Sunday, December 28, 2008

Thoughts regarding: The Blackberry Storm

I get asked my opinion on this handset a lot, so its probably due time I write something about it.

To be perfectly frank, I don't understand the reason for the Storm. RIM caters to a specific crowd of users who have stuck with them because they prefer the Blackberry platform. Clearly, touchscreens aren't particularly important to these users- Despite the endless models of touchscreen devices being released all around them, Blackberry users have remained glued to their trusty RIM handsets.
Because touchscreen or not, when it comes to messaging, blackberrys work well. Period.
They may not have the best multimedia options, or support mind blowing 3rd party applications, or even have many interesting features at all... but that's not why people buy Blackberrys. They buy them because they are a great email and messaging device. They are intuitive and straight forward and offer features like corporate email without getting too complicated.

Consumers who want fancy multimedia, games, and shtick are not looking at Blackberrys. They're looking at iPhones.
Consumers who want the most powerful and versatile devices in the world aren't looking at Blackberrys either. They generally prefer the more adaptive yet exponentially more complicated Smartphone platforms such as Windows Mobile, Android, or Symbian.
People buy Blackberrys when they want a no nonsense handset that consistently delivers a professional experience. This is where the Storm fails.

RIM, if you're reading this, why are you trying to fix something that ain't broke?
As I've blogged before, touchscreens are fun and gimmicky, but very often can't compare to good ol' fashioned buttons.

They're clearly trying to break out of their professional-oriented mold, and reach out to the people who are looking into other devices.
However, all it takes is a few moments with this device to realize their lack of experience is showing. It doesn't even approach the feature set and fluidity of competing products.
Meanwhile, they ruined almost all the things that make Blackberry great. They ditched their keyboard (something that was fantastic on almost every blackberry), and re-wrote their OS to be touch-sensitive and "fun".
The problem is that since this is their first foray into the world of Touchscreens, the new OS is buggy as all heck. Users have been reporting that the device doesn't always respond as expected (screen reorient to landscape didn't flip keyboard when I tried to type in landscape mode. I was stuck with a sideways keyboard).
Additionally, the big selling point, the "press-and-click" touchscreen, creates a very counter-intuitive user experience in my opinion. While playing with one, I found that pressing a letter on the keyboard only highlighted the area. In order to actually enter that letter, one must give an additional push downward to make the whole screen click like a button. Cute, but not practical. Sometimes you feel like you're typing because it is reacting to your keypresses, but unless you "click" as well, no text is being entered. Additionally, some things work without clicking (such as finger scrolling through menus), and other times a click is required (pressing a button).

All in all, it wasn't the WORST device I've ever used (the Moto Q still holds that crown), however it was dissapointing for a Blackberry. Its the sort of device someone could probably get used to, and learn the ins and outs over time, however people buy Blackberrys because they are not supposed to have learning curves. If you want to learn the ins and outs, you may as well buy a more capable smartphone, such as a Windows Mobile device.

So in the end of the day, what do we end up with? A Blackberry messaging device without a keyboard that pales in comparison to other touchscreen phones, AND to previous Blackberrys. A true Jack of all trades, but master of none.

The proof is in the users... a friend who works in a Verizon store told me that the Storm is the most returned handset on Verizon currently in his store, with new users showing buyers' remorse at an alarming rate.

Can RIM fix the Storm? Perhaps in the next version. But why? Why is this worth doing when there are plenty of touchscreen devices that offer the same push email experience and sync, but do a better job and have more features?

My personal opinion is that RIM should drop the storm, and go back to focusing on what makes their handsets great. Maybe they should work on fixing that firmware issue in the Bold...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sprint + Android = Ok, fiiine. Soon.

Well, Dan Hesse's arguments about Android not being ready for Sprint became quite the controversial topic.

I should have posted this earlier, but Sprint is now announcing plans to adopt an Android handset in the near future, as was always expected. Apparently, Dan's comments meant to illustrate that they were watching and gauging T-mobile's success with it before pulling the trigger themselves.

In fact, at Sprint's mobile developer conference last week, Google's VP of mobile technology, Rich Miner, was a keynote speaker.
So, it would appear that Sprint never turned their back on Android, as was speculated. They just decided to play it safe.

Given their current economic status, perhaps that was a smart move. Here's to hoping something turns up soon (HTC Pegassi, anyone?).

Monday, December 08, 2008

2G, 2.5G, 2.75G... isn't 2G DEAD?!

Most people know that 3G means faster than 2G.
The standard school of thought is that the older 2G data networks will give you roughly the speed of a dial-up modem, whereas the modern 3G can rival some broadband connections.
What people seem to forget is that we're not actually referring to the speed of the network, but rather the generation (hence the G) of technology.

This is why the latest news from Nokia Siemens Networks might seem puzzling to some:
"Nokia Siemens Networks has made the world's first Downlink Dual Carrier EDGE end-to-end call with mobile devices ... that can double data speeds to 592 kbps on existing EDGE-capable GSM networks, providing a user experience that is akin to 3G."

