Tablets In Court – Continued

As for your “Apple is killing the [tablet] marketplace”, as companies like Palm/HP and RIM are showing: there’s plenty of competition that’s doing fine without toe-ing the copying line.

~ Comment by reader Azijn

Not so much, it seems.

HP have thrown in the towel, after their tablet being on the market for an astonishingly brief three weeks. The world’s largest computer manufacturer doesn’t think it can make its money back on tablets. What chance does a relative minnow like RIM have?

Both HP’s WebOS and RIM’s QNX are – or were – really interesting and attractive operating systems, and it’s true that they’re arguably a lot less similar to Apple’s iOS than Android is. (Though it has been argued by some that they’re a little bit too similar to each other.) But it’s immaterial; only Android has the ecosystem of apps to compete with iOS. For the foreseeable future, there is no other realistic alternative to the iPad.

Samsung have clearly being sailing close to the legal wind – in part perhaps to establish just what can and can’t be copyrighted. It’s interesting legally because many of the laws being invoked by Apple were designed to prevent counterfeiting or passing-off of fake goods. Now clearly Samsung are not passing-off. Their products say ‘Samsung’ on the front in large letters. But they know that Apple have managed to create an aura of sexiness around their products. Is the iPhone the ideal size and shape? Is it the most beautiful design possible? It doesn’t matter; people now want something that looks like that. So to compete, it may be necessary to look as similar as you legally can. Perhaps Samsung will argue in court that consumer electronics is more like the fashion industry now.

But I would be happier to see companies attempting to innovate with Android instead. HTC have tried of course, but for sheer inventive madness I think you have to hand it to their neighbours Asus.

Apple Versus Samsung Galaxy Tab – Update

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 Review
OK, here

A quick update to the story about Apple blocking sales of the rival Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 throughout the EU. In good news for people who want to get their hands on this device, the ruling by the German court has been clarified. Confusion arose because Samsung has a German subsidiary, and the court had the jurisdiction to prevent this company selling the Tab 10.1 throughout the EU. However the court is not competent to ban the South Korean parent company from selling it in any other European country.

Glad to sort that one out.

I still prefer the iPad 2 as a device, but this probably is the best direct rival it’s seen so far and I hope the courts eventually do decide that it’s fair competition. Though I suppose it goes without saying that my favourite of all the available tablet devices is something else again. And no, not the one you’re probably thinking. More on this soon!

Thou Shalt Have No Other Tablets Before Me

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...
Steve "Moses" Jobs

Update: The legal situation has been clarifiied, though it doesn’t affect most of the points at issue here.

This is what Apple effectively said to all of Europe this week, raising fears the the world’s biggest technology company has totally lost it.

Apple claims that a rival product, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, infringes its “design rights”, and that therefore we shouldn’t even have the choice of buying one. A German judge has agreed that there is a case to be made. Apple sought the injunction in Germany, analysts suggest, because that country has a lot of its own design-based industries so the courts are more likely to sympathise with the plaintiff, and trade rules are such that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 cannot now be sold anywhere in the EU until the issue is resolved – with the exception of the Netherlands, where such a case is already under way.

So does Apple have a case? Well the Galaxy Tab is superficially similar to the iPad. But that’s because they are both tablet computers with touch interfaces. The iPad is certainly a great example of such a device, but Apple didn’t invent it. They are both devices that run operating systems originally designed for phones, but “make a phone bigger and take out the phonecall part” is hardly patentable design. There is nothing illegal about trying to compete. In fact our entire economic and social model depends on the idea.

And under the skin of course they are fundamentally different beasts. There are some components that are absolutely identical, yes – but often because those components were designed by Samsung. They cannot run the same software, so the Galaxy Tab is in no way passing itself off as an iPad. Yet Apple’s case seems to be based mostly on the fact that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 looks a good bit like the iPad 2. It doesn’t even apply to the original 7″ Galaxy Tab.

The real reason why the are out to stop you getting your hands on a Galaxy Tab 10.1? Because it’s too good. Because by a lot of measures, it’s a better product than the iPad 2. it’s significantly lighter for one, which makes a huge difference in a tablet device, plus it has a larger yet sharper screen. What make this abundantly clear is that Apple are trying to do the same to Motorola‘s Xoom, also tipped as a serious rival.

