news / tech talk

Mobile Telephony - Part 2

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote about the state of mobile telephony as I understood it. Since then, some exciting changes have taken place and are more are coming. Blackberry is still the corporate king but RIM is branching into the consumer side. iPhones are still the consumer king but are finally facing some serious challengers. One of the challengers is Google with the introduction of their Android operating platform and the G1 phone from HTC. Google’s foray is into mobile telephony is not as slick as the iPhone from a hardware or software design perspective, but they are brand new and improving rapidly. A significant aspect is deep integration with Google’s online services (e.g., gmail, Google calendar, etc.) which provides a ubiquitous computer based platform that synchronizes seamlessly with the mobile phone. While the styling and features of the first generation HTC Magic, more widely known as the Tmobile G1, are interesting and perhaps controversial, they are also a first step. Following that initial platform are two new hardware devices coming this year: the Bigfoot (or G1 v2) manufactured by Motorola, and the new HTC model tentatively called the G3 (no idea what happened to the G2).

The other big challenger is the Palm Pre. Palm has had a rough time of it in the market and has been hanging on with their aging Treo line but the Pre is largely held to be the game-changer and bet-the-company product on which Palm is relying. Early reviews of the Pre are very promising with their new WebOS platform. The Pre hardware provides a slide-out keyboard similar in appearance to a Blackberry but also supports a touchscreen display complete with gesture based zoom. In fact, it’s the WebOS capabilities that are purported to really make the Pre shine. The WebOS provides true multi-tasking capabilities lacking in the iPhone and other major players. For slickness, the Palm has an inductive charging pod that you just lay the Pre on top of – no cords or connectors to lash up. Where the Blackberry is often seen as too corporate and not as intuitive to use and the iPhone too consumer-focused without supporting “real” business apps, the Palm Pre appears to walk the tight rope between ease-of-use and corporate support. It is rumored to launch from Sprint around 7 June 09.

Like the iPod before it, iPhone killers are always rumored but have yet to knock off the king and Apple isn’t one to sit still. A next generation iPhone is due soon and rumors of iPhone-like devices provided to other carriers like Verizon are making the rounds. The iPhone name is tied to AT&T but similar devices from Apple that do not bear the iPhone name could appear with other carriers in the near future. Crafty, eh? Meanwhile, Microsoft has been quietly re-tooling its ponderous Windows Mobile platform to battle these competitors. It will be interesting to see how well they understand the battlefield and execute based on what they’ve learned.

To me, the real driver for this technology is the advances in applications being developed. Browsers are actually useful now but more importantly, cool and truly useful applications are blossoming in Apple’s marketplace, Google’s Android Market, and all the markets of all the providers. It is these applications that will force a real transition and blurring of functions from laptops and netbooks to mobile phones. I already text, email, tweet, search maps, listen to music, and browse from my phone much more than I ever thought I would and I’m always interested in finding interesting new apps. Imagine that: useful applications available on a small (relatively) device that is always on and always with you. Many businesses are already waking up to how they can create or use mobile phone apps to better serve their existing customers or find new ones. Are you?

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business