Brighthand Bytes

August 30, 2010  10:39 AM

Dell Streak: The Shape of Things to Come

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

The new Dell Streak is definitely controversial. Because it sports a 5.0-inch display, many classify it as a tablet rather than a smartphone. Even Dell has sent mixed signal about what type of device this is.

To me, there’s no doubt that it’s a smartphone. And people might want to get used to it, because I predict that plenty of future smartphones are going to have screens this size.

Just Part of a Trend
It was just a few years ago that most people scoffed at the idea that the average consumer would ever use smartphone with a 3.5-inch display. This was when the super-small RAZR was en vogue, and people who used smartphones with large screens were labeled “geeks”. 

Today, we call these people “iPhone users”.

When Apple released its first smartphone in 2007, a million people or more started using phones with large touchscreens. That number has grown steadily ever since.

And the iPhone’s 3.5-inch display is actually not even considered particularly large these days. The HTC EVO 4G and Motorola Droid X have 4.3-inch screen, and I’ve already mentioned the Streak’s 5.0-inch one.

Usage Patterns Are Changing
The reason screens are getting bigger is because the way we use out phones has changed. People, especially younger users, are increasing sending texts, taking pictures, and surfing the Web on their phone, and maybe sometimes making a call.

Dell Streak Tablet Phone with Google Android OSIf you’re making lots of voice calls, you want the smallest device you can get so it’s more lightweight and portable. But if you’re posting to Facebook or watching a video, you want a large screen.

There’s a Limit
While there’s no doubt that phones have gotten bigger in recent years, this trend won’t continue indefinitely. In fact, a 5-inch screen is pretty close to the limit.

Your phone goes with you everywhere, and to do so it has to fit in your pocket. The Streak passes this test, but just barely. That’s what makes me think it’s the shape of things to come. It’s as big as a phone can be without being too big.

While it’s true you get a better Web and video experience on devices even larger than the Streak, I don’t think we’ll reach the point where everyone carries a 10-inch tablet with them everywhere.

I base this on my own experience: when I first got my iPad, it was constantly with me. But after a couple of months, toting it around all the time started became more hassle than it was worth. Now it only comes with me only on trips where I know I’ll need it.

Dell Streak ReviewTheWhat has replaced it is the Dell Streak. It always goes with me whenever I leave the house because it is almost as nice to use as the iPad, but it fits in my pocket.

I’m expecting many more people to realize the advantages of having a large — but not too large — smartphone. I predict there will be 5-inch Droids and iPhones on the market in the next year or so.

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August 20, 2010  4:13 PM

Brighthand Has Had a Facelift

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

Brighthand has just moved to a new site design. We still offer a mix of news, reviews, and product details, but all of this has been  re-arranged in a way that we hope will make it easier for our users to find what they are looking for.

My favorite new feature is the “Hot Topics” box, which lists some recent articles that have drawn the most attention. This should help people get caught up on important stories they may have missed. 

The TechnologyGuide programmers Andrew Baxter and Josh Montgomery and our new graphic artist Julie Powers deserve all the credit for this move — they worked very hard on this new layout.

If you haven’t seen the new layout, click over and take a look.

A Trip on the Wayback Machine
Brighthand has been around since the 1990s, and there have been many site layouts over the years. I thought some of you might be interested in a look back at some of the previous ones. This is easy thanks to a handy online tool called the Wayback Machine. 

Mar 02, 2000: This was a very early version of the site, and it shows. The site covered just PDAs back then, as there weren’t any smartphones. The top story on this date the Palm IIIc .

October 12, 2003:  This was how the site looked the first year I worked here. By this time smartphones were starting to appear in our coverage, but much of the news still about PDAs. The big news on this day was a pair of new iPAQs from HP.

August 14, 2007: Many of you may recognize this more recent site layout. By this time, the site was primarily about smartphones. This wasn’t a very auspicious date: news items included the Palm Foleo and Access’ ALP operating system.


August 10, 2010  9:45 AM

AT&T Finally Gets Serious about Android

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

AT&T was the last of the “big four” carriers to release a smartphone running Google’s Android OS, and for a long time it’s offerings were anemic at best. But that has changed, and the company now offers a decent selection of models running Google’s operating system

Samsung Captivate from AT&TSamsung Captivate — The Captivate offers cutting-edge features like a 1 GHz processor, a Super AMOLED touchscreen, and 16 GB of internal storage. This Android OS device also has a 5 megapixel camera, 3G, Wi, and much more. The asking price is $200.

