This Week In Mobile – April 29, 2011

Sorry its been so long since my last post. A lot of this may not be new, but you’re reading this for my insightful perspective on the news, right?

“Location-Gate”

The biggest story over the last week or so has been “Location-Gate.” (What would we call scandals if the DNC was located in a Hilton instead of the Watergate during the Nixon administration?) It was learned that Apple devices running iOS 4 or newer keep a file called consolidated.db which is an unencrypted database of locations and times. The file is backed up to the PC when the iPhone syncs and the unencrypted file is on the PC. The records in the database go back for months.

News of Apple tracking your location spread quickly across the Internet. Bloggers were quick to find out Android does something similar. Of course, class action lawsuits have been filed against Apple and Google. Even the government got involved when Senator Al Franken has called both companies to Washington for a hearing on the matter. Verizon to going to put warning stickers on phones to let users know they will track your location.

People are quite right to be upset about having their locations tracked. This story about police using location data gathered from TomTom GPS units to determine where to set up speed traps is a great reason.

It is true that buried in the terms and conditions it does say Apple will gather this information anonymously, but as South Park shows, not everyone reads all the T’s and C’s. (BTW: the linked South Park video is very NSFW!)

After a week, Apple came out saying that they are not tracking where users go. The database is used to track cell towers and wifi hotspots to help location services triangulate position more easily. The fact that the data is not encrypted, syncs to the PC, and is kept for so long are all bugs. The latter two points will be fixed soon in an iOS update. The encryption issue will be fixed in iOS 5.

My Take: I don’t think there is any evil intent here on Apple or Google’s parts. In Apple’s case they are guilty of two things. First is sloppy coding. Clearly how this data is handled was not thought out well and now they are paying the price big-time in terms of some very bad PR. Second, Apple should not have waited a full week to respond to the press. Providing no information gives people a license to speculate the worst.

Apple

iPhone 4 in White

Apple has finally shipped their white iPhone 4 this week. Only 10 months after the black one. Interestingly, it is slightly thicker than its sibling (0.2mm), which may be a problem for people planning to use third party cases.

My Take: I hesitate to write about the white iPhone because I fail to see what the big deal is. It is an iPhone 4, but white. Why this product has received immeasurable press (to which I am now contributing) alludes me.

The reasons for the delay are a bit interesting though. Just painting it white didn’t work out so well. As I understand it, Apple had two big problems. First getting the glass and home button to match was more difficult than expected. Second, with the white paint, more light would filter through the white paint than the black which affected the camera and other sensors.

iCloud?

Supposedly Apple has paid big bucks to secure the domain name iCloud. The speculation is that iCloud will be Apple’s upcoming streaming media service. Of course, Apple has offered no details about this service but the pundits are saying that it will not be free.

My Take. It is not surprising that Apple would be doing this. They have to do something with their huge data farm that they just built in North Carolina, right? Expect it to be part of iOS 5.  I’m very interested to see how this will work as compared to Amazon’s cloud storage. Moving storage to the cloud and off the device does have advantages such as cheaper devices with less flash storage and users being less likely to lose data if their PC dies. Also, it would be nice to not have to use iTunes to sync a device.

However, cloud storage is not all rosy. There are three big problems with cloud computing now from an end user perspective:

1) The cloud requires connectivity. Are customers willing to not have their music in an area of poor or no reception (like a subway or airplane)?

2) Unlimited data plans are no longer available.  How much audio and video can you stream before running into overage charges?

3) Trusting the cloud. The cloud has had a bad week with major problems coming from Amazon and Sony. It may be hard to get people to trust their content to Apple.

Apple earnings

Apple posted their financial numbers for for their Q2 2011 (12/26/2010-3/26/2011). Not surprisingly, they had a killer quarter with $25B in revenue selling 18.65MM iPhones. What is surprising is that sales of iPhones and ‘related products and services’ accounts for 50% of Apple’s revenues.

In fact, Apple’s profits were higher than Microsoft’s this quarter. And Microsoft had a very good quarter.

My Take: I continue to be impressed by how much of Apple’s business iOS has taken in such a short time.

Verizon iPhones

Verizon has sold about 2.2MM iPhones in the last quarter. By comparison, AT&T sold 3.3MM and Verizon sold 250K Thunderbolts.

iPhone 5 in September? Rumor roundup

What’s a week without an iPhone 5 rumor roundup? The former-Engadget staff who are now publishing at ThisIsMyNext.com took the rumors they have been hearing and rendered in Photoshop what they think iPhone 5 will look like.

My Take: Who knows? It’s still all speculation until it is unveiled by Apple, probably in September.

Apple/Samsung lawsuits

Apple files several lawsuits at Samsung for its successful Android based Galaxy S phones claiming that Samsung has stolen Apple’s iPhone look and feel. Samsung has retaliated by filing several patent lawsuits back at Apple.

