Peter Nowak

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Peter Nowak is Toronto-based technology journalist, syndicated blogger and best-selling author. He is currently working on his next book, Human 3.0, scheduled for release in late 2013 / early 2014.

Blog Posts by Peter Nowak

  • CES 2014: Toronto’s InteraXon makes wearable tech splash

    When the principals behind InteraXon headed to the Consumer Electronics Show for the first time in 2011, all they really had was an idea. It was an offbeat one to be sure, since it took the form of a headband that allowed wearers to control things with just the power of their thoughts. Now, three years later, the Toronto-based startup has millions of dollars in funding and 20 staff members supporting a sizeable booth at the annual Las Vegas techno-circus in the build-up to their first-ever product launch.

    They’re all sporting a Muse, the company’s new brainwave-controlled relaxation-aid headband, which is launching this spring for $299. The booth itself is notable since it hosts a big, inflated plastic igloo. That’s not so much a symbol of the company’s Canadian-ness, but rather a necessary respite from the noisy show floor, where attendees can use Muse to calm their minds.

    It’s been an exciting ride, with this year’s CES representing the culmination of a long road to market, says chief

    Read More »from CES 2014: Toronto’s InteraXon makes wearable tech splash
  • Bell accused of charging Canadians more for competitor services

    It’s shaping up to be a tough winter for Bell’s media division, what with Rogers’ announcement Tuesday of a blockbuster agreement that will give the rival company rights to all national NHL games for the next 12 years. But before that kicks in next season, it’s looking like Bell is going to have to deal with a complaint that its mobile television service is violating Internet fairness rules.

    The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is currently taking comments from the public on the complaint, filed last week by University of Manitoba student Ben Klass. The application, which is known as a Part 1 Proceeding requesting a full CRTC investigation, accuses Bell of unfairly selling access to its own television content at a lower cost than regular Internet video options such as Netflix or YouTube.

    Bell is offering wireless customers 10 hours of viewing for $5 a month that doesn’t count against monthly data usage caps. According to the filing, that amount of regular

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  • Thalmic Labs: Canada’s hottest startup

    As a country of small businesses, it’s no surprise that Canada is positively dripping with technology startups. The ironic problem is it can be difficult for any one company to stand out from the crowd.

    That’s not an issue for Thalmic Labs. Talk to experts for their opinions on which is the country’s hottest startup right now and the Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s name keeps coming up.

    And for good reason. The company in June announced the close of its $14.5 million Series A funding round, led by Spark Capital and Intel Capital, the investment arm of the microprocessor giant. Founded by a trio of University of Waterloo students just last year, Thalmic is now up to 40 employees as it gears up for the launch of its first product in early 2014, the Myo armband.

    The $149 armband is like a portable version of Microsoft’s Kinect, or the gesture-recognition device that plugs into the Xbox 360 game console, in that it allows the wearer to interact with his or her computer, smartphone or other

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  • Start-Up Nation: KnowRoaming looks to cut your cell bill

    If there’s one thing everyone can agree on in the midst of Canada’s ongoing wireless war, it’s that roaming rates are way too high. As anyone who has accidentally checked their email while in another country only to find to an astronomical bill awaiting them on their return home can attest to, there’s almost nothing more expensive. That’s why both the federal government and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission are either trying to encourage more wireless competition or are investigating roaming rates.

    Into this melee steps Toronto-based startup KnowRoaming, which has just emerged from “stealth mode.” After 18 months of building its technological solution to the problem – a circuitry-laden sticker that users pop onto the SIM card inside their phone, essentially ‘localizing’ it – the company is now taking pre-orders on a service it says will cut roaming bills by 85 per cent.

    While there have been other roaming alternatives available for some time, the company

    Read More »from Start-Up Nation: KnowRoaming looks to cut your cell bill
  • Start-Up Nation: SurfEasy looks to capitalize on spy shock

    A year ago, no one had yet heard of Edward Snowden, the former CIA and NSA employee who has since blown the whistle on just how deeply U.S. authorities are snooping on people’s online habits. The revelations are now fuelling an explosion of interest by both companies and individuals in securing their Internet usage and communications from all manner of prying eyes.

