Archive | June, 2007

Nokia to tie-up with HP for GPS solution?

30 Jun
Is it a matter of coincidence that two brands announce their GPS enabled devices but will be able to provide the relevant maps only “in the course of the next three to four months”? Well, that’s what has happened this past week. A source had tipped us that HP and Nokia are in the early stages of partnering together to launch a GPS based navigation solution in India along with a global map provider. At that time, the idea seemed to be a bit far fetched but the way events have unfolded it seems closer to reality.
Figure this. Last week at the HP Oomph event, a representative from HP said that they are working on a navigation application (basically maps for Indian cities), which should be ready to be launched in the next three to four months. Then on Thursday, at the launch of the Nokia E90, we heard the same story from a Nokia spokesperson. 
What are the odds of two non-competing brands, each of which has a GPS enabled device for a couple of months (around six months for HP) but no maps, to announce that it will take them three months to unveil a full-fledged navigation application? Even though the Nokia spokesperson denied any such tie-up, it is very much possible. We checked up with a couple of sources familiar with the matter and both said that there are talks going on between the two brands but the details are very sketchy.
If true, it won’t be the first time that Nokia and HP will be partnering together to launch a service. Last year, the two global giants had launched Visual Radio service in many parts of the world.

Apple iPhone – A matter of spin

28 Jun
The iPhone will be up for grabs in just over 24 hours from now and people are finding it impossible to contain their excitement. So what if it can’t record videos or make use of 3G networks or is locked to AT&T and comes with a hefty price tag, enthusiasts are already queuing up outside Apple stores hoping to be the lucky few to get their hands on the most hyped phone after the Moto Razr.
But it is not just in the States that consumers are awaiting the launch. Even on the other side of the globe, in India, I have come across many folks who proudly claim that their next cellphone is going to be the iPhone. Well, that would be one hell of a wait to change their cellphones as the iPhone isn’t expected to hit the Indian shores anytime before mid-2008. Sorry to break your hearts guys.
A friend of mine, who’s working at an Apple store in Bangalore, told me that in the past couple of weeks they have answered over hundred queries everyday for the iPhone. Now that translates to over 1,400 queries about a product whose launch is almost a year away. 
It’s not just the consumers who are kicked up about the device and even the mainstream media is going gaga about it. At a press conference today, almost everyone had the iPhone on their lips. I even got a call from a journalist who wanted to know how the iPhone will work in India since it is locked to AT&T and it doesn’t operate in India. 
Hats off to the PR and marketing team at Apple for making people in India await the launch of iPhone on June 29th. No surprises that Apple is expecting to sell 15 million units of the shiny handheld.

Nokia E90 launched

27 Jun
Nokia’s next generation Communicator – the E90 – has been launched. The first batch of units has just hit the retail market while the official launch is scheduled for tomorrow. It is Nokia’s first Communicator in a span of nearly two years after the 9300i.  The E90 brings along a number of firsts for the Communicator series. It is the only Communicator to be based on the S60 third edition platform that lets you access most of the functions with the flap closed. If you open the flap, the running application will shift to the inside screen.
The E90 has an inbuilt GPS receiver as well as support for Wi-Fi and HSDPA networks. Also present is a 3.2 megapixel snapper, which is the best resolution camera available in Nokia’s enterprise device portfolio. The E90 debuts at a price of Rs 40,000.

Tempted to ‘Touch’

