Brighthand Bytes


February 15, 2012  8:49 AM

Smartphones Keep Getting Bigger and Better

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

It may be hard to believe this, but when the Apple iPhone debuted way back in 2007, many questioned whether a handset so big would find any buyers. Its 3.5-inch display was huge compared to devices like the super-tiny Motorola RAZR which was all the rage back then.

Samsung Galaxy Note

What a difference a few years makes. Today, many are wondering how long Apple can continue to be successful if the next iPhone doesn’t have a display over 3.5 inches. Virtually all smartphones running Google’s Android OS have larger ones than that, some going above 4.5 inches.

And it doesn’t stop there. Samsung and LG are exploring even bigger touchscreens. For example, AT&T is about to release the Samsung Galaxy Note, a hybrid phone/tablet with a 5.3-inch display.

The reason for the rapid increase in screen size: what people are using their phones for has changed dramatically. In the mid-90s and before, these devices were primarily used for voice calls and text messaging. Handsets back them could be tiny, because most people only used the display to read short text messages or see who was calling them.

Today, people use their smartphones to access the Web, play games, watch video, exchange email and texts, and even access Office files. For all these tasks, the bigger the screen the better.

With the steady gain in display size, we’ve given up some portability, but we’ve gained tremendous functionality — and the tradeoff is worth it.

Related Articles on Brighthand

February 9, 2012  12:49 PM

Is the iPhone 4S a 4G Device? Depends on Who You Ask

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

It’s a seemingly simple question: Is the newest iPhone a 4G smartphone? Nevertheless, it has a somewhat complex answer.

If you’re a Verizon or Sprint subscriber, the answer is easy: this device does not support either of these carriers’ 4G standards, LTE or WiMAX. The situation for AT&T’s version isn’t so cut-and-dried, however. 

Apple iPhone 4SApple itself does not say that the iPhone 4S is 4G, or that it supports AT&T’s HSPA+ service. If you look at Apple’s specs page for the iPhone 4S, the 3G standards HSDPA and HSUPA are clearly listed, but there’s no mention of 4G HSPA+.

AT&T’s website, on the other hand, does claim that this smartphone supports HSPA+, and reportedly is trying to get Apple to add a 4G icon to the status bar in the next iOS update, which will be displayed at the top of the screen when the phone has an HSPA+ connection.

My guess is the difference in opinion comes down to Apple wanting to save the term “4G” for its next model, which is widely expected to offer LTE – a wireless data standard that is much faster than HSPA+. AT&T does consider HSPA+ to be 4G, and would be thrilled to be able to claim to have the only 4G-enabled iPhone.

Phil Schiller, head of marketing for Apple, summed up his company’s thoughts on this issue best: “We’re not going to get into the debate about what’s 4G and what isn’t. We’ll leave that for others to talk about.”

Taking Extreme Speed to New LimitsIn AT&T’s defense, studies have generally shown that AT&T’s iPhone 4S has better download performance than either Verizon’s or Sprint’s versions, which use 3G EV-DO Rev. A.

HSPA+ vs. LTE
If you want to put things in perspective, real-world figures for the HSPA+ service on the latest iPhone put it in the 2-3 Mbps range. Still, that’s faster than the older iPhone 4.

Because there’s no LTE-enabled iPhone yet there’s no way to definitively say how fast this device will be, but other LTE-enabled smartphones are getting 5-12 Mbps. Much faster, anyway you slice it.

Related Articles on Brighthand

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February 7, 2012  2:01 PM

Windows 8 Is Going to Boost Sales of Windows Phone Tremendously

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

Hopefully you saw the recent article on Brighthand detailing the features of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8. If this unconfirmed information turns out to be correct, then Microsoft is making huge strides toward adding the features users are looking for, such a support for removable microSD cards and more screen resolutions.

Even without these enhancements, I am convinced that there’s going to be a surge in sales of Windows Phone-powered devices around this time next year. This will be brought about by the release of a wide array of computers running Windows 8.

Windows MetroRight now, smartphones running Microsoft’s operating system have a tile-based user interface that users are unfamiliar with. It’s a good system, but users have to learn to use it.

Google’s Android OS and the iPhone use an icon-based user interface that we’ve all be familiar with for decades. It’s basically the same system used on Macs and Windows PC since the 80s, so there’s almost no learning curve.

But that’s going to change. As it turns out Microsoft likes the UI in Windows Phone so much it is building it into Windows 8. This means that, a year from now, millions of people will be using this same user interface (called Metro) every day on their desktop, laptop or tablet. So when they go to pick out a new phone, they’re going to say “Hey, this one works just like my PC.” Instead of a learning curve, people will already be familiar with the way Windows Phone operates.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that’s going to make devices from Nokia etc. into the mythical “iPhone killer”, but it should increase sales of Windows Phone devices significantly. Currently sales of these are anemic at best, and they could certainly use a boost.

