digital revolution

April 24 2000

digital revolution

April 24 2000

The Revolution Goes Mobile

For most people, computers and the internet go together like wine and cheese, movies and popcorn, meat and potatoes. But the “post-PC era” is closing in on us.

Digital Fact

Approximately 21 per cent of Canadian adults with access to the Internet have purchased goods or services online at least once. Source: IDC Canada

Jupiter Communications predicts that by 2003, more people will access the Internet via wireless devices such as cell phones and pocket computers than through PCs. International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts shipments of Web-enabled cell phones, pocket computers, TV set-top boxes and other “information appliances” will surpass PC shipments by the middle of next year in the United States. Jordan Worth, telecommunications analyst for IDC Canada in Toronto, says Canada is lagging behind this trend by 12 to 18 months.

Canadians have been able to send and receive e-mail from cell phones for over a year. Investors can use cell phones and two-way pagers to trade stocks wirelessly. And now Canadians can use browser-equipped cell phones to order books and records over the Internet. Soon there will be Internet-based services that enable you to purchase snacks from vending machines using your cell phone.

New pocket-sized electronic organizers let business users get information from their offices over the Internet, through either public telephone or wireless networks. When they need a break, they can use the same devices to listen to music or read a book that they have downloaded from the Net.

Photography companies are deploying services that let you share your pictures electronically with friends and family all over the world - even if they don’t have a PC. Airlines are introducing Internet-based services that let you board your flight without standing in long check-in queues.

The digital revolution is also coming to our TVs. Later this year, cable TV companies will start deploying set-top boxes with Internet capability. They are also introducing video-on-demand services that let you order a movie or special program, then watch it, pause it, replay it — just as you would a regular video-taped movie.

Meanwhile, theater-quality pictures and sound are coming to our televisions in the form of digital high-definition TV, now being deployed by Canada's satellite-TV companies.

You don’t even have to be on your couch to be a couch potato. With new portable DVD players, you can enjoy theater-quality movies on the go.

So where is the digital revolution going? Everywhere.

E-Business Everywhere

E-Commerce means a lot more than using your PC to buy books and records

One of the most irritating aspects of air travel is standing in a long check-in line, worrying about missing your flight. But an e-commerce initiative by Air Canada is helping some travelers sidestep those queues. Passengers flying from Pearson International Airport in Toronto can purchase electronic tickets from a travel agent or the Air Canada Web site, then use the ticket at a check-in kiosk at the airport to obtain a boarding pass.The process takes only about 20 seconds.

Air Canada plans to roll this service at all the airports it serves, says Jim Ingratta, director of e-business consulting and services for IBM Canada Global Services, which developed the airline’s automated check-in system.

“E-business is about more than buying books and T shirts online," Ingratta says. “It’s about pervasive access. It’s about always being plugged in.” Ingratta says we’re rapidly moving to a world where Internet access is available everywhere we go.We will expect Internet access throughout our homes, just as we expect electricity and running water. Our kitchens may have browser-equipped fridges and telephones, making it easier to order groceries,

“Wherever commerce takes place, there’s an opportunity for e-commerce,” says Brantz Myers, marketing manger, Internet solutions, for Compaq Canada Inc. Those opportunities extend from very large business-to-business transactions to very small consumer-to-business transactions. In Scandinavia, people are already using Internet-enabled cell phones to buy soft drinks from vending machines, Myers notes. After they indicate what drinks they want on their cell-phone keypads, their phone sends the request to the machine using an infrared eye (just like the one in your TV remote control), and at the same time sends instructions over the Internet to their bank telling it to pay for the beverage.

“With our banking system, were in a very good position in Canada to allow micro-commerce,” Myers says. He predicts these sorts of services will be available in Canada within a year.

Canada’s banking system is also allowing the development of Internet-based systems for paying for very large business-to-business transactions, including cross-border transactions, Myers notes. These applications allow businesses to safely clear transactions, such as product procurement, over the Internet. “Procurement is the most interesting e-business area to me,” Myers says. “It’s going to span the globe.”

International Data Corporation (Canada) Ltd. (IDC Canada) predicts that Canadian business-to-consumer e-commerce will expand to $3 billion in 2000 from $1.5 billion in 1999. That is dwarfed by business-to-business e-commerce, which is growing from $10 billion in 1999 to $18 billion in 2000.

