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Taking the fight to recessed headphone sockets

panasonic rp-hc500As many previous iPhone owners discovered, recessed headphone sockets are a pain.  It’s difficult to find headphones with a plug slim enough to fit into a recessed socket and a market sprang up for ungainly adapters. I’ve experienced this pain first hand with my excellent Panasonic RP-HC500 noise canceling headphones.  The RP-HC500 is one of the best sets of noise canceling cans ever made, crushing comparable Bose QCs on build and sound quality in my opinion.  But while I love detachable cords since they preserve the lifespan of good headphones, the RP-HC500 has a recessed socket.

recessed headphone socket

Ugh, recessed headphone sockets

One day I came home to find that my cats had ripped through the RP-HC500’s cable, leaving me with a dilemma.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any cheap off-the-shelf replacement cables that will fit a recessed socket.  So I could either pony up the ridiculous $20+tax+shipping for Panasonic’s official replacement cord or tell my cats to fix it before their next feed.  Since I reckoned my cats’ cord cutting abilities were superior to their repair skills, it looked like I’d have to hand over the cash.

recessed headphone socket RP-HC500

A typical 3.5mm stereo male to stereo male cord is too fat to fit into a recessed socket

That was when the DIY bug bit me.  I had some 3.5mm stereo male to stereo male cords lying around,and I wondered if I could trim them down to size.  Out of the box they were too big to fit, but I hoped that between a Stanley knife and some delicate carving I could fashion a $2 replacement.

cutting the cord

Cutting the cord - don't try this at home!!

It actually turned out to be a five minute job and my RP-HC500s are now singing again, ready to make plane journeys a pleasure once more.  See, we’re not such a throwaway generation after all!

recessed headphone cord RP-HC500

The cut down plug now fits the recessed socket

Here’s the warning: I don’t recommend doing this at home because it’s easy to wreck your cord, plug and fingers.  But if you’re a risk taker and choose to ignore my warnings, be careful not to cut all the way through the plug’s casing.  Also, the RP-HC500’s cord plug was rubber, which made it possible to carve the plug; I don’t think I would have seen a successful outcome if the plug had been made of hard plastic or metal!

Neil Berman

Jan 17, 2011 Posted by | Audio, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Verizon, 4G LTE and the iPhone

Just a few short years ago AT&T had the iPhone on the fastest 3G network and Verizon had, well, a line-up of forgettable devices. There was not a Droid in sight in Verizon’s range, let alone an iPhone, and the idea of a superfast LTE rollout was a pipe dream.

Fast forward to 2011 and the tables have well and truly turned. At CES Verizon kicked it out of the park with some well endowed smartphone and tablet devices, along with amazing LTE speeds and it looks like the carrier may announce tomorrow that it will start selling the iPhone.

It could be a fantastic year for Verizon. LTE really is barnstormingly fast and if a CDMA iPhone does get announced tomorrow I think it makes sense for one simple, but not immediately apparent, reason.

We all know that AT&T’s network suffered badly when the iPhone came along, due to the amount of data its users were consuming. Specifically AT&T called out a small percentage of data intensive users who were proportionately pulling far more data than other consumers. So we would expect the same thing to happen to Verizon, right?

I don’t think so, and not because Verizon’s network is impervious. Rather, I expect many of the more demanding data consumers will trade up to Verizon’s new LTE network because the speeds are so much faster. This migration would free up significant capacity on the carrier’s CDMA network, allowing space for iPhone users to pull data at good speeds.

So if Verizon does announce a CDMA iPhone tomorrow, I think the arrival of LTE has given Verizon the confidence to do so.

Neil Berman

Jan 10, 2011 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows Phone 7: Because we want to use gadgets less?

Windows Phone 7 in and out commercial

I’m clearly missing something with the Windows Phone 7 In and Out campaign.  The idea that we need a phone to get us “in and out and back to life” can only be aimed at non-participating consumers who get annoyed about how much time their friends spend using smartphones.  I say that because if you told an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry owner that there is finally a smartphone platform that will allow them to do things quickly, they would probably laugh in your face.  I’ve used all three and none is particularly slow or onerous to use efficiently.  There’s always room for a new approach of course, but let’s see some examples in the ads to show us how great life could be, rather than just words.  Of course, there is a huge group of consumers that has not yet committed to a smartphone.  So if Microsoft’s research is telling the company that those folks would jump in if they could have something quick and easy, then perhaps this is the right message.  Problem is, I reckon that when people think about quick and easy they think about iPhone.