    Toronto-based SurfEasy was, pardon the pun, ahead of the wave with its debut in 2012. The startup launched with a credit-card-like USB device that plugged into computers and provided private, encrypted browsing. The service is essentially a virtual private network that shields its users’ traffic from other individuals or entities looking to spy on them. This past summer, the company launched a mobile app that does the same on smartphones and tablets. In all cases, revenue comes from subscriptions ranging from $2.99 to $4.99 a month.

    As it turns out, the company’s timing – and reading the pulse of more security-conscious market

    Read More »from Start-Up Nation: SurfEasy looks to capitalize on spy shock
  • Rogers talks sharing data, roaming

    It drives John Boynton crazy when analysts and the media link his products to current news events. Some reports on Rogers’ new smartphone-and-tablet data-sharing plans, which the company launched last month, connected them to the specter of Verizon entering Canada.

    “If I could launch something like this in our billing system in like two months, I’d be a genius,” says Boynton, Rogers’ executive vice-president of marketing. “I wouldn’t be here, I’d be selling that billing system to every carrier in the world.”

    The “Share Everything” plans had nothing to do with Verizon and had in fact been in the works since September, 2011, he says. Rogers was hoping to introduce them this past February, but instead decided to wait in order to integrate them with a new billing system that’s being launched this fall.

    The plans lets customers pick a tier of data for their primary smartphone, then add additional lines or devices that can then share the same data allotment. A one-gigabyte plan, for example,

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  • E-readers defy the odds as Kobo launches new products

    Reports of the death of the e-reader, as the saying goes, may have been greatly exaggerated.

    On the surface of it, the extinction-through-obsolescence concept makes all kinds of sense, right? E-ink readers only do one thing – they display e-books. Sure, they do so nicely and without glare, but why would anyone want two devices when one – a tablet – can handle that particular chore, plus a thousand others? Why spend the extra money on such a limited, single-use product?

    Not surprisingly, analysts have been predicting the death of the single-function e-ink e-reader for some time now. Back in December, market research firm iHS iSuppli issued a report that said e-readers were seeing “an alarmingly precipitous decline,” based on shipments for the parts needed to build the devices.

    Toronto-based Kobo, which has just announced a slew of new tablets as well as a new Aura e-ink reader, begs to differ. A third of the company’s e-reader customers already have a tablet, indicating that many people

    Read More »from E-readers defy the odds as Kobo launches new products
  • Moto X: Motorola’s first true “Google” smartphone

    “This is the Googliest thing I’ve done in my six years at Google,” says Punit Soni, vice-president of software and product management at the search company’s Motorola Mobility subsidiary. He’s referring to the Moto X, the first true “Google” smartphone. “There’s a little bit of bravery going into it. I like that.”

    In interviews at a launch event in New York this week, Motorola executives – a number of whom were parachuted in from Google after its acquisition of the mobile company last year – insist they’re embarking on an entrepreneurial venture. That’s what makes it “Googley.”

    Like many of the Internet giant’s endeavours, the objectives aren’t typical. Motorola isn’t looking to grab big profits from the smartphone war, like Apple and Samsung do. Instead, the Moto X is intended to establish a franchise that will continually showcase the best products Google, through Motorola, can muster on the mobility front.

    “It’s only the beginning,” Soni says. “We’re just trying to find our way.”


    Read More »from Moto X: Motorola’s first true “Google” smartphone
  • Samsung poised for ‘paradigm shift’ into printing

    Conquering the world of smartphones and televisions would usually be enough for any one company, but Samsung Electronics has grander ambitions. The South Korean giant is readying a new, full-throttle foray into the exciting and sexy world of ... printers?

    After announcing record quarterly profit on Friday morning of 9.5 trillion won (US$8.3 billion), a 47-per-cent jump from a year earlier, the move toward printers is unusual, to be sure, given the general sentiment about the business – that it’s dying.

