A Year For Smarter Phones, Crowded Clouds

By Judy Mottl | Posted December 22, 2008

Looking Back at 2008
Handsets, smarter smartphones, sleek design, touch screens galore and (finally) faster wireless data speeds -- 2008 proved to be a year dominated by smartphones, and it's clear the year was about more than iPhone lust.

The bumpy arrival of the second Apple iPhone might have cooled its popularity for a nanosecond. But even the reports of trouble downloading iTunes, firmware issues, lack of inventory and network problems couldn't slow the iPhone's popularity for long. The launch of the 3G led a handset storm of smartphones hitting the market by mid-year.

Take the HTC G1, the first open source Android-based handset based on Google's Android platform. Although interest is lukewarm compared to the iPhone 3G and response to the latest BlackBerries by RIM, the Android platform is generating excitement over the innovative possibilities that the open platform could usher in.

It's early...very early, but time is only compressing between handset refreshes, and application momentum can grow quickly. After all, Palm may be struggling to stop losing any more smartphone market share to rivals, but the widespread appeal of so many applications available for the Treo and other lines is helping to keep users with the platform.

In a year filled with new devices launches, never have handset makers struggled as much to differentiate their devices and offerings while they rolled out new handsets. Research in Motion's Storm smartphone device, the first BlackBerry without the adored full QWERTY keyboard, arrived late in the year and is considered the iPhone's biggest competitor.

Nokia isn't far behind though its top smartphone, the N97, which came out in European markets this year. (No word on when it will hit North American markets.) And, in another example of the iPhone influence on design, touch screens are now the norm on many devices. Some vendors have extended that feature to a multi-touch display to try and outdo the iPhone.

The year closed out with wireless carriers dropping device prices and rate plan costs amid the recession. At the same time, applications for devices are exploding in popularity, as are the online app stores that sell them. Apple's App store claimed 300 million downloads in just five weeks and a doubling of offerings from 5,500 to 10,000 in the same timeframe.

But what about the networks to help deliver all that device data?

The Wonder of WiMAX

The Wimax networking protocol, also known as 4G, promises to deliver the fastest and most ubiquitous data services connectivity yet, moved from hype to reality this year with the ambitious Sprint and Clearwire network plan and the birth of a brand new WiMax company. Carriers and handset makers are banking that WiMAX will win hearts and minds of mobile device users who want data and access to people and information anywhere and anytime.

Sprint deployed its first WiMAX network leg in Baltimore. So far, so good, but it's a lot of up front investment. Sprint expects that the new Clear network will need an additional infusion of $2 billion to $3 billion in 2009. Yet Sprint, Clearwire and its supporters remain bullish on Wimax's future.

Vendors are already at the design board mocking up WiMAX devices that will take advantage of the connectivity speeds. WiMAX handsets, at some point, will follow, according to experts.

Will Motorola be among them?

Motorola's White Knuckle Grip to Hold On

Since co-CEO Greg Brown stepped in last January, the company's tried everything from cost cutting to hiring a new co-CEO to make its turnaround happen. But returning to the glory days when its RAZR was once the fastest selling handset phone of all time, is likely a pipe dream. After all, following its debut in 2003, Motorola sold 110 million RAZRs in four years -- a landmark accomplishment.

That was considered "the" standard until Apple's iPhone arrived. In this year's third quarter Apple sold 6.9 million iPhones -- outstripping a full year's worth of sales for the first-generation iPhone, of which Apple sold 6.1 million units. Morgan Stanley expects 27 million iPhones to be sold in calendar year 2009.

Motorola's got some work ahead of it. The latest strategy revamp this Fall has Motorola slashing its mobile OS platforms and jumping on the Android train. It's dumping three of its mobile operating systems to focus on Windows Mobile, Android and P2K OS, its proprietary Linux-based platform. At the same time Motorola announced even more layoffs.

Brown must be eager to put the year behind him and press on to tomorrow's plans.

Storage In the Cloud, and for the Little Guy

The explosion of data, from creation to storing, has every enterprise pulling in servers and software to gain efficiencies and better management of all the bits and bytes. In an EMC-sponsored digital universe study, IDC estimated that 988 billion gigabytes of digital information will be created in 2010.

Vendors, seeing the demand, are partnering and pushing out storage services like deduplication and virtualization that can work for anyone, whether it's a financial Wall Street firm or the mom-and-pop deli owner. Cloud storage came into play big time given the cheap cost and vendors like Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and its Web Services making it a play anyone can afford.

Amazon pushed out new features throughout the year and also reduced its already low prices in October. Last month it opened its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to Europe, providing developers there with the same computing capabilities it says 440,000 U.S. developers now use -- although only for Linux and Unix.

Even startups are moving online. Parascale's software turns commodity Linux servers into online storage nodes costing less than a piece of Bazooka gum these days -- about 25 to 50 cents per gigabyte. One-year-old Nirvanix is re-inventing the tenured storage service provider (SSP) model as an online storage delivery network (SDN) -- a unified, interconnected global platform of storage nodes costing 25 cents per gigabyte.

Titans like EMC (NYSE: EMC) moved into the cloud in a few ways. In November EMC unwrapped its long-awaited cloud storage infrastructure solution, EMC Atmos , moving the vendor long known for proprietary hardware offerings into the market for commodity hardware. Atmos is aimed at massive global storage infrastructures, such as those in the telco, Web 2.0 and media and entertainment industries.

Earlier in the year EMC made its Retrospect Express software the connecting link between its Mozy online service and Iomega backup drives. The result is an all-in-one, local and remote protection approach aimed at small to midsize businesses (SMB).

EMC's move represented a continuing push by the leading vendor, and competitors, to reach out to the SMB and small office home environment -- which analysts view as a big market next year for every storage vendor.

Symantec pumped up its SMB data protection and backup products as part of its acquisition of Veritas. And IBM pushed out PowerVM Express, an entry-level starter kit for smaller companies eager to start taking advantage of the considerable cost, power and time savings virtualization technology

The cloud definitely got more than a bit crowded this year, and it's likely to be standing-room only in the next few years.

Adapted from Internetnews.com.

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