Telecom NZ hotspot network points to Wi-Fi future. There’s going to be a lot more Wi-Fi in your future. Telecom NZ’s network of phone box-based hotspots is just one local part of a fast-growing international trend.
This story originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Icon section on 2 April 2002.
The potential smart-phone market is huge. Gartner’s Robin Simpson estimates that between 200,000 and 500,000 hand-held computers are being used in Australia. He says the range is wide because many people own more than one device.
This compares with Phonechoice’s estimate of 11.1 million mobile phones in circulation. (These are 2002 numbers)
Will you still love your personal organiser if your mobile does more? Bill Bennett contemplates a techno-death.
Those shiny new Palm Pilots and Pocket PCs sitting on store shelves may look like the last word in mobile computing. However, a new generation of smart phones is about to arrive that could leave them for dead.
Smart phones combine digital organiser or hand-held computer functions with normal voice telephony in a single compact package. You can manage your address book, organise appointments and record or write memos with them, just like you can with today’s hand-held computers. At the same time you’ll be able to surf the Web, read email and handle instant messaging.
Eventually smart phones will work with a whole range of Internet-delivered applications. Business people will be able to use their phones to send or receive information from company databases or use complex commercial applications. Consumer models will even allow you to download and listen to music or capture pictures and send digital snapshots to friends.
Smart phone hardware is already on the market overseas and selling fast. At the time of writing, a number of manufacturers are preparing models for the Australian market.
The German computer maker Siemens will launch its first Australian smart phone later this month. Siemens’ product manager, Tarquin Swift, says the SX45, which costs $2199, is essentially a Casio Pocket PC with a built-in phone. “We added extra phone functionality to the Pocket PC,” he says.
“For example, you can click on a name in your Outlook contact file and decide to send them an email, an SMS message or call them on the phone.”
Swift says combining a Casio Pocket PC with a phone was the fastest way to get a product to market. The product is not really aimed at home users, though some early adopters will buy it. He says, however: “There is a definite demand from corporate and business customers for this kind of product.”
While the SX45 is far from cheap, it is advanced. Swift says it has a colour screen and can receive streaming video or audio. The SX45 also has a number of built-in multimedia functions and works with multimedia messaging services (MMS) – an advanced version of the SMS found on conventional phones.
Another of the new breed of phones will be the Handspring Treo Communicator which, although based on Palm Pilot technology, looks nothing like the shirt pocket computer. The mono-screen version will sell for $1399 when it is released here next month.
Robin Simpson, research director with Gartner Australasia, says: “Treo brings a new level of usability to phone functions. Handspring has integrated the components very well. There’s a jog wheel and a keyboard for short messaging.” The Treo also has email and a Web browser – which he says is better than the browser on a Palm Pilot.
Simpson says that, strictly speaking, the Treo is not a smart phone – it is more of a mobile phone with a good user interface than a computer. It does point to the future, however.
He thinks it will be popular with SMS users: “People will use it as a messaging tool; SMS will really take off now someone has developed a decent user interface.”
But while the Treo has features that will attract consumers, Simpson says it will also strike a chord with business users. He says: “There’s a strong community of Palm developers in Australia. All of a sudden there’s this strong integrated platform. It is going to be a real boost for the developers and business use is going to spur the uptake of the technology.”
Microsoft is busy trying to sell an alternative smart phone technology. Previously known as Stinger, the device is now called the Windows Powered Smartphone 2002. Like the Pocket PC, it uses a cut-down version of the Windows operating system and links easily to desktop computers and their applications. It also has a colour screen.
Simpson says that, so far, few phone makers have opted to use the Microsoft technology because it requires an expensive software licence but offers few real advantages. Australian consumers may soon be offered a version of the phone, however. “British Telecom is selling a version in the UK that works and we could see something similar from Telstra,” he says.
Hand-held computers were always meant to be mobile communications devices. Almost a decade ago Apple’s marketing for the original Newton PDA showed young professionals sitting in cafes, wirelessly transmitting data to and from each other. The Newton came and went, however, long before that dream became a practical reality.
