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Spillikins #71. Motorola again on the rise, or the legend returns
It is my first vacation this year, which makes the consciousness waft into lazy drowsiness and many events appear as if through a prism of isolation away from their epicenter. I somehow missed a day throughout the week and thought of last Sunday as June 12, whereas it was June 13 indeed. Parcels sent to the hotel are crowding in the closet; got my hands on a couple of phones only, even that did inertly, just because had to take a look at them. In contrast to Russia, DHL works here and quite decently, the way it was in our domain not so long ago. Every now and then I have to fight getting down to trivia, discussing roaming and other holiday related groaning. But I pull myself together to get back on the usual Spillikins track and will start with biggest announcement of the last week.
To be honest, there were quite a few, but some of them look like a bad joke. For example, LG decided to draw some extra attention by proclaiming to release 20 smartphones to the market in 2010. What personally I make out of this is that the company is going to add 20 more models to the existing five. But even if it's just 15 more, it's going to be a huge number. Unfortunately, there's no trusting those words, since the company already promised to have released 50 Windows Mobile smartphones by the year 2012 back in February 2009. With the kind of pace the company exhibits today, it will have to produce this amount during 2011, which is practically impossible. Therefore one should take all those words as PR. Rather unsuccessful, I should admit. On the other hand, I did write about the company here, some others spread the news, so it must be worth something. The Android theme is actually quite popular in Korea; just take a look at the ad, there's something peculiar about it there.
Last week's another central theme is the iPhone 4 announcement. A solid product with features improved on all fronts, this one will be an interesting and obviously popular model.
However, what made me recall this product is an ongoing discussion about the Retina display, which some call a marketing gem, whereas some are not convinced about its characteristics Ц in a word, all the polemics out there. It is Apple's classic PR style: to let people knock their heads over the features, argue heavily about who's right and who's wrong. This benefits the product and its sales. In my opinion, the display is good, but nothing beyond that. This is casual for Apple; just remember that the iPhone 3Gs screen has been inferior to that in many other models for the last year, which however had no impact on the sales. It's the set of features that people are buying, not the display alone. Hence one need not fight over whose screen is better. The display has to be on an average level entertained in the industry to date. If it's better Ц that's good, while nothing terrible could happen if it were just on a generally accepted level. The screen in the iPhone 4 is slightly above today's average level and typical for the early 2011. In a sense, it's good and there's no point arguing about that.
While on vacation, I'm working on the history of the Apple iPhone, prehistory of development of a phone from Apple, and pretty much in the iPhone 4 presentation resembles me of the year 2007. Back then, on September 7, Steve Jobs was showing the iPod Nano, and at some point he was talking about its excellent display Ц i.e. 2 inches, QVGA resolution. Doesn't this remind you of something? Time flows by, but the techniques employed are still the same since they are working. You can skip to 2.32 minutes in the video to see that moment.
A few days after the iPhone 4 announcement there appeared a note in Korea Herald claiming that according to a Samsung employee the Retina screen is not the best display on the market, the position retained by SUPER Amoled. There were made reasonable arguments that the human eye is not able to see the difference in the picture between 300 and 400 ppi there. It was also stated that the Retina screen is sharper than the one in Samsung S by 3-6 percentage points while its energy consumption is higher by one-third. In addition, the smaller screen diagonal is mentioned. On the whole, it is somewhat of a take on Apple. By the weekend, there appeared a note in another Korean paper, according to which all Samsung employees had received a letter that prohibits giving comments on the Retina display and its comparison to the Super AMOLED. Quite a sound response.
Finally, I can't but mention a hogwash pulled by the mass media (just can't put in other terms) about Yahoo! leaving the search market. Somehow, most publications say that the agreement between Yahoo! and Microsoft will lead Bing to becoming world's second search engine after Google but never overtaking it. In the meantime, Yahoo! lays all its claims on being a search giant aside. As far as I remember the history of this portal, it has never invested money into search nor considered that to be its priority. Several years ago while reading a book about the history of Google I found it amusing that the forefathers of the biggest search engine had been asking Altavista, Yahoo! and other giants of those days for money. The words, with which journalists are buzzing nowadays about Yahoo! becoming a media resource, information and entertainment portal, appear somewhat outdated. The company owns Flikr, a series of news resources, and it is number one in the mail business, since Yahoo! Mail is an indisputable leader these days and Gmail is trying to catch up only. Therefore, the discussion about the transformation of Yahoo! is information that is a few years old; the portal has been transformed and has become an informational and entertainment one already. That is, not everything that publications are writing about is something that is to happen; sometimes it is something that has happened, which can't be seen behind some "big" news or attempts to fit the reality into one's personal world.