    Yet Samsung is aiming for $400 billion in annual revenue by 2020, or more than double its 2012 total of $187 billion. With market observers starting to doubt that the company can continue its momentum in phones, a key part of that projected growth will be expanding into previously untapped markets. That includes printers, or rather, "printing," as executives are keen to point out. There's a big difference.

    "We're poised to lead a paradigm shift," says Hyusang Ha, vice-president of product

    Read More »from Samsung poised for ‘paradigm shift’ into printing
  • Verizon in Canada: Will a new carrier lower your wireless bill?

    If the reports are to be believed, U.S. wireless giant Verizon is gunning for Canada with a $700 million bid for local startup Wind Mobile and similar takeover discussions with Mobilicity, another new entrant.

    While none of the principals are talking publicly, The Globe and Mail reports that the U.S. company is looking to take advantage of the Canadian government’s desire for four wireless carriers. Verizon coming in and taking over the smaller, distressed carriers would actually fulfill Ottawa’s dream of having an additional, well-resourced player in a market that sorely needs more competition. Canadians pay the highest cellphone bills in the world – an average of $60.79 per month - according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix.

    Bay Street analysts have been questioning the logic of a Canadian venture by Verizon ever since rumours started circulating a few weeks ago. Most estimates expect the company will need to spend between $1 billion and $2 billion to become

    Read More »from Verizon in Canada: Will a new carrier lower your wireless bill?
  • Netflix bets on all-at-once programming, new features

    When the latest season of Community ended in May, I was sort of hoping NBC would cancel my favourite show. With creator and showrunner Dan Harmon fired at the end of the third season, the comedy floundered in its fourth go-around, proving to be a pale imitation of its former greatness.

    I didn’t necessarily want to see it put out of its misery – I was actually hoping beyond hope that it could find a second life on Netflix, with Harmon brought back to his rightful spot. After all, the video streaming service did recently attract much attention – and presumably success – for resurrecting Arrested Development, another cult comedy, years after it was cancelled by a mainstream network.

    In the end, Community was renewed for a fifth season and Harmon was hired back, so all is well in the world. Still, I was a little crestfallen after sitting down last week with some Netflix executives and learning that my imagined scheme may not have been an option.

    “We’re not in the revive-old-TV-shows business

    Read More »from Netflix bets on all-at-once programming, new features
  • CRTC’s wireless code of conduct may boost cellphone bills

    Two-year cellphone contracts will soon be the norm in Canada, as opposed to three years currently. Woohoo, right? Well, maybe. As I've warned elsewhere, the shift is likely going to result in prices going up. Carriers and their industry group have said as much.

    So what will that actually mean, dollar-wise? We won't know for sure until the carriers re-orient their pricing to reflect the CRTC's new Wireless Code of Conduct, which kicks in Dec. 2, but now is as good an opportunity as any to have some fun with numbers. Here is some back-of-the-envelope math to get an idea of what things might look like six months from now.

    Perhaps the best way to arrive at any guesses is to take the basic version of the most popular phone in the land, the iPhone 5, on the biggest carrier, Rogers. The basic model currently costs $179 on a three-year contract, while the device's full suggested retail price is $699. That means the subsidy customers are currently getting amounts to about $519, or $14 a month.

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  • With Telus buying Mobilicity, everyone loses

    With the news that Telus is buying small cellphone carrier Mobilicity for $380 million, it’s hard to figure out who’s going to be worse off: consumers, the government or the big carriers themselves.

    One less wireless company – especially one that specializes in offering rock-bottom prices – obviously means there will be less competition and choice for customers. The removal of such a particularly scrappy player will bring Canada one step closer back to the status quo of Bell, Rogers, Telus, a trio that already currently enjoy some of the highest profits and per-user revenues in the world.

