars got a big boost when the US government ruled that a computer can fully replace a human driver. The ruling came in the form of an open letter from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to Google and means that Google has the green light to build cars that are truly mobile devices on wheels — without traditional steering wheels, brakes, and turning signals.

Or keys. That’s what Volvo has in mind with a new app that allows a smartphone to lock, unlock and fire up the ignition of a car — no metal key required. Volvo says it wants to have the feature in cars on dealership lots, as well as in car-sharing cars, by 2017. It’s piloting the app this spring at the Gothenberg airport in Sweden in concert with car-sharing service Sunfleet.

Sick of ads, ads and more ads on your smartphone? Help may be on the way from your mobile carrier. Europe’s Three Group just announced that it has implemented network-level, ad-blocking technology from Shine Technologies. The goal: swat away “excessive, intrusive, unwanted or irrelevant adverts” that degrade mobile experience and cost customers in unwanted data charges. Three UK and Three Italy are the first two of Three Group’s providers to roll the solution out. Shine says they’re in conversations with more than 60 carriers in the US and Europe to follow suit.

The inexorable rise of smartphones seems to have finally flattened out. Gartner reports that total smartphone units shipped in Q42015 (367,334.4) was less than total units shipped in Q42014 (403,109.4) — the first decline since 2008. Apple saw a slip in market share down from 20.4 to 17.7, Blackberry basically fell off the map from 0.5 to 0.2, while Samsung inched up from 19.9 to 20.7.

Smartphones plateauing. Tablets on the dive. Where do mobile devices still have room to grow? The mobile enterprise, for one, as Apple made clear when it completely rebranded the iPad for professional use. Rugged smartphones are another opportunity. Cat phones just launched the Cat S60, a waterproof phone with the world’s first smartphone-integrated thermal camera. The camera can detect heat loss around windows and doors, spot moisture and missing insulation, identify over-heating electrical appliances and circuitry, or see in complete darkness. Use cases that are mighty appealing to building professionals, utility workers and emergency responders, to name a few.

Remember when 4G felt cutting-edge? Try internet speeds a hundred times faster and entire movies that can be downloaded in a matter of seconds. That’s the promise of 5G. AT&T released its 5G roadmap and says that it’s already trialing 5G technologies in the field with the help of Ericsson and Intel. More field work is underway at the University of Surrey in England in concert with the likes of Samsung and Fujitsu. Verizon is in the midst of field trials too, even though official 5G standards haven’t been hammered out yet. In addition to faster speeds, 5G will enable networks to support greater activity from a growing range of devices in the Internet of Things universe, including self-driving cars.

Super Bowl 50 may have been a dud, but it was a victory for mobile. An impressive 46% of fans at the game used a dedicated game app from VenueNext to watch replays and Super Bowl commercials, order merchandise and food, and receive indoor navigation around the stadium. Thanks to the increased efficiencies of ordering and delivery, the median time to deliver drinks to fans in their seats was less than 10 minutes. Read our exclusive interview with VenueNext.

With that, we’re off to Mobile World Congress. It promises to be a great week in Barcelona, with Samsung set to unveil its new flagship S7 (it’s water resistant! Promo video here) and hundreds of other debuts, all under the banner of “Connecting Everyone and Everything to a Better Future.” Consider us enticed.

The Mobile Digest is a biweekly lowdown on the world of mobile, combining Open Mobile Media analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to Open Mobile Media. 

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