MediaFile

Back in Blackberry

With a brand-new smartphone – and a new brand – BlackBerry (neé Research in Motion) has embarked on a critical reboot aimed at restoring the fortunes of the company that sparked the mobile revolution.

RIM has been left for dead. For years it hasn’t been able to shake off the stink of irrelevance as the iPhone proved that apps were more important than a physical keyboard, and that mobile “push” e-mail wasn’t rocket science. It endured brand-damaging outages to its private network while competitors crowed that their reliance on a public network was far more stable.

Now the company is reinventing itself in a last-ditch effort to survive. In a press conference yesterday, it announced that it had changed its corporate name to “BlackBerry” to better identify with its iconic product. Meanwhile, it has dramatically upgraded that product after a two-year effort that resulted in new phones designed from scratch and powered by what would be a major mobile operating system: QNX.

BlackBerry’s new smartphones, the multi-touch Z10 and the Q10 – which retains that keyboard some people still swear by — may be the company’s last best hope. I’ve had the Z10 for only a few hours, but if anything can rekindle our romance with RIM, this is it. These BB10 phones are a gambit – not a gamble. (I’ll be doing a full “Go Bag” review with the road warrior in mind in the coming weeks).

Most of the attention is being heaped on the Z10, as demand for smartphones with physical keyboards is the exception rather than the rule. If it manages to make a dent in a world now run by Apple and Samsung — which together had 51 percent of the world’s smartphone market share in the last quarter of 2012 — it will mark one of the great turnaround tales in the history of tech, comparable even to Apple’s Phoenix-like rise from the ashes in the late 1990s.

What happens if smartphones become commodities?

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at PandoDaily.com

Remember Antennagate? Back in the summer of 2010, the brouhaha over reception glitches in the iPhone 4 dominated tech headlines for weeks and led to a class-action lawsuit and a $15-per-user settlement. In retrospect, the controversy seems meaningless, which is why I thought of it amid the current flap over Apple Maps.

Apple will survive the Maps controversy, just as it weathered Antennagate. But there is another trend affecting Apple that the announcement of the iPhone 5 revealed, a larger trend that will take much longer to play out: Smartphones are becoming too similar for their own good.

Only five years after Apple refashioned the smartphone with its touchscreen and its iOS software, smartphones are becoming a commodity. Any must-have feature that distinguishes one phone from the pack is quickly adopted by the pack itself. Fandroids and Apple fanboys will always argue passionately about which phone is superior, but for mainstream consumers, it’s getting harder to see that one brand’s phone is better than the others.

Why I won’t be getting an iPhone 5

Thousands of people will be “the first” to get the new iPhone 5 today. I won’t be among them. I’ve had every model of Apple’s revolutionary handset since it was first unveiled five years ago — upgrading even if my phone contract hadn’t expired yet — and, like the first-time parent of a toddler in a public place, am in a state of panic the moment I don’t know where my iPhone 4S is.

But I am skipping this upgrade. And while Apple is already setting sales records (again) with this launch, I’m seeing this milestone as the beginning of the end of the smartphone as the dominant mobile device in our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not abandoning the iPhone, or any smartphone — at least not yet. I’m not even saying my iPhone 4S will be my last Apple handset, or that the smartphone won’t endure, even if only as a commoditized device.

The new iPhone is a people’s evolution

Revolutions can be exciting, but sometimes evolution can be even more powerful. With the curtain drawn back today on what exactly the new iPhone will do (and will be called), Apple is entering a period of consolidating its lead. Its next trick is to outflank smartphone competitors as deftly as it has in the tablet wars.

The news on iPhone 5 Day began with some some telling iPad statistics: The tablet’s market share has grown from 62% to 68% year-over-year through June, despite strong (relatively speaking) competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire. And the iPad accounts for a borderline inconceivable 91% of all web surfing with tablets.

Why did CEO Tim Cook drop these little tidbits before the main event? To force the audience, as only the great magicians can, to look “over there” at the shiny stats instead of “over here,” where the devices generating those stats aren’t much changed. And to telegraph his master plan.

Can’t find a socket to charge your phone? IDT’s got a solution.

IDT’s wireless recharging chips, on right, versus a rival product.

(Updates with cost details)

Ted Tewksbury wants to get rid your iPhone cable.

