RIM, Adobe, and Microsoft Grasping at Mobile Straws

After Apple got (rightfully) savaged for a month because of its stubborn silence in the wake of its iPhone 4 antenna woes, you'd think the coast would be clear for other mobile providers. Maybe they did, too, and thus figured we wouldn't notice some really silly statements and scary facts that emerged this week. They were wrong.

Enter the BlackBerry Torch, meekly

First, there was Research in Motion, which announced the BlackBerry Torch 9800 this week as its second answer to the iPhone. (The dismal Storm was the first answer, quickly buried.) Media pundits and serious analysts agreed that the new BlackBerry is underwhelming, with its measly processor, skimpy storage capacity, and tiny screen. It doesn't threaten the iPhone, for sure -- nor most Android devices or even Palm's year-old Pre. Maybe some of the surving Windows Mobile phones are scared. (Memo to those readers angry that AT&T has an exclusive till 2011: Who cares? You won't want this phone.)

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That's just the phone; RIM also unveiled BlackBerry OS 6. RIM isn't releasing test models to the media yet, so I haven't used it in person, but what RIM showed was not encouraging. It does have a bunch of "finally" features, such as a touchscreen interface and devicewide search, both of which are old news to iOS, Android, and WebOS. Well, the devicewide search is not such old news to Android, but still. It also brings a new security model to data and app management, using an approach similar to iOS 4's.

The bottom line is that BlackBerry users will continue to lust after -- and switch to -- the iPhone and Android devices. And it's not clear RIM sees that, given the weak offerings.

Adobe mobile Flash Player remains MIA

Adobe fanboys rallied this spring to excoriate Apple for refusing to let Flash Player 10.1 run on iOS devices. It's also become a common refrain among fans and media figures that Apple's refusal to support Flash on the mobile Web is a problem for iPhone users -- except it isn't, because no mobile OS yet has Flash Player running for real.

Yes, Android OS users can download a beta version of the Flash Player from the Android Market, but it's not the final release. (It seems to work, though Flash Player beta 3 was very slow in my tests, even over Wi-Fi.) But Flash Player is nowhere to be found on BlackBerry or WebOS, much less Windows Mobile or Nokia Symbian. RIM had to admit that the Torch 9800 won't have Flash initially because the player still isn't ready. It also isn't ready for the other mobile OSes, and Microsoft has been cagey about whether Flash will be available on the forthcoming Windows Phone 7.

On Wednesday, I asked Adobe the status of Flash Player 10.1 for the various mobile OSes but haven't yet heard back; its website features a year-old list of devices that run Flash Lite, which is decidedly not the same thing. Maybe Steve Jobs was right in saying Flash would never really work on mobile.

Microsoft bets on speech to save Windows Phone 7

What do you do when you are about to ship a long-awaited mobile OS that turns out not to use the current capabilities found in your major competitors? You can't of course publicly admit that your mobile OS is doomed because it's two or three years out of date coming upon release -- the case for Windows Phone 7.

Instead, you try to invent something cool, and that's what Microsoft did this week for Windows Phone 7. Of course, Microsoft used one of the oldest, most oversold technology promises ever in its attempt to make Windows Phone 7 look sexy: speech interfaces. Forget those clumsy touchscreens and awkward icons; a Microsoft rep even had the gall to compare competitors' use of icons to the long-outdated Windows 3.1 interface. A Windows Phone 7 device will act like the Enterprise computer in "Star Trek" or the appliances in "The Jetsons" or the HAL computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- on second thought, maybe not like the murderous HAL.

Tech companies trot out voice recognition every time they have nothing valuable to offer, hoping to tap into a knee-jerk "that's so cool!" reaction from the public. Like mobile TV, voice recognition is one of those technology concepts everyone thinks they love (see aforementioned TV shows) -- until they use it, of course. You do love all those voice-reponse systems when you call the airline or the phone company, right? And given that speech recognition has been avaialble for about 15 years on your PC or Mac, you use it there, don't you?

If so, you'll love what Microsoft is offering: voice recognition over the air, in which your commands are processed by a server in the clouds and converted into action on your smartphone. Boy, let's burn up those minutes and data plans! And waaait for the slow, usually incorrect response. Android has a similar capability for search, and it's amazingly frustrating to use, not to mention inaccurate.

The one good thing about Microsoft's fantasy about voice-command interfaces: You'll be able to identify a Windows Phone 7 user easily. Just listen for the person pleading with the phone to do what he asked. Whie the rest of us are quietly computing and communicating, he'll be hard to miss.

This article, "Mobile losers' desperate grasping at straws," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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