Hardware

Searching for (Credible) iPhone Alternatives

I'm a Sprint subscriber and have been so since roughly 2000. I don't have an "all you can eat" plan but I have a family plan that one cannot buy today and it's very cost-effective. In addition, the Sprint network is faster than AT&T and Verizon's networks. I would like to stay with Sprint. However, I'm finding it hard to avoid the "gravitational pull" of the iPhone.

I have an iPod Touch, which I use on a WiFi connection. I love the device and I've become very "acculturated" to its features and functions. It makes browsing the mobile Internet on my HTC 6800 Windows Mobile 6.1 phone a poor experience by comparison, even with Skyfire or Opera Mobile. 

My HTC phone is roughly 18 months old and it's failing in myriad ways; I have to replace it. I could replace it with the identical phone at no cost under my Sprint  insurance plan but I don't want to because the phone has in many ways been superseded by others. This is why it's urgent for Microsoft to make Windows 6.5 a meaningful update and accelerate the release of WinMo 7. 

Yesterday I undertook something of an odyssey to find a meaningful alternative to the iPhone.

If I didn't care about the mobile Internet and just used the phone to talk and text there would be lots of choices. Conversely if I were part of a large organization that compelled me to use a BlackBerry device, I would also have several choices.

However if the mobile Internet experience is factored into the equation, my conclusion, from an intense and frustrating day -- several weeks actually -- of "hands on" playing with the HTC Touch Diamond/Pro, Treo Centro/800, Samsung Instinct and now the BlackBerry Storm, is that there is really no good alternative to the iPhone.

These other phones do provide Internet access of course, and some of them have features that the iPhone does not. But the overall quality of the mobile experience on the iPhone -- not to mention the applications -- cannot be matched by any of these other devices at the present time. Given all my iPhone posts, someone reading this might not be surprised. But I actually am surprised. 

I had high hopes in particular for the Storm and spent about an hour with one in a Verizon store doing everything imaginable with the device. The device looks good and has a nice screen, but it's awkward in may ways and nowhere near as intuitive as the iPhone. In addition -- and this is a major flaw -- the device has no WiFi capability. 

The Instinct is a poor imitation of the iPhone, notwithstanding Sprint's aggressive claims to the contrary

I also spent a long time with the HTC Touch Pro and its cheaper sibling the Touch Diamond (no slide out keyboard). These devices have been well reviewed in the press but they also fall short in myriad ways. This was a major disappointment to me because these devices were the "last hope," in many ways, for me to stay with Sprint and avoid the iPhone. 

In addition to being better than the new HTC devices, the iPhone is now also cheaper. I'm required to extend my contract for two additional years and pay at least $50 more for the less compelling HTC devices vs. the iPhone.

I'm not being flip about any of this, I wish I could find a device that is competitive enough to allow me to avoid moving to AT&T. I've briefly played a bit with the G1 and found it to fall short of the iPhone in most respects but it's still too early for me to be as dismissive of that device. I need more time with it. 

I've had no hands on time with the new N97, just announced and not yet out on the market. Despite many features that the iPhone doesn't have it's also already being called a weaker alternative

The iPhone in some respects has spawned all these competitors and that's good for the mobile Internet and they may well be satisfying for people less demanding than I am. But I was disappointed across the board. To be fair, I haven't "lived with" all these phones for weeks on end (as Mossberg would before making judgments). My assessments are based on several hours of more ad hoc "testing" in various retail outlets over a period of a few weeks (I've been doing this longer than just yesterday). 

Amazingly the Sprint retail employees seemed to be indifferent to the prospect of losing a long-term, loyal customer like me. They seem also to be unaware that Sprint is losing roughly a million customers a quarter. The company is now pushing the $99 "everything" plan very aggressively in the hope of retaining customers on price if it can't do so on hardware. 

I'm not sure what I'm going to do; I don't want to abandon my great family plan and the Sprint network. But it's looking more and more like I will.