The problem is that connecting a hand-held computer to the phone network has always been a bit tricky. In general you need to carry a phone and a computer along with something to connect them. It is sometimes possible to use infrared links between the two devices, but an old-fashioned cable is generally more reliable.
Smart phones sidestep these problems by integrating phone and computer hardware. Connecting the devices, however, was only part of the problem. Until recently, most mobile phone networks in Australia could not reliably transfer data at speeds faster than 9.6Kbps. This might be fast enough for dealing with email but browsing the Web is painfully slow, even allowing for the cut-down Web pages used by today’s hand-held devices.
Mobile-connected computing won’t really take off until 3G networks are in place. Hutchinson, which owns the Orange mobile brand, is building Australia’s first 3G network. The service is expected to open for business at the end of the year or early 2003 in east coast metropolitan areas, with other cities to follow. At the time of writing, Telstra and Optus’s 3G plans were unclear.
In theory, 3G networks can run at 2Mbps, though few users will see anything like that. More realistically, users can expect to see a few hundred Kbps.
In the meantime there’s an interim technology known as general packet radio service (GPRS) that sits somewhere between today’s second-generation networks, GSM and 3G. The service has been live for a few months but has yet to be promoted. Like 3G, GPRS is always on, so there’s no waiting to connect to the network. But it is still pretty slow.
Australian carriers say their GPRS networks will operate at 10Kbps per channel. This sounds bad but phones can have multiple channels. In practice, most users will find the service works at about 30Kbps – that’s considerably slower than today’s desktop modems and roughly one-tenth of the practical speed available on 3G. In both cases you can expect to pay for the amount of data traffic rather than the time spent online.
While smart phones look set to replace conventional hand-held computers, they don’t pose much of a threat to mobile phones – especially in business and corporate markets.
Swift says that although you can use the Siemens SX45 as a phone, “most people probably won’t”. He says he expects it to sell as a connected PDA and that most users will probably keep a tiny, minimal-feature mobile for their voice calls. He says that devices such as the SX45 are more likely to replace laptops than anything else.
Simpson takes the argument further, saying that there is definitely a consumer market for converged devices: “The phone market is largely ruled by fashion. There’s a part of the consumer demographic that simply has to have the latest and flashiest phones.” Likewise he thinks the one-unit convenience will appeal to certain groups of people, but not everyone.
Simpson says that for lots of users the current wave of converged devices involve too many compromises to be practical. For example, they have poor battery life, small screens, cramped keyboards or are too big and clumsy. Some have limited functionality. Many of the first generation of devices are difficult to use for ordinary voice calls. But future smart phones may progress past these initial limits and, inevitably, become more affordable.
For the next five years at least, Simpson says, the majority of users will choose to buy a best-of-breed hand-held computer and a best-of-breed mobile phone. The glue that will stick the two devices together is Bluetooth. “That way you can carry a hand-held computer that doesn’t compromise on screen size and a practical phone handset,” he says.
There’s another advantage to this approach. Simpson says that the technology in hand-held computers and mobile phones is changing fast. By using separate devices you can upgrade one without having to upgrade everything.
Smart phones hit the streets
Already on sale in Australia, Kyocera’s QCP 6035 smart phone combines a CDMA phone with a Palm hand-held computer. The $1299 device runs all normal Palm applications and can be used to browse the Internet either through HTML Web pages or WAP. It also has a folding full-size keyboard add-on. Scheduled for Australian release towards the end of this year, Sony Ericsson’s P800 is a multimedia smart phone with a large colour screen, an Internet browser and a built-in digital camera. While the resolution of the camera will not be up to professional photography standards, it will enable you to take pictures while on the move and send them directly to other phones.
The P800 will also function as a pocket organiser and features Bluetooth wireless technology, making it easy to connect the phone to PCs or other devices without the need for cables. Sony Ericsson says that when it arrives, the P800 will probably be priced at the high end of the range.
