CTIA's annual Wireless show is taking place in beautiful New Orleans this year, and we're expecting a variety of announcements — new phones, apps, and services are all on tap. The action kicks off in earnest on the afternoon of Monday, May 7th with events from AT&T, Verizon, and Mastercard, but you can expect news throughout the week. On Tuesday, look for liveblogs of a keynote session by FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and a roundtable featuring AT&T's Ralph de la Vega, Sprint's Dan Hesse, T-Mobile's Philipp Humm, and Verizon's Dan Mead!
May 14, 2012
Telephone voice quality has remained essentially unchanged for a century, seemingly immune to the advances in technology that have relentlessly occurred (and continue to occur) around it. Of course, there's more to the story than that — telephone lines have moved from analog to digital and audio codecs have become more efficient over time — but the goal has always been to reduce the amount of bandwidth required to transmit voice at roughly the same quality, not to improve it.Read Article >
VoIP services — most famously Skype — would seem to have advanced the conversation by putting the concept of lifelike voice quality front and center for its millions of users around the globe, and voice over LTE (VoLTE) gives carriers both the bandwidth and the infrastructure to launch so-called HD voice service with little challenge.
May 10, 2012Read Article >
The spec card with the phone claims that it will support HD Voice, but we got mixed signals from the various ZTE reps at the booth today about whether or not that would be a launch feature on Cricket. The signals on when it would launch were just a bit clearer — ZTE and Cricket apparently hope to have it ready for back-to-school season, so it should be out in July or August. No pricing details yet, but it's hard to imagine Cricket will charge a premium.
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With new phones always come new accessories, and HTC's One series is no different. Today we got a chance to see one of the company's more interesting offerings, the Car StereoClip. The accessory is a USB flash drive-sized Bluetooth dongle that will receive wireless audio from your phone and pass it off to a speaker with its male 3.5mm headphone jack. What's different about the StereoClip is that it supports Bluetooth 4.0 and aptX, which means the audio quality from phones that support both those standards should be significantly better than what you might be used to on typical A2DP Bluetooth devices.
Is that an admission that the S III is on tap for AT&T, though? Bidan couldn't confirm what American carriers will be getting the phone, but he mentioned that it'll be coming to "the fastest HSPA+ and LTE networks" in the country — seemingly a reference to T-Mobile and either Verizon or AT&T. And in all likelihood, AT&T doesn't want to leave a hole in the portfolio left by the canceled HD.Read Article >
Samsung has previously said that the Galaxy S III will hit the US in June, though it remains unclear which carrier will get it first; Bidan today simply told us "summer."
If you're unimpressed by NFC payment systems like Google Wallet but want to use your phone to carry your credit cards, you should take a long, hard look at the iCache Geode. It's an iPhone case with Kickstarter origins that equips your phone with all of your credit and loyalty cards. You've likely seen loyalty card apps for iOS and Android before, but what's different about the Geode is that it has a small E Ink display on the back of the case that any barcode reader can pick up. Additionally, the case has comes with a "GeoCard" that is a universal credit card — all you do is choose your credit card and loyalty card from the app and it'll refresh the E Ink display and activate the GeoCard with the particular card you want to use. Then just swipe the GeoCard like normal, and scan the barcode on the E Ink display. We had the opportunity to take a look at the case today, so read on for some impressions.Read Article >
The first thing you'll notice about the Geode is that it isn't terribly attractive (though few cases are). The version of the case that we saw today is not final, so we're told that the fit and finish will be far improved when it is released. Despite that, the case feels pretty good in the hand — the finish on the back is a nice matt plastic, though unfortunately the front is made of a rubber material that's a little sticky for our tastes. Fortunately, the volume and power buttons work well through the case, and the lump made by the back of the Geode gives the iPhone a bit of a handle that makes it feel quite secure in your hand. The case has a fingerprint reader on the bottom (below the iPhone's home button), and a Micro USB port on the bottom edge of the device serves to connect to a card reader that'll import your credit card info without the need to punch it all in manually. Similarly, you can use the iPhone's camera to scan your loyalty cards' barcodes.
