Archive for March, 2011

Bombshell: AT&T to Buy T-Mobile *UPDATED*

While talks of someone buying T-Mobile is nothing new, there’s been a lot of rumors that it might be Sprint doing it the last few weeks. Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent company, has been losing money on T-Mobile for years and has been looking to get rid of it to focus on their European branches.

AT&T just announced that they have agreed to buy T-Mobile to the tune of $39 billion, $25 billion of that cash, the rest stock options. AT&T says it will be using T-Mobile’s existing network to bolster the famously precarious (in certain locations) AT&T network, and will use T-Mobile assets to push it’s 4G initiative to an additional 46.5 million Americans over the next few years.

Assuming they get the green-light from the government, the acquisition will take around a year. After that time, AT&T will become the only GSM carrier on a national level (some rural carriers still use it), giving them around 130 million subscribers nationwide. This will make them the largest US carrier, passing Verizon’s 102 million (as per the final quarter of 2010).

A $39 billion acquisition that will bring the major wireless competition down to just 3 carriers will have a very hard time going through the Department of Justice and FCC, most likely though. We’re in for a very long road ahead on this one. AT&T will be hosting a conference call on this tomorrow, so keep checking back here to find out more information.

If the buy out goes through, what will this mean? T-Mobile subscribers will eventually become AT&T customers in most areas throughout the country. Often times, 3rd parties gain some small areas, like how AT&T gained some Alltel customers when they were purchased by Verizon a few years ago. WHen the dust settles, there will be a lot less competition. Even though they were a small company who wasn’t making money, T-Mobile helped keep the monthly price of wireless plans down. With Sprint being the only company that doesn’t have the mass that Big Red and Ma Bell have, you can expect costs to go up. Someone’s got to pay that $39 billion bill, right? You can check out the full press release yourself right here.

UPDATE: Got my hands on the T-Mobile press release. Looks like T-Mobile will be working to keep as much T-MObile staff as possible, which is good news, and confirms the estimated 1 year timeline for the transition. T-Mobile claims that this will reduce Deutshce Telekom’s debt by about 31%.

A lot of people are asking what this will mean for T-Mobile customers. While there haven’t been any specifics on the transfer of contracts or anything of that nature, here’s what you can expect to happen (based on previous buyouts):

– Your contract will not be cancelled. When one carrier buys another, they also buy these contracts and are required to honor them. This means you’ll keep your phone, number, and plan as is. Should they decide to not honor T-Mobile’s plans, it will a breach of contract on their part, meaning you can leave without penalty. However, when you become eligible for an upgrade, they are not required (and therefor most likely won’t) honor your old plan. This means that for as long as you don’t upgrade and get a subsidized price for the phone, you can keep your plan for as long as they let you. But if you want to buy an iPhone (the common T-Mobile question), you will most likely have to move to an AT&T plan.

– If this buyout is like the Verizon/Alltel one, then some markets will find themselves absorbed by other carriers to prevent monopoly (though it could be argued that this buyout would cause one anyway). In this case, T-Mobile subscribers in those areas will be given to Verizon, Sprint, or smaller local carriers. If this is the case (though it’s doubtful since T-Mobile is mainly just in urban areas), then the same scenario I spelled out above will most likely hold true.



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Top Alternative Keyboards for Android

One of the best things about Android is the level of customization that it allows you on pretty much every level of the device. Almost every detail of the device can be changed, and the keyboard is no exception. But there are so many alternative keyboards out there that it becomes difficult to figure out which one is worth your time (and money). So here’s a short list of some of the best alternative keyboards and what makes them worth it.

Swype is normally the first to come to mind when discussing different keyboards. The idea is simple: You want to type the word “Hello”. Instead of tapping the H then the E then the L and so on, you press the H, keep pressing the screen, and drag your finger to the E and so on. While this takes a little getting used to, it makes for some of the fastest typing you can do. Literally. The current world record holder for texting (yes, there is such a thing) typed the sentence “The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious” on a Samsung Omnia II in just 35.54 seconds (I got 45 seconds, not too shabby! Feel free to post your results, because you know you want to try it). Swype’s word prediction is really solid, and if it is not sure what you tried to say, it pops up a box with different possibilities. Any words you tap out are also saved to the dictionary for future use.

Swype only has 2 major problems. The first is that it is still in beta. As of this writing, it’s open, so you don’t have to wait to download it. In the past, they have closed it, meaning if you don’t grab it now, you may have to wait later. Recently it has started coming preinstalled on many phones, but if yours doesn’t have it, go here to sign up for it. All of the other keyboards discussed in this post can e found in the Market. The other issue is that words are annoying to delete from the dictionary. If you type anything incorrectly, it gets saved in the dictionary and may replace what your actually meant to Swype by default. To delete the typo for good, you have to double-tap on the word, press the little Info button on the keyboard, and click OK on the dialog. Its just a process that could be streamlined. Overall Swype is incredibly cool and very speedy. Definitely worth the download.

