Cellcos too slow on new smartphone turnaround time

Cellcos too slow on new smartphone turnaround time

Summary: Here at Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Florida, HP announced its new iPAQ hw6500 Mobile Messenger smartphone. In a separate blog entry, there's a picture and I've detailed my first impressions of the device.

TOPICS: Mobility
Here at Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Florida, HP announced its new iPAQ hw6500 Mobile Messenger smartphone. In a separate blog entry, there's a picture and I've detailed my first impressions of the device. But if you want to skip the movie, my take in that blog entry was to skip the device.   Given that the phone runs a Microsoft's operating system, Microsoft Mobile and Embedded Devices Division group product manager John Starkweather was there to support the announcement.  But, it has to be difficult for a guy like Starkweather to get too excited about a brand new smartphone when it's running the old (and I would argue obsolete) version of Microsoft's mobile operating system (Windows Mobile 2003) instead of Microsoft's latest and greatest: Windows Mobile 5.0.

Such is the nature of the mobile phone business.  Between all the testing a cellco must do to make sure a new handset (smartphone or not) doesn't royally screw up its network and the preparation it must go through to bring new devices to the market, Microsoft and its Windows Mobile hardware partners are beginning to feel the same pain that was probably a leading contributor to the pending extinction of the Palm operating system.  At the same time the OS vendor has a newer operating system on the market that addresses at least some of the shortcomings of the older one, the cellcos are still bringing phones to market that are based on the older one.  This lies in stark contrast to the PC market which typically has new devices on the shelves on the same day a that the new version of some operating system (usually Microsoft's or Apple's) is officially announced.

I can tell that Starkweather is painfully aware of the challenges faced by smartphone operating system vendors.  For obvious reasons, he can't be openly critical of the channel that's bringing his products to market.  When I turned to him to comment on the cellco industry's pitiful lack of agility, all he could say -- in political correctness -- was that Windows Mobile 5.0 was announced by Microsoft five months ago.  But his body language told me that it was one of the banes of his existence.  Although several Windows Mobile 5.0-based smartphones have been pre-announced, there is apparently only one that has so far made it to market (the PPC-6700 provisioned by Sprint).  Note to Mr. Starkweather: As of the publishing of this blog, not only does the list of domestically available Windows Mobile-enabled smartphones on Microsoft's Web site exclude the new Sprint phone as well as the HP device announced today, Microsoft's Windows Mobile home page says that the Sprint phone will be "available soon."

The cellco's industry's  ocean tanker-like agility might not be so much of a problem if it adopted at least one of the PC industry's more endearing traits: the idea of the upgrade.  Even the PDA industry, to which the cellco business is somewhat subjugated, isn't very good at this.  For example, forget smartphones for a minute.  In the PC business, if you own one of HP's personal computers, you're free to upgrade it to a new version of Windows on the same day that version ships.  You can walk into CompUSA, buy the upgrade, go home, and install it.  But with one of HP's iPAQs, you can't do this (buy the upgrade from Microsoft).  If there's any hope of upgrading an HP iPAQ from one version of Windows Mobile to the next, HP is the one that controls it. If HP decides not to provide an upgrade, which it has done plenty of times, your only hope for getting the latest greatest version of Windows Mobile is to buy a new device (conspiracy theorists will instantly spot that it's not in the vendor's best interest to offer software upgrades).

It's bad enough that the PDA business is screwed up by this phenomenon.  But once a device is transmogrified into a phone, it gets even worse.  Just supposing there was any hope of upgrading a smartphone, that hope is now subject to the whims of a two-tiered channel: first the device manufacturer (eg: HP) and then the cellco (eg: Cingular).  If the manufacturer can't (perhaps the device isn't up to snuff) or decides it won't do upgrades, then it doesn't matter what the cellco thinks.  But even if the manufacturer decides to make an upgrade available, it's still up to the cellco, which must take on 100 percent of the support burden that goes with the upgrade, to make that upgrade available to its existing customers.  Before this can happen, an entire new testing cycle must begin and end.

