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Hulu Plus for iPad & iPhone is Hulu Plus commercials Minus $10 monthly from your wallet

Yay Hulu has made it to the iPad and iPhone; you might well be saying the days of Flash tyranny are over! Not so fast. The cost of a Flash free Hulu Plus is definitely not free, running at $10 monthly WITH commercials PLUS those nasty AT&T overages if you step over the monthly data cap while enjoying a satisfying 3G video stream.

Oh sweet Hulu, ’tis a sad day, for thine rating is already down to 1.5 stars in the App Store. Over 1,600 out of 2,237 previewers so far have rated the Hulu Plus a measly one star, many citing the charging as the crime. iPad owners need not decommission that MacBook just yet, why pay when it’s free on the larger screen?

Neil Berman

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Jun 30, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Verizon Motorola Droid X makes TV appearance

Droid X Verizon 1Can’t wait ’til July 15 to see the Droid X?  Well aren’t you lucky because here are some screen grabs from the Verizon “Rile The Air” commercial that aired tonight.  The images on the screen of this Droid X were simulated, but you get a great sense of how big that expansive widescreen of Motorola and Verizon’s latest Android smartphone really is.  Can’t wait.

Droid X Verizon 2

Neil Berman

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Jun 28, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk is a beyond amazing deal – Update: now with review!

LG Rumor Touch Virgin MobileWay back in May, before things like the the World Cup, iPhone 4 and Summer happened, Virgin Mobile announced its Beyond Talk contract-free cellphone plans.  These pay-monthly-until-you-choose-to-stop plans provide unlimited text, email, data and web starting at a crayzeee $25, and come with with fewer taxes than typical monthly contract plans.

I recently purchased an LG Rumor Touch for $149, which is a 3″ touchscreen smart-feature-phone with a hardware keyboard and put it on a Beyond Talk plan to see what all the fuss is about.  I’ll fill you in on my experiences shortly but, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s hard to say no to unlimited data plus 300 minutes for only $25 or 1,200 minutes for $40…just as long as you can live with the limited phone selection.

Update – here’s the review: Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch review

Neil  Berman

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Jun 28, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Fix Dell Latitude Intel 5300 WiFi connection issues

Intel 5300 Connection ProblemI’ve been enjoying a frankly awesome and outperforming Dell Latitude E6400 ATG for some time now.  A review is on its way, but in the meantime one issue I’ve encountered is frequent WiFi connection dropouts when using its Intel 5300 AGN WiFi card.  The Intel 5300 is remarkable for its theoretical ability to catch a signal at 450 meters from the source, but this counts for nothing if the connection keeps dropping ten feet from your home router.

I narrowed down the issue to being a power management problem and by disabling the power management features of the 5300, my faith in the Latitude E6400 ATG’s general awesomeness was restored.  I’m assuming that the card was being too aggressive at saving power and, by entering a low power state whenever possible, it was inadvertently disconnecting from some routers.

My Latitude E6400 ATG is running Windows Professional 32-bit and here are the changes to the settings I made to resolve the issue, your mileage may of course vary:

Dell E6400 ATG 31. In the Change Advanced Power Settings within the Power Options section of the Control Panel, I set the Power Saving Mode of the Wireless Adapter Settings to Maximum Performance for both On Battery and Plugged In.

2. In the Properties of the Intel 5300 AGN in Device Manager I went to Power Management and un-ticked the box next to “Allow the computer to turn off this device to save power”.

3. In the Advanced tab of that same Properties window I also changed the 802.11n mode from 20MHz to Auto.  This allows for faster connections if your router supports them.

The steps resolved the connection dropping issue for me, if you’re experiencing something similar I hope this helps you too.  As a more severe solution, I have had a good experience with a Dell 1510 WiFi card in my Latitude E4300, so I was about to try that card in the E6400 ATG.  Fortunately following the steps above made that unnecessary.