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At an event in New Orleans today touting its so-called Network Vision infrastructure plan, Sprint spent time talking about its previously leaked Direct Connect Now product, an Android app that will bring push-to-talk interoperability to smartphones in the carrier's lineup. Though Sprint has (and will continue to have) hardware-enabled Direct Connect phones in its portfolio, the benefits of a pure software solution are obvious: users who need PTT functionality can select from a larger variety of devices and be assured of interoperability with coworkers who are using true PTT handsets. There's no word on a release date yet, but Sprint will be making the app available in Google Play.
May 9, 2012
AT&T is going to start testing small cells "later this year and into next year" to improve its network coverage and capacity, the company reiterated at CTIA. The miniature, short-range cell sites can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of a traditional tower. AT&T announced it was planning tests this year, and Cisco announced it was working with AT&T on developing small cells, at MWC in February. However, AT&T hasn't made clear the particular type of hardware (3G, 4G, etc.) it's planning to test. Small cells can be deployed in a wide variety of settings, like the sides of lamp posts, allowing telecoms to increase network coverage by filling in holes between their bigger, "macro" cell towers.Read Article >
On the topic of small cells, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated yesterday at CTIA that the organization plans to free up spectrum in the 3.5GHz band for small cell use. Due to its poor range and indoor penetration, the band lies outside of what is ordinarily considered prime wireless spectrum, but small cells would allow carriers to exploit it for outdoor reception in dense urban areas.
We've spent some time with Cadillac's CUE infotainment system before, and while we didn't find it terribly hard to use, GM has decided that it needs a more aggressive strategy to train its customers on the system's features once it launches this spring. The company's taking a few different approches to this — the first being that it's going to include an iPad with future purchases of the brand-new XTS full size sedan, which is launching in May. We don't think a free iPad will push the scales when it comes to purchasing a car that starts at $44,995, but the idea is that it'll help customers become familiar with the CUE system. The iPad will come pre-loaded with the Cadillac CUE app, which is available now, as well as the OnStar RemoteLink app and videos that walk through the system. The CUE app is in essence a infotainment simulator — it'll let customers practice with the system's functions and follow tutorials without having to sit in the parking lot testing out CUE for hours at a time. While the feature isn't there yet, we're told that the company hopes to have the app comunicate with the car and let you change settings (like favorite radio channels) from your iPad, even when you're not in the vehicle.Read Article >
Other than the iPad training manual, Cadillac says it's training up its dealers and requiring each to have two trained tech experts who really know about these systems. Lastly, you'll be able to pull into your dealer, call up, or request a meet-up (at your office, for instance) to get training and have your questions answered for free — sort of a hybrid of Geek Squad and Apple's Genius Bar. There's no question that Cadillac is betting a lot on its CUE system — we'll just have to see if it's enough to get customers' attention when it launches this Spring on the XTS and ATS.
May 9, 2012
Hillcrest Labs is all about motion control — the company's technology powers the PlayStation Move, the Angry Birds-playing Roku remote, and a handful of other devices that use your movements to control your gadgets. Now Hillcrest is bringing the same technology and expertise to smartphones and tablets, promising a vastly improved motion and gesture experience. The company's Freespace Mobile Engine takes data from a device's accelerometer, compass, gyroscope, and other sensors, synthesizes and optimizes that data and provides to developers an incredibly accurate system and API for determining where your device is in space. It's far more accurate than the standard APIs found in Android, reps said, and gives you both better control and a better experience. It also corrects for your hands' tremors, or slight compass problems caused by magnetic fields or other phones.Read Article >
We saw rudimentary demos of the technology working on a smartphone and a tablet, and our minds immediately started spinning with the possibilities. The phone knew when we were holding it, or when we set it down on a table, or when it was in a stand; it would also change songs in the music player with a quick flick of the wrist. The tablet was even cooler, showing an augmented reality-like app that panned around a view of a mountain based on the device's movement, direction, and location. The picture stuttered and jumped, constantly self-correcting after slight errors, but when reps turned on Hillcrest's Fusion engine, the experience became incredibly smooth and realistic, as if we were moving a window around rather than panning around an image. From games to interface gestures to navigation, more accurate motion control can both improve your user experience and even open up some new ones.
