Technologizer posts about Smartphones

The Case Against Thin

By  |  Posted at 11:15 am on Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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iPhone

Over at the Atlantic, Robert Wright is being sacrilegious. He says he’s unhappy with the trend–seen in phones, laptops, and other products–to make gadgets as thin as possible:

Remember when Jobs first unveiled the Macbook Air? I do, because I had long been a fan of the small, lightweight computers that had until then been available only on the Windows platform. Jobs brought the machine onstage in a manila envelope, because the thing he wanted to wow the audience with was its thinness.

I thought: Who cares how thin it is? Thickness isn’t the dimension that really matters when you have to fit a computer into a tiny backpack or use it in a coach seat on an airplane. And, anyway, more important than any spatial dimension is weight. Sure, to the extent that thinner means lighter, thinness is good, but if you make thinness an end in itself, you start compromising functionality.

Bob has several specific beefs with whisper-thin gizmos. He points out that all things being equal, a thin case leaves less room for the battery, thereby leading to shorter battery life. He says that overly svelte devices are harder to hold and easier to drop. With laptops, he says, engineering for thinness leads to compromises in keyboard quality.

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Which Phone OS Crashes More? It’s Not Android

By  |  Posted at 7:52 am on Monday, February 6, 2012

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The argument that iOS is a much more stable operating system than Android has been repeated on the blogs and even in the comment threads of stories about the two operating systems. There’s a problem, though: the data indicates that is untrue.

Mobile app monitoring company Crittercism released data Friday on crash reports from the period December 1 through December 15, and saying iOS has stability issues is putting it nicely. By a 2-to-1 margin, iOS crashes much more frequently than Android, according to Crittercism’s report. The biggest offender is iOS 5.0.1, accounting for 28.64 percent of all crashes.

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Samsung’s Super Bowl commercial for the Galaxy Note, directed by a Farrelly brother, is like a fancier, less entertaining parody of its earlier Apple fan-bashing spots:

While the first ads featured the Galaxy S II phone, a direct competitor of the iPhone 4S, this one is for the Galaxy Note. With its huge screen and pen, it’s both an anti-iPhone and one of the most distinctive phones on the market. So the gag feels a little muffled, and the Note doesn’t get enough explanation.

I’m still curious how the Galaxy Note will do–it strikes me as neat, but a niche. But the fact that Samsung plowed money into a Super Bowl spot presumably means that it thinks the phone can be a mainstream hit.

Posted by Harry at 7:37 am

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Foodspotting: It’s Not Just for Food Photographers Anymore

By  |  Posted at 8:13 am on Thursday, February 2, 2012

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Until now, I’ve thought of Foodspotting mostly as an iPhone app which my wife uses to share photos of her meal when we dine out. She loves it. So do enough other people that a million pictures have been uploaded since the app’s launch, making it feel a bit like an Instagram that’s entirely devoted to things you can eat..

But there’s probably a limit to how many folks there are in the world who want to obsessively photograph food. So the new version of Foodspotting that launched this week is designed to broaden the app’s appeal. The photo sharing’s still there–but it feels more like one feature in an app whose primary purpose is to let large numbers of people find and see the best dishes at local restaurants before they place an order.

The new Foodspotting lets you browse popular dishes at nearby restaurants, or pull up a “picture menu” of a specific eatery. Lists of picks from media outlets such as Zagat’s and New York magazine supplement the recommendations from Foodspotting users. And there’s a section of Specials–which consisted of 50% discounts at several restaurants when I checked–which is the start of Foodspotting’s strategy for making money.

With its new emphasis on finding places to go and stuff to eat, Foodspotting feels a bit more like a competitor to traditional sources of restaurant reviews such as Yelp. But the similarities don’t run deep. Foodspotting still focuses on pictures and thumbs-up ratings, not full-blown critiques. And there’s no way to steer other users away from disappointing dishes by giving anything a thumbs down.

Judging from my experience so far, Foodspotting also doesn’t have a Yelplike critical mass of content practically everywhere. At the moment, I’m in Newton Corner, Massachusetts–not exactly a hotbed of fine dining–and only see a few photos from a few restaurants. Yelp, however, has dozens of nearby establishments that have dozens of reviews apiece. (Back home in food-centric San Francisco, Foodspotting is a much richer resource.)

Of course, one of the goals of the new version is to ramp up more quickly. If it works, the app, which was already lots of fun, will be even more fun, and much more useful.

Foodspotting is available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and BlackBerry; the iPhone and Android editions are the first two to become available in this updated version.



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How One Little Android Update Caused a Big Headache

By  |  Posted at 10:00 am on Saturday, January 28, 2012

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My Samsung Galaxy S II had been great to me. It’s a thin, light phone with a gorgeous Super AMOLED Plus display and a dual-core processor that handles Android with ease. When people asked me if I’d ever return to an iPhone–my previous handset was an iPhone 3GS–my answer was a cheery “nope!”

