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2011 – The Year in Mobile

2011 CE (Cellphone Era), was a big year for mobile. Google recently revealed its top ten searches for the year, combing results from around the world as well as from individual nations. In the midst of celeb searches – Ryan Dunn, Rebecca Black and Adele – two gadgets cropped up in the top ten searches. One of them hasn’t even been officially announced yet. 

These are of course the Apple iPad 2 and iPhone 5, just showing how hungry and desperate we are for our gadgets.

It’s perhaps worth noting that searches for the iPhone 5 eclipsed stories on the Fukushima disaster on worldwide searches and was second only to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in UK searches.

But this only gives us a glimpse of the year in mobile, like spying on a crowded, packed out party through a keyhole. There was much more in the way of mobile in 2011 than iPhones and iPads. The rise of dual-core Android phones and tablets, the slow-burning demise of HP/Palm’s WebOS and Nokia’s long-awaited comeback to name a few.

Stay with us and pour yourself an Advocaat as we embark on a recap of 2011 – The Year In Mobile.


January

CES in 2011 ushered in a bevvy of new products. LG bagged a couple of early wins with the Optimus 2X – briefly the only dual-core Android phone – and the Optimus Black, then the slimmest phone going at just 9.2mm thin.

More dual-core phones would soon populate the market and Optimus Black would soon lose it’s ‘world’s thinnest’ crown to a string of others. The super-bright NOVA display of the Optimus Black would hold it own against other phones released in 2011, paving the way for NOVA technology’s use in future LG products.

January also saw the reveal of the Motorola Xoom, the first dual-core Android tablet and also the first tablet to run Android 3.0 Honeycomb.

Honeycomb was the first version of Android designed specifically for tablets and it looked a dream when it was unveiled.

As well as boasting a beautiful, futuristic UI, support for hardware accelerated graphics and improved browsing – including bookmark syncing with desktop Chrome – were major features of Honeycomb.

The Motorola Atrix was Moto’s first dual-core phone that, while running on then-old Android 2.2 Froyo offered a glimpse of the future in the form of a large qHD resolution display and a nifty fingerprint scanner that allowed you to lock the phone for extra security. It was also compatible with a separate Lapdock, which allowed you to use the Atrix as a replacement laptop.

Asus’ Eee Pad Transformer was another surprise; as well as being a 10.1-inch Honeycomb tablet, it also slotted into a dock which gave the tablet its name.

The dock acted as an auxiliary battery, featured a brace of extra connections and featured a full Qwerty keyboard, essentially transforming the Transformer tablet into an Android laptop.

Tied up in all this was the announcement of Nvidia’s Tegra 2 dual-core chip, the arguable star of the whole CES show. Synonymous with all things dual-core and Android for a long time, the Tegra 2 chip was responsible for powering things like 1080p HD video on Android phones and tablets and high-definition, high end gaming.

Elsewhere, Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arc turned heads with its distinctive curved design and low-light sensor that allowed for still image capture in some seriously gloomy locations, with or without the need for the flash.

Sneaky snaps of Sony Ericsson’s future releases also emerged around this time; the X10 Mini Pro and the long awaited Xperia Play – aka ‘the PSP Phone’ – posed for spy shots ahead of their official announcements…

January also saw the rise in VAT hitting mobile customers where it hurts and word that T-Mobile would be slimming down its monthly data cap to 500MB for new customers, a move that would be followed by most of the other networks, with the notable exception of Three.


February

February is the month when the annual Mobile World Congress takes place and the month where plenty of mobile phones were announced, unveiled and made a big deal of at the four-day event in Barcelona.

HTC unveiled a bevy of beauties including the Incredible S, Desire S and Wildfire S alongside the Facebook-centric ChaCha and Salsa. Also on hand was the HTC Flyer – HTC’s first Android tablet that came with a battery-powered stylus.

Samsung showed off the super-powerful Galaxy S2 alongside it’s Galaxy Ace mid-ranger and what would be the first edition of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. Across the hall, LG wooed us with the stereoscopic Optimus 3D phone and Optimus Pad tablet.

We also got to have a play-around with the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play and the rest of the Xperia family; the Xperia Arc, Xperia Neo and the Xperia Pro at MWC.

Nvidia showed us its future mobile chip roadmap, including the quad-core Tegra 3 chip, aka Kal-El.

After much speculation, Nokia and Microsoft announced that they were indeed seeing each other. A landmark announcement that heralded an eventual return to form for Nokia, the one-time king of the hill that had been usurped by Apple and it’s shiny all-singing iPhones.

We also saw the announcement of the HP Pre 3 and the Veer phones in February, as well as the first WebOS tablet, the TouchPad. Signs that there was still some life in the WebOS platform and that HP was intent on muscling in on the market.