Note: Swype normally is gray with a blue line following your finger. My version is a hacked version, courtesy of myn’s Warm TwoPointTwo ROM for the HTC EVO 4G.

SwiftKey doesn’t look or act very different from the stock keyboard. What’s special about it is under the hood. SwiftKey features one of the most advanced word prediction algorithms to date. While it does feature the keyboard, the philosophy behind SwiftKey is to press as few buttons as possible. SwiftKey learns from what you type and not only does it’s best to figure out what you are typing as you type it, but also what you might type next. For example, I want to type “I am going to go to the mall.” That’s 29 characters I would type. SwiftKey reduced those 29 key strokes to 13. And the more I type that sentence, the less buttons I’ll actually press because it learns that after I say “going” a “to” is sure to follow.

SwiftKey doesn’t offer that much customization, which is fine since the goal is to not type much anyway. Other than that it is a very solid keyboard choice. If you’re interested, SwiftKey can even show you how much it has helped you in it’s Usage Statistics. I used it for around a week or so and it saved me 1087 keystrokes, making me 12% more efficient! There’s a free version on the Market if you want to give it a shot. The full version is on sale right now for $2.

And now for something completely different. 8pen changes the concept of a keyboard as we know it. The developer’s philosophy is that the QWERTY keyboard was made at a time when we had large typewriters. It made sense back then, but it doesn’t now. A small touchscreen is much better for a single finger to use sweeping gestures than tapping small boxes. Enter 8pen, the weirdest keyboard I’ve ever laid eyes on. Let’s say you want to type “Hello.” You start at the big black circle in the middle of the X. The H is the second letter located down and to the right. You would slide your finger down then drag it counter-clockwise of the black dot. Passing the yellow line will select the T before the H. Sliding past the red line selects the H. Now drag your finger back to the black dot. You’ve now typed the H. The E is down and to the left, so you repeat the same process you did for the H, but you slide clockwise instead.

Seems convoluted, right? That’s because you’re not used to it. I spent a good week and a half using 8pen almost exclusively. There’s a very steep learning curve because we’ve grown so used to the QWERTY keyboard. If you can get used to it, you do get quite speedy. Not quite as fast as Swype, but still pretty fast. Since describing it is difficult, check out the video below (courtesy of 8pen). The good news is that 8pen is now a totally free application, so your wallet won’t hurt if you try it. Your brain might though.

Thumb Keyboard
Finally, we have Thumb Keyboard. While you won’t see anything here as odd as 8pen, it does still change the traditional QWERTY keyboard around a little. Thumb Keyboard takes a cue from many ergonomic keyboards by splitting the keyboard in half. But instead of angling it for our hands, Thumb Keyboard makes it easier for our most useful digits by making those middle keys easier to get to. Thumb’s main draw is the amount of customization it provides. In addition to the different keyboard skins (emulating keyboards from Honeycomb, Gingerbread, even Windows Phone 7, as seen above), Thumb allows you to change between 6 different portrait keyboards and 5 landscape ones. You can even customize it so that you have different styles for the different orientations (something I’ve long wanted). Some of the different layouts have been specifically designed for different tablets as well. There are keyboards that are optimized for both 7 and 10 inch tablets, something I have been disappointed in manufacturers for not doing themselves. Devices that size just weren’t made for thumb typing, and they aren’t quite big enough for most people to type as they would on a computer. Cutting the keyboard in half really helps even the most opposable of thumbs by eliminating the painful stretch to the pesky Gs and Hs. This app is perfect for phones, Xooms, and Galaxy Tabs alike. You’ll find it on the Market right now for just $1.87.

How To Start Using Them
So you downloaded an alternative keyboard, but when you go to type something, the stock keyboard still pops up. You have to do a few things first. If you click on the keyboard in your app list, it will usually take you through the setup up. In case it doesn’t, go to your Settings (Menu > Settings from the homescreen) and click on Language and Keyboard. You should see your newly installed keyboard on the list there. Make sure the box next to it is checked to activate it. You can also access the keyboard settings from this menu. Now go to where you want to type, and bring up the keyboard. Press and hold on the space you’re wanting to type in and a pop up menu will show up, one of the options being “Input Method”. Clicking on that will give you a list of all the activated keyboards you have. Click on the one you want, and start typing!

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Netflix’s Android App Leaks, No Video Yet

Android has been behind iOS and WP7 in getting two of the most requested apps: Skype video calling and Netflix Instant Play. One of those may be fixed very soon.

