Tablets: all about Wi-Fi, not cellular

Wi-Fi-only tablets outnumber cellular connected models by roughly 10-to-1.

We can argue about the exact ratio. The graph above shows data collected by US-based analyst Chetan Sharma up to the end of 2011. It shows a slight movement from Wi-Fi-only to 3G connected models – a trend which may have accelerated since then. And Sharma’s numbers are American – things may be a little different here in New Zealand.

While America has proportionately more free public access Wi-Fi hotspots than New Zealand, I suspect the overall pattern here is much the same.

Wi-Fi in all the right places

It makes sense. Most connected homes now have Wi-Fi, so do many offices. When you’re out and about there are plenty of coffee shops offering free or low-cost wireless connections.

Mobile data is great for smartphones. Most people use their phones while on the move and have the devices permanently switched on. Tablets are mainly used intermittently, for most of us the benefits of a 3G – hopefully soon a 4G – cellular connection are not as compelling.

Big savings from Wi-Fi only

It costs about NZ$200 more to buy a 3G-equipped Apple iPad than one with just Wi-Fi. In the case of today’s bottom-of-the-range model that’s a premium of more than 30%. Add to that the cost of feeding its Sim card and the sheer administrative hassle of dealing with an extra mobile account. This all adds up to a lot more cost for not much gain.

Most of us carry a mobile phone where-ever we go. At a guess I’d say for almost every tablet owner, that phone will be a smartphone.

Smartphones can easily act as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot. So on the rare occasion when you find yourself needing a tablet connection and there’s no handy coffee shop, you can link your tablet to the internet using your phone. this is simple.

It may cost you extra to do this in the US, here in New Zealand there’s no extra charge. You will need to pay for the data consumed by your phone, but there’s no need for an extra Sim card or mobile account.

So, unless you have a specific need for 3G, buy a Wi-Fi only tablet and put the money you save towards a better smartphone.

NZ mobile wallet edges closer

Smartphones loaded with electronic versions of travel cards, bank cards and telephone prepayment credits were on show yesterday at the Thales test laboratory in central Auckland yesterday.

Auckland Transport, Telecom NZ and Westpac Bank were on hand to demonstrate how New Zealanders will soon be able to pay for ferry and bus rides by waving a suitably equipped phone in front of a terminal. The equipment has already been installed at Auckland ferry wharves and key railway stations, Field trials are now underway.

Cautious approach

While Telecom NZ says the smartphone travel card could start operating early next year, the partners are taking a cautious approach to its wider roll-out.

That’s sensible because there are issues to fix first. Mobile wallets depend on near field communications (NFC) technology – that’s a tiny transmitter chip inside the phone. Only the latest phones have NFC, but there are different flavours of NFC and competing standards to link mobile phone software to the chips.

And just to make things difficult, Apple hasn’t built NFC into its iPhone 5 – although I understand there’s a workaround for that. There are also non-NFC alternatives some simply use the mobile data network while Snapper and 2degrees are pushing something called Touch2Pay. That’s going to find it harder to get traction in Auckland than a system linked to public transport.

One mobile wallet to rule them all

Telecom NZ is working with Vodafone and 2degrees as well as with New Zealand’s banks to develop mobile wallet technology.

Eventually we’ll use phones to pay for everything, but NFC is not just about payments. Speaking at the demonstration Telecom NZ’s Roxanne Salton said the technology will replace all the other cards we now carry, such as coffee loyalty cards and library cards.

Goodbye Polar Bear Farm

Computerworld has a front page story about iPhone app developer Layton Duncan planning to move his Polar Bear Farm business from Christchurch. That piece isn’t online yet, but Toby Manhire had an earlier story on this at The Listener.

No-one can blame Duncan for wanting to up sticks. The last two years of earthquakes would test the patience of a saint.

The authorities running the show in Christchurch seem clueless. We can all sympathise with Duncan’s frustrations.

What concerns me most and what should worry other New Zealanders is Duncan hasn’t chosen to set up shop in Wellington, Auckland or anywhere else in this country. He has chosen Melbourne in Australia.

I hope someone in government has asked Duncan why he chose to move overseas.

If it was just one person making a trans-Tasman move, it would be a pity. But it isn’t, we’re looking at an entire generation. That’s not a pity, it is a tragedy.

Smartphones fail basic calendar task

Three mobile phones, three operating systems and an Apple iPad. None can quickly turn an emailed meeting request into a calendar entry shared across all my devices.

A colleague sent an email meeting invitation. I received it on the Nokia Lumia 800. The phone uses Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5 operating system.

The message opened in mail. I could read the meeting request, but there was no way to move it to the phone’s calendar. When opened the attachment, the phone told me there “is no associated application”.

My first reaction was to view this as a Windows Phone problem. It turns out, this is a smartphone problem.

The email app on the HTC One X phone using Android version 4.0 couldn’t open the attachment, nor could the one on my older HTC Sensation. Viewing the email in Gmail using the browser on either phone doesn’t make any difference.

My iPad uses the same software as an iPhone, so I’m guessing here, possibly incorrectly, that the experience would be the same. The iPad recognises invite.ics is a calendar invitation and even opens the iOS calendar app. However, if I choose to accept the invitation, I get a message saying my response to the invitation cannot be sent.

I had to wait until I made it to my desktop Windows PC, to open the file and send the invitation to Google Calendar. Interestingly, it synced the details back to the Windows Phone and Android calendars without a hitch.

 

HTC One X – Android’s latest champion


HTC’s One X is the company’s new flagship Android phone and arguably the current top Android handset. It could even be the best smartphone on the market full stop.

Review

On paper smartphones don’t come any better than this. HTC’s One X has a great screen, powerful processor, a better than average camera and some decent software.

The HTC One X is a good phone, but not perfect. The phone is let down by battery life and software weak spots. Despite this, it remains the phone every other maker will try to beat this season.

Here are my first impressions:

HTC’s One X gorgeous big screen is unmissable the moment you open the box. Although large, the display doesn’t get in the way because the phone is slimmer and lighter than alternatives. The screen is 4.7 inches or around 120mm, but the phone is just 8.9mm thick and weighs just 130g.

In practice it takes up about as much pocket or bag room as any other smartphone.

Great display

The screen isn’t just large; it has 720 by 1280 pixels which means 312 dots per inch. That is marginally lower resolution than the Retina display on Apple iPhones, but for my money this is a far better arrangement. It makes for beautiful still or video images and crystal clear text.

While the HTC One X display beats everything else on paper, the proof is in the pudding: I’ve yet to see a better smartphone display. The contrast is fantastic and this is the first phone where working on word processor or spreadsheet documents is anything other than a chore. It is particularly good for reading.

Two cameras

HTC includes front and back cameras. The 8MP rear camera has a high quality lens which makes for better low-light pictures and can handle HD video recording. Video chat is also practical on this phone.

Having a handsome screen would count for nothing if the phone’s processor wasn’t up to the job of driving all those pixels. There’s a 1.5GHz quad-core processor which provides all the power needed to run the graphics, in fact it can handle multi-tasking.

Performance

The performance is close to the best on any smartphone anywhere, however, there is a high price to pay for the grunty processor and the peacock graphics: battery life is dismal. I’ve yet to get through an entire day without needing a recharge – and keep in mind this is a review phone, when I leave the house I take my normal smartphone with me as well.

Update: Telecom is selling the phone for NZ$900 outright at the moment, but says the official price is $1000. That’s a lot of money for a phone, but you get a lot of phone in return.