HP has just announced that Jon Rubinstein is being replaced as the head of the webOS division. There’s a part of me that’s concerned about this, but another part thinks it was the right decision. This is because while this man has some real strengths, there are some serious weaknesses too.
After taking over as the head of Palm, Inc. a few years ago, Rubinstein performed what almost amounts to a miracle. He took a company that hadn’t been able to release a significant update to the Palm OS in about 5 years and refashioned it into an organization that created the webOS in a surprisingly short amount of time.
I’m a big fan of this operating system. It offers a system for working with multiple apps on a small screen that’s vastly superior to any of its rivals. You can easily switch between running apps, or close them, with just a couple swipes of your finger. It makes the systems for moving between and closing apps by Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS look like kludgey messes.
This is something I think darn few people on Earth could have done. He took a company that was completely stuck in the mud and turned it around to the point where it could create something truly innovative.
I’m sure some of you are asking, “If the webOS is so great, why did it do so poorly against the iPhone and the Droids of the world?” The answer is simple: this operating system was put in bad hardware. When the Palm Pre debuted in 2009, it was too small. Its 3.1-inch screen was marginal, but the portrait oriented keyboard was barely usable. No one picked it up and said “Hey, this is awesome!”
The wonderful software helped make up for this, and if Palm had learned its lesson things might have been different. If the company had released a follow-up smartphone with a larger screen and a landscape-oriented keyboard — something many, many people were asking for — Palm might still be here as a company today. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Palm followed the Pre up with the Pixi, which was even smaller. (And it had a name that kept 90% of man from ever seriously considering it.)
As time went by, Palm continued to not learn its lesson. In 2010 came the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, which were just mildly updated versions of the originals. And in the pipeline were the Pre 2 and Veer, more small-formfactor smartphones.
These devices were competing against a range of models with ever larger and higher-resolution displays. The Motorola Droid came out in 2009 with the design that Palm should have adopted: a landscape-oriented slider with a 3.7-inch display and a keyboard you wanted to use. And it sold brilliantly — I could make a strong argument that if this smartphone hadn’t come out and been marketed so well by Verizon the entire Android OS would have been a flop. And this is just one of many examples Palm had of how to do things right — Palm just ignored them.
I blame Rubinstein for taking a great operating system and putting it in bad hardware. He’s the man in charge — the buck stopped on his desk. He should have seen the blindingly obvious: that the people who were designing Palm’s smartphones needed to be fired.
I also blame him for greenlighting some of the creepiest ads I’ve ever seen. Successful devices need great advertising. The iPhone showed us that, and so did the Droid. Palm was not successful at marketing any webOS phone.
As a result, Palm had to sell itself to HP last year. And now HP has replaced Rubinstein, for good or ill.
Rubinstein is being replaced by Stephen DeWitt, and I hope Mr. DeWitt can learn from his predecessor’s mistakes. People want larger screens on their smartphones, but they want better keyboards even more. He should give up the unhealthy fixation on portrait mode that previous webOS models have stubbornly held on to.
But at the same time, I hope DeWitt will have Rubinstein’s strengths as well. The webOS is a great operating system, but there’s always room for enhancement. I hope the new leader of webOS development will be able to keep this operating system improving steadily and consistently — that’s what Jon Rubinstein would have done.
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If you missed it, a few days ago we published on Brighthand a review of the Samsung Infuse 4G. The highlight of this Android smartphone is its Super AMOLED Plus display. The author of the review, Adama Brown, has plenty of compliments for this screen, and I’d like to add my own.
Brown said it looks “great, with true, crisp blacks, extremely vivid colors, and untinted whites.” He also pointed out that this display “performs as advertised in direct sunlight: not just better than previous OLEDs, but better even than most conventional LCD screens.”
OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) screens take advantage of a property of some organic molecules that causes them to glow when a current is applied to them. What this means for a display is that there’s no backlight required — the pixels on the screen are providing their own illumination. Therefore, OLED displays are thinner and generally require less power to run.
Samsung has been improving the basic OLED and is now making the aforementioned Super AMOLED Plus. This is, without a doubt, the best screen I’ve ever seen on a mobile device. I second Brown’s comment: “wow”.
I was particularly impressed with its viewability in direct sunlight. It succeeded quite well at a task that other types of screens just aren’t up to. With the Sun shining right on them, most types of displays are barely usable. On the Infuse 4G, I’d be willing to read an ebook. It’s that good.