____

Related: 300 million iPhone apps downloaded -- 100 million in the past 6 weeks. 

Aussie OEM Debuts Android Handset

Australian electronics maker Krogan has introduced two Android handsets for presale: the Agora and the Agora Pro for AU$299 and AU$399 respectively (via IntoMobile). That's $195 and $260 in US dollars.

It looks a bit like the Samsung Blackjack or the Motorola Q smartphones and has both a keyboard and 2.5-inch LCD touchscreen. 

Unlike T-Mobile the Google presence is being de-emphasized in this case: Android is what's mentioned, not Google. 

It's not clear to me whether this phone is unlocked (I assume so) because it's being sold by the OEM and not through a carrier. Thus one could theoretically buy it and use it on EU or US networks. 

AT&T and Motorola are expected to bring out Android platform phones at some point in 2009 in the US. Like BlackBerry phones most carriers in the US and probably EU will eventually have an Android phone in their line-up -- as a defensive measure. 

Apple vs. Nokia: One Up, One Down & a $99 iPhone?

Finnish phone giant and marketshare leader announced that Q4 and 2009 will be worse than expected (off by 5% vs. 2008). Further, the company said, "it can no longer be certain its fourth-quarter market share will be stable at 38%," according to MarketWatch.

Beyond the economy Nokia's market share dominance has been threatened by the global rollout of the iPhone, which is now reportedly the second-leading smartphone in the world -- with an almost 17% smartphone market share according to one analyst. AdMob has reflected the global growth of the iPhone on its network. 

Earlier in the week Nokia announced its costly "iPhone Killer," the N97. The N97 won't be out until the first half of next year and won't come to the US until later in the year, giving the iPhone more time to become completely entrenched and potentially address some of its perceived deficiencies: battery life, cut and paste, video, etc. 

One of the things that is propelling the iPhone, beyond its iPod-like iconic status now, is the apps marketplace that -- at least until Android, RIM and (maybe) WinMo can catch up -- make it unique and all the more appealing.

Another thing that has propelled the device is the AT&T subsidy/price cut that was announced when the 3G model was introduced. To that end, the Boy Genius Report offers a dubious rumor that a 4GB model of the iPhone may be sold through Wal-Mart for $99. If true you'd see that model fly off the shelves. 

As indicated there are several ways in which the N97 beats the iPhone. But the proliferation of would-be touch-screen iPhone Killers in the market only serves to ironically reinforce the iPhone as the "brand" and the others -- unless or until they're better or at least comparable on a range of fronts, including apps -- as imitators or also-rans. This is exactly what happened in the portable music player market with the iPod.

Despite Demand for Storm/Bold RIM Lowers Outlook

Despite apparently strong demand for the BlackBerry Bold and the new Storm, RIM is suffering. The economy is weighing on the Q4 outlook for the hardware OEM and shares are slumping. According to the WSJ:

The company said earnings for its fiscal third quarter, which ended Saturday, will likely come in between 81 cents and 83 cents a share on revenue of $2.75 billion to $2.78 billion. RIM in September projected profits of 89 cents to 97 cents and sales of $2.95 billion to $3.1 billion; the profit view was below analysts' then-expectations.

The company added that new BlackBerry accounts totaled about 2.6 million, below RIM's forecast of 2.9 million but still up 57% from a year earlier.

Beyond weaker-than-expected demand, the company said the stronger dollar and delay in product launches also held back results.

Weakness is especially pronounced among enterprises, which are strong buyers of BlackBerry devices. With the Bold and Storm the company is both trying to confront the iPhone challenge and diversify into more appealing consumer models. 

Always-bullish-on-Apple analyst firm Piper Jaffray expects the iPhone to defy (marginally) otherwise slumping handset sales. However Apple has cut iPhone production amid the weakening economy. 

