Nokia's Massive, Microsoft-Shaped Problem

Tom Warren, The Verge:

Nokia just unveiled its Lumia 925 at an event in London, and I've managed to take an early look at the handset ahead of its release in June. Nokia has swapped out a unibody polycarbonate look and feel for metal. Aluminum to be precise. The result is a stunning, slimline Lumia that weighs just 139 grams. It's really noticeable when you pick up the Lumia 925 for the first time. With a polycarbonate rear, and aluminum frame wrapping around the side of the device, it feels almost as plastic and lightweight as a Samsung Galaxy. But the aluminum makes it a lot more sturdy and brings it to similar design and hardware levels as Apple's iPhone 5.

With the release of the Lumia 925 and the HTC One, the first half of 2013 has brought gifts of truly phenomenal industrial design, but failed to deliver in terms of software — both experientially and aesthetically.

Marry either the One or the 925 with stock Android and I daresay you'd have truly impactful devices on the market to challenge the iPhone.

Mar both the One and 925 with a subpar software experience, however, and you continue to face the same aged problems endemic to the marketplace.

Although I comprehend HTC's dogged loyalty to its Sense skin amidst a poorly differentiated Android market, Nokia's dire attachment to Microsoft is simply baffling.

In its early stages, the allegiance, admittedly, made sense. Microsoft was willing to provide money and support, thereby saving Nokia, whilst Microsoft also received an aesthetically admirable hardware arm. It was a symbiotic relationship that provided clear benefits to all parties.

Today, on the other hand, Microsoft has increasingly distanced itself from Nokia and the purported benefits of the relationship have been left by the wayside. In an effort to catalyze growth in its ecosystem, Microsoft has thrown its support behind HTC and rumors continue to swirl regarding a Surface-branded phone. Meanwhile, Nokia has been left behind with its devices, burned with the Windows Phone 7-to-8 upgrade debacle, and so on.

Nokia continues to bless a stagnant — albeit attractive — operating system with genuinely beautiful hardware. Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to court competitors, ignore its most valuable hardware asset, and fail to drastically cover any ground in its game of competitive catch-up.

The relationship is, in other words, poisonous to Nokia. We've watched as the firm has built multiple iterations of fantastic products only to be underserved on the software side. And as stock Android arrives at a point of true attraction and viability, the tragedy of the situation only worsens.

The Lumia 925 is both a triumph of design and a failure in business. It's objectively well-considered, whilst also being a vapid disappointment.

Unless Microsoft can provide a compelling reason for Windows Phone adoption in its — presumably impending — yearly update, there's simply no reason to purchase a Lumia 925 beyond its good looks. And that's a shame for customers, a problem for the competitive landscape, and ought to be a dire concern for Nokia.

HTC Confirms Jelly Bean is Coming to One X

One X

Jeff Blagdon:

If you’ve been wondering whether or not the HTC One X and One S are getting updated to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, wonder no longer — the answer is yes, sometime.

Thanks to the kindness of AT&T, I’ve been carrying an HTC One X with me for the past few weeks, and this question has certainly been weighing on me. With the arrival of the Nexus 7, I’ve experienced the benefits of the Jelly Bean update — particularly sans HTC Sense — and have been wondering whether HTC would be kind enough to bestow such improvements upon its users.

For all of the hyperbole in our community regarding the fragmentation and the lack of updates endemic to the broader Android experience, from the front line of testing, I can confidently report that it’s truly a rather frustrating state of affairs. As someone with a vested interest in the adoption of cutting edge software, the utter lack of communication and transparency regarding software updates is disconcerting to say the least. Vague PR statements to tech sites do not instill any semblance of confidence in the end-user, and I can only imagine those who use the One X or One S as full-time devices would be rather disconcerted by the entirety of the experience.

Although I’ve had a greatly enjoyable time with the One X, the questions swirling around the stock operating system, updates, Sense, and HTC’s attentiveness have unquestionably proven off-putting. For every ounce of goodness apparent within the operating system, third party manufacturers seem keen to dismantle any such positive responses and affable feelings toward their devices in a truly strange manner.

The One X will continue to be my Android phone for the coming weeks — here’s hoping we might hear something from HTC in the meantime.

For more information regarding my experiences with Android, listen to my new podcast on the 70Decibels network, Bionic.

"Later this year"

In an update to the company's Facebook account this morning, HTC has detailed its forthcoming Ice Cream Sandwich updates to its line of Android devices. Having announced four devices that will be updated "by the end of March," the announcement goes onto state:

In addition, we can confirm Ice Cream Sandwich upgrades will be coming later this year to the HTC Rezound, HTC Vivid, HTC Amaze 4G, HTC EVO 3D, HTC EVO Design 4G, HTC Incredible S, HTC Desire S and HTC Desire HD.

For general perspective, the oldest device in the "later this year" list is the HTC Desire HD, which was released in September, 2010. Over half of the remainder of the "later this year" devices were released in the latter half of 2011.

I don't mean to point the finger at HTC, but this is simply dire.