Like the P800, Nokia’s 9210i Communicator uses the Symbian operating system. This is a development of the technology used in the Psion range of hand-held computers and enables the phones to work with Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents as well as Adobe Acrobat. Organiser information can be synchronised with Microsoft Outlook files on desktop computers.
Priced at $1800, the 9210i Communicator looks like a doll-sized laptop with a tiny keyboard and a colour screen. The phone can handle streaming video and audio as well as Macromedia Flash animations. Nokia is aiming at business users: the phone can run a virtual private network so that people on the move can link to databases securely. The 9210i is expected to arrive in Australia by the middle of the year.
Vodafone executive Juan-Jose Juan was in New Zealand explaining how innovation is about more than just rolling out the latest gadgets.
Vodafone innovation chief: It’s not about gadgets - it turns out improving the user experience is the fastest track to higher productivity.
Telecom NZ 4G starts with 40,000 sim cards. Telecom NZ’s new 4G network got off to a flying start last week with 40,000 sim cards out in the wild on day one.
Android hits 81% smartphone market share, Windows grows. Change is on the way now that four out of every five smartphones shipped in the world are powered by Android.
iPad Mini with Retina display, New Zealand price details. Apple made surprisingly little fuss when it launched the iPad Mini with Retina display. We have the local price details.
Apple stack: A week of working with iOS and OS X. What’s it like to work exclusively with the Apple stack? Thousands do it every day, but is it a wall garden of earthly delight or a prison? I spent last week finding out how it works in practice.
A story I wrote for the NZ Herald’s Project Auckland series on the technology that’s needed to Auckland moving.
It was a busy week with smartphone-related stories dominating the news agenda:
- Top billing goes to 2degrees gets the Google Nexus 5. The carrier may not have a 4G network or HD Voice, but it does have what many are calling the best Android phone on the market. Sadly the price New Zealanders will pay for the Nexus 5 is higher than it sells for overseas.
- How Android disappoints takes a look at why Google’s phone OS is the most popular, but by all accounts the least loved.
- How Vodafone improves call quality with HD Voice. Vodafone upped the competitive ante introducing higher call quality on suitably equipped handsets. You have to hear it to understand what a difference it makes.
- Mako Networks scores huge US deal with Sprint. It’s nice to see plenty of interest in a local company making it big in the USA.
- Apple, Microsoft and other Rockstars sue Google, Android phone makers – what does it mean for us? Another patent battle looms and the implications could be far-reaching.
Seven things I learned at IITP 2013. The summary of this year’s Institute of IT Professionals’ 2013 Conference was first published last weekend and was popular enough to qualify for the previous week’s top stories as well as heading this week’s list. If you missed the conference, it’s a quick wrap of the sessions that made the most impression.
NZ iPhone 5S plans compared. Vodafone and Telecom NZ now sell Apple’s new flagship phone. You can pay between $1050 and $1450 to buy a phone outright or you can pay less and get it as part of a plan. Here’s a list making it easy to compare your options.
Making sense of the 700 MHz spectrum auction. New Zealand’s 700 MHz spectrum auction turned out more interesting that expected. It also threw up some curly questions.
Pages update means better, free OS X writing tool. Some users don’t like Apple’s updated word processor, but for those of us who prefer simplicity, it’s a big improvement.
Telecom NZ data use up and the case for trans-Tasman cable. Video streaming took off with the America’s Cup boosting data consumption. Meanwhile Telecom NZ has figures showing New Zealand’s internet centre of gravity is moving from the USA to Australia and Asia.
There’s a different story with the tablet’s software. Scan the news feeds and you’ll find Windows RT 8.1 comes in for almost as much criticism as the original Windows RT.
Is this justified?
Windows 8.1 RT is a small update on the operating system that shipped with the original Surface RT tablet. For most of the time it looks and behaves exactly the same as Microsoft’s desktop operating system: Windows 8.1.
Windows 8.1 RT perceptions
This is where problems begin, because Windows 8.1 RT can’t do all the things that a desktop operating system can. More precisely, it can’t run full Windows applications. That means users are locked out of the Windows apps they’ve used in the past. It also means they no longer have millions to choose from.