Nokia Releases the N97: Perhaps the Best 'iPhone Killer' Yet

We have the Omnia, the Dare, the G1, the Storm, the Touch Diamond/Pro and the list keeps growing. Add to the ranks of touch-screen "iPhone Killers" the new N97, announced by Nokia today in Barcelona at the company's Nokia World event. From the press release:

Nokia today unveiled the Nokia N97, the world's most advanced mobile computer, which will transform the way people connect to the Internet and to each other. Designed for the needs of Internet-savvy consumers, the Nokia N97 combines a large 3.5" touch display with a full QWERTY keyboard, providing an 'always open' window to favorite social networking sites and Internet destinations. Nokia's flagship Nseries device introduces leading technology - including multiple sensors, memory, processing power and connection speeds - for people to create a personal Internet and share their 'social location.'

What is "social location":

With integrated A-GPS sensors and an electronic compass, the Nokia N97 mobile computer intuitively understands where it is. The Nokia N97 makes it easy to update social networks automatically with real-time information, giving approved friends the ability to update their 'status' and share their 'social location' as well as related pictures or videos.

A little bit AT&T Tilt (HTC), a lot iPhone the device does (reportedly) have a number of important features that the iPhone doesn't:

  • Cut and paste
  • Video (DVD quality)
  • 5 megapixel camera 
  • GPS-enabled turn by turn directions
  • And it starts out with 32GB of storage, expandable to 48GB

The service is also tied in with Nokia's Ovi (modeled now on Apple's MobileMe), music and gaming services, as well as a new and improved version of Nokia Maps.

At least in terms of the several bullets above, the N97 outdoes the iPhone in some important ways. There are also apparently some drawbacks vs. the iPhone. The unsubsidized price is apparently a whopping €550 ($695). And the phone will first be available in Asia in 1H '09 with a US version at an unspecified time later next year.

It was important for Nokia to develop a high-end response to the iPhone, which together with other competitors has eroded Nokia market share.

You can read more preliminary reviews and commentary at Techmeme. And here's Nokia video of the phone in action.

Nokia N97

BlackBerry Storm Taking on Some Water

RIM's touch-screen answer to the iPhone, the BlackBerry Storm, debuted last week to mixed but generally positive reviews. One that stood out to me was Time's Anita Hamilton's very negative review (because it seemed to be an outlier):

But after 24 hours of actually testing the new BlackBerry side by side with its main competition — Apple's iPhone 3G and T-Mobile's G1 (the "Google phone") — the novelty quickly wore off. I hate the click screen, and none of the handful of people I let try it had anything nice to say about it either. That's a shame because the Storm has a slew of handy extras that neither the iPhone nor the G1 can match. But an annoying user interface is a deal breaker.

This condemnation is now matched (even exceeded) by the NY Times' David Pogue's dismissal of the device, "No Keyboard? And You Call This a BlackBerry?". Here's an excerpt:

How did this thing ever reach the market? Was everyone involved just too terrified to pull the emergency brake on this train?

Maybe R.I.M. is just overextended. After all, it has just introduced three major new phones — Flip, Bold, Storm — in two months, each with a different software edition.

Ouch. 

Last Friday there were long lines in New York to get the phone, which may represent a group of people who need a BlackBerry for work, don't want to switch carriers (to get the iPhone) but want iPhone-like usability and functionality. 

 blackberry lines

Photo credit: Reuters

I haven't tested the device myself but how does one reconcile the generally upbeat reviews of respected columnists like the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg with Pogue and Hamilton's trashing of the device?

Here's Mossberg's "bottom line" assessment:

Overall, the Storm is a very capable handheld computer that will appeal to BlackBerry users who have been pining for a touch-controlled device with a larger screen. And it offers yet another good option for anyone who is looking to buy one of the new, more powerful, pocket computers.