Though these are good products, I still prefer the iPad as an experience. Apple’s total control over hardware and software does lead to a refinement that Android devices never will quite attain. The main reason I would still choose to buy an Android tablet is Apple’s restrictive practices. Now it seems, Apple are restricting the market so that I have no choice but to accept their restricted products. If they ruled the world, the person who built a better mousetrap would find no one beating a path to their door except the police.

What Phone Is Right For You? 7 – I, Android

By Google - File:Android robot.svg, https://android.com, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44801497
Do people who bought iPhones suffer ‘Roid rage?

The war may be over already. By the time you read this, Google’s Android could have surpassed all other phone operating systems by the one significant metric remaining: Number of apps available. It is expected to overtake Apple’s App Store sometime during July, at around the 425,000 mark.

That was the final battle. It passed out Symbian as the most common OS on new phones late last year. At an estimated 57% of the titles in the store, it already has more than twice as many free apps to download as any other system. It is available on phones at a wide range of prices – pretty much all of them less than the iPhone. And at the top end of the scale, Samsung‘s Galaxy S II has received overwhelming critical acclaim, dethroning the iPhone 4 in such league tables as the respected PC Pro A-List. So you could say everything from the best to the cheapest smartphone runs Android. Can there be any reason not to go for it?

A few. Though there are already more free apps available for Android, iPhone is still way ahead with paid-for ones, which are (probably) going to be of higher quality. Moreover, all current Apple apps are going to work pretty well on any iPhone since the 3GS. With the wide variety of hardware running Android, you really have no idea what percentage of the available apps is going to work well for you.

And this gets to the nub of the difference between the iPhone and Android experience. IPhone is simpler, more controlled and managed. Android is more open, more free, more varied. And this will allow it to produce the best phone on the market, time and time again.

But some of the worst smartphones available are going to be running Android too.

If you buy a new iPhone you know it’s going to be one of the best phones available right now. If you opt for Android, you still have a lot of choosing left to do. Right now Samsungs are hot and Sony Ericssons are getting interesting, but it’s only a few months since HTC unquestionably made the best Android phones. It’s a whole market in itself, and a busy one. But if you want the widest choice of handset in a smartphone, then Android it has to be.

MeeGo – Born On Death Row?

It's the only phone in the world to be made entirely out of licorice

A few days ago I suggested that Nokia’s lovely N9 might be the last as well as the first phone to use the MeeGo operating system. Now it would seem that speculation is confirmed. Well, it is if you want to go by a single short article in a Finnish daily paper, but that’s the sort of scrap of information people are grabbing at – particularly people in the MeeGo development community, who of course are desperately invested in this.

It isn’t true. Not on a literal level at least, because there are in fact two MeeGo phones. And though the N950 will be available to developers only and not the general public, why would they be releasing a phone to help people develop apps if they don’t plan to have anything to run them on? I think CEO Stephen Elop means only to counter the opposite rumours – that the good reception the N9 received was going to make Nokia switch back to MeeGo as its main strategy. That was only ever a fantasy.

I strongly suspect however that Nokia plan to keep MeeGo going as a little back-burner project – much as it was until quite recently. Remember, MeeGo is not a new thing but just the latest in a line of semi-experimental products based on Linux: the 770, N800, N810 and N900. These were never big sellers either, but Nokia is a company that has done well in the past by fielding a range of niche products.

Is there any point in buying one though when, no matter how good the hardware is, it lacks the ingredient that makes or breaks a phone in the world today; If MeeGo isn’t going to be a commercial product, who’s going to make apps for it?

Well they don’t necessarily have to. Don’t forget that all software for Symbian phones – which are going to be with us for some years yet – is actually built for Nokia’s Qt framework, also used on MeeGo. Maybe Symbian apps haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but good recent phones like the N8 have revived them somewhat. Then of course, under the MeeGo skin the OS is basically Debian Linux. The Open Source community will be able to provide many heavy-duty applications, just as are currently available for Nokia’s earlier Linux devices.

