Top 11 Mobile Stories To Watch In 2011

The previous 12 months have seen the mobile space grow by leaps and bounds as superphones went from being rarities to being fairly commonplace these days, next-generation 4G wireless networks are actually being deployed to a certain extent, and on-the-go video chatting is changing our expectations of what we can do with our smartphones. We are expecting 2011 to have just as many large leaps in technology and so the IntoMobile team thought we’d lay out the top 11 mobile-related advances to look forward to next year.

These are just some of our predictions based on what we’re expecting in the mobile space. The great thing about this space is that there’s always a technology, phone or app which seemingly comes out of nowhere to change the game. Read on for a taste of what 2011 will bring.

1. What’s up Apple’s sleeves

Apple iPhone may hit Verizon in 2011

Like it or not, what Apple does in 2011 will have a major impact on the mobile space and consumer electronics as a whole.

One of the biggest things Apple could do is end its exclusivity with AT&T and bring the iPhone to Verizon. That’s been the major rumor for the last three years but there have been multiple reports from normally-trusted sources which say this is a done deal and we can expect it in the first half of the year. I’m still skeptical until I see one in real life but this could help Apple fight off the Android threat and increase its user base substantially.

With its more than 92 million subscribers, Verizon represents a golden opportunity for Apple. Surveys suggest there are still plenty of Verizon users waiting for an iPhone, so it wouldn’t be out of the realm of reason to think Apple could pick up another 10 million subscribers. Verizon’s network has supposedly been tested by the Android devices to keep up with the strain and a Verizon iPhone will have the added benefit of helping AT&T’s network by balancing the demand a bit.

While Verizon is rolling out its 4G LTE network, reports suggest the Verizon iPhone will be 3G only the first go around. This keeps in line with Apple’s philosophy – remember, the first iPhone didn’t include 3G even thought this was built out more than 4G will be by mid-2011 – but it may be disappointing for some. Will a Verizon iPhone with just 3G be as compelling as some of the high-end 4G Android devices we expect to be released next year? Time will tell.

Apple will also likely revamp its iPad tablet and it’s a virtual lock to expect the iPad 2 to have multiple cameras and you can bet that FaceTime will be on board. There are also exciting rumors which suggest the sequel to the iPad will have a Retina Display too, which could up the ante in the tablet war. It’s unclear what will happen to the original iPad though, as Apple could sell it at a discounted rate, bump up its storage capabilities but it may make sense to just kill it off entirely.

We can also look forward to another iOS update and this may finally be the time where Apple makes use of some of its recent mobile-related acquisitions. I would love iOS 5.0 to have strong voice command features that utilize the Siri purchase, as well as stronger mapping capabilities from the Poly9 buy. We could also be in store for some NFC-related goodness, too.

Will Apple be able to stay ahead of the pack again in 2011?

2. Dual-core: double your pleasure, double your fun

With the Optimus 2X, LG launched the first salvo in the dual-core battle but having a dual-core processor will soon be the standard for high-end mobile devices. We should see a plethora of devices in 2011 which have multi-core processors and this should be a great thing for consumers.

The promise of a dual-core processor in a mobile phone or tablet is that it will be able to provide high performance while still having adequate battery life if it’s efficiently designed. Early Android benchmark tests of the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor blow away the current generation, even those with a 1 GHz processor. This will mean faster app switching, more powerful features and just an overall smoothness on 2011 devices which should be a significant step ahead of modern devices.

The Tegra 2 chip will power a ton of high-profile devices but it’s not the only contender, as Samsung has it’s dual-core Orion chip which will likely find its way into the next generation of Galaxy S smartphones and you know TI will be wooing handset makers with its dual-core products. It’s not just the high-end either, as Broadcom has brought out a dual-core chip designed to give high-end features to mid-range Android phones.

So, what types of products can we expect? Well, the Optimus 2X should just be the tip of the spear, as we’re expecting dual-core smartphones from Samsung, Motorola, HTC and Nokia. The BlackBerry PlayBook will bring dual-core to tablets and it should followed by tablets from Motorola, LG and others.

What will Apple do to counter this? Should we expect the iPhone 5 to have a custom, dual-core processor? Despite having top-of-the-line products, Apple generally doesn’t like to engage in the bleeding-edge specs race but it may have to in order to deliver performance that is on par, or beyond, what the competition has in store. I cannot wait.

