Category Archives: Mobile Devices

The passing of the mobile pure play

As Palm introduced its failed candidates for salvation, webOS and the Palm Pre at its press conference at CES 2009, the company talked about what it perceived as an advantage versus Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung. Palm had mobile in its roots and Palm was a mobile-only company. That perceived advantage went out the window when the company was purchased by HP. Then Motorola — or at least Motorola Mobility despite its now-divorced cable equipment ties — was acquired by Google and now Nokia is en route to being absorbed into Microsoft. That leaves the white knight-seeking BlackBerry, which expects to wrap up a transaction by November. Who knows how much of its business may be left intact by then?

Mostly likely, that will be it for the handset pioneers, but there will still be one major handset maker that isn’t substantively in any other device categories: HTC, which is facing its own struggles and volatility. Blame the demise of the mobile pure play on the rise of ecosystems and the scale of a few industry giants such as Apple and Samsung. But mobile pure plays were also a victim of their own success. The revolution that they helped to usher in became so important to consumers that it sprouted ties to other devices in their lives, devices that sometimes had dramatically different design requirements, distribution and cloud-based ties from the smartphone experience.

BlackBerry 10: Moving on from PlayBook

Roger Cheng at CNET:

You can’t accuse RIM of rushing out BlackBerry 10. If anything, the operating system is way overdue. But the company has clearly spent the time to work out the kinks, and the early experience with the software has been pleasantly surprising.

RIM isn’t aping a trend or trying something completely new with BlackBerry 10, it’s actually focusing on its core smartphone product.

Absolutely, BlackBerry 10 is no PlayBook because the former is software and the latter is a device and that pretty much ends any debate from the literal perspective. But points taken: the PlayBook was rushed (although it was also late) while BlackBerry 10 has not been (we hope). Further, while the PlayBook was a one-off in an incremental market for RIM, BlackBerry 10 is a foundational technology for the company that it expects will last the next decade the way OS X has (and iOS is on track to).

An even greater issue for the PlayBook than those that Roger cites, however, including carrier acceptance, was developer acceptance (the two are of course related).  As a technology underpinning, BlackBerry 10 is, in fact, an evolution of the PlayBook OS (somewhat like OS X was an evolution of the Darwin project). However, BlackBerry 10 will, as Roger notes, enjoy the advantage of being on RIM’s higher-volume handsets rather than breaking into a new category.

With the Android market coalescing around Samsung with some HTC and Windows Phone doing the same with Nokia and HTC, certainly there will be at least one domestic carrier willing to give the new devices a try. Still, no matter how successful RIM’s developer evangelism is, there are bound to be many gaps at launch as there was for Windows Phone.The nightmare scenario is not that BlackBerry 10 will be the PlayBook, but that it will be webOS.

Amazon touches seas of Kindles with Whispercast

Like Apple, Amazon’s standing as a successful retailer has allowed it to drive the Kindle business beyond those of any other Android-based tablet maker. Both companies have succeeded in part because of their focus on the end-user or customer. The introduction of Whispercast, however, throws a wrinkle into that. This is the first “Whisper”-branded technology that caters to the needs of institutions, priming the pump for large-volume purchases.

It may also signal a continued move away from ads that are not enterprise-friendly; Amazon greatly reduced the price to remove ads in its latest round of Kindles. The move is timed well to take advantage of the larger, higher-end Kindle Fires on the way that can do a better job of displaying documents and other rich media as wel as the lower-end Kindle Paperwhites that are lean, mean text-reading machines. It also helps to shore up Amazon’s defenses now that its main competitor is partnering with enterprise software giant Microsoft, but also to further differentiate it from the signage-class e-readers that may soon start to aggregate in that unforgiving pool known as “the bottom.”

iPod touch: not a camera-killer

MG Siegler gets very excited about the iPhone 5-inspired iPod touch, saying it will further obliterate the point-and-shoot camera market. But the only thing that gets obliterated over the course of the review from my fellow TechCrunch columnist is that argument. This is achieved via his own points which note that point-and-shoot cameras continue to improve and that a current-generation iPod touch now costs nearly 50 percent more  I’ll say. If you value quality photography, not only can you get a superior point-and-shoot for less than the price of the iPod touch (increasingly even with Wi-Fi). And, by the way,the kinds of point-and-shoots being featured right now on Amazon’s home page are for underwater photography.

The iPod touch’s camera has improved, but it’s never been a camera cannibalizer. Indeed, the iPod touch has been holding up another category — MP3 players — under more severe attack from the real cannibals: subsidized smartphones.  The digital media player market seen about everyone except Apple and semtimental Sony exit above the $100 price point. In contrast, the struggling point-and-shoot camera market continues to see robust if evolutionary (and not always profitable) competition from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, Pentax and Olympus.

Even Siegler concedes that the iPhone 5 is a better camera choice than the iPod touch, but notes that not everyone has an iPhone 5. That is true, but increasingly even cash-strapped US consumers can pick up smartphones on pre-paid carriers that would effectively obviate the need for an iPod touch. Siegler probably would never consider using such a device, but to deny their influence is to favor an iPod out-of-touch.