Joe Greene, vice-president telecom and Internet research for IDC Canada, is encouraged by the number of Canadian retailers with e-commerce initiatives. A study last year found that 63 per cent of the money spent by Canadians online was going to American merchants. “I think we’ll find there’s less money flowing south,” Greene predicts. “There’s a greater variety of Canadian Web sites. The majority of Canadians want to shop at home.”

Adel Malek, a partner in the Toronto management consulting practice of Deloitte & Touche, says too many Canadian businesses are “taking a complacent attitude” to e-commerce. Fewer than half the companies surveyed for the firm’s “The E-Business Readiness Survey” are using the Internet to serve customers. Among the companies who are conducting e-business over the Internet, only 30 per cent agreed that their Web sites are effective places to conduct business.

“There’s a significant risk associated with being a laggard, especially in an export-based economy,” Malek warns. “When companies are competing in a global marketplace, to the extent that they fall behind, there is a significant impact in their ability to retain wealth - not just customers, but employees as well.”

Digital Fact

The total value of Canadian e-commerce will grow from $11.5 billion in 1999 to $21 billion this year, and almost $100 billion in 2003. Source: IDC Canada

More Than Just Talk

Cell-phone services that put the Net in the palm of your hand

Next time you see someone tapping for minutes on end on a cell-phone keypad, do not assume she is dialing a long overseas number. She could be carrying out a stock trade over the Internet, sending email, ordering a book or checking the status of an incoming flight.

Canada’s four wireless carriers already let subscribers receive e-mail on their handsets. They are now deploying services that will let users view Web content over wireless. Bell Mobility recently introduced the NeoPoint smart phone.The $699 handset functions as both a phone and pocket computer. It can store names, addresses, phone numbers and appointments, synchronizing this information with your PC. Its I I-line screen is better for e-mail than the four-line screens on most browser-equipped phones. But it is still too small for full-fledged Webbrowsing. However, Bell Mobility has partnered with several Web sites to deliver content tailored for mobile phone users, so you can check the news and sports scores on Yahoo! or CANOE, get a phone number from Yellow Pages Express, and order books from

“Wireless Internet has gone past being something that’s coming to being something that’s just arrived,” says David Neale, vice-president, new product development for Rogers AT&T Wireless. He predicts people will use different types of devices for wireless access to the Internet. There are wireless modems and connection kits for notebook and pocket computers. Rogers AT&T Wireless has just introduced the Blackberry Internet Edition, a tiny two-way pager that lets you surf the Web, and send and receive Web-based e-mail.

For wireless surfing to be satisfying, Web sites have to tailor their content for mobile devices, Neale notes. That is not happening nearly as fast in North American as in Europe and the Pacific Rim countries. In Japan, there are 6,000 Web sites targeted at mobile users, offering everything from banking services to ski updates to Pokemon paraphernalia.Jon Priai, director of marketing for IBM’s pervasive computing division, points to several European businesses that are using mobile data services to build customer loyalty. In December, Swissair introduced a service that lets travelers in Zurich check into their flights before arriving at the airport using a special cell phone. The phone screen confirms their flight info, and explains how to pick up a boarding pass. Safeway, a British grocery chain, is providing select customers with Palm computers. They can create shopping lists and place orders over the Internet. “Businesses will be compelled to deliver applications to these devices,” says Priai, whose division recently introduced WebSphere Everyplace Suite, software that helps companies tailor their Web content for mobile devices.

Charlotte Burke, vice-president of services development for Bell Mobility, says we will see “location-based" mobile Internet services in the next two years. “If you’re in a strange city and you want to know where the nearest bank machine is, the service will be able to figure out where you are, and use the Net to tell you how to find a bank machine.”

Besides the small screen, another reason Web content has to be simplified for mobile devices is the fact that data transmission speeds are very slow over wireless networks.They max out at 14.4 kilobytes per second, slower than a regular phone modem or the new high-speed Internet services. Following the deployment of third-generation (3G) wireless networks, wireless data speeds will get much faster.