    At $60.79, Canada leads the world in the all-important industry measure of average monthly revenue per user, according to figures from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix. That’s a third higher than the developed world average of $43.79 and 16 per cent higher than the United States, at $51.61. Canadian carriers are also fifth highest among advanced nations in profitability, with a

    Read More »from With Telus buying Mobilicity, everyone loses
  • Canada poised for a raft of Netflix rivals

    Canadians have proven to be pretty big fans of Netflix, with an estimated two million of them having flocked to the online video streaming service since its launch in 2010. Amassing that many customers in such a short time is nothing short of amazing, considering that Rogers Communications, Inc.– one of the largest traditional television providers in the country – has about that many cable subscribers despite having a head start of several decades.

    Not surprisingly, the company – as well as every other big TV provider – is looking to counter Netflix’s explosive growth by fighting fire with fire. By this time next year, there could be a whole raft of Netflix competitors available in Canada, with each TV provider selling their own flavour of online streaming service to both current customers and non-subscribers alike.

    Toronto-based Rogers says the key is a current dispute before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission between Quebec TV provider Videotron and Astral

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  • BlackBerry’s road map: Life after Z10 and Q10

    After a few years the company would rather forget, things are looking a little more up at BlackBerry these days. The company is on the verge of launching its second new phone in as many months – the Q10, on May 1, also know as the one with the actual keyboard – with hopes that it can get back in the smartphone game it originally pioneered.

    Sebastien Marineau-Mes, the company’s senior vice-president of software, visited Toronto this week to talk about the company’s plans. Coming over in BlackBerry’s 2010 acquisition of Ottawa-based operating system maker QNX, Marineau-Mes has his sights set on a broader market than just smartphones. QNX, after all, makes the software that runs everything from car entertainment systems to nuclear reactors.

    So, while the focus at BlackBerry right now is on the recently launched Z10 and the upcoming Q10, those aren’t the only things in the road map. Marineau-Mes sat down to discuss the past, present and future of BlackBerry. Here’s a condensed version of

    Read More »from BlackBerry’s road map: Life after Z10 and Q10
  • Apple stock’s greatest enemy is its own products

    What’s behind Apple’s stock plunge? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessarily anything the company is or isn’t doing – it’s mostly the product of accelerating commoditization, a historical force that no hardware-making company can resist.

    Apple shares dipped below $400 this week for the first time since December 2011, after a report from parts supplier Cirrus Logic showed weak demand from an unnamed customer. Given that Apple, which uses the company’s parts in iPhones and iPads, makes up 90 per cent or more of its business … well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the math.

    Apple shares were again below $400 in mid-Thursday trade – more than 40 per cent off their 52-week high – signalling investors are increasingly worried about the company’s ability to compete against a raft of competing Android smartphones. Expectations of a cheaper iPhone have been circulating for months, while most industry analysts also agree that Apple’s one-new-smartphone-a-year release

    Read More »from Apple stock’s greatest enemy is its own products
  • Canada’s small wireless carriers playing a clever game

    If telecommunications were a chess game, the sound the country heard on Wednesday was a trio of small wireless companies saying, “check.”

    With Wind Mobile, Mobilicity and Public Mobile jointly announcing they were quitting the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association because of its alleged favouritism toward incumbents Bell, Rogers and Telus, it’s over to the government and the CRTC for the next move.

    How policy makers react to the small companies abandoning a lobby group that is supposed to speak on behalf of the entire industry will inevitably affect millions of Canadian wireless subscribers.

    It’s a masterful strategic gambit, given that the industry is currently under a microscope from authorities. The federal government is in the midst of planning an upcoming spectrum auction and reviewing how such licenses can be transferred between players. The regulator, meanwhile, is putting the final touches on a code of conduct that will govern all carriers.

    The defections will

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  • Spamhaus cyber attack latest in evolving Internet threats

    If the headlines are to be believed, the Internet very nearly saw its apocalypse this past week, thanks to a massive cyberwar raging in Europe. Too bad it’s not very likely.

    Both The New York Times and the BBC have stories on the battle between Spamhaus, a European group that helps fight spammers, and Cyberbunker, a Dutch web hosting company that will reportedly do business with anyone that isn’t a child pornographer or terrorist.