To steal Pogue's pun, if the Storm downgrades to a tropical depression, RIM still has many more models to keep it going -- mostly notably the newly released BlackBerry Bold. But it will become an embarrassment if the much-hyped device doesn't deliver sales for the company. 

BlackBerry Storm Reviews Are Mixed

Of all the iPhone clones and "iPhone killers" in the market, the BlackBerry Storm is perhaps the most explicit response to the introduction of the Apple device (there's no physical keyboard). Today the reviews are finally out and they're mostly positive but mixed overall. Some conclude that this is a worthy competitor to the iPhone and exceeds it in many ways; others say that it falls short (arguably the biggest flaw is no WiFi capability).

You can read most of the reviews here. And here's a short roundup of a few of the major ones:

USA Today:

Storm costs $200 with a two-year contract after a rebate, same as the smallest-capacity iPhone. It has a better camera, works as a tethered modem (for an extra fee) and has expandable memory, voice dialing, multimedia messaging, support for Bluetooth stereo, copy-and-paste functionality and other features missing in the iPhone. BlackBerry handsets also boast robust e-mail capabilities that have famously attracted users such as President-elect Barack Obama.

Given all that, you'd think the Storm is the clear winner. Not so. For starters, the iPhone is more intuitive and boasts, well, a cool iPod. Accessing the home screen on the iPhone is a button away. On Storm, there are confusingly two screenfuls of icons, one with fewer icons. But I wish iPhone had a back button like the Storm.

Storm lacks Wi-Fi — and that's a mistake. You're not always going to be able to access Verizon's speedy EV-DO wireless network, which was the case in my basement. Verizon says Wi-Fi would have added to the size and cost.

Engadget:

It's clear from the device itself and the massive promotional push that both RIM and Verizon are giving the Storm that they view this as a proper threat to the iPhone's dominance in the smartphone market. Over the last few weeks we've been bombarded with commercials, leaks, press releases, and special events all celebrating the arrival of the Storm, both here and abroad. So it seems fairly obvious that yes, the companies believe they have a real contender on their hands -- and in many ways they do. The selling points are easy: the phone is gorgeous to look at and hold, it's designed and backed by RIM (now almost a household name thanks to their prevalence in the business and entertainment markets), and it's packed with features that, on paper, make it seem not only as good as the iPhone, but better. The only hitch in this plan is a major one: it's not as easy, enjoyable, or consistent to use as the iPhone, and the one place where everyone is sure they have an upper hand -- that wow-inducing clickable screen -- just isn't all that great.

Walt Mossberg/Wall Street Journal:

The Web browser is much improved over the one in older BlackBerry models, and offers multiple ways to view and navigate pages, including one in which a finger moves a cursor, just as on a PC. But I found that panning and zooming in the browser was a bit slower and more awkward than on the iPhone. And, to make some Web sites work properly, I had to dig through menus to change options.

Using the BlackBerry desktop software, I was easily able to synchronize my calendar and contact data over a cable from a Windows PC. (There’s also Mac software for the same task.) But, unlike the iPhone or the G1, the Storm doesn’t offer wireless synchronization from consumer services, only from corporate servers.

The Storm’s multimedia software isn’t as fancy as the iPhone’s, but it’s better than the G1’s, and worked very well in my tests.

It's starting to become clear that, absent some important usability upgrades in the next WinMo 6.X update (and the forthcoming 7), the US smartphone market could well be dominated by Apple, RIM and, possibly, Android. 

AdMob: iPhone Top Mobile Device Globally

According to the October 2008 AdMob Mobile Metrics Report the iPhone has become the top device on its network, although Nokia and RIM devices are still responsible for a greater share of traffic.