March

Apple took the wraps of its iPad 2 in March, wowing us with its slender design, foldable smart covers and (gasp) front and rear-facing cameras. In a surprise turn, the iPad 2 which featured a faster dual-core chip than its predecessor, as well as a refined exterior, actually turned out being a little cheaper than the original too.

Seemingly moments after the big reveal of the iPad 2, Samsung took the wraps off of the super-slender Galaxy Tab 8.9… and announced a new-look version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1. Curiously, both tablets were even thinner than the already thin iPad 2…

March also saw the launch of Amazon’s App Store, an alternative Android Market that offered users heavily discounted apps and games, alongside the company’s other Amazon MP3 and Kindle music and ebook stores. Sadly, the App Store was confined to the US at launch and at the time of writing still is.

Microsoft rolled out the long-awaited NoDo update to Windows Phone devices, that finally brought cut ‘n paste to users.

Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Play finally hit the shelves over here after a slight delay and though it filled our hearts with retro-gaming joy, it didn’t quite hit the spot for everyone else.

In other Android news, March also saw an announcement from Carphone Warehouse that it had shifted over 1 million Android devices in its stores and online across Europe. Not bad going for a platform that launched with just one phone back in 2008.


April

After numerous delays and rumours, it was announced that the white version of the iPhone 4 would finally be arriving. It took Apple so long to figure out how to apply white paint to something that another Apple product (also available in white) has been released by the time this one hit the shelves. Steve Jobs even joked about this during the iPad 2 launch the month previous.

HTC followed up on its roster of Android phones announced in February with the HTC Sensation. The first dual-core Android phone from HTC boasted a huge 4.3-inch qHD screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio, intended to show off HTC Watch, the on-demand movies service.

Nokia’s two last smartphone hurrahs for Symbian arrived, the E6 and the X7. Both these phones launched with Symbian Anna, a refined version of the old operating system that looked to be designed more with touchscreens in mind.

Microsoft took the official wraps off of Mango, the next edition of the Windows Phone platform which promised faster browsing, improved local searches and a built-in Shazam style music recognition service. It would be a while before Mango fully ripened and rolled out to existing Windows Phone devices but it gave us a taste of things to come.


May

If we had to sum up May in one word that word would be NFC. Well ok, that’s an acronym short for three words – Near Field Communication – but it’s a word in itself. Acronyms are still words.

Google Wallet was announced, a service that’ll eventually see you able to pay for things in shops using an NFC-equipped phone as an Oyster-cum-credit card.

The Samsung-made Nexus S, launched late in 2010, was one of the few phones on the market to come with an NFC chip.

O2 announced its intentions to roll out an NFC-powered mobile wallet service in May and HTC hinted at NFC-enabled phones from its stock arriving in 2012.

BT, Orange and T-Mobile (under the Everything Everywhere umbrella) announced that 4G trials would begin in September, whetting our appetites for faster mobile broadband speeds (and even shorter battery life).

June

In what would prove to be his last keynote speech, Steve Jobs took the wraps off of iOS 5, the most significant upgrade to the iOS platform to date.

Incorporating iMessage instant messaging, ability to access the camera from the lock screen and a notification bar, perhaps the neatest card up the iOS 5 sleeve was the iCloud sync facility. This automatically updated your iTunes purchases between your iPhone, iPod and iPad as well as on your desktop. So any music or apps purchased on any one of your iDevices would be backed up automatically, over Wi-Fi.

In other news, a strange message appears in the sky above the Apple WWDC event in San Francisco: ‘FORGET THE FRUIT – GO TABCO.’ We don’t get to find out who or what TabCo is for a while, but for now we’re at least intrigued.

The BlackBerry Playbook, RIM’s first tablet, finally arrives after almost a year’s worth of waiting. It’s good enough to (almost) justify the wait, but the 7-inch tablet feels a little overshadowed by the like of the 10.1-inch Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

HTC went three dimensional with it’s Evo 3D phone, an Android smartphone that like LG’s Optimus 3D, allowed you to take 3D stills and video using a stereoscopic rig.

Nokia showed off it’s N9 smartphone, the first, and perhaps only phone to run on MeeGo, the OS developed in tandem with Intel. We noted and drooled over the design and the hardware almost as much as the software, taking in the pillowed glass display and the one-piece polyurethane body.

So much so that when Stephen Elop ‘accidentally’ leaked the Nokia Sea Ray later in the month, it immediately gave us an idea of what Nokia’s first Windows Phone phone might look like…

July

Rumours of the iPhone 5 reach critical mass as the normal midsummer launch period comes and goes. September and October are now mooted to be the release dates for the iPhone 5, which turns out to be (somewhat) accurate.