I'm having a deja vu: it seems like the phone market has freed itself of the competition in who has more megapixels and is therefore "better." However, a certain category of people are always in need of a clear and comprehensible reference point. The latter has found its embodiment in the phone processor clock frequency again. The more the better. No paying attention to the real performance of such solutions, capabilities of the graphics accelerator and other "nuisances". A really funny story happened during the week. Motorola decided to launch the MOTOROI model in Europe, whose index for the European countries is XT720. At the time of the announcement, a hot debate about the processor clock frequency took place, in particular some data for comparison with the Milestone were presented Ц i.e. 550 MHz and 256 MB of RAM. I was asked about that several times, both on the forum and via e-mail, and upon replying that the clock frequency in the XT720 is 720 MHz and RAM size is 512 MB, the response was "Thank you for the comforting, I am taking this device for sure now." I never continued the correspondence and am frankly astonished by such implicit faith in megahertz's and other seeming figures. Perhaps, one should look at what a device constitutes a self, its set of characteristics, how it works, after all.
The XT720 model is obviously a successful one, it is the first Android smartphone with a xenon flash, and it has an 8-megapixel camera. We were shown some sample images made in the ideal conditions by the European Motorola, they don't look gorgeous, and hence we'll have to see how the camera works in the real conditions. For now, one shouldn't expect it to be a photo solution. On the whole, both as it was in the past with Windows Mobile and is to date with Android, cameras and photo are not the strongest sides. Why? Perhaps, the particular companies don't have time for that, whereas Nokia provides such solutions for S60, LG and Samsung make those for their devices (the top for S60 was Samsung HD, but from now on such models are based on Bada, not yet official). Apple bets on the camera in iPhone 4, has improved its characteristics. It still is questionable to what extent, but they did it. We will test it and let you know about that. Meanwhile, here are some official photos from the XT720:
There has appeared an ad for this model already; it somehow resembles the U.S. DROID ad, uses the same technological motives.
Not to repeat myself, I will refer you to Artem's impressions of this device:
However, let's return to the clock frequency and how it miraculously affects some people. After the British announcement of the XT720, Sanjay Jha, the Motorola CEO, told Reuters that "Droid sales are going extremely well." From the company partners' reports and device shipments outside the U.S. one may infer that they are even better than that. The company is experiencing a huge deficit of the model, which it can't address, it simply lacks components. Exactly the same is true for select HTC products, which is a tell-tale sign of the popularity of Android that is growing over time. One can also implicitly deduce who can meet the demand for the like models. The answer is obvious Ц i.e. Samsung with its launch of a handful of devices from the Galaxy family. For instance, the Galaxy S, as the flagship model is well known to us, the prices for the device are going to be steep. Yet the Galaxy Apollo will be announced at the end of June and its merit is in its price, which will be very competitive for the class (the product is far from being extra cheap). Meanwhile, the Android market is not overcrowded; the demand is several times higher than the supply.
Let's get back to Sanjay Jha; not only did he manage to point out the Droid sales but also initiated a discussion galore having said that the company was planning to raise the bar in smartphone performance at the Executives Club meeting in Chicago, in particular that they needed a processor with a clock frequency of 2 GHz and that such device would make its appearance on the market by the end of the year. Motorola has plans to include all existing technologies in its devices. After the speech by the Motorola CEO, with a reference to an unknown Motorola top manager the Conceivably Tech publication describes the functionality of such devices Ц i.e. a gyroscope, camera with more than 5 megapixels, HDMI-out, Flash 10.1 support (which automatically implies Android version 2.2 or higher; my bet is 3.0). In addition, the solution includes the Nvidia Tegra graphics accelerator. It is literally a technology enthusiast's dreams come true. A device stuffed with technology to the fullest extent. I hope that there won't be any delays as well as that one won't need a backpack of batteries to power up that marvel.
Unfortunately, Motorola is focused on the North American market; due to the deficit, it lacks models for the rest of the world. Therefore one should expect that the devices appearing in the U.S. be available in other countries after some delay. I hope that the length of the delay will be decreasing with each consecutive model. In particular, DROID2 (the update to the DROID and Milestone, respectively) is to be released for sale at the end of this summer in the U.S. According to rumors, it has Android 2.1 but the latest version of Motoblur, 8 GB of inbuilt memory, and the processor and amount of RAM are equal to those of the XT720. In addition, there is an HTMI-out and the keyboard is changed there.
There will also be a version without the keyboard available Ц it is called Droid X (an 8-megapixel camera and several other differences, though). According to various sources, the models should be announced this week.
I repent of my not resisting this. Anyhow, while reading the Nokia Conversation blog, I couldn't but think that the fellows hadn't missed the opportunity to say that they are the first. According to this note, Scott Forstall from Apple said the sacramental "It's all about connecting people" in the iPhone 4 promo video. I would like to remind you that Connecting People is Nokia's registered slogan.
Knowing how thorough Apple is about preparing its presentations, it is hard to believe that is a "mistake." I don't like conspiracy theories but in this case Apple obviously wanted to irritate Nokia employees to force them to react in the public. It was worked out and handed over simply too smooth. And the reaction did follow, as we can see. In general, there are very expressive people working in Nokia conversation; every now and then they are losing kids or seeing evil intent in Apple's presentation. However, take a look at the iPhone 4 promo clip by yourself; can you see it? Does it get into your eye so easily?
