Smartphone War: Are Apps the Deciding Battleground?

The touchscreen smartphones.Smartphones used to be the domain of supergeeks and tech professionals – people who needed or desperately wanted the functionality of a full computer in a tidy mobile platform. As the devices became more popular and the desire for on-the-go web capabilities grew you could almost smell the storm coming.

Then the iPhone came out and sold millions, spurring competitors to make their own touchscreen wonderphone. We’ve now got the Blackberry Storm, the HTC G1, the Palm Pre, the Nokia N97, and the Samsung Jet, all running on a different operating system. While the manufacturers tout the hardware features that make their phone the best (physical keyboards, a screen that clicks, a camera with a flash), consumers are starting to look to the software that runs the phone, and the applications they’re finally able to install, to make a decision.

Apple has been most successful with third party application sales and support due to their App Store, which opened in mid-July, 2008. Since release, the App Store has seen more than a billion application downloads and now showcases more than 50,000 third party applications. From games to translators, finance tools to ereaders, the Apple App Store has an app for almost anything, leaving its competitors lagging far behind.

It’s taken nearly a year for competitors to get their mobile application stores up and running, time during which Apple has continued to lure consumers with the promise of a robust app catalog. As Business Insider points out, consumers aren’t just investing in a phone, they’re investing in a platform, with application quality and quantity as a major component of that investment. In a similar article, BI adds that time users spend with applications is replacing time spent on the web. Apps like Yelp allow users quick access to restaurant reviews, where before they would have been using Google.

This isn’t just good news for Apple, it’s an important statistic for developers. Read the rest of this entry »

Dell Maybe Kinda Sorta Releasing an MID

Dell bring Anroid to an MID near you?According to a Wall Street Journal report yesterday, Dell has been developing an iPod Touch-like device, capable of accessing the internet but leaving out phone capabilities. The device could be released as early as the end of the year…or not.

The WSJ talked to a couple engineers closely involved with the project. They claimed the device would be running Android and comes in just a bit bigger than the iPod Touch. The confusion, at least as far as release is concerned, comes from this:

Another person who was briefed on the company’s plans said Dell may begin selling the device later this year, though this person said the plan could be delayed or scrapped entirely.

Delayed, okay. Scrapped entirely? Like completely do away with the project’s release date? That just doesn’t make any kind of sense. The story gets stranger.

According to the article, people at Dell have been working on the device for the past year or so, following a botched attempt to compete with Apple in the mp3 market. They wanted to what now? I realize Dell is the second largest computer manufacturer in the world (for now), but directly compete with the iPod? I don’t know who thought that would work, but that person should probably be fired. Going toe-to-toe with something as entrenched as the iPod is silly, unless you have some seriously compelling differentiators, and something tells me Dell does not.

On this new MID, people from Dell have also claimed potential plans to sell the MID through mobile carriers, and I can only think of one reason to do that: 3G capability. Unless they want to market the thing with T-Mobile/AT&T hotspots, which is totally ridiculous. Dell employees go on to say Dell is also working on a few Android based smartphones for release later in the year.

Is it just me, or is this one giant PR nightmare? You’ve got employees at all levels of the company, from engineers to folks intimately involved with release plans, spilling their guts about in-development projects that could potentially compete with the iPhone/iPod Touch and yet none of them sound coherent enough to actually believe.

Are we seeing the early onset of an upcoming death rattle from Dell? Are they trying to stay solvent as desktop sales plummet? Why don’t they have a tighter lid on this MID thing? They’ve certainly got me speculating, though I’m more worried about the company planning than interested in their new mobile device, whether it be MID, smartphone, or something else entirely. I won’t be holding my breath.

Jobs is Back

Steve Jobs with his Apple.After six months off due to a couple medical conditions, Steve Jobs is back at the helm of his beloved Apple. The company announced today that Jobs is back at work several days a week and will work the others from home.

Obviously you’ve heard every twist and turn of the Jobs health rumor mill, but fret no more, at least for a bit. That Steve’s back to work means he’s made significant leaps since his liver transplant, and hopefully we won’t have to hear much more bad news from Cupertino (at least as far as Jobs health is concerned).

