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Friday
Jul232010

Thoughts on an antenna.

So after 22 days of front page news and comments from senior US politicians, could it be that we have seen the finale of the most serious issue to hit the western world since the Americans decided off-shore dilling was safe enough? Could it be that Antenna-gate has come to an end?

There seemed to be a large degree of shock at the discovery that interfering with a mobile phone’s antenna was bad for call quality. I wonder what the media will make of the fact that I discovered at the weekend that covering the TV with towel makes it difficult to watch the 9 o’clock news?

Flippancy aside, I find this whole issue rather frustrating, not because of the realisation that mobile phones have radios in them, but because I believe the entire antenna-gate story was blown out of all proportion. This problems that can be caused as a result of the placement of the antenna on the outside of the iPhone are not in any way equal to faulty brakes on a car or glass shards in baby food. Despite the media grabbing hold of this story and squeezing it for all it was worth, nobody died. This design flaw does not need a full product recall, nor does it need a congressional or senate investigation (Seriously America, have you nothing better to investigate at the moment?)

That there is an issue caused by the placement of the iPhone’s antenna on the outside of the phone is beyond question. As with every phone, you can cause a degradation of reception if you want to, but the bottom line is that the iPhone 4 can drop more signal in areas of marginal reception than it’s competitors. It doesn’t stop the iPhone the from being used as a phone, and given that most iPhone users will use a case and that Apple’s figures suggest just 0.5% of the 3 million + iPhone 4 uses have the issue, it seems that we are dealing with a vocal minority who are unwilling to exercise a small degree of common sense and media organisations who became bored with the worse environmental and financial disasters we have seen in decades

I wonder if the self destructing Motorola Droid X will see the same level of media attention? The droid X issue isn’t poor reception, the Droid X is the first phone that can commit suicide if it doesn’t like what you’re doing. But just like the iPhone’s reception issue, the Droid X’s self destructive streak is easily avoided and won’t effect the vast majority of actual users. Will we see the media calling for Motorola to recall the droid x and provide us with detailed financial breakdown of yet another unnecessary product recall? Despite what the more rabid Android and Apple fans says, there is no perfect phone, they all have their issues.

The other aspect of this story that annoys me is that I believe there is actually an interesting story here. Thanks to the efforts of Google, Motorola, HTC and others, for the first time there is actually a real alternative to the iPhone. Android was running on test phones before the world ever saw an iPhone, but they were chasing RIM, and the Android hardware looked like an albino Blackberry. After the iPhone was released, Android devices stopped looking like blackberries and starting looking like iPhones. Three years ago the smart phone market was owned by Microsoft (remember them?), RIM and Nokia. RIM are hanging in there thanks to corporate purchasers, Nokia’s biggest supports have written open letters telling them they’ve lost and it’s time to pack up and go home, and Microsoft, one of the biggest IT companies in the world has lost most of it’s market share, all of it’s mind-share and following a disastrous launch pulled it’s newest smart phones off the market after just 48 days. All the mobile news today is focused on devices that didn’t exist 36 months ago.     

I have no doubt that accusations of fanboy-ism will be aimed at me, but despite the many poor aspects of Steve Jobs press conference last Friday I believe that the media have turned a design fault with an easy work around into front page news at a time when there are many more important stories that are either too difficult to investigate properly or are viewed as too boring for nations raised on reality TV and WAGs.

I don’t have an iPhone 4, and I don’t want an iPhone 4, but not because those 1 in 200 odds of a dropped call in areas of poor reception concern me. My previous generation iPhone does everything I need and I still have 12 months to run on the contract. But the real killer problem here for the phone companies is that the main reason I’m not worried about the iPhone 4’s problems, is that I rarely use my iPhone to make actual phone calls.

Let me leave you with this thought. The iPhone 4 has an extremely well publicised problem with making actual phone calls, yet with sales of almost 1 million handsets a week it is the fastest selling phone in history. I think ultimately Android and iOS present a bigger threat to the phone companies then they perhaps realise.

Wednesday
Apr142010

Quietness Reigns

I moved into my flat in South West London in the summer of 2001. At the time Concorde was still flying and twice a day I could actually hear and feel it accelerate down Heathrow's runways 6 miles away. I would watch the flames from it's four after-burning Rolls Royce engines go out as it climbed into the sky over London and headed west.

But as loud at Concorde was, it was the monotony of the normal Airbus and Boeings that I noticed on an increasingly irregular basis. They plied their trade overhead every 60 seconds between 6am and 1am.  But it was a rare occasion that I would look up and watch them as they climbed through 2000 feet over my head, trying to identify the airline to see if I could determine it's destination. They have become the ambient noise for those who live in London.

But not this evening. Geological rumblings on a island 1100 miles away mean that for the first time since I have lived here, the sky over London is quiet. Whether they were built in Seattle or Toulouse, Brazil or Long Beach, tonight they are all on the ground. Every window in the house is open and I can not fail to hear the silence above, and tomorrow morning, for the first time in decades the birds will have no competition.

London is an odd place tonight!

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