I'll bet many who read this are scratching their heads and saying "Isn't EDGE/2G dead?", I mean, why else would we have made such a stink about the original iPhone being only EDGE in a world of broadband data devices?

The problem is that many people equate EDGE, 2G, and Dial Up data speeds, and that is not necessarily true.
Anyone remember GPRS? It was the GSM data network that predated EDGE. It was the first data network to use packet-switching on a cellular connection, which meant data and voice were separate. The original 2G data was NOT packet-switched, and therefore data sessions exists as a phone call (you would "dial up" the Internet as a phone call much like a home dial up modem, and your line would be in use during the session, often using your cellular minutes), not to mention data speeds averaged around 9.6kpbs or a theoretical 14.4. Meanwhile, GPRS was able to rival dial-up modems, and reach speeds of 60kbps.

Before GPRS was around, the next (3rd) generation of cellular network was being planned, and hoped to offer higher data rates and packet switching, among other features. So when GPRS came around and offered packet switching on the current network without any major overhaul of the equipment, some people wanted to call it 2.5G. This was never an official term, and so it remained "2G" since the 3rd generation technology was almost ready to come out.

Then there was EDGE.
EDGE was supposed to further bridge the gap between 2G and 3G by offering 4x the data speed of GPRS (reaching a theoretical speed of over 240kpbs, although real-world use averages around 150kbps), once again without a complete overhaul of the network as the next generation 3G would require. Some people wanted to call this 2.5G, and those who referred to GPRS as 2.5G wanted to call it 2.75G, and the whole name game became a real mess.
Therefore, no new names were adopted, and the title remained 2G for all of these technologies since it still existed on the second generation network.

Now, Nokia Siemens is offering a theoretical 590kbps for towers using EDGE with little more than a software update. With the low end of 3G data averaging around 500kpbs, this seems to bring 2G hardware into almost the same ballpark as far as data transmission speeds!

This is sure to confuse the general public, not to mention it begs the question of what to refer to this as- 2.875G?

I'm laying claim to that title. If this tech becomes mainstreamed, I'm going to call it 2.875G, and think you all should too!

I wrote the following for first. I decided to go all Dave Barry at the end with a mock conversation. Well, I thought it was kind of funny... Hope you enjoy. -Mordy

Sprint adI’ve seen this ad all over the internet lately, and its really been bugging me (click image to view full size).

In it, Sprint claims that with their new Samsung Rant, I’ll be able to “Experience texting at 3G speed.”

Can someone please explain this one to me?

Maybe I’m missing something here, but doesn’t Text Messaging get ZERO benefit from 3G data?

Texting (or the more technical term, SMS) was created as a way to embed short messages of up to 160 characters into the same networks used to carry digital voice.

3G Data came much later, and was created to offer high-speed internet access. It actually works using a separate (but parallel) technology to the voice network.

This is why SMS rates and cellular data rates are usually kept separate when billing. (Side note: Sometimes when roaming or in spotty coverage areas, one may find the data network does not work, however SMS works fine wherever you have voice coverage.)

Everytime I see this ad, I wonder who thought this was a good idea for a catch phrase. Then, I wonder who at Sprint gave the OK for it. Does anyone in the marketing team know how their phones work?

I actually picture the conversation going something like this:

Marketing rep #1: “Ok, how should we advertise the Samsung Rant?”

Marketing rep #2: “Hey, isn’t that the one that’s replacing the LG Rumor as our flagship texting phone?”

Marketing rep #1: “Yup.”

Marketing rep #2: “Ok, so how about : If you liked the LG Rumor, you’ll LOVE the Samsung Rant.”

Marketing rep #1: “No, people hated the Rumor, look at the blogs. We gotta compare it to something the public LOVES”

Marketing rep #2: “You mean like the iPhone 3G?”

Marketing rep #1 (cringing): “Yes. Like the iPhone 3G. In fact, suddenly people who don’t even know what 3G means are jumping to replace their 2G iPhones for it.”

Marketing rep #2: “Ok, so how about we mention 3G and Texting on a keyboard in one sentence? Experience texting at 3G speeds!”

Marketing rep #1: “I love it!”

Marketing rep #3: “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Marketing rep #1: “Quiet you, when did you even get here? Look, we had another terrible 3rd quarter net loss, and we need some positive results. If it means we have to market ourselves to ignorant people, so be it.”

Marketing rep #3: “But its idiotic.”

Marketing rep #1: “I don’t recall asking you. Let’s print it!”

Marketing rep #2 (beaming): “Already sent.”

Marketing rep #3: “Well, there go our jobs…”

Well, something like that, probably.

Honestly, I love Sprint, and they’re still my favorite underdog carrier. But I couldn’t resist commenting on this ad- I see it everywhere.

Well, I guess it works. Here I am discussing the Samsung Rant to the public, and I may actually have to try it out. Why? Well, I quite honestly can say I’ve never experienced texting at 3G speeds, and I’d like to see what it is like.

Until next time…