If you’re in the market for a smartphone with a super-fast connection to the Internet, there are loads of good choices out there. Still, not all the wireless service providers are equal. Here’s how they stack up.
There’s two main criteria to keep in mind: speed and availability. It doesn’t matter how fast a company’s 4G service is if it’s not available in your area. Price is also a consideration.
Verizon is the over-all winner. Its 4G LTE service isn’t the fastest, but it’s near the top. And it’s been around long enough to be very widely available, covering major cities and most good-size towns around the U.S. It continues to grow as the carrier keeps adding smaller towns.
AT&T comes in second. Tests have shown that its LTE service is a bit faster than Verizon’s, but it’s still so new that most Americans have no access to it yet. Still, AT&T is working to add new cities at a fast pace. Traditionally, though, this carrier has focused its efforts on larger metropolitan areas, ignoring smaller towns.
AT&T and Verizon are approximately equal in price, but cost a bit more than their smaller rivals.
Despite being the smaller of the Big 4 U.S. carriers, T-Mobile does surprisingly well. Its 4G HSPA+42 network is relatively widely available and quite speedy — in real-world tests it’s about half the speed of AT&T’s LTE, but much faster than any 3G network. Also, this carrier offers 4G for less than AT&T and Verizon. Still, this company mainly concentrates on larger cities, with little rural access.
Sprint is in the process of switching from 4G WiMAX to 4G LTE, and is therefore struggling a bit. Its WiMAX network has stopped expanding but LTE service isn’t available yet. What Sprint has going for it is its truly unlimited data plan which can save heavy wireless users a lot of money.
Apple CEO Tim Cook took the wraps off iOS 6 last week, and much of what he said was music to the ears of long-time users of the iPhone and iPad — some of the most irritating limitations in these devices are being taken out.
There’s going to be a new Maps app that will finally include turn-by-turn navigation, with Siri providing spoken directions. Previously, users needed a third-party app for this service.
The Mail app is getting some long-awaited features, including the ability to add pictures and images to messages from the composing window, as well a separate signatures for each email account.
Fans of FaceTime will be happy to learn that iOS 6 will allow them to make video calls over a cellular-wireless connection, not just Wi-Fi.
A new “Do Not Disturb” feature will let people keep their phone (or tablet) next to their bed at night without it alerting them of every email that comes in. Also, people will be able to easily decline an incoming call with a text message.
These are just some of the new features coming in iOS 6 when it is released in the fall. For more information, read Brighthand‘s full article on this upcoming operating system.
Related Articles on Brighthand
An article on Brighthand this week had a statement that surely caused some people to blink. The comment came from analyst Craig Mathias, who said, “We will see relatively little evolution in terms of industrial design going forward.”
I tend to agree with this, in general. Honestly, we’ve seen little genuine innovation in smartphone designs in years. Virtually all models are slabs with a large display and few of small buttons. Yes, there’s some tweaking of that basic design, but that really just means ever-larger screens. All you have to do is look at the the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III to see this. These are latest cutting-edge, flagship models from these companies, and they have the same general form factor.
Even the classic sideways slider is declining in use. The once almost ubiquitous portrait QWERTY is also all-but dead — even BlackBerry is giving it up. There is a market for devices that offer a physical keyboard, but it’s not a big one.
And don’t look for new ideas to come out of left field. For the most part, consumers aren’t interested in innovative designs. Kyocera Echo was probably the most innovative phone released in the last two years, and it flopped and was widely (and unfairly) mocked. The market has spoken: people want safety and familiarity, not innovation.
Maturity Means Less Experimentation
While it might be easy to see this as a bad trend, really it’s just a sign that smartphones are maturing. Companies have figured out what most consumers want, and are giving it to them.
For an example of how this process works, think about laptop designs — this is something that has been mature for over a decade, which means virtually all devices look the same. They are bigger or smaller, fatter or thinner, but they all have the same basic shape. That’s the direction handsets are headed.