Neil Berman

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Jun 27, 2010 Posted by | Guides, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

iPhone 4 received well but receives unconvincingly

iPhone 4Even before the iPhone 4 was available it stunned the world with its record sellout stats, long lines and waiting spots which became a tradable commodity in some cities. In the few days since its retail launch however, its reception has literally been more lukewarm for some.

Fairly consistent reports are filtering through the media about iPhone 4 reception issues, most notably when the phone is held in the left hand with the user’s palm covering the lower left corner of the side antenna. It seems that while Apple tried to do the right thing by being creative to improve the reception issues of the iPhone 3GS, the new design is a problem for many who like to hold the iPhone 4 in their left hand.

Apple has suggested that to alleviate this problem people should hold the iPhone 4 differently which, while being a valid suggestion, doesn’t really get to the root of the issue which seems to be a design problem. Apple did used to suffer from design issues plaguing first generation products but that reputation has recently been set aside with the largely successful designs of recent products with the exception of some overheating issues.

I would love to say this is just a temporary problem for the iPhone 4, but since the antenna is a specific hardware design feature it is unlikely to be fixable through an OS update. Will it hurt sales? I would say almost certainly not. The original iPhone, the iPhone 3G and 3GS all suffered from reception issues and Apple still managed to sell enough of those! It’s probably worth a trip to your local store to make a test call before you hand over your hard earned cash though, just in case your handiwork drops you into the reception dead zone and you can’t bear to change your style.

Rumors are circulating of a forthcoming iOS update that will fix the problem, I think we need to see that in reality as I’m intrigued as to how this could be fully resolved through software.  More likely we may see an updated design same time next year, with the antenna placement shifted somewhat.  A good testing cycle should identify errors such as these, so if anyone notices a sudden uptick in job specs for Apple testers we could infer that either the department is being beefed-up, or the unfortunate folks who missed this gaffe  have left the building.

Neil Berman

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Jun 25, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile | , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Sprint suffering from 4G perception issues in New York?

Sprint has been vocal this year in marketing its deployment of the first 4G network in the US. The release of its newest flagship smartphone, named the Evo 4G, reinforces this message upon consumers.

What doesn’t seem to be so well known outside of enthusiast circles is the fact that 4G is only available in limited areas. Sprint has certainly publicized this limitation and has said which US cities currently enjoy, or will enjoy 4G coverage during 2010.

However the anecdotal conversations I have had suggest that, at least in New York City, some people trying out the Evo 4G make the logical assumption that they are experiencing 4G speeds. Of course in reality they are not because Sprint is still only at 3G in NYC. Unfortunately this shows when using the Evo 4G.

I’m concerned this is a potential perception issue in the making for Sprint. Most of the people I have spoken with in NYC who have tried out the Evo 4G have come away disappointed with what they perceive to be Sprint’s 4G network. They’re surprised to see slower than expected page and Youtube loading speeds. Of course they’re actually experiencing a 3G network on a phone that has 4G in its name.

They walk away perceiving 4G to be no different to 3G and question why they are being asked to pay $10 extra when AT&T just very publicly lowered their data plan costs (albeit with a 2GB cap).

The question is, when Sprint’s 4G really does come to New York City will the Evo 4G pick up steam or will local inhabitants already have formed a false impression of Sprint’s 4G speeds?

Neil Berman

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Jun 18, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The dilemma of Xbox Kinect

KinectThe Nintendo Wii took the casual gaming world by storm with its motion control, against most predictions around the time of its launch. With the benefit of hindsight, many now are forecasting huge success for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect, which brings full body motion control to the Xbox.

That’s a fair and logical assumption to make, but here’s the thing about the Wii. After a few weeks most gamers seemed to retreat to the sofa, realizing that standing up for prolonged periods is tiring and the Wii could be enjoyed sitting down with wrist flicks. Let’s not forget that the more sensitive and active Wii Motion Plus never really caught on.

So while I love the idea of Kinect and am guaranteed to buy one, I’m curious about how often I will reach for a Kinect game above a more sedentary experience. That might be a poor reflection upon me, but I reckon that playing a full soccer game using Kinect might just get a little tiring.