Joining the iPhone 5 on the rumour mill comes whispers of the next Google ‘Nexus’ phone, the phone that will showcase the next edition of Android, rumoured to be called Ice Cream Sandwich. Jury’s out on who will make the next Nexus but rumours point to Samsung.

BlackBerry Messenger 6 launches, bringing with it the ability to share apps, locations and play games with BBM contacts as well as chatting like before.

Sales of the Samsung Galaxy S2 climb to an impressive 5 million worldwide, proving that there’s a healthy demand for a powerful, stylish super-phone out there that isn’t made by Apple.

And speaking of sales figures, Apple casually announces that over 15 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store to date. 15 billion.


August

Easily the biggest news in August was the announcement from Google that it intended to acquire Motorola Mobility.

The acquisition if approved would effectively give Google a phone manufacturing arm as well as a patent portfolio for use against “anti-competitive patent attacks on Android,” as Larry Page puts it.

After acquiring Palm and unveiling a modest (but nice-looking) range of products we were keeping an extra eye on HP as an outside favourite to clear up and top ‘Best… of the Year’ charts.

Slim thought the chances were it was never to be; halfway through August, HP announced that it was halting development on the webOS platform for the forseeable and the product line would be discontinued. Cue an enthusiastic fire sale of the HP TouchPad tablet, which went on to become something of a collector’s item. Unsold HP Veer phones wept silently in their cardboard boxes, never to be opened.

Nokia’s N9 turns plenty of heads, but after a lengthy ‘will they won’t they,’ the MeeGo debut (and apparent swansong) doesn’t get greenlighted for the UK. Sad times.

BlackBerry launches BBM Music, a social music platform that aims to replicate ye olde mixtape and is powered by BBM. Whether it can challenge Spotify in the social music stakes remains to be seen.

Sony Ericsson revamps its product line, bringing no less than five new smartphones to the table including an improved version of the Xperia Arc, the Xperia Arc S. This is joined by the stylish Xperia Ray, the sporty Xperia Active and two Walkman-branded phones, the Live with Walkman and the Walkman Mix.

Samsung too bolsters its range with the rugged Galaxy Xcover, the Galaxy W, R and Y and three new Bada phones; the Wave 3, Wave M and Wave Y.

HTC’s Peter Chou meanwhile says that ‘six to eight’ new HTC phones will be released by the end of 2011.

And finally, the enigmatic ‘TabCo’ company outs itself as Fusion Garage, makers of the awful JooJoo tablet. The new Fusion Garage Grid 4 phone, Grid 10 tablet and the unique Grid OS actually look interesting. Memories of the JooJoo tablet however, may prove to eclipse whatever potential for greatness lies here.


September

Samsung (literally) stretches the limits of acceptability with the Galaxy Note – a phone/mini-tablet hybrid with a whopping 5-inch screen. Coming with an active stylus for sketching doodles and annotating spreadsheets the Galaxy Note comes across like a mini version of the HTC Flyer.

Speaking of HTC, the Taiwanese company launches two new Windows Phone devices in September, both packing the revamped Mango/7.5 software. The HTC Titan has a pretty huge 4.7-inch screen while the more modest HTC Radar has a 3.7-inch display.

The first phones to feature Mango for the time being, early adopters can enjoy such delights as tagging people in pictures before uploading snaps to Facebook and enjoying threaded text message and Facebook message conversations from the same contact. The update to Mango/7.5 eventually starts rolling out to all other Windows Phones in September.

On the Android side of things HTC unveils the HTC Sensation XE as well; a new version of the original Sensation with a faster processor and Beats Audio headphones and sound profiles built in.

The fashion-conscious HTC Rhyme and the budget HTC Explorer are also announced, rounding out HTC’s portfolio for the rest of the year. Well, five of a possible eight at least…

Amazon looks set to upset the tablet applecart with the launch of the Kindle Fire. At $200 it’s the cheapest mass market Android tablet yet and the first device to give the iPads a run for their money. Word on a UK release however is mum, for the time being.

October

After months and months of speculation and guessing, thinking that the next iPhone would be called the iPhone 5, Apple went ‘Ha! Wrong!’ and announced the iPhone 4S.

Boasting a design that was more or less identical to the previous iPhone 4, the new iPhone 4S boasted an 8-megapixel camera with a low-light mode (sounds familiar…) was available in both black and white from launch (unlike the last one) and came with a voice-activated personal assistant called Siri.

Despite it’s name being Japanese slang for where the sun doesn’t shine, Siri revealed itself to be pretty useful and even having a mild sense of humour. Shame that it can’t yet search for business addresses outside the US.