May 9, 2012
Clarity is a division of Plantronics whose tagline is "Smart for seniors," and its latest product falls directly into that niche. Dubbed the Clarity Pal, its main feature is an audio "boost mode" that cranks up the volume to 25 decibels so that the hard of hearing can still use a phone. We gave it a shot here at CTIA on our (relatively well-functioning) ear drums and found it to be painfully loud — which means it was performing exactly to spec, we suppose. Clarity also has added in extra loud touchtones on the very large, rubbery buttons and a panic button on the back, which can be pre-programmed to any number.Read Article >
Clarity was pushing the messaging that the phone would be ideal for certain disabled consumers (the company says that it's testing the device for the blind as well), noting that it's hearing-aid compatible. It should begin selling in June for $99 unlocked — and since there's no data to worry about it should operate just fine on the GSM carrier of your choice. Just because it's a smartphone world doesn't mean that there isn't a place for something that cuts out the frills.
May 8, 2012Read Article >
We stopped by Unnecto's booth today at CTIA 2012 to see its newest Android smartphone, the Quattro. You may not have heard of Unnecto, but the company specializes in inexpensive dual-SIM feature phones that are sold off contract. That's where the Quattro gets interesting: we're told that the phone will cost under $200 unlocked. At that price point we suspect this is the kind of hardware we'll see in future Android smartphones that are free on contract. Of course, some corners need to be cut to get that price: the it has a 4-inch, 480 x 800 LCD screen, a 650Mhz MediaTek processor, and a 5-megapixel rear camera. You get two SIM slots with the Quattro — one micro SIM and another full-sized — but for now it only supports 850MHz and 2100MHz HSDPA (read: AT&T 3G). We were told that the company is working to get a T-Mobile compatible version, but it's important to note that the Quattro won't be sold from a carrier — it'll be solely be available from third-party retailers like Amazon and Newegg when it comes out in the next couple of months.
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It's notable that RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has recently joined the CTIA's board of directors — a board long occupied by former co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, Mesirow notes — so it's clear that the company intends to take the organization seriously. Whether that ultimately translates to a big hardware debut at a show normally dominated by software and services, though, remains to be seen.
Carrier IQ is no stranger to privacy issues after last November's discovery that its software was being improperly logged by HTC — the company quickly became a flashpoint for controversy, even though it worked with nearly every company in mobile from Apple to Sprint to Samsung. Today, the company is taking steps to rebuild its reputation, starting with the announced that it's hired a new Chief Privacy Officer and General Counsel named Magnolia Mobley. We sat down with Mobley and Carrier IQ's Andrew Coward to discuss her new role in the company and where Carrier IQ future now that it's more public than ever before.Read Article >
Carrier IQ's main customers are still the carriers and manufacturers, not end users. In that regard, Mobley is primarily concerned that they understand "how our technology enables privacy." Again, the company believes it's more about communicating what it's already doing than radically changing how its current technology works. The goal is "privacy by design" where "you don't think of it as an afterthought, you build it in."
We just spoke with SIM card maker (and pioneer) Giesecke & Devrient here at CTIA about progress on the creation of the 4FF standard — the so-called nano-SIM — over which Apple and Nokia have been warring in recent months. The company is showcasing Apple's design here at the show, an evolution of the 3FF micro-SIM that iPhone and iPad users have become well acquainted with over the years, though there aren't any prototypes of Nokia's competing design at the booth. When asked if that meant they were siding with Apple on this one, we were told "we work with everybody."Read Article >
The company tells us that the ETSI vote on the 4FF standard that had been delayed back in March is actually now underway. Voting began for ETSI members in mid-April and wraps up in mid-May, mere days away. G&D is a voting member, though it wouldn't tell us which way it's leaning — needless to say, the presence of Apple's design here signals that they'll almost certainly put their votes in that direction and away from Nokia's more radical design that limits backward compatibility with micro-SIM and mini-SIM slots on older phones.
