Mobile Update for March 18, 2012

Here are some of the interesting things that happened this week in the mobile industry with my usual witty commentary.

The New iPad

The big story of the week was the release of the new iPad on March 16. I have one, and I’ll have a post about my impressions of the new device soon. Until then you can read reviews from the Verge, Engadget, Gizmodo, BGR, or Daring Fireball.

Here are some of the interesting things to note about the rollout of the device.

Easy to find one in a store

With the pre-orders sold out in three days, a 2-3 week wait when purchasing one online, Apple claiming demand is “off the charts”, and long lines reported at retailers, I was quite surprised to find on March 16 that buying an iPad from a store was pretty easy. BGR made a similar observation.

I pre-ordered an AT&T model and decided that I wanted a Verizon one instead. At 1:30pm I walked into a local Apple store and bought one. There was no line and they seemed to have plenty of stock of all models. The salesperson told me that there was a good sized line when they opened at 8am but by 8:45 everyone had been serviced and foot traffic was normal afterwards.

The question is, is demand for the new model lower than previous models, or has Apple provided adequate supply? I’m thinking its a little of both. Many iPad 2 owners (which are the majority of iPad owners) do not need to update so demand may not be as high as previous released models. I think also that Apple has learned from the past and worked to get plenty of product in stores for the launch. I suppose we’ll find out when sales numbers are released.

Update: Apple said on Monday, March 19, that they had a ‘record weekend’ for iPad sales. Source: the Verge.

Many apps updated for the retina display

I was happily surprised to see a great number of apps were updated to support the retina display in time for the iPad’s release. AppAdvice is keeping a running list, but as of Friday there were at least 245 apps updated.

This is quite impressive as most developers did not have a unit for testing. All testing must have been done using a simulator. I expect this was an interesting exercise as no computer monitor has the same resolution as an actual iPad.

Verizon will only sell LTE phones from now on

Verizon stated that from now on all new phones they sell will be 4G LTE phones. (See WSJ.) Verizon sees their LTE network as a differentiating feature from other carriers and is promoting it heavily.

My Take: Verizon’s LTE network is an advantage to them because they started deploying LTE a year before anyone else and have the most coverage by far. I can understand that they want to retire their CDMA network as soon as possible to reuse the bandwidth for LTE. Spectrum is a fixed quantify and hard to come by so they have to use what they have. AT&T’s failed bid to buy T-Mobile and Verizon’s bid to buy spectrum from Comcast getting push back from T-Mobile are evidence of how hard (and expensive!) acquiring additional spectrum can be.

As Verizon moves to all LTE, battery life on LTE phones had better start improving quickly. A study by JD Power cites poor battery life as a leading complaint for current users of 4G phones. MG Siegler observed that at the SXSW conference people changed their daily routines based on the ability to keep their phones powered. It would be a shame if Verizon became known as the carrier with the phones with the worst battery life.

Right now the LTE phone with the best life (by far!) is the Motorola Razr Maxx on Verizon. Motorola solved this problem by putting a huge battery into device but somehow managed to not make the phone overly thick or heavy. The Maxx’s battery capacity is almost twice that of most other phones. Apple did something similar with the iPad which also supports LTE. I expect other phone makers will need to follow in kind. For users this means that phones will not be razor thin (no pun intended) and will take longer to charge.

This declaration by Verizon also implies that this year’s iPhone will support LTE, as we can assume Verizon wants to keep selling iPhones. Will Apple release an iPhone that has poor battery life? I doubt it as battery life seems to be a very high priority for Apple. If the next iPhone supports LTE I would expect it to be a larger device to hold a large battery.

Also see PandoDaily on the topic of battery life.

Google Nexus Tablet

Rumors heated up this week about Google releasing a “Nexus” tablet mid this year. The 7 inch device will run Android 4.0 (i.e. Ice Cream Sandwich). The kicker is that the rumored price is to be between $149-$199. The device will be built by Asus which showed a similar device at CES this year. Supposedly Google was so enamored by it they made a deal with Asus to make the device for them instead.

See the Verge, Redmond Pie, and SlashGear.

My Take: Google is clearly going after Amazon with that device and price point. Consumers will have to choose between the Amazon ecosystem and the Google Play ecosystem. I think that’s a hard sale for Google.

The thing I find most interesting is that to sell a device at this price point, Google is likely going to be losing money per device. Amazon loses money per Kindle Fire too but their business plan is to make it up by selling Amazon Prime subscriptions and content. Is Google’s plan to make money selling content? If so, that is a big change for Google’s business. Are they planning on making money on search revenue? I don’t know that it has been proven that they make that much money on Android from search revenue as it is. Is Google willing to take the loss to get market share? Also, how is Asus making money here? Is Google paying them per device or are they giving them a cut of the content and advertising revenue? It will be quite interesting to see how this all plays out.

The other interesting thing here is that I would think this would drive all other tablet makers out of the low end of the business. Why would someone buy a Galaxy Tab 7 for $399 when they can get an Amazon or Google tablet for $199? Others can’t even compete on price because they can’t afford to take the loss as Google or Amazon can.

Game Maker Quits Android

There has been a lot of coverage of game maker Mika Mobile’s decision to stop supporting Android and only build games for iOS instead. Mika Mobile creates titles such as  Zombieville USA, OMG Pirates!, and Battleheart. Mika Mobile’s statement can be found here.

Mika’s rationale for this decision is that it is too expensive to support Android because of the diversity of devices in the field. The time they spend testing and tracking down problems on devices with different hardware (RAM, GPU, screen size, etc.) and software (i.e. different Android versions) is not made back in revenue from Android sales.

My Take: Diversity of hardware is a problem that hits game makers especially hard. There are similar problems with PC gaming as PC hardware is even more diverse. This is one reason game makers like consoles – the hardware is consistent. iOS has an advantage here as there are few models of  iPhones and iPads.

To support high performance gaming on Android a game maker may have to choose to support only specific model phones with certain specifications (e.g. Android version, amount of RAM, specific CPUs, etc.). The problems with that are (a) you are limiting your potential market and (b) it is very hard to communicate to consumers which phones are supported. The PC gaming market handles this problem in a similar way by having very specific system requirements. Game buyers have to beware of this before buying a game.

And that’s the news… Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

About Lee J.

Mobile Guy!
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