Watch out boring iPhone 5: an interesting new phone from Google & Intel!
September 18th, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
After the collective media-yawn that greeted what will become the world’s largest consumer electronics launch ever, there’s a flash of new excitement at ZDNet for a phone that won’t sell worth a damn.
Damn the facts
When you’re fair and balanced in your reporting, sometimes you have to buck against being carried away by popular sentiment or readily observable facts.
What you allow to pique your interest can’t always be newsworthy or actually interesting. Sometimes you have to feign excitement over the mundane to keep things from getting boring.
Such as when you see Microsoft’s latest unimaginative efforts to compete with the iPod, and feel that burning itch with a tingle that tells you that this time, the Zune isn’t going be a PlaysForSure disaster. It’s not even going to compete with PFS, it’s going straight for Apple’s jugular!
Or when you know deep down that Android Honeycomb 3.0 is what people want, not some dumb iPad that can’t even unlock itself when you look into the camera. And that Xoom name has such a familiar ring to it.
ZDNet is now leading us to drink at an “interesting” new waterhole. It’s the Motorola RAZRi, which plainly put, is a contractual obligation Google took on when it bent over backward to get Intel to join the Android party, just because.
Android doesn’t need a new chip architecture, but who cares! The more the merrier in Fragglementation Rock, unless you’re a Chinese distro of Android that threatens to do what I predicted Amazon’s Kindle Fire would do to Android a year ago.
In that case, no means no! You pledged to uphold our version of Android as your lord and savior, so stop associating with those Chinese pagans.
And really, why wouldn’t Google want Intel and its failed mobile chip business under the big tent of Android? What’s the worst that could happen: poor battery life, industry trailing technology and new impediments to software updates given the complexities of yet another chip architecture? Android has dealt with all those things before.
People who buy Android phones don’t expect software updates or battery life anyway, and developers don’t expect an easy path to sustainable profits either. They’re in it for the long term ideological struggle.
Now consider the upside: Intel’s “new” Atom architecture (new to being used by anyone, that is) gives Google critical x86 compatibility, just in case Google needs to port Android to… Windows, apparently.
Now just for a moment I’m going to get serious.
Fearing that my deep layers of sarcasm may be lost on new readers, let me take a breather to state what’s actually happening here in simple terms:
Intel has ruled the PC industry since 1982. Around 1989, Apple joined with Acorn to develop the ARM architecture, which focused Acorn’s existing RISC chip on a highly efficient new design track needed to power mobile devices like the Newton Message Pad Apple then had in development.
Ten years of ignoring the mobile device market later, Intel realized that ARM had literally taken over the low power market for System on Chip components.
Intel has tried to shrink down its x86 chips to work in mobile devices, without much success. The only point in sharing any x86 compatibility with the 1982 IBM PC was to run Microsoft’s DOS and Windows. Apart from the huge economies of scale in the WinTel world, there has never been anything supporting x86 as a technology. It is a liability about as anachronistic and irrational as the QWERTY keyboard layout: an intentionally bad design.
In 2001, Apple began using ARM to power the new iPod. Five years later, Apple joined everyone else in delivering ARM-based smartphones. Then Intel got really worried when Apple looked at, then rejected its Atom mobile x86 chip in favor of a new ARM chip for the iPad.
Thanks to iPad, the economies of scale now dramatically favor ARM, and that slippery slope is just getting steeper as the PC market collapses and the fully emerged mobile market firmly grounds its non-Windows, non-Intel boot in the PC’s face.
Naturally, the most interesting new development in technology should be the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of ARM, such as: Who has invested the most to develop a custom ARM design, What will that new A6 architecture do, When did it become the market leader, Where else is there anything like it, Why isn’t anyone else talking about this, and How did this happen!?
The masses are tired of hearing about Apple
But ZDNet doesn’t have time for relevant, incisive journalism. Besides, say too much about what’s actually happening and readership begins to tire of all this news about how Apple has destroyed every competitor across the technology landscape. Snoozarama.
It’s like trying to teach teenagers about math and science. Booooooring! What they really want to hear is Justin Bieber’s latest song and how to get a buzz from huffing household chemicals. You have to give the people what they want, especially when you’re a journalist, or a teacher. It’s called supply and demand.
