Technically the iPhone 4S doesn’t really pull ahead of the competition: Android-based phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II.
The iPhone 4S even has some worse specifications than the iPhone 4. It is 3 grams heavier and its standby battery life is 30% less. The screen is no larger – it remains smaller than the standard set by the competition. On the other hand the user experience is improved in several ways: the phone is more responsive thanks to a faster processor; it takes better photographs; and Apple has taken yet another whack at the so-far intractable problem of usable voice control. A great benefit to Apple, though not so much to its users, is that the new Qualcomm baseband chip works for all carriers worldwide, so Apple no longer needs different innards for AT&T and Verizon (though Verizon was presumably disappointed that Apple didn’t add a chip for LTE support).
Since its revolutionary debut, the history of the iPhone has been one of evolutionary improvements, and the improvements of the iPhone 4S over the iPhone 4 are in proportion to the improvements in each of the previous generations. The 4S seems to be about consolidation, creating a phone that will work on more networks around the world, and that will remain reliably manufacturable in vast volumes. It’s a risk-averse, revenue-hungry version, as is appropriate for an incumbent leader.
The technical improvements in the iPhone 4S would have been underwhelming if it had been called the iPhone 5, but for a half-generation they are adequate. By mid-2012 several technologies will have ripened sufficiently to make a big jump.
First, Apple will have had time to move their CPU manufacturing to TSMC’s 28 nm process, yielding a major improvement in battery life from the 45 nm process of the current A5, which will be partially negated by the monstrous power of the rumored 4-core A6 design, though the Linley report cautions that it may not be all plain sailing.
Also by mid-2012 Qualcomm may have delivered a world-compatible single-chip baseband that includes LTE (aka ‘real 4G’).
But the 2012 iPhone faces a serious problem. It will continue to suffer a power, weight and thin-ness disadvantage relative to Samsung smartphones until Apple stops using LCD displays. Because they don’t require back-lighting, Super AMOLED display panels are thinner, lighter and consume less power than LCDs. Unfortunately for Apple, Samsung is the leading supplier of AMOLED displays, and Apple’s relationship with Samsung continues to deteriorate. Other LCD alternatives like Qualcomm’s Mirasol are unlikely to be mature enough to rely on by mid-2012. The mid-2012 iPhone will need a larger display, but it looks as though it will continue to be a thick, power hungry LCD.
ABI came out with a press release last week saying that 770 million Wi-Fi chips will ship in 2010. This is an amazing number. Where are they all going? Fortunately ABI included a bar-chart with this information in the press release. Here it is (click on it for a full-size view):
The y axis isn’t labeled, but the divisions appear to be roughly 200 million units.
This year shows roughly equal shipments going to phones, mobile PCs, and everything else. There is no category of Access Points, so presumably less of those are sold than “pure VoWi-Fi handsets.” I find this surprising, since I expect the category of pure VoWi-Fi handsets to remain moribund. Gigaset, which makes an excellent cordless handset for VoIP, stopped using Wi-Fi and went over to DECT because of its superior characteristics for this application.
There is also no listing for tablet PCs, a category set to boom; they must be subsumed under MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices).
The chart shows the portable music player category growing vigorously through 2015. iPod unit sales were down 8% year on year in 1Q10, and pretty much stagnant since 2007. ABI must be thinking that even with unit sales dropping, the attach rate of Wi-Fi will soar.
The category of “Computer Peripherals” will probably grow faster than ABI seems to anticipate. Wireless keyboards and mice use either Bluetooth or proprietary radios currently, but the new Wi-Fi alliance specification “Wi-Fi Direct” will change that. Ozmo is aiming to use Wi-Fi to improve battery life in mice and keyboards two to three-fold. Since all laptops, most all-in-one PCs and many regular desktops already have Wi-Fi built-in (that’s at least double the Bluetooth attach rate) this may be an attractive proposition for the makers (and purchasers) of wireless mice and keyboards. Booming sales of tablet PCs may further boost sales of wireless keyboards and mice.
ARCchart has just published a report summarizing the data from a “test your Internet speed” applet that they publish for iPhone, Blackberry and Android. The dataset is millions of readings, from every country and carrier in the world. The highlights from my point of view:
- 3G (UMTS) download speeds average about a megabit per second; 2.5G (EDGE) speeds average about 160 kbps and 2G (GPRS) speeds average about 50 kbps.
- For VoIP, latency is a critical measure. The average on 3G networks was 336 ms, with a variation between carriers and countries ranging from 200 ms to over a second. The ITU reckons latency becomes a serious problem above 170 ms. I discussed the latency issue on 3G networks in an earlier post.
