Monday, October 29, 2012

Nerdgasm: to LTE or not to LTE...

If you're part of the Android army, today was a big day as Google just announced their new flagship phone today, the Nexus4 by LG, and it is a beautiful slab of a phone. It's got the newest flavor of JellyBean (Android 4.2), wireless charging built in, a beautiful new screen that makes other Android phones look stupid, and the best internal (or external) hardware specs you could ask for in an Android device.

However, there was one tiny little thing that was left out while building this beautiful device: LTE (otherwise known as, 4G).

Most of us know LTE as the current 4G standard, but there is more to it than that. It stands for Long Term Evolution and, at least the LTE service as we have known it for the past few years isn't actually a fourth generation wireless service, despite being advertised as such. However, it is a big increase over the tech used for 3G signals (which weren't really fast or reliable enough to be called 3G for years).

Being a recent technology, the cost of using it has been way too high to be in every new phone on the market. But, as the cost of LTE chips drops and the battery usage isn't as detrimental to devices, it seems odd that Google would leave it out of their brand-new phone. It's this very omission that is causing tech-phone nerds everywhere to go into a tailspin over whether this is truly a worthy flagship device... after all, even though buying it off-contract means you can update at will, no one wants to drop $300 on a new phone that will be irrelevant within a couple months.

The reasoning, as they put it, is that the Nexus line is supposed to be an Open-Source initiative; the most pure, most vanilla Android experience, and thus, dealing with LTE differences and copyrights has slowed them down and muddied up the experience with the Galaxy Nexus. Therefore, the Nexus4, to maintain that principle of being open, has stuck with HSPA+ and is therefore limited to ATT and T-Mobile.

Oh, and of course it helps that it makes the thing a lot less expensive to manufacture, meaning they can sell it for less and include a smaller battery to maintain the kind of battery life they want to advertise.

As a happy Sprint user, that really bums me out, especially because the omission of LTE doesn't matter much to me anyway. Even the promoted 8gb model which is at that advertised $300 price point (unlocked and off-contract, might I add), would work fantastically because I utilize the Google cloud services for just about everything. My current phone is a Nexus S 4G that hasn't used the 4G since the week I bought it and has never had more than 2gbs of the 16 used.

I understand their desire to not build a crazy amount of phone models; who wants to change LTE spectrums for each carrier you're on? (Especially when you don't sell that many of these phones, it doesn't make sense.) But to cut out CDMA and the chance for Sprint and Verizon users to get in on this Nexus action altogether is a bad sign of things to come.

Why? Because this is Google trying to throw their weight around and say "look, we don't need carriers to work with us on this, we will do the phone we want and sell it ourselves." This strategy didn't work too well for them in the past, but they're trying it again anyway because it has worked for their Nexus7 tablet, and they're betting it will work great for the Nexus10 tablet as well. But, even though phones keep getting bigger than our pockets are, they are not tablets; thus, once again, this strategy will not work.

When Apple wanted to release their phone, which everyone knew would be tightly controlled, they worked with ATT very closely. They hashed out deals, made agreements, both parties probably made a few compromises, and with their massive success, Apple got to dictate what their future would be; not only with ATT, but with Verizon, Sprint, and anyone else who carriers their phones. Microsoft has done the same, basically saying that any updates carriers skip will be rolled into the next update that's approved; meaning: why the fuck delay these updates to users? They will get them whenever you let them upgrade anyway so why let them stagnate on old software.

Google, on the other hand, has no pull because they just supply Android to device makers; not the carriers and definitely not the users. As such, meeting the demands of Google doesn't help the carriers and it doesn't help the OEMs. If they pass on an update, it most likely means that will be the only update that phone sees, so there is no future update to roll it into. And in the Android market, Samsung has all the weight to throw, and they use it for their own purposes, not Google's (that's how they get flagship devices on all the major carriers at once, and can push their TouchWiz updates when/if they desire).

So, sure, leave out LTE on your new phone. Be as open as possible, sell the devices yourself, keep the costs down and the standards on quality up... but please don't make users switch carriers to get your newest phone. Compromise isn't a defeat, but refusing to compromise is as good as it. Create some demand, gain some real pull among the carriers, and let that spill across the board.

But please don't restrict who can get and use your devices just because you refuse to go the extra mile to make the Nexus line work. You're only hurting yourself and your users in the process.

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