Rogers AT&T Wireless demonstrated 3G technology in Montreal in February, showing how it would be possible to transmit moving video over wireless networks. Neale says these high-speed wireless services are “two years from prime-time. When that happens, the device is no longer a phone. It’s a communicator. You can use it with ear buds and hold it in front of you. The person on the other end can show you materials, and you are able to see them on the screen in front of you.”

Even before 3G becomes commercially available, there will be some compelling Internet services aimed at mobile users, Neale adds. “There’s a lot of money and creativity in the Internet world. They view wireless as the next big frontier.”

Jordan Worth, telecommunications analyst at IDC Canada, says the main application for wireless data right now is stock trading. You have to need information pretty quickly to pay 15 cents a minute to surf the Web, he notes. Wireless data speeds have to get faster, handset designs and mobile Internet sites have to get easier to use for wireless data to have broad appeal.

By 2003, 16.6 million Canadians — roughly half the population - will have wireless phones.That is when 3G wireless technology will be broadly available.“For half the population, 3G will be a quantum leap forward,” Worth says. “That’s when wireless data will really take off.”

Digital Fact

Currently cell phones are used by 22 per cent of Canadians. By 2003, 16.6 million Canadians, roughly half the population, will be using mobile phones. Source: IDC Canada

Always Organized

Tiny computers that put your office in your pocket

Microsoft has a reputation for dominating any market it enters. Nonetheless, when it comes to the pocket-sized computer, Microsoft is still a distant second to Palm Inc.

Palm's handheld computers store appointments, contacts, to-do lists and other information. You enter information by drawing on the Palm’s screen using a stylized alphabet called “Graffiti” or by tapping on an onscreen “soft keyboard.” You can also enter information on your PC. When you put the Palm into its desktop cradle, information on your Palm and PC is synchronized.

Digital Fact

In Japan, there are 6,000 Web sites targeted at mobile users, offering everything from banking services to ski updates to Pokemon paraphernalia. Source: Rogers AT&T Wireless

The original Palm Pilot appeared in 1996, about the same time as handheld computers based on Microsoft’s Windows CE software. Because they used tiny keyboards,Windows CE handheld computers were larger than Palm’s products. Windows CE “Palm-size PCs,” with a form factor similar to the Palm’s, arrived in mid-1998.

According to Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., Palm accounted for more than 80 per cent of the 163,000 pocket-sized computers sold across Canada throughout 1999.

In April, next-generation Windows CE-based Pocket PCs are being introduced by Casio, Compaq and Hewlett-Packard. Microsoft believes these new Pocket PCs trump Palm’s aces in several ways. Pocket PCs offer the same core functions — address book, appointment book, to-do list - as Palm. They also “pocket” versions of office software, so you can view and edit Microsoft Word and Excel spreadsheets.These new devices let you enter information using handwritten characters, or a soft keyboard.

Pocket PC also has a built-in Web browser. Put a modem (wireless or landline) into the memory-card slot, and you are ready to surf. Admittedly, the unit’s small color screen is far from ideal for Web-browsing — even with the Clear Type feature that helps small text be more readable and a fit-to-screen feature that reformat Web pages for the device.

The Palm VII, due for release in Canada later this year, will also offer wireless access to the Web - but just to a limited amount of-Web content tailored for its small screen. It will use a feature called clipping, so that it gets just the essential information, rather than large graphics that the device cannot handle.

New services like Avantgo ( are delivering Web content designed for small devices like Pocket PCs and Palm computers. Avantgo offers hundreds of different channels - specially formatted Web pages - including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. You can download the content to your PC, transfer it to your portable device and read it -on the go.

Back in the office, you can synchronize your Pocket PC with your desktop computer, just as you would a Palm device. With Pocket PC, you can also access corporate networks directly - without connecting it to a PC.

For fun and games, Pocket PCs have an edge over Palm computers.They have full stereo sound, so you can listen to MP3 music through headphones. Stereo sound also enhances games, such as Zio Golf and Doom, that you can play on Pocket PC.

“Pocket PC puts business productivity tools like Word, Excel, Outlook and Internet Explorer in your pocket,” says Elliot Katz, marketing manager, consumer Windows and Windows CE for Microsoft Canada Co. “You can take everything that’s important for your day-to-day business, and with a modem, you can get up-to-date information, or send e-mail and notes.”