Yet that is really nothing compared to the revolution readied by Apple in deed and not in name. The one it has not yet pompously announced, as the spreading of the devices is awaited for. The new iPhone 4 has a function of video calls to another unit of its kind using the Wi-Fi connection; it's called FaceTime. No big deal, since video calls in cellular networks have been available for a while yet not quite popular. Nokia oriented websites have been prolific with sarcastic notes about how that functionality has been around for at least three years or even more than that. The problem is that video calls in third-generation networks are not popular. This is due to the fact that they need to be paid for whereas the quality leaves much to be desired and the network bandwidth is not that high.
Apple has found an elegant solution for the problem. The video goes through the Wi-Fi connection; you can either use the front low-res camera or switch to the main one that allows for a decent picture. The data transmission is free of charge, i.e. you are not paying for the traffic. Only voice connection is paid for. In most countries throughout the world, operator restrictions are alleviated in an elegant way; while earlier you would need fast mobile Internet and a 3G network, with FaceTime you need the coverage only as well Wi-Fi access at home or at work. On the other side they should have Wi-Fi, too. This is something underappreciated by most but that will become extremely popular. I think that we will hear victorious chimes from Apple in the nearest future. For me, it is also an example of how to overcome operator restrictions if one is not oriented at their demands and capabilities. This is something that other players couldn't do on the market but Apple managed to.
In 2010, Nokia discards its old model classification system and incorporates an updated version of it. All phones are divided into 5 series, each having an index. For instance, the C, mass series, includes both ultra-budget and expensive models. Business models have indices 5 through 7 that reflect their prices. Following the same logic, top smartphones based on Symbian or MeeGo get indices 8 or 9 as well as the N prefix.
As one can see from the scheme, all entry level models have indices 1 through 2. For example, C1, C2. Taking into account the fact that the amount of models in each index is high, they will be called C1-00, C1-01, C1-02, etc. for about a year. These are separate models that don't have anything in common; the starting index C1 is an indication of their lineup position and price.
For example, the C2 index is reserved for DUAL-SIM phones only, which reflects the company's intent to restrict this segment and such product type to a single price range (this holds true for the 2010-2011 years, the introduction of such phones in other segments is possible at a later date Ц based on Nokia merchant trainings in Moscow as of June 2010).
This kind of approach is somehow similar to the one used in the automotive industry when a company produces identical cars with the same indices but different design and year of issue. I'm not sure if the same approach will work out for phones as their update rates are higher. On the downside, the new system results in some mess right away, it is hard to navigate though the models.
Let's take a look at each of the series:
Nokia C7 is the flagship of the C lineup; its pictures have appeared on the Web accidentally. I'm sure it is not the last leak in this month, since Nokia doesn't withhold information for long, the company is transparent and clear in this respect, and anything becomes public in the shortest terms. That is, following the classification, we have a senior model, the flagship of the C-series. What is so notable about the device, take a look at the design and tell me what it reminds of, try not to think hard and take the answer off the top of your head.
I find resemblance to the Samsung products, albeit the rear side is obviously Nokia style. I don't know for sure, but this might be due to the fact that the main R&D efforts for such models have been shifted from Nokia to Foxcon. In terms of functionality, it is this year's typical product Ц i.e. a standard Nokia screen on S60, 3.5-inch diagonal, 8-megapixel camera with HD motion video capture, Symbian^3 inside. Except for the last point, it is not different from the Sony Ericsson Vivaz, which is already selling and quite well known. The starting price for the model, to be available in Q4, can be EUR 250-270. By that time, the price of Vivaz will go down even more; hence who may need C7 in such case remains a mystery to me. However, taking into account the way Nokia updates the prices it can happen so that the C7 price will be dropped below the Vivaz level, and significantly; this would be a completely different story then. It is the price that Nokia will be fighting for the market with. Unfortunately, the company has no other methods left.
In this issue, I should have probably included a few words about the Android Corby from Samsung that will appear in Europe soon and has a very interesting starting price of EUR 200. It would have been a very lengthy issue then; those interested can look up the device description in our news. I would like to point out that this is not a key model; there are other devices on the horizon.
Not to repeat myself about what kind of question this is and why it has this number, you can familiarize yourselves with the background right here.
This week's question:
You didn't have time to answer my first question but I hope this message will have more luck and you will be able to provide comments for our readers.
In China, OVI Comes with Music is launched DRM-free. In Russia, this service is provided with copy protection. Is it true that the company is planning to switch to the DRM-free version of the service in Russia and Europe in the late 2010 or early 2011? Thank you in advance for the comments.
Editor in Chief, Mobile-Review.com
P.S. Vacation is a gracious time when one can try to write up materials about the history of this or that phone; I have such stories about the iPhone and introduction of dual-SIM phones in progress. I hope to finish the first one for your pleasure during the week. Have a good week, rest more and bring joy to those around you. Good luck.
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Published 15 June 2010
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