Without doubt though it will be great for casual gaming, fitness and a new inspirational yet-to-be-invented gaming craze which I’m already looking forward to seeing.  Who knows, if it really picks us up off the sofa for good it might just fulfill the Wii’s initial promise as a panacea for obesity.

Neil Berman

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Jun 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

iPad, like iPhone and iPod Touch, has poor stereo Bluetooth implementation

When Apple launched the iPhone, Many were stunned by its lack of stereo Bluetooth capability. This function, which allows a device to connect to wireless headphones, is critical for those who like to enjoy wire-free music listening.

Apple partially added this capability to the iPhone 3G and the iPod Touch, but failed to allow them to support the AVRCP remote track control protocol. This means that although these devices will stream music to A2DP enabled Bluetooth headphones, you have to pull out your iPhone if you want to skip a track. Unfortunately the iPad suffers form the same incomplete Bluetooth implementation.

Worse still, since the iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch’s volume control is suspended when connected to a stereo Bluetooth headset, some headsets which rely on the sending device for a base volume control just don’t work properly with these Apple devices. For example I find the Plantronics BackBeat 903 is too loud even at it’s lowest volume level when connected to the iPad (see update below), yet it works perfectly with the BlackBerry Bold or any non-Apple smartphone I’ve tested it with.

Hopefully Apple will implement stereo Bluetooth properly on the iPhone 4, bringing it in line with most BlackBerry, Android and Windows Phone smartphones. If it fails to do so then those latter platforms remain a better option for those who like to listen to music wirelessly.

Update: Plantronics just sent a replacement BackBeat 903 and the minimum volume on that newer unit is fine with the iPad.  It appears the unit we had previously was faulty.  Of course, as with all stereo Bluetooth devices which support AVRCP, the Apple iOS AVRCP issue remains and we live in hope that Apple will one day resolve this.

Neil Berman

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Jun 13, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When critical systems fail: ITV HD shows an ad during England’s World Cup goal

Having lived in London and enjoyed the passion that the English have for the beautiful game, I can only imagine what might happen if a World Cup soccer broadcast became interrupted. Especially one in which England was playing. In fact it would be so disastrous that English broadcasters probably treat their systems as highly critical during such programming.

Yet that’s exactly what happened during England’s first World Cup game today, in which they faced a spirited Team USA. Four minutes into the game, while over on this side of the pond we were depressingly watching England score the opening goal, the English were enjoying a Hyundai commercial on ITV HD.

I haven’t seen an explanation for what caused this monumental blunder, which is akin to getting no signal during the first touchdown of the Superbowl. Whatever the cause, I’m sure there will be some changes in the control room before the next game.

How about installing War Games style double keys which would have to engaged before the ‘Go To Commercial’ missile button can be activated?

Neil Berman

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Jun 12, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , | 2 Comments

Android will genuinely be successful when its users don’t care about processor speed

androidTalk of a possible 2GHz Motorola Android smartphone by the end of the year sure is exciting. Or is it?

Way way back in the old days of 2006, smartphone processor speed was a big deal. That continued through 2010 but in a gradually diminishing way as more smartphones became blessed with fast processors, allowing customers to focus more upon the software experience than hardware specs. Nokia stands out as a cautionary tale in this regard, whose N97 had superb specs but failed to enjoy success largely due to its below market leading software quality.

The processor arms race has temporarily shifted to Android devices, with 1.5GHz models promised soon and now we hear 2GHz by the end of 2010. While this may sound cool, there are a couple of caveats which are worth noting.

Firstly, CPU cycles eat battery power, and without good power management faster processors will require a corresponding increase in battery technology.

Secondly, a 1GHz processor in a cellphone should make that puppy trot along at a decent clip. So if more horsepower is needed, there’s probably some work that needs to be done on the software. I would prefer a 1Ghz processor running fluid software over a 2GHz processor running inefficient software but giving the same user experience.