Related Articles on Brighthand

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January 29, 2012  11:16 AM

Smartphone Makers Should Reduce the Number of Models They Offer

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

The head of HTC’s UK division said in an interview last week that, in 2012, his company is going to concentrate on making a few very good smartphones, rather than just throwing a big bunch of models at a wall to see what sticks. This is a good idea, and one that all mobile device makers should emulate.

To give you an idea of what HTC did wrong last year, I compiled a list handsets it released in 2011: ThunderBolt, Rezound, Titan, Radar, Arrive, Amaze 4G, EVO Shift 4G, EVO Design 4G, EVO 3D, Rhyme, Vivid, Sensation, Inspire 4G, Status, Droid Incredible 2, Trophy, 7 Pro, and Merge. I think everyone would agree that this is too many.

But Motorola wasn’t much better.  How about the Droid 3, Droid RAZR, Droid Bionic, Droid Pro, Admiral, Atrix, Atrix 2, X2, Photon 4G, XPRT, Pro+, Electrify, Titanium, and Cliq 2. Too many of these were too similar, like the X2 and the Droid Bionic.

Samsung Galaxy S II from T-MobileSamsung seems to have figured this out, and put most of its attention last year on the Galaxy S II. Still, it came out with other models that — predictably — didn’t sell nearly as well. Anyone remember the Samsung Continuum? I didn’t think so.

Apple epitomizes the “less is more” philosophy. It releases one (1) smartphone each year. While it’s possible that’s taking things a bit too far, it’s far better than HTC having to split its focus among 18 or so new models.

There’s a complicating factor here: the wireless carriers. Companies like Verizon and AT&T want exclusive phones, and they put pressure on device makers to provide them. In the U.S. the handset producers absolutely depend on the carriers, so it’s hard for them to resist this pressure.

Even so, companies have to cut down on the number of models — producing a dozen or so each year that don’t sell all that well isn’t a good strategy, either for them or their customers. Just think about support and system software upgrades — the fewer models a company has to deal with, the more time they can spend on each one. That leads to happier customers and bigger profits.

Related Articles on Brighthand:

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January 26, 2012  1:41 PM

The iPhone 5 Should Be Released This Summer, Not Next Fall

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

You may have seen an article on Brighthand yesterday on the Apple iPhone outselling all Android-based smartphones combined in the U.S. last quarter. While I’m sure this is causing lots of backslapping at Apple, I don’t think it was a good thing for the company to repeat. 

This huge surge in sales was brought about primarily by the iPhone 4S being launched in Q4. It will probably happen again if Apple waits until this fall to introduce the iPhone 5. As I said, I think this is a bad idea.

Two Options
Using the iPhone release schedule Apple followed before 2011, the company enjoyed two surges in smartphone sales each year: one immediately after launch and another half a year later when the holiday shopping season rolled around. This gave Apple time to build some inventory back up for the holidays after the initial burst of post-debut sales.

Apple iPhone 4S

However, under the schedule Apple adopted last year, the company launched the iPhone 4S and almost immediately had to have another huge number of units ready for holiday sales. I’d be willing to bet half of all the iPhone 4S units that will be sold in its first year went in a single quarter.

Under both schedules, the total number of devices sold are about the same, but there’s less of a one-time strain on the supply chain if the new model comes out in the summer.

Preparing for Problems
Also, suppose a problem cropped up with the new iPhone… like Anntennagate? If the device launches in the summer, Apple has some time to fix it before the holiday rush. If the iPhone 4 had debuted on the same schedule as the iPhone 4S, then the controversy over the “death grip” issue would have been in full swing when people were deciding which smartphone to give as Christmas/Hanukkah gifts.

We got a taste of this with the latest model. The iPhone 4S had very poor battery life at launch, and Apple had to very, very quickly get a software patch out before it affected holiday sales.

Other Advantages
While I’m sure people who received the iPhone 4S as a gift this December were happy that they were getting a smartphone that had been on the market a relatively short time, there are other groups who are being left out in the cold.

Under Apple’s previous schedule, plenty of students went off to college with new iPhones. I’m curious how many graduates will be putting Apple’s 8 month-old smartphone on their wish list this June. Especially when you consider that there will be lots of hot new Android smartphones released just before then. The current schedule ignores the whole “Mom’s, Dad’s, and Grad’s” season, as well as the “Back to School” shopping season.  

And one more advantage: Apple was the only company who introduced its smartphones in June – July. This made it the center of attention during those months. When the iPhone 4S was coming out in October, it had to compete for attention with new models from all Apple’s competitors.