The data reflect iPhone sales and activity around the world. Here are some charts from the report (all charts AdMob): 

AdMob Oct 1

AdMob Oct 3

  AdMob Oct 2 AdMob Oct 4

AdMob Oct 6

AdMob Oct 5

Qualcomm Incorporates Skyhook into New Chips

Chipmaker Qualcomm is incorporating Skyhook's various location awareness technologies into its new chipsets (gpsOne Platform). According to the press release this morning:

Skyhook's WPS is a software-only system that produces accurate location information by detecting Wi-Fi access points and comparing them against a known database of geo-located points. By combining Qualcomm's market-leading gpsOne solution – the most widely deployed A-GPS solution available – with Skyhook's location technologies, Qualcomm will enable future mobile device manufacturers, mobile operators, third-party service providers and application developers to utilize a single, integrated hybrid positioning solution.

I spoke to Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan about the announcement. He told me that the company's technology works best when it's integrated into the chipset, as with this annoucement. And the deal doesn't simply pertain to mobile handsets; it will include phones but also extend to laptops, cameras and potentially other mobile devices. 

Morgan reminded me that "every CDMA phone has a Qualcomm chip in it." He also said that, combined with Skyhook's other relationships (e.g., Broadcomm), the deal gives Skyhook penetration into "north of 90% GPS supplier market."

We're entering a world where location is going to be available, at the chip-level, in the browser or via other mechanisms, to advertisers and publishers at almost every turn whether in mobile or on the traditional Internet. It may take a few years to realize this ambition but there can be no question of its inevitability. 

Indeed, very soon users may start seeing pop-ups like this when they visit selected sites online:

location request

Price Rumor: Storm Will Go for $219

The Boy Genius Report got some information off a Verizon staging server and thinks it found the pricing of the forthcoming BlackBerry Storm:

The Blackberry Storm hit the Verizon Wireless staging testman website with pricing and details! It’s coming in about where we expected - $219 with a 2 year contract, $289 with a 1 year contract and whopping $519 for full retail.

The Storm is RIM's first touch-screen device and is its hotly anticipated "answer" to the iPhone. RIM has suffered a bit at the hands of the iPhone and is looking to the Bold and Storm to restore momentum. One problem with the Storm, however, is that it has no WiFi capability. 

Regarding the pricing . . . the iPhone comes in at $199 and Android G1 at $179 or less. Still, for the mostly enterprise-business audience, the pricing differences won't be significant.

AOL's Platform-A to Deliver Massive 'Billion Impressions' for T-Mobile

AOL announced this morning that T-Mobile had tapped its Platform A unit to deliver a billion ad impressions for the T-Mobile's new G1 (Google phone) today and tomorrow. Here's how the press release describes the campaign:

Platform-A and T-Mobile collaborated to create the "T-Mobile Billion Block," the most-expansive two-day ad buy in Platform-A history and will spotlight the T-Mobile G1 with Google, the first Android(TM)-powered mobile phone. Over a two-day period, the T-Mobile G1 will dominate a significant amount of AOL and other Platform-A inventory, and it's estimated that approximately 81.5 million consumers will be exposed to the exciting new phone over the campaign's 48-hour run.

I spent some time trying to find one of the ads but could not -- at least not yet. This campaign is almost as much a promotion for Platform-A as it is T-Mobile. (It has been estimated that the buy cost T-Mobile $1.5 million for the two days.)

The online branding/display campaign is part of T-Mobile's commitment to making the "largest advertising push" in the company's history for its new smartphone. T-Mobile probably has execlusivity over an Android-based phone for roughly another quarter, when AT&T may bring one out (presumably from HTC). Motorola is also working on an Android phone but has said it wouldn't be out until later in 2009

Once these other Android phones are out in the market, the G1 becomes largely "defensive" rather than "offensive" -- a way for T-Mobile to retain rather than acquire new users from other carriers. Last week, T-Mobile announced mixed Q3 results.

Third Quarter Smartphone Numbers, WinMo 6.5 Confirmed

As we've said before, virtually all the mobile Internet action is driven by smartphones. Smartphones currently represent about 14% of US mobile handsets but they're growing faster than the overall market. Canalys has released its estimates of Q3 global smartphone sales and corresponding market share. 