Thirdly, now that iPhone 4 has addressed most of the key hardware gaps between the 3GS and flagship Android devices, the differentiating factor between the two platforms is now really only in the software rather than hardware specs. So if I was planning an Android smartphone launch, my main focus would be upon getting the best possible software build onto it, rather than pursuing a processor speed race.

I’ll leave you with this thought: How many people know the processor speed of their iPhone? Hardly anyone, because the end user software runs so fluidly. Correspondingly Android will genuinely be successful when its consumers don’t care about the speed of their phone’s processor.

Neil Berman

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Jun 11, 2010 Posted by | Hardware | Leave a comment

Catch World Cup games live on espn3.com…if you have the right ISP – Update: Univision

As the soccer World Cup approaches, it is with a heavy heart that I write to inform you that the games will be live on espn3.com. Why the sad face? Well due to licensing restrictions, you can only view live content on espn3.com if your ISP has an agreement in place with the site. My ISP is Time Warner, which may well be the second largest in the country but it does not have said agreement with espn3.com. That means no live games for me online, and much sadness. If you’re a soccer fan and are based in the US, give the site a try to see if it works with your ISP. Hopefully you’ll have better luck than me!

Update: The World Cup games are also live online for US viewers at Univision, regardless of your ISP, so on a personal note it’s been great practicing my Spanish again!

Neil Berman

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Jun 9, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opposing forces: iAds, data rationing and streaming media

Apple announced iAd earlier this year and yesterday we got to see the fruits of this new strategy.  iAd brings in-app advertisements and allows users to experience ads without leaving an app.  Steve Jobs showed a demo iAd for the Nissan Leaf which looked pretty amazing, but the question is how much data is that iAd pulling and what impact will that have upon your newly rationed data plan?

We have had low bandwidth ads on websites for a long time now, and that will likely remain for a while to come.  The difference with iAds, if the Leaf demo is a guide, is that they could start eating up significant chunks of data.  I have no idea how much data was being pulled by the Lead ad yesterday, it was a 30 second hi-res video introduction into a mini-app, so let’s imagine the whole package was 5MB.

That’s not very much, unless you have the new 200MB Data Plus plan in which case it’s 2.5% of your monthly allowance.  To put it another way if you pull one 5MB iAd daily over a month, you would be close to using up half of your monthly data allowance on the 200MB plan.  You’ve basically paid a lot to view ads.

The solution sounds simple: don’t pull any ads if you are worried about your data usage.  Not so fast.  Since these ads can be designed to be so sophisticated many will likely have carrots to make us pull the whole ad and watch it to the end.  For example at the end of the Leaf demo ad Steve was taken to a screen where he could enter a competition to win a new Leaf.

Perhaps I’m being a bit picky with this example; after all it’s based upon a demo iAd and I’ve speculated on the amount of data it’s pulling.  There is a similar impact upon iTunes, Netflix, Pandora and the like.  Even though those are apps which the user wants to get data from, usage patterns may change unfavorably if users start to get nervous about incurring overage charges.  I guess what it comes down to is the idea that once data consumption starts to be rationed, users will start to be much more wary of how they use their phones.  This phenomenon will not be unique to the iPhone because other smartphones pull a lot of data too, but it is currently unique in the US to AT&T and hey, the iPhone is only available here on AT&T.

There’s always WiFi of course but while AT&T is moving towards a rationing model for cell network data, Sprint is moving ahead in the speed game and offering totally unlimited 4G usage.  With its reliance upon iTunes, the App Store and selling media over the air, the last thing Apple wants is for iPhone owners to think twice about buying music on the move while Evo 4G owners have the freedom to pull whatever they want.  Expect Sprint’s marketing department to capitalize upon this.

Neil Berman

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Jun 8, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the iPhone 4 also magical and revolutionary?

iPhone 4Until today it looked like the iPhone was starting to lag behind Android’s energy. Smartphones like the HTC Evo 4G and Nexus One were leading the pack from a hardware point of view, and key features were clearly being offered by these phones which were lacking on the iPhone.

Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 4 today will have a significant impact upon this dynamic. Here are my thoughts on today’s announcement, and in the interests of full disclosure I am an Apple shareholder.

iPhone 4: The new screen

While some competitors have chosen a bigger is better approach to screen size, Apple has chosen to stay put at around 3.5 inches diagonally. I’m undecided on whether a larger 4+ inch screen, and therefore a larger phone, is a good idea. Time will tell if the public adopts the sizable form factors of the Dell Streak and HTC Evo 4G en masse. Personally I would have liked to see Apple stretch the iPhone’s screen towards the top and bottom edges of the face plate.

The resolution of the screen looks to be a quantum leap forward, and something which I would love to see added to the next iPad. For gaming and web surfing, the extra detail on offer is likely to be a superb addition. Hopefully it will also be bright enough to be easily daylight readable.

iPhone 4: The new camera and HD video recording

This was one area where the iPhone 3GS was lagging badly behind competitors and while Apple has not put the iPhone to the front of the pack in specs, it may still have done so in quality.

Apple went with a five megapixel camera, which lags the leading phones that have eight. However it sounds like Apple has paid careful consideration to the quality side of the hardware by including a backlit sensor, which should deliver excellent results.

HD video recording is also a welcome addition, with the new iPhone offering 720p 30fps and a tie-in to iMovie which will be a $4.99 download. The iPhone is already the most used camera on Flickr, and this improved hardware could hasten the always likely death of the traditional digital compact camera and camcorder. Flip beware.

iPhone 4: Battery life

Perhaps more than any other large scale device manufacturer, Apple has been making battery life a core selling point of recent products. MacBooks and the iPad boast significant battery life, and this had been lacking in the iPhone. To be fair it is lacking in many other smartphones as well, with the HTC Evo 4G being the most recent release to suffer from short battery life.

Apple sought to address this today by claiming that the new iPhone 4 will have up to 40% better battery life than the current 3GS. That sounds like a step in the right direction, I’ll hold judgment until we see how it performs in real life situations.

iPhone 4: Video calling

I’m not wild about this one, purely because it’s restricted to WiFi usage only. It’s a cool addition, but I believe it will only truly change our communication habits when it is available over the carrier network. I also think that while occasional video calling is welcome, many people prefer to conduct conversations without video so they can multi-task. But aside from individual preferences, having the option is great.

iPhone 4: Multitasking

We’ve known about this one since January, and it will be a feature of iOS4 devices that support it, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. I like Apple’s implementation, which similar to Microsoft’s plans for Windows Phone 7, freezes an app and then revives it from the frozen state when the user returns to the app. Other specific apps are able to genuinely operate in the background.

What’s nice about this is that it does not give all apps free reign to constantly spin in the background, which would unpredictably eat up processor cycles and battery life. There are not that many use cases on a phone where this would be useful, so I prefer the idea of preserving battery life. Of course, the current iPhone push notification paradigm is at the other extreme and is very intrusive, so this will be a welcome change.

iPhone 4: Netflix

This in itself may reason enough to convince TV loving fence sitters to make the switch. Having Netflix streaming content accessible anywhere is a major plus and the app looks great. Netflix continues to go from strength to strength.

Is the iPhone 4 worth buying over an HTC Evo 4G?

That’s a tough question, mired in all kinds of considerations such as existing carrier tie-ins and 4G availability, so I’m not even going to attempt to answer it. What’s clearly the case now though is that if you’ve been holding off of owning an iPhone because of hardware limitations, like the below par camera, resolution and lack of HD video recording, then I think that issue just went away.

Now it’s really only about the software, and that is where Android is still playing catch-up.

Neil Berman

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Jun 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Slate of the Tablet

Apple NewtonThe tablet market is moving fast this year and it’s hard to keep up. So here’s the State Slate of the Tablet.