I was recently reminded of how painful the two-tiered barrier to upgrade can be with my XV6600.  The XV6600 has a Bluetooth radio in it.  Although this is a subject (one that really tortures Bob Frankston) for another blog, just because two devices have Bluetooth radios in them doesn't mean they can talk to each other.  For example, at my request, HP recently sent me its Bluetooth-based wireless stereo headphones to test.  I wanted to use them with my XV6600 to listen to MP3 audio files music and podcasts.  You can connect a set of wired stereo headphones to the XV6600. Given the XV6600's inclusion of a Bluetooth radio, it only made sense to me that you should be able to do the same Bluetooth-based stereo headphones.  But the headphones, which are sitting on my desk, remain untested because the XV6600 doesn't include the specific software (known as a Bluetooth profile) that enables the device for usage with stereo headphones.  It does include the profile that's necessary for using the XV6600 with a non-stereo wireless hands-free headset for use with the phone (in other words, it includes a microphone), but that's not the same thing as stereo headphones (although you'd think the same software would support both).

When I hit this roadblock, I immediately contacted Mike Foley, executive director of Bluetooth SIG; the special interest group that guides Bluetooth standards. This is when it became apparent that for me to even get the right software, that it not only had to be issued by Audiovox (the manufacturer of the XV6600), but that I had to take delivery of it from Verizon Wireless (my cellco).  To absolutely no avail, Foley, who knows everybody in the Bluetooth business on a first name basis, has even tried to pull some strings to get me the software through some backchannel.  So far, I'm out of luck (and the headphones are collecting dust).

This is not the way it should be.

Topic: Mobility

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  • Yeah, where's the Gen 3 web on phones?

    You know, we kept hearing about G3 cell phones...you can play games on them, check your email, etc. Ok - I bought into it. Sure, my Verizon camera phone can send photos to other phones or email them. But you know what really peeves me? The fact that all the investment has now moved onto useless video features - as though I want to watch video on a 1" by 1.3" screen. Meanwhile, the Mobile Web features languish - they are very slow. At the speeds they boast for the service, the response time should be much quicker. Fix the promised and paid-for, before diverting resources to the bally-hooed but useless.

    And no...I won't be buying any phone with a Microsoft OS on it. Scary.
  • Great. Now what!?

    Great article. As pointed out, there are systemic issues at the root cause of so many problems in the smartphone industry. For example, I am in the process now of shopping for a new phone and have decided to take the smartphone plunge. David's article hasn't made it any easier. I've managed to survive without a pda for a long time ("sure, that's a great idea, please email me with it, ok?") and it's not like I can whip out the laptop and start typing if I am on the run. I've identified that when I am on the fly, email isn't as important to me as voice recording and a synched calender for my pc at home and office. While others have Exchange or some such service available, I know that I will have to manage two calendars because my corporation uses a homegrown calendar system that has no web service. Ok, I can live with that but in that case, I want my home pc, my work pc and my smartphone to be on the same page and I am already hooked on Mozilla's email so Outlook is just out. What I would like to use is a secure web service that any of my devices can synch to and I suspect I may figure that out eventually except it's not exactly on my critical priority list. Getting back to phones, I am on the Verizon network now and considering my location, I need to stick with that. So I've narrowed my choice down to the Treo 650 or the 700. Even if I had a prophet in my pocket, I would be stuck with Casandra (her propheteering was flawed by the Gods and though she spoke the truth of the future, no one believed her). What I mean here is that it's nearly impossible to see how the relationships will play out. Service Carriers, Software Providers, Hardware providers. Now you even have Service Carriers partnering up. Monday, Palm and Research in Motion announced a deal to synch email. So let's step back to features. Until the annoucement that the upcoming Treo would feature Windows, I was thinking the Treo 650 was my best bet because they had a strong base of software development. As eluded to in David's article, Palm OS may be the next dinosaur. Yet, I am the last person in line to be a window's poster boy. What's a smartphone shopping, windows dodging, IT exec to do? Waiting is the hardest part (thank you Mr. Petty). I'll probably buy the 650 now and limp through to 2008 to see where Windows, the carriers, and smartphone manufacturers stand at that time.
  • What about variety?

    You concentrate on your choice of Windows Mobile devices, and totally ignore the fact that you have no real choice, no variety of operating systems at all. Why are no Linux based mobile and smartphones available in the US yet? They are huge in Asia, and have been available there for two years. The US cell phone market has traditionally been 18-24 months behind the Asian and European market, when it comes to technology of handsets and infrastructure (2G, 3G...).