As far as i know, Samsung has so far been reserving its entire output of Super AMOLED Plus displays for its own smartphones, but I hope that changes soon, to the point where every smartphone (and tablet too) will use this type of screen.
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Last night, a line of powerful thunderstorms went through north Georgia, bringing strong winds, torrential rain, and hail. To me (and a lot of other people) it also brought quite a few hours without electricity. But thanks to my smartphone and tablet I was barely inconvenienced.
Of course regular TV was out of the question, but I had plenty of other options. I missed the Bones season finale, so I headed over to Fox.com on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 I’m trying out. It was all I could wish for: the Android version of Flash Player 10.3 works beautifully, and the stereo speakers on the tablet were all I needed — though the audio was occasionally drowned out by especially violent claps of thunder.
I needed an Internet connection to do his, of course, which was provided by the hotspot app on the Android phone I’m using right now, the HTC EVO Shift 4G. I decided to leave WiMAX off, as I didn’t know how long I’d be without electricity, and 4G is hard on the battery.
After the Bones episode was over, I switched over to Facebook so I could see how my friends were weathering the storm. Even without WiMAX, I didn’t notice that page loads were slow.
After another half hour or so I started thinking about the battery life on the EVO Shift 4G. It was still above 50%, but I didn’t know whether I’d need the connection to be able to work the next day, and the hotspot app takes a lot of power. That’s when I switched over to the ebook I’m reading with the Kindle app on the tablet. That kept me occupied until I was ready for bed.
What’s the point of all this? I was in an situation that could have been really inconvienient, but thanks to having the right gear it wasn’t at all. It wasn’t much different if I’d been stuck in an airport, or a doctors waiting room. If you have the right smartphone/tablet you’re not going to be caught out.
Tablet vs. Laptop vs. Smartphone
I’m sure some of you are thinking “He could have done all that wit a laptop”. But I don’t think so. It’s true about the video — though watching TV without a keyboard in front is a better experience — and Facebook can be accessed with just about anything, but have you ever spent a couple of hours lying on the couch reading on a laptop? Years ago I read a book on a notebook computer, and it’s not experience I have any intention of ever repeating. Tablets and smartphones are so much lighter and more convenient to read on.
And there’s the issue of power. I spent close to two hours online and at least another two reading my ebook. At the end, my smartphone had about a half charge while the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was ready for many more hours of use. My laptop would have been about dead by that point, leaving me up the creek if I was still without power in the morning.
If I hadn’t had the tablet, I could have done all of this with my smartphone, of course. I know because I’ve done it before. But tablets are better suited for video, so I used the best option I had for what I was doing.
p.s. Apologies to Vicki Lawrence.
I recently wrote a blog post entitled Apple Sues Samsung for Patent Infringement: Yawn in which I expressed my lack of interest in the patent disputes between smartphone makers that get so much undeserved attention in the press. In that post, I pointed out that despite attempts to hype these up as something important, they are always quietly settled without fanfare.
Today we have a case in point — Nokia and Apple have announced that they have settled their patent dispute. If you’re keeping score, Nokia won, as Apple will be licensing its patents. Today’s statement says, in part:
The financial structure of the agreement consists of a one-time payment payable by Apple and on-going royalties to be paid by Apple to Nokia for the term of the agreement. The specific terms of the contract are confidential.
There you go, all the raw drama of a dispute that some had tried to build up into a modern day clash of the smartphone titans. Be still my beating heart.
Please keep this example in mind the next time you read an article about Company X suing Company Y over infringing on its patents. These things happen all the time, and they are always settled. Sometimes money changes hands, sometimes the companies agree to license each other’s patents without anyone having to pay a fee. There’s never any drama, no companies are ever driven out of business, no products are pulled off the shelves.
There’s nothing to see here. Move along, please.
As you’re probably well aware, Steve Jobs broke with tradition and didn’t unveil the next-generation iPhone at his company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference last week. I’m sure this has left some of you wondering when the next version of Apple’s smartphone will be released. It’s coming in a few months, but it might not be what you expect.
Despite what was thought earlier in the year, the iPhone 4 apparently won’t be followed by the iPhone 5. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the iPhone 4S is going to be released this fall instead. This will be a moderately updated version of the current model, with a faster processor and (possibly) a better camera, but with the same general design.
