"4G"

Writing for The Verge, Nilay Patel has penned a scathing indictment of AT&T's forcefeeding of the "4G" label for the iPhone 4S. Nilay writes:

Owners of the iPhone will notice no difference in performance or data transfer speeds; the device will not magically connect to AT&T's shiny new 4G LTE network. It will simply receive a deceptive labeling change that allows AT&T to market the iPhone as a 4G device against competitive phones from Verizon — including, perhaps most importantly, Verizon's own 3G iPhone 4S. It is a triumph of marketing for AT&T, and a rare acquiescence to a poor and confusing user experience for Apple.

Although this change appears, as Nilay writes, to have occurred at the "impetus" of AT&T, it remains odd that Apple has complacently allowed for such a deceptive portion of the user experience. Regarding this topic, Shawn Blanc posed an interesting thought this morning on Twitter:

While this certainly seems viable, I would imagine that AT&T's pricing may be primarily responsive to Verizon's pricing. In any discussions, Verizon would have lacked any semblance of leverage over LTE plan pricing. Thus, I would imagine Apple dealt with Verizon first in order to set competitive prices prior to their discussions with AT&T.

In a darker sense, it's worth noting that Apple probably takes little issue with selling its device with a "4G" label. In a consumer environment characterized by the misinformed clamoring for highly marketed 4G connections, AT&T's fairly description of its service actually serves to give Apple a benefit in the average AT&T showroom.

Having said that, realistically, I doubt we will be blessed with a true answer to this evident inaccuracy and marketing ploy. However, what we do unquestionably know is that the "4G" label is now a permanent fixture for iOS and, as I wrote earlier today, I imagine it will become unilaterally present (and accurate) with the forthcoming iPhone.

Verizon Foregoes ICS Update, Dishes Out Bloatware

Neatly summarizing all of my issues with carrier control over Android devices, Verizon has today pushed a ridiculous excuse of an update for Droid Bionic owners. Rather than offering up the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich, Verizon has chosen to instead to distribute some minor bug fixes laced with some awful bloatware. Aaron Souppouris writes for The Verge:

The standout features from the changelog are support for National Plus Code Dialing and Bluetooth Personal Area Networks. Verizon has also deemed fit to provide you with the latest bloatware, so along with the fixes you'll receive an Amazon MP3 app and the VCAST Apps Store.

Such behavior is symptomatic of virtually all problems I have articulated with regard to carriers and Android. Instead of dedicating time to the distribution and testing of Ice Cream Sandwich, Verizon has evidently used man hours to wedge the woefully pointless VCAST app onto the Droid Bionic. In other words, Verizon has put its own interests tangibly and blatantly in front of the best interests of the consumer.

Although that's not necessarily surprising, it's certainly indicative of the problems associated with allowing carriers such far-reaching control over your platform, and provides a bleak outlook for the integrity of the platform.

Unless the landscape changes significantly, this particular instance provides an apt summary of why I will not be moving to an Android device any time soon. You can harp on about having "control" over your device all you want but, realistically, the vast majority of Android phones allow you little more than cosmetic control. The carrier withholds the ability to distribute software, to dish out bloatware, and to slap a logo on your device at will, and that's simply unacceptable for me. I don't want workarounds and complications, I just want my device to be up-to-date with little cognitive processing required. Regardless of the many positives of the base Android operating system, until the gaping discrepancies between Google, the carrier, and the consumer are rectified, I'm thoroughly uninterested in buying into it. Simple as that.

Amazon Building Standalone Streaming Service with Viacom

Despite already having an entry in the streaming video sector, Amazon is reportedly looking to build a standalone streaming service in association with Viacom. Amazon currently offers streaming video as part of its $79 Amazon Prime program, but is evidently looking to broaden its reach and to directly contend with the likes of Netflix and Hulu.

Considering Amazon's extensive investments over the past quarter, it is unsurprising that we are beginning to see the fruits of such expenditure. Amazon has adopted a thoroughly media-centric stance, and has demonstrated awareness of the importance of a broad ecosystem. The Kindle Fire, Amazon's affordable tablet, is designed with the sole aim of furthering content consumption from Amazon's media library, thereby accounting for the loss induced by the low price of the tablet. At the moment, without a Prime membership, consumer options are somewhat more stifled for streaming media from the tablet.

As such, Amazon's move makes sense and is strengthened by its already standing media deals. By aligning itself with Viacom, Amazon has a chance at offering an extensive library right out of the gate. Reuters reports:

Viacom, which owns TV shows and movies from MTV Networks, Nickelodeon and Paramount Studios, would be the latest of several partners Amazon has made deals with for its Prime Instant Video service. So far, major studios such as CBS Corp, Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros, News Corp's Fox, Sony Corp, Comcast Corp's NBC Universal and Walt Disney Co have licensed programming to the retailer.

Also worth noting is the fact that Amazon already owns and maintains a streaming video service in the United Kingdom, LoveFilm. Following Netflix's threadbare launch in the region, LoveFilm's extensive library has been looked upon kindly by those interested in streaming media, and has potentially given Amazon further fuel for bringing such a service to the US.

Although there is no hint at original content, unlike Redbox and Verizon's announcement earlier this week, Amazon has extensive media deals already in place, thereby contributing an air of legitimacy to its motives.

Honestly, from my perspective, Amazon clearly has a masterful comprehension of the modern technology marketplace. From its launch of an affordable tablet to its Prime program, Amazon has demonstrated a repeated willingness to modernize and intelligently innovate. If anyone can challenge Netflix's dominance in the streaming arena, it's Amazon.

The official reveal of the service seems set for this week following hints from Viacom CEO, Philippe Dauman.

Verizon and Redbox Launching Video Service

Andrew Dowell and Martin Peers for The Wall Street Journal:

Telecommunications company Verizon Communications Inc. and Redbox video-kiosk owner Coinstar Inc. said Monday they will launch an online service in the second half of the year that features streaming videos and downloads.

Although details regarding content providers are notably absent, the collaborative project certainly boasts some uniquely attractive traits. Given the physical network of Redbox machines, Verizon's exisiting media allegiances and digital network via its cellular and FiOS services, and the apparent dedication to building a standalone service, Verizon and Coinstar's plans paint a fairly cosmetically formidable picture.

Having said that, aside from a robust distribution network, Verizon and Coinstar have failed to indicate any semblance of interest in original content. Although specific content deals have not been detailed, the joint press release fails to even hint at original content - an area that is likely to become of pivotal importance in the streaming arena.

Netflix now touts over 24 million users and is actively pursuing original content deals, most notably with its impending resurrection of the popular television show, 'Arrested Development.' With Yahoo! and Hulu both following suit, it is clear that merely offering a library of other people's content will not suffice for market success.

Netflix and Hulu have both posted impressive earnings, and have repeatedly highlighted their dedication to modernization. Focusing upon streaming rather than physical distribution, although met with initial apprehension, has proved an important business model for Netflix, and Hulu's entire reliance on digital distribution is clearly paying off. Thus, it seems odd that Verizon has struck a deal with Coinstar and its Redbox machines when the communications giant evidently could've built a streaming service of its own with few hurdles to clear. 

With no content-specific details - particularly with a view to original projects - it is entirely premature to view this as a viable Netflix competitor. Vague promises of apps, an apparent desire for physical discs, and unclear content deals all provide for a thoroughly flimsy premise, and I'm accordingly unconvinced. Brand name clout aside, without concrete details and industry-upsetting deals to back it up, it will take quite a lot more for me to even mention this deal as some sort of threat to Netflix or Hulu.

The joint press release can be viewed here.

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)