February 15, 2011
Will the third time be a charm for the portrait slider form factor that was the vehicle for webOS’s debut? The competition has gotten a lot tougher and the app gap remains webOS’s biggest challenge. Still, I think there’s cause for optimism.
As HP was not shy about pointing out at its Think Beyond event last week, the trend in the market has been toward jumbo screen sizes; CES was rife with announcements of 4.3” and 4.5” handsets. The original Pre and Pre 2, however, simply had too limiting a canvas. The bump to 3.6” puts HP in iPhone range. While I’ve said on a few occasions that I think 4” is perhaps the ideal balance between reachability and real estate, 3.5” is pretty usable and HP has put the extra width to good use by adding a larger keyboard..
But even screen size wasn’t as horrible an impediment with the first Pre as the experience-crushing lag. HP has addressed that in two ways, by bumping up the maximum processor clock speed to a roaring 1.4 GHz and by many optimizations in webOS 2, which I awarded the Switchie for most improved smartphone OS. I’m hoping those two improvements combine to make the fluidity of using a webOS handset consistent with the fluidity of the user interface’s design.while providing competitive battery life.
Tags: HP, Pre 3, screen sizes, smartphones, webOS
January 30, 2011
I’ve written here and there about how 3D is not the only intriguing capability of the Nintendo 3DS and the components of the system generally work well together and complement each other. But two in particular can be at odds with each other – the 3D screen and the gyroscope.
One tradeoff of the 3DS’ autostereoscopic display is that the 3D effect needs to reorient if the viewing angle moves too far from its sweet spot; this causes a dark wave to pass over the screen. Of course, gyroscopes invite such reorientation since they respond to it to enhance gameplay.
Recently, I discussed this challenge with Greg Galvin, CEO of Kionix, a company that produces accelerometers and gyroscopes, and he held out hope for its reconciliation. The key, he self-servingly notes, is that the sensors in many of today’s products – while a step up from the early efforts that are in the original Wii controller – aren’t nearly as sensitive as they could be. Higher-end components, though, are more precise and require far less of a tilt to produce the same effect.
There must be a fine line, though, between subtlety and the natural tilting and shaking that could be a normal byproduct of playing a handheld game. It seems similar to the kind of intelligence Synaptics and others are addressing with palm or wrist detection on touchscreens to differentiate purposeful contact from a resting part of the hand.
Tags: 3D, accelerometers, accuracy, autostereoscopy, gyroscopes, InvenSense, Kionix, Nintendo 3DS, sensors, sweet spots
January 13, 2011
By itself, the Atrix was but one of the dozen or so large-screened Android smartphones that invaded CES 2011, but what really set it apart was its lapdock accessory. This clamshell combination of a full-sized keyboard, screen and battery allow the Atrix to function more like a Linux smartbook.
Extending the processing and connectivity of a smartphone to notebook proportions is, of course, not a new idea. The pre-Elevation Palm sort of tried it with the Foleo, which was a mostly independent device and in some ways a closer ancestor to the BlackBerry Playbook. Celio implemented it with the Redfly, although that product was tied to the unpopular Windows Mobile OS and later BlackBerry, where it was poorly integrated. Rather than a dock, both solutions were able to use bandwidth-constrained Bluetooth to pair the input and output enhancement to the phone. In the case of the Redfly, a cable could also be used.
The Atrix 4G lapdock solution seems like it will work better than those approaches, but in the excitement over a smartphone that can apparently transform into a laptop, I think we’ve been too quick to overlook the lapdock’s strange design, in which the Atrix is docked behind the screen. This allows for easy connection and disconnection of the smartphone, but it doesn’t allow for use of both screens simultaneously. More importantly, it doesn’t allow you to easily transport the docked Atrix within the lapdock. I’d be surprised if a competitor taking a crack at this didn’t make it so that the phone is inserted securely inside the clamshell, allowing for sufficient ventilation, of course.
Tags: Android, Atrix 4G, celio, CES 2011, Foleo, lapdock, Motorola Mobility, netbooks, Palm, Redfly, smartbook, smartphone
December 20, 2010
Smartphones put Pandora on the mainstream map and is also helping the fortunes of paid music services such as Rhapsody and Rdio, which has created an iPhone music app that is a viable alternative to purchasing music a la carte with iTunes. Indeed, a subscription music offering is also integrated into Windows Phone 7 with Zune.
But what about the rest of consumers, particularly the millions who use prepaid handset services and feature phones, and pay their monthly cell phone bill in cash? Cricket has developed an intriguing music service for its customers called Muve Music. The basic proposition of Muve is similar to those of other music renal services. One can download all the DRM songs one wants for a monthly fee. Stop paying the fee and the access to the music goes away.