3. MeeGo and webOS vie for the spotlight

Apple and Google are duking it out for developers and customers while Research In Motion and Nokia hope to build on their declining user bases. Additionally, Microsoft is putting its whole weight behind the Windows Phone 7 platform, so where does that leave webOS and MeeGo?

Both platforms have large, multinational companies backing it, as Nokia will be touting MeeGo and Hewlett-Packard will double down on webOS. Both companies have enough money and scale to give these platforms a fighting chance but it’s too soon to know if either will be able to carve out significant market share.

We don’t know much about Nokia’s plans for MeeGo, as we’ve yet to see a device launch and the world’s largest handset maker seems hell-bent on sticking to a multi-tiered platform strategy: MeeGo for the high-end, Symbian^X for its mid-range and another variation of Symbian for its entry-level devices. It will rely on Qt as a development framework between all of these and this should reliably enable developers to create apps which run on various types of handsets.

At least that’s the theory. When it comes to innovative apps, Nokia’s Symbian seems to be on the bottom of the list of platforms to develop for despite the fact that it has the largest use base. MeeGo is also going to have trouble attracting developers unless Nokia pulls a Microsoft and pays developers to create apps for MeeGo. Ideally, you want an organic interest but Microsoft’s strategy has jump-started interest in Windows Phone 7 and enabled consumers to get many of the apps they want out of the gates.

HP and Palm also face the developer issue with webOS but some of that should be mitigated by the fact that it is relatively simple to create webOS apps with standard Internet languages. There’s also a PDK for more intense apps and HP should have no problems throwing some dollars at developers to get the ecosystem started.

The bigger issue with webOS is how soon can we get some stellar products? The Pre 2 was a decent upgrade over the original but it’s not going to knock anyone’s socks off. HP is not known for its amazing product designs either, so will the webOS devices be able to go up against the dual-core monsters we should be seeing from HTC, Motorola and others?

What bodes well for MeeGo and webOS is that the smartphone race is just beginning, as the majority of users still have feature phones. The smartphone market will eventually encompass billions of users, which means that there will be room for multiple players. Will that market be large enough to support up to six major smartphone platforms? That question will start to be answered in 2011.

4. Google keeps Android good times rolling

Will Android keep its momentum in 2011?

In the span of about two years, Google has taken Android from a cute little idea to a juggernaut in the smartphone space. It is routinely the top-selling platform in the United States, many predict it to overtake Symbian to be the largest platform in the world soon and the Android Market continues to attract developers. But it’s easier to have explosive growth from 0% than it is to continue to grow at a rapid pace once you have a large installed base.

The last 12 months saw three major platform updates (Eclair, Froyo and Gingerbread) and the pace of innovation doesn’t appear to be slowing down, as we already know that Honeycomb will make the platform optimized for tablets and the Ice Cream version is sure to bring more goodies. Even though the Android Market just received an update, it could still use some work – in particular, we’re still waiting for the robust online store which lets you install apps over the air like Google showed off at its I/O conference.

The search giant is still trying to get its Google Music service off the ground in order to give Android a strong counterbalance to the multimedia capabilities of the iPhone. Google recently made bigger pushes into delivering movies and multimedia to desktop users, so look for that to quickly come to Android in an official way.

Of course, all these advancements will have to bring up concerns of fragmentation. While some developers says this concern is overblown, end-users are routinely not getting the latest version of the software. For instance, the Galaxy S lineup is still on Android 2.1 at the time of this writing, which is two full versions behind the latest and greatest. This is a growing concern when you consider that this lineup isn’t that old (just a few months) and it has a massive installed base (more than 3 million).

Still, these are all problems that Google doesn’t mind having to deal with because it shows that the Android platform has become a success.


5. Will Nokia, RIM get its groove back?

Nokia, RIM fight for relevancy in 2011

Nokia and Research In Motion are both leaders in the smartphone space but you wouldn’t know that by speaking to developers and mobile enthusiasts. To many, both are aging companies which could soon be outpaced by innovative newcomers like Apple and Google. But the companies aren’t going to cede the market easily and next year it should be apparent whether its strategies will work.

Nokia is still the world’s largest handset maker and it still ships the most smartphones in the world but it would be difficult to know that based on speaking with developers, the tech press or high-end users in the United States. We have the bullet points for Nokia’s 2011 plans: 1 GHz phones in during the second or third quarter of 2011, dual-core phones by the end of the year (although Stefan thinks that will likely be delayed until 2012), and multiple updates to the Symbian operating system including a revamp of the user interface and the ability to make the browser upgradeable by itself as a standalone app.