At least one analyst has gone out on a limb to predict that the iPhone 4S is going to be offered by not just AT&T and Verizon but also Sprint and T-Mobile. If true, it will make Apple’s smartphone much more competitive against the wide array of devices running Google’s Android OS.
Coming Next Year
At this point, just about all that’s known about the model that’s on the docket for 2012 is that it should include LTE, a 4G standard that both Verizon and AT&T are going to use. This device, which might or might not be called the iPhone 5, could also have a curved display.
When is this second upcoming device going to be released? It’s anyone’s guess.
Before anyone dismisses these reports just because Apple’s fifth smartphone won’t be called the iPhone 5, I should remind you that this company’s second smartphone was called the iPhone 3G. So far, it has had the iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and iPhone 4 — clearly, Apple isn’t committed to a simple numbering scheme.
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Eldar Murtazin, who has long been a reliable source for information on what’s going on inside smartphone makers, posted something startling on his blog today:
Next week Nokia will start the negotiations about the sale of it’s phone unit to Microsoft.
I can see only one possible response to this: There ain’t no freakin’ way. All that Nokia does is make phones. This would be like Ford selling its car and truck manufacturing units to BP — there’d be nothing left of the company.
Nokia used to do much more, but it has outsourced or dumped just about everything but its division that designs and makes phones. If it sold this off, it would be a company in name only, as it wouldn’t have anything left to do.
Check the Source
Murtazin has a good track record when it comes to having the inside scoop. He was, for example, the first to reveal that Nokia was dumping the Symbian OS in favor of Microsoft Windows Phone as the operating system for its future smartphones. But in this case, I think he’s off base.
Nokia responded to the blog post by saying via Twitter:
We normally don’t comment on rumours as you know, but we have to say that Eldar’s rumours are obviously getting less accurate with every passing moment.
Despite Murtazin reputation for accuracy, in this case I think he’s incorrect. Or if he is on target, the people running Nokia need to have their heads examined. The switch to Windows Phone was bold and a bit controversial, but it has a decent chance of being a long-term success for Nokia. But selling its phone division to Microsoft? That would be the end of Nokia.
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Last week, Verizon got a bit of egg on its face when its 4G LTE network failed across the entire U.S. This was especially bad timing for this carrier, as it was scheduled to release its second smartphone with LTE support, the Samsung Droid Charge, the next day. Verizon got the network running again in about 24 hours, but still postponed the launch of its next 4G handset.
More than a week later, the Droid Charge is still MIA. I had expected it to launch on May 5, as this carrier likes to introduce new models on Thursdays. But this didn’t happen, and Verizon is keeping mum about why. And, in fact, the company has never said what the problem was that caused its LTE network to fail.
Verizon customers have been able to access LTE service again for more than a week now, but this carrier has yet to release the Droid Charge. Why the extra delay?
Is the Droid Charge at Fault?
I’m slightly suspicious about the timing of the LTE outage — less than a day before the launch of the Samsung Droid Charge. Is it possible that a bug in this model is somehow responsible?
I know this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but the fact that the network failed at the same time Verizon stores all across the U.S. were getting this model in stock, followed by the long delay in the release of this smartphone, seems to stretch coincidence more than a bit.
Whatever the case, I’m sure there are plenty of Verizon customers across the U.S. who will be happy when they can finally get their hands on the Samsung Droid Charge. Assuming it’s bug free, of course.
The Samsung Droid Charge finally launched on Saturday, May 14, over a week after this blog post was written.
Samsung Droid Charge Preview
The Droid Charge is going to be a cutting-edge smartphone with a 4.3-inch WVGA (800 x 480) Super AMOLED Plus touchscreen. It is going to debut with Google Android OS 2.2 (Froyo) running on a 1GHz processor, with Samsung’s TouchWiz user interface layered on top.
In addition to Verizon’s 4G service, this Samsung model is going to have Wi-Fi b/g/n, Bluetooth, GPS, and DLNA. Multimedia features will include a rear-facing 8 megapixel auto-focus camera with flash, a front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera for video conferencing, and an HDMA (720p) video-out port.
It is being priced at $300 with a two-year contract, well above the typical cost of similar models.
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Research in Motion (RIM) took the wraps off the successor to BlackBerry OS 6 yesterday. For some reason, the company decided to call to BlackBerry OS 7, even though it’s much more like OS 6.5. It has some nice new features, but it’s not a major upgrade — and this is a time that RIM can’t rest on its laurels.