Add all this up, and it just makes more sense to me that the iPhone 5 should come out this summer. Here’s hoping it makes equal sense to Apple.

Related Articles on Brighthand:

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January 24, 2012  1:57 PM

Google Android vs. Apple iOS: Which Side Will You Choose?

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

It’s not easy shopping for a smartphone. There are so many different devices — the options can be overwhelming. In hopes of making this decision easier, Brighthand has published a comparison between two of the best phone running Google’s Android OS and Apple’s iOS: the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Apple iPhone 4S.

Apple iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S IIThis is an impartial look at all the features of these two very popular models, from screen size and camera resolution to entertainment and productivity apps. They are compared head-to-head, giving shoppers the information they need to decide between them.

Hopefully this will be useful for just about everyone in the market for a new smartphone. In the U.S., the iPhone is offered by AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, while Samsung’s flagship device can be found at AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile.  These two are broadly available around the world.

You can find this comparison at:
Apple iPhone 4S vs. Samsung Galaxy S II: Which Is the Greatest?
 
This is just the latest in a log series of device vs. device comparisons published by Brighthand. Some recent examples:

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January 20, 2012  2:49 PM

Removable Memory Cards Are Remarkably Cheap

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

If you have a smartphone that has a low-capacity microSD card, you should seriously consider getting a bigger one. This is a cheap and easy way to upgrade your device. 

Most Android, BlackBerry, and webOS handsets include a microSD memory card reader. If you bought an inexpensive model, or got one a year or so ago, this card probably doesn’t have a very high capacity — maybe 4GB, 2GB, or even less. Some models come with a slot and no card at all.

SanDisk 32 GB microSD Memory CardThe card in this slot is where you store your music, video, image, ebook, and document files.  If you increase its capacity, then you can start carrying around a lot more songs, movies, etc. Your smartphone can become much more fun and useful, too. 

Deals, Deals, Deals
The good news is prices for high-capacity microSD cards have dropped… a lot. Big cards are now available at low prices. 

Just a few minutes on one online store turned up two great options: Amazon has a SanDisk 16 GB Class 4 microSDHC card, with a USB card reader, for $9.99. If that deal is gone by the time you read this, the regular price is $14.10.

If you want more, how about a SanDisk 32GB microSDHC card for only $30.41. That’s a lot of storage for not a lot of money.

I’m sure if you do a bit of looking around, you can find some even better deals.

Not for Everyone
Sadly, not every smartphone has a removable memory card slot. Most notably, Apple doesn’t put them in the iPhone. Microsoft hasn’t built support for them into Windows Phone. Even the recent Android “Nexus” models from Samsung lack memory card slots.

Still, users of a large majority of Androids from companies like HTC and Motorola, as well as every BlackBerry I can think of, can get themselves a larger memory card and enjoy the benefits.

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January 14, 2012  9:40 AM

Your Next Smartphone Might Have an ”Intel Inside” Sticker

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

This week’s CES brought a virtual blitzkrieg of news, making its easy to overlook an important story. One that nearly passed under my radar was Intel’s announcement that it finally had some big-name companies to make smartphones running Atom processors.

I heard that Intel was unveiling a reference design for a handset running one of its chips, but I brushed it off — Intel has done this multiple times before and nothing has ever come of it. The definition of “Reference Design” is generally “something that is never going to see the light of day”. I was sure there were many more important developments to cover.

Fortunately, Brighthand‘s newest contributor, Andy Patrizio, set me straight. Intel’s announcements went beyond a mere reference design, to the fact that it has lined up Motorola and Lenovo to make smartphones running Intel chips. For the first time, a handset built by a major company with an Atom processor is going to be on shore shelves.

Lenovo K800Lenovo
The first Intel-based smartphone from Lenovo is going to be the K800. Details are scanty, but it will have 4.5-inch screen, an HDMI video-out port, and NFC.

The bad news is that Lenovo is a Chinese company, and it’s currently thinking locally. The K800 will be introduced by China Unicom at some point in the spring. A broader release later is a possibility, though.

Motorola
Motorola isn’t talking specifics, other than to say that it and Intel have entered into a multi-year contract to work together on more than one device.

What I find most interesting about this is that Google is in the process of acquiring Motorola. So if the company commits to using Intel x86 processors on future smartphones, it means Google must also be serious about Android running on the x86 architecture.

While Google has committed itself to bringing its mobile operating system to Intel chips last fall, at the time I questioned at the time how serious it was. Google experiments with a lot of projects, and many go nowhere (anyone remember Google Wave?).  With its soon-to-be subsidiary Motorola committed to the project, however, I have to believe Google is going to be firmly committed to it.