And, it has Java. OK, big whoop. Java on phones has always been a should-have-been. Except… Android apps are basically Java, aren’t they? Running on a version of Linux too. With that similar basic structure, it should be fairly easy to port Android apps to MeeGo.

Easy, or even trivial – if an application that rejoices under the name of Alien Dalvik fulfils its promise. This is not an emulator; it allows Android apps to run natively under MeeGo. Now that would be something; the vast supply of Androids apps, on mobile Linux, on Nokia hardware. The user would have to assemble it themselves I guess, but they’d get a combination that could easily rival the official Windows product. The only question, I suppose, is whether it will be allowed to happen.

Nokia’s Last Hurrah

N9 © Nokia

There’s no argument, the N9 is a beautiful device. It’s almost hypnotically attractive, better perhaps than even the iPhone at the magical trick of making you feel that this is how phones were always meant to look. Sculpted from curved glass and a single block of matte polycarbonate, graced with a simple, powerful new operating system, this is the most radically restrained design that Nokia has ever produced. Aesthetically, that is; from a feature viewpoint it’s downright exuberant. All in all, a tour de force of phone engineering.

Only one question really: What exactly is it for?

This is not the first of Nokia’s new Windows phones, rather it is the first with MeeGo. First, and quite possibly last. For MeeGo is the operating system that Nokia were developing to take on the iPhone. Until they lost their nerve, decided it couldn’t possibly be done in time to save the company, and let themselves be bought into Windows Phone 7 instead.

And yet here’s a MeeGo phone, somehow ready before any Windows one. What exactly happened there?

It had to be this way. If the Windows device had come out first, MeeGo might have been allowed to drift on without ever becoming finished product, and MeeGo was the one chance Nokia’s designers had to prove to the world – and to their boss – that they could have taken on Apple and won.

Launching an already doomed product might seem a bizarre expense for an already beleaguered company, but not bringing MeeGo to fruition also had a price – one that might have been paid in resignations. The N9 may best be understood as a magnificent gift; from Nokia’s management, to Nokia’s talent.

Your Phone Can Replace Your PC

Tux, the Linux penguin
The Penguin Cometh

My big tech news: I have a desktop computer on my phone now.

It’s running Linux, the free alternative to Windows or Mac. With it I can edit Word documents and spreadsheets, create PDFs, do Photoshop-class image editing. The screen is pretty tiny for that kind of thing of course, but it’s doable. In essence, I don’t need a computer anymore. It even runs Firefox. Not the new mobile version you can get for Android, but the full-scale desktop one.

Oh, and it still makes phone calls.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve been messing with this stuff half the night and I take on an even bigger project tomorrow. More of both these things anon.

What Phone Is Right For You? 1 – The Scene

Image via Wikipedia
It's really time for a new one

As I was saying, it’s never been as hard to choose a phone as it is now. This is far from a bad thing though; we’ve never had so many incredible choices. Phones have changed almost beyond recognition, from fairly straightforward communication devices into something we don’t even quite have a name for yet.

Certainly the term ‘smartphone’ no longer seems adequate. Though there were earlier experiments¹, the smartphone came into its own all of ten years ago now, when the mobile phone and the PDA were successfully merged by companies like Nokia and Microsoft. The magic ingredient: A proper operating system that allowed you to install software.

Since then, other functions have accrued continually. Cameras, Web browsers, e-mail, media players, Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi… Keypads became tiny to make room for Internet-friendly screens. Some – Microsoft in particular – introduced touch interfaces, but made them so crowded that they had to be navigated with a PDA-type stylus. The smartphone seemed full to the point of bursting.

Then Apple made the next great breakthrough, by introducing an interface that was not only sensitive to broad gestures, but which was utterly reconfigurable by whatever program was in use. At a stroke they solved the problem of the smartphone trying to be too many things, by reinventing it as an almost neutral object that could be reconfigured for an endless variety of tasks.