HTC Aria — With its 3.2-inch, 320 x 480 (HVGA) touchscreen, the HTC Aria is much smaller than the Captivate, but it still has a lot to offer, like a 5 megapixel camera, 3G, Wi-Fi, and much more. AT&T sells it for $130 with contract.

Motorola Backflip — The Backflip has a very unusual design featuring a flip-around keyboard and a touchpanel behind its 3.1-inch, HVGA screen. This consumer-oriented device sells for $50.

Brighthand‘s reviewer Jen Edwards liked the first two models, but didn’t warm up to the Backflip.

In addition, this carrier has announced plans to offer another Android OS model, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10, next week.

It has taken a while, but AT&T customers are finally getting a respectable selection of Android OS-based smartphones to choose from.

August 4, 2010  10:11 AM

BlackBerry OS 6: RIM’s Hail-Mary Pass

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

The wraps came off BlackBerry OS 6.0 yesterday, and RIM’s most important operating system upgrade ever will soon be in customers’ hands.

This new version is so critical because the BlackBerry OS is starting to fall behind its rivals, and might be starting down a slope toward becoming a niche product. This new version must reverse this trend before it becomes unstoppable.

I realize that it might seem presumptuous to say RIM is about to go into decline, as the company is the top seller of smartphones in the U.S. But I’m convinced it’s true.

I spend a large percentage of my time talking to smartphone users and reading about these devices on the Web, both in news articles and in a range of forums, not just Brighthand’s own. What I see is a great deal of interest being paid to Apple’s iPhone and devices running Google’s Android OS. These are certainly where all the excitement is. The thrill seems to be lacking in BlackBerry users.

So think about it: if you’re a user who is bored with your BlackBerry, but you know someone who is thrilled by their Droid, you’re going to be mighty tempted to get a Droid the next time you want a new phone.

BlackBerry OS 6.0I realize this is a very subjective assessment, but sometimes that’s what’s required to judge what people are thinking.

Bringing Back the Excitement
RIM’s smartphones work with a minimum of hassle, but they lack the features consumers have come to expect.  BlackBerry OS 6.0 is going to go a long way toward changing this.

One of the most important enhancements is a new web browser. The previous one was terrible — something RIM should have been ashamed to put on devices in 2007, much less 2010. But the latest version is an app people will actually want to use.

Although much of the BlackBerry’s reputation is founded on email, it has lagged behind in offering support for messages formatted with HTML — which these days is a large percentage of them. The new version removes this limitation.

RIM is also embracing touchscreens with BlackBerry OS 6.0. The company dipped its toe in the water with the Storm series, but the latest version of its operating system is designed to bring touchscreens to a wider range of devices. Case in point: the Blackberry Torch 9800, the first model from this company to offer  a touchscreen and a sliding keyboard.

And these are just a few of the changes — the new version of the BlackBerry OS brings many, many more. It’s one of the most significant re-vamps of an operating system I’ve ever seen.

Too Little, Too Late?
RIM has taken a big step forward, but only time will tell if it’s going to be enough. BlackBerry-based smartphones are up against some tough competitors, like the Apple iPhone 4, the Motorola Droid X, and Samsung Captivate.

This company is on top right now, but there’s plenty of evidence to show that this isn’t going to last much longer. Still, I’m a lot more confident about RIM’s prospects now that I’ve seen BlackBerry OS 6.0 than I was before.

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July 5, 2010  8:07 AM

Money Will Bring Apple and Verizon Together

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

Easily the biggest open question in the phone business these days is, Will Verizon offer a version of the iPhone?

There have been quite a few unconfirmed reports indicating that a version of the iPhone for Verizon is in the offing, with the latest saying it’s going to happen in January 2011.

But quite a few people continue to have doubts. They point out that Apple and Verizon both insist on controlling every facet of their businesses, a pair of corporate attitudes that won’t easily lead to cooperation. Apple has almost total control of AT&T’s version of the iPhone, including handling technical support and deciding when upgrades are sent to users. According to conventional wisdom, that situation would be anathema to Verizon.

