The Current Smartphone Landscape

July 16, 2010 Leave a comment

WOW!  I have really neglected this blog.  Over a year since my last blog post…Today’s launch of so called “Superphones” on Verizon and T-Mobile as well as Apple’s iPhone 4 antenna problems has sparked some inspiration to take a look at the current smartphone landscape.

So there are a couple of ways to break this down in my mind: from the perspective of the manufacturers and the perspective of the carriers…or both.  To start, we’ll look at T-Mobile’s situation in the smartphone market.

  • T-Mobile, according to some pundits, is destined for a buyout considering their position in the wireless industry among the big four – dead last.  The company has been slow to expand 3G coverage in the United States and pales in comparison to the other three.  In addition, the company seems to be vested in the MyTouch brand as far as marketing goes.  They have been making strides as far as differentiating themselves in terms of their value and flexible options.  Unfortunately, they haven’t been getting the same quality of smartphone offerings as the other three and it really shows in their lineup.  The MyTouch Slide appears to be the premier device on the carrier, outside the already outdated HD2 (Thanks Windows Mobile) and the Android 1.6 Garminfone.  There has been good news lately though, with T-Mobile reportedly having the fastest 3G data network, powered by their HSPA+ expansion.  They have been taking shots at Sprint, touting 4G-like speed.  What they really need is an HSPA+ powered smartphone.
  • Sprint has been making news lately with the launch of their 4G WiMax data network and the EVO 4G.  The big-screened behemoth has made a positive splash and seems to be a sell-out phone whenever a store gets them in stock, which according to their CEO has been hurting 4G adoption.  Rumors have been cropping up of a merger with T-Mobile…if they both move to the more popular 4G solution, LTE.  Their smartphone lineup is fairly strong with handsets featuring Android, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile.  They have been getting a lot of firsts lately, like the Palm OS phones (uh…let’s hope HP has some solid plans for Palm), the aforementioned 4G network, and the first 4+ inch Android phone (and kickstand!).

Now we’ll talk about the top two carriers and some of their relationships within the industry.

  • The AT&T and Apple iPhone marriage has come under some scrutiny lately.  The legality of their 5-year exclusive relationship has come into questions.  In addition, AT&T has been battling reports of their crappy coverage and dropped calls and pokes by Verizon about said problems.  The launch of the iPhone 4 probably doesn’t have a positive impact on that perception either (You’re holding it wrong!).  Regardless, the iPhone 4 has sold in droves and despite the flaws, most would still argue it is the best iPhone to date due to its ridiculous build quality (glass front and back aside) and insanely pixel-dense “Retina Display”.  The other big-stink in AT&T land is the locking down and otherwise ruining of their Android offerings.  They seem to be doing everything in their power to knock Android down a peg when compared to the iPhone by prohibiting sideloaded apps and covering the Backflip in Yahoo (!) purple.
  • Verizon seems to be in the strongest position as far as their smartphone offerings, which is a big change from just a year ago.  With the launch of the original Droid, and the Droid brand as a whole, they have leapfrogged the competition in terms of Android selection. They seem to be locked in a tight relationship with Motorola, as Verizon appears to have a hold on the top-tier products coming out of Motorola.  Motorola has gotten into some hot water concerning the locked bootloader of the Droid X, effectively calling out and locking out the strong ROM-development community.  In addition, they were the first to offer the improved Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus (which hasn’t fared too well) and the Microsoft Kin (which has fared even worse, oops).  Verizon is constantly praised for having a rock-solid network and there are ruminations of a CDMA-equipped iPhone coming by next year.

And finally, we’ll look at some of the manufacturers and the future.

