Mobile Tech Winners & Losers 2010
It was the year of the iPad and Antennagate, the year of Android’s continued rise and Palm’s getting snatched up by HP, and the year 4G finally meant something. As 2010 comes to a close, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on those companies that pushed the envelope and enjoyed great success--as well as those that lost ground to the competition. This is my list of the mobile tech winners and losers, which includes some repeats from last year, as well as some new entrants. Congrats (and condolences)…
Now that Apple has surpassed Microsoft in market value, where does it go next? How about a sequel to the hottest-selling tablet ever, a version of the iPhone for Verizon Wireless, and a new app store made just for Macs? Apple shows no signs of slowing down, and developers continue to pick iOS over other platforms when it comes to apps that make money. Meanwhile, Apple has become the number three PC maker in the U.S. (in terms of market share), and its Mac OS X Lion OS—due this summer—could vault it to an even higher position.
With 300,000 Android phones activated daily, Google took the wireless world by storm in 2010, with every carrier under the sun selling multiple Android devices. This OS is so popular that the Android Market reportedly just blew past the 200,000 app mark. Now Android is making its way to tablets with a version of the software (called Honeycomb) that’s optimized for slates, and everyone from Acer and Motorola to Samsung and Lenovo will be using it to power their devices. I’m not convinced Google’s Chrome OS for netbooks will survive, but the company deserves credit for promoting apps that can run in the browser.
Nearly 10 million Galaxy S phones sold tells you that Samsung did something very right with its new high-end Android phone line. Available for all of the major carriers, these devices boast Samsung’s own 1-GHz processor and an eye-popping Super AMOLED display that puts most other handsets to shame. In fact, I consider the Epic 4G for Sprint (part of the Galaxy S family) to be the phone of the year. Before the Galaxy Tab went on sale, I said that it would be the first iPad alternative to make Apple sweat, and--much to Steve Jobs’ chagrin--this 7-inch slate wasn’t DOA. The company passed a million units sold in early December, and you know a sequel is on the way.
Nvidia was busy in 2010 racking up a huge number of design wins for its Tegra 2 chip, which will bring lots of multimedia oomph to a new generation of Android tablets. And don’t forget phones. LG looks to be the first of many partners to deliver a Tegra-powered Android handset with dual-core muscle. On the notebook front, Nvidia says that PC makers will launch more than 200 products in the first half of 2011 that will pair Nvidia GeForce graphics cards with Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors, even though Intel is integrating graphics and the CPU on a single chip. And only Nvidia’s Optimus technology lets you switch back and forth between integrated and discrete mode automatically.
The carrier promised to launch the nation’s fastest 4G network by the end of the year, and Verizon Wireless did just that, blanketing 38 markets and more than 60 commercial airports in lightning-fast LTE coverage. So far the network is so blazing that it blows away not only Sprint and T-Mobile but my home and office Internet connections. Of course, Verizon Wireless is only getting started, and we expect to see a wave of 4G LTE phones, tablets, and other devices to hit the market soon. The provider just needs to work on adjusting pricing plans to account for the expected increase in data usage and find a way to make roaming between 3G and 4G seamless.
The good news is that Windows Phone 7 is launched, and I believe it has most of the ingredients Microsoft needs for it to be a success. The bad news is that it’s still missing a lot of features that any smart phone OS should have in 2010, including cut and paste and multitasking with third-party apps (software updates are coming). Microsoft’s biggest issue is tablets, a category Apple ran away with while the software giant was busy pushing out its tragically misguided Kin phones. Steve Ballmer & Co. could turn things around with a slew of new slates from partners, but not without a serious touch interface overhaul. With new tablets on the way powered by iOS, Android, and webOS, Microsoft can’t afford to have another lost year.
The BlackBerry Torch was supposed to be the phone that would help RIM fend off the iPhone and the Android onslaught. And despite lukewarm reviews, it actually has sold quite well—thanks to a price drop from $199 to $99. Ultimately, though, RIM’s "fresh but familiar" approach resulted in the third best smart phone on AT&T’s network when it launched (behind the iPhone 4 and Samsung Captivate), and developers simply haven’t warmed to the BlackBerry platform as much as iOS and Android. In November alone, research showed that 80 percent of smart phone sales at Verizon Wireless were Android. RIM’s very webOS-like BlackBerry Tablet OS will continue to generate buzz heading up to the PlayBook launch, but the company will need to find a way to leverage this more robust platform for phones, before Google gobbles up even more share.
Dropped calls. Web pages that take forever to load. More dropped calls. Anyone who uses an iPhone knows how painful AT&T’s network can be, especially in such areas as New York and San Francisco. Just recently, I had to turn 3G off while driving in New Jersey so I could latch onto a signal and make a simple Maps search. The carrier has thrown a lot of money at this problem, but it just hasn’t made that much of a difference. And now AT&T will most certainly lose its prized exclusive to Verizon Wireless. With not a single phone in its lineup offering 4G speeds and its LTE deployment way behind that of Verizon Wireless, AT&T will need to put up or shut up in 2011, or risk losing millions of customers.
I knew we had touched a nerve when our online editorial director's column on Flash’s sluggish performance on mobile devices was retweeted more than 1,300 times. The title? “Mobile Flash Fail: Weak Android Player Proves Jobs Right.” In April, Apple’s CEO railed against the technology in an open letter for being unreliable, a battery hog, and touch-unfriendly. Our conclusions were pretty similar, and we came across several flash videos that were not only jerky but locked up the whole page we were trying to navigate. While it’s nice that mobile Flash attempts to deliver the full web experience, I turn the feature off on Android phones to speed up performance and save battery life. Maybe dual-core CPUs in phones will help.
It’s not a good sign when the very man charged with spearheading your mobile strategy is shown the door. That’s what happening to Ron Garriques, who Dell hired away from Motorola to jumpstart its smart phone and tablet businesses. Unfortunately, the too-big-for-a-phone/too-small-for-a-tablet Dell Streak fell flat, and the underwhelming Aero Android disappeared from Android’s lineup without anyone noticing. T-Mobile won’t even sell Dell’s Windows Phone 7 device, the Venue Pro, which has also suffered from shipment delays. On the notebook front, we loved the sound of the XPS 15, but were disappointed by the slow touch software on the Inspiron Duo netbook-tablet. The company’s new tagline: “You Can Tell It’s Dell.” Let’s hope that means something more in 2011.