You can’t run Photoshop or install the Chrome browser as an alternative to Internet Explorer. You can’t run some cloud services that have Windows clients.
On the other hand you can run any of the apps in the Windows Store. Some of the traditional Windows apps come in Windows Store versions for RT, but many don’t. It would pay to look at the store to check it meets your needs before plonking down cash for Surface 2.
The wrong Windows?
Microsoft has a product for people who want to run Windows apps on a tablet. It’s called the Surface Pro 2 – prices start at $1300, roughly twice the price of a Windows RT tablet.
At least part of Windows RT’s problem is confusion about the difference between the two product ranges. Given that the OS looks like Windows and acts like Windows, people expect it to do everything full-blown Windows can.
This is essentially a marketing and perception problem for Microsoft. It doesn’t help that the flip-side of the logic could be framed as ‘you pay less money and get an inferior experience’.
How Apple deals with this
You could ask yourself why Apple doesn’t face exactly the same problem. The iPad’s operating system is equally limited when compared to the Mac’s operating system.
There’s a clue in the names. Apple calls its tablet OS iOS, while the desktop OS is called OS X. If Apple had launched iPads with OS X RT, it may have run into similar problems.
Which brings up to an interesting point. How does Windows 8.1 RT compare with iOS 7?
It’s certainly a different experience. You may find cast iron reasons why you consider one better than the other, but most of that is a matter of taste and need.
Where Office fits
Windows 8.1 RT comes with plenty of software. There’s a version of Microsoft Office which looks and behaves just like the desktop version. Not so long ago, you’d pay more for a single copy of Office than you pay now for a Surface 2 with the software installed.
Office works with Skydrive, so you can work with files on the move, then make changes to the same documents from a desktop computer later. Or on a smartphone. The new version of RT comes with a full copy of Outlook, an important productivity tool for companies committed to Microsoft’s technology stack.
Overall Microsoft Windows 8.1 RT works well. I found the touch controls in Windows 8 were clunky and awkward on a desktop, on a 10-inch screen they make perfect sense. Everything is well signposted with big clear buttons to tap and lots of navigation help.
There’s a cognitive leap you have to make – particularly if you’ve used other tablets – because many screens are quite minimal. This keeps things tidy and uncluttered. What isn’t immediately obvious is that there are screens and menus behind these screens which you get at through swipe gestures from the edge of the display.
Once you grasp this, you’ll find Windows 8.1 RT can be as productive as any tablet. Possibly more so. I wouldn’t describe it as intuitive. I would say that finding your way around isn’t hard.
Multi-tasking is much improved over the original Windows 8 RT. It’s now practical to have two windows open at the same time, making it easier for tasks such as cutting and pasting between apps.
Where’s the desktop?
Long-time Windows 8 users will notice there’s no desktop button on the 8.1 RT start page. That’s because you mainly don’t need to go there. However, the one aspect of Windows 8.1 RT I dislike most is that the Office apps all work on the desktop. So there’s a jarring transition between what was formerly known as the Metro interface and the old-school Windows desktop when you switch to Office.
Personally, I would have been happier if Microsoft had created Metro-style versions of the Office apps. I don’t know whether the company chose not to to maintain full compatibility with the desktop version or whether Microsoft just hasn’t got around to modernising the apps yet. Either way, this discontinuity is annoying.
So to answer my original question, is the media criticism of Windows 8.1 RT justified? We certainly need to stay critical but some of the negativity is overstated.
Work needed on sales and marketing
Microsoft and the people in retail stores selling the Surface 2 could do a better job of managing customer expectations. I heard a sales person, wrongly, tell a customer an earlier RT device had a full copy of Windows. That really doesn’t help. More retail training and clearer advertising may help.
The switch to desktop when using Office is not enough to dismiss the OS. For people who don’t need powerful desktop apps like Photoshop – let’s face it, that means most people – a Surface 2 tablet will be all the computer they need. RT’s limitations are not such a big deal for 90 percent of the population.