analysis Companies like HTC, Samsung, LG, Asus, Acer, Sony Ericsson, Lenovo and Dell have all announced new products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week in Las Vegas, but so far none of them have confirmed plans to launch their new products in Australia.
Motorola's touchscreen tablet Xoom (Credit: Motorola)
When local representatives of the multinational technology giants were contacted this week asking for any local pricing or launch details, the almost universal response was: "It's too early to know", with local plans not yet finalised.
However, based on the specifications of the products concerned, and the current composition of the Australian market, it's possible to make a few guesses. Here is some informed speculation — not gospel — about what Android-based mobile phones and tablets that will hit Australia in 2011 which were displayed at CES.
Unlike the Australian mobile market, US telephone networks differ radically as to the technologies they use to deliver wireless services. If a user buys a device suited for Sprint, for example, there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work on AT&T's network — and a high likelihood that it won't.
Most of the major Android smartphone and tablet launches to take place this week at CES have focused around one or more of those networks, as the various manufacturers partner with one telco or another to gain the advantages of distribution and marketing support for their devices.
Out of the four major US mobile telephone companies, only two (AT&T and T-Mobile) operate on standards broadly compatible with Australian networks. Sprint uses the WiMax standard (which is not broadly used in Australia), as well as the EV-DO/CDMA standard which Telstra has canned. Verizon also uses CDMA, although, like all of Australia's mobile networks, it is gradually moving to the Long Term Evolution standard.
AT&T's network is closest to Telstra's Next G network, using 850MHz spectrum and the HSPA line of technologies, although it also uses 1900MHz spectrum. T-Mobile uses 1900MHz and 1700MHz spectrum, which are not widely used in Australia, but it also uses the 2100MHz band, which is used broadly here. And it also uses HSPA.
Although the various US telcos' networks differ widely in the standards that they are using, they are all currently engaged in a marketing push to brand those networks as "4G" (for fourth generation), but in many cases Australia's "3G" networks are not far behind them, or in some cases (hello, Telstra) are in front with "3G" HSPA networks.
If a mobile device launches on the Sprint or Verizon networks in the US, it doesn't mean it will be incompatible with Australian networks.
However, it means it may be less likely to be compatible, and it may suffer a delayed local launch due to the need to modify the in-built wireless chip. Currently, there are very sparse technical details currently available about which types of networks the devices detailed below do support, so observations about Australian availability are speculative.
Perhaps the highest-profile tablets shown off at CES was Motorola's Xoom tablet, as it is the first known device to use version 3.0 of Google's Android platform — also known as "Honeycomb". Honeycomb is being specifically designed for tablets, as opposed to the previous versions of Android, which were mainly designed for smartphones.
Like many of the upcoming wave of tablets and smartphones, the Xoom features Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 CPU, and a plethora of other next-generation features such as 720p video recording, a 1280x800 resolution screen and 802.11n capability. The bad news, however, is that the tablet is headed to Verizon's CDMA/LTE network early this year, with "4G" connectivity coming in the second quarter, meaning that its network support in Australia might not occur.
Australian businesspeople will also no doubt be disappointed to know that Research In Motion's highly anticipated PlayBook tablet will be launching on Sprint and will presumably support the WiMax standard. 3G versions of the devices are believed to be in the pipeline, but it seems likely that there will be a number of high-profile Android tablets launched in the Australian market before the BlackBerry maker can get its product into local hands.
With the bad news out of the way, however, there is a lot for Australians to be optimistic about with the wider range of Android-based tablets on show at CES this year.
Dell launched a 7-inch version of its Streak tablet at the show, a device the company has already confirmed will be on sale "globally" and will be upgradeable to Honeycomb. With Optus selling the initial 5-inch Streak in Australia, there is a likelihood the tablet will hit local shores sooner rather than later. A 10-inch model is also on the way. The Dell Streak 7 will launch on T-Mobile in the US.
Samsung's 3G-enabled Galaxy Tab was criticised for its $1000 price tag when it launched in Australia late last year, despite the device being a worthy competitor to the Apple iPad, but we can't see any reason why the company won't discount its new Wi-Fi-only Galaxy Tab if it eventually hits local shores.
A range of other manufacturers — Lenovo, Asus, LG, Acer, Sharp, Fujitsu and Panasonic — also demonstrated tablets at CES. Odds are that at least a couple of these companies will launch tablets in Australia in the next year.
In addition, it wouldn't be surprising if Telstra and Optus, but probably not VHA, continue to launch Android-based tablets in Australia that have been manufactured in Asia. So far Telstra has partnered with Huawei on a Telstra-branded tablet, and Optus with ZTE. But both devices have been relatively low-end, a far cry from the T-Mobile-branded tablet announced this week, manufactured by LG and to run Honeycomb.
Perhaps the best news for smartphone hounds coming out of CES this year is that AT&T (think network similarity again) is planning to launch a stack of new high-end Android phones over the next year — including models from manufacturers like HTC, Samsung and Motorola.
Samsung's Infuse 4G (Credit: Samsung)
The newest high-end Android phone in Australia is HTC Desire HD, an update to its popular Desire model which launched late last year on VHA. However, Samsung now looks to have a strong competitor to the Desire HD with its Infuse 4G, which features a 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus screen and a 1.2GHz CPU.
We're betting that Samsung will update its Galaxy S offering by bringing a phone similar to the Infuse to Australia in 2011, along with its Galaxy Player, which is a multimedia player similar to the iPod Touch. Seeing as VHA won the HTC Desire HD, we're betting a phone similar to the Infuse will launch on Telstra in early 2011, and be announced at the upcoming Mobile World Congress conference in mid-February.
Not to be outdone, HTC also launched several new phones with AT&T — the Freestyle and the Inspire. However, we're betting neither will come to Australia, as the Inspire appears similar to the Desire HD, and the Freestyle is a mid-range device similar in some ways to HTC's existing Legend, selling on VHA.
Motorola has so far lacked a really high-end Android phone in the Australian market, so we wouldn't be surprised to see the company's new Atrix 4G, which will hit AT&T and Orange in the UK, come to Australia this year. With a dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM, a 960x540 display resolution and a number of peripherals that extend its functionality dramatically, this would be an ideal competitor to the HTC Desire HD and Samsung Infuse 4G in Australia.
Motorola has tended to focus on partnering with Optus in Australia, so we wouldn't be surprised to see an Atrix launch through the SingTel subsidiary.
There's no doubt that Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10 is due for an update, and the Xperia Arc announced at CES would fit that bill perfectly. With a striking concave form factor, a 1GHz CPU and a screen size of about 4.2 inches, the device will be available "globally in selected markets" — we're betting Australia will eventually be on that list.
Like Motorola, LG has lacked a really high-end Android phone in Australia. This gap could be filled by the Optimus Black — a phone with an innovative new type of "Nova" display and a nicely sized screen. Details are sparse, but so far the Optimus Black looks to be one of the most interesting handsets to come out of LG in the past while.
Of course, there were a plethora of other handsets launched at CES. Motorola launched the Cliq 2 on T-Mobile and the Droid Bionic on Verizon. HTC Thunderbolt and the LG Revolution were also picked up by Verizon. But the phones above are the ones we're most interested in, and at the moment, the most likely to come to the Australian market, in our book.
It's not likely that Australians will get a really good peek of the in-country line-up until the Mobile World Congress conference kicks off in mid-February at Barcelona. The event last year was the scene for the local launch of a number of flagship phones — such as the HTC Desire on Telstra, which heralded a tipping point for the adoption of the Android platform in Australia. But so far the analysis from CES looks good — 2011 should be an amazing year for smartphones and tablets down under.