But rather than dealing with a PC and sideloading, Muve downloads music right to the handset over 3G, saving time and bandwidth by heavily compressing audio with a new “good enough” Dolby encoding method. The service will launch on a single Samsung feature phone with more to come, including smartphone implementations.
Cricket has addressed concerns about navigating such a large music library on a handset by offering a Web portal into the service that allows customers to pick songs and designate them to be sent right to the handset. And while it is a relatively focused service, it has also integrated automatic playlist creation and song identification.
Muve Music also lets customers use any available track as their ringtone or ringback tone. It’s about a $10 premium on top of the bill, or about what a monthly subscription to Rhapsody or Napster would cost that allows unlimited downloading. However, it is simply another part of the bill rather than paid to a third-party music provider.
The service is the best effort to date to tie music access into the carrier offering mix, which is the best shot of them becoming mainstream. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Sprint, for example, could roll the service as is into a Simply Everything plan. More post-paid customers would care more about music access on the PC itself, and there could be issues around discounts for family plans. Cricket has leveraged the simplicity of its phone service to deliver a simple on-demand music service for a customer base that it describes as passionate about music and flustered as to the best way to access it on what is their primary music-capable digital device.
Tags: Cricket, iTunes, MOG, Muve Music, Napster, Rdio, Rhapsody, sideloading
December 7, 2010
As it did with Eclair (Android 2.1), Google has taken the occasion of a new version of Android dubbed Gingerbread (Android 2.3) to bring out a new handset offering a “pure Android experience.” This time around, that purity is brought to you by Samsung rather than HTC, which produced the original Nexus One, a handset that stole some thunder (but few sales) from the Motorola Droid juggernaut.
Google has used the Nexus handsets for experimenting with distribution outside the carrier channel, even if it made the original Nexus somewhat of a sacrificial lamb. The superior distribution of Best Buy should certainly help with the push of the device.
However, the improvements in Android 2.3 may not do much to drive consumers to the Google-branded handset, at least for a while. Unlike recent Android enhancements that brought improvements such as more home screens, dramatically faster operation, and mobile hotspot capability, .most of Gingerbread’s improvements are under the hood. The marquee feature, NFC, could yield some compelling new applications, but the one most popularly considered – enabling payments – is hardly a magnet.
The “S” serving as the device’s surname refers to the Samsung Galaxy S family that is the foundation for not only the Nexus S design, but defines many of the key hardware characteristics for the Samsung Focus, which many consider “the Windows Phone to get.” With the Galaxy S, Samsung has pursued a strategy of ubiquity versus exclusivity, and so the Nexus S will compete with similarly priced and specced siblings at all four major carriers, including the Vibrant (as well as the faster G2 and MyTouch 4G) on T-Mobile’s own portfolio. Even though the Nexus S is an unlocked device, its (partial) optimization for T-Mobile’s network all but assures that it will be most appealing to customers using the smallest of the national facilities-based carriers.
The Nexus S may be less “a Nexus to perplex us,” but Google’s vanity handsets still seem like a bug in its diversification strategy, one that must be generating considerable head-scratching among Android licensees, particularly those that are not anointed to build a Nexus in a given cycle.. Google is still staying clear of going head to head with OEMs at major carriers, but while it is providing more serious competition this time around, the carriers are better armed as well.
Tags: Android, Google, HTC, licensing, motorola, Nexus One, Nexus S, NFC, OEMs, Samsung
October 22, 2010
Having had some time to try Windows Phone 7, I can say that Microsoft’s overhaul of its mobile operating system – while far behind in the features and apps race versus iOS or Android – certainly has some points in its favor.
- It’s hard to find an opportunity that Microsoft passed up to add some engaging animation or transitions.
- The camera experience is par excellence, an especially welcome makeover from the confusing camera experience of Windows Mobile.
- The software keyboard and typing experience are really strong, and software-typing on the Samsung’s Focus 4” screen was one the best software keyboard experiences I’ve had on a mobile device. I also like the novel approach Microsoft has taken to adding extra symbols, by providing a slide-in.alternative symbols. It may not be particularly intuitive or time-saving, but it eliminates the need to switch into yet another keyboard mode. In any case, it’s good news that Microsoft has a solid software keyboard since, like Apple and unlike Android, it won’t allow alternative typing systems such as Swype..
- I also like the way Microsoft has implemented cursor insertion; this is key for devices that lack a separate control for fine cursor movements as present in Android and BlackBerry devices. Apple gets the edge for style, but the Microsoft approach is more effective than those of rivals.
- While Live Tiles may not provide much more – and in some cases may provide less – at a glance information than widgets, Microsoft makes a statement – and removes some user customization work — by having them as the default display, although Android also allows you to mix and match widgets and launch icons on any home screen, and even iOS and BlackBerry show badges or numeric indicators on information such as how many e-mail messages you have.