Neil Berman

Nov 8, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , | Leave a comment

Think Android is not ready for Enterprise? Actually it’s Good


Android Good emailThere’s been plenty of noise surrounding the iPhone’s supposed march into the Enterprise, but little discussion about Android.  The iPhone natively supports Exchange email but it’s a little trickier with Android.  Of course, companies that have made the move to GMail will find Android smartphones like Sprint’s Epic 4G to be useful partner devices.  However these companies are probably more likely to be smaller businesses with a small footprint that want to reduce the costs associated with an Exchange/Outlook environment.  That thought fits with the recent discussion I had with Sprint, who told me they had seen the Epic 4G being picked up by plenty of small businesses but less so among larger companies.

The fundamental issue with the iPhone and Android in Enterprise is security.  BlackBerry has long been the darling device of the Enterprise market due to its encyption and security capabilities.  But using the Epic 4G, I’ve come to believe that this device is possibly the best consumer/corporate device on the market at present.  It combines the consumer friendliness of Android with a great keyboard, all rooted (sorry for the Android pun) in first rate hardware.  So how can the security concern be overcome?

There is a nifty piece of software out there from a company called Good, that allows Android (and also iOS) devices to receive Exchange email and calendar data in a secure smartphone app.  It takes a little more effort to implement than just regular Exchange, but it provides a secure container on the phone that is likey to satisfy many of the more stringent corporate IT security policies.  Good is totally self-contained on the device, allowing the user to have other apps and media just like normal.  Compare this situation with a corporate BlackBerry that is typically locked down to only be capable of making calls and sending messages from company accounts.

With Good on Android or iPhone, it’s a win-win.  Employees are able to have an awesome smartphone like the Epic 4G and the IT security folks still get what they need.  At the start of the year I predicted that BlackBerry had peaked in terms of market share; software like Good could make RIM’s outlook all the more precarious.

Neil Berman

Nov 4, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Affordable Sandisk 32GB Micro SD lets you carry a backup wherever you go

32gb micro sdChances are that if you have a smartphone called something other than ‘iPhone’, it has a Micro SD card slot. This removable storage format has become an affordable way to carry music, photos and other media on your travels.

Many smartphones ship with a bundled card anywhere between 2 to 8GB in capacity, which is perfectly sufficient to turn a phone into a roving media player. 16GB Micro SDHC cards have also provided an affordable upgrade path for a while now, selling for around $30-40 at many e-tailers.

However the sweet spot starts to come into play at around 32GB, which is the capacity that would allow many people to carry their entire music and photo collection in their smartphone. This serves a dual purpose. Firstly it means less frequent sync’ing at home to change media content stored on the mobile device. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, carrying a copy of your entire media collection on the smartphone means you always have a backup in a separate location to the source. So if something happens at home that takes out your computer and your backup drives (you do have at least one backup drive with regular data sync’ing, right?), the copy on the Micro SD card in your smartphone will hopefully still be intact.

32GB Micro SDHC cards have historically cost well over $100. However the recent arrival Class 4 cards has pushed the Class 2 ones down to around $89 on Amazon at the time of writing. Class 2 means the card has a minimum transfer speed of at least 2MB per second, but that’s still fine for listening to music or viewing photos.

Sure it’s still not pocket change, but think about it this way – most backup drives just sit around unused waiting for a disaster to hopefully never happen. This backup on the other hand is usable in your smartphone every day.

If you plan to buy one of these make sure your smartphone supports Micro SDHC cards up to 32GB, and of course continue to sync your backup devices regularly to your data sources.

Neil Berman

Oct 9, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pulse comes of age as one of the best RSS readers ever

PulsePulse was launched as an RSS reader for the iPad some time ago now but recent updates have really catapulted the app to new heights. Version 2.0 of Pulse was released a couple of days ago and now brings the ability to pull sixty(!) feeds across five pages. The cool design remains intact, and the funky feed organization just looks awesome. The iPad version will set you back $1.99 and there’s an iPhone version too.

Neil Berman

Oct 5, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile, Software | , , , , | Leave a comment

Windows Phone 7 heading for bigger launch in Europe than US?

Today’s announcement that Windows Phone 7 will launch on all five major UK carriers indicates that the platform is likely to enjoy success sooner in Europe than on home territory.  So far it looks like AT&T may be the only major US carrier to have a big Windows Phone 7 laumch, and with Verizon heavily invested in the Droid brand I wouldn’t expect them to rush in when CDMA handsets become available.  That leaves Sprint, who also have to hang on for a CDMA version and T-Mobile, who have traditionally offered one or two Windows based hamdsets at any given time.