If you’re not blown away by that road map, I don’t blame you as things like a 1 GHz processor have been the norm on high-end devices for nearly all of 2010. Like many big companies, Nokia has to worry about scale, so it may be introducing its first 1 GHz phone while others have already moved on to dual-core devices. Specs aren’t everything though but Nokia’s platform vision isn’t inspiring much confidence yet.

With the Symbian Foundation dead, the illusion that Nokia is the only one backing this platform is gone. Nokia is Symbian and Symbian is Nokia, just as it was before the foundation was formed. We’re expecting multiple updates to the platform but you can’t help but wonder if starting fresh would allow it to innovate at a faster rate.

That’s where MeeGo holds a lot of promise, as this will be built from the ground up with touch interfaces in mind and seems to take the best traits from iOS, Android and webOS. We still haven’t seen anything substantial like a flagship device but it’s probably better that Nokia takes its time and makes sure that this is done correctly. We offered some more advice for Nokia in this post and it can be summed up in three points: get a software strategy and stick with it, aggressively court developers and make some noise in the North American market.

That same advice could also be applied to RIM (except for the North American market share part), which is in the process of working on a QNX platform for the PlayBook which will eventually find its way on to the BlackBerry smartphones which it is known for. In fact, the PlayBook could be a tipping point for RIM in either direction, as it will pave the way for its successes or failures for years to come.

Analysts are divided about how many units the PlayBook will sell as we still don’t know the price, release data, how well the software will run and what the competition will look like when it finally hits the market. In many ways, the OS may be more important than the device itself because this will eventually be running on future BlackBerry units.

RIM recently acquired The Astonishing Tribe to spruce up its UI and that company is known for some amazing proof-of-concept work. It remains to be seen if it can work its magic at the scale RIM will need it to but if it can, we could be looking forward to a future where the BlackBerry OS is highly stable, secure, feature-rich and has a UI that outranks the competition.

Of course, that’s only if everything comes together. When RIM purchased Iris Mobile to boost its browser, the results on the Torch were light years ahead of previous BlackBerry browsers but not on par with what the iPhone and Android are doing. The next year will give us solid indications of which direction RIM will be heading.

6. LG struts its stuff

LG struts its stuff in 2011

In 2010, we saw the high-end strategy of Apple, Research In Motion, HTC, Motorola and Samsung play out but where was LG Electronics in the smartphone game? While the LG Ally and the Optimus “fill in the letter” lineup show us the company’s mid-range products, 2011 should be the year where the world’s third-largest handset maker asserts itself with some killer hardware.

We’re already drooling over the LG Optimus 2Xr because this Android superphone will have a 4-inch touchscreen display, a dual-core Tegra 2 chipset, 1080p HD video playback, an 8-megapixel camera with 1080p HD video recording and all the other connectivity goodies you’d expect from a top-shelf phone. The leaked photos also indicate it will have the Google branding, which should mean it will launch with the most current version of the operating system. That could be Android 2.3 or even Honeycomb depending on when it hits the market. The leaked LG B could also be an chic Android device because it will be thinner than the iPhone 4 and supposedly have a brighter screen.

It’s not just phones though, as the company is also preparing a 9-inch tablet that should be called the Optimus Pad. We’re looking for this to have Tegra 2, Android Honeycomb, a few cameras and a wealth of other multimedia and connectivity options. Will this be enough to go against the second iPad, the RIM PlayBook and the glut of other Android tablets? The specs are certainly there, now it just comes down to execution.

These products are not going to be enough to put LG into the upper echelon right away but these are great starts. Let’s see if it can keep it up.

7. Tablets run wild

Tablets will take a larger role in 2011

Like many, I was highly skeptical of the Apple iPad: this is just a larger iPod touch, right? Then I got one and I realized how powerful these types of devices can be. The iPad has a ton of flaws but the tablet market is very exciting and 2011 could be the year where these types of devices hit the mainstream.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab shows that there could be a market for a 7-inch tablet and there will be plenty of tablets with a screen that is smaller than the iPad. The BlackBerry Playbook could be an interesting device with a dual-core processor, support for Adobe Flash and a reworked operating system powered by QNX. If RIM can get this thing out for under $500, as it promised, we could have a new king of the tablet market.

