Zeke Weeks

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Tag Archives: AT&T

Jan. 5 CES Highlights & Analysis : Android Goes Slate, Windows Goes ARM, and an iPad 2 Tease

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It’s that time again: CES, the annual consumer electronics convention in Las Vegas where companies show off their gadget game plans for the upcoming year.

This is usually the biggest time of year for gadget news – tech blogs and Twitter feeds are overflowing with information, which can be too much for even those paying attention all day. These are the most significant things I noticed from today’s announcements:

LTE smartphones barrel forward while American carriers slap a “4G!” sticker on their 3G networks

Phone after phone gets announced, almost every one of them having the same specs: 4.3″ display, Android 2.3 “Gingerbread,” dual-core 1GHz ARM CPUs, front- and back-facing cameras. The only development here over that of one year ago is the extra CPU core, really- HTC’s EVO 4G and Incredible of yesteryear are almost identical to their HTC ThunderBolt, which only adds LTE to the mix.

Sadly, this year’s announcement of 4G phones doesn’t live up to the hype being generated by the phone carriers. The reason: most of the phones marketed as “4G” run HSPA+, which is actually just the fastest revision of current 3G GSM technology. The real 4G phones have converged on the LTE standard, except for Sprint, which bet its chips on WiMax to get a years’ head start. AT&T today followed T-Mobile’s lead in deceptively rebranding their existing network as 4G. The reason? Their own LTE 4G transition won’t be complete until 2013, while Verizon’s antennae lit up in December 2010. If you’re buying a phone in 2011, take the time to find out if it can even take advantage of these next-generation networks that offer incredible speed boosts.
Sources:

Legitimized by consumers as a new device format, slates turn to Android

Last year, manufacturers flooded CES with slate devices in anticipations of the rumored Apple iPad. Without exception, they all sucked, being low-cost devices with Android 1.5 or 2.0 haphazardly tacked on without any considerations to changing a UI designed for 3.5″ phone screens.

This year, everyone knows the iPad is a bombshell at around 10 Million sold, and wants to get in on an obvious growth market. Google today announced the Tablet-specific version of Android 3.0, “Honeycomb”:

(Stay tuned to ZekeWeeks.com or @ZekeWeeks for my in-depth reactions to Android 3.0 Honeycomb – to be posted soon.)

A possible iPad 2 tease on the show floor

Dexim's purported iPad 2 metal mockup

image credit: Engadget / AOL - click to see their article

Engadget’s bloggers were trying to fit their iPad into a vendor’s unique iPad case on the show floor when they were told it wouldn’t fit, as it was designed for the next iPad. Better yet- the case included a metal mockup with the supposed form for the iPad 2. Is it real, or just a clever PR exploitation of the Apple rumor mill? Read Engadget’s great post about it all, including a photo gallery, here.

Microsoft takes desktop Windows to the mobile ARM platform, while Nvidia takes ARM to the Desktop format

After enjoying moderate success from the Atom-powered netbook boom of 2008-9, Microsoft has obviously read the tea leaves that all the cool kids are building their devices on ARM-based System-on-a-Chip (SoC) silicon, instead of the traditional IBM PC setup that’s been shrunk down to miniature form on netbooks. In an effort to make Windows avoid complete irrelevance take advantage of current ARM innovations, Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows will run on ARM in addition to x86/AMD64. But all Windows executables will need new ARM-compatible versions, unless Microsoft has a Rosetta-esque dynamic translator up its sleeve. That Windows would even consider this route on consumer devices is interesting, as Windows apps are have been forwards compatible since the 1980s. Perhaps it’s a telling sign of Windows’ ability to compete in the future. (And perhaps I’m looking to far into this.)

On the other side of this coin, chipset maker Nvidia announced “Project Denver,” their adaptation of the mobile ARM architecture to high-power desktops and servers. (Jon Stokes writes more about Project Denver at Ars Technica.)

Yet again, a big web property’s new feature makes independent developers’ products irrelevant; This time, it’s Twitter

This isn’t really CES news, but it still got buried in all the CES coverage: TechCrunch secured confirmation on reports that Twitter will release a first-party Mac application during tomorrow’s launch of the Mac App Store. If it’s free, and even more so if it’s ad-free, third party developers are not gonna be happy (though one could argue that they have ample opportunities to innovate beyond “cookie cutter” Twitter clients.)

So there you have it. Tons of stuff today! Stick around on ZekeWeeks.com or just follow me on Twitter, as I’m sure to post on anything of major significance that emerges amongst the thousands of announcements made at CES. Coming up next is my in-depth analysis of what is to come of Honeycomb, Google’s slate-specific version of Android OS.

My Solution for the Android Bloatware Problem

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City ID software soliciting a paid subscription
City ID software soliciting a paid subscription

City ID, a non-removable app preinstalled on my HTC Incredible by Verizon to get more money from me. They even start off with an unannounced trial of the functionality and hold it hostage 2 weeks later unless you pay up.

Note: Skimmers should definitely skip my overtures and get straight to my recommendations at the bottom of this post.