  • HTC has enjoyed a lot of success recently, releasing the Nexus One, HD2, Droid Incredible, Evo 4G, and MyTouch 3G slide.  They appear to be in a comfortable position with good relationships with all 4 carriers, outside the lack of a flagship device on AT&T.  HTC’s SenseUI is widely considered the best “skin” for Android, bringing the polish and shine Android so badly needs.  Their Snapdragon-equipped phones are quickly being outclassed by their competitors. The one thing I always thought HTC devices lacked was a good graphics processor.  I feel that this (along with Android platform fragmentation) has contributed to weak development of a gaming market for Android, but as we’ll see, this is soon to change.
  • Motorola has now become the go-to brand for high-end Android smartphones, with the original Droid, the Droid X (released today), and the upcoming Droid 2. The MotoBlur skin has been a mixed bag, but the newest version appears to be solid.  They have adopted the OMAP processors developed by TI and this has resulted in strong performance in terms of processing and graphics power.  Hopefully they will resolve the current spat with the Android enthusiast community concerning the Droid X’s locked bootloader.
  • And out of nowhere, Samsung appears to have swooped in and pushed the Android hardware platform further than HTC and Motorola could to this point. With the release of the Samsung Galaxy S variants – Vibrant on T-Mobile (Out now), Captivate on AT&T, Epic 4G (with Qwerty keyboard!) on Sprint, and Fascinate on Verizon, Samsung has brought a top-tier handset to all four carriers and given consumers an extremely solid Android choice regardless of your carrier.  Samsung has developed their TouchWiz 3.0 interface (skin) for Android, which looks derivative of the iPhone’s aesthetic.  Samsung also has access to the SuperAMOLED display technology, allowing the phones to be used in sunlight.  The screen technology appears to be second only to Apple’s “Retina Display” when counting in viewing angles, color contrast and saturation, and resolution.  In addition, their Hummingbird System-on-Chip appears to be superior to the Snapdragon and trades blows with the OMAP chip used in the Droid X.  All signs point to a graphics processing chip being more powerful than the one in the iPhone 4.  Hopefully, this will push top iPhone game developers to the Android market and make Android a more balanced experience with more quality apps.
  • Palm seems to be in limbo at this point, with the HP acquisition recently completed and nothing real solid planned for the future.
  • RIM is making progress with BlackBerry 6…hopefully that means less menus, less trackball, and more touch.
  • Apple finally brought multi-tasking, folders, and desktop backgrounds with IOS4. Yay for being able to listen to Pandora while surfing the web!  Task switching isn’t very elegant, but it’s there.
  • Android phones have finally started to make some fundamental usability shifts in the overall experience. First, phones are starting to come with internal flash storage in addition to a MicroSDHC card slot.  Take for example the Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile…16gb internal and an extra slot for more storage.  Second, more quality apps are coming to the platform…and EA and Gameloft appear to be porting over some of the iPhone’s best 3D games.  Third, we’re finally seeing the last generation of Qualcomm chips (like the MSM7201A from the T-Mobile G1) being phased out of phones, bringing most new Android phones up to version 2.1 spec.
  • Finally, I haven’t discussed Microsoft a lot because of the increasing irrelevance of Windows Mobile in the marketplace and the lack of news lately concerning Windows Phone 7.  After the big Windows Phone 7 splash, Microsoft has seemingly pulled a “Palm”, teasing a new operating system way before it’s ready for release. Hopefully they will move the release date up and become a true competitor again before it’s too late, but until then…we have Windows Mobile 6.5.whatever and the short-lived Kin.

So that’s it as far as I see it…it’s very exciting times in the wireless industry.  Hopefully I’ll continue to update and maybe talk about things other than phones!

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Categories: Technology

Android vs. iPhone OS (G1 vs. iPhone)

May 18, 2009 1 comment

So now that I’ve had about an equal time with my T-Mobile G1 as I did with my original iPhone, I’ve decided to write up my feelings about both.  I bought an iPhone last summer when AT&T was selling them refurbished without contract, a practice which I have not seen them do since.  I acquired my T-Mobile G1 in January when I traded my iPhone in a straight trade.  Anyone who knows me closely knows that I have no qualms about setting something aside for something new and interesting.  So…I guess that leads up to why I left the iPhone in the first place.