Pono! Here we go again.

Bobby Owinsky:

it really does sound that much better (it should, but there are caveats), there is a group of people that will buy yet another version of the records that they may have purchased several times already.

Unfortunately, it’s the same group that could not sustain many other attempts to do market higer-, ranging from SACD to iTunes Plus. Unless there’s some kind of game-changing pricing on the Pono service — and that seems unlikely given the focus on a premium experience — Pono likely won’t move the needle more than this five-year old effort.

Nokia’s renewed design impact

How can you tell the Lumia 920 has made a big impression even before launch? Even though the HTC 8x looks quite different (and slimmer) than the new Nokia flagship, people accuse HTC of copying Nokia. This is particularly interesting since colors were a relatively small part of the 920’s proposition, the 8x has a slimmer appearance, and the lower-end 8s has an even more differentiated two-tome “dipped” design (that I prefer to the 8x’s). A senior HTC executive described the coincidence as “unfortunate.” The anti-Apple crowd has also accused Apple of copying Nokia with the new iPod nano even though it’s easy to make the case that that design is a hybrid of the rolled aluminum sides that Apple has been using (as opposed to the polycarbonate on Nokia’s 800, 900 and 920) on the nano for years and the front face of the iPod touch/iPhone.

On Apple’s new iPods

Apple does not seem to be too concerned by the new economic disparity facing the new iPod touch. In fact, this will be the first time that Apple has offered the iPod touch in six hues. That’s not so unusual for a mature product line, but it has been something that Apple has tended to confine to the lower-end product and a move that indicates confidence in healthy sales volumes.

My latest Switched On column talks about the changes to Apple’s iPod lineup.

Microsoft Courier reclaimed

Engadget reports that a team of Microsoft developers have been working on Project Austin, a note-taking app for Courier presented a fascinating environment for visual project-based brainstorming and organization. Folding screens make much more sense when the system software has been built for it from the ground up. However, even when I wrote about Courier’s potential, I noted that most of the magic was in the software, offering “The iPad’s blank slate might make it possible to create something like Courier as an app.”

As the Engadget post notes, that came to pass.  However, it cites Fifty-Three, Inc.’s Paper, which is merely a nicely executed and well-received drawing app, and not Taposé, the real attempt to implement the Courier on the iPad that has received a lukewarm reception. Windows 8 would strongly benefit from something that combined the intuitiveness of the touch interface with the power of the PC. Project Austin, which takes advantage of Windows 8’s capabilities,  has much potential to be such a showcase app. Even untethered from what would have no doubt been a pricey device, though, it’s unclear how large the target market is for apps such as Project Austin or Taposé. And that, of course, was what would have killed the Courier, regardless of how it delivered its message.

Can’t iTouch this

The dead-on accuracy of the iPhone 5 rumors were in contrast to the lack of them pertaining to the new iPods, at least one of which underwent a far more dramatic form factor change from its predecessor. One of the few rumors that turned out to be false was that Apple might rename the iPod touch to the iTouch, making what is often a nickname for the device its official moniker. Part of the rationale was that the iPod touch, which is an iOS device, has relatively little in common with other iPods more focused on music playback. Also, since the advent of the touchscreen iPod nano, it hasn’t even been the only iPod nano with a touchscreen.

Still, the iPod touch’s “non-iPodness” has been true since the debut of the product and the name change wasn’t likely. While the iPod touch has always lived in the iPhone’s shadow, it’s been a a successful product in its own right, and the iPod brand has been built over a decade. It seems more likely that Apple will continue to gradually shift perceptions of what the iPod brand stands for rather than abandon that brand.

A Plan B Nokia could live with

I believe Nokia when it says that the company has no Plan B, or that Plan B is to make Plan A a success – at least for now. Perhaps it would prefer not to consider such an alternative until it saw that Windows Phone was failing to make inroads after an extended period of time. Of course, the big question is, how long would that period be?

The line from Nokia is that the ecosystem of Windows Phone must succeed for Nokia to succeed. But I’m not sure it’s so black and white. Apple, and for years before it, RIM, succeeded with no other licensees of its operating system. There was that brief window where PalmOne was the only successful licensee of Palm OS, owned by PalmSource. And, really, which major handset provider besides Nokia was wildly successful with Symbian?

Indeed, while few doubt that Nokia will be the most successful Windows Phone licensee, a successful ecosystem does not necessarily make for a successful licensee. Some would argue that, if Windows Phone proves a failure beyond Nokia, than Microsoft should just purchase Nokia. But Stephen Elop, in recounting the story of how Nokia came to license Windows Phone, says that that was never on the table. Indeed, Nokia would be about as comfortable inside Microsoft as Motorola Mobility still looks inside Google. Not needing the IP, or being able to leverage it without purchase, Microsoft would be loath to buy Nokia no matter how high its share of Windows Phone became.