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Mobile broadband downloads and uploads are now faster on Vodafone’s 3 network than on Telecom or 2degrees. That’s the verdict of 3G testing by Truenet which compared speeds at a series of locations in central Auckland and Wellington.

The tests show that Vodafone’s 3G network was lagging its competitors at the end of 2012. By the last quarter of 2013, it was significantly ahead with average mobile download speeds running at almost 4Mbps in Wellington and 4.5Mbps in Auckland.

While Vodafone’s speeds improved, average download speeds on Telecom’s 3G network were slower in both Auckland and Wellington. 2degrees managed a small improvement.

In Wellington, TrueNet said Telecom’s download speeds worsened slightly from the fourth quarter of 2012 to the fourth quarter of 2013.

There’s a vast difference between advertised download speeds on 3G network and what happens in everyday use. One reason for this is the available bandwidth is shared by all the users on a site.

Given that Vodafone introduced its 4G network between the two tests, it’s possible the speed improvement is down to less crowding with speed-hungry Vodafone customers moving to the new network.

 

People, understandably, get hung up on Android’s huge share of the total phone market. They would do better to look at phone profits.

On unit numbers alone it often looks as if Google’s phone software is eating Apple’s lunch. Some commentators extrapolate from this point. They say daft things like Apple is doomed.

The silly Apple is doomed story comes around every year. Some years they tell us: ‘this time it’s different’. Yet the company powers from strength to strength. One day the doomsayers may be correct. But not this year, or next.

Phone profits, market dynamics

It’s all a classic case of misreading the market dynamics. As Matthew Yglesias reports for Slate, the only two phone companies that count are Apple and Samsung. They are the only two companies making money from selling phones. Everyone else operates at a loss.

Apple, which sells about one phone in six, roughly 15 percent of unit sales, makes a whopping 87 percent share of the total profits taken from smartphones. It operates mainly at the higher end of the market. Samsung makes 32 percent. The two numbers add up to more than 100 percent because everyone else is losing money. That speaks volumes.

Apple and Samsung are tightening their grip on the industry – last year their shares of the profits were 78 and 26 percent respectively.

Jonathan Mosen’s Wellington-based start-up Appcessible helps mobile phone developers tweak their apps to make them useable for blind people.

Mosen says the business is unusual in the software testing game because it doesn’t use automation. Instead there are skilled blind iOS and Android experts who step through the testing.

In some cases they provide developers with a feedback report. Other times they work with the developers to make sure the software is accessible.

After testing, Appcessible helps connect the developers to blind customers.

For the most part blind people use screen readers – that turn on-screen text into spoke words – and Bluetooth enabled braille displays. Well designed apps should cope fine with these, but sometimes fine-tuning is necessary.

Appcessible is a great idea on a number of counts.

For developers making an app accessible to the blind means reaching a larger audience. That can mean more sales, but there’s more to it than that. Many apps are not for profit, they may provide a service or simply help people do something. Cutting off a sizeable audience doesn’t make sense.

At the same time, developers want to do the right thing. Mosen says the feedback he has had from developers suggests they want to make their apps accessible, but don’t know where to start.

It’s also good news for blind people. While there are a number of special apps designed specifically for blind people, most of the time they use the same apps as everyone else. Making that easier is important.

Blackberry’s 2013 phone reboot failed to put the company back on track. While the one-time smartphone king is clearly down, it continues to plug away with BlackBerry OS updates.

The latest 10.2.1 release brings an interface redesign and a number of improvements to the BlackBerry Enterprise Service mobile device management (MDM). That’s important given the phone maker is retreating back to its home ground serving large, somewhat conservative corporations.

On a less button-down note, the update switches on the built-in FM radio in the Q10 and Z30 phones. Early reports say the updated OS now runs Android apps faster than before.

BlackBerry OS 10 was intended to put the phone maker back in the game. However since it first appeared it has dropped from the third-place operating system to number four – barely registering in terms of market share.

In recent months BlackBerry has changed course. Instead of trying to be a general smartphone brand – a difficult strategy for a company with limited resources – it now focuses on providing corporate users with productivity tools and the security they need. That could be a smart move – at least until one of the smartphone giants decides to occupy the same space.

Sony’s $1000 Xperia Z1 costs more than twice as much as the Acer Chromebook C720 I’m also using for a week of working exclusively with Google software.

The phone’s five-inch screen packs more pixels than the C720. From the right viewing angle it looks better. Although the text is smaller, it is easier to read.

This got me thinking, could I do all my work using just the phone, not the Chromebook? My immediate reaction is, yes, that’s possible, but I would need to use a Bluetooth keyboard for typing and the only one I have to hand carries the Apple brand.

We’ll leave that thought for another week. Maybe I’ll try and spend a week working with nothing but a top of the line Android phone. It’ll be a useful experiment.

Sony Xperia Z1, computer in a phone

What’s clear is that, typing aside, there’s not much of my normal work that the Xperia Z1 couldn’t handle. The apps are all there. It packs more processing power and, at 16GB built-in plus a MicrosSD slot, more memory than the Acer Chromebook C720. In the right parts of Auckland it rocks along at 4G speeds. I kept finding superfast reception while in the CBD on Friday.

That five-inch screen is a double-edged sword. It’s big, bright and readable. Yet it is also a tad too large for my taste in smartphones. I like the way I can control an iPhone one-handed. I need two hands to work the Xperia Z1. It’s also quite big to carry in the pocket compared with an iPhone.

The camera is first class – but that now seems to be the case with all the high-end smartphones. If photography is your thing, you may find it easier to push this hardware than on some other phones which often hide controls. I haven’t needed to take any work pics so the testing is artificial.

One feature I got to test is the phone’s waterproofing. You don’t need to wait long in Auckland for a rain shower and I decided to let the phone get a soaking. It still worked just fine. This would be useful if I catch the Birkenhead Ferry on a wet afternoon.

A work phone?

All this adds up to a nice work phone. However, I suspect Sony would prefer customers to think of it as a fun device as well.

Sony refrained from tinkering too much with the stock Android software. That’s a good thing, but the phone is on Android 4.2 while most rivals have moved on to 4.3. The soft keyboard is better than most Android phones I’ve used and the word prediction is the best I’ve seen outside of Windows Phone 8.

There’s little included crapware, but that stays out of the way for the most part. One thing I noticed was the Twitter app doesn’t show the envelope icon, so there’s no way to read incoming Twitter direct messages. It’s not a deal breaker. I put it down to a little more Android flakiness, you may have another explanation.

Which brings me to an interesting point. Is Android a better OS for work than ChromeOS? I’m not sure. Ask me again when the week is up. It’s good that Google is giving both options a run. I like the radical simplicity and minimalism of the Chromebook. On the other hand I’ve bumped against its limits.

Sony has resisted to pack tons of its own software on top of the stock Android, so the phone’s OS has a nice spare feel. If Sony gave the Z1 an 11-inch screen and a keyboard it would be a better, albeit more expensive, work tool than the Chromebook.

This is part of a project to spend a week working with nothing but Google software.