Look at it this way: It’s time for smartphones to put their crazy teenage years behind them, settle down, and get to work.
Sprint released its first 4G LTE smartphones on Sunday, even though it doesn’t have an LTE network… yet.
This company finds itself in a tough spot. Two years ago it became the first carrier in the U.S. with a 4G network, but it picked the WiMAX standard for this. Unfortunately for Sprint, just about every other carrier in the world chose the LTE standard for 4G, and some phone makers (including Apple) are unwilling to make WiMAX-based devices.
As many times as we’ve all heard “The early bird gets the worm”, being first doesn’t always mean coming out ahead. It’s the second mouse to reach the trap that gets the cheese, after all.
As a result, Sprint is going to have to spend several billion dollars adding support for LTE to its network. This will start to be available in a handful of cities in the next month or so. But as mentioned before, this company isn’t waiting to introduce LTE-enabled handsets. The Samsung Galaxy Nexus and LG Viper 4G LTE are the first, and more are expected to follow, such as the HTC EVO 4G LTE.
At launch, these don’t have 4G — they will be 3G only until this carrier gets its LTE network up and running.
Related Articles on Brighthand
An article on Brighthand today covers complaints from some Europe-based wireless service providers that sales of the new Nokia Lumia Windows Phones are low. Curiously, U.S. carriers are happy with their sales of Nokia’s smartphones.
- Nokia’s Symbian device always sold very poorly in the U.S. As the Lumia models are attracting buyers at AT&T and T-Mobile, they are doing better than any previous Nokia device did in ths country, and therefore exceeding the carriers’ expectations.
- Nokia’s Symbian smarthones dominated the European market for many years. To meet the expectations of carriers on that continent, the Lumia line needed to also dominate sales. That’s not happening, so the carrriers are disappointed.
It’s possible there’s an odd situation where the Lumia Windows Phones are selling better in Europe than in America, but U.S. carriers are more satisfied. This is only speculation, however, as Nokia has not given a breakdown of where the 2 million Lumia devices that were purchased last quarter were sold.
Another factor could be at play here. Those who live in Europe could be saving their money for the Lumia 900. That’s the most advanced Windows Phones Nokia has announced, but it’s currently available only in the U.S. Sales could take off when the 900 debuts across the Atlantic.
Related Articles on Brighthand:
- Nokia Lumia 900 Review: Can It Save Windows Phone?
- Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone Now Free; Nokia Apologizes for Connection Bug
For the past week or so I’ve been on a cruise down the Rhine River through Switzerland, France, Germany and (soon) Holland. I’ve noticed a trend: the Apple iPad is the most carried computer on the ship, by a wide margin.
I haven’t down an exhaustive survey of my fellow travelers (I’m on vacation after all) but just by keeping my eyes open in the ship’s lounge I’ve seen about a dozen different people with Apple’s tablet. I’ve seen just three Windows laptops used by passengers in the same period. Our tour guide carries a Samsung Galaxy Tab.
I asked around, and people told me they brought their tablets for some of the same reasons I brought my third-generation iPad on this trip: staying in touch with my friends and family through Facebook and email. Games are also a popular option.
A Entertainment Device
Our riverboat provides complimentary Wi-Fi, but with a strict limit on how much data can be exchanged. It’s enough to do some light web surfing, but not for something that requires a lot of bandwidth like NetFlix. That’s why I’m glad I loaded up some movies and TV shows before I left home. I also have quite a few ebooks with me, which saves a lot of space in my luggage.
A few people are using their iPads as cameras while we’re visiting the various cities on the Rhine. I generally think that’s too cumbersome, but I had someone point out to me it’s a good option for those whose vision isn’t great — the large view screen makes it easy for them to see what they are taking a picture of. Several people have the Camera Connection Kit, so they can offload their pictures onto their tablets, and then see them on nice big screen.
In addition, my iPad is being used to keep an eye on what’s happening at Brighthand, and write this blog post.