On the other hand, Windows Live Tiles also highlight the simplicity of having a simple list for applications arranged in alphabetical order. Apple has let us scroll through thousands of songs in the past, why not 100 or so apps?
- Offering Find My Phone for free is a nice value-add that can bring some peace of mind. This is a sleeper feature.
- This is an OS for avid Facebook users – no apps really needed for the core experience and no cumbersome “social networking” layers . In fact, Windows Phone 7 depends so heavily on Facebook for much of its social plumbing that it’s hard to imagine what the experience would be without it.
My main complaint at this point is the gargantuan font that Microsoft uses to label hubs and other cards. It’s stylish, and may be intended to span the panoramas of Windows Phone’s interface, but it consumes a lot of real estate. Also, while I have not played around a lot with Office, the file fidelity that Microsoft promises in round-tripping documents is offset a bit by the completely foreign user interface for Office apps.
Yes, the UI for Office-like apps is very different on other smartphone OSes as well, but it still seems like more of a departure here. Some of that may be because it’s Microsoft doing the diverging, because there is such a strong association with the interface that makes Office Office (as opposed to something like Documents to Go), or simply the novelty of the Windows Phone UI overall at this point.
And then there are the unknowns. One of the main ones for me is the hubs. On one hand, it is a more visual way to organize related apps and functionality than folders. However, I wonder how well it will scale. That, along with a lack of multitasking, is one of the issues that will be easier to assess as Windows Phone 7 attracts more applications.
Tags: hubs, Live Tiles, Microsoft, Office, Windows Phone 7
September 12, 2010
Long before the launch of the iPad or the introduction of the smartbook concept, a client asked me what I thought about the idea of netbooks that didn’t run Windows. Versions of the ASUS Eee and HP Mini had been available with Linux distributions, but were ultimately cancelled in the face of consumers’ overwhelming preference for Windows on those devices. If it walks like a mouse being used on Windows, consumers expect to use it with a mouse being used with Windows. Now, SlashGear notes that Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs says that the iPad has delivered the concept of “always-on, all–day devices” that smartbooks had originally promised.
I read that comment as potential validation, but SlashGear frames it as a concession. If Jacobs has indeed taken up the white flag from Shantanu Narayen, It’s oddly timed given the barrage of ARM-powered Android tablets that are in the works. Archos, for example, just announced a whole family of Internet tablets (if you can call a device with a 3.2” screen a tablet as they do) and Samsung has announced the highest-profile iPad competitor to date in the Galaxy Tab (more on that name later).
So perhaps the term smartbook, like netbook, implies a keyboard – something that wasn’t the case in concept videos shown early on by Qualcomm. The Lenovo Skylight (pictured) was shelved, but promised to return one day running Android. Challenges abound. Not only is Android is not optimized for larger screens, but it needs a staple of applications to fill in the gaps with Windows (something Linux actually had for productivity in OpenOffice). Furthermore, channel, task and usage scenario overlap with Windows becomes more pronounced.
Over time, though, consumers may be more accepting of a keyboard-equipped smartbook. As the SlashGear post notes, HP and Toshiba have dabbled in the market. The paradox is that consumers need more successful non-Windows tablets like the iPad to understand such a device with a keyboard. Apple probably won’t produce one, but has opened the door to accessory makers to create an equivalent, and others will. The key for these vendors is to show consumers that even keyboard-enabled smartbooks are not neutered netbooks, but supersized smartphones.
Samsung appears to recognize that in using the “Galaxy” brand across its smartphones and the Tab, but it is both a new brand and one that has been subdued (at least in the U.S.) under the monikers that various carriers have given it. In any case, consumers have of course accepted physical keyboards on smartphones (with at least one successful clamshell feature phone that may be Android-bound).
Tags: Apple, Archos, ClamCase, Internet tablets, iPad, keyboards, netbooks, Qualcomm, SlashGear, smartbooks, tablets, touch, Windows
September 2, 2010
Prior to this week’s iPod announcement, it was a bit inconsistent that the midrange iPod nano could capture video (but not stills) and the high-end iPod touch could capture neither. With the new lineup, hough, the iPods’ capture capabilities have been rationalized. The iPod nano has no image or video capture capabilities whereas the iPod touch now has both – including high-definition video — even though the stills are of a lower resolution than those the iPhone 4 can capture. Of course, video capture is a better fit for the touch than the nano anyway. Not only can it now take advantage of the remarkable iMovie app, but video can be uploaded via Wi-Fi (which the nano lacks) and used by third-party developers.
Indeed, while the new nano boasts a novel and fun form factor, Apple’s new lineup has a sort of retro feel to it, with the shuffle reclaiming its buttons and the nano focusing more on music and a smaller screen. Why, the dock connector on the nano even returns to the center of its bottom, where it was on the third-generation nano. Both the shuffle and nano show that Apple thinks it’s hip to be square.