Apple iPad running iPhone OS

Since the death of the Newton a long time ago there have been rumors that Apple was developing a new tablet. Steve Jobs finally announced the iPad earlier this year which, in case you’ve been on an extended remote vacation, is Apple iPad theONbutton landscapeavailable now running iPhone OS. It is available in WiFi only or WiFi+3G, the latter being a smart choice to get the most out of the iPad (pictured). The iPad uses the same App Store as the iPhone and iPod Touch. The iPad can run iPhone apps but dedicated iPad apps look best.

We now either own one, want one or don’t know what it’s for. Personally I didn’t know what it was for, then wanted one and lined up on launch day to own one. I now know exactly what it’s for, which is around 75% of all my Internet and media consumption. The chances are that if a website doesn’t work on the iPad, I’ll find another website or better still, an app.

Limitations include the iPad’s lack of Flash support, no easily accessible file explorer and a beautiful screen which is difficult to read outdoors. Strengths include ten hour battery life, loads of great apps and the ability to enjoy good Internet content without having to trawl the whole Internet to find it.

PC tablets running Windows

Windows tablets have existed ever since the release of Windows XP Tablet Edition years ago. These early tablets were typically ultraportable laptops with touchscreens that swiveled to convert the device into a tablet. They used resistiveArchos 9touchscreens and required a stylus for input, or a very precise fingernail.

The current crop of Windows 7 tablets, spearheaded by the likes of the Archos 9 (pictured), are certainly far lighter than their ancestors but the weaknesses remain. Notably the resistive screens and stylus or trackpad input method. Unfortunately there are just too many aspects of Windows 7 usage that require precise interaction to allow tablets to really exploit the OS.

Multitouch gestures have been built into Windows 7 but as soon as you try using an application like Microsoft Office on a Windows tablet, it is beaten in usability by iWork for iPad which was created from the ground up for tablet usage. Battery life is also an issue on Windows tablets which mainly now use the Intel Atom processor. This is a very power efficient CPU but real life battery usage on these tablets tends to top out at 2-3 hours.

Android

The Google and Open Handset Alliance backed Android OS is making a big play for tablet market share. Or perhaps I should say lots of little plays, because like the Windows tablet market the Android one is made up of a gazillion of Dell Streakemerging models. Unlike the Windows market however, the Android devices we’ve seen so far are all running slightly different versions of Android.

Personally I feel that while Android will overcome the obstacle of fragmentation in the smartphone market, I believe it will greatly hinder the platform in the tablet market. Most users ultimately don’t care if they can’t run this or that app on their phone as long as the device runs a core set of important apps. With tablets it’s different because they are perceived as far more capable devices than phones due to their screen size. If a user tries to download an app which only works on Android 2.1 onto a 2.0 device she purchase that day, frustration will mount. The fragmentation of Android builds on tablets may hold back the rise of the platform if left unchecked.

In terms of actual Android tablet devices in the marketplace, we have seen the JooJoo come and be poorly received. That was the most high profile launch until the recent Dell Streak (pictured above), which is a small tablet and large smartphone wrapped up in a heavy, less than pocket friendly chassis. There was a ton of Android tablets announced at Computex last week running various builds of the OS, which seemed to reinforce the idea that fragmentation is the biggest issue facing this platform.

Palm Pre PlusWeb OS by Palm

HP recently acquired Palm and the jury is out on whether the HP Slate, which was due to be launched imminently running Windows 7, will be shelved in favor of a HP Web OS tablet. Those who have used a Palm Pre (pictured) or Pixi may feel that Web OS could be the foundation of a very useful tablet interface. We’ll just have to wait to see what HP has in store for us on this front.

Neil Berman

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Jun 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Selling the Sprint HTC Evo 4G

Evo 4GI wandered past my local Sprint store today and what’dya know, they have a new flagship smartphone on sale called the HTC Evo 4G. I’m saying that with tongue in cheek of course, since the Evo 4G has been much anticipated.