An internal Microsoft memo that has leasked out indicates that Microsoft employees are no longer allowed to use company funds to purchase products made by Apple. This is a sign that the competition between these two has heated up again.
Way back in the 1980s, Microsoft and Apple were bitter rivals in the personal computer market. Apple was ahead at first, but Microsoft eventually came from behind to triumph. By the mid-1990s, Apple was in such dire straights that it was brought back from the brink of bankruptcy only with a bit of help from its old rival. The hatchet had been buried, and Microsoft enjoyed a comfortably huge lead over Apple for another decade.
But a few years ago the competition between these two entered a new phase: Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, and fairly quickly it pushed Microsoft’s Windows Phone off the top spot. And then came the debut of the iPad, and now some pundits are saying that tablets might make PCs irrelevant.
Microsoft had been complacent about Apple for years, as OS X has such a tiny percantange of the sales enjoyed by Windows. But Apple is winning in the smartphone and tablet markets, and Microsoft is taking note.
The most obvious ways the giant from Redmond has reacted is by replacing the business-oriented Windows Mobile with the more consumer-friendly Windows Phone, and by the ongoing development of a version of Windows designed to run on tablets. But Microsoft is reacting in small ways to — like the aforementioned memo informing its employees that the company won’t be buying them any more Apple products.
At first blush this seems petty, but there’s at least one good reason for it: it always looks bad when your employyees are seen by outsiders using a rival’s products. And it’s not an unusual policy — I’m sure Ford doesn’t by many Chrysler cars for its executives to use.
On the other hand, I’m sure some people will take this as a sign that the Apple has Microsoft spooked, and the Windows-maker is therefore running scared. To me that seems a bit extreme, but I do think there’s small grain of truth to it. Microsoft can no longer afford to smile indulgently at Apple, because it’s once again a serious rival.
If you want to read over the memo that leaked out of Microsoft, I’ve copied it below:
From: Alain Crozier
Sent: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 1:17 PM
Subject: Apple Purchases
Within SMSG we are putting in place a new policy that says that Apple products (Mac & iPad) should not be purchased with company funds.
In the US we will be turning off the Apple products from the Zones Catalog next week, which is the standard purchasing mechanism for these products.
Outside of the US — we will work with your finance and procurement teams to send the right message and put the right processes in place.
The current purchase levels are low, however we recognize there will be a bit of transition work associated with this. Details of historical purchases in the US are provided in the attachment to help understand the changes that will be needed.Thank you for your support and leadership on this.
CFO | WW Sales, Marketing & Services Group
WW SMSG Finance
Palm, Inc. was one of the great “rags to riches to rags” stories in American business history. At one point this company was considered serious competition for Microsoft, but now it’s completely gone. HP played a big role in finishing it off, and some of the details on how this happened have recently come to light.
Palm had its biggest success making a line of eponymous personal digital assistants (PDAs), but struggled a bit when consumer interest turned to smartphones about 7 years ago. The situation became even worse when Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS were introduced a couple of years later. However, under the new leadership of CEO Jon Rubinstein Palm developed webOS and started selling the Pre line of smartphones. While these were widely praised by reviewers they didn’t garner enough sales to allow Palm to remain independent. Therefore, in 2010, the company sold itself to HP.
From here, the story is taken up by Phil McKinney, who was HP’s Chief Technology Officer until last fall and therefore has the inside scoop. He said, in a recent interview with Rick Mathieson:
“[This] was going to be a long term effort. Palm was struggling and HP was stepping in, doing the acquisition, and we were basically going to take three years hands-off. Palm was basically going to get cash infusions, resources, and expertise.”
Unfortunately that’s not the way events turned out. Shortly after the deal had been completed, HP got a new CEO, Leo Apotheker. Instead of three years he gave Palm only one. Weeks after the first webOS-based tablet, the TouchPad, was released, Apotheker decided to kill off the entire webOS product line.