Michael Moskowitz, president and general manager at Palm Canada Inc., says the large number of Palm accessories and software - everything from atlases to cases and clips to wireless modems to battery charger kits - give it an advantage over Pocket PC. You can even buy a collapsible keyboard for your Palm computer. (Some Pocket PC vendors say they will offer this option as well.) Handspring and IBM have their own versions of the Palm computer. Cellphone manufacturers such as Qualcomm have handsets with integrated Palm computers so you can place calls right from the Palm address book.

With Pocket PC, Microsoft is showing that it is serious about the pocket-computer market. Will it roll over Palm as it rolled over Netscape?

“Palm has such a huge following that it will be difficult for Pocket PC to make an impact,” says Dave Armitage, market analyst for Evans Research. “Palm has covered the key aspects — ease of use and a competitive price point.” Entry-level Palm computers sell for under $300. Pocket PCs start at $749. For that price, you get a unit with a bright colour screen (the Palm lllc, Palm’s first color model, retails for $679), and a device that is more powerful and flexible than Palm computers. “But many users will be satisfied with a monochrome screen,” he says.

Digital Fact

Last year, 163,000 pocket-sized computers were sold in Canada. That market will grow to 250,000 units this year. Source: Evans Research

TV Goes Digital

New technology is making TVs smarter and TV pictures better

While the world has gone digital over the past two decades, television has remained rooted in the analog past. But that’s changing. In the United States, over-the-air digital TV broadcasts began in November 1998. Digital TV (DTV) pictures are clearer than regular TV, because they are immune to picture-degrading interference. Standard-definition digital programs have the same amount of picture detail as today’s analog pictures. High-definition (HDTV) programs have up to nine times as much detail. What’s more, HDTV pictures are wider than the regular TV pictures, more like a movie-theater screen than a conventional TV screen, which look boxy by comparison. HDTV pictures are as vibrant and compelling as the pictures you see in a good movie theater.

In the United States, NBC shows The Tonight Show in HDTV, and will have HDTV broadcasts of the Summer Olympics this September. CBS carries prime-time shows like Chicago Hope and JAG in HDTV, as well as special events like the NCAA basketball finals. Last fall, ABC carried Monday Night Football in HDTV, and culminated the NFL season with an HDTV broadcast of the Super Bowl.

No Canadian broadcaster has yet announced plans to construct digital TV facilities. However, an experimental digital transmitter, where Canadian broadcasters can test various aspects of the technology, is now up and running in Ottawa.

Canada’s two satellite-TV companies. Bell ExpressVu and Star Choice, are both rolling out HDTV channels to complement their 200-odd channels of standard-definition TV. On these channels, they are carrying a selection of American HDTV programming. Both plan to carry NBC’s HDTV broadcasts of the Olympic games.

To get HDTV over satellite, you need a dish antenna plus a satellite receiver with a special high-definition decoder. These packages sell for around $1,300. You also need an “HD-ready” TV capable of displaying HDTV pictures. HD-ready sets with conventionally shaped screens show widescreen high-definition images in letter-box mode, with grey bars at the top and bottom. Prices start at $2,299 for a ProScan 32inch direct-view set. Widescreen HD-ready sets show HDTV pictures in all their glory, but show regular programming in window-box mode, with grey bars on either side. Prices start at $3,599 for a 40inch Toshiba rear-projection set.

Most Canadians receive TV programming over cable. Canada's two largest cable companies — Rogers and Shaw - have converted their facilities to digital.They say they will carry HDTV signals when there is enough high-definition programming to spur consumer demand.

Right now, cable companies are using digital technology to vastly increase the number of channels they carry, and to add new services.The cable boxes that deliver all these channels also have program guides to help you figure out what you want to watch.This year, Rogers will add e-mail and Web-surfing capability to its digital cable boxes, says Dermot O’Carroll, senior vice-president, network engineering and operations at Rogers Cable Inc.

Late this year or early next year, Rogers will launch a video-on-demand service that lets you order a program, then watch it at your leisure.You can pause it if you need a break, rewind it if there is something you want to see again. “One of the real opportunities with video-on-demand is niche programming," O'Carroll says. “There’s a lot of good content that you can't afford to broadcast, but that you can store on a server.”

