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ATPM 17.01
January 2011


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by Wes Meltzer,

Going Mobile: the Cell Phone Grows Up

Consumer Reports Annual Survey Pans AT&T’s Service

In their upcoming issue, CR’s annual survey absolutely pans AT&T. I’m not surprised, and I doubt you are, either, if you own an iPhone. Even still: they got a “Worse” grade in every category except one, worst out of the four major carriers and US Cellular. (Why CR isn’t using the same scale they always use, with the red doughnut as “Excellent” and the black circle as “Poor,” is a mystery to me.)

50 Percent of Smartphones Sold in China Last Quarter Are Android Phones

Via Horace Dediu, John Paczkowski reports that 50 percent of phones sold in China last quarter run Android. It looks like the iPhone is running pretty hard in China as well; both were only just introduced to the market this year. This growth is literally coming out of nowhere. Previously, most smartphones in China were either Symbian or Windows Mobile. That’s bad news for Nokia—and probably Microsoft, although I don’t know what their plans are for a Chinese-language Windows Phone 7. (I bet it took a lot of work to equip Windows Mobile for hanzi.)

Life With Google Voice on the iPhone

Nate Peretic of Full Stop Interactive has a nice write-up on what life with Google Voice is like on the iPhone, both in the past and the present. He’s putting his money where his mouth is by canceling his AT&T text plan and telling his contacts to call that number rather than his iPhone’s primary service number. He points out a few flaws, and a few upsides, to boot. It’s worth reading if you’ve considered the switch.

How Mobile OS Use Shakes Out Globally

A really interesting graphical and analytical look at how different the six continents and some various countries are in their mobile-OS usage. For instance, Symbian is still dominant in the developing world, but the developed world is almost totally beholden to the combination of iOS, BlackBerry, and Android.

Jamie Thomson’s Windows Phone 7 Review

Is Windows Phone 7 all that it’s cracked up to be? I’ve been following these reviews anxiously, and this one’s about as good an encapsulation as I’ve read. Short version: great for e-mail, not so great for media consumption, blisteringly difficult-to-comprehend UI decisions.

The Guardian’s Charles Arthur Reviews Windows Phone 7

Charles Arthur gets his hand on a Windows Phone 7 phone from O2, the UK network. He takes a bit broader view than a lot of reviewers, but even he hits some roadblocks. Conclusion: promising but needs polish. My favorite line is, “On the yardstick where the iPhone’s devilish detail makes it Satan, the HTC HD7/WP7 combo is a priest who has taken to drink, wine, women, song and has started exploring the filthier parts of the Internet.” Arthur also points out what I think is the strongest indictment of Windows Phone 7 yet: the home screen is surprisingly unlike anything else, but it’s also very low on information density, showing only eight tiles at a time, and with only a very few applications supporting status indicators. The main list of applications is virtually unusable, like a Start Menu gone horrendously awry. Doesn’t sound fun to me.

In Motorola Suit, Apple Amends Complaint, Raises Infringement Charges to 24

In the already amusingly complex Apple-Motorola dispute, which spans at least three states, five lawsuits, and (previously) 30 total patents, Apple is trying to make things more dramatic. Motorola originally sued Apple, in Illinois and Florida, a detail a lot of people seem to be forgetting, and alleges that Apple is infringing on 18 patents of theirs. They’ve since withdrawn the lawsuit in Illinois, where they’re headquartered, and moved the suit as a counter-claim to Apple’s lawsuit in Wisconsin. (Anyone know why all the action is in Wisconsin? I’m dying to know.) So Apple, which originally filed a legal counter-maneuver in Wisconsin alleging Motorola’s infringement on 12 patents, has now thrown in 12 patents they are claiming against HTC in a pending case. For a total of 24. For good measure, Motorola had already asked that the claims against HTC be thrown out. In Delaware. I’m thinking someone is going to settle before this ever gets un-confusing-ed by a judge.