Apple’s iOS 5 update landed two days before the iPhone 4S went on sale, giving 3GS and 4 users a taste of the new features. iCloud, a tweaked UI, Twitter integration and more than a few failed back up headaches ensued.

Not content to let proceedings be dominated by Apple, Nokia finally announced its first Windows Phone device to the world – the Nokia Lumia 800. A beautifully designed phone with a brace of custom Nokia apps, the Lumia 800 could confidently be described as the big comeback Nokia needed.

Alongside this Nokia also announced the Lumia 710, a budget Windows Phone device that looked set to undercut the Windows Phone competition.

Word reached us that Sony was considering buying out the Ericsson portion of Sony Ericsson in order to bring everything under one ‘Sony’ umbrella. This was later confirmed when Sony put in a €1.5 billion bid for the remaining stake in the company, making the company a wholly owned subsidiary of Sony.

HTC added another Android phone to its Sensation line-up, the Sensation XL. Another Beats Audio accentuated phone, the Sensation XL was essentially an Android version of the Windows Phone-running HTC Titan; same screen size and resolution, same internal memory and same camera specs.

Android 4.0, better known as Ice Cream Sandwich, was announced by Google, alongside the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first phone to ship with the new version of the OS.

Blending the features of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich looks set to present a more unified experience between Android devices and will be rolling out to most phones and tablets throughout 2012.

As well as the super-thin and next-gen buzz of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Motorola surprised everyone with the Razr, a revamped version of its classic phone updated for the touchscreen age.

On the BlackBerry side of the fence, RIM announced BBX, the future platform for BlackBerry phones and BlackBerry Tag, a neat tap-to-share documents, information and files platform that was based on NFC.

Sadly for RIM (and its many many customers) BlackBerry services worldwide suffered from an unexpected service outage that left thousands of users unable to retrieve emails, access the internet or even go on BBM. The problem was quickly resolved with service returning to normal by the end of the month.

In Cornwall, BT and Everything Everywhere kicked of the live trial of 4G mobile broadband, giving residents a taste of things to come in the future.

Despite all of this, anything and everything else felt overshadowed by the passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder, chairman and former CEO of Apple Inc.


November

Less than a year since the first Motorola Xoom tablet was announced then we’re introduced to a pair of sequels; the Xoom 2 and the Xoom 2 Media Edition. Boasting slimmer designs than the first Xoom, but similar internal spec, both of the Xoom 2 tablets have been confirmed to receive upgrades to Ice Cream Sandwich as well.

Nvidia’s Tegra 3 quad-core chipset made its debut on the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime tablet/laptop hybrid.

The new CPU promises even more powerful graphics and improved power efficiency, a must for battery hungry Android devices. The Transformer Prime itself turned out to be a real thing of beauty; every inch a follow up to the original.

Adobe announced it was calling time on developing Flash for mobile browsers, getting behind efforts with HTML5 for mobile browser plug-ins and Adobe AIR for apps. That said, Adobe promised an update to Flash Player for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, so that owners of the Galaxy Nexus would be able to access Flash content on the go.

And ebook merchant Kobo, captialising on the (current) absence of Amazon’s Kindle Fire in the UK, released the Kobo Vox eReader; a heavily skinned Android tablet that’s being pitched an as an e-reader, going for a very attractive price. Just in time for the run up to Christmas as well…


December

After being a relatively quiet for most of 2011, LG bounced back with the LG Prada 3.0, the latest collaboration between LG and (yep, you guessed it) fashion house Prada. Boasting a thin, lightweight body and a heavily customised interface, the LG Prada 3.0 was revealed right before the Christmas shopping was due to get bloody – but it was announced that it wouldn’t be on sale ‘til the new year.

Location-tracking app Carrier IQ, ostensibly designed to assist mobile networks, grabbed headlines when it emerged that it could potentially compromise sensitive personal information of individual users and log keystrokes. After what could only be described as a PR disaster for the company, it emerged that UK networks and manufacturers didn’t make use of Carrier IQ’s services anyway – phew.

After halting development on Web OS, HP eventually decided to offer it up to the open source community (rather than sell it off) in the hope that developers might be able to breathe some life into the platform.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet was rumoured to be coming to the UK in January, but there’s not been any announcement from the e-tailer giant of yet. Given that the Christmas rush is all but over, it’s doubtful whether we’ll hear any news on this until January at least.

Beleagured RIM yet again found that it had to rename it’s BBX platform to the slightly less cool-sounding BlackBerry 10, after it emerged that BBX was already a trademarked name. Then, RIM was indirectly accused of making pornography available to under 18’s, as a result of its encrypted data channels bypassing any adult content blocks put in place.

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