And so while Apple’s new custom ARM processors signal a new era where both Intel and Microsoft fail to matter at all, what ZDNet finds most interesting is an old smartphone that arbitrarily runs a 2GHz Intel processor from Intel, which will be sold in a few markets next to an identical model (but with 4G) running a Qualcomm chip. Because people love choices like, “4G or 2GHz?”
Exciting and interesting!!!
And what’s not to love about this phone. First of all, the name: RAZR. Brings to mind Motorola’s former relevance, without actually reminding us that Motorola’s lost reputation was originally based upon a non-smartphone clamshell communicator running a non-Intel chip.
But RAZRi is a modern phone, running the latest Android 4.0 ICS from… oh wait, last October. So it’s like iOS 5.
Also missing from the phone is support for 4G LTE, which Apple just added to iPhone 5. The difference here is that a) Apple added it 2012, while Motorola’s new phone lacks it in 2012 and b) Motorola has made 4G LTE a primary differentiating feature of its phones since early last year.
Motorola launching a new phone without 4G is like Apple launching a new iPhone without Siri or FaceTime, deep in WTF territory. And the new RAZRi can’t support 4G LTE for the same reason the iPhone 5 can: it relies upon that less sophisticated Intel architecture rather than a modern Qualcomm baseband. The price of progress!
So ZDNet was maybe blowing a slight amount of hot air in referring to this new dog as begin a “top end handset” and “at the high end of the smartphone world.”
In fact, it was egregiously lying. This phone exists for no reason other than to suggest, contrary to fact, that Intel’s Atom is relevant in the mobile SoC market. It’s about as ridiculous as Microsoft putting Windows Phone on a Nokia handset just to make it look like it has any remaining standing in the mobile industry.
Now to be fair, I’m not just ridiculing the RAZRi for being less featured than its peers. Apple’s original iPhone similarly shipped without 3G or GPS or MMS or tethering or a camera capable of video capture. And even the latest iPhone 5 trades off some features, such as support for SVDO for talking while using data on Verizon, due to engineering constraints.
The problem with RAZRi isn’t that it lacks features, but that it lacks any reason for existing. While Apple was originally an underdog in the mobile business, it brought to market a completely new experience that compensated for its wireless, camera and other deficiencies. On the new RAZRi, Intel’s only contribution is a deficiency.
Imagine Apple producing a new “iPad-i” fitted with an Intel Atom chip, just to give it a hotter, larger, less efficient brain with a different architecture that kills its potential to transverse LTE networks. All you could positively spout about it would be its faster 2GHz clock (albeit not its actual speed, because the Intel chip is only clocked faster; it doesn’t actually execute code more rapidly).
It would deserve all the mocking it got.
ZDNet has no contempt for the RAZRi however. Instead, it has invented a convoluted explanation as to why Google is only launching the new Motorola handset in Europe. Obviously, it’s because it has no chance at selling in the US because it lacks 4G. The iPhone 4S could, but this is no iPhone; it’s a variant of an existing Motoroal 4G phone (RAZR M), without the 4G and an Intel chip instead.
But according to ZDNet, Google isn’t just dumping the RAZRi in non-LTE markets as a favor (contractual obligation) to Intel’s voicing of support for Android, but rather because Google, as Motorola’s new owner, “has more global reach than Motorola currently enjoys, and Google may just be looking to try new tactics.”
Right, Google is so international and worldly while Motorola hasn’t ever been outside of Libertyville, Illinois. But wait, didn’t Motorola once own global analog phone handsets? And didn’t the company once sell tons of Linux phones in China before Google even conceived the idea of rebranding Linux as Android?
Motorola didn’t need Google to take it on a field trip to Europe. Intel needed Google’s Motorola unit to launch a phone with an Atom chip in it to suggest to other OEMs that they too could bring Atom-based Android smartphones to market without much effort, and no party involved gave a damn about where the phone might be dumped on the market because everyone involved knew it wouldn’t sell anyway.
So when you say this RAZRi launch is interesting and the iPhone 5 is boring, it really clarifies how completely delusional — or simply dishonest — you have become.