Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Verizon's Droid phone has already lost the war

Sure, Verizon has the best 3G coverage nationwide.  They're about 2 years ahead of AT&T in deployment, and they have virtually all of the nation blanketed with signal, especially since the Alltel integration.  In that regard, the Verizon network has all sorts of advantages.  But there's catches to it, as well:

• Verizon's EVDO 3G doesn't handle voice and data simultaneously.  Check the web, your phone probably goes to voicemail - or the call interrupts your web session for the duration.  All EVDO phones have worked this way as long as I've seen them (AT&T's counter-ads even point this out).

• CDMA/EVDO is the technology dead-end.  It's going to vanish with the deployment of 4G (LTE) and in fact the LTE transition that will start next year will likely neutralize any advantage either carrier has at this point - AT&T and Verizon are both deploying it.  Advantage - AT&T, since LTE is basically an extension of the GSM standards used everywhere in the world but on Sprint and Verizon's networks.

• AT&T has the baggage of only being about 2 years old.  Really.  The current AT&T was born from the purchase of Cingular Wireless by the then much smaller AT&T.  They spent a lot of the last couple of years trying to integrate the various networks they'd picked up - and that's part of why 3G deployment's only begun to accelerate over the last year.  They still don't have the data footprint that Verizon has, but that's going to grow fast.  I'm not an AT&T fanboi but the gap will continue to shrink fast.

• The current (app-running) incarnation of the iPhone is only 16 months old right now.  But that's a huge first-mover advantage for Apple - they've sold over 20 million of these puppies world-wide.  And they're a moving target.  Sure, some features have been improved upon by the competition, but Apple keeps coming out and moving the goal line - adding upon the numbers lead as they do so.

Is Verizon going to sell plenty of Droids?  Sure.  It's the best smartphone (based on specs) they've had yet.  It'll be the default purchase instead of the bag-of-hurt Windows Mobile phones.  Android, too, is a viable phone OS - it's pretty much going to kill off Windows Mobile and probably Symbian, though, as well as all the other "Linux for phone OS" devices out there.  That's good for the industry.  Not going to touch iPhone or Blackberry.

The major dilemma for Android as an OS is the same one RIM has with Blackberries.  Right now, you can develop an application for iPhone, compile it, and run it on any device running Mac OS X Touch.  iPhones 1-3GS, iPod Touch, and devices to be announced later.  It's one platform, one binary.  On the other hand, virtually every Blackberry is a unique device, requiring a unique build of software.  From what I've seen so far, Android looks like the latter, not the former.  That's not going to help.

For a learning experience, Apple didn't come out and advertise what the other phones didn't do.  They showed us what the iPhone could do, and how easy it all was.  And they have steadily added the things that power phone users found lacking - and made it easy for most developers to get their wares in front of an audience.  From what Verizon's indicating, they've focused on making an iPhone Plus, rather than a new way of using a mobile phone.  Apple did it the other way around.  Which is why they won.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Closer to a-Kindling...

Amazon cut the price of the Kindle 2 by $40 today, and introduced a GSM-based version (on AT&T's network) that will still cost $20 less than it did yesterday (new prices are $259 and $279, respectively - down from $299). I'm getting closer to Want status.

The magic point for me will be when it drops below $200 and gets native PDF support. Then I'll use it as a repository for all my tech manuals that I have in PDF format, and I'll read an occasional mass-market book on it as well.

Monday, October 05, 2009

iDon't get the hype

Apple may or may not at some point come out with a tablet computer. So what? Maybe Steve Jobs is playing chess while I'm playing checkers, but I just can't see virtually any tablet device that would be more than a niche device. Sure, tablets are useful in some industrial and commercial settings, but that's never been Apple's game. Apple plays consumer ball nowadays - along with their traditional high-end and creative pro markets. Here's the easiest questions to ask in order to figure out if a tablet computer has a place in the consumer market or not:

• What's faster, typing or writing (natural language, not some weird variation like Palm's old Graffiti input)?
• What's faster, easier, and more discreet to do in public, typing or speaking?
• Assuming a tablet computer could have easy, fast input and could run acceptably long on a charge, where do you stow it when it's not in use?
• Do you cry when a tablet computer falls down and breaks? Or do you just curse a couple of times and then go buy a replacement?
• Can it be cheap and rugged enough to not worry about?

Of course, Apple already knows how to make a reasonably rugged device that has good battery life, runs a desktop OS, and can perform the most needed functions of most desktop computers. In fact, it's called the iPhone. And it sells a hundred for every likely iTablet sale. Now, I could be completely full of nonsense here, but I just don't see a way for Apple to build a "tablet" computer that can fit my criteria above and still be cheap enough to sell to the mass market.

What I do foresee (maybe even as early as tomorrow) is a scaled-down version of the MacBook that can be sold at a $700 or so price point. That's likely to come - Apple won't play in the low-margin netbook space per se, but they'll provide a barebones laptop for people looking to trade up. They will keep driving the cost down on their consumer desktops, too - it's OK, because they make so much cash on iPhones that they can afford to shave the margins a little on the consumer systems. I see the big marketshare push starting soon. The potential isn't there to break Windows, but there's no reason that Apple can't have a happy, profitable 20-25% of the marketplace. It's more do-able now than it has been in years.

But there ain't no iTablet in that picture, and I doubt there will be.