The title should actually have been “What if Apple Could Divorce the Carriers Today”. It won’t happen of course, but what if they could? I believe they would if they could and “could” is a lot closer than it was 4 years ago when the acquiescence to the US Carrier subsidy model the launch of the iPhone 3G represented occurred.

The most import number to be revealed today is not the number 5 in the naming of the new iPhone, but the number of LTE bands Apple has managed to cram into 6th generation iPhone. Assuming they have support for both Verizon and AT&T’s diverging utilization of the 700 MHZ band in the US, as well as the nascent (for LTE) AWS frequency (and more on that in a bit regarding T-Mobile USA), it is now easy to guess of support for 1800 in the UK for the newly branded EE, or Everything Everywhere partnership between Orange and T-Mobile. Australia carriers Telstra and Optus also use 1800 MHZ, as do a smattering of other carriers across Europe. The 900 MHZ band the other UK carriers will bid for in next year seems unlikely to be included, and China Mobile’s eventual implementation of TD-LTE 800 MHZ also seems unlikely to make the cut as my guess would be they get their own special SKUs? I didn’t forget Sprint and their refarming of 1900 MHZ which I also think misses inclusion, but Sprint still owns much of Clearwire and its wide swaths of 2600 MHZ spectrum and this band (in addition to AWS) is also being utilized across Canada, Europe, and South America.

So that’s 5 bands I think we’ll see support for in the iPhone 5/the New iPhone: 700 (band 17) for AT&T, 700 (band 13) for Verizon, 1800, 2600, and AWS. Which brings me back to T-Mobile USA and their seemingly sad predicament.

Apple surely must have stumbled upon an engineering challenge they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) solve: how do you make the antenna(s?) for the AWS band serve both DC-HSPA+ and LTE? If you can’t or you shan’t, then you likely warn T-Mobile – if your Apple and you’re interested in a highly competitive set of US carriers so as to prevent the onslaught of the 2 headed beast: AT&T and Verizon. You might suggest to T-Mobile they begin the process of refarming their 1900 MHZ spectrum for DC-HSPA+ (42mbps) and when you see T-Mobile miracuously acquire enough AWS frequency to launch a fledgling LTE network in 2013, you nod your head in satisfied agreement and silently plan accordingly.

T-Mobile has already announced they intend to service unlocked iPhones in their stores and it isn’t hard to imagine Apple themselves promoting the usage of unlocked iPhones on T-Mobile’s network which means they must consider price points and that is where I’ll bring this all together. An unlocked iPhone 5 at $599.99 that I could move between all 4 major US carriers would be very compelling and therefore, a huge shot across the bow of the aforementioned 2 headed beast. Verizon and AT&T smartly have no avenue by which you can get prepaid access to their LTE networks, but when there is enough demand they will. If then the LTE capable iPhone 5 (I’ve obviously given in) is under $600, then might the iPhone 4S be under $400, and might it also have new support for DC-HSPA+? (Does this also mean the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4 will be put out to pasture?)

Would these two price points – $599.99 for the 5 and $399.99 for the 4S – make it possible for Apple to ditch the subsidy model and be effectively the sole distributor of the iPhone in the US? Are American consumers ready to have a conversation about the iPhone’s Total Cost of Ownership? If indeed they are then Apple is without a doubt the best teaching institution to begin that training session, and I can’t wait for the first class to begin!

Update: Instead we get an LTE Band/Carrier Specific clusterf… and this portends inherent carrier lock in with subsidy and no need on the part of the carrier to actually SIM lock, or nano SIM lock I should say.  The dream of moving an unlocked iPhone from one LTE network to another couldn’t feel farther away now……

If all Google intends to reveal at their developer’s conference next week is a 7 inch Kindle competitor why didn’t Microsoft just wait to reveal their Surface tablet until next month – or even closer to the launch of Windows 8 in the fall?

If there is one consistency in the reaction to last night’s Microsoft event it’s that Android tablets better get worlds better or risk becoming more irrelevant than they already are (which is still pretty baffling to me given how successful a phone platform it has been).

I contend MSFT must have gotten spooked by some piece of intelligence that caused them to hastily schedule last nigth’s Surface event. By all accounts the latest iteration of Chrome OS is a step change compared to where it started, and what if Google intends to abandon Android as a tablet OS, planning to go all in on Chrome OS instead?