The Guys at Whereoscope Compare Android vs. iOS From the Developer’s Eye

Mick and James, the guys at Whereoscope, makers of kid-tracking software (for one’s own children, you gutter-minds), got into developing because of the iPhone. Now they wanted to get into actually making an Android application. On the dislike list: having to explain how navigation on an Android device works to new users. On the like list: great documentation; ease of deploying software for testing. It’s a good read, especially for someone like me who is emphatically not a developer.

DF on the Difference Between the Android and iOS App Universes

John Gruber takes a really interesting exploration (partially rowing back a previous article) all about the difference between the Android and iOS application universes. What’s for sale in the Android world is fascinating, because so much of it sounds foreign. He quotes Mark Pilgrim saying, “OTHER THAN widgets, navigation, voice search, inter-application communication, and tethering, what have the Romans ever done for us?” Yet those are things that iPhone users expect Apple to do. Here Gruber makes a really interesting argument: the best apps for iOS could exist on Android but don’t, because developers either aren’t interested or can’t make money on them. But the best-rated Android applications are apps you can’t do for iOS, like home screen plug-ins and alternate software keyboards. In that regard, Android is a lot like Windows Mobile was. The best WinMo software was always home screen managers and e-mail enhancements and the like. I can’t remember a non-e-mail “killer app” for Windows Mobile.

Business Insider Predicts Apple Will Sell 10 Million Verizon iPhones in 2011

Business Insider is predicting, based on some AT&T statistics, that Verizon will sell 10 million iPhones in 2011, once they get that deal done. As someone who just bought an iPhone 4, I’m a little irritated that I’ll have to wait. But hopefully by 2012 Apple will have Verizon LTE support. I predict Verizon will sell a lot of iPhones to disgruntled AT&T users, in addition to all the new iPhone buyers who might have otherwise bought an Android or Windows Mobile device. (Is Verizon still selling the Palm Pre?)

iPhone and Android Users Use More Data Than Other Smartphone OS Users

Here’s a shocker: a UK consulting firm found that iPhone and Android users consume more data than BlackBerry or Symbian users. (Imagine that! You mean having a Web browser that doesn’t suck might play a role?) More interesting still is that they found that iPad users only use about as much data as iPhone users, and that iPhone users use more voice minutes than Android users. As far as voice goes, I’m thinking there’s an age and gender gap. My mom, whom loyal readers will recognize as my lowest barrier for technology, is a fairly savvy iPhone user. If I presented her with an Android phone, I think she’d have a heart attack—task management? Home screen add-on modules? But it seems almost axiomatic in cell phones today that the younger and/or more male your demographic skews, the less phone call–oriented they are.

Why One Big-Time Blackberry Fan Bought a Droid

Engadget editor Joanna Stern penned an editorial about how, when she lost her BlackBerry Curve a little while ago, she bought a Droid rather than a new BB. As Stern points out, RIM’s OS for phones is stagnant, and the strategy they’re pursuing is a long-run one at a time and in an industry when Keynes’ famous dictum never seemed more prescient. In a year, much less in the long run, RIM would be dead if Wall Street IT departments were to turn elsewhere. And here’s a question she doesn’t ask but I will: what’s the upside for RIM of pursuing a tablet? It’s a market that’s totally incongruous with their current corporate–e-mail power-user base. Anyway, food for thought, especially if you’re a BlackBerry user.

AT&T Plans to Buy up Wireless Spectrum Blocks for LTE 4G Service

Ars Technica is reporting that AT&T will be buying $2 billion of wireless spectrum licenses from Qualcomm to upgrade its wireless network. Qualcomm is shutting down its Flo TV service—that didn’t last long—and AT&T says the wireless spectrum space, 12 MHz of which is in the low-700MHz neighborhood in the Northeast and California and another 6 MHz chunk around the country, should make a sizable difference for customers in those areas dealing with craptacular AT&T service. AT&T is planning to use it for its own LTE service. Alas, if you own an iPhone, you will need a new one for this.