ARM vs. Intel
Currently, every smartphone (and tablet) used a chip designed by ARM Holdings. I know what you’re thinking “No, Qualcomm made my Droid’s chip” or “My iPhone has an Apple A5 processor.” See, ARM doesn’t manufacture chips, it designs them and then licenses these to a range of other companies, who then make actual hardware.

Why do they do this? Because ARM is very, very, good at designing low-power processors that are well suited for mobile devices. Better than any other company. Up until now, even better than Intel, who dominates production of processors in desktops and laptops.

Intel Atom InsideDespite Intel’s best efforts, its Atom line has been too big a drain for very portable computers. A few years ago, I had one of the original Ultra Mobile PCs that ran Windows on an Intel processor — it had a battery life that could be measured in minutes. I’m sure you’d hate a phone that could barely last an hour.

Which is why handset makers have turned to ARM and its licensees Qualcomm, NVIDIA, Samsung, etc. to get the brains for their devices. But it sounds like Intel is finally turning things around. Its Menlow 32nm system-on-a-chip (SoC)  appears to finally be giving ARM some real competition.

With Google apparently backing this development, the days of the ARM monopoly may be coming to an end.

Related Articles on Brighthand:

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January 5, 2012  7:10 PM

A BlackBerry Without a Keyboard Is Like a Fish Without Gills

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

A report surfaced today that BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion is only going to make one smartphone this year. While this should be taken with a grain of salt, like all unconfirmed reports, I find it plausible because of the limitations RIM has placed on itself.

After many years of using the same operating system, this company is moving to a whole new one. Dubbed BlackBerry 10, it is going to be used on both RIM’s smartphones and tablets. Apple and Google do something similar, but RIM is going a step further: it is only going to support one screen resolution.

The advantage of this for third-party app developers is they only have to make one version of their apps for tablets and smartphones. And that’s important. With the nearly epic growth of Android and iOS, RIM is having a hard time finding people to write the apps needed to make its smartphones useful and/or fun.  

There’s a significant downside, though: it really limits the range of practical designs for BlackBerrys.

BlackBerry London PrototypeIt’s unrealistic for a single app to look good on a 3-inch smartphone display and also on a 7-inch tablet. This means RIM has to give its handsets the largest screens realistically possible.  The result of this, for good or ill, is the end of the traditional BlackBerry form factor, with a small screen above a miniature keyboard.

That’s apparently why the information that has leaked out of RIM points to this company prepping a phone with a large display and no keyboard on its front. A leaked image of this smartphone, supposedly code-named the London, can be seen to the left.  

Another Alternative
There is a compromise, but it’s one that RIM seems to have eschewed. Most mobile devices with physical keyboards these days put it on a sliding plate, so it can be hidden behind the display. RIM itself makes a device or two like this, so the company seems to have deliberately passed his option over.

Why it chose to do so is a good question. One could argue that physical keyboards are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Looking over Brighthand‘s current list of the 10 most popular smartphones, you’ll find only one with an actual keyboard. On the other side of the coin, I have to point out that the one device on that list with a real keyboard is a BlackBerry.

Users of RIM’s smartphones are accustomed to typing on real keys. People I ask about it tell me that’s one of the main reasons they get a BlackBerry. For RIM to drop this feature from the one-and-only model it makes this year sounds to me like a horrible mistake.

Even if the report that RIM is prepping only the London is correct, it’s not too late for the company to change its mind. Because of various problems, the first smartphones running BlackBerry 10 are nearly a year away. That’s plenty of time to add another option — one with a physical keyboard — to the product lineup.

And if, in the midst of its current difficulties, RIM feels it can only produce one design, then the London needs to be dropped in favor of a smartphone that has the hallmark BlackBerry feature: a physical keyboard.

Related Articles on Brighthand:

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January 3, 2012  3:48 PM

A Tale of Three Operating Systems

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

In the past few months, new versions have been released for three of the biggest mobile operating systems: Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android OS, and Microsoft’s Windows Phone. I’m pleased to be able to say that Brighthand has reviewed all of these, so we can present you with information on the best mobile platforms available today.

Android OS 4.0 — The goal of this version is to bring together the two previous editions of Google’s OS. Android OS 2.3 (Gingerbread) was designed for smartphones, with OS 3.x (Honeycomb) was only for tablets. The new edition, code-named Ice Cream Sandwich, runs on both. You can find out how well the merging of features went in our review.

iOS 5.0 — The iPhone 4S debuted with a new version of the iOS. However, older iDevices received an upgrade. If you like to learn what the iPhone 4 offers these days, read our review of iOS 5.0.

Windows Phone 7.5 — This new version was known as Mango before its release, and it’s the first really major update to Windows Phone since it launched in 2010. Microsoft added a greatly updated web browser in this version, and made a lot of other tweaks to the user interface and other apps. Check out our review to see everything that’s included.

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