Though Apple stock has been effected in the past, this latest news in California had no effect on company shares. Investment analysts attribute the change to investors getting more comfortable with other people running Apple. It probably helps to see that Tim Cook can sell a million iPhones in a weekend.

13-Year-Old Trades iPod for a Walkman

Scott Campbell and his mom.This article from the BBC’s The Magazine is quickly making its rounds and it’s definitely worth the read. The author, 13-year-old Scott Campbell, was given a Walkman by his father. The near ancient artifact was meant to replace Scott’s iPod for a full week, after which he could return to his digital life.

Scott had some interesting observations/struggles in dealing with his old technology. Here’s a few excerpts:

*It took me three days to figure out that there was another side to the tape.
*As I boarded the school bus, where I live in Aberdeenshire, I was greeted with laughter.
*[on battery life]; it is nearly completely dead within three hours of firing it up. Not long after the music warbled into life, it abruptly ended.

We’re probably not too far from seeing those things all but extinct, as in, unable to find almost anywhere. I have to wonder, should I be saving my 3rd generation iPod to show my son someday? What will his music experience look like?

I’m lucky enough to live up the street from a store called Big Fun that sells old toys, video games, and general nostalgia, so I can get my paleolithic tech fix whenever I want. Where do you get yours?

Trouble in 3GS Land: the Roundup

iPhone activations unavailable.It’s been more than a week now since the new iPhone launched and we’ve heard a couple reports of trouble with the new hardware. For a launch, though, the phone seems fairly bug free, along with the Palm Pre and even Nokia’s N97. Here’s what we’ve heard:

Activation
Enough people experienced extended activation times (as long as 96 hours) to warrant a response from Apple. The 3GS manufacturer is sending out $30 iTunes gift cards to say I’m sorry to affected customers, giving up $30 of apps to tend to their understandable frustration.

TetheringWhile tethering is still unsupported by AT&T it is possible to enable the feature via a quick hack. Some users have seen errors reminding them that the feature is unsupported. Uninstalling and reinstalling the hack seems to fix this problem.

GSM NoiseBoy Genius Report was the first to put out the GSM Noise…report. Apparently some sounds on the iPhone trigger a high-frequency “whistle,” typical to GSM phones running near magnets (hello, compass/speaker).

White Burns PinkThe latest trouble comes from french site nowhereelse.fr, where a tipster sent pics of his white 3GS that had apparently been “burned” when it got to hot while running GPS on a 3G connection. The burn looks like a light pink ring around the perimeter of the phone. This is the first and only report we’ve seen of this problem.

Had any trouble with your phone? Leave us the info in the comments.

WebOS Mojo SDK Beta Leaked – Let There Be Apps

Palm Pre WebOS SDK BetaI’ve tried to be clear about my feelings concerning Palm’s late SDK release for WebOS, the operating system that runs the Pre. In my mind it’s a terrible, bass ackwards plan that’s done nothing to help Pre sales figures.

There was a bright light today, though, when I saw that the Mojo SDK Beta build had be leaked via torrent. That light’s still at the end of a long tunnel, though, as Palm maintains strict control over the final release build, and certainly won’t publish any apps made with the beta. The good is that developers can finally get their hands on development tools and start polishing their apps for a clean release, whenever that may be.

Palm also mentioned this week that they are adding developers to their early adoption program, doubling their membership this week. They predict the number should double again next week, though without an original stat, this might not be as many developers as I would hope.

At any rate, movement is movement, and at the very least the homebrew community just got a new toolset to fiddle with.

UK Retailers Show No PSP Go Pre-orders

Sony's PSP Go.We already know the PSP Go is a ripoff. It’s essentially a minor upgrade over the current hardware at a premium price. In the UK things are even worse. Our friends across the pond are looking at prices as high as £230 (approx. $380), which is nearly double the price of the current generation mobile gamer.

Whether it’s the price, the hardware, or just an utter lack of interest, UK retailers are showing zero, yes, zero pre-orders, and they’re not happy. The problem comes with the margins on hardware retail, which are historically small. Now that the PSP no longer supports UMD drives, the only justifiable revenue stream comes in the form of Playstation Network cards, which can be purchased in $20 and $50 increments in the US, but remain unavailable in the UK.

