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Earlier this month, T-Mobile announced that it will launch converged cellular/Wi-Fi calling services across the U.S. In order to take advantage of this service, you will need a cell phone that also includes a Wi-Fi radio. Software on the phone will allow the phones to make and receive phone calls from either cellular or Wi-Fi networks, and will also allow seamless hand-offs between the two different types of networks. Of course, T-Mobile already has a handful of these converged devices, including the Dash and the recently released HTC Wing.
But this new service will also pave the way for some higher-end devices from Nokia to reach American shores. Specifically, devices like the E series smartphones such as the E65, E61i and E90. The first two are already available in Europe (and via certain sales channels to U.S. buyers), and the E90 will be available in another month or so. This could be the stepping stone Nokia needs to win back some market share in the U.S.
While Nokia has had limited success the last few years with low-end phones, it has struggled with bringing its higher-end devices to the States. Business-class devices, such as the E series, make the most sense. Many businesses expense and/or allow employees to write off smartphones. If T-Mobile were to supply subsidized Nokia E series devices, and bundle them with the new converged Wi-Fi calling features, it could be the right move to gain some leverage with U.S. business buyers.
Neither Nokia nor T-Mobile has tipped us off to any such plans, but it makes sense for both players. Nokia finds a new foothold and T-Mobile gets to offer compelling phones for business users. Nokia has already committed to providing converged phones for T-Mobile and this service. While it does offer a mid-level feature phone with this capability, it would be a good move for Nokia to step up and get some of its flagship devices on store shelves in the U.S.
I don’t think anyone, least of all a phone site, can deny that the iPhone is the most highly anticipated gadget of 2007. And because of this we are seeing two things – tons of press releases coming out every day with the word “iPhone” in them simply to beg for attention, and the publishing of every possible whisper and rumor about the iPhone. This week a number of reliable publications have published statements that border between rumor and fact. They all come from unnamed analysts and all look suspicious enough that we will not publish them on Phone Scoop’s news page. However they are just believable enough enough that they could be true. Because of Apple’s incredible secrecy, there’s no way to know.
At the start of the week, another iPhone story in USA today casually claimed that Cingular has a five year exclusive deal with Apple, preventing the company from launching phones with any other American carrier or developing CDMA handsets during that time. However the paper does not cite a source for this information and even after it was published, the only thing AT&T and Apple will say is that the two have a “multi-year exclusive agreement.” However USA Today pulled a number of other parts from this article in a revision to it three days later, but did not change or pull the statement about the five year agreement, lending it an air of authenticity. If this is true it would be rather unprecedented.
Last night an analyst on CNBC said that the iPhone would be available on June 20th. Immediately the internet was all aflutter with stories on this, until people started investigating what the analyst actually said. It turns out that a store employee told the analyst the iPhone would be available on the 20th. One Cingular store employee. Gizmodo asked a Cingular employee and was told the 11th. Forbes did its own investigation and was given dates between June 11 and 22. Wireless Info asked in a number of stores throughout Boston and was given answers anywhere from June to August. And both Apple and Cingular continue to say that the iPhone is on track for arrival in late June.
The only thing we know for sure about the release is that both Cingular and Apple have continually been adamant about a June launch, and that the iPhone has cleared FCC approval, so it could happen at any time. We also know that many people have talked about June 11th because that is the start of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference(WWDC) and June 12th because that is the date of Job’s keynote at the WWDC. If Jobs does not announce the iPhone is available at the conference, it is possible he will announce the date it will become available.
When the iPhone was announced, about the only article I saw that wasn’t glowing praise, but wasn’t curmudgeonly negativity was a piece on the Japanese reaction to the iPhone, which could be summed up as “ummmm, that’s all? so what?” Other than the touch-screen interface, the iPhone is light years behind the features on most high-end Japanese phones. In fact, even the features on the highest-end phone I’ve ever touched (the Nokia N95) just barely begins to approach high-end Japanese standards.
I present for you here, to marvel at, KDDI’s new flagship phone – the one that every gaijin I know in Japan began lusting over yesterday after it was announced – the W53CA (the CA stands for Casio)… This twist and flip clamshell has all the normal KDDI AU Win features (AU Win is KDDI’s equivalent to Power Vision or VCAST – a group of services included on every EV-DO phone.) that includes GPS enabled walking and driving directions, a music store with song and video downloads, mobile manga (comics), long mail (kind of like email but for mobile phones), ringtones, etc. On top of all that the 53CA has an 800 x 480 screen, a 5 Megapixel camera with autofocus which gets Casio’s Exilim branding, and FeLiCa mobile wallet (NFC like PayPass) which can be used not only as a payment method in nearly every store in Japan, but also as a train / subway ticket, a door key, and even an airline boarding pass. The only modern feature it doesn’t have is a TV tuner. (There are both Bravia and Aquos TV phones in Japan.)