But walking into the Sprint store, that might not be immediately apparent to casual observers. There were two Evo 4Gs on display sitting alongside the rest of the Sprint range, with nothing particularly shouting their presence.

One was almost out of battery and the other was switched off because its battery was dead. A Sprint salesperson came along and plugged a charger into the dead one after I asked him to do so. I asked him about the battery life of the Evo 4G and he said that they were recommending customers to buy a spare battery together with the phone. Oh, I said. He suggested that the Evo 4G’s battery drained so quickly because the phone could do so many things. Funny, I thought, how frustrating it would be to own the ‘best’ car on the market if it only got 5 mpg. Best might not be the most appropriate word.

Both phones had the customary restraining alarm attached to the back cover, with a clasp across the phone. This attachment, which annoyingly cut across the middle of the screen, stopped the Evo 4G from switching to landscape. So nobody exploring these Evo 4Gs would be able to enjoy their crowning glory, the 4.3 inch landscape view. Consequently websites were stuck in portrait looking awful with minuscule text, photos were tiny and the narrow keyboard was the only one on offer.

A few people walked in during the time I was there and seemed unimpressed, and given the way the Evo 4Gs were setup it’s really not surprising. The Evo 4G is a flagship device with tremendous capabilities, but when a customer tips it on its side to view a web page and the image remains in portrait, it unfortunately presents the perception of a second rate device which doesn’t work properly.

I asked the Sprint salesperson about stock levels and he said I could walk out the store with one immediately. I wasn’t about to do that because I don’t feel like paying an inflated 4G data plan price when New York only has 3G available, especially when AT&T just announced a reduction in data costs for the majority of users. However I wasn’t too surprised that stock was available, given the demo experience I had witnessed.

Personally, apart from the battery issues which is a biggie, I really like the Evo 4G and would consider buying one when Sprint brings WiMAX to New York City. But I’m different to all those smartphone buyers who would just go shopping for a new phone, play with an iPhone and a few others and buy one.

Speaking of which, the world is talking about a likely new iPhone coming out shortly. While Apple should worry about phones like the Evo 4G stealing some of its thunder, it seems to me that retail experiences like this one may reduce the severity of that storm. With an ever growing number of people interested in smartphones, there’s really no excuse for that.

Neil Berman

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Jun 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Oyster offers a traveler-friendly approach to online bookings

Oyster Venetian Hotel PhotosTravel websites have come along leaps and bounds since the early days of online booking services. Sparkling hotel-supplied photos of destinations abound, as do lay person reviews of accommodation. That’s all useful, but marketing images tend to make everything look more heavenly than when you arrive in person.  It can also be difficult to assess the quality of the all those non-professional reviews.

An innovative new site called Oyster has sprung up which seems to do a address these two problems. Offering visitors the opportunity to “See the Hotel Truth”, Oyster actually sends its own employees to hotels to snap real life shots and write professional reviews. Oyster claims to have more than 200,000 undoctored photos of  hotels, most of which are in the US or nearby. Some of the photos are flattering while others are, let’s just say, useful to see before you book.  So it’s a must-use resource for travelers wanting to get an honest opinion before they buy.  In gadget-speak it’s kind of like the CNET of travel websites, and visitors can actually book hotels after sorting through the reviews and photos.

With all the product review websites out there, it’s amazing that the concept of online professional mass reviews of hotel ‘product’ has taken so long to appear. We’ve always had travel guides which give brief comments about hotels, but the consistent depth and no holds barred approach of Oyster really make it shine. Even if you never book a room, just perusing some of their real life shots makes for a great staycation.

Neil Berman

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Jun 4, 2010 Posted by | News | , , | Leave a comment

Steve Ballmer: Future PC competition will be from tablets, not Mac

I’ll admit I was pretty happy to hear that Steve Ballmer seemed to share my view on Apple’s strategy at D8 today. The Microsoft CEO declared that the PC’s biggest competition in three years from now would come not from Mac, but rather from tablets (he seemed to be making a reference to future evolutions of the iPad).