- According to these tests, Blackberries are on average only half as fast for both download and upload on the same networks as iPhones and Android phones. The Blackberry situation is complicated because they claim to compress data-streams, and because all data normally goes through Blackberry servers. The ARCchart report looks into the reasons for Blackberry’s poor showing:
The BlackBerry download average across all carriers is 515 kbps versus 1,025 kbps for the iPhone and Android – a difference of half. Difference in the upload average is even greater – 62 kbps for BlackBerry compared with 155 kbps for the other devices.
Source: ARCchart, September 2009.
Admob periodically publishes numbers on the mobile Internet and its usage. The numbers are badly skewed because of Admob’s customer mix. For example Indonesia lists as the second largest mobile Internet market in the world. But if you make your own mental adjustments for this, the numbers are informative.
Admob’s latest report highlights Wi-Fi use in the USA.
Of the ad requests fielded by Admob, in August 2008 9% came from Wi-Fi capable devices: dual-mode phones, iPod Touches and Sony PSPs. In November this number doubled to 19%. Since the numbers for August aren’t broken down, it is uncertain which devices drove this growth, but my guess is that it is due to the booming sales of the iPhone.
Of the requests from Wi-Fi capable devices, the proportion that came over Wi-Fi varied radically. For the iPod Touch and the Sony PSP, 100% of the requests were over Wi-Fi. No surprise there. But on the phone side, a very interesting discrepancy between the iPhone (42% of requests by Wi-Fi) and the HTC phones (16% of requests by Wi-Fi). Since each of the phones uses the same browser for cellular data and Wi-Fi connections, it can’t be an ease of use of the Internet issue. Two other possibilities come to mind: the Wi-Fi may be easier to set up on the iPhone than it is on the HTC phones, or the cellular data speed may be worse on the AT&T network, driving the users to Wi-Fi, while users on T-Mobile (where all the HTC phones listed in the report are) get acceptable performance from their cellular data connection.
The Blackberry data casts a similar light on the question. The two Blackberries in the report were the 8820 and the 8320. The 8820 had the same profile as the iPhone – 40% of the requests came by Wi-Fi. The 8320 had even less Wi-Fi use than the HTC phones – only 8% of the requests came by Wi-Fi. These two phones are both on the same carriers (AT&T and T-Mobile), they have the same Wi-Fi chip (from TI), and their specs are similar.
The clue is in their release dates. The 8320 has been out on T-Mobile for a year, but was not yet released on AT&T in November when AdMob collected their numbers. The 8820 was released by AT&T a year ago, but by T-Mobile only 6 months ago. There are obviously a lot of other variables at work – like 3G versus 2G, for example, and pricing structure, but this looks like evidence that the T-Mobile data network has a more acceptable performance than AT&T’s.
In news that is huge for VoWi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced on June 30th a new certification program, “Voice-Personal.” Eight devices have already been certified under this program, including enterprise access points from Cisco and Meru, a residential access point from Broadcom, and client adapters from Intel and Redpine Signals.
Why is this huge news? Well, as the press release points out, by 2011 annual shipments of cell phones with Wi-Fi will be running at roughly 300 million units. The Wi-Fi in these phones will be used for Internet browsing, for syncing photos and music with PCs, and for cheap or free voice calls.
The certification requirements for Voice-Personal are not aggressive: only four simultaneous voice calls in the presence of data traffic, with a latency of less than 50 milliseconds and a maximum jitter of less than 50 milliseconds. These numbers will produce an acceptable call under most conditions, but a network round-trip delay of 300 ms is generally considered to approach the limit of acceptability, and with a Wi-Fi hop at each end running at the limit of these specifications there would be no room in the latency budget for any additional delays in the voice path. The packet loss requirement, 1% with no burst losses, is a very good number considering that modern voice codecs from companies like GIPS can yield excellent sound quality in the presence of much higher packet loss. This number is hard to achieve in the real world, as phones encounter microwave ovens, move through spots of poor coverage and transition between access points.
Since this certification is termed “Voice-Personal,” four active calls per access point is acceptable; a residence is unlikely to need more than that. Three of the four access points submitted for this certification are enterprise access points. They should be able to handle many more calls, and probably can. The Wi-Fi Alliance is planning a “Voice-Enterprise” certification for 2009.
There are several things that are good about this certification. First, the WFA has seen fit to highlight voice as a primary use for Wi-Fi, and has set a performance baseline. Second, this certification requires some other certifications as well, like WMM power save and WMM QoS. So far in 2008, of 99 residential access points certified only 6 support WMM power save, and of 52 enterprise access points only 13 support WMM power save. One of the biggest criticisms of Wi-Fi in handsets is that it draws too much power. WMM power save yields radical improvements in battery life – better than doubling talk time and increasing standby time by over 30%, according to numbers in the WFA promotional materials.