There will be plenty of contenders though, as many of us at IntoMobile are very excited to get our hands on the PalmPad from Palm and Hewlett-Packard. I believe that webOS is an elegant platform that can scale nicely to a tablet form factor and if the hardware is right (nice screen, processor and ports) I may just have to buy one.

Of course, there will be plenty of tablet options to tempt you. In just a few months, we should see a 7-inch Android tablet from Motorola that promises to be quite a gadget. The so-called MotoPad should have a dual-core Tegra 2 chip, Android 3.0 Honeycomb and Verizon FiOS access and applications (check out the epic teaser trailer. LG is also preparing to run wild with Android on tablets in 2011.

Of course, Apple will refresh its iPad and the sequel should have multiple cameras for FaceTime video chatting. Nokia has also been suspiciously quiet about the tablet market and looking at Windows Phone 7 makes you think it would go nicely on a tablet despite the “Phone” part of its name.

It’s not just the device though, as 2011 may be the year where the apps and services for tablets make these devices powerful terminals for cloud computing. Apple’s AirPlay gives us a tantalizing glimpse of how these tablets can send and receive content between devices. I’ve still yet to see a true killer tablet app despite some valiant attempts but I can’t wait to see what app makers do in 2011.

Check out our list of the most-anticipated tablets of 2011 to whet your appetite.

8. 4G goes mainstream

4G runs rampant in 2011

The spread of real 4G networks was a big story in 2010 and next year should be the year where these services really could take off in the mainstream. Once you grow accustomed to getting more than 5 Mbps on the go, there’s no going back.

Verizon just turned on its 4G LTE service in 39 cities and it is well on its way to mirroring its 3G footprint within a few years. The T-Mobile HSPA+ 4G service now covers more than 100 million people and Sprint’s WiMax 4G is now in more than 70 markets, including high-profile cities like New York and San Francisco. AT&T just spend $2 billion to acquire Flo TV spectrum to roll out its 4G LTE service and we should see deployments start in the middle of 2011.

Having the service is great but the masses won’t pick it up until there are multiple compelling devices and we should start to see those as early as January’s CES trade show. Verizon will show off some Android 4G LTE devices Jan. 6 and this could include smartphones, as well as the Motorola Android Honeycomb tablet. T-Mobile and Sprint already has a pair of smartphones which can use its respective next-gen networks and we’re bound to see more phones and tablets in the next few months.

Pricing and real-life speeds may become an issue as we move forward though. T-Mobile and Sprint are still offering unlimited data plans (although Sprint charges a $10 premium for 4G devices) but Verizon said its undecided about how it will charge for 4G LTE on its smartphones. We’re hoping it keeps an unlimited option but we may be heading to a future where tiered pricing is the norm.

If you were one of the first people using 3G, then you’d know how fast it was before everyone else got one it. There’s a chance the same may happen with the various 4G services, although I don’t know if many people will mind if they’re still getting 4 Mbps on the go.


9. The PlayStation Phone and the rise of app gaming

2011 will show mobile gaming hit the masses

Mobile gaming used to consist of playing Snake to fight off boredom but it has now morphed into a rich, interactive experience that is leading to big business. Just taking a glance at Rage HD is enough to know that mobile gaming is turning into something special and just try to find a smartphone owner who doesn’t know what Angry Birds is.

One of the largest catalysts of mobile gaming could be the much-rumored PlayStation Phone by Sony Ericsson. This handset is supposed to be powered by Android, will have a 1 GHz processor, a large touchscreen and a slide-out game pad. Sony will likely have a download service which will deliver games to the PlayStation Phone and it should also have access to the Android Market.

It’s unclear how this device would actually work in practice though – would this be the only phone capable of playing PlayStation games or will Sony “bless” other devices which fit certain criteria? If the gaming is exclusive to the PlayStation Phone, then Sony will have to work hard at courting developers because the aforementioned Rage HD game shows that other smartphone operating systems are capable of high-quality gaming even if they lack a proper game pad.

It’s pretty clear that 2011 will be an excellent year for gaming on smartphones. Windows Phone 7 will come into its own and it should get a boost from its Xbox Live integration as developers get more comfortable with the platform. We may finally see a good game that lets you start on the phone and finish on the home console (or vice versa). Apple iOS gaming will continue to be strong and I’m sure Apple’s new hardware and software will open up new gaming possibilities.