McKinney’s said, “This is an example of not committing long term to the resources and not having patience for innovation.” HP’s board of directors apparently agreed, and Apotheker was fired shortly after the decision to kill off the webOS was announced. But the damage had already been done, and webOS was all but dead, barely continuing as an open-source project.
It’s too bad that we’ll never know what would have happened if HP had given webOS the three years it was promised. Maybe it could have become a serious competitor to Android and the iPhone. Maybe not. We’ll never know.
I realize the title of this post sounds melodramatic, but the sentiment behind it isn’t my own. It comes from James Whittaker, formerly the Engineering Director at Google. Whittaker says that, since Larry Page took over as Google CEO, the focus of the company has moved from making great products to making money at the expense of everything else.
Whittaker, who is now Partner Development Manager at Microsoft, says that when Eric Schmidt was running the company, revenue generating by Google’s ad business was used to create innovative products, like Android and Gmail. “Google was an ad company only in the sense that a good TV show is an ad company: having great content attracts advertisers,” wrote Whittaker in a blog post.
The former Google exec says the change came with the rise of Facebook. Because this is a social-networking service, it can provide advertisers with immense amounts of information about the interests of consumers, something Google couldn’t do. This apparently spooked the company to the point where Larry Page was brought back to chart a new course, which could be summed up as doing everything possible to gather data about users, allowing Google to compete better with Facebook in advertising.
The most obvious example of this was the launch of Google+, a social networking service designed to go toe-to-toe with Facebook. Whittaker says that, in addition, many previous company offerings were reworked to gather user data, including the Android OS. Anything that didn’t directly contribute to that goal was canceled, like Google Labs.
“The days of old Google hiring smart people and empowering them to invent the future was gone. The new Google knew beyond doubt what the future should look like. Employees had gotten it wrong and corporate intervention would set it right again,” said Whittaker.
So far, that isn’t how things have worked out. Google+ still has a tiny percentage of users compared to Facebook. And recent moves by the company have made many people nervous, especially as they have made clear that Google is gathering as much information about them as possible.
Whittaker summed up his thoughts with, “The Google I was passionate about was a technology company that empowered its employees to innovate. The Google I left was an advertising company with a single corporate-mandated focus.”
My 2 Cents
I decided to turn Whittaker’s comments into a blog post because they are the best explanation I have seen for what what happened to turn Google from a company that many people (including me) loved into something many people (including me) view with suspicion.
Famously, Google’s main policy used to be “Do no evil.” Now it seems that has been replaced by “Do whatever it takes to make as much money as possible.”
Apple released an update for the iPhone’s operating system last week. Sadly, the move from iOS 5.0.1 to iOS 5.1 offered very little for users of this smartphone. I’ve been using it for a week now, and I’m completely underwhelmed. This is too bad, as there’s a long list of potential enhancements that could have been made.
The most noticeable change is the addition of a camera button on the unlock screen. If you want to quickly take a picture, you can hit this button and slide the screen up and you’ll be in the camera app. The new version also allows you delete images directly from the photo stream.
If you’re an AT&T customer, your iPhone now tells you that you’re connected to a 4G network when you have an HSPA+ connection. Your phone isn’t faster than it was before, however.
What does it offer beyond that? Not much. You still have the “choice” of only one keyboard layout, you can’t specify the default apps for different tasks, there’s only limited support for Bluetooth, you can’t have different signatures for different email accounts… I could go on and on.
One of the best features was mysteriously stripped out. A beta offered Facebook integration, which allowed people to upload images to this social networking service directly from the Photos app. Unfortunately, this did not make it into the final version.
The iOS is much more mature and robust than it was just a few years ago, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. It’s too bad Apple missed this chance to make some of the needed enhancements.
Related Articles on Brighthand:
- Apple iOS 5.1 Update Tweaks the iPhone
- Six Great Apps To Turn Your Apple iPhone into a TV
- iPhone GPS Navigation Apps: Three Free (or Cheap) Options