[Op-Ed] How wireless carriers are bringing about the "datapocolypse"

We, as smartphone fans and users, are moving into a very unique time in our history.  Mobile usage of smartphones (and other mobile devices like laptops and tablets) has increased the demand for mobile wireless broadband to astronomical levels.  Mobile carriers are providing this service to consumers, and are seeing profits skyrocket as users are removed from so-called unlimited plans onto more carrier friendly (and profitable) tiered data plans.  No longer do consumers need unlimited calling plans – they need bigger and bigger data packages.  This shift to mobile consumption of data by users on such a large scale and the incredible price gouging of consumers by voice and data providers is moving us towards a state of what I’d refer to as the “datapocolypse” –  where the demand for data is so great and the cost of getting it is so much that (as the saying goes) something’s gotta give.

Recently, Verizon Wireless reported record profits after the removal of their “unlimited” data usage plans in favor of their “share everything” tiered data plans.  The comments made by Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam hint at the fact that he believes that his companies “share everything” plans meet their customers needs and represent sound business practices.  In actuality, nothing could be further from the truth.  The elimination of “unlimited” plans serves one purpose – to further increase the profits of carriers, and no other reason.  There are still those Verizon users who were “grandfathered” into their “unlimited” 3G/4G data plans, but the price for this is the loss of any Verizon subsidized phone purchases.  How can someone say that more of their customers prefer the tiered data plans when they are being forced onto them from other plans and not being given any other options?  Verizon has finally realized that the increase in data consumption via mobile platforms (smartphone, tablets) has grown into the lion’s share of their business.

Smartphone and tablet growth has exploded in the last 5-6 years, spurred first by the launch and popularity of the iPhone, then the iPad, and now pushed even further by the shift toward lower cost Android devices (smartphones and tablets both).  This has meant skyrocketing data consumption and carriers have struggled to keep pace.  A report from earlier this year talked about how smartphones were the top 3 users of mobile data in 2012.  In 2011, it was 2 tablets and 1 smartphone.  Another report has analysts speculating that super saturated data networks will slow to a crawl in the next 3 years.  If someone wants a high speed provider, carriers like AT&T and Verizon are basically the only game in town.

Lower cost alternatives like Boost, Virgin Mobile, and even T-Mobile currently don’t have LTE (wireless broadband) or are in the early stages, preventing consumers from having real choices in alternatives.  In the past, when data speeds couldn’t handle services like mobile web browsing, streaming music and video, this wasn’t as issue.  But with the advent of 4G networks and widespread smartphone proliferation, people are able to use their mobile devices in ways heretofore impossible.  And it’s so widespread and commonplace, there will soon be a generation of kids who can’t imagine not using their smart device to explore the world around them anytime and anywhere.

With this new need for smart device users to have on-demand high speed data, it’s not unreasonable to assume that eventually consumers will see mobile data as more necessary than voice, and perhaps demand a “consumers data bill of rights.” Something has to enable the breaking of so-called data monopolies by limited wireless carrier competition.  There has to be a way that the market can encourage broadband wireless competition, so that users who pay their hard earned money for the service get what they are paying for.  Without action, the wireless future could be very bleak indeed – where exorbitant fees are charged by a precious few providers to provide service that doesn’t provide speeds faster than what we had 5 years ago.


[News] Samsung debuts the Galaxy S4

Photo courtesy of Droid-Life

The waiting is over – Samsung’s even on March 13th officially announced their newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4.  While it isn’t available on any carriers just yet, here are the official specs, direct from Sammy:

  • Processor: 1.9GHz Quad-core processor or 1.6GHz Octa-core processor (depending on global region)
  • Memory: 2GB of RAM and 16/ 32/ 64 GB User memory expandable through SDcard slot
  • Display: 5″ full-HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display, with 441 ppi
  • Connections: Hexaband LTE, HSPA+, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, IR controller
  • Battery: 2,600mAh
  • Ships with Android 4.2.2
The Galaxy S4 has a larger screen than its predecessor, while still managing to come in thinner and lighter.  From early reports, this true HD screen looks incredible with vivid rich colors and amazing sharpness and clarity.  This is sure to be a huge selling point with fans of Samsung.
Some other interesting points – the device will carry two different processors depending on region.  The report is that the U.S. will carry the quad-core Snapdragon processor, while the international version of the device will feature the newest Samsung power plant, the so-called Octa core processor.  The device was also shown running the latest version of Android, 4.2.2.  This is something of surprise, but a pleasant one.  Samsung has skinned Android with its own proprietary TouchWiz skin, but this was expected.
What’s not known at this point – release date and pricing.  The “second quarter 2013” is all that was given.  But since April is right around the corner, its likely the device will launch sooner rather than later.  And since the device sports almost every cellular band known to man, its likely that every major carrier will feature the Galaxy S4 before the end of next month.  Yes, including Verizon (hard as that might be to believe)
Is anyone making the Galaxy S4 their next phone?
*Source:  Droid-LifeBGR

[Op-Ed]It’s the battery, stupid.