Unconfirmed reports say that Verizon passed on the opportunity to be the exclusive provider of the iPhone back in 2006, forcing Apple to go to AT&T. The reason: Apple wanted the same deal it talked AT&T into, and Verizon wasn’t going for it.

Money Changes Everything
To me there are billions of reasons why these two should find a way to cooperate, and each one of them has a dollar sign on it. There’s just too much money to be made for them to shut the door on cooperating.

And I’m not exaggerating, there’s really a billion or more dollars riding on the negotiations between Apple and Verizon. That money is going to be spent by mobile phone users somewhere, and it’s going to these companies’ competitors if they can’t come to an agreement.

Millions of Verizon’s subscribers want an iPhone, but they’ve read the reports of problems with AT&T’s wireless network (justified or not), and they aren’t giving up the network that has worked for them, not even for the iPhone. These are the people that Apple is missing out on.

On the other side of the coin, according to analysts’ estimates, there are a million AT&T subscribers who would like to switch to Verizon if they could stay with Apple. If Verizon is going to take in $70 a month or more from each and every one of these people, it’s going to have to bend its stiff neck a bit.

A it is, many of these Verizon customers, unable to get an iPhone, are getting an Android OS model instead. So Apple’s loss is HTC’s and Motorola’s gain.

The biggest problem is that both Verizon and Apple have been successful by insisting on control of their products. Verizon is the biggest wireless carrier in the United States, and while Apple is consistently a very profitable company.

Has Been Done. Must Be Done. Will Be Done.
There’s no doubt, both Verizon and Apple are control freaks, so it’s easy to say that they aren’t ever going to get along. But for many decades companies that have conflicting corporate cultures have found ways around their differences if there’s enough money to be made.

If you’ll forgive the anthropomorphism, Microsoft and Apple hate each other’s guts, but Microsoft has made a version of Office for Macs since 1985. These two have worked through their differences for 25 years because it’s in the interest of both to do so.

If Apple and Microsoft can cooperate for so long, I believe Apple and Verizon can too, especially with so much money on the line. They aren’t even in direct competition. And an agreement would be a huge economic win for them both, bringing in billions.

July 1, 2010  10:26 AM

HP Now Owns Palm: I Never Thought it Would Happen

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

As of today, the once proud Palm is now a division of HP. If you’re not shocked by this, it’s probably because you haven’t been following the mobile device industry for a decade or more. To me, the headline might as well be “Microsoft Buys Apple”.

If you look back to the turn of the century. Palm and HP were bitter rivals. HP made the iPAQ line using Microsoft’s Pocket PC operating system (later renamed Windows Mobile) and Palm made handhelds with its own Palm OS.

For a long time, Palm was winning this battle. Its PDAs were cheaper and better than its rival’s were. Palm was riding high on its success, and the future looked bright. What a difference a decade makes.

Years went by and the market shifted from PDAs to phones, and for a while it looked like Palm had successfully made the transition. Around the middle of this decade, its Treo models were some of the best-selling smartphones.

But Palm fumbled. It was incapable of updating its operating system, and customers eventually got tired of buying devices that hadn’t advanced in any meaningful way in years.

In the mean time, Apple totally shook up the market with the release of the first iPhone in 2007. And Google introduced the Android OS the next year, while poor old Palm was still shipping models based on an operating system released in 2001.

In 2009, it looked like Palm had finally gotten its act together. It released the first models based on the newly-created webOS to much praise from reviewers. Unfortunately, Palm was just too late. Customers wanted iPhones and Droids, and had no interest in Palm’s Pre and Pixi. Sales were well below expectations, and the company eventually had to put itself up for sale.

In the mean time, HP hadn’t done much better. It’s iPAQ line had been a dominant player in the PDA market, but HP didn’t successfully make the jump to smartphones. The company hasn’t had a model that was an important player in years.

But the two companies’ overall situations are totally different because HP has a very profitable line of laptops, PCs, and printers, while Palm’s entire fortunes lay in its smartphones. That’s why HP can afford to buy Palm, who otherwise was headed for the junkheap.