My Take: At the risk of sounding too much like an Apple fanboy, a lot of Apple’s complaints seem justified. Samsung copied icons pretty blatently as well as the layout of the iPhone home screen.

This whole thing is interesting in that Apple is one of Samsung’s largest customers for components of iDevices, and also one of Apple’s largest competitors in the same space. The Galaxy S phone family is the most successful Android device on the market. How will these lawsuits affect their supplier/customer relationship?

Undoubtedly this will take years to resolve and the winners will be the lawyers.

 Apple cutting CDMA iPhone 4 production in half

Rumor has it that Apple’s Asian supplier Pegatron has had their order of CDMA iPhones cut in half to 5MM.

My Take: There are several potential reasons for this:

1) iPhone 4 demand on Verizon is lower than expected.

2) Everyone thinks the CDMA iPhone 4 was for Verizon only, but CDMA is used in Asia, and there was talk about into that market. Perhaps that is proving harder than expected.

3) iPhone 5 anticipation has lowered demand for iPhone 4 as people are willing to wait before signing a new 2 year contract.

I would think its a combination of the three.

iPhone on T-Mobile?

Boy Genius posted a picture of a white iPhone connected to T-Mobile raising questions as to when we will see a T-Mobile iPhone.

My Take: Getting the iPhone to work on T-Mobile shouldn’t be a big stretch since it is a GSM carrier like AT&T, although T-Mobile uses different bands for 3G service. But I don’t think we’ll see T-Mobile service until iPhone 5. I believe this device is a prototype using the A5 dual core processor that Apple has given to select developers for development purposes.

Android

According to Nielsen surveys, Android is now the most desired smartphone OS with demand growing while iOS’s demand is shrinking.

Maybe one of the reasons that so many people want Android is in the growth of the Android Marketplace. It now has more free apps than the Apple App Store and is projected to have more total apps in five months.

My Take: The Android juggernaut rolls on!

Motorola’s quarterly report revealed that they sold 250K Xoom tablets in Q1 2011. This is much higher than some analysts were predicting.

RIM

RIM PlayBook ships

After announcing last fall, RIM has finally started shipping the PlayBook 7″ tablet. The wifi version is available now and 3G and 4G versions will follow soon. The PlayBook reviews have been… less than great (See here, here, and here). Most say that it feels rushed and incomplete. Many say it has great potential, but it is not there yet.

My Take. I’ve discussed this before, but still I don’t know how you can ship a tablet that does not have an e-mail, contact, and calendar solution out of the box. PlayBook has some strong technical underpinnings and could be a great device, but RIM’s big mistake was announcing it too soon. Once they announced it in September 2010, pressure began to ship. They would have done better to have announced this summer and shipped a complete product in the fall.

RIM Lazaridis walks out on interview

During an interview with the BBC, RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis was asked if BlackBerry has a security problem based on the issues they’ve been having in India and other countries.  Lazaridis responded by saying the question was unfair, ended the interview, and walked out. You can watch it here.

My Take: The interview’s question was a dumb one, not unfair, and that is what Lazaridis should have said. If anything it was an opportunity to stress how secure BlackBerry is and what a dope the interviewer is. Instead, Lazaridis abruptly ended the interview, looking like he was about to cry. A CEO of a major corporation should be able to handle questions like these with ease. That he could not is indicative of problems in the leadership of RIM.

RIM cuts outlook for next quarter, but optimistic for 2nd half of the year

RIM announced that they are cutting guidance for the next quarter, 4 weeks after providing such guidance. EPS will now be $1.30-$1.37 instead of $1.47-$1.55. They said sales will be lower than previously expected and their will be a shift to selling less expensive handsets.

My Take: This isn’t even funny anymore. When you see headlines like this and stories like this, there is a problem. RIM needs new senior management or they will be a footnote in the history of mobile within two years. They need someone from outside the company with an unbiased perspective.

They are in a very similar situation to Nokia with old technology that they could not enhance to be competitive. Nokia took some radical steps with a new CEO and adopting Windows Phone 7. I don’t know if Nokia will be successful, but they certainly would not be if they stayed the course.

Carriers

Verizon suffered a 4G LTE outage on April 27 that lasted about 24 hours. This affected 500K users (260K of which are Thunderbolt users). Ironically, this happened a day after a Verizon executive was saying how smoothly the LTE rollout was going.

My Take: Its unfortunate, but not surprising that there are going to be problems rolling out a network this large. Better to iron out the problems when there are 500K users and not 50MM users.

In their Q1 earnings report, Sprint reported that it had a good quarter picking up 1.1MM new subscribers. (See here and here). Not too bad for an iPhone-less carrier. They still had a net loss of $439MM, but things are looking better for the other CDMA vendor.

Fun

Angry birds tops 140MM downloads! And that’s up from 100MM in March! I think someone should do a study to see how much lost productivity Angry Birds has cost the US workforce.

And that’s the news…

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About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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