Paradoxically, the iPod touch, which looks most similar to its previous generation, really has an opportunity to spawn a whole new category of products – the consumer videoconferencing appliance. For less than $500 and a Wi-Fi connection, you can now set up a simple point-to-point videoconference, one that will be able to tie into more users as Apple enables FaceTime over 3G. Not only is the device now, more than ever, a contract-free smartphone, it’s a contract-free videophone.
Tags: Apple, digital music, iPod, iPod nano, iPod touch, videoconferencing
July 17, 2010
While Apple commanded the attention of the media this week by offering a bumper crop of cases free to iPhone customers as a goodwill gesture, the Android camp was not resting at all. Verizon Wireless continued its Droid assault by releasing the Droid X, the big-screened rival to Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G. Motorola has matched many of the specs of HTC’s largest Android device, but the Droid X lacks the EVO’s front-facing camera, kickstand, and of course WiMAX radio compatibility. And for all those looking to get more than their starting basketball lineup using their phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot, the EVO 4G can accommodate eight devices to the Droid X’s five.
At today’s Apple’s press conference, Steve Jobs weighed in on his thoughts regarding devices with 4′” or larger screens. I acknowledged their disadvantages while being somewhat more positive about their long-term prospects in my most recent (and last for this rotation) RCR Wireless Analyst Angle column. The larger screen makes it one of the more comfortable Android devices for typing in portrait orientation.
I’ve been using the Droid X since its announcement on a daily basis and like the device. I’ve found that the battery life — a concern on the EVO 4G — has been good enough to last into the evening with moderate usage. This was about what I was seeing with the iPhone 3GS, but the iPhone 4 has trounced that by a significant margin. Of course, the Droid X — like most other handsets — has a removable battery. Among my favorite software features have been the Mobile Hotspot app and the DLNA capabilities, both unsupported features in iOS (although there are several third-party DLNA apps). I also liked Motorola’s suite of widgets (the new, more understated MOTOBLUR).
But the Droid X has its weaknesses. The bottom row of buttons are quite narrow and a bit stiff and the camera button is a bit inconsistent and mushy. The device’s display led me to dread traversing the display’s length for the ever-necessary Back button, which I preferred to the far left as on the original Droid (and not just because of the convenience when using the slide-out keyboard). The Droid X pays an unwelcome homage to the RAZR by including a camera-hosting hump behind the top of the phone that resembles the infamous “chin” of Motorola’s once best-selling feature phone.
As I noted in my RCR Wireless column, the 4” display of the imminent Verizon Fascinate — based on the Galaxy S platform — will be a more agreeable compromise between screen size (and its screen is indeed extremely impressive) and portability. But the Fascinate will lack a few key specs that the Droid X can claim, including HDMI out and — more curiously — an LED flash. Speaking of which, despite having a higher megapixel count than the iPhone 4, Apple’s handset produces brighter photos with more saturated colors.
The Droid X is certainly a handful, but it’s fairly manageable, at least when you get used to it, at least for those with larger hands.
Tags: 4.3" screens, Android, chin, Droid, Droid X, Evo 4G, iPhone 4, Moorola, superphones
July 2, 2010
This week, Samsung, which noted that it has the highest market share in the U.S. for cell phones overall according to “several analyst firms” (ahem), gave notice that it is now getting into the smartphone market for real with the launch of the Galaxy S. Samsung is indeed making a big splash with this device. Unlike similarly specced devices that are exclusive to one carrier, different flavors of the Galaxy S will launch on all four major U.S. carriers. This should work to Samsung’s favor when it comes to gaining smartphone market share, but may also reflect the phone’s arrival date, coming in after Sprint and Verizon are making big bets with their 4.3” Android devices in a bid to fend off the iPhone.
But the branding of the deices will go beyond the model numbers used for the BlackBerry Curve on multiple carriers. Rather, they will each have distinct names and, in most cases, distinct industrial designs. On the verb camp are the Verizon Fascinate and AT&T Captivate while Sprint and T-Mobile have adopted adjective names with the Vibrant and Epic 4G. Yet they are all identified as Galaxy S smartphones.
Having checked out the phones for a bit earlier this week, I have a few early thoughts. First, the screens are very bright and do well in direct sunlight, although they are not significantly brighter than that of the iPhone 4. That said, the extra resolution and screen size of the Galaxy S’s screen enables it to display more of a Web page without striking one as overwhelming the way the Droid X and HTC EVO 4G do.
Tags: AT&T Captivate, Ganaxy S, Samsung, smartphones, Sprint Epic 4G, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Wireless Fascinate