I’m still not sure why this would have scared Microsoft into getting ahead of Google’s tablet strategy reveal, but it’s the only reason that even remotely makes sense given Microsoft’s seeming inability to provide firmer details on the price and ship date for the Surface……

Or maybe Google has a post PC device that is much better than we’re expecting planned for a reveal next week, and MSFT discovered that it will be ready to ship shortly thereafter?

A 3rd Horse? Finally?

January 12, 2012

Nokia announced the pending arrival of the Lumia N900 with 4G LTE for AT&T at CES this week and based on most of the internet response I’ve seen, it would seem Windows Phone might finally gain some traction in 2012.  However, yesterday Sprint’s Vice President of Product Realization David Owens told pcmag:

“We have a Windows device in our lineup, but honestly, it hasn’t done well enough for us to jump     back into the fire. We told Microsoft: You guys have to go build the enthusiasm for the product. We’ll train our reps on why it’s great…[but] the number-one reason the product was returned was the user experience,” 

WTF?  That’s the key thing everyone says Windows Phone has going for it?  Now because the device he’s referencing, the HTC Arrive, is a landscape slide out qwerty device and WIndows Phone doesn’t support landscape usage across the OS, I can imagine they have had some confused consumers return the device.  I always wondered why the hell they picked that form factor for their first WP7 device anyway.

Regardless, when a major carrier says they’re not interested in trying to sell a phone on your platform until they’re convinced it’s worth the effort, your not just a long shot, you’re not even in the race.

I contend there is no such thing as “Android marketshare” aside from the Nexus devices.  There is only marketshare to be gained for each OEM who uses Android as their platform and then customizes it to their liking.

When Google released the Nexus One two years ago this week and sold it via their own Nexus branded website, many geeks were extremely excited by the exclusion of cellular carrier commingling in the process, or the at least the promise of such exclusion.  As we know now that play failed and Google rather quickly shuttered this sales channel.

In December of 2010 they launched the Nexus S via specialized Best Buy Mobile stores in the US and I would guess had marginally better sales of that device compared to the Nexus One.  The Nexus S 4G released on Sprint last spring would introduce full blown carrier commingling, and of course the launch of the Galaxy Nexus on Verizon last month has further scorched down that unfortunate trail.  But maybe even excluding the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus, I’m sure more were sold this past month than the Nexus One sold in it’s lifetime.

However, the Nexus One was the most successful Nexus device to date.  Why?  It pushed Android using OEMs to raise their game on both software and hardware, and they largely did during 2010.  The Nexus S was less a leap  from then current Android devices (as much on the hardware front as the genuine dot release Gingerbread represented), and so much less pressure was brought to bear on Android using OEMs to play “Nexus catch up” during 2011.

The latest Nexus release which despite it’s unprecedented smartphone specifications is more a vehicle for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich than it is a product unto itself.  That would seem to be a very desirable accomplishment for Google and yet this has begun to have the opposite effect on Android using OEMs than did the Nexus One:  they don’t know what the hell to do.  Ironically HTC in particular seemed unprepared for questions on their upgrade plans when ICS was unveiled. Samsung itself took a shotgun to their foot when they recently announced their Galaxy S line would not be updated because they couldn’t incorporate their TouchWiz skin on top of ICS – never mind ICS has already been released for the Nexus S which was a Galaxy S variant.  Motorola published an explanation of why it would take them until sometime in the spring to upgrade their recently released devices (as in very recently released one one right after another seemingly without end) and my immediate response was: wow that doesn’t seem worth the effort, they may as well release a new device with ICS in the spring (especially since by then they may be a subsidiary of Google).

Maybe this is what Google wanted?  Maybe they wanted Android using OEMs to struggle so much with integrating their customizations into ICS they would fail and give up eventually?  Motorola just reported unimpressive profits (not that it matters relative to the Google takeover) and HTC reported profit decline last week.  Samsung reported record profits and being they’ve earned captaincy of the Nexus train one wonders what’s next in this evolution?  Surely they won’t make the next Nexus, but what if HTC has eschewed ICS by this time next year and makes their own Sense laden fork of Android a la Amazon?

I know that sounds crazy, but you can admit it doesn’t sound that crazy and consequently Android is now not just a fragmented platform, it’s broken.  And the Nexus model of pushing OEMs to push the platform forward ironically is what broke it.