May 8, 2012Read Article >
Wilson Electronics is showing off its newly upgraded Sleek wireless signal booster at CTIA, the Sleek 4G-A, and we just got a chance to check it out in person. The device is intended to boost wireless signal strength for phones and mobile hotspots, and is designed to work with AT&T 700MHz LTE — but Wilson says it's capable of boosting the signal of all 2G and 3G networks except for Nextel and iDEN. To demonstrate the booster Wilson used a Faraday cage with the antenna leading out of the cage to the top of its exhibit. While the cage wasn't able to ding the signal strength of my own Evo 3D, it dropped Wilson's own demo phone on Verizon's network from -63 dB to -91 dB. When the wireless booster was activated, the phone's signal strength jumped up to -31 dB — a marked improvement. The Sleek 4G-A will retail for $129.95 and should debut sometime in Q3 2012.
Neither the just-announced HTC Evo V 4G on Virgin nor the HTC Design 4G on Boost Mobile are new. Both are Sprint devices that are being brought down to the pre-paid MVNO in a move that Sprint says is a part of a new trend where it will move top-tier devices into the low-range on pre-paid once they've spent some time in the market. Both phones are identical to what we remember and frankly, they seem like they should have a pretty good shot as they were devices that perhaps flew under the radar a bit in their original life. Sprint thinks the Evo V 4G in particular will be a winner for them, as apparently Virgin Mobile customers are more likely to gravitate towards higher-end devices than Boost. Interestingly, Sprint says that the change from Evo 3D to Evo V is an attempt to re-market the device on its own merits instead as just a 3D device.Read Article >
They are both running Android 4.0 and Sense 3.6, which means a few of the new bells and whistles are missing on these devices as compared to the One series. Interestingly, one of those bells is HTC's new multitasking "card" interface — instead these devices use the traditional Android 4.0 vertical multitasking list. Frankly, we don't mind.
Kyocera's presence in the US smartphone market tripled in size this morning, as the company launched the new Hydro and Rise phones. The two are virtually identical internally: 1GHz Snapdragon processors, 3.5-inch, 480 x 320 IPS displays, 3.2-megapixel rear cameras, and CDMA connectivity (no LTE). Both run near-stock Android 4.0, too, along with four capacitive buttons below the display. Each phone has but one unique feature: the Hydro is waterproof, able to withstand blasting water or immersion in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The Rise isn't waterproof, but it does have a full, four-row landscape QWERTY keyboard that slides out of the phone.Read Article >
We tested out both phones, and though they're decidedly low-end devices both seemed to work pretty well. The Rise's keyboard is spacious and easy to use, and though the Hydro is heftier than many phones, it definitely feels solid. Both were surprisingly zippy, and Android 4.0 worked pretty well; the low-res screens leave a lot to be desired, but they'll probably be enough for anyone who hasn't laid eyes on a high-res smartphone display before.
After months of rumors, we've finally gotten our hands on the Droid Incredible 4G LTE. While not technically a "One" device from HTC, it nevertheless has respectable specs for a 2012 phone: 960 x 540 Super LCD, 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4, and Android 4.0 with HTC's latest iteration of Sense. The classic Incredible styling is here, and it works well — it's definitely a mild evolution of the Rezound released late last year. (Then again, if you prefer the design language introduced by the One S and One X, you'll be disappointed that it's not carried over here.)Read Article >
It's hard to get a good read in the low lighting of Verizon's CTIA event this evening, but the screen seems to match the high bar set by the One X, just at a smaller size and resolution — we're told that this is a pre-production unit we're looking at here, and it may be the only one in New Orleans this week. The One S is unquestionably the better-looking (and arguably better-feeling) device, yes, but there's a big tradeoff: it's got a PenTile AMOLED display that's easily put to shame for clarity and color reproduction by Super LCDs like the one used on Verizon's device. And regardless of what carrier you're on, there's some reason to celebrate: the introduction of the Droid Incredible 4G LTE means there'll be modern, competitive HTCs on all four US nationals soon.