AT&T Embraces Carrier Billing for Android Customers

And the thumbscrews tighten down on Android users with AT&T service. Right now, the Android Marketplace allows you to buy apps via credit card, but AT&T customers will be able to also bill it to their accounts. I wonder how long it’ll be before the carriers insist on exclusive control of application sales.

How Do You Improve a Device? Ignore Early Adopters

Horace Dediu points out that, for a lot of platforms, following the advice of early adopters is a bad idea. RIM’s most loyal users didn’t care about rich Web browsing; Palm users didn’t care about having a phone built into a PDA. And a lot of Apple users were skeptical about the iPhone. (Guilty as charged. I had a Palm and I had an iPod, and I never thought either of those would work with a phone built into them.) It’s a really interesting point: don’t follow your most loyal users, because that’s not where the growth is.

Yea and Nay on Google Nexus S: Wired (Yea)

Wired’s Matthew Honan takes one of two views of the Google Nexus S, which is made by Samsung (notably not HTC). Unlike the nay review that follows, Honan is genuinely impressed by the hardware. He also points out what I think is the hardest mark against virtually all Android devices: because it’s a Google-branded handset, the Android install is pure. It’s like installing Windows from the disk, I think, rather than getting whatever crap Dell decides you’re going to have to waste your time uninstalling. He is also very impressed by the Google Voice experience…which I have to say, does sound awesome.

Yea and Nay on Google Nexus S: Sixarm’s Joel Parker Henderson (Nay)

Joel Parker Henderson of SixArm, in the second of our opposing Nexus S reviews, absolutely hated the Nexus S. For instance, he thinks the Samsung body feels cheap (I owned a Samsung phone and would believe that) in comparison to other Android devices, like Motorola’s Droid. Also, Google or Samsung rearranged the hardware buttons (!) and possibly least fun of all, it doesn’t have its own GPU, so the graphics are “jittery and staccato.” That’s usually bad. Anyway, I was really surprised at how negative he was after reading Wired’s review.

On Tablets, “Fixing” the iPad, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab’s 7-Inch Form Factor

Paul Thurrott’s Prescriptions for “Fixing” (Read “Improving”) the iPad

Paul Thurrott is not, apparently, a fan of the iPad. Raise your hand if this surprises you. Nevertheless, he’s offering some help to Apple as to how they can “improve” the device, most notably a smaller form factor and lower prices. I suppose the one could follow the other, but I just bought (slash was given) an iPad, and I think the incredible realism of holding the Web in your hands has merit. Can’t do that on a device just two-thirds the size. Anyway, worth reading.

The Next Web Pans the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Boris at The Next Web basically pans the Galaxy Tab in comparison to the iPad. He recites a litany: the OS just doesn’t adapt to the larger form factor, the hardware is needlessly confusing, it’s not enough smaller for the difference in form factor to make a big difference, and over all lacks the spit and polish Apple tends to put into things. I handled one for the first time the other day and I was inclined to agree with this assessment.

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Is iPad’s First Real Rival—

In the WSJ, Uncle Walt points out (last month, I know) that the principal advantage to the Samsung Galaxy Tab over the iPad is that it can be held in one hand. (That 7-inch diagonal screen results in a tablet that is roughly half the size of the iPad, a deceptive figure.) On the other hand, if the Android UI elements don’t properly scale up from smartphone-sized, I’d just as soon use a smartphone.

Gizmodo Calls the Samsung Galaxy Tab a “Pocketable Train Wreck”

Matt Buchanan, writing for Gizmodo, called the Galaxy Tab a “pocketable train wreck.” He points out:

[T]he Galaxy Tab is small enough that apps simply blown up a little bit still fundamentally work. Which means, conversely, that there’s almost no added benefit to using the Tab over a phone. It’s not big enough. Web browsing doesn’t have greater fidelity.

That hits the nail on the head in a way I haven’t read previously. The size and resolution increases aren’t significant enough (same total resolution as the iPhone 4, about double the physical size) to really add anything to the experience.