I dream about the day when we will see phones like this here in the States. I’m not one of those people who say it will never happen. Over the past two years the US has been doing a better job of keeping up with the phoneses (no it’s not a typo, it’s a pun, see?). And I believe that the demand for phones packing high-end convergence will increase as younger generations continue to lean further towards mobiles rather than PCs. In much of Asia and even Europe, many people forgo PC ownership altogether and use their phone for everything. We’re only starting to see mobile-centric behavior developing here, but as it does, I think the likelihood that we will get more advanced phones at services that are on-par with what we see in Europe and even Japan or Korea will increase.
Yesterday Motorola did us the courtesy of wasting an hour of our time re-announcing phones they had already launched before finally getting around to yet another RAZR. While describing each of these “new” phones, which were all announced 3 months ago at 3GSM, Motorola was sure to make some direct, as well as many indirect comparisons between these products (which were originally announced after the iPhone) and the iPhone.
Reframing these phones’ features and form factors did not make them any more of a competitor to the iPhone than they were before. It was a marketing ploy, and a poor one at that. After the failure of the first ROKR, Ed Zander (who is lovingly referred to as ZNDR in phone nerd circles) often said Moto should be more like Apple and he wanted to copy Steve Jobs’ style. (minus the black turtle neck, natch.)
And ZNDR would do well to learn some lessons from Jobs. For instance, when Jobs wastes his breath comparing his products to that from other players he only does it in two cases, to say “everyone has tried to copy this” or to say “no one else does this.” This is reinforcing Apple’s position as an innovator. However every time Jeremy Dale or ZNDR talked about the iPhone yesterday, it wasn’t in a “look what Apple learned from us” context, instead it was “hey look at us, we sortof do that too, see?” And all that does is reinforce Motorola as both a second class citizen and a company who clearly is focusing on just one thing – the iPhone.
Anyone who’s been in the ring knows that focusing on just one thing you’re afraid of often leads to your downfall. It opens you up to all sorts of other attacks, and worse, it often means that you miss your opportunity to strike the winning blow. You’re so focused on that one thing that the opportunity just passes you by when it presents itself. and so it happened when ZNDR finally got around to announcing Motorola’s new (more like updated but never seen before) phone, the RAZR2.
Motorola is a company steeped in legacy. Heck even their most original phone in the past 5 years, the RAZR, was just an updated Startac. So who could be surprised when they finally got around to announcing something new that it was yet another RAZR? And they blew this the same way many fighters have blown fights. They are so focused on the one knockout punch or submission that has helped them win before that they again miss an huge opening for victory that presents itself – the fight equivalent of one-hit wonders.
And so Motorola was so focused on reviving the glory of the RAZR that they totally missed their opportunity, even though the technology and designs were already in their portfolio. The RAZR2 is average for a high end phone at best. In fact, feature-wise the HSDPA and CDMA models are not improvements over Moto’s current offerings in the least. The CDMA version is actually a downgrade from the RAZR Maxx, and the HSDPA version has the exact same specs as the V3xx. The GSM version is actually pretty hot, but will not be Moto’s big seller for the US.
While Moto was so focused on making yet another RAZR (how can we make it thinner? No, It needs to look more RAZR-like.) They totally ignored the one truly innovative feature and turned it into nothing more than a gimmick. The RAZR2 has 2 QVGA screens. TWO!! Which is so totally gluttonous it makes me sick to my stomach. Never mind that because the outer screen has an amazing feature – the bottom part of the screen is touch sensitive. So when you access the few features available with the phone closed, you control them by pressing on labels – labels that change since they are written on the screen. And when you press them, you get a little vibration that helps you realize you pressed something (it’s called haptics).
Moto totally had it in the bag. They could have redesigned their slider (maybe a sleeker sexier version of the Z6?) and used this screen as the main screen. They could have done away with the traditional soft keys and used the on-screen soft key area for ALL navigation. Sure it would have take some serious interface redesign, but it would have been worth it. People would have gone gaga over how cool it was that the buttons that are always so far away from the labels of what they do were actually on the labels of what they do. Yes the Palm OS and Windows Mobile Professional both do this, but they don’t do it with haptics (and the Palm OS doesn’t really do it in any organized fashion either). And Moto could have really innovated. They could have changed the game. Maybe even making an OS that was even easier to navigate than the iPhone.
But they were so worried about their one knock out punch (the RAZR form factor) and how badly their opponent might hurt them, that now this innovation is just a gimmick. nothing more than LEDs on equalizers. And this fight will have to go to the judges instead of being decided by a knockout blow.
I never understood patent law very well or even knew what a patent troll until I started writing for the Feature. Back then a company called neomedia would constantly give me a hard time whenever i wrote about mobile barcodes (especially in Asia) because they claimed to own all the patents on this idea and swore that they did it first. Neomedia is still around, and still making these same claims. But neomedia never made anything, they bought the intellectual property from cuecat (remember them?) and then put up a web page with examples of how their technology would work. Supposedly Neomedia finally has a working barcode reader now, but of course so does every phone manufacturer outside the US.