Clarion announced the Next Gate infotainment system this morning, and here at CTIA in New Orleans we got a good look at the new system. The device is basically a dormant unit, a lifeless peripheral until you plug in your iPhone 4 or 4S. Once a phone is connected, the Next Gate uses iOS apps and services to power an in-car infotainment system — a long-press on one button launches Siri through the built-in microphone, another lets you make calls using the Next Gate display. The Next Gate does contribute, though, beyond just showing your iPhone apps on a larger screen: it actually converts the apps into a car-friendly UI, so you can navigate them more easily while driving.Read Article >
The whole system worked pretty seamlessly as we tested it out, moving from the phone screen to a series of apps — a dozen or so are supported now, like Pandora and Odyssey navigation. Unfortunately, those dozen are the only apps you can use with the Next Gate, but the company promises it's working to add more to its arsenal. Pandora and TuneIn radio do indeed seem more driver-friendly with Clarion's interface, but the display is only 800 x 480, so it's not as nice to look at as the iPhone's screen. Since the Next Gate will cost $269 when it's released in June, it might be a hard sell when you could just use your iPhone anyway, but it's certainly a clever way to leverage all (or at least some) of the apps on your iPhone in a car-optimized way.
May 7, 2012
At a press conference at CTIA in New Orleans, MasterCard introduced PayPass Online, a version of its PayPass service that lets you buy things using your smartphone, or with a single click on the web. The system sounds like Amazon's "One-Click Buy" extended to other sites, or like PayPal — you have a single, secure login in MasterCard's system, and can use it to shop on any site. Companies can use PayPass APIs to integrate the system into their own, or use a MasterCard-built white label system. The system accepts any kind of card, and also integrates with an NFC-enabled cell phone.Read Article >
MasterCard reps demoed the new tools using a Samsung Galaxy S II, as we took "a journey to London" all from within our hotel conference room. They showed off paying for a flight using the PayPass Wallet, which shows a virtual credit card as soon as you log in — you can save more than one card, and quickly switch which one is in use. Once we'd bought a flight, we headed over to Barnes & Noble to buy a Nook (apparently we're ignoring the "no electronics during takeoff" rule). Another entry of the same password, through the same process — this time with a shipping address — and we'd bought the ebook reader. We paid for a taxi with an NFC-enabled phone hooked into our PayPass account, and after a couple of minutes and several hundred dollars we'd bought everything we'd need using the same device. It's a clever system, and with MasterCard's weight behind should immediately be adopted widely.
May 7, 2012
As for software, there's not much to say — this is a standard Windows Phone 7.5 load, and as with all Windows Phones, this one feels smooth. AT&T LTE is fortunately live in New Orleans, so these Focus 2s are benefiting (as are we).Read Article >
At $49.99, we'll admit, the design of the Focus 2 is more appealing in this price category than we expected, and it feels solidly-built (as Samsungs go). The only problem is that the Lumia 900 — a bolder design by any definition — is already regularly being sold for $50 or even free on contract, and that leaves a device like this with very little raison d'être.
May 1, 2012
It doesn't have the glitz, glamor, and... well, the general "Vegas-ness" of CES, but CTIA's annual Wireless show is a pretty big deal for the US cellular industry — and it's nearly upon us. It kicks off next Tuesday, May 8th, though we'll start seeing a handful of media events on the 7th. This year, CTIA has tweaked the timing of the event, the location, and the focus, so what exactly can you expect to see?Read Article >
To answer that, we need to take a step back. For consumers who want to see hot new phones, CTIA's two annual shows have historically been oddly-timed "tweeners": the spring event has usually come right on the heels of Barcelona's giant Mobile World Congress, which itself comes shortly after CES. In other words, consumers, companies, and the journalists who cover them are all burned out — there simply aren't enough announcements to go around. And frequently, the devices announced at CES and MWC haven't even been released by the time CTIA's show begins. The fall event, meanwhile, comes just as companies are ramping up for their blockbuster CES announcements the following January.