One of the motto’s of Bill Clinton’s successful Presidential campaign in 1992 was “it’s the economy, stupid.”  It was a reminder of what was really the most important issue to voters and what the election would ultimately hinge on.  In the fight for smartphone buyer’s dollars, Android manufacturers(OEM’s) need to learn “it’s the battery, stupid.”

Ask the average smartphone owner what the biggest complaint about their phone is, and you’re going to hear “the battery life” at or near the top of the list.  For a long time poor battery life was a function of technological limitations.  But that’s simply not the case anymore.  So why are OEM’s still producing phones that can’t easily make it through a full day?

As smartphones were evolving manufacturers used cutting edge technology to differentiate themselves.  More CPU cores, more megapixels, more ram, more memory, and higher resolution screens.  Then late last year the spec race hit a wall.  All flagship phones suddenly had powerful quad-core processors, large 1080p screens, high megapixel cameras, and plenty of RAM.  Hardware features weren’t a differentiator anymore.  In response more emphasis was put on software.  Software innovation is great, but battery life is more important than customized software.

There are two paths to better battery life.  The first path is greater efficiency.  Smaller die sizes have allowed CPU’s, GPU’s and even smartphone modems themselves to operate using less power. Android power management has also improved.  However, because screens have continued to grow the net gain in battery life has been minimal.

The second path to increased battery life is a very American concept – just put in a GIANT battery.  Efficiency be damned, sometimes the answer to a problem is brute force.  It’s fitting then that Motorola, an American smartphone manufacturer, was the first to employ the massive battery solution.  On January 26, 2012, Motorola released the Droid Razr Maxx on Verizon.  The Razr Maxx featured a massive 3300mah battery.  For comparison’s sake the other flagship phones on Verizon at the time were the HTC Rezound with a 1650mah battery and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus with an 1850mah battery.  For the first time users could get through an entire day without hitting the charger.  This was unheard of at the time.  So, since this was such a great idea surely all the manufacturers took notice and copied the Maxx’s giant battery, right?

Well, not exactly.  Here is a list of all the flagship phones for every OEM released in 2012 with battery capacity noted in parenthesis:
Google Nexus 4 (2100mah)
HTC One X (1800mah), One X+ (2100mah) and Droid DNA (2020mah)
LG Optimus G (2100mah)
Motorola Droid Razr HD (2560mah) and Razr Maxx HD (3300mah)
Samsung Galaxy S III (2100mah) and Galaxy Note II (3100mah)
Sony Xperia TL (1850mah).

Care to guess which three get the best battery life?  If you guessed the Motorola Droid Razr HD twins and the Samsung Galaxy Note II pat yourself on the back.  It turns out the phones with the biggest batteries get by far the best battery life.  Who knew?

Samsung Galaxy Note II
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD

The technology exists to produce a smartphone where you don’t have to worry about battery life, and let me tell you, it’s wonderful.  I upgraded from a Motorola Droid X to a Samsung Galaxy Note II back in November and the battery life is incredible.  I stream music and podcasts all day over LTE and in three months I’ve never managed to get the battery below 50%.  In fact, I never even think about battery life anymore.  Nothing I throw at this phone will drain the battery all the way during a normal day, and that’s the way it should be.

Over the last couple months rumors about the supposed Motorola X Phone have leaked out and been hyped to near ridiculous levels.  Yesterday Google’s CFO, Patrick Pichette, seemingly squashed some of the hype when he said “Motorola has a great set of products, but they’re not really like ‘wow’ by Google standards.”  Mr. Pichette was referring to still unreleased products that were already in the Motorola pipeline before the buyout, one of which would presumably be the X Phone.

From a hardware standpoint Mr. Pichette may be right and the X Phone may not elicit a “wow” from consumers.  In fact I would wager the hardware will be very similar to the HTC One and Galaxy S IV, only the X Phone will come out three months later than its competition.  But it will be able to do something the One and GSIV won’t, and that is get a user through a heavy day of use without having to worry about the battery.  In the post spec race era, that may be just the “wow” consumers are looking for.

[Rumor] Galaxy S4 to launch in black & white

Possilble Galaxy S4 render

The latest rumor as we approach the middle of the month and the launch date for the Galaxy S4 is that Samsung will be kicking off their new flagship with 2 colors – the staple white and black.  In addition, there should be 16GB/32GB/64GB variants, all available for purchase (at some point) – this is in addition to the expandable SD card slot already pretty much a done deal.  Will there be carrier exclusive colors?  Will we see Pebble Blue ever again?  Stay tuned for more details!

*Source:  Droid-Life