By handset maker:

OS

By operating system: 

Handset

What stands out is Apple's rise to number two smartphone maker and Nokia's/Symbian's loss of market share. We'll see a quarter or two from now whether Android makes an appearance. AT&T in the US is looking to release an Android phone early next year.

Meanwhile, the release of an interim Windows Mobile OS (6.5, prior to 7) was confirmed by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. WinMo 6.5 will be out next year, while 7 isn't expected until 2010.

Ballmer said at a press briefing in Australia, "With releases we'll make this year, releases we'll make with 6.5 next year, Windows Mobile 7, I think we have a pretty interesting roadmap." He also dismissed Android as a threat to Windows Mobile.

The OS, now surrounded by intensifying ompetition, is in need of an upgrade that improves consumer usability. According to the Canalys numbers above, Windows Mobile has enjoyed growth since last year but is growing much slower than rivals RIM and the iPhone. 

JD Power: iPhone Most 'Satisfying' Smartphone

According to customer satisfaction gurus JD Power & Associates, Apple's iPhone had the highest overall customer satisfaction rating among smartphones in the US. The finding is reported in the just-released"Business Wireless Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study," now in its second year. 

The order of handset OEMs was as follows:

  1. Apple
  2. RIM/BlackBerry
  3. Samsung
  4. HTC
  5. Motorola
  6. Palm

The G1 wasn't included in the survey because it hasn't been out long enough. The G1 is made by second-place winner HTC.

The iPhone scored a top rating in all categories except "battery life" where RIM/BlackBerry was the winner:

 JD Power smartphone ratings

 JD Power ratings

Source: J.D. Power and Associates 2008 Business Wireless
Smartphone Customer Satisfaction Study (11/08)

Overall satisfaction (as the first chart above indicates) was measured across five categories of criteria as weighted by JD power:

  1. ease of operation (27%)
  2. operating system (24%)
  3. physical design (21%)
  4. handset features (18%)
  5. battery (10%)

Other findings:

37% of smartphone users would like GPS on their device, 25% would like Wi-Fi capabilities, 23% want touch screen and 15% would like to have voice recognition command for automatic dialing.

The top five reasons for choosing a smartphone brand are:

  1. Internet access capability (45%)
  2. Email access (41%)
  3. Design/style (39%)
  4. Bluetooth capabilities (37%)
  5. Keyboard style (e.g., QWERTY) (37%)

34% of smartphone owners report downloading third-party software. Popular software
downloads among business users 

  • Games (49%)
  • Applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel (43%) 
  • Travel-related programs (36%) 

____

TechCrunch discusses a related study by SquareTrade that reflects much greater reliability on the part of the iPhone vs. Blackberry: "twice as reliable as the Blackberry after one year of ownership . . ."

Poll: G1 Sees Mixed Interest in UK Debut

In the US the G1 has (so far) appeared to be a hit. But according to one report, it has (so far) not sparked as much enthusiasm among UK mobile phone buyers:

Of the 1,347 respondents to the vnunet.com poll, almost a third said they were not interested in purchasing a G1. The main barrier to purchase was price.

Just over a third of respondents, 464 in all, said the £40 per month contract was too expensive; a further 330 respondents (24 per cent) said they preferred the Apple iPhone or a different smartphone; while another four per cent said they would not purchase the G1 as it was unsuitable for business use.

Only 19 per cent of respondents said they were planning on signing up to the current T-Mobile G1 contract option.

The phone is now selling in the UK, as of last week. 

This is another finding where one could flip it around and regard the 19% who indicated they were going to sign up for the G1 as a highly positive figure. 

iPhone Turning into Gaming Platform

Perhaps without necessarily intending it Apple is become a "mobile gaming powerhouse" via the iPhone. Both BusinessWeek and the LA Times report on the phenomenon. I can tell you my iPod Touch is surprisingly filled with games, partly because of my 9-year old daughter.