While we are waiting for high-definition television, the best couch-potato experience comes from DVD (Digital Versatile Disc) movies. A DVD carries an entire movie in digital form, complete with digital surround sound. Many DVD movies are shown in widescreen mode. On a regular TV, you get a letter-boxed picture, but on a widescreen set, you get a theater-like widescreen image.

DVD players have caught on like gangbusters. According to the Consumer Electronics Marketers of Canada (CEMC), 220,000 DVD players were sold in Canada in 1999, compared to 70,000 the year before. For this year alone, CEMC projects sales of 400.000 players.

Prices for DVD players start at around $300. They will work with any TV. If you want to watch movies away from home, you can do so on Panasonic’s Palm Theatre DVD-LV 75 portable DVD player. The $1,999 battery-operated unit has a built-in seven inch screen, and audio circuitry that delivers theater-like surround sound through headphones.

Digital Fact

Last year, 92,000 digital cameras were sold in Canada. For 2000, the market will grow 58 per cent, to 145,000 units. Source: Evans Research

Every Picture Tells a Story

The Internet makes it easy to share pictures and home videos

To most people, digital cameras and digital photography mean the same thing. Digital cameras capture images and light-sensing microchips, then store these images on memory chips. When you are finished shooting, you hook the digital camera up to your computer and transfer the images to the computer. With special software, you can remove flaws like red-eye, alter colour, add text, then print out your creation or incorporate it into a Web site.

Digital camera sales are skyrocketing. According to Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., 92,000 digital cameras were sold in Canada last year, a 71 per cent jump over the previous year. For 2000, Evans expects digital camera sales to grow almost 60 per cent, to 145.000 units.

“That’s very small compared to film-based camera sales,” notes Bik Dutta, market analyst at Evans Research. “The cost of digital cameras is still pretty substantial.” While you can purchase an entry-level digital camera for under $500, you have to go to higher-resolution $ 1,000-plus models to get the picture quality you get from a regular camera. Dutta estimates that 80 per cent of digital cameras are purchased for business use and 20 per cent for personal use, but adds, “That will change over time.”

John Guest, brand marketing manager for digital output products at Kodak Canada Inc., says digital cameras are making real inroads among consumers.The attractions, he says, are the ability to e-mail photos easily, and to edit them on computer.

But you do not need a digital camera to do digital photography, he adds. At thousands of retail locations, you can have film scanned to Picture CD when you take it in for processing. Or you can have images posted to the Kodak PhotoNet Web site, then download them to your PC. You can then print the images, or e-mail them to friends.

Many Kodak retailers also have PictureMaker kiosks, where you can load images from slide, negative, print or disk, then make your own prints or stickers. This summer, Kodak will be connecting these kiosks to the Internet. When that happens, if you have your images scanned to PhotoNet and send your PhotoNet PIN to friends in other cities, they can go to a local PictureMaker retailer, look at the images and print the ones they like.

Agfa is integrating its new digital cameras with the Internet. They include software that lets you upload your images to an Agfa Web site, edit them online, then order professional prints.

Digital technology is also making it easier to share home videos.Apple’s new DV iMac computers come with ¡Movie software and a DV port for connecting a Digital Video (DV) camcorder. DV camcorders are available from Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony starting at around $ 1,000. Being digital, they deliver better picture quality than analog 8mm and VHS camcorders. You can also copy and edit DV videos without the picture degradation that you get when you copy and edit analog videos.

“¡Movie makes it very simple to create professional-looking videos,” says Stan Ossias, group product manger at Apple Canada Inc. “There are tutorials for a whole range of videos: family events, school projects, business training courses.” The software automatically scans your DV camcorder tape for scene breaks, and then copies the scenes to the computer. Users can cut extraneous material, arrange the scenes in the order they want, add nifty transitions between scenes, as well as music and voice-overs. They can then copy their creation to videotape and watch it on TV, or make a QuickTime video that they can post on a Web site. Apple offers a Web site where users can post their movies and share them for free, Ossias says.

Digital Fact

In 1999, 220,000 DVD players were sold in Canada, compared to 70,000 the year before. This year, Canadians will buy 400,000 DVD players. Source: CEMC