  1. At the time, the iPhone app store didn’t have many apps that I was interested in.  I love the idea of microtransactions and paying a small amount for handy apps, but at the time, I felt like many of the cool apps I would have gladly downloaded through iTunes were getting the banhammer by Apple’s app store approval method.
  2. The lack of 3G speed.  After T-Mobile’s 3G network went up in Kansas City, I wanted to be able to experience the enhanced 3G speeds would give me when I went home to visit.
  3. The lack of memory expandability.  Being locked to 8gb of storage space was a little unsettling because I am a media whore.
  4. The lack of a user-replaceable battery.  Knowing that the iPhone’s battery had to be replaced by Apple wasn’t something that didn’t settle well with me.
  5. Apple’s lockdown on features that the iPhone was capable of.  This meant data tethering and A2DP stereo Bluetooth were out and there wasn’t any hope in the foreseeable future.
  6. Lack of Cut and Paste.  Ok, so there has been a lot of bitching and whining about it and I think that it is a very valid concern.  Having to whip out pen and paper to copy down a number and then re-enter that number in a different app is a mega PITA.
  7. Safari’s instability.  It sucked that the damn browser would randomly choose to crash and kick me back out to the home screen.
  8. Spotty reception.  When I went into work, I usually never got more than 2 bars and data speeds were incredibly slow.
  9. The iPhone 3G had come out.  This meant the accessory market for the iPhone was already phased out and none of the worthwhile accessories that were going to come out wouldn’t support the original iPhone.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here are some of the things that I enjoyed and miss immensely.

  1. Multi-touch.  I loved the navigational gestures that Apple created for the iPhone, especially in Safari.  The G1’s annoying little zoom in and out buttons are a poor replacement for multi-touch.
  2. iPod integration.  The multimedia capabilities of the iPhone are second-to-none.  The G1’s music and video players pale in comparison.  Again, I am a media whore and I find that I usually never fire up the music or video apps because they are just not as user friendly.  I also miss being able to download podcasts directly to my phone.
  3. Support for viewing attachments.  I miss, miss, miss, MISS the ability to at least VIEW office attachments as well as PDF documents.
  4. Decent battery life.  Ok, this is the big weakness of the G1.  With the iPhone, I could browse on EDGE and come back home or a wifi-enabled area and make it through an entire day.  Since I was locked to EDGE speeds, I would always latch onto a wifi network when possible and made web-browsing and media streaming enjoyable.  With the G1, I almost never enable wifi as it absolutely drains the battery even when it’s not connected to a wifi network.  I fail to see the value of wifi and GPS on the G1 if I never feel like I can squeeze out any use because I have to worry about battery life.  My roommate recently tried using his G1 and the Telenav app with the built-in GPS and for some reason, the G1 actually drained the battery faster than his cigarette lighter could charge it.  This doesn’t sound right, but doesn’t sound wrong either given my use of the G1.  The G1’s advantage of a user-replaceable battery is evened out by the fact that the battery is so weak in the first place.
  5. OS consistency.  With the iPhone, most menus and buttons looked and performed in a logical, consistent matter.  With the G1, it’s a total crapshoot as to what button does what and what the menus may look like in any given app.
  6. Device sexiness.  This isn’t really fair as the G1 has a keyboard, but the iPhone was also constructed of better materials which made it feel more robust.  The G1’s size makes me want to forego the use of a protective case and it’s been fine thus far, but I’d feel better if I had a case on it.
  7. That face sensor that turns the screen on and off when your face is close to the phone.  The G1 is stupid in that you must press the menu button to wake the screen up and then slide the keypad onto the screen in order to press a number button.
  8. The sliding screen lock.  It was just cool.
  9. The physical vibrate switch.  I hate having to hold down the end button on my G1 to switch it to silent and then press the volume rocker up once to switch it to vibrate.
  10. Standard headphone jack.  The original iPhone had the recessed headphone jack, but it at least accepted standard 3.5mm headphones if you could get it in all the way.  The G1’s solution is cumbersome in that you must use a mini-USB to 3.5mm jack dongle.  The dongle is way too long and large for extended use (that’s what she said) and that also means you can’t charge the phone at the same time.
  11. iPhone app store.  Ok, I stated one reason I left was because there weren’t any apps of interest at the time, but even in the short five months of being iPhone-less, there are a boatload of apps that interest me now that I cannot get on the G1.  I miss streaming Pandora over wifi and I don’t think there is a suitable alternative on the G1 considering I don’t want to use the built-in wifi.  In addition, Apple’s restrictions on the app store seem to have been relaxed quite a bit and there is still a healthy jailbroken app community.  Finally, I miss the ability to update all my apps at one time.  I don’t think there’s a button to press in the G1 Marketplace that tells the phone to update all apps, and it is a pain to have to select each app and update them one by one.

Ok, now here’s some of the things that I enjoy about my G1.