Like Neomedia with barcodes or NTP with wireless email (though slightly less so), Qualcomm has become a patent troll with wireless technology. Qualcomm owns all the patents on CDMA, now granted their founders actually invented CDMA and have used it in actual products since the beginning. so they are not squatting on this patent. and it was the GSM association’s own stupidity for developing WCDMA that created Qualcomm’s first patent squabbles. This has now led to Nokia and Qualcomm duking it out over WCDMA and GSM and Nokia giving up on CDMA altogether. This has also led to Qualcomm’s selfish royalty pricing that makes CDMA handsets too expensive for developing nations when compared to GSM ones.
Now Qualcomm is starting to enter official patent troll territory by going out and buying companies that may hold important patents on next generation wireless technologies like OFDM and MIMO. Thanks to these purchases they claim to own over 1000 patents on 4G technologies. Make no mistake about it, these technologies are critical to 4G the same way CDMA turned out to be the basis for all 3G. OFDM and MIMO are not just part of UMB and LTE (CDMA and GSM’s next gen technologies, respectively) but also to WiMax.
Qualcomm is getting cocky now and saying that because of their patents, UMB will rule the world. and then has the gall to talk about how them owning a few patents for 2G technology is keeping the market safe from Nokia’s monopoly! Although it’s possible that some flavors of WiMax could escape Qualcomm’s patent grasp, it’s pretty much impossible for LTE to do the same because of OFDM. Nokia and other GSM proponents may have worked around MIMO with their new SDMA technology, but it’s less likely they can circumvent qualcomm’s OFDM claim. but should they even have to?
OFDM is actually a pretty obvious, though very difficult to describe concept. and the supreme court has recently been going on a rampage against obvious patents for the exact reason being demonstrated here. companies can patent something obvious then use that to extract money from other companies who were equally aware of this obvious solution.
i admit, i’m a technological communist. i’m plenty happy for qualcomm to design chips and base stations and what not and make money that way – i’m not a total communist. but making money by trying to control the spread of an idea with the help of expensive lawyers just hurts everyone. It retards the advancement of technology and significantly holds back access to it in poorer economies.
Google upgraded its Mobile Maps application with expanded GPS functionality. GMM is now able to take advantage of GPS systems to provide real-time location based services including directions and traffic info. Until now, Google Maps had not supported either external or internal GPS on all phones. After checking it out, the step-by-step directions certainly work. Eric and I agree that having to manually select the next “step” is just a wee bit dangerous, though. True turn-by-turn directions would be better.
The real-time traffic alerts were spot on, too. I plotted a course from my house to Giants Stadium. Hitting the “show traffic” key displayed some congestion on Route 46. The local radio station confirmed this. Traffic is shown with red coloring on your intended route. It would have been cooler if a pop-up bubble told us exactly what the congestions was, or at least mentioned which side of the highway was being affected.
Of course, the service is free, so we really shouldn’t complain. Too much. I am just glad the directions aren’t populated with little advertisements: “Stop here for some McDonald’s.”
I’ve been using Helio’s new Ocean for about 12 hours now. (Gimme a break, I needed some sleep.) So far my verdict is darn positive. I know this sounds crazy because of all the positive press around the Ocean, but i expected to be disappointed. Because we review so many phones, and so many similar phones, it’s tough to approach every phone with fresh eyes, with no expectations. Although I like where Helio says they’re going. And I like that with each release they get a little bit closer, I’m used to them not getting nearly as far as they (or I, I guess) had hoped. So I approached the Ocean expecting to be disappointed.
But just like Spiderman 3, the Ocean turned out to be way better than I expected. Not just better than my low expectations, but better than what you can expect from similar phones. Seriously. It puts phones like the enV to shame, because Helio took the time and care to think about the small things. For instance, if you make or answer a call with the QWERTY keyboard out, the Ocean automatically puts it in speakerphone. If you use the numeric keypad or have the phone closed, the call is answered normally. See? Little things.
Or take the awesome home screen search setup. From the home screen, if you slide out the QWERTY keyboard and start typing, it uses those letters to first sort through your contacts, but then offer you an internet search of whatever you typed. Windows Mobile Standard (Smartphone) will sort through your contacts, but nothing more. But wait, if you slide out the numeric keypad instead, it does the exact same thing, only it applies T9 to your entry. That’s exactly what a phone should do, but so few phones do what they should, that touches like this have brought many giddy smiles to my first day with the Ocean.
There’s tons of other touches which I could spend hours listing. Or I could just tell you that I’m pretty wowed so far. The keyboard is much easier to use than I expected. The software has some small, but very nice improvements. And everything is snappy as all get out. My only complaint so far is that you can’t use Helio Up, the new photo sharing service for the Ocean, to do anything yet. I’m told that in the next couple of months we should see some big announcements in that department, but until then, all the photos I upload because i want to attach location data to them are stuck in limbo.
Last time I checked, there was but one blue splotch of HSDPA coverage on the Cingular coverage map for my town, and it was the local Cingular store. Aside from that lonely island of 3G goodness, the closest region with blue showing was a few towns to the east (closer to NYC). That was about a month ago.
Upon checking today, the big blue blob has spread out and gobbled up some more towns, including the town next to mine. There are actually two cells providing 3G coverage near my home, though each falters about a block from my house. Blast!
It looks like I’ll have to take a walk at some point with the N75 review unit I have and see what 3G signal I can stumble into.