Horace Dediu on the Prospect of Murdoch’s Tablet-Only Newspaper

Rupert Murdoch is reputed to be developing a tablet-only, initially iPad-only, newspaper. Note that this is not going to be a niche publication like Politico or an RSS-gathering operation; it’s intended to be a real newsroom. Dediu points out that, as advertising revenue continues to shift online, the massive cost of operating a newspaper printing plant will grow to ever-larger proportions of newspapers’ budgets. Maybe a clean break—unlike newspapers’ checkered Web site pasts—is what’s needed. Dediu asks if Murdoch could turn out to be the newspaper world’s Orson Welles.

Can a Tablet-Only Newspaper Work? Frédéric Filloux Takes a Hard Look

It’s easy for the commentariat to say, “Advertising dollars will follow eyeballs from print to online.” But that hasn’t turned out in practice—for starters, the single biggest reason most people buy or subscribe to the Sunday newspaper is the circulars and coupons—so Rupert Murdoch is going to try to push it along. Frédéric Filloux asks, what is it going to take? Dediu quoted Murdoch as saying he would charge $1/week, but Filloux goes with $99/year as a base, figures a 100-person newsroom, and totals it all up to a break-even point of just 150,000 subscribers. That’s about the circulation of the Columbus Dispatch, the 50th-largest newspaper in America. For reference, USA Today, the second-largest newspaper and only truly “national” newspaper, circulates 1.8 million in print and, if my estimates are correct, has about 450 journalists. So Murdoch, controversial but a maestro of the numbers, may have unlocked the key to making the economics work.

Acer CEO Predicts His Company Will Be the Market Leader in Tablets in 2–3 Years

Gianfranco Lanci, the CEO of Acer, is going out on a limb and predicting that his company will be leading the market in tablets in 2–3 years. His strategy—a smart one for a competitor coming from behind—is to offer three tablets in two sizes running two OSes. Soon the world will have a 10.1-inch Acer tablet with Windows, a 10.1-inch with Android, and a 7-inch with Android. Whew! Let’s check back in 2–3 years and see if he was right.

Where the Chrome Meets the Road

Marco Arment: Chrome OS’ Biggest Hurdle Is IT Departments’ Conservatism

Marco Arment makes a really interesting point about the Chrome OS and Google. The companies that are best-equipped to take advantage of Chrome OS are organizations with profoundly conservative IT departments, really, really big companies like national banks and state government offices. And their principal criteria are long-term support and broad compatibility. Which is why, Arment points out, so many banks are still using Windows 2000, which was still officially supported until July. I agree with Arment, and I’d add that you’re more likely to see banks worldwide—under new financial pressure, you may have heard—adopting a Linux like Ubuntu or Red Hat and buying third-party support contracts than you are to see them picking up anything from Google, even at a price point of free. At least Ubuntu guarantees desktop LTS (upgrades, etc.) for three years. What’s Google’s offer?

Google’s ChromeOS Means Losing Control of Data, Warns GNU Founder Richard Stallman

Richard M. Stallman, the man who founded the Free Software Foundation and created the GNU project of Unix software, etc., etc., is highly critical of “cloud computing.” He says, probably justifiably, that losing control of your data is a convenience cost that isn’t worth it—it’s no longer on your own computer, now it’s on a server that you don’t control. And marketers love it because it’s a term, not because it’s so revolutionary. But, like any good RMS observation, it quickly descends into a rant abut government and corporate control of your data. Yes, it’s true, if you hold the data on your hard drive, you’re in a better position to resist a data search without a warrant. But most of us don’t have a data pipeline broad enough and consistent enough to access that data outside our houses, and I think mobile computing shouldn’t be restricted to people with fiber at their homes. Does that outweigh some lost privacy cost?