The PlayStation Phone and other high-powered Android phones should boost gaming on the little, green robot and I can’t wait to see what game developers will do to Google TV once it’s opened up to all comers.

One of the biggest growth segments in the mobile gaming field should be social gaming. While some of you may have a negative connotation of crop-obsessed zombies, this field could actually make mobile gaming more fun and compelling by involving your friends in substantial ways. Companies like Zynga, ngmoco, Electronic Arts and even Apple with its Game Center are gearing up to unleash a new social element to your mobile gaming.

Game on.


10. Will your phone finally be your wallet?

Mobile payments may become prevalent in 2011

Every six months or so, someone declares that your mobile phone will replace your wallet and it never happens (unless you’re in Japan or Korea). This year may prove to be different though, as major players in the mobile space are making a big push for mobile payments in the United States.

AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Discover and Barclay’s are teaming to form Isis, a joint venture which will push mobile payments through the usage of NFC technology. As you may recall, NFC enables users to swipe-to-pay on specialized sales terminals because it’s capable of secure, short-range wireless transfers.

The NFC technology has been around for a while but this is the first major push with the majority of the U.S. carriers. One of the biggest hurdles to NFC adoption is that customers and retailers have to get new equipment but AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are the main providers of handsets to more than 200 million wireless subscribers. These carriers will ensure that its entire handset lineup includes NFC chips, which means the majority of U.S. mobile users could have a capable handset within a few years (the average user upgrades their handset within 18 months). This potentially removes a large stumbling block.

Google is also doing its part to push mobile payments, as Android 2.3 Gingerbread will also have support for NFC technologies. While not every Android handset from now on will support NFC, it’s a good bet that the majority of the high-end ones will.

As for merchants, it’s still tough to convince them to upgrade their point-of-sales systems on some unproven technology but Isis is aiming to provide more than just a mobile payment mechanism. Instead, the joint venture aims to give merchants a new commerce platform with coupons, loyalty rewards, marketing opportunities and mobile payments. The carriers aren’t jumping into the credit game either, as transactions will occur with Discover and users will receive their standard credit bill per month.

One thing is for sure, the mobile payment space is ripe for innovation and with Isis, Google, PayPal and a host of startups vying to replace your wallet, we may finally be able to leave our wallets at home.


11. Is this the year of the battery revolution?

Batteries need to be considered in 2011

While 4G and HD-capable smartphones are awesome, I can’t help but think how this will impact the battery life. This may be the year where the battery life on a smartphone becomes such a hindrance to other areas of innovation that the industry has to put its best and brightest minds on this to solve it.

Take the EVO 4G – like many of you, I saw the large screen, WiMax capabilities with Android and started drooling and planned to eat an early-termination fee to get it. Then, I got a review unit and was appalled at how bad the battery life was. I’m talking four to five hours maybe and I wasn’t even in a 4G market. Later software updates greatly helped but the fanciest phone in the world is still a brick without juice.

The app space can suffer too, as streaming programs like Rdio and Hulu Plus can quickly kill your shiny smartphone, which forces users to make painful decisions about how to use their device. Yes, there are always going to be trade offs with modern devices because no one wants to carry a brick like Zach Morris, but this area hasn’t seemed to advance as far as many of us would like.

There is hope though, as the Apple iPhone 4 is actually better than its predecessors when it comes to battery life (and Apple sure loves to crow about it) but that design also led to the dreaded antennagate. Maybe we’ll all just be forced to carry Mophie Juice Packs around but hopefully some company can crack this issue.

  • Anonymous

    Very nice list, thank you, but I am more concerned about the tablet war, I look forward to the MotoPad, I also expect the upcoming tablet war on 2011.

    Everything you need to know about iPad

  • Chadpmcd

    I realize that it was mentioned in passing but there should really be a line item for Windows Phone 7. CDMA support (therefore getting on Spring and Verizon), feature updates, new hardware/partners, and the trajectory for apps and end users… Whether you hate it or love it, succeed or fail this platform will be a story to watch in the new year.

  • Dude

    MeeGo will go on to become a hit overseas, but we in America will barely notice it exists, just like Nokia now.

  • panjul

    maybe this news is very nice and interesting .. but not all people want to read so much writing..

    • To the person who said “so much writing”: BS.
      As a on the move independent Apple IT consultant, PC repair technician and PTer at the neighborhood RadioShack, I actually saved your article as my browser startup page.
      Informative and I dare say pretty darn accurate.

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