HTC released 21 Android phones in 2011 and now, over three months since Ice Cream Sandwich's release, HTC is offering relatively vague promises for rolling out the update. Without control over the OS, HTC has been forced to wedge the latest version of the OS retroactively and differently into as many devices as possible, with many simply unable to make the cut.

Delayed rollout of Ice Cream Sandwich has dogged the otherwise promising OS's reception, with carriers and manufacturers alike pushing foreboding release schedules and vaguely negative timelines. Indeed, just over a week ago it was revealed that Ice Cream Sandwich has thus far reached only 1 percent of Android devices.

Given the apparent end-user benefits of the software update, it's awful to see the seemingly vast majority of users left out in the cold - their year old devices suddenly deprived of a software lifeline for the remainder of the consumer's two year contract. Arguments over the positives and negatives of Android aside, this is an unquestionably serious issue that Google, manufacturers, and carriers must collectively address.

The marketing of such devices while fully aware that they will be cast into obsolescence in a relatively short period of time is deplorable, and is worryingly endemic in the Android device marketplace today. Without resolution, alienation and stagnating adoption are surely on the horizon.

Corporate Responses to Carrier IQ

AT&T:

Mark Siegel, executive director of media relations at AT&T, however, declined to say whether Carrier IQ is present in all AT&T handsets, what notice users have of its presence and whether users have the ability to turn off the software if they choose.

In an emailed statement, Siegel said that AT&T's use of Carrier IQ software is in line with the company's privacy policies. "We're really not going to offer more detail than what's in the statement," he said.

Yes.

Sprint:

Sprint says it collects "enough information to understand the customer experience with devices on our network," but that it can't look at the contents of messages, photos, or videos using Carrier IQ. Of course, this story broke when a Sprint HTC EVO 3D was shown logging keystrokes and call information, so the question remains if Carrier IQ on Sprint phones can monitor, store, or send that data — we'll ask for a clarification.

Yes.

Verizon:

“Any report that Verizon Wireless uses Carrier IQ is patently false,” Verizon Wireless spokesperson Jeffrey Nelson said in an email. In an email follow-up, spokeswoman Debra Lewis elaborated. “We did recently notify customers about new privacy programs; we were transparent about how customer information will be used and gave clear choices to customers about whether they want to participate in these programs,” she said (the privacy policy is here). “Carrier IQ is not involved in these programs.”

No, but with the caveat that they use equivalent software.

Apple:

We stopped supporting CarrierIQ with iOS 5 in most of our products and will remove it completely in a future software update. With any diagnostic data sent to Apple, customers must actively opt-in to share this information, and if they do, the data is sent in an anonymous and encrypted form and does not include any personal information. We never recorded keystrokes, messages or any other personal information for diagnostic data and have no plans to ever do so.

Removed post-iOS5 from "most" products. The iPhone 4 is the only iOS5 product with Carrier IQ still installed.

Blackberry:

“RIM is aware of a recent claim by a security researcher that an application called ‘CarrierIQ’ is installed on mobile devices from multiple vendors without the knowledge or consent of the device users,” the company said in a statement. “RIM does not pre-install the CarrierIQ app on BlackBerry smartphones or authorize its carrier partners to install the CarrierIQ app before sales or distribution. RIM also did not develop or commission the development of the CarrierIQ application, and has no involvement in the testing, promotion, or distribution of the app. RIM will continue to investigate reports and speculation related to CarrierIQ.”

Suggest no authorized involvement, but does not address potential for unauthorized installation.

Google:

We do not have an affiliation with CarrierIQ. Android is an open source effort and we do not control how carriers or OEMs customize their devices.

No direct involvement, points blame at the carriers and manufacturers.

HTC:

HTC went one step further, fingering the carriers outright. “Carrier IQ is required on devices by a number of U.S carriers so if consumers or media have any questions about the practices relating to, or data collected by, Carrier IQ we’d advise them to contact their carrier,” the company said, stressing that it is not a customer or partner of Carrier IQ. “HTC is investigating the option to allow consumers to opt-out of data collection by the Carrier IQ application,” it added.

Yes, but points the blame at the carriers.

Nokia:

Nokia is aware of inaccurate reports which state that software from CarrierIQ has been found on Nokia devices. CarrierIQ does not ship products for any Nokia devices, so these reports are wrong.

No.

To summarize, it appears the only carrier to respond so far that does not use Carrier IQ is Verizon, and even then, it appears they have an equivalent. T-Mobile has yet to comment.

For manufacturers, the waters are murky. Although many deny involvement, there are some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) hints of both former and current association. Apple's statement, for instance, speaks to "most" products, but overlooks the iPhone 4, their most popular handset. And RIM's statement opens the door for unauthorized Carrier IQ implementation.

At the end of the day, the blame is being squarely pinned on the carriers (as was suspected).

What remains to be seen is what, exactly, the carriers have been eliciting from their users via Carrier IQ's software.

(Via John Gruber, The Verge, and AllThingsD)