RIM is in an odd situation. It is currently one of the top sellers of smartphones, but many experts think that it has been surpassed by the iPhone and the Android OS not just technologically but also in terms of customer awareness. Most of what’s keeping it afloat is the conservatism of IT managers, who like BlackBerry as a safe choice. Consumers, on the other hand, are turning to devices that are more oriented toward them and therefore more fun. This is what’s pushing the iOS and Android past BlackBerry.
Up By Its Bootstraps
But because RIM is still doing well, it has an opportunity to rescue itself. Doing this is going to require dumping the tired old BlackBerry OS and going with something more powerful. The good news is that the company is already doing this — it’s switching to a new operating system based on QNX, the same OS that runs on the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. The bad news is that this transition is taking a long time.
RIM said it was starting this move last fall, and information leaking out of the company says the QNX-based version of the BlackBerry OS is going to come out in 2012. So the change is going to take about two years, which isn’t bad, but could be worse. In fact, it still can be worse, if RIM doesn’t buckle down and ends up having to push the release back to 2013.
Take a look at Palm, Inc. if you want a good example of how this process can go wrong. Early last decade, this company was on top of the PDA world. But it ran into a snag: the Palm OS was out of date and needed to be replaced. Thanks to several false starts, it took about seven years to come up with the webOS. As a result of this painfully long delay, a once powerful company has become a shadow of its former self. This could happen to RIM too, if it doesn’t buckle down and make the transition to a more advanced operating system.
What a Difference a Version Makes
BlackBerry OS 6 was a significant change over its predecessor. It brought an array of new features, most notably a web browser that people were actually willing to use.
The new BlackBerry OS 7 is going to be a much smaller change. RIM has further improved the web browser, added voice searching, and is including a system designed to keep the secure corporate information on BlackBerry smartphones away from the consumer-oriented apps like Facebook. Nice, but hardly impressive.
The QNX-based version will include some really major changes, like support for running Android apps and an Adobe Flash player. These features are already part of the PlayBook, or will be soon, but smartphone users are going to have to wait another year for them.
Is BlackBerry OS 8 going to save RIM?: I don’t know — the competition from Google and Apple is fierce. But getting a much more powerful operating system out as soon as possible is a requirement if it hopes to have any chance at all.
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Microsoft continues to have problems getting a system software update to all the devices running Windows Phone 7. The latest device to run into problems is the Samsung Omnia 7.
This update, code-named NoDo, adds cut, copy, and paste functions to Microsoft’s smartphone operating system. It started going out to various models in March, but there have been problems with it from the beginning.
In the latest of these, Michael Stroh from the Windows Phone development team wrote on his company’s blog yesterday that:
We’ve temporarily stopped sending updates to Omnia7s. The team discovered a technical issue with the update package for this model. The work of fixing and testing the package is nearly done, and the team hopes to resume update deliveries soon. When I know more about the timing, I’ll pass it along.
The Samsung Omnia 7 was not picked up by any U.S. carrier. It is available as an unlocked GSM model from online retailers, however.
The long-delayed version of the Apple iPhone 4 in a white outer casing finally launched yesterday, only ten months after the debut of the black version. There were production problems with the lighter casing — production problems that are going to continue to haunt this device.
Turns out the white version of the iPhone 4 is slightly thicker than the black one. Apple apparently needed to make the casing a bit more opaque, and the only way to do this was add more plastic. The difference isn’t huge, 9.5 mm instead of 9.3 mm, but this might be enough that some form-fitting cases designed for the black version won’t work on the new one.
This leaves consumers in an uncomfortable position. If you want a case for your iPhone 4 in white, you may have to buy one, test it on your device, return it if it doesn’t fit, and repeat this process until you find one that’s the right size.
A Re-occurring Problem
By now, accessory makers should be reconciled to Apple tinkering with the shape and size of its smartphone so that cases have to be redesigned every year or so. But the iPhone 4 has caused additional headaches.
When Verizon released its much-anticipated version of this device in February, many were unpleasantly surprised to learn that it isn’t the same size as AT&T’s version. And the differences were large enough that many cases designed for one won’t work on the other. And now both carriers are offering slightly different black and white editions of their separate versions.
Here’s hoping Apple gets its ducks in a row before it releases its next smartphone. A big part of this is realizing that it’s important that when consumers buy an iPhone 5 case they can be certain it’s going to fit their iPhone 5.
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