Monday, March 19, 2012

My Mobile World

In addition to my political blogging, you might see a bit more of my tech-y stuff this year as well, such as my recent tepid review of “the new iPad”.

I’m a longtime smartphone user. I’m currently on my 4th smartphone, and this summer or fall I will likely buy my 5th. I’m not quite so much on the bleeding edge with tablets, as my iPad 2 is the first tablet I’ve owned.

Both my 3rd and 4th smartphones were Android devices, and obviously my iPad is an Apple one. These were easy decisions on both counts. My HTC EVO 4G still makes the iPhone 4S look like a tinker toy, and I replaced that phone almost 9 months ago with an HTC EVO 3D. On the tablet front, it’s the same. The iPad is a better form factor (very few Android tablets are more than 7”), and with a few exceptions is a much more pleasing UI than available on Android tablets.

But the next round will be much harder. The sleeping giant, or elephant in the room, if you prefer, is awake and active. With Windows 8, Microsoft will be running essentially the same OS across three different form factors, desktop, tablet, and phone. From an enterprise customer’s perspective, that’s an extremely difficult combination to overlook. Run real Office on my tablet with Outlook and not iWorks and the mind-numbingly awful mail application that Apple delivers with iOS? Sign me up! Twice! Of course, MS isn’t going to be able to charge $500 for an office suite on a tablet or a phone, so I’m very curious as to how they’re going to manage pricing.

The other problem is application compatibility. Not only is Windows 8’s Metro UI a big change, where non-Metro apps stick out like a sore thumb, but there’s also the Intel vs. ARM factor. Most desktop computers run Intel chips (or Intel clones from AMD, etc.). Most phones run ARM ones, and it sounds like the Windows 8 tablets will be a mix. Well, obviously, you’re only going to get full application compatibility on Intel-based devices, and it will take a while for ARM-based apps, or apps that can run on both, to be prevalent. So, if you buy an ARM-based tablet, you’re going to most likely be running mostly phone apps to begin with. This was true early on with the iPad too, until developers started making stuff for that form factor. But it remains to be seen how quickly the Microsoft Market will mature, and if it will grow nearly as quickly as Apple’s App Store (I imagine not). Of course, you could just get a tablet with an Intel chip, but since the ARM devices are growing up from a phone rather thank shrinking down from a desktop, they typically have much better power management. So, your Intel tablet might not last all day on a charge. That’s going to be extremely frustrating.

So, what will I do? Well, I’m eligible to upgrade my EVO 3D on July 1. By that time, it sounds like the next generation EVO will be available, based on the recently announce HTC One line. Windows 8 phones will be available later this year, but probably not until 4th quarter. I don’t know what I’m going to do there. Sprint has stopped allowing me to upgrade my phone every year, so whatever I get this year, I’ll be stuck with it for two years. I suspect I’ll end up getting an Android phone again, but it’s no slam dunk decision. Not this time. I’ll definitely be watching the rumor mills this summer to see what kinds of Windows 8 Phones are expected and when.

And a Windows 8 tablet with an ARM chip that has the kinds of apps you see on the iPad, and has comparable hardware? Not this year. It’ll take at least 6-9 months before you’re going to see acceptable app volume in the marketplace, I think. So, that’s mid next year. At best. And it could easily be twice that long. Which puts us into 2014. By that time there will be another new iPad as well. And by that time, I suspect Apple will have caught up to Microsoft in terms of offering a single user experience across all platforms. However, if their business applications are still crapware, MS may be in the driver’s seat by then for enterprise customers. So, these are all reasons I might actually end up with “the new iPad”, as I think in the tablet world, the key dates are going to be late 2013/early 2014. By then we’ll know if MS can make a serious challenge, and hopefully Apple will have released another iPad that’s more appealing as well.

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