The iTunes Apps store is closing in on 2,000 games, many of which represent top-selling apps:

 Top paid apps 11/4

According to Nielsen Mobile data cited by the LA Times: "about 1 in 4 iPhone owners has downloaded games, compared with about 6% of all cellphone users." And BusinessWeek reports:

While there's no data yet on specific iPhone game sales, users of the iPhone are heavier gamers than those of other phones. A survey by iSuppli's ConsumerTrak found that U.S. cell-phone users report spending less than 3% of phone-use time on games. But that average shoots up considerably to more than 9% on the first iPhone and 6% on the iPhone 3G. (That's still less time than iPhone owners spend on e-mail, texting, or talking.) 

According to comScore:

  • 47% of smartphone users played games on their phones in August, compared with 45% on the iPhone
  • While representing 1% of the mobile market, the iPhone represents 8% of new game downloaders and just under half of free game downloaders
  • The average iPhone user has 1.5 games currently installed on his/her iPhone. Among iPhone owners who are also "gamers," the average number of games installed is 4.3
  • The average iPhone user downloads 1.0 new game per month (as of August)
  • Among iPhone users who downloaded games (August), 75% downloaded free games, 40% downloaded paid games

Guessing What Storm's Pricing Will Be

The BlackBerry Bold, now available in Canada, is about to make its entry in the US (from AT&T). It was very well reviewed and considered to be a peer of the iPhone by ZDNet. Meanwhile a more direct iPhone competitor, the touch-screen BlackBerry Storm, will also soon make its US debut from Verizon. It too has been positively tested (although unlike the Bold it has no WiFi).

The question Fortune asks is what will the Storm's pricing will be. Will Verizon subsidize it aggressively to undercut the iPhone? Vodafone in the UK is apparently giving away the Storm:

In a sign of just how desperate phone companies are to lock customers in to lengthy contracts, Verizon’s wireless partner is willing to subsidize the Storm – which sells for about $500 without a calling plan – in order to lure subscribers in England.

Though a final decision has yet to be made, Verizon is considering the same strategy for the Storm’s U.S. debut next month, according to an industry source familiar with the discussions. Another person close to the company says it’s unlikely the Storm will be free.

If it were free it would fly off the shelves to be sure. I'm guessing there's a 100% chance will be less than the iPhone. T-Mobile underpriced the iPhone by about $20 and Wal-Mart undercut that price (with the G1) by $30 additional dollars. 

We're clearly entering a period in the US where handsets are becoming more of a consumer draw. 

 

WinMo HTC TouchPro Available, iPhone Demand Weakens?

I've been critical of Windows Mobile lately and lauding the iPhone. But their fortunes are a bit reversed in this post.

Yesterday I was in a Sprint store fondling the very appealing HTC TouchPro, which runs Windows Mobile 6.1. The phone uses the Opera Mobile browser as its default browser, an improvement over the current version of mobile IE.

I only "tested" it for a few minutes but other aspects of the phone were much improved from my current HTC 6800 "Mogul," as well (which also runs 6.1). The phone has a physical, slide-out QWERTY Keyboard but the virtual keyboard is considerably improved and can actually be used without a stylus.  

Meanwhile, there are suggestions of slowing demand for the iconic iPhone. A research note from a Friedman, Billings Ramsey analyst estimated a significant production cut for the iPhone in Q4 (up to 40%). This doesn't automatically mean that demand is weakening; however it suggests that Apple perceives fewer sales and is scaling back production accordingly. 

BlackBerry Partners Fund Makes Initial Investments

Earlier this week the BlackBerry Partners Fund announced its initial investments:

  • Buzz'd: a local entertainment and cityguide with social networking elements
  • WorldMate: a mobile travel planning and management tool
  • Digby: a mobile commerce/mobile "storefront" platform

Previously the fund announced the winners of the BlackBerry Developer Challenge:

  • Poynt
    Strands Social Player 
    Nobex Radio Companion

 A healthy software applications ecosystem is critical now to long-term success in mobile. That's why the BlackBerry Partners Fund was formed and why Google funded the Android Developer Challenge. It's also why Microsoft is strongly considering creating its own Windows Mobile Apps store. 