    Cyberbunker apparently launched its denial-of-service attack – an effort to overwhelm internet servers with fake traffic – on Mar. 19, after being added to a list of spammers by Spamhaus. The size of the attack was unprecedented, the news outlets said, measuring six times larger than what targets -- such as financial institutions -- usually see.

    Spamhaus works in conjunction with several big Internet companies, including Google, to limit the effects of spam. The attacks were first reported last week by Silicon Valley security firm CloudFlare, which was

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  • Samsung Galaxy S4 to break new ground with eye tracking?

    Is Samsung about to open up a new eye-tracking front in the battle for smartphone supremacy? If early reports are to be believed, that certainly looks – excuse the pun – to be the case.

    The South Korean company’s Galaxy SIV phone, to be unveiled next week in New York, will be able to track where the user is looking, allowing for hands-free scrolling and control, according to the New York Times. If the user is reading a web page, for example, the phone will automatically scroll downward, following the person’s eyes.

    Samsung isn’t yet talking about the possible feature, despite the newspaper citing a source within the company. The race is on to guess who or what is responsible for the underlying technology.

    A good possibility is Israeli startup UMoove, which has 11 patents in this area. When I visited the company in Tel Aviv in October of last year, founder Moti Krispil showed off the technology on an iPad.

    It worked well, especially with a game called Flees, from Ginormous Games. The

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  • Instagram: 100 million users yet no revenue

    With an announcement that it has hit 100 million monthly users, Instagram looks to have achieved that magical milestone of critical Internet mass. With so many people using the photo-sharing service, it’s not likely to spontaneously combust and fold any time soon, and certainly not with Facebook as its owner.

    But the $1 billion question – which is what Facebook paid to acquire Instagram last spring – still remains: how exactly is Instagram going to make money?

    Its first attempt was a disaster. The company’s announcement in December that it was changing its terms of service to allow for the selling of users’ photos was met with a harsh, almost Facebook-ian backlash. Hordes of users, from individuals all the way up to National Geographic, vowed to stop using it. The company reversed course quickly.

    Still, Instagram appears to have continued adding users at a brisk pace despite the controversy. It had fewer than 40 million before the acquisition; if it continues on its current pace, it

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  • PS4 appeals to gamers, investors with social push

    If there was any doubt that Sony was trying to appeal to investors rather than gamers with its PlayStation 4 launch in New York on Wednesday, Andrew House – the company’s head of computer entertainment – put it to rest near the end of the two-hour show.

    "There's another partner we'd like to invite on stage to show the tremendous support we have for PlayStation 4," he said before calling up a representative from Blizzard Entertainment to talk up the new console.

    It was the umpteenth developer in a long cavalcade of them, each of whom was called on to spotlight new and different capabilities of the next-generation machine. The PS4 will hit stores late this year, just in time for the holidays.

    From the “share” button on the redesigned controller that will allow gamers to instantly upload videos of their accomplishments to Facebook and Ustream to better social interactions (like taking over someone’s game online to help them through a particularly tough part) to – of course – more

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  • ‘Used’ game rumours bite GameStop

    If you walk into a GameStop or EB Games, the stench of inevitability is in the air. Once upon a time, the chain's – Texas-owned GameStop owns EB – sold only video games and their assorted hardware.

    Now, more and more floor space is being devoted to anything but. There are toys, iPods and iPads, even muscle creams, for those aches and pains incurred by marathon game sessions. With the Internet devouring the likes of BlockBuster and HMV, GameStop sees the writing on the wall – video games are digital products, which means the brick-and-mortar stores selling them won’t be needed much longer. And so the rapid conversion into physical goods.

    Shares of the company, which operates 6,650 stores worldwide, took a hit this week as the latest batch of rumours that the upcoming, new console from Microsoft won’t play used games. GameStop is the main player in the used game market, which has been estimated at $2 billion in the United States alone. The company gets more than a quarter of its revenue

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  • Battle for Canadian wireless airwaves about to heat up

    If you’re an electromagnetic frequency buff, the federal government’s upcoming wireless spectrum auction is going to make for a thrilling 2013. If you’re a normal person, well, the next few months will be exciting nevertheless.