Moving Forward
HP has made it clear that it acquired Palm to get its hands on the webOS. Todd Bradley, the head of HP’s Personal Systems Group, said “Palm’s innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP’s mobility strategy.”

The company intends to make smartphones and tablets running the webOS, but executives haven’t yet revealed any specific plans for new devices.

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June 8, 2010  1:41 PM

Verizon Still Likely to Get the iPhone This Year

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

Apple CEO Steve Jobs officially took the wraps off the iPhone 4 yesterday, and to the dismay of many said nothing about a version for Verizon. Instead, AT&T will be the exclusive provider of this smartphone when it debuts later this month.

Verizon customers, don’t be disappointed. Apple is following the exact path industry insiders had predicted. Even though there was no mention of Verizon during yesterday’s event, this carrier is still expected to release the iPhone 4 in a few months.

AT&T Practically Confirmed It
An announcement Steve Jobs made yesterday all but confirmed to me that Verizon is getting the iPhone 4 at some point before the end of the year. AT&T is going to allow all of its customers who will qualify for a device subsidy at any point this year to buy the iPhone 4 at the subsidized price on launch day.

Apple iPhone 4 with FaceTimeNormally, a customer qualifies for a subsidy every two years, but AT&T is going to waive up to 6 months of waiting time. It’s obvious to me that the carrier wants as many people as possible to buy an iPhone 4 now, before Verizon offers its version.

Coming This Fall
According to information leaking out of Verizon, its version of the iPhone is still in testing and won’t be available until this fall.

One unconfirmed report indicated that Verizon’s version will support the 4G wireless networking service LTE, and the carrier is holding off releasing its version of the iPhone until it can get its LTE network up and running. This seems like a long-shot — Verizon has said its first 4G-enabled phone won’t be out until mid-2011 — but it’s possible.

Overview of the Apple iPhone 4
Apple’s fourth-generation smartphone is going to be a significant upgrade from the current one, starting with its 3.5-inch, 640 x 960 touchscreen, a much higher resolution than any previous iPhone has offered.

It’s going to have a new slimmer design and run iOS 4.0, the latest version of Apple’s operating system, on a 1 GHz Apple A4 processor. This will be the first version of Apple’s mobile OS with support for multitasking.

The iPhone 4 will have a 5 megapixel rear-facing camera with a flash and support for recording 720p video at 30 frames per second. In addition, it’s going to include a small front-facing camera for video chatting with an app called FaceTime.

Not everything is being improved: despite expectations, Apple’s upcoming smartphone will have the same amount of storage capacity as the current one.

The Apple iPhone 4 will be available from AT&T  on June 24. The Verizon release is expected several months later.

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June 5, 2010  11:49 AM

If You Have an iPad 3G, Sign Up for Unlimited Service NOW

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

AT&T announced this week that it is phasing out one of the best features of the iPad 3G: the carrier is ending the unlimited data option for this tablet computer.

Apple iPadStarting on Monday, you will no longer be able to pay $30 a month for unlimited service. Instead, your best option will be $25 a month for 2 GB a month of data, a considerable downgrade.

But there’s a small bit of good news: if you sign up for unlimited data today or tomorrow, you’ll be “grandfathered” in, and will get to stay with the better plan even after Monday.

The downside is if you ever drop your unlimited plan, you won’t be able to get it back.

Is This Deal for You?
If you’re planning on using AT&T’s 3G service as your primary way of accessing the Web, email, and video on your iPad, and you use your iPad a lot, you are probably going to need more than 2 GB a month of data.

In my tests, 2 GB goes a long way, but if you’re a heavy user, you’re probably going to run out before the end of the month.

On the other hand, if you usually connect to Wi-Fi and only occasionally use 3G, you’ll get along fine with the new plan. This is especially true if you only plan to use 3G service for the occasional weekend getaway. You’d be hard pressed to use up 2 GB of data on your iPad in just a few days.

If you decide you want to get the unlimited plan, just go to the Settings app on the iPad and select Cellular Data. Choose the plan you want, enter your personal information and a credit card number, and you’re ready to go.

No Tethering… Yet
AT&T also announced this week that it will soon allow iPhone users to use their smartphone as a modem for another computer, like a laptop. However, this doesn’t include the iPad.