Phandroid has just posted a link (Click Here) to a leaked version of the Netflix app for Android. Unfortunately, video streaming isn’t working yet, trying to do so produces an error and logs you out. You can manage your queue though and search through titles.

The good news is that this leak means that we can expect Netflix to officially release the app soon, with Instant Play in tow. We’ll keep you posted, and hit the link below to download the .APK for yourself (before It’s taken down)!

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Review: Internet Explorer 9

Microsoft has just taken the beta tag off of Internet Explorer 9. Last September, they launched the IE9 beta, touting all kinds of enhancements and changes and challenging people to give IE another chance. I took that challenge last year and used it exclusively for a week. After doing a little visit with it again, I can yet again shock myself by saying this: It doesn’t suck.

Internet Explorer has long been a joke of a web browser. Using it comes natural to most people, seeing as it’s the browser your computer most likely comes with. Despite a lot of people jumping ship to Firefox and Chrome, IE has maintained its dominant position of King of the Browser Marketshare. The browser has been plagued with so much lag, obnoxious toolbars, and security holes that it became a sign of computer illiteracy to still use it, especially an older version like IE6.

IE9 changes all of that. I spent a full week using IE9 exclusively. I’m a huge fan of Google’s browser, Chrome. It reaches amazing speed (like Opera) without losing out on any functionality (unlike Opera). I had expected a large drop of that speed I became so accustomed to, and I was pleasantly surprised to not experience much of a performance decline. It is overall slower than Chrome, yes, but it’s leaps and bounds faster than IE8 was. A lot of stuff was done under the hood to help with this, but mostly not having 8 million toolbars helped speed things up. While Chrome still wins in most (if not all) browser benchmarking tests, IE9 holds its own still. I tested how long each browser took to load up this site. The results:

Chrome: 2.4 seconds
IE9: 3.4 seconds

The look of IE9 is really where the biggest changes are. In many ways, they took a lot of cues from Chrome’s minimalistic look. Gone are the days of managing a bunch of toolbars. They are all pretty much gone. All you’re left with is a single line of navigational buttons, the URL bar, and your tabs. This allows for a lot more content to be displayed at any given time. The URL bar can also directly start searches for you using whichever service you like (though Bing is of course the default).

One added feature I love about IE9 is pinning sites to Windows 7s taskbar. While Chrome can do this as well, IE9’s pinned websites allow for additional functionality. For example, if you pin Twitter to the taskbar, you can right-click it and options to jump right to your mentions, direct messages, and search are available, not just “Open Window”.

Internet Explorer 9 is definitely worth the download, especially if you’re still using the old version of it. While it won’t make me leave Chrome for good, it definitely is a nice alternative. You can download it yourself now here. Let me know in the comments what you think about it!

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AT&T to Start Capping Broadband Data Usage

In the past year, AT&T has become a pioneer in the arena of the internet. What’s important to know is that the word “pioneer” isn’t always a good thing. Some months ago, AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans on its smartphones. This move, while apparently only affecting 2% of their customer base, was not warmly received by both customers and the media alike. And they are at it again.

Yesterday, AT&T announced its plan to start limiting the amount of usage that its home internet subscribers will be alloted. Starting May 2nd, DSL customers will be given a 150GB cap and high speed U-Verse customers will be given 250GB. AT&T again insists that it will only affect 2% of their subscribers, who account for 20% of their network traffic at times. Overages will run $10 per 50GB.

250GB sounds like a lot though, right? Netflix says their services use 1GB per hour, meaning you’ll be able to watch around 100 movies, assuming you do nothing else. This applies to other HD (or near HD) services like Hulu as well. Each minute of Skype you use runs just under a megabyte per minute, which isn’t a ton but can add up quickly. Streaming music will run around 72 megabytes an hour. World of Warcraft will use around 120 mb/h. All of this, in addition to your Facebook and email usage can add up quickly.

The main issue that most people have is that caps like this stifle innovation. It will be difficult to implement new technologies that will no doubt use significant amounts of data. People will worry about going over their limits (even if it’s not much of an issue for them) for fear of overages, regardless of how enticing of an application it might be. It’s not a good precedent to set, but unfortunately it seems to be a trend that we’ll most likely be seeing with many other operators.

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Editorial: The Only Tablet Game Worth Playing is the Waiting Game

On Friday, the iPad 2 will launch. As soon as I get my hands on one, I’ll do a quick personal review, but the professional ones are in and they are overall quite positive. I’ve been thinking about the iPad, my Nook Color, and the tablet space in general a lot lately and the conclusion I’ve drawn is this: Now is the absolute worse time to buy a tablet.