A lot of concern has cropped up regarding “bloatware” in the most recent batch of smartphones running Android. There are really two sources of complaints in this area:

  1. Custom User Interface skins put on top of the stock Android OS by the manufacturer.
    These skins take a generic, manufacturer-agnostic OS and create an experience unique to an individual manufacturer’s devices. Manufacturers seem to experiment endlessly with these custom UIs, often revising them with each new generation of device. They vary a lot in quality, but in turn also create more options for customers to choose the device best tailored to fit their own personal preferences. (Some will decry the existence of any custom UI, but I am in love with the time-tested HTC Sense UI, and moreover think that an “open” platform should allow for such innovations.) But it’s now impossible to buy a high-end Android phone in the United States without one of these custom UIs. With Google’s removal of their Nexus One phone from the consumer market, there are few examples of phones offering the pure “Google experience.”
  2. Additional “bloatware” programs pre-loaded onto phones by carriers to make a quick buck.
    Just like many new Windows PCs, carriers now compensate for their ever-decreasing margins on device sales by loading programs onto their phones for the purpose of generating more revenue, often without regard for the quality of the customer’s experience with the end product. One phone comes with a non-removable copy of Avatar; another has the search set to Bing by default and doesn’t allow owners to change to another service; AT&T doesn’t allow the loading of programs outside the Android Marketplace; and yet others build basic caller ID or visual voicemail apps and tack disproportionate monthly fees onto the bill for their use.

I’m not surprised or discouraged to see this come up as an issue as the Android OS matures. In fact, Android works this way by design. Android would not have existed as a product if it weren’t for the support of the Open Handset Alliance, a huge consortium of carriers, manufacturers and developers who stood to benefit from such an open platform. Back in 2007, the iPhone turned the smartphone status quo upside down, and did so by taking almost all the power away from the carrier with a vertically integrated product of uniform hardware and software. Any company wishing to make money in Apple’s new market, they had to first cede the final say on all matters to Apple, who in turn prioritized the quality of the user experience above all else. In many ways, Android only became successful because it gave carriers the opportunity to re-prioritize profits over quality products and services.

This isn’t to say that Android is doomed to a future of bloatware and terrible UX. Indeed, we’re seeing rather textbook examples of differentiation in a free market. Android is the best platform for differentiating devices for different preferences and price points. And anyone who oversteps the bounds of what a customer is willing to buy, they won’t succeed. And on top of these economic norms, Android’s open nature and fast release cycle makes it the most accessible mobile OS for innovators throughout the platform, from app developers, to service providers, to device manufacturers.

But at the same time, it’s clear that no American carrier sees economic benefit in selling a “pure” Android phone. Manufacturer-controlled phones from RIM and Apple are seamless integrations of hardware and software, and even Microsoft is asserting more control over the process with Windows Phone 7. With rumors of an imminent end to the iPhone’s exclusivity, it’s possible that carriers could just see Android as a good lower-end option below “premium” offerings on other OSes.

But I think this can be easily changed to keep Android’s momentum working in a positive direction without making sacrifices to openness, profits, or much else. Here’s how:

  1. Change the “Google logo” terms to put the customer’s needs first again.
    Android itself is totally open source and free, but you have to follow some extra rules to get the “with Google” logo and access to Google’s apps, including the Android Marketplace app store. Right now those rules aren’t very demanding, but Google could definitely insist that extra OEM/Carrier things on top of stock Android be removable by the end user. (They could even go as far as to ban custom UIs or bloatware, but I think it wouldn’t fit Android’s open nature, and would be a losing move towards competing with Apple’s business model.) “But what about the lost carrier revenue?” That’s where step #2 comes in:
  2. Give carriers a share of Google’s 30% cut on app sales.
    This gives them an incentive to make more pure “Google logo” devices over crippled alternatives. As carriers worry more and more about becoming generic service providers of wholesale data bits, this gives them a significant new revenue stream that actually rewards them for making the devices their customers really want. “But the Android Marketplace is mostly free apps, this isn’t Apple’s app store…” That’s true, but sacrifices don’t need to be made there, either:
  3. Charge developers an annual fee for the Android Marketplace to encourage paid apps, but protect developers’ existing freedoms
    Apple charges each developer $99 per year to develop and sell their applications in their store, and the only alternative is through jailbreaking. Android’s Marketplace is more financially accessible, and has a lot more free apps. To convince carriers that a Marketplace revenue share is attractive, they would need to change the Marketplace’s composure to a more revenue-driven approach. But the existing community of free app developers should also be accommodated for – I envision creating even more freedom for developers to use alternative distribution methods, first by forbidding AT&T-like restrictions on outside applications, and even – this is probably too optimistic – making root/super user access an easy opt-in setting on every phone for geeks who know what they’re doing.

I have no experience in the telecom industry, and I bet the folks in charge of Android at Google know a lot better than I, but I think something like this would be a logical direction to take as Android moves to new heights of popularity. I wonder especially about revenue sharing in the Marketplace when the carriers are going to the lengths of crippling their own devices in order to compensate for diminishing margins on unit sales.

Cell Phone Bills

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I am overspending a ton on my AT&T Wireless bill. My plan:

  • 450 Anytime, 5000 Night & Weekend minutes ($40)
  • Unlimited iPhone Data ($20)
  • 1500 Text messages ($10)

After taxes and fees, my monthly cell phone bill comes out to $80.06. My actual usage, however, is much less:

  • 116 daytime minutes (almost 75% of my talking happens during nights & weekends, or on free mobile-to-mobile calls)
  • 58MB iPhone data
  • 346 text messages

I got my iPhone for the internet features, not the talk ones. And if I break it down, the $30/month I spend for data and SMS is a really good deal compared to the competition. But why am I spending $40 a month for a lot more than I need? It’s pretty ridiculous that the lowest I can go with an AT&T plan is 450 minutes per month. I guess I could shave off $10 by reducing my texting to 200 a month. (I won’t go into how ridiculously inflated text messaging charges are. It’s like charging ten bucks for three-cent soda.)

I don’t like spending almost $100 a month on my phone. Humph.

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