That was until last week, when AT&T delivered an Android 2.3.6 update to the Galaxy S II that destroyed its battery life. Before the update, the phone could easily last through a day of moderate use. After the update, the phone would lose about 8 percent of its battery per hour in standby. Even if I rarely touched the phone during the day, it was dead by bedtime.

I’m telling this story not just to rant–although I’m grateful for that opportunity–but to point out a risk that Android users face: An update that’s supposed to deliver nothing but good things could carry unforeseen consequences. Another example of this popped up this week, with users of Asus’ Transformer Prime reporting lock-ups and graphical glitches after updating to Android Ice Cream Sandwich.

I wasn’t alone in my battery drain problem. Similar complaints have appeared in forums on AT&T’s website, XDA-Developers forums and Android Central (where some T-Mobile users are reporting the same issue), but other users said they weren’t having any issues. This is both the best and worst kind of Android bug, because it’s less likely to merit immediate attention from the phone maker and wireless carriers when it doesn’t affect everyone.

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Highlight, a Social Network for the Real World

By  |  Posted at 8:30 am on Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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For all that Facebook does to help you organize your online relationships, it doesn’t do much to help you interact with folks in the physical world. Every time you enter a restaurant, conference, or hotel lobby, you’re surrounded by strangers who you might be linked to through mutual friends or shared interests. But it’s hard to know who’s who–and if people you know do happen to be nearby, you might or might not stumble across them.

Enter Highlight, a new iPhone app that aims to tell you about the people in your immediate vicinity. Install it on your phone and connect it to your Facebook account, and it’ll begin alerting you to other Highlight users who are within approximately a block and a half of you. You can pull up profiles with information on them from Facebook and send them text messages (such as “where are you, exactly?”). Founder Paul Davison told me that the app is designed to help you meet new people, refresh your memory about people you’ve met before, and alert you to friends who could be lurking right around the corner.

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Uh oh: RIM’s new CEO is saying he doesn’t “think a drastic change is needed.” (What does he know that we don’t know?)

Peter Kafka of All Things D reports:

Research In Motion isn’t broken, so no need to break it up. But it needs better internal focus, and better external focus, too.

That’s the takeaway from new RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, who told analysts this morning that he thinks the company is in pretty good shape, all things considered. Sure, in the U.S., it has been roughed up by Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android, but it’s still used by lots of people, has lots of fans in big companies and big government agencies, and lots of users around the world.

Posted by Harry at 9:09 am

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The Future of Phones: Forever Unknowable

By  |  Posted at 3:08 am on Monday, January 23, 2012

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In a release exuberantly titled “Lumia 900 Introduction to Trigger Smartphone Renaissance for Nokia and Microsoft,” IHS iSuppli analyst Wayne Lam has some predictions about where the phone market is going between now and 2015:

Largely based on Nokia’s strong support, Windows Phone is set to regain the No. 2 rank in the smartphone operating system in 2015. Finnish-based Nokia in 2009 lost its second-place worldwide ranking because of rising competition from Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS.

In 2015, however, Windows Phone will account for 16.7 percent of the smartphones shipped, up from less than 2 percent in 2011, according to the IHS iSuppli Mobile & Wireless Communications Service at information and analysis provider IHS (NYSE: IHS). This will allow Windows Phone to slightly surpass Apple’s iOS to retake the market’s second rank behind Android, as presented in the table below.

That’s awfully confident-sounding. Windows Phone is “set” to become #2 by 2015 and “will” have market share of 16.7 percent and “will” overtake iOS. And hey, it’s an analyst who knows his stuff doing the talking, so the rest of us should pay attention.

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RIM’s CEO Swap is No Reboot

By  |  Posted at 12:10 am on Monday, January 23, 2012

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After God-knows-how-many months of incessant wondering about how long beleaguered RIM co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie could keep their jobs, the tech blogosophere can move onto other topics. Both gents are stepping down from their day-to-day leadership roles–they’ll remain directors–to make way for Thorsten Heins, formerly the company’s COO (he was one of two of them). Barbara Stymiest, currently a member of the board, will become its new chairman.

The company has posted a video in which Heins talks about his new gig:

If Heins isn’t prepared to speak eloquently about the road ahead quite yet, that doesn’t mean that he’s clueless or that he won’t do a good job. I also understand why he might be inclined to say nice things about Lazaridis, Balsillie, and the RIM team. I’ll even cut the company slack for the spin it’s putting on the executive change, which is that it’s happening because RIM is doing so well, not because it’s in trouble.

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The Lumia 710 is Free, But Don’t Panic

By  |  Posted at 1:24 am on Thursday, January 19, 2012

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The tech blogosphere’ collective head is spinning as Wal-Mart has dropped the price of Nokia’s first commercially available Windows Phone device in the US — the Lumia 710 — to free. Immediately, people began swing that this was a sure sign that the release is a bust: surely a device selling well wouldn’t be available for nothing so quickly? Or would it?