Andy Ihnatko Gives the Google Cr-48 a Test Drive

The Chicago Sun-Times’ crack tech columnist takes Google’s Chrome OS laptop prototype, the Cr-48, for a test drive. I found his observations really interesting: Ihnatko says the experience is really seamless, where Chrome is the entire interface, and the idea of not having to worry about file synchronization across computers—because everything is stored in a Web application—is an appealing one. Richard M. Stallman notwithstanding. But Ihnatko points out that there are also downsides to a completely browser-based interface. For instance, there’s no apparent file browser of any kind, even if you insert an SD card into the built-in reader. Also, the Cr-48 is virtually useless if you don’t have Internet access, impressive even by the standards of the average netbook.

Ars Technica Takes a Little More Technical Look at The Cr-48

Ryan Paul at Ars Technica takes a little geekier look at Google’s Cr-48 prototype. He points out—how interesting!—that the only way to get a command line is via a Web browser tab, and that without toggling a special “jailbreak” switch underneath the battery, about all you can do via the CLI is SSH. He also discovers that almost the entire filesystem is read-only, other than /home. I’ve read about a lot of strange things done with Unix—actually iOS’ file structure under the hood is one of the more fascinating—but using it in this way is surely unprecedented for a non-dumb terminal workstation. I thought the Fn-key selection was really fascinating and a little Android-influenced, too, by adding a Search button and a Switch Window button. I’m also intrigued by the hardware issues he describes, because that’s something that beguiles Unix users everywhere. Curious to see if Google takes the kind of extreme hardware-attention orientation that Apple does.

Another Cr-48 Test Drive: Macworld

Joel Mathis from Macworld takes the Google Cr-48 Chrome OS prototype notebook out for a spin. As he points out, there are some really interesting things, but at least right now, many users don’t do quite enough computing in the now-infamous cloud to really sever ties with the hard drive-based community. (There’s no offline editing mode yet.) He also wonders about the point of the Chrome Web Store, which mostly offers bookmarks to Web sites. Somehow that sounds surprisingly familiar, and unfulfilling, like Google missed the memo about the original iPhone OS release. Anyway, it’s a really interesting and user-oriented review.

What It Means to Be a “Cloud-Based OS”

Paul Buchheit—Google’s 23rd employee, also an ex-Facebook employee—takes the opportunity to make some really interesting observations about what it means to be a “cloud-based OS.” The broadest possible take-away (all I really have space for, given the length of his essay) is that it’s not clear what the market for the Chrome OS is; more specifically, what’s the point of an OS that can’t run native software? Android and iOS support native applications and also have cloud-based applications (which is to say that they store all your data remotely). In a world where computing power is astonishingly cheap, i.e., in which my microwave has a CPU that is a descendant of the Motorola 68030, it’s unclear why users benefit from switching to a purely Web-based OS model. Faster JavaScript execution?

Odds and Ends

Macworld: What Not to Do When Designing Your iOS App

Mike Keller at Macworld gives us a Hall of Shame of what not to do when making your own iOS application, starting with the Netflix application. It is pretty bad, I have to say.

Ars: Apple May Switch From NVIDIA to Intel’s Integrated GPUs on 13-inch MacBooks

The guys at Ars look at what it would mean for Apple to switch from an NVIDIA graphics card with its own GPU to an onboard GPU from Intel. Apparently Intel should be able to satisfy most of Apple’s needs, including the very conservative power supply of the 13″ MacBook.

Alexandra Samuel Ponders What Delicious’ Fate Means For Web 2.0

I know this is a little far afield, but coming on the heels of this month’s Wired’s cover story about machine intelligence, Alexandra Samuel writes in the Harvard Business Review about what Yahoo either canceling or selling Delicious means for Web 2.0. She points out that the value in Delicious isn’t in subscription charges, for instance, or advertising. It’s a way to obtain more information about the Web, its sub-networks, and its component pages. Yahoo could theoretically have used Delicious to one-up Google by outsourcing intelligence gathering; one thing they did do was get us to connect with each other through them. Yahoo is basically offering to flush all that value down the drain.

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