At the same time, they realised that what was essentially an Internet-connected iPod was a fantastic tool for selling things to people; music, video, the software “apps” it would run, and the services those apps could interface with. It was a goldmine. The other main players were slow to recognise this; Nokia and Microsoft so tardy that eventually they had to join forces. Only Google, the one with no previous involvement in phones, could see what was happening and knew what was to be done. They produced Android, now the leading rival to the iPhone.

But far from the only one; there are four or five competing systems, all with their strengths and weaknesses. So though we have great choices, they are real choices. Where once we might have chosen based on fairly trivial factors like appearance, buying a phone now means buying into a system – an ‘ecosystem’ as some call it – of software apps and services. It’s quite a commitment.

By weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of the various offerings however, it shouldn’t be too hard to tell which is the one that suits your needs. These we will look at in more detail tomorrow.

  1. The first real smartphone? Probably the Simon from quiet innovator IBM (pictured above). It may have been an ugly brick, but it was an ugly brick that was years ahead of its time.

I Can’t Tell You Much

it's real :)
This is *not* the best phone ever. This one is hideous.

These are my first faltering steps, but I am blogging now on a hanheld device. It’s tricky, it has to be said.The tiny screen I can handle, but the microscopic keyboard with weird layout will take some getting used to.

That though could be said of anything from the latest iPhone to the cheapest Symbian or Android device. This one, in my opinion, is the greatest smartphone ever made – indeed, that perhaps ever will be made. Seriously.

But that’s all I can tell you right now. Partly of course to keep you guessing that bit longer.

And partly because I need to relearn how to type.

500-pound Gorillas In The Mist

Microsoft is in a tough position, though, too. Win Phone 7 isn’t selling for crap right now, and they have no actual tablet strategy. As computing rapidly moves to tablets and smartphones, Microsoft becomes less and less important. It isn’t hard at all to imagine that 10 years from now — and to a certain extent in just 5 — the only people who will need desktop-class computing will be those in science, engineering, and the people making software for all of the tablets and smartphones and such.

If even they need such things, since tablets (especially down the road) make perfectly great front-ends for truly powerful computers off in the cloud somewhere.

If I owned stock in either company, I’d sell all it tomorrow.

Submitted as comment by Matthew Frederick on 2011/02/13 at 11:01 pm

I think Microsoft have more strategy than you allow, Matthew. While it seems highly unlikely that they’ll ever reattain the dominance they once had, they remain surprisingly nimble for such a vast company. Nobody expected them to come out with something as good as Windows Phone 7 in so little time, and though it isn’t selling yet it is early days, especially considering that there are two established competitors. This deal will certainly make it seem a lot more credible.

It’s not clear to outsiders yet of course, but elements of an integrated desktop-tablet-phone strategy seem to be materializing out of the mist. On one hand, Microsoft has happily been selling software for tablet devices for almost ten years now. OneNote, which I use every day, is actually available for the iPad. (Free for the time being too.) Widows 7 is by far the best OS available for a more heavy-duty class of tablet orientated towards content creation rather than consumption.

It’s the consumption that the new market is all about though, and here Windows 7 devices, with their greater energy demands, weight, and cost, are obviously at a huge disadvantage. It’s a no-brainer to bring out a version of Win Phone 7 tweaked for bigger screens just like iOS or Android was. Some think that Microsoft don’t want to do that because it will compete with Windows 7 on tablets, but I doubt that’s the case. I think we’ll see it just as soon as MS thinks the time is ripe. That is, when there are things ready to sell on it. The phone will lead the way just as with the others.

Alongside that then is the intriguing appearance of Windows for ARM.¹ Whether there will ever actually be an ARM version or this is just meant to galvanize the energy-efficiency efforts of Intel and AMD, expect full Windows 7 devices with much lower power demands.²

I expect that, like Apple with Lion, they will soon mate the two OSes together to make a class of portable computers that get more flexible as more energy becomes available. Using cloud processing on the move, powerful processors in their own right when plugged in. That would be pretty nice.

  1. A microprocessor family designed for extreme power efficiency, used on the overwhelming majority of phone and tablet devices, as opposed to the more general-purpose x86 family that Windows only runs on now.
  2. What’s the betting they’ll be releasing tools to help software makers port their products from x86 to ARM? Though not before their own apps have had a good head start of course.