Sony’s banking on mobile software delivery for games instead of your typical physical media with the PSP Go, and it’s already got retailers wondering if they should bother with the new device. Seems like a lot of people share that sentiment where Sony is concerned. Will they listen, or just continue to frustrate retailers and developers out of doing business together?

Sprint Takes Their First Shot

Sprint's Pre vs. iPhone ad.Remember how Palm and Sprint weren’t going to position the Pre against the iPhone? Because the Pre isn’t meant to run against the iPhone. Because it was was designed for its own subset of consumers, not iPhone malcontents. Because, because, because.

The world didn’t pay much attention to that plan, though, because frankly, the devices are similar enough for comparison and in the world of cellphones, it’s usually an either/or decision. Either I get an iPhone or I get a Pre. You get the idea.

Sprint has finally caved, taking their first shot straight at Apple’s face. They posted the ad at right on their Facebook page this week, which features the Pre leaning against a chewed-to-the-core Apple. As if they they thought the ad was a little too subtle, it also includes text like, “The Palm Pre does things the iPhone can’t. Run multiple applications at the same time with real-time updates and even save $1200 over two years.”

The ad does seem to be well timed, at least. Original iPhone contracts should be up right around now, and who knows, maybe the Pre will nab a few of those folks away from Apple, but I’m pretty unimpressed with their sales pitch. Run multiple applications? Like…all 30 of them at once? Pitching your multitasking is great if you have some sort of reasonable app selection, but 30? Why not remind people that you’ve got a full keyboard, a flash on the camera, a slick new operating system? Granted, the first two are obvious, but they’re benefits the customer will see immediately, not in six months when you finally release your SDK.

Update: No Porn in the App Store

iPhone porn?Yesterday we ran a story concerning the application “Hottest Girls,” available up until yesterday in the iPhone App Store. Prior to OS 3.0, the application showed pictures of scantily clad women and allowed users to rate those images. An update yesterday pushed topless images through the application. The app was pulled within a few hours.

The developer posted to his website later in the day, claiming the application was “sold out” due to server load from all the fresh boobies beaming to iPhones around the world. In truth, it was Apple pulled the app for, you guessed it, explicit content.

When Steve Jobs announced the App Store, porn was among the first mention of all things verboten. Other unapproved apps included privacy invasion and other malicious apps. “Hottest Girls” would have been the first app sanctioned by Apple with explicit content.

As an apple rep told CNN:

Apple will not distribute applications that contain inappropriate content, such as pornography. The developer of this application added inappropriate content directly from their server after the application had been approved and distributed, and after the developer had subsequently been asked to remove some offensive content. This was a direct violation of the terms of the iPhone Developer Program. The application is no longer available on the App Store.

Once again we have more noise than necessary concerning porn on the infamous iPhone. Explicit content is still viewable on the device via the web browser, though I think the real issue here is whether or not Apple wishes to be complicit in skin traffic. Apparently they do not.

Star Wars Periphs Coming to Wii This Fall

Tired of that painted cardboard tube you’ve been sliding over your Wiimote? Wish you could play homerun derby as Anakin? This fall you can ditch the cardboard and intimidate your fellow batters with…these plastic Star Wars peripherals.

We’re talking about the lightsaber/blaster you see pictured at right, the newest official peripherals to be licensed by LucasArts and Nintendo. The lightsaber comes in colors for Anakin or Yoda, while the blaster comes with some super nifty customizable stickers. YAY! Nothing like throwing stickers on your laser rifle from the future. Who’s a badass? You are, my friend. You are.

The rifle is built just like other rifles for the Wii, with a holster for both the Wiimote and the nunchuk, giving you double triggers and the necessary movement controls. Did I mention the stickers?

No word yet on pricing, and no one’s mentioned whether the lightsabers actually light up (and kill your Wiimote batteries), but I’d guess yes on the lighting and $25 on the price. Someone please make a hilarious video with these.