Mobile Tech


The Beginning of the iPhone Rebirth

Last week was filled with what could represent the beginning of one of the biggest overall changes to the cell phone market. The short-term change was the announcement of a solid and apparently well-controlled developer platform coupled with the long anticipated Exchange integration announcement. However, bigger than that and longer-term was the announcement of Intel’s new Atom platform, which forecasts the death and rebirth of a better iPhone.

Finally we’ll close with the product of the week, the first hybrid laptop from Alienware that transforms, without a telephone booth, from a mild-mannered work laptop (like one a reporter would use) to a super-powered gaming machine that fights video game crime.

Apple Goes After Business – Will It Be Enough?

The short answer is, “it depends on the business.” The longer answer really speaks to the differences between the PC and phone markets. For PCs, one of the things that has locked Apple out of businesses is that PCs are generally bought by companies for employees. However, most companies currently reimburse for cell phone charges and leave the phone choice up to the employee. This is a little different with smartphones, which are a small part of the overall phone market.

Currently, the iPhone is largely blocked from these programs for four reasons: It won’t work with the e-mail system, it won’t run business applications, it isn’t secure enough, and it is perceived as more of a toy than a work tool.

The move to sync with Exchange addresses, at least for those companies using Exchange, the e-mail problem and the SDK (software development kit) will eventually help the business application and probably the security problem because the related developers will have to address both to be successful.

The parts they will continue to struggle with in some businesses will be the fact it won’t run the same business applications that the other phones will probably run and it still looks like more of a toy than a serious business tool.

This last will continue to be a problem until they can better address the battery, text entry issues and general entertainment image of the product. However, these moves will expand Apple’s presence strongly and help future more capable hardware move on what remains a massive opportunity for the firm.

How Intel’s Atom Will Recreate the iPhone/iPod Touch Class of Products

The problem with all of the smartphones, including the iPhone, is they try very hard to have laptop-like capability but all fall short. The two leading products are the RIM BlackBerry and the Apple iPhone.

These two products define two distinctive roles (BlackBerry for business and iPhone for fun) and most folks would probably like one product that could do both. For the BlackBerry, it is e-mail, contact management and calendaring that cause it to win in its segment. For the iPhone, it is music, video and a wonderful browser (plus great marketing and a great user experience). Neither of the products is particularly good at what the other does, which is why both did very well last year.

Microsoft’s Mobile platform comes close to what BlackBerry provided (generally only falling short on hardware right now and actually a better economic choice) but still falls short of the user experience provided by the iPhone. Depending on the hardware, it does provide a blend. Right now, however, even the HTC Touch (which sold half as much as the iPhone) or the HTC TyTN II, which is arguably closer to the ideal, don’t get the excitement that seems to surround either the BlackBerry or the iPhone.

The iPod touch, which could be — but isn’t — the perfect BlackBerry accessory to create the perfect solution, showcases a product class that better focuses on connected entertainment but it still falls short of the ideal.

What Intel’s Atom platform promises in either its standalone or Centrino configurations is a product that could do what each of these products individually does well in a single small offering.

This will put power in your pocket that has only been seen in laptop computers and could turn the iPhone and iPod touch into pocket Macs.

I’m not sure we yet realize just how revolutionary this will be because the existing providers have done an amazing job of working around the limitations of the existing technology and getting stuff that probably shouldn’t work to work reasonably well.

The iPhone and iPod touch are nearly impossibly good, but once we can move to an x86 technology base — which is what Atom promises — the limitations go away and this should be like taking square wheels off of racing car in terms of what will be possible once this platform hits the market next year.

This should also create stronger competition, but so far only Apple and RIM seem to get that, to be successful, you have to have great hardware, a great and complete user experience (including the back end), and strong demand-generating marketing. The last two things seem to be lost on a lot of vendors right now.

I think the result of Atom for small computers, smartphones and entertainment devices will be as revolutionary as the personal computer initially was and well worth looking forward to.

Product of the Week: The Alienware Area-51 m15x

As we imagine what it would be like to have a cell phone which could have all of the power of a Mac, what about a notebook that could have all of the power of a high-end gaming rig and still be your daily carry box?

Most gaming notebooks are basically huge desktop computers with folding screens that have batteries that are not only massive but only last a few minutes.

The new Alienware Area-51 m15x is the first laptop that has the power of a desktop but can be converted to a laptop with three hours of battery life and hot swappable batteries. For comparison, the Macbook Air only has a little over two hours of battery life and you can’t swap the batteries — hot or otherwise.

This is an amazing product from touch-sensitive control switches that convert the notebook and turn off and on features, to some of the best speakers I’ve ever heard on a notebook, to a pervasive lighting system that you can change on the fly, to the availability of both turbo memory and flash drives — this is truly a technology powerhouse.

While it weighs in at around 9 lbs. with the power supply, that still is a lot lighter than a typical gaming laptop; and with both the new Intel Extreme Edition processor and an Nvidia 8800M GTX graphics system in the highest configuration, it should outperform most of them.

While the laptop will soon start at US$1,500 for a lightweight configuration and go up over $5,000 for the top-end product giving it an unmatched range, it represents yet one more revolution in the mobile space. It will be followed by other hybrid designs using the recently released ATI/AMD hybrid parts, and the soon-to-be-released Nvidia hybrid parts.

Because it is simply an amazing product and the first hybrid notebook, it is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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