Editorials

With carrier week of Talk Mobile done, it's time for another survey, because darnit, we love numbers here. The survey will let us pull together the numbers to put together more awesome infographics like the ones we've done for gaming and keyboards. Carriers week was full of awesome, including lots of sage and common sense advice on how to make the carriers into organizations that don't come across as so consumer-hostile.

So here is the carriers week survey - it's a few dozen questions so it shouldn't take too long. They're all multiple choice, and there's no right answer to any of them, so we don't want you to feel like you should be stressing out on whether or not you're going to pass. To sweeten the pot a bit, we're also throwing in a $100 Best Buy gift card to one lucky survey-taker. We've got your attention now, eh?

Click here to take the Talk Mobile State of Mobile Carriers Survey!

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As if 2013 could not have been a more pivotal year for Microsoft and Windows Phone, news tonight coming from Bloomberg claims that Redmond is still considering buying out BlackBerry.

BlackBerry has publicly revealed that they are seeking “strategic alternatives” for the company, including a merger or selling off the entire company (or pieces of it). In and of itself, that is big news although BlackBerry did do the same in 2012 and nothing came of it. Could this round be any different? Perhaps, as their new operating system, BB10, is not exactly setting the mobile world afire.

Microsoft has always been rumored to be interested in BlackBerry, but they are perhaps waiting for the right time. That may include waiting for Waterloo to shed some of its 17,000 employees and become a leaner purchase, or for BlackBerry to become cheaper and more desperate.  

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Despite the weakness in Microsoft’s stock price today (it’s down about 5%), I think their decision to buy Nokia’s hardware and services business is absolutely the right move. And it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. When Stephen Elop made the gutsy decision to kill Symbian and bet entirely on Windows Phone, most people correctly had a strong sense that this would eventually happen. 

But Wall Street isn’t too excited at the notion of Microsoft spending over $7 billion in cash to double down on its smartphone bet. And that’s understandable. It’s a lot of money for a potential failed deal. I think it probably will end up being successful for Microsoft. They’ve already climbed up to the #3 position in the smartphone market, having overtaken BlackBerry. If they can achieve this while having to balance the growth objectives of two separate companies, then I think it should only get easier for them as a combined entity.

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Heading into the last quarter in 2013, it is becoming increasingly clear that Windows Phone is now solidifying itself as the third alternative for smartphones (see the latest IDC report). While sales are still miles behind iOS and Android, Windows Phone as a platform is finally being treated more equally by retailers and consumers.

Part of that apparent victory, in typical Microsoft fashion, is due to missteps by Redmond’s competitors. Years ago, BlackBerry (then called RIM) basically owned the enterprise market. Fast forward to 2013 and with BlackBerry 10 on the market with a handful of new devices, it’s becoming clear that it’s just not enough to regain that momentum.

The site IT Wire has performed some store-checks for the new BlackBerry Q10 and Z10—two devices we actually own and occasionally use ourselves. The site tried to get a statement from Australia’s telco’s Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone but received no comment about those BlackBerry sales. Not hindered, IT Wire then spoke with Harvey Norman, Optus and Telstra franchises for their opinions on BlackBerry’s prospects.

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Last week we revealed that Gameloft, one of the largest mobile game publishers in the world would be bringing 15 new games to both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8. Since then, a scrappy little site has reported that “future [Gameloft] Windows Phone titles will be released day and date with iOS and Android ones.” Release date parity is something that Windows Phone gamers have long clamored for.

Well, I hate to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, but Gameloft has informed us that the “day and date” story is definitely incorrect. Read Gameloft’s official quote and our detailed analysis after the break!

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Microsoft has been facing a slew of battles with the announcement of its latest Xbox One console. The launch event was riddled with DRM woes, a required Kinect accessory and a higher price tag that Sony’s PlayStation 4. The company has backtracked on its original DRM mission, making players more comfortable with the idea of purchasing games for the unit, but questions about the Kinect sensor still remain.

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If there is one controversial area in regards to the stellar Nokia Lumia 1020, it would be its price. In the face of deals elsewhere like on Amazon.com, the $299 contract price is traditionally higher than most flagship devices in 2013. At least that’s the perception, even if erroneous. It’s a bit dishonest when tech sites focus on that subject since the AT&T 32GB iPhone 5 sells for the same $299 (and the 32GB Galaxy S4 runs for $249).

Last we checked, neither come with a groundbreaking 41MP camera.

Some could argue that the Lumia 1020 has no right to command the same price as the iPhone 5, but that seems a little pretentious for our tastes. Still, there’s a feeling in the air that the Lumia 1020 is not selling well or making much of an impact.