The chief executive of San Jose, California-based Integrated Device Technology is pushing a set of microchips he hopes will eventually render “contactless charging” — charging your smartphone by simply placing it on a specific spot — commonplace and eventually make phone-charging cables a thing of the past.

On a recent visit to IDT’s offices, Tewksbury showed me the chips he’s just started selling. They’re IDT”s twist on existing technology, using inductive coupling, which has yet to reach critical mass.

Cash, credit or a big smile?

We do everything with our smartphones now: reading, writing, photography, music. And, to paraphrase that old American Express commercial, we never leave home without it. But the one smartphone function that hasn’t exactly exploded yet — and really should have already — is paying for things.

The idea of an e-wallet isn’t especially new, but it did take the advent of the iPhone four years ago to bubble up the sort of possibilities that didn’t depend on storing information in a SIM card (which isn’t the prevalent wireless technology in the United States anyway). PayPal pioneered the notion that you could use a pocket electronic device you always carried to pay a restaurant bill or for a latte from Starbucks. (Sure, the device was a Palm Pilot, which means nothing to most 20-somethings. And yes, PayPal in its infinite wisdom stopped the person-to-person payment functionality very early in their history.)

That’s how far we’ve come — and haven’t.

One of the problems about dumping payment and loyalty cards is that the established credit card players are very well entrenched. Part is a visceral reluctance to believe that using your phone to store and convey payment and bank account information is much safer than brandishing plastic cards with an electronic strip.

Autonomy CEO’s terrifying prediction: the rise of the surveillance society

As a general rule, senior executives at technology companies tend to try to make the public feel excited about the future and about technology’s role to improve it.

Mike Lynch, the CEO of Autonomy, must not have gotten that memo; or he decided to ignore it.

During a talk at the Techonomy conference on Monday, Lynch described a dark world in which today’s celebrated technologies, such as social networking and smartphones, become the nefarious tools of a surveillance society.

Verizon throws weight behind Motorola’s Droid Razr for the holidays

(Correction: The name “Droid” was originally misspelled in the headline.)

Verizon Wireless is bringing its considerable marketing and promotional resources to bear on the Droid Razr from Motorola Mobility, kicking off an advertising blitz this week for a gadget that the once-mighty cellphone maker hopes will make a splash this feastive season.

The campaign launched ironically just a few hours after Verizon’s executives were honored guests at a splashy event to launch ReZound, a rival phone from HTC (pictured on the left).  “Today we’re focused predominantly focused on Rezound“, Verizon Wireless spokesman Howard Waterman said.

Does Sony Ericsson fate provide Googorola clues?

While Google made no secret of the fact that it is buying Motorola Mobility for its patents, the remaining unanswered question is what it does with the handset business. Now that Sony  is planning to take full ownership of its mobile joint venture with Ericsson, its behavior may provide some clues as to what “Googorola” should do.

The idea seems to be that Sony will make its smartphones work more closely with other devices such as game consoles, tablets, computers and TVs.  Imagine watching a movie on the train home and then transferring it seamlessly to the big TV when you reach the living room? It’s a nice idea and coming closer to reality with the Sony Ericsson deal according to Evercore analyst Alkesh Shah

“I think there’s a major change happening in terms of how media and communications will be delivered to and from smartphones and to other devices in your home including your set-top boxes and TVs” said Shah.

Motorola bets on recycled Razr brand

Razr is back. After  being criticized for depending on the four letter brand for too long,  Motorola is hoping to draw some more blood from the stone with the new Droid Razr in the U.S. market. It will be called plain old Razr in the rest of the world.

Analysts are already predicting that the new phones won’t reach the 130 million unit sales that Motorola boasts for Razr over several years. But the jury is still out on whether using the old brand that came to symbolize the company’s downfall will help sales of the latest phone, which it is touting as the world’s thinnest smartphone.

“We tend to see it more in the auto industry where Dodge brought back the Charger and Volkswagen brought back the Beetle. Volkswagen did well,” said NPD analyst Ross Rubin. But the modern Beetle is an updated model that is recognizable as a descendent of an old car that dates back to pre-war Germany. The Droid Razr is a tablet-like device with a 4.3 inch display that looks nothing like the original flip-phone Razr.