27 Jun
Apple’s self-proclaimed revolutionary iPhone, with its multi-touch technology has resulted in a sudden rush of innovative touchscreen phones. We have seen the LG Prada phone and now we have HTC’s Touch. It is unfortunate for HTC that their product is being compared with the iPhone as both are targeted at entirely different segments and that says volumes about Apple’s ability to spin. The highlight of the Touch is its unique UI that relies on how you touch it with your fingers and probably that’s why many compare it with the iPhone.
It’s different
The Touch is, by far, one of the most attractive Windows Mobile device manufactured till date. Just 13.9 mm thin, it is one of the slimmest phones to come with a touchscreen. There are only two tiny keys on the face for calling and hanging up apart from the sensually styled D-pad. Even the homescreen doesn’t resemble that of a conventional Windows Mobile device with a large digital clock and weather updates. Had it not been for the Start button on the top of the screen, there is no way anyone could tell that it’s a Windows Mobile product. The Touch is based on the Windows Mobile 6.0 Professional edition.
It is not just the design or the homescreen that is special about the Touch. The UI has been changed and now you can access multimedia functions, the frequently used items and the contact book by some simple, fluid finger motions. HTC calls it TouchFlo and it works somewhat like this – Keep the tip of your finger on the HTC logo below the screen and move your finger upwards and the address book will pop up. The contacts for whom you have assigned a photograph are shown as thumbnails. To access the multimedia functions, flick your finger from the left edge of the screen to the right and the menu changes as if a cube is being rotated. In order to close the menu, flick your finger downwards from the top of the screen.
Initially, I struggled a lot to get the act right but after a few attempts I got used to it. I found that it is a good way to catch the attention of a girl sitting next to you in the train and strike up a conversation. In case you find TouchFlo intimidating (or you already have a girl) you can use the default Windows Mobile UI by clicking on the Start menu and delving into the Programs menu. 
Some innovations
Apple might be confident that the iPhone doesn’t require stylus input, HTC has provided both the options. The stylus comes handy when you want to type a text message or e-mail or even add a new contact. The screen is intelligent enough to recognise when you are using your fingers and when it is a stylus and it reacts differently in each scenario. For instance, if you move your fingers down to up in the Inbox, it will scroll through the messages and stop when you tap the screen again. However, when you drag the stylus from top to bottom, it will select all those messages. This selective sensitivity also means that you don’t have to point your finger exactly over the cross button to close a window. Just press the top corner of the screen near the cross button and that will do the trick.
The position of the SIM card slot beats conventional wisdom and is located on the right edge of the phone, above the camera button. Probably HTC wanted users to be able to change SIM cards without removing the battery but that’s what most people instinctively do. To top it all, the graphical instructions for inserting the SIM card are provided beneath the battery. Now doesn’t that beat the entire purpose?
Well endowed
The Touch might be one of the slimmest Windows Mobile devices it doesn’t compromise on any features. The 2 megapixel camera gives decent picture output even though it lacks auto-focus. It is Wi-Fi enabled and supports Bluetooth 2.0. The 201 Mhz TI OMAP 850 processor might look slow on paper but the device doesn’t freeze or slowdown. In India, the Touch is available exclusively with AIrtel and is locked to the network. This means that if you are not an Airtel subscriber, you won’t be able to use the phone. However, sooner than later, HTC will release this product in the open market as well. As for Airtel subscribers, if you are looking for a sleek and stunning Windows Mobile device, the Touch is a good option.