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We've wrapped up cloud week of Talk Mobile, and it's time to get the kind of stuff that the cloud lives for: numbers. As with previous weeks of Talk Mobile, we're running a survey so we can put together some of that data that we and the cloud simply adore. Week six of Talk Mobile 2013 was all about the cloud, how we use it, how it's scary, and our forecasts for the future of the cloud.

Here's the survey. It's a few dozen questions and shouldn't take more than a few minutes of your time. And because we know your time is just as if not more valuable than ours, here's an incentive: completing the survey enters you for a chance to win a $100 Best Buy gift card. Incentive? Bribery? A chance for $100 to spend on new gadgets? Your call, your answers. Hit the link below to take the survey!

Click here to take the Talk Mobile State of Mobile Clouds Survey!

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So far the Nokia Lumia 520 has been a sleeper hit. It’s the cheapest Windows Phone to date and it is constantly topping charts for in emerging markets. It seems we hear stories weekly on how the device is selling well in market after market. Here in the United States it’s available for AT&T as a GoPhone and T-Mobile sells a variant called the Lumia 521.

So how’s it going to fare against further attacks in the low-end smartphone market against competitors like Samsung and Apple?

Over at Forbes, Tero Kuittinen outlines a brinkmanship scenario where Nokia comes out on top. Don’t worry, I wasn’t familiar with the term either. Brinkmanship is the situation where you push dangerous events to the verge of disaster in the hopes that your opponents will have to make concessions and/or back down. In this case, Nokia is in a position to own the low-end smartphone market because companies like HTC, Blackberry, and Apple won’t be able to make appealing devices at low prices.

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HTC is in trouble. There’s little disagreement from industry experts on this as the firm is under fire from Samsung (with Android) and Nokia (with Windows Phone), squeezing the manufacturer from both sides.

In fact, a recent IDC report exposed how far HTC has fallen dropping from 8.2% of the Windows Phone market in 2012 to just 4.6% in 2013. That’s after the critically acclaimed HTC 8X and 8S were made available. Today, Samsung is now the number two vendor on Windows Phone with nearly 12% and one million shipments. You read that right.

In a vaguely worded article from DigiTimes this morning, it cites “industry sources” as noting that HTC is “drifting away” from Windows Phone, instead focusing on Android where they recently dropped out of the top five vendor ranking.

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Some good news today for Windows Phone as the latest numbers, based on device shipments from earlier this year, have revealed a steady increase for the third place operating system.

According to the IDC’s latest numbers, Windows Phone has seen a surge of 77% year over year for device shipments (8.7M in 2013 versus 4.9M for 2012). With those numbers, Windows Phone has increased from 3.1% market share to a modest 3.7%. While iOS and Android still dominate with 13.2% and 79.3% market share respectively, Windows Phone maintains the largest year over year increase.

This is the second report from the IDC this year that has shown strong YoY growth for Windows Phone and the second report from the IDC to claim its third place ranking, globally. However, while that 77% year over year change is impressive, it is down from the 150% year over year growth measuring back in February. Some of that though can probably be attributed to a downswing in general sales of technology as the global economy continues to stagnate.

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One area where it’s always difficult to please your audience is in regards to technology. Between hardware and software advancements you have a public who not only yearns but demands frequent updates for their devices. Some of it is rational and some of it resembles the tantrums of children. But somewhere in between, there is the truth.

Microsoft is in a precarious situation with Windows Phone as they have a lot of so-called 'chicken versus egg' problems to solve. For instance, they need more mainstream apps. But in order to get more apps, they have to have enough devices in user’s hands to convince developers to get on board with Windows Phone. But how can you convince people to buy your phone if you don’t have the apps (either real or perceived)?

With Windows Phone 8 build 10327 (GDR2), Microsoft is pushing out their second minor update for their new operating system this year (the first was GDR1 aka Portico). The concern for a lot of current users is GDR2 doesn’t really bring much to the table in terms of new features. Sure FM radio and an improved Xbox Music library are nice to have, but it’s far from the dozens of features people are demanding on Microsoft’s UserVoice forum.

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Over the weekend, we posted an in depth article on the ‘Other Storage’ issue prevalent on Windows Phone 8 GDR1 devices. The problem is that for some users that area fills up with a lot of data, often of an unknown origin, with no way to gain it back besides a hard reset. From 2 to 10 GB, users have had their data disappear and it prevents them from installing new apps or games due to the restricted size. Case in point, our Lumia 720 has 2.4 GB of Other storage, which can be severely limiting on a device where you only start with around 5 GB.

