This Week in Mobile – March 27, 2011

Here are the interesting things that happened in the mobile industry this week…

Carriers

AT&T announced intention to purchase T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom for $39 Billion was the big story this week. How will this affect the wireless industry in the US? Well, Sprint and Clearwater aren’t too happy about it and will oppose the merger.
Verizon won’t oppose it and, by the way, doesn’t want to buy Sprint either.

My Take: There are multiple aspects of AT&T purchasing T-Mobile.

This would be a big win for AT&T as it would give them spectrum to use for their upcoming LTE rollout that they could not get otherwise. Having more frequencies to use would help them cover more people in more places. The extra towers would also help them cover alleviate some of the congestion they are experiencing now. This will provide better coverage for their customers which is a good thing.

Tangentially, this merger is a good thing for Apple as it would increase the pool of potential iPhone buyers in the US.

Other than better coverage, how will this deal affect customers? If this goes through, there will be two major carriers in the US and the others will be minor players at best. This can have multiple repercussions.

Phone makers will be have less control over their products as AT&T will be the only GSM carrier in the US. They will be have greater power to dictate hardware and software specs to the manufacturers which could give people less choice of handsets. Limiting choice in GSM phones is important because some people choose a GSM carrier so that their phone can be used outside of the US. (GSM is very popular in Europe, and CDMA (used by Verizon and Sprint) is not). For example, AT&T does not allow for ‘sideloading’ apps (that is loading apps not on the Android Marketplace) on their Android phones. Not being able to get a GSM Android phone that allows for ‘sideloading’ could be a problem for some customers and they won’t have an option.

The other concern is that service pricing models can also be affected as AT&T will only have to compete with Verizon. Again, if you need GSM then you won’t have a choice but to pay what AT&T wants to charge.

This deal will take at least a year to pass government scrutiny, if it passes at all. AT&T has a strong incentive to make the deal work as they will have to pay Deutsche Telekom $3B and give then roaming rights if it does not work out.

If the deal does not pass government muster, T-Mobile will have to merge with another carrier to survive. They do not have the resources to build out a true 4G network to compete with the other three big players.

Platforms

RIM

RIM’s PlayBook tablet is to ship in April with same pricing as iPad. RIM has announced that Android 2.x apps can run on the PlayBook.

My Take: Although I’ve heard good things about the platform, I still think the requirement to tether a PlayBook to a BlackBerry for mail and calendar services is a major weakness in the platform that shrinks the potential base of customers. Even though it is priced competitively it will have a hard time against Apple the competition.

As far as running Android apps goes, I continue to be confused why companies keep supporting foreign apps on their platforms. RIM’s CEO said it was to put a checkmark for “tons of apps” but what good is this if the tons of apps are not for your platform? This will encourage developers to write Android apps, and discourage them from writing for PlayBook. And how does RIM expect their platform to take hold unless developers are writing apps for it? As a buyer, why would I buy a PlayBook instead of a ‘real’ Android tablet?

Android

Amazon’s Android Appstore is online. Amazon is offering a free app per day to encourage users to come check it out.

Almost immediately, Apple sued Amazon over the name “app store”.

AT&T users cannot use the Amazon store because AT&T only allows apps to be installed from the Android Marketplace, and the Amazon store is not available there. I would expect Amazon to work with phone manufactures to pre-load their app on Android devices in the future, but until then another solution is needed.

My Take: I believe Amazon is getting its ecosystem set up for when it sells its own tablet. That will be interesting as Amazon is positioned well to compete well with Apple. Amazon has a music store, a movie sales and rental store, an eBook store, and a proven distribution system for the hardware. Their tablet would have the equivalent of the iTunes store and App Store pre-installed on their tablet for a complete out of the box experience. Some serious competition for Apple would be good for the industry.

Google is not releasing the source to Honeycomb (Android 3.0) yet. They claim it is not ready to put on arbitrary devices. No word on when it will be available. This could explain why we haven’t seen it on anything but a 10 inch tablet so far.

My Take: Google rushed Honeycomb out so that manufacturers would stop shipping tablets running Froyo (ahem, Samsung). But it is clear that Honeycomb still has a way to go before it is a generic OS. Early adopters better hope their devices can take new versions of the OS as we’re likely to see a lot of changes over the coming months.

Motorola is looking into developing its own mobile OS to replace Android some day.

My Take: I understand Motorola’s apprehension of being dependent upon Google for its OS, but creating a new OS is difficult and often not enough to succeed, even if its really good (just ask Palm). You need the supporting ecosystem behind it which is no small matter. This is why Nokia is partnering with Microsoft.

Microsoft

Microsoft released the”NoDo” update to Windows Phone 7. This release has copy and past functionality. Although Microsoft has released the code, it is up to the carriers to distribute the software. This will likely take weeks. This is the same problem that Android has and ensures that it will take longer to get updates of the OS out to handsets.

My Take: Microsoft has to get releases of WP7 to end users more quickly if they want to stay in the game.

Tablets

Samsung

Samsung showed off at CTIA this week the Galaxy Tab 8.9 and 10.1 tablets. Both Honeycomb tablets are running Samsung’s own skin on top of Google’s OS. The tablets are a hair thinner than the iPad 2. The 8.9 will be priced less than the iPad 2, and the 10.1 will be the same. Both units will be on sale “later this year”.

HTC

The HTC Flyer will be released on Sprint with a 4G (WiMax) radio and named the Evo View 4G. The Evo View is a 7″ tablet running Gingerbread, not Honeycomb. The interesting thing about this tablet is that it has an available pen (they are careful to not call it a “stylus”) and had some interesting apps that take advantage of pen input. HTC will open the “scribe” APIs up so that third party developers can write pen enabled apps. Touch is great for many things, but a pen is better for some (such as writing and fine manipulation).  The device will be available this spring at Best Buy.

My Take: I like that HTC has done something genuinely different in the tablet space. This could be a great device for note taking, especially since their pen notebook syncs to Evernote. Not including the pen and making it a separate purchase baffles me though as this is the differentiating feature of the device. Although interesting, I doubt it will be a commercial success because it is not running Honeycomb.

Apple

iPad 2 is to go on sale internationally this week. Apparently people all over the world are as crazy as we are here in America and are lining up for days to get the new tablet.

If you want an iPad now and for cheap, Verizon is selling off its inventory of iPad 1 wifi’s for $200 off. $299 for a 16GB iPad is a great buy!

And that’s the news…

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About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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