The iPad 2 will do doubt sell like crazy like the original iPad did, since it largely just added a few things that the original should have had anyway. I’ve had a few people ask me my thoughts on it and my answer remains the same from the first one: As far as the tablet market goes, it is easily the most polished and finished product, but it still lacks a lot of basic functionality that would truly make it a hard to beat product. When asked about the host of Android tablet, both past, present, and upcoming, I say this: They pack some functionality that the iPad lacks (Flash support) and gives you a lot more choice in hardware, but the user experience is nowhere near that of their Apple competitor. The final thought on tablets is this:

There are two important things to consider. The first is that the tablet space is a new thing on the consumer market. While tablet PCs have existed for many years, they all ran some version of Windows that was even less optimized for a touch interface than Windows 7 is, which is to say not very optimized at all. Tablets aren’t really necessary. They don’t hit the full capacity of a laptop to do work and browse the full web, and they don’t really offer the portability that you get with a smartphone. Like the smartphone market, you are going to see some very rapid expansion, if not at a faster pace than smartphones. While that iPad 2 looks nice now, you may find yourself getting some serious tablet-envy in a few months when a few more Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook, and the HP Touchpad drop.

We’ve seen other Android tablets before fall short before, but Honeycomb will be some big competition once it reaches maturity and fixes a few weird UI issues. BlackBerry’s offering will be great for people who want a smaller screen (7 inches instead of the 9-10 inch range), and there is a big possibility that it might run Android apps. The HP Touchpad will pack WebOS, which has a much better chance of succeeding under HP’s direction than it did Palm’s. Another huge plus the Touchpad will have is something HP recently announced, that ALL computers it ships in the future will run both Windows AND a WebOS variant. This may allow for a very awesome ecosystem of having all the same functionality and information across all of your gadgets.

The other big problem I see with the tablet market as a whole right now is one that Apple got right again: Contracts. Carriers want you to get a contract with their service, ensuring that you have that tablet with them for 2 years. While smartphones get better over time too, they aren’t evolving as fast as what the tablet market will most likely do. And if the tablet space is just a fad without much staying power, you’ll be locked in regardless. If you’re going to buy a tablet and want 3G/4G connectivity, fine. But it is definitely not a good idea to get a contract along with it when you can get the same plan without.

The tablet landscape is a very new one, one that has yet to truly find its legs. While the iPad 2 might be the best there is yet, that doesn’t mean it’s a good buy quite yet. Hopefully the iPad 3 will pack a lot more PC-like functionality, and hopefully the rest of the manufacturers will realize that they’re getting their butts kicked and show us how a tablet is supposed to be done. Regardless of how it all ends, paying $500+ for something that will be much more obsolete than your laptop will in a year or two’s time might not be the best unless you have the money to burn on a new one.

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Local Recommendation Services Get Bizzy

Services that rate and recommend restaurants, movie theaters, shopping, and entertainment in general have existed long before the days of the Internet and certainly before the smartphone. The emergence of the Web certainly popularized the field, and the smartphone revamped it with location-aware apps.

But the people behind Bizzy, Inc. thought that the other services, like Yelp! and Where, missed a personal touch. In November, Bizzy launched their app of the same name into the Android and iOS stores, and has grown a lot in a short time. The premise is simple: You tell Bizzy what you like. Restaurants, hang outs, doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t already know about it, you can tell them about it, and they add it to their listings. This is how Bizzy has gotten big in such a short time. But they do 2 main things differently:

First, their recommendations are not based on critical reviews and classifying places of similar type. They’ve crowd-sourced their recommendation engine. By saying you like a place, you are compared to other people who like that location as well. Bizzy then figures out what else you might like, based on what those other people dig. So since you love your local pizza joint, and a bunch of people who love it also love a particular pita place, Bizzy figures you might too. You can add businesses to your Favorites list by typing in their names, or you can let Bizzy ask you questions like “Have a favorite bakery?” to get to know you better. Once you start putting them in, it spits out recommendations. Bizzy allows you to log in using your Facebook account and you can post your reviews there as well. The idea is that the more people who use the service (and more you spam your friends’ feeds), the more accurate it gets.

The second difference was just recently introduced. As of yesterday, Bizzy updated their apps to include a “Check Out” feature. Similar to FourSquare and Facebook Places, the Check Out feature allows you to post about your location. But instead of just broadcasting “Hey, I’m here” to your friends and stalkers, you’re saying “Hey, I just left here, and this is how it was”. You can pick one of 3 emoticons (Love It, Meh, and No Thx), and even include a short blurb should you so desire. This allows you to rate where you’ve been while it’s fresh in your mind, and lets Bizzy get a better idea of what you like.

With very simple to use apps and a solid website, Bizzy looks to be a very promising local search engine by reaching a level of personalization that competing services don’t have. While it doesn’t have the sheer volume that the competition does yet, should it get there, it could well take the top spot. The apps are free and out right now for free. Definitely worth the download.

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