Opera Can't Get into iTunes, iPhone Developers in Demand

We had a great discussion with some folks at Opera the other week. They are bringing the "full Internet" experience to a range of mobile devices and TV set-top boxes. But the device they can't crack is the iPhone.

Opera has developed a browser for the iPhone, but Apple won't allow it because the company regards it as competitive with Safari, which it is. According to the NY Times:

Opera’s engineers have developed a version of Opera Mini that can run on an Apple iPhone, but Apple won’t let the company release it because it competes with Apple’s own Safari browser.

That's a short-sighted view by Apple, to disallow anything it regards as potentially competitive. 

Meanwhile the competition is hot for iPhone developers who, according to Wired, are highly in demand: 

The demand for iPhone developers worldwide has grown 500 percent in the past six months, according to oDesk, an outsourcing firm for technology jobs. That translates to an increase from roughly 30 job openings per month to more than 140 positions per month, all seeking app developers, software engineers and other programming and consulting types to build iPhone apps. Those aren't just U.S. companies clamoring for iPhone coders, either: oDesk's network includes employers and job seekers from the United States, Russia, India, Ukraine, China and 100 other countries.

There are companies working on "automating" the process of developing iPhone apps. One such company is AppLoop, which can reportedly turn any RSS feed into an attractive iPhone app:

The AppLoop Application Generator is a web-based tool that converts any RSS feed into a brandable iPhone application in less than 2 minutes.

There's also Yahoo's rendering language Blueprint, which offers to do the same thing (at a level of somewhat greater complexity):

Promising "write once publish everywhere," Blueprint works across hundreds of devices. Yahoo! used Blueprint to develop oneConnect for the iPhone as well as Yahoo!'s other iPhone applications. The company is also talking with Apple about making Blueprint generally available to third party publishers for iPhone applications development. Several Yahoo! representatives indicated that they believed it would make iPhone apps development much faster and easier than it already is.

I'm sure there are other such tools in development as well. 

____

Related: iPhone sales boost Softbank's profit in Japan:

Japan's No. 3 mobile carrier Softbank Corp. said Wednesday its net profit rose 1.9 percent in the July-September quarter thanks to steady demand for Apple's iPhone.

Update: It's apparently not 100% accurate to say that Opera can't get into the iPhone. They haven't formally applied. But someone at Mozilla told me that he felt any third-party browser that tried to get into the iPhone would be denied on the basis of "a scripting technicality" in the SDK.

Apple ultimately needs to allow third party browsers (mobile Firefox, Opera) into the iPhone. It won't threaten the iPhone or Apple in any way and will create more good will. Whereas anti-competitive moves diminish Apple's credibility and could even cause legal problems down the line. 

Motorla to Cut Heads, Ties Future to Android

Motorola, which was planning to break the company into two, is now putting that spin-off on hold apparently because of the state of the economy. The company still has the top-selling phone in the US (the Razr V3) but it has lost market share in the US and abroad.

Its third quarter results showed the mobile devices division had an $800 million loss and a 31% decline in sales. Overall quarterly revenue fell to $7.48 billion from $8.81 billion a year ago. As a result the company will layoff 3,000 workers, two-thirds of which will come from the mobile devices unit, according to the Wall Street Journal

I wonder if any of the reported 350 employees in the unit devoted to Android will be among the layoffs.

Motorola said it will focus on Windows Mobile and Android (as well as its own OS). But future success may be more closely tied to Android going forward. Yet the company apparently has delayed the projected release of its Android device, which it has said will now be avaiable in time for the holidays in 2009