Still, this might change at some point. AT&T isn’t blocking this feature, tethering just isn’t part of the system software for Apple’s tablet computer. If Apple added tethering support to the iPad — and you are willing to pay a $20 a month fee — you’ll be able to share your iPhone’s Internet connection with your iPad.

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May 29, 2010  7:21 AM

Adobe Flash Player Requires Android OS 2.2

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

There’s good news and bad news about the Adobe Flash Player for Google’s Android OS. The good news is that the beta debuted on schedule. In fact, it’s available now. The bad news is that it only runs on smartphones with Android OS 2.2.

This means that just about everyone who wants this feature is going to have to wait weeks or months to get it, because Google just announced the new version of this operating system last week, and it isn’t widely available yet.

Upgrading a smartphone doesn’t work the same as upgrading a PC. When Google finishes work on this OS in the coming weeks, it will give it to device makers, who will then modify it for each of their models before distributing it to users.

More about Adobe Flash Player 10.1
In past years, Adobe has tried to get Flash support onto smartphones with scaled down versions, but not anymore. The full version of Flash Player 10.1 will be for desktops running Windows or Mac OS X, as well as for the Android OS and eventually other smartphone operating systems.

It is going to support sites that use Flash for navigation, as well as Flash video.

The software will take advantage of the capabilities of the devices it is running on, from multi-touch screens to Graphics Processing Units.

More about Android OS 2.2
In addition to the Adobe Flash Player, the next version of Google’s mobile operating system will be the first to include tethering and portable hotspot software.

Android OS 2.2 also contains a number of other small enhancements, but none of the changes will significantly change the platform.

For example, it will run third-party apps faster, and allow users to install software on a removable memory card.
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May 21, 2010  1:31 PM

Giving One Carrier Exclusive Access to a Phone Is a Mistake

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

Verizon customers, ever wondered why you can’t get an iPhone? It’s because Apple and AT&T have an exclusive contract that prevents any other U.S. carrier from offering this smartphone. Such deals are completely legal, but not a good idea.

The poster child for what can go wrong is the Palm Pre, which was released exclusively from Sprint last spring.  There was tremendous anticipation for this model before the launch, but sales never lived up to the pre-release expectations.

And you don’t have to take my word for it. Palm admitted early this year that sales of its latest smartphones had been a disappointment, and Sprint’s Chief Financial Officer Robert Brust said this week “The Pre didn’t work out as well as we hoped.”

Consumers Choose Carriers before Phones
So what went wrong? It’s simple: very few customers will leave a wireless phone provider they are satisfied with just to get a hot new phone. And a recent survey found that a large majority of U.S. consumers are happy with their carrier.  So virtually all Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile subscribers who were considering getting a Palm Pre just moved on and bought something else.

Only in the last few months have other carriers started offering Palm’s models, and by then the ship had sailed, and all the buzz around Palm had completely faded.

The results were bad for Sprint, but they much rougher for Palm: lack of sales forced the company to sell itself to HP.

But What about the iPhone?
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “The iPhone is available from just one U.S. carrier and look how well it’s done. The Palm Pre must be a bad example.”

True, Apple’s smartphone has done well… but perhaps not as well as you might think. RIM sells nearly twice as many BlackBerrys in the U.S. as Apple does iPhones. And U.S. sales of Android OS-based devices recently passed Apple, too. Why? Because all the top U.S. wireless phone providers offer BlackBerry and Android models, giving them a vastly larger potential customer base.

So while the iPhone has sold well, it hasn’t sold nearly as well as it would have if Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile customers could buy one, too. Sales could have been double what they were, or even more.

RIM’s Problem Child
The BlackBerry Storm is another example of a smartphone with an exclusive contract that hasn’t done well. When the original Storm debuted in late 2008, it generated a great deal of excitement, and as it was the first BlackBerry with a touchscreen some even labeled it an iPhone killer.

A year and half later, this model and its followup the Storm2 have never gotten off the ground. It’s possible this is partially the result of early problems with the device, but the fact that only Verizon customers can get one has definitely limited its success.

Broader is Better
Smartphone makers, the next time you’re ready to launch an important new device, don’t let yourself be talked into an exclusive contract. Try to get your product on as many carriers as you can.

You don’t want to end up like Palm.

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