Locked phones is the way to go

25 Jun
Handset bundling had not been a popular concept with Indian GSM players, until now that is. While CDMA players introduced the concept from day one, GSM players were pretty apprehensive of following suit. A reasonable explanation on the part of the GSM carriers is that there are far too many vendors and products for them to deal with. On the other hand, there are only a handful of CDMA handset vendors.
All this is set to change. No doubt, entry level handsets from vendors like Nokia, Motorola, Sagem and Sony Ericsson have been offered by various carriers for quite some time, it is only now that we will see the handset bundling model in its true sense. GSM carriers (particularly Airtel) are now aggressively pushing deals with handset vendors to come up with handset bundle offers where the consumer virtually gets the handset for free. 
Airtel will launch an entry-level BenQ Siemens handset next month, which will cost the end consumer approximately Rs 2,700. In return, he gets airtime worth Rs 2,400 spread over a period of 24 months. Such a strategy will ensure that the subscriber sticks on to the connection for at least 24 months. It is not just the entry level handsets that the carrier is eyeing. HTC’s latest product, the Touch, is exclusively bundled with Airtel and retails at Rs 19,990. The true test, however, would be the carrier’s ability to subsidise the prise of high-end handsets like they do in the case of entry-level ones.
The catalyst
But why has a carrier like Airtel, the country’s largest private cellular operator, become so aggressive on the bundling scene? There are two reasons – Hutch and RCom. After Vodafone acquired a controlling stake in India’s second largest private GSM player, it became clear that once the formalities are taken care of the global giant will bring its experience from the European markets and implement them in India and one of them being bundling SIM locked handsets. 
The second factor, which should be bothering Airtel, is RCom’s Classic series of handsets that start from Rs 777. In fact, the carrier managed to sell over a million of those in a week, which translates to a sixth of new subscribers added in a month by all operators put together. That would be a matter of concern for Airtel as a big chunk of first time subscribers are the ones with shallow pockets and don’t bother about the technology (GSM or CDMA) and just think about the affordability.
Look out!
This is just the beginning. Sources who have been keeping a close eye on the scenario suggest that the day is not far when we will see handsets manufactured on contract by Airtel, a practice followed by RCom. Vodafone has already announced its own range of entry-level handsets that is targeted at the Asian and African markets where the carrier operates. Given their resolve to penetrate into rural India, it is almost certain that these handsets would be launched in India. 
What needs to be seen is whether the Indian consumer, who swears by names like Nokia and Motorola, will be interested to buy a carrier branded cellphone that is available for a marginally lower price? I think they will.

Alive and kicking

24 Jun
After an acquisition that went awfully wrong, almost everyone had written off BenQ’s future in the cellphone space. But come July, the brand would announce its revival with as many as five new phones. I was lucky enough to play with a couple of them for an hour and the only thing that kept going around in my mind was the word unusual. The new products have a sharply defined target audience and BenQ isn’t looking at the mass market, which is quite unusual for a brand with a negligible market share in the country. Usually these brands play the price game by cutting costs on design and quality, which certainly isn’t the case with BenQ. 
The first offering, the EF 51, is a music phone that looks more like a music player than a phone. Chiselled in a glossy white plastic finish, the handset sports one of the tiniest screens that humankind has ever seen on a modern phone (OK, excluding the Samsung Upstage) and the music control keys. The alphanumeric keys are hidden under the music keys, which have been embedded on a flap that open downwards. Other features include a 1.3 megapixel camera, a miniSD card slot, Bluetooth and FM player with an option for recording FM transmission. Its price is expected to hover around the Rs 7,000 mark. 
The second product was the classy looking EF71. It is a clamshell that has been done up in a metallic finish with music keys and a 2 megapixel camera on the outer face of the flap and a 2.2 inch display on the inside. BenQ claims that the camera is capable of recording footage at 30 fps and the only other phone with this capability that I can recall is the Nokia N93. Another unique feature is an FM transmitter, which enables you to play music from your cellphone through your car audio system (provided it has an FM player) by tuning in to a pre-defined frequency. Ain’t that cool? You need not buy an expensive Bluetooth speakerphone. This one is expected to set you back by approximately Rs 11,000.

Build your cellphone

24 Jun

Customising the configuration of a notebook or a laptop before buying has been around for quite a while but how about customising the configuration of your cellphone? Yup, in the coming months you will be able to pick and choose the features you want on your cellphone according to your requirements and get it delivered at your doorstep. And guess who is coming up with this option? It’s none other than HP.

HP has had a tough time selling its iPaq range of handhelds in India and hopes that this feature would set it apart from the other players. The brand already has a vast experience in dealing with product customisation thanks to its notebook and PC business. At the launch of the HP iPaq 512 Messenger Handheld, officials from the company revealed that they plan to launch half-a-dozen Windows Mobile based handhelds in the next six months, which will include a few 3G enabled ones as well. 
These handhelds would come with a customisable option where users will be able to choose the processor, memory capacity and add-ons like camera resolution according to their needs and budget. At the moment no other handset vendor offers the option to customise products and HP hopes to set a benchmark for others.
Who knows, this might just start a trend when handset vendors would actually start listening to what consumers want that deciding on their behalf that multimedia phones need not have Wi-Fi or business phones don’t need cameras.