Two things need to be separated here before going forward: the bug and the architecture of the OS. It is true that with GDR1 devices (any phone below OS build 10327) there is a bug related to uninstallation of XAP files for app installation than can leave remnants behind. While for small apps, this is not a big deal, if you uninstall or download a trial of say NOVA 3 (1 GB) it can have a devastating effect on space.

But there is also the design of the OS. In other words Windows Phone 8 is meant to have some space occupied by Other storage as a way to cache frequently accessed media, graphics, app and game data for fast, offline loading. That’s not a bug but the architecture and it can’t really be “fixed”.

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A vexing problem for those on Windows Phone 8 is that of space-filling ‘Other Storage’ found under Settings > Phone Storage. The problem is after a few days, weeks or months of usage, that mysterious area begins to fill up with “stuff” and users really have no recourse to getting it back.

While Nokia and other OEMs have introduced apps to delete Temporary Files, which for some does gain back significant space, it does not touch the other Other Storage problem for many.

Now, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore stated in a Tweet today that at least in GDR2 (OS build 10327), the problem has been addressed. But from our usage of the Lumia 1020, we’re not too sure users will still be satisfied.

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In tech media, it’s always the big, whizz-bang devices that tend to garner the most attention from enthusiasts. After all, they tend to have a disposable income and they are at the forefront of mobile technology. They're also the loudest for complaints or praise, dominating the conversation.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 is a perfect example, coming in at nearly $700 without a subsidy and $299 with—most people can’t afford it, but it reaps the headlines. And people still want it to have better, more expensive specs. Meanwhile, mid to low range devices are met with derision and scorn as people who are in well financed, established markets chime in on a device not aimed at them. We even see it here on this site, where people just want quad-cores, 1080P displays and envelope-pushing gizmos, yet they lament devices like the Lumia 625.

But the reality of the market is that smartphone prices are dropping favoring devices like the Lumia 52x and Lumia 62x or Huawei with their Ascend W1 and W2. According to the IDC, the average smartphone price has plummeted from $450 to just $375 in the last year. That trend is expected to continue with the average price headed to $350 and lower in 2013 and that directly cuts into the profit margins of Apple and Samsung, who often bet on high-end smartphones like the iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 (neither of which are cheap).

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This morning Nokia reported its financial results for the June quarter.  Overall, Nokia is hanging in there.  The company is seeing much stronger results from its ownership in Nokia Siemens Networks, while the business of making phones has not yet returned to profitability.

As far as Lumia goes, Nokia managed to sell 7.4 million of these Windows-based smartphones compared to 5.6 million last quarter.  Naturally, with BlackBerry having shipped only 6.8 million phones last quarter (a number that has been in decline), the media jumped all over this to declare Nokia the victor as the #3 player in smartphones.

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Love it or hate it, Windows 8 is an operating system that is trying to break new ground. Microsoft’s move to rethink their world famous platform is the grandest risk and endeavor that the company has ever taken. For those of us on Facebook, think of when an update is released and brings minor changes, but a major user backlash. The idea that people don’t enjoy change is just one of the battles the Redmond company faces as it climbs the hill to a new beginning.

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You may recall reading about my account of what happened when I took my Nokia Lumia 920 out for a spin on my bike with a sub-standard bike mount back in June and how it took a beating that only an action hero could withstand.

I figured I would post a follow up on how my Lumia 920's story, like those of the silver screen, had a fairly happy ending, complete with a new grey chassis.

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The War

There was once a time when being a heavy Google services user and a Microsoft fan was the easiest choice on the block. The boys in Redmond could provide a robust and productive operating system platform while the Mountain View search cowboys could back you up with web services. Now, the two companies are going head to head and it might just be causing a hellish nightmare for consumers.

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Sometimes technology is a collection of circuitry and silicon, sometimes though – it is a magical moment full of feelings and memories. The best experiences are born when technology transcends our knowledge and connects us with what we love. British science fiction writer and futurist, Arthur C. Clarke, once said:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Microsoft has been around for a long time and for those of us who live off of the technology they provide, some of the memories will never seep away.

In 2007, the company released a four minute commercial that has come to be known as “Your Digital Lifestyle”. The ad highlighted the then current hi-tech Microsoft products of the time and how one green shirted hipster used them to party the night away. The commercial is set to a cover of Ash’s Girl from Mars by Canadian group, Magneta Lane.

Buckle up, because we are going on a field trip to six years ago; along the way, we are going to jam with our green shirted friend and revisit some of our past Microsoft technology goodies. Windows Vista will probably be seen along the way, but there will be plenty of other experiences to combat that bad flavor.

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