  1. Built-in keyboard.  I can confidently say that I am much more accurate typing on the physical keyboard than I ever was on the soft keyboard of the iPhone.
  2. Google apps integration.  I love that Gmail and calendar work seamlessly.
  3. Browser stability.  I don’t know if I’ve ever had the browser crash on me.
  4. Push notifications.  Knowing when you get an e-mail is great and saves having to go to the e-mail app to see if you’ve received any new e-mails.
  5. Notification tray.  I love being able to pull down the notification tray and seeing all the things that want my attention.
  6. Trackball.  The trackball is helpful in precisely navigating about webpages.
  7. Desktop.  I never enjoyed the iPhone’s convention of dumping all your apps on the home screen.  I like the ability of making shortcuts to my most used apps and widgets.
  8. Standard USB charging port.  I like having the ability to charge my G1 with any standard USB charger, like the cigarette lighter charger for my GPS.
  9. Better reception.  I get at least 3 bars at work and rarely drop a call.
  10. 3G speed in KC.  Sooooooooooo much faster than EDGE.

And now a list of my dislikes:

  1. Occasional sluggishness.  The G1 sometimes bogs down and makes using the phone unbearable.  I know that the OS multitasks unlike the iPhone, but I’m not often multitasking, so I’m not sure what is slowing it down.
  2. General weirdness.  Sometimes when I want to unlock the phone, the screen does not respond to my attempts to unlock the screen lock.  In addition, I will often receive calls and the call button will not respond, leading to a missed call.  However when that occurs, the end call button still responds and immediately kicks the caller to voicemail.
  3. Lack of accessory market.  There isn’t much you can buy to expand the capabilities of the G1 in terms of external batteries, cases, speakers, FM transmitters, etc like there is with the iPhone.
  4. Lack of polish.  Much of the G1 experience just feels unfinished and unpolished and this shines in both the OS and apps.  In addition, the usefulness of push notifications is hurt by the fact that I can never seem to get all my apps that support push notifications to work simultaneously.  For example, my Twitter app Twidroid and my sports score app Scoreboard never seem to work at the same time.  It’s usually one or the other.
  5. Can’t install apps to MicroSD card.  Why can’t my apps be installed on the damn card?  It makes me never want to download new apps as I have to worry about having enough space on the phone itself, even though I’ve got 600MB free on the MicroSD card.
  6. The inability to organize my bookmarks in the standard browser.  I absolutely hate this limitation.
  7. Useless Alarm.  I don’t know if it’s just me (Ok, it probably is), but the G1’s Alarm app never wakes me up.
  8. Horrible built-in ringtones.  People complained about the iPhone’s built-in ringtones, but I imagine none have had the displeasure of listening to the G1’s.
  9. Waiting for Cupcake.  I feel like this update will remedy many of my problems with the G1, but I feel like it’s never going to come out.
  10. Marketplace viability.  I feel like priority for mobile developers is given to the iPhone because of the widespread user base.  I liken this to Windows vs. Mac vs. Linux, except the iPhone is Windows in terms of app support and the G1 is Linux.

I’m sure there are many more things about both that I can’t pull out of my head at this moment, but I’ll try to add them as I think of them.

So where do I stand?  Well, living in the Springfield area has forced me to live with EDGE speeds and I find it tolerable.  I can honestly say that it is rare that I want to go back to something that I’ve given up, but in this case, I would go back to the iPhone OS.  I wouldn’t necessarily go back to the original iPhone, but I could definitely see myself moving to a 16GB iPhone 3G (regardless of my inability to use T-Mobile 3G’s network).  When I finally get the Cupcake update, I’ll re-evaluate, but those damn annoying Apple ads (there’s an app for that!) have a point: the iPhone at this point (read: Palm Pre) is the definitive smartphone for mobile applications.

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First post, yay!

May 15, 2009 2 comments

Ok, so I started this wordpress blog about a month and a half ago and have finally found the time and motivation to actually write something on it.  With some of my very good friends graduating today (on time, no less!), I feel like it’s time for me to move on from last semester as well.  Hopefully, this blog will serve as a place where my random thoughts can go when there’s no where else to put them.  I’ve tried the pen and paper method before, but I never kept up.  Hopefully this digital medium will serve as a more useful tool and give me motivation to continue writing.  On this blog, I’ll be writing about things that normally fall under the -Nerd- umbrella of topics, however I hope to write about things outside of that as well…

Stay tuned for my musings about my experiences with the T-Mobile G1 and Apple iPhone…

Categories: Uncategorized