So on home territory it could be a difficult holiday season for Microsoft’s new hope in the smartphone market.  They’ll be up against the iPhone 4 for upgrading customers on AT&T, and the whole gamut of established brands across the market for new subscribers.  To my mind, this holiday season will be about two dynamics in the top end smartphone space: 4G (Sprint WiMAX and possibly Verizon LTE) vs 3.5G (AT&T and T-Mobile both with HSPA+rollouts) and iPhone 4 vs Android.  Unfortunately I don’t see Windows Phone 7 factoring significantly in that mix in the US, which is a shame because it looks frickin’ awesome.

Neil Berman

Sep 22, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Demo of stereo Bluetooth remote control working on iOS 4.1

It’s taken Apple three years to implement stereo Bluetooth AVRCP correctly on the iPhone OS, but here it is on the new iPod Touch 4th gen!!

Neil  Berman

Sep 10, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Audio, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple TV channel apps

For the last couple of weeks on TWiT, Leo Laporte has been proposing an interesting idea about the Apple TV. Prior to Apple’s press conference last week many people were expecting the new Apple TV to launch with apps, similar to those on the iPhone and iPad. Leo went further, suggesting that those apps would include individual channel apps, so for example we would watch ABC programs through the Apple TV ‘ABC app’ just like on the iPad.

Apple TVFirstly everyone should watch/listen to or download TWiT; it’s great. While Leo certainly gets it right a lot of the time, and the idea of individual network apps is a logical extension of the model that exists for ABC on the iPad, I’m not sure it holds for Apple TV. The fundamental app model does hold, and I definitely agree that we will see Apple TV running the App Store one day. But I don’t believe we will get to the stage where individual networks have their own apps on Apple TV. It just doesn’t work for the channel-hopping armchair consumer and if there’s one thing we know about Apple, it’s that the company cares deeply about the user experience.

It just about works on the iPad because we are still figuring out how best to devour content on that device; while aggregators like Hulu Plus and Netflix work best on the iPad, the ABC app is free unlike the others. However armchair viewers want a simple remote control with a simple program guide. Having to navigate multiple apps with different interfaces won’t convert them away from a cable set-top box.

In time I think even the ABC app will fade away as cable company aggregators push that content to the device, and I mean currently non-existent aggregator apps from the likes of Time Warner Cable for use by their subscribers. The cable companies will not give up their revenue streams without a fight and I think they’re more likely to develop their own streaming aggregators for subscribers than allow the TV networks to go it alone.

I would dearly love to see the ad-supported online content continue to flourish, but I fear we are enjoying a heyday that will disappear when the cable companies enter the online streaming market more forcefully.

Now go and subscribe to TWiT, TWiG, MacBreak Weekly and all the other ones!!

Neil Berman

Sep 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dummy phones are dumb

I’ve recently noticed that my local T-Mobile stores have taken away their demo cellphones and replaced them with non-functioning replicas. This seems like an effective way to make products look boring and empty a store.

While the local Sprint, Verizon and AT&T stores are packed at lunchtime with deep-pocketed office workers trying out those carriers’ latest smartphones, the nearby T-Mobile shop assistants look lonely.

In the universe of silly ideas this sounds like a biggie; I mean what kind of mainstream consumer is going to switch to T-Mobile if they can’t even try the goods before they buy.

Motorola Milestone DroidBut then on my current visit to London I wandered through Brent Cross shopping mall and the stores there had dummy models too! What the heck? Even worse, although there was a dedicated Android feature at one store with real smartphones, the devices were half-covered in tape, were totally unusable and looked super-ugly!

This situation is all the more painful for Android because it is a new platform that should be encouraging consumers to give it some hands-on time. The growth rate of Android is clearly phenomenal but, with some more polish around the sales technique, the unit volumes would surely be higher.

Of course this was happening right next door to a busy Apple store full of iPhones that were switched-on *gasp*, fully functional *shock* and beckoning customers to play with them.

So if Apple is able to have working iPhones on display why is it so hard for dedicated cellphone shops to have Android phones on display, and why do Android handset manufacturers allow stores to turn their latest hero device into a non-functioning dummy?

Neil Berman

Aug 5, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , | 1 Comment

A controversy bar (n)one

While we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what Apple has to say about the iPhone 4 antenna reception issue, the company has now acted to fix its wrongly calculated bars.

If you recall, this is the issue where iOS devices were incorrectly reporting levels of signal strength. Fixing the calculation means that the larger bars are likely to go dark more often leaving just the smaller bars lit, like on most other phones. As part of the fix, Apple has made the smallest bar larger, it’s now about 40% the size of the largest bar at a glance.

You might be forgiven for thinking this is misleading, after all one bar means your phone can’t do much, right? Well here’s the thing about digital cellphones…if a good phone has one bar, that means it has locked into a digital signal. That in turn means that it can probably make a call. I’ve encountered many situations where one bar on my BlackBerry is fine for calls and data, as long as that low signal level is consistent.

