Saturday, March 12, 2011

Retina & Honeycomb: Shooting yourself in the foot

With all the undeniably brilliant minds in Cupertino and Mountain View, I think some statements made last year may haunt them in the medium term.

Retina. Apple touted the superiority of its  640 x 960 pixel resolution display on the 3.5-inch screen of its iPhone 4. With 326 pixels per square inch, Apple dubbed this the “Retina” display and in many ways oversold its advantages. Most people are happy with the lower 480 x 800 resolution used by many phone manufacturers on 4-inch or larger screens. Contrary to what Apple may want you to believed 480 x 800 resolution displays do not appear pixelized, even on large 4.3-inch screens. But anyway Apple created this myth. 

What do they do now? A top end smartphone with a 3.5-inch display is becoming a thing of the past. It was top class in 2007, still large by 2008 and 2009 standards, only adequate by 2010, and this year, is looking rather small. A higher resolution on a small screen still means smaller fonts for apps and websites, less room for the virtual keyboard, smaller video playback... basically, everything is smaller.

No trick going to a 4-inch display. Apple could do that quite easily. But having hyped Retina, a increase in screen size would mean having to bump up screen resolution again, this time maybe to something like 760 x 1140, which would increased manufacturing cost and could bring about application compatibility problems.

A 4-inch 640 x 960 would still have been the highest resolution smartphone display, and while having less than 326 pixels per square inch, it would probably still qualify as a retina display. But having hyped the 326 pixel per square inch “Retina”, I do not see how they can keep 640 x 960 on a 4-inch screen.

Honeycomb. Do not reinvent the wheel, even when copying. Apple's iPad has the same icon driven interface as the iPhone. To take advantage of its larger 9.7-inch screen, new apps, now numbering over 60,000 were designed to make use of the additional real estate. Google decided that it did not want its Android phone operating system in its tablets. It wanted something better. Google could have followed Apple's lead, keep the same operating system and focus on tablet application development. like. Samsung took the lead on this with it Samsung Galaxy Tab, did by optimization some apps for the larger, higher resolution 7-inch screen.

Instead, Google declared Android 2.x as not suitable for tablets and gave us Honeycomb (Android 3.0). With the new operating system, came new higher requirements like a dual core processor, a gigabyte of ram, a 720p resolution (1280 x 720) screen. Answering the call, Motorola brought us the Xoom, Samsung will come in with its Galaxy Tab 10.1, and so on. All very interesting technology, but it makes for very expensive hardware.

While iPhone challengers like the HTC Hero, Motorola Milestone, Google Nexus One, HTC Desire, Samsung Galaxy S and the long line of Android 2.x based smartphones are important to Google's seemingly unstoppable march for mobile operating system domination, less exciting offerings like the Samsung Galaxy Spica, HTC Wildfire, LG Optimus One and other lower powered Androids are very large part of the pie of the Android market share.

Honeycomb, created tablets the "iPad 2.25", trying to one up the market leader. What Google should have built was an operating system that could be placed in a lower cost "iPad 1." Having declared Google 2.x not suitable for tablets, it now does not have a tablet operating system for lower cost tablets with single core processors and 512MB of RAM.  Applications optimized for 1024 x 600 screens and widgets that fill five icon spaces horizontally would have been good enough. By aiming for the sun, Google may have burned the wings of its tablets, and insure Apple domination in the tablet space for 2011. 

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