    Some time in the first half of the year, the big, established wireless power trio – Bell, Rogers and Telus – will be set against hungry up-and-comers Wind, Mobilicity and Public Mobile in a competitive auction of the airwaves that are the lifeblood of cellphone services.

    Hanging in the balance will be the most precious prize of all: consumers’ wallets.

    Things will be considerably different from the previous auction in 2008. For one, Wind, Mobilicity and Public didn’t exist then – that auction brought them into being through special rules, which reserved a portion of licenses for new players.

    More importantly this time around, foreign investors will be much freer to participate. With an amendment to the Telecommunications Act this past summer allowing majority

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  • Telecom, cable bills cheaper in 2013?

    The federal government finally loosened up foreign ownership restrictions in telecommunications in 2012, so why aren’t Canadians getting home phone, internet and TV all together for less than $50 a month like the Dutch, Danish and Germans do?

    Liberalized ownership, after all, was supposed to be the silver bullet that would solve competitive problems and high prices in Canadian wireless, internet and television. So what happened?

    The answer depends on whether you’re a cynic or an optimist. On the one side is the belief that the government did the bare minimum with its slight amendments last summer to the Telecommunications Act. At the other end is the possibility that the changes were just the first step in creating a more competitive service landscape, with more action to follow.

    The changes that did go into effect were much needed. Previously, foreign investors were limited to owning 46.7 per cent of the voting shares of an infrastructure-based telecom carrier and prevented from

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  • RIM surprises with smaller loss; new fee scheme

    Research In Motion seems to have mixed up its holidays. Rather than giving investors a Christmas present on Wednesday, the BlackBerry maker instead invoked Halloween by spooking analysts with news that it’s revamping the way it will charge for services.

    Chief executive Thorsten Heins said the company is looking at offering corporate customers a “menu” of services along with the upcoming BlackBerry 10 phones, rather than taking a “one-size fits all” approach with email and security like it has until now.

    Those service revenues, which are collected by carriers and passed on to RIM, amounted to 36 per cent of the company’s revenue in the most recent quarter, so analysts were understandably concerned.

    RIM executives declined to specify how those charges could be carved up or changed in a conference call Wednesday evening, but they did say that it will be a necessary move to retain customers. Some businesses, after all, only want the phones without the attached services.

    Other than that

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  • RIM’s volatile week, competitors signal rough ride

    For BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, it's been a Dickensian week. With the positive, concrete details of its long-awaited next-generation BlackBerry devices offset by the negatives of new patent and customer issues, it really was the best of times and the worst of times.

    The Waterloo, Ont.-based company started off well. On Tuesday, RIM announced the release of the final version of the software development kit that developers will need to make apps for BlackBerry 10. The road is now clear for app makers to do their thing ahead of the official launch on Jan. 30.

    BlackBerry 10 roadshow continues

    BB10 also went on a road show to journalists around the world. In a demo in Toronto on Tuesday, company representatives showed off the new operating system on the prototype Alpha B phone, an all-touchscreen device. A second prototype with a physical keyboard and touchscreen, which will resemble the Bold, is about to ship to developers. RIM said the final version of this phone will closely

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  • Marc Garneau appeals to consumers on telecom competition

    Liberal leadership contender Marc Garneau is in favour of "throwing the doors open" on the telecommunications industry, with a plan to fully liberalize ownership restrictions on the sector.

    Removing barriers to foreign companies will benefit consumers through increased choice and lower prices, the MP for Westmount-Ville-Marie said at a press conference in Ottawa on Monday.

    "Canadians are tired and frustrated with big bills, poor service and limited choices on wireless, Internet and phone services," Garneau, a former astronaut, said. "Only real, market-based competition will keep providers in line. With competition and choice, providers will weed out unnecessary fees, invest in service quality to retain customers and improve their product packages."

    Foreign ownership restrictions have kept telecom prices high, with Canadians paying some of the highest wireless rates in the world, he said. Bills here are 20 per cent higher than in the United States, 70 per cent more than in France and

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