The consistency is the crux of the issue. Imagine you’re at a WiFi hotspot; if your laptop only reports a connection speed of 11MBps, that’s probably fine for most needs as long as the link quality is upwards of 75%. Likewise if you have one bar, you’re probably doing ok as long as that low signal level is being received consistently. A single bar that sporadically flashes on and off is the one you really need to worry about because it means the signal is fading in and out.

So I’m cool with Apple making that smallest bar bigger. I actually think it’s the most important bar of the five since it’s the digital on/off indicator for your phone’s reception, so it needs to be easily visible. In fact now I think about it the small bar on my BlackBerry is too small to be easily seen at distance so I would be happy for RIM to follow Apple’s lead on this.

Neil Berman

Jul 15, 2010 Posted by | Apple | , , , , | Leave a comment

This gadget life: Choosing a smartphone

Regular readers might have noticed that I’ve been writing about smartphones a lot recently. This is partly because iPhone 4 and Evo 4G hysteria all came around at the same time, but also because I’m in the market for a new smartphone.

My trusty BlackBerry Bold 9000 has an almost dead trackball having recently acquired an unplanned taste for coffee, and this summer has seen an abundance of smartphone releases.

Like many people, I have some generic and some specific use cases for a smartphone, which guide me towards certain platforms.

Firstly, I need something that is enterprise friendly. In my case this roughly narrows down the range of acceptable platforms to BlackBerry, Android and iOS (iPhone). Not to get too deeply into the relative pros and cons of each of these at an enterprise level, for my needs these platforms are either natively enterprise ready or can provide secure email functionality through add-on apps. Winner: Used to be BlackBerry hands down but these days it’s a tie.

Secondly, the ability to type quickly and accurately is important. The iPad has certainly taught me that software keyboards are not an impediment to fast typing, but accuracy becomes challenged as the virtual key size reduces. It goes without saying that BlackBerry hardware keypads are excellent but software keyboards on the larger smartphones like the Evo 4G are also easy to use accurately in landscape. I’m 50/50 on the iPhone keyboard, and find that I need to make a correction every couple of sentences. Winner: Tie between BlackBerry and large-screen Android smartphones.

Thirdly, I need my smartphone to work reliably in year round temperatures. New York City summers are hot and humid, so my phone needs to function well under direct sunlight with plenty of environmental moisture in the air. There’s sufficient anecdotal evidence on the web to suggest that the iPhone copes poorly under sustained sunlight, with temperature related shutdowns being commonplace. I have had that very experience on my iPad after just five minutes of direct sun exposure. My BlackBerry Bold 9000 has never given me a heat warning, even after hours of use under the sun, plus the screens of most of the current BlackBerry range, such as the 9xxx series, are viewable in daylight. It’s difficult to assess the situation with Android phones as there are so many models. The Evo 4G does seem to have some heat issues although it sounds like these are more connected to signal strength with the device getting hot as it searches for a signal in weak coverage areas. Winner: BlackBerry.

There are a host of other considerations of course, such as Internet browsing, media playback and size/weight. For my use case, the web browsers on most smartphones are good enough for my occasional usage with the exception of the BlackBerry which has a disappointingly poor browser. Media handling is good on most modern smartphones, although the iPhone has the disadvantage of having to be tied to a specific computer for mass media transfer. The iPhone also has an incomplete Bluetooth implementation for stereo headset usage. For size and weight, the iPhone and BlackBerry devices win over the 4+ inch Android smartphones that are less pocket friendly.

For now I’m torn between the Evo 4G, Samsung Captivate and BlackBerry Bold 9700. The BlackBerry 9800 slider may also get onto my shortlist if we ever get a release date. Even though the BlackBerry platform has much to do to catch up to the user experience of iOS and Android, its reliability continues to make it a compelling platform as a daily workhorse.

Neil Berman

Jul 12, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

Jun 13, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile | , , , , , , , , | 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

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

Jun 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, 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

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

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

Opera Mini approved for iPhone, “kicks safari out of the water”

Well how about that! Apple has actually approved Opera Mini for the iPhone, a revolutionary step in the right direction for choice in the App Store.   Until now Safari has been pretty much it as far as web browsing on the iPhone goes, and you know what they say about monopolies; they’re bad for innovation.   Engadget has managed a hands-on with Opera Mini on the iPhone, claiming it “…totally kicks safari [sic] out of the water.”  High praise indeed.   Now what are the chances of Google Chrome on the iPad…?

Neil Berman

Apr 12, 2010 Posted by | Apple, News | , , , | Leave a comment

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