Why would I make such a seemingly stupid claim you ask?  How many first weekend sales of an iPad 2 design inspired iPhone 5 would there have been? (regardless of whether it has 4G) Now subtract from that number  the record 4 million iPhone 4Ss Apple sold and that’s how much money/mindshare Apple left on the table.  A hefty percentage of that money/mindshare will likely flow to Samsung (and their channel partners) when they release whatever superphone they’re going to announce tonight with Google, and at least some of it will flow to Motorola/Verizon when they start selling the super thin LTE capable DROID RAZR next month.

Apple could have delivered a severe body blow to Android and a potential death blow to Blackberry, Windows Phone, and WebOS (okay probably already dead, but I can’t let go yet) and they refrained.  I imagine there were very sound reasons they did not go to market with the iPhone 5, but I can promise you Microsoft, Nokia, HP, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and Google are more than grateful only 4 milion iPhone 4Ss were sold this past weekend….

 

Hindsight assisted blogosphere banter mocking those of us who consider the iPhone 4S short of what the 5th iPhone should have been is getting tiresome, quickly.  Pre-order records be damned, I think there a handful of reasons why the success of this iPhone release won’t resonate as long as the “I told you so” chorus would have us believe:

1. 3.5 inches of screen real estate once felt best in class.  It no longer does and without post zoom text reflow in the browser it borderline sucks.

2. Siri seems promising, but so did Facetime.

3.  The A5 dual core processor will likely make much more of a difference on the 4s than dual core processors are making or will make on current and future Android devices, but it’s still a table stakes spec at this point?

4. We saw this design 2 months before it was released in June of LAST YEAR!  It’s still beautiful, but in smartphone years it’s gaining wrinkles, rapidly.

5.  9.3 mm no longer feels as thin as it once did, especially relative to the iPad 2 at 8.8 mm, and I know I’m not alone when I confess to desperately wanting a 5th iPhone that closely approximated the thinness and design of the iPad 2.

A 3 Horse Race? Really?

March 28, 2011

Microsoft is absolutely scrambling folks. Make no mistake about it. Mobile computing is clearly the future and Microsoft has entered the “Post PC” era with extreme tardiness and desperation (thus the deal with Nokia). I have used a few different WP7 devices since their launches in early November (in the US, late Oct in Europe) and the user experience is definitely unique and enjoyable if not complete. I started with the Samsung Focus on AT&T, moved to the Dell Venue Pro on T-Mobile, and just packaged up a T-Mobile HTC HD7 I sold for less than half its original value (at 5 months old).

I was going to wait for the so called “NoDo” update from Microsoft which is to bring copy and paste, as well as performance improvements, but I got tired of waiting. It was originally supposed to be delivered in January. Then Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer assured the crowd listening to his keynote address at Mobile World Congress, “early March” would finally see the arrival of “NoDo” (a Microsoft staffer apparently forgot to bring donuts to the meeting in which they were to decide the name of software update – no seriously). It is now late March and though Microsoft posted an update by carrier on when to expect NoDo, no one knows exactly when the carriers will release it.

Ah the carriers….the benevolent, always deserve the benefit of the doubt, power sharing carriers! Originally Microsoft promised an Appleesque model of software update delivery – unencumbered by carrier approval. One of my favorite bloggers James Kendrick has opined on this Windows Phone 7 update situation and puts the blame squarely on Microsoft:

Microsoft has a real PR problem over the nightmare that is Windows Phone 7 updates, but has no one to blame but itself….. Microsoft screwed the pooch if they have allowed the carrier enough leeway in the update process to adversely affect WP7 customers.”

Isn’t it likely Microsoft had little choice but to give in on this? I find it easy to imagine AT&T in return for being the highest profile launch partner for WP7 negotiated the right to test (and deny) any WP7 update. I also believe Microsoft has utterly failed at delivering an update AT&T or any other carrier could have confidence in rolling out yet….The pre-NoDo test update they rolled out apparently caused issues for Samsung Focus owners, and two European carriers claimed recently they had approved the update and were waiting on Microsoft?

Regardless, Microsoft is clearly losing ground literally by the day in what Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop termed a “3 horse race” between Microsoft/Nokia, Apple, and Google. There is hope in that also demoed during the aforementioned MWC keynote was the next update code named “Mango” which will bring multitasking, Twitter integration, and more.

But, it was generally projected to arrive by late 2011: which will likely be one year too late.