    These phones are not just Asian brands that Americans have never heard of. Motorola announced two years ago, that the majority of their phones would soon run Linux and Java. Several models are listed here <http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS4504156025.html>, and a more comprehensive list is here <http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT9423084269.html>.

    Since you mentioned the conspiracy theorists in your article, I will throw one out there. I think Microsoft is strongarming... I mean, negotiating with the cellcos to prevent any of the Linux based phones from being sold in the US, so they can get a monopoly there as well, and not give the customers a choice of what they want. There are several Symbian based phones available, which is a good thing, but the Symbian OS has been around much longer, and holds about 80% share of the market, mainly in Europe. According to Gartner research, Linux mobile phones surpassed Microsoft based smartphones this year. <http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS8804000399.html>.

    Everyone heard the big Palm/Windows handset announcement, about the phone to be released next year, however, Palm has a Linux version that was announced weeks earlier, and is slated to arrive this year. I hope Verizon carries it. <http://www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS5058819583.html>.

    Many people interested in smartphones, want an OS they can tweak, and add applications. Linux provides the best platform for this. For the majority of users that just want a stable, capable phone or smartphone, they would have their choice of devices with different features. With the Windows Mobile OS, all the smartphones are the same, except for a few hardware options (bluetooth, memory capacity, camera...). With Linux, there are hundreds of variations and options, and 100,000+ potential software applications, already available, that could be compiled for the processor being used. The Zaurus users have already proven this, by creating packages from the available source, and making them available on the PDA platform. If you need to connect via a Cisco VPN at your company, a VPN client is available. With the Microsoft and Symbian based phones, the amount of software is very restricted, and you pretty much have to purchase what the cellco and a few vendors are selling.

    I agree, most users could not build a Linux or BSD worksation and recompile software for their phones, but the packages are already provided by the community. Currently, on <http://ipkgfind.handhelds.org/>, you can find 36,714 software packages available, and ready to be installed on the Zaurus, or simialar OS on the same processor.

    When talking about capabilities of the various operating systems, I have to say the Microsoft OS sucks. I have a Samsung i700, that I am very unhappy with. I have made a few tweaks, like adding video capabilities using software from the Korean version. The US version only takes still shots. But aside from that, I can not do that much, and I am not happy with the software selections. The OS is the PocketPC 2003 version, and I have had a few crashes. No more than my Kyocera QCP 6035, but the Kyocera had a much better response, and was not a memory hog. The Palm had 8MB RAM, and worked great. The PocketPC Samsung has 64MB RAM, and I can't add much to it because everything is so bloated. The applications rarely close when you click on close. They usually sit in the background, using memory and processing power, making response time horrible. I have also lost data due to resets and power loss. Something I never had a problem with on the Kyocera. The fact is, the Windows OS is not designed for real time applications, and can not be configured that way. An example of this is when Microsof twas pushing hard to get in the the Telecom/Networking business. Our company made the mistake of buying a bunch of switches from Marconi, with Windows NT embedded OS, because they were cheap. Have you ever seen a BSOD on a switch. We have. This is not a good thing in the Healthcare or Telecom business. Since getting a $1.5 million credit torward new switches, we have not seen that garbage again.

    Please, do us a favor. Use your contacts in the industry to let the cellcos know that we want choice. Bring the Linux handhelds to the US market and let us decide. If users choose Microsoft, fine. But at least make it a fair playing field and let us have a choice.
  • Time to end slave cells!

    I don't want a cell phone from Sprint or T-mobile. I want an unprotected cell phone so I can port it between carriers; insert a SIM card anywhere in the world and have local service where ever I am (bought one in Europe at the airport - pay as you go).
    The only way to get these is through eBay or connecting with some guy in a back alley in a cash transaction. Totally stupid! Some devices are very expensive even under a 2-3 year plan yet only marginally cheaper than unprotected. If I pay that kind of money I want the device to be mine - not one slaving me to the carrier.
    PS. My V600 is unprotected. I have SIMS in US, Canada, and Europe - and that's the way it should be for all!