Nice one Steve, I’d love to think you enjoy theONbutton on a daily basis and that we’ve shared some IE9 screen real estate on the Windows 8 pre-Alpha we imagine you’re playing with on a mythical Core i7 ULV ultraportable. The reality, however, is probably just that you’re seeing things in a like-minded pragmatic, logical way.

We should bear in mind that such an evolution would not necessarily be a bad thing for Apple. I continue to believe that iPhone OS devices are a more profitable play for Apple than Mac. With the rumored update to Apple TV, which might see it reappear at $99 running iPhone OS, the company’s continued focus upon this operating system would give the App Store and iTunes even greater reach and profitability.

Of course this may all get turned shockingly upside down if Apple announces in its Q2 results that the iPad created a scintillating halo effect around Mac sales!

Neil Berman

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Jun 3, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New AT&T smartphone data plans will change the market

AT&T has announced new smartphone data plan pricing which could create a fundamental shift in the US smartphone market.

The new plans, due to take effect for new contracts starting on June 7th, offer a low usage 200MB monthly data plan for just $15 called Data Plus, and a second plan at $25 monthly for 2GB called Data Pro. Additional gigabytes cost $10 each if you have the 2GB plan. The 5GB ‘unlimited’ $30 plan is gone, unless you’re already on it. Tethering will also be offered for an additional $20 per month, as long as you have the 2GB plan – and importantly this option will cover the iPhone as well as other smartphones. The new 2GB plan will apply to the iPad as well, replacing its genuinely unlimited plan, unless you’re already on the unlimited plan or sign up before June 7th.

What does this mean? For low data users, who probably represent the majority of smartphone customers, the cost of running a smartphone on AT&T is about to get a whole lot more attractive. For example my wife, who has a smartphone and uses it for daily email, Google Maps and occasional surfing burns through a massive 50MB on a typical month. The new pricing will chop her monthly data plan cost in half. A different user who pulls a lot of video and busts through the 2GB ceiling on a regular basis would likely pay more than currently.

I expect that this pricing will attract a boatload of new smartphone customers to AT&T, due to the lower cost of entry. But hey, guess what? June 7th sounds awfully similar to the date of the rumored announcement of the new iPhone, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually see Steve Jobs and AT&T announcing the lower cost plans on stage together. This would be a real coup for Apple as it would surely attract a whole new demographic to the iPhone, who previously rejected it due to the cost of the data plan. The same goes for AT&T’s other smartphones of course, but I just have a feeling that Apple may be the primary beneficiary of this new pricing scheme. Enterprises could also potentially save money by moving low data users to the new 200MB plan.

So I expect this to increase in smartphone market share at the expense of non-smartphones, since the lower cost entry point will encourage fence sitters to jump on the bandwagon. This is good news for AT&T because they should be able to increase average revenue per customer while adding people who will place minimal demands upon their data network. I also think the majority of mid level data consumers will be unaffected apart from enjoying a reduced plan cost down from $30 monthly to $25. The heavy users and those who use tethering will probably see an uptick in monthly cost.

I would expect other carriers to follow suit, although those choosing to continue offering an ‘unlimited’ plan could clearly differentiate themselves in this fiercely competitive market. I’m talking about you, Sprint 4G.

For iPad 3G owners, the situation is a little different. It would be pretty easy to go through the 2GB monthly limit on the iPad 3G if you enjoy Netflix and other data-intensive media streaming services on a regular basis. So if you fall into that category it might be worth signing up for the current genuinely unlimited plan before June 7th to get grandfathered in. Once that 2GB limit comes along, owning an iPad 3G could become a whole lot more expensive.

Wireless carriers and home broadband providers have been toying with the idea of scrapping unlimited plans in favor of charging based more upon usage. With AT&T’s new plans, this is becoming a reality, which will surely help smartphone adoption rates. If you’re a heavy data user however, prepare to spend a little more each month to feed your habit.

Neil Berman

facebook.com/theonbutton

theonbutton.com

Jun 2, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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