Look, it’s Wal-Mart were talking about here. Land of “Always Low Prices, Always.. Something tells me that we shouldn’t make judgements on the success of a device merely on this retailer’s pricing strategy. It could simply be that Wal-Mart wants to sell more phone. Let’s also consider the competitive landscape.

With the absolute glut of Android phones out there, there are quite a few devices on the market at that “free” price point. Wal-Mart has many of these devices because they fit into the demographic of their consumers: budget-conscious. The Lumia 710 is a great midrange phone, and is similar in functionality to those free devices.

Also look at Best Buy and T-Mobile: both still sell the device for $49.99 with a two-year contract. While Wal-Mart’s decision may accelerate their plans to discount the phone, they certainly are in no rush to join Wal-Mart in the race to the bottom. Nokia has only offered that these phones are selling “well”, so we really have no clue how things are going.

So take a breath, and let the market judge whether Nokia’s gamble was a smart one.



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MHL, a Possible Solution for the Scarcity of Android Add-Ons

By  |  Posted at 12:52 am on Monday, January 16, 2012

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Pioneer's AppRadio 2

Pioneer's AppRadio 2.

If you own an iPhone, you can choose from a surging sea of add-ons that work with it: speaker docks, in-car gizmos, game controllers, and much more. If you have an Android phone–well, if you’re lucky, the company that made it sells some peripheral devices. (Motorola, invented of such add-ons as the Lapdock, is especially conscientious here.)

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The Big Winner of CES 2012 Is… Microsoft?

By  |  Posted at 11:35 pm on Friday, January 13, 2012

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For a company whose CES swan song is this year, and whose CEO gave a pretty boring keynote address, Microsoft seems to have had an uncommonly successful CES. Windows Phone went into the show a struggling also-ran mobile operating system, and very well may have come out of it a contender.

Why’s that? Two phones made their debut at the show, the Nokia Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan II. Both have been getting glowing reviews from the press for their form and function. Finally it appears Microsoft has devices that look compelling. It couldn’t do much worse: there’s only one way and that’s up!

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The Slippery Slope of Android Differentiation

By  |  Posted at 10:34 am on Thursday, January 12, 2012

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I know I’ve been piling on Android as of late, but I just can’t ignore comments from Motorola CEO Sanjay Jha. Speaking to the Verge at CES on Wednesday, Jha says that phone makers will continue to skin Google’s operating system with their own interfaces, making the possibility of a purer Android experience seem more remote than ever.

Motorola “has to make money” he says, and “the vast majority of the changes we make to the OS are to meet the requirements that carriers have”. Wait, haven’t we heard this before? On Monday, I wrote that Google no longer has any control over Android, ceding most of it to carriers and it seems, the manufacturer as well.

The problem is that there are just too many Android phones. That makes phones from different manufacturers awfully similar, which makes it hard for any one model to sell well based on sheer distinctiveness. So carriers layer their own user interface tweaks over Android in an attempt to be different.

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Which is It, Google? Is Android Open or Not?

By  |  Posted at 2:28 am on Tuesday, January 10, 2012

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Lately, it’s not often that I agree with MG Siegler. If you’ve read my work elsewhere, you know I’ve taken issue with some of his coverage of Apple.

But his post explaining his distaste for Android is probably the most cogent argument so far why the platform is falling so far short of its potential.

Android was built on a foundation of good intentions. The platform was supposed to usher in a new mobile era where the power was given to the user to make their device their own. No walled gardens, no censorship, no limits. Supporters of the platform heralded its “openness,” deriding Apple and others for their top-town controlled approach.

It sounded too good to be true, and it pretty much was. Carriers balked at giving up that control and quickly Android became just as tightly controlled as iOS or any other mobile platform. And this is directly a result of Google’s business decisions in the company’s quest for Android market domination.

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Smartphones and Tablets Get Their Gaming Buttons

By  |  Posted at 11:20 pm on Sunday, January 8, 2012

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As Sony and Nintendo cling to physical buttons as a major advantage of dedicated portable gaming systems, smartphone and tablet accessory makers have come up with an answer. At a CES press event, two companies were showing off attachable game controllers for smartphones and tablets, providing the tactile feedback that’s sorely needed for precision shooting and platforming.

I checked out one of these controllers, Gametel, from a Sweden-based company called Fructel. The controller clamps on to an Android phone or iPhone–or pairs remotely to an iPad–and communicates via Bluetooth. It includes a directional pad, four face buttons and two shoulder buttons on top. Gametel’s built-in battery runs for about nine hours before needing a charge from either mini USB or Apple’s 30-pin connector, depending on model.

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Better Windows Phone news: It now has 50,000 apps. Still way behind iOS and Android–and still with major absentees, such as Pandora–but enough to make it the third modern mobile operating system with a critical mass of third-party support.

Posted by Harry at 1:53 pm

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