Archive for May 17th, 2006

Modern VoIP WiFi phones are too expensive

And all this news today about VoIP WiFi phones made me think even more about how overpriced these Linksys phones really are. These phones have way less functionality/hardware than cellular phones and require less coding and testing. I mean, go compare the Motorola V360 which has a gazillion of features compared to these WiFi phones (compared to the Linksys phones it has GSM antennas, microSD slot, VGA camera, external color screen, Bluetooth, Java and other licensed software). And yet, the V360 sells for just $160 in the retail, when the Linksys ones sell between $220 and $360.

What if there was a company that would create VoIP WiFi Linux phones that were reasonably priced? I believe that it’s technically possible (including R&D, additional software development, testing and promotion) to sell the following basic VoIP phone for just $129:

16 MB ROM (~2 MB free for the user)
200 Mhz 32bit ARM
1.8″ 176×220 TFT
Wifi 802.11b
1100 mAh (this gives you ~3 hours talk time, ~50 hours standby)
usb mass storage, mini-usb charging
SIP v2, Skype and an RSS app on top of Qtopia Phone Edition 4.0 (no web browser)

The above suggested softphone has pretty much the same specs as the Palm Z22 (which sells for $99 in suggested retail and just $89 at some other places) plus the WiFi chipset (which in reality costs just $10 in the OEM market). Overall, there’s probably a $30 profit on each one of these things sold.

And here’s a higher-end VoIP phone with the following additional features, for $199 (with about $40 profit for each one sold):
Bluetooth v1.2
1250 mAh battery
microSD slot
1.3MP or VGA camera
QVGA 2.2″ screen
32 MB ROM (~10 MB free for the user)
Bluetooth support on top of Qtopia & a file manager that can handle it
A Java stack for games & Opera Mini as the default web browser

Now, you could ask “who’s gonna buy these”? Well, not most of you who read this blog, that’s for sure. But many companies that have an interest in VoIP will (and that’s a growing market), while if marketed correctly it can sell to teenagers/kids whose parents don’t want them to have real cellphones yet (think of it as how the walkie-talkies had a booming in the ’80s among youngsters). It’s a niche market, that’s true. But these prices are doable and even leave margin for profit, and I believe that such products can find a place next to real cellphones (until all real cellphones offer VoIP anyway, in a few years).

WindowsCE vs Qtopia Phone Edition

Linksys released today two WiFi VoIP phones from its WIP3x0 series. After some digging up I found that these phones run a modified version of WindowsCE. Honestly, I don’t think that this was the best solution for Linksys. These phones have been on development for over a year, because their engineers had to write from scratch a brand new interface that sits on top of WindowsCE (the default CE interface is not exposed at all, except when loading IE). The only application that they reuse from the default CE package is IE, everything else is re-written, and that, is a huge waste of time. No wonder that these phones are severly overpriced at $220 and $360 USD respectively. Someone has to pay for the engineering time…

It is my opinion that Qtopia Phone Edition 4.x (that also supports SIP) would have been a much better solution. Now, bear in mind that I am usually protective of Microsoft (because most of the time they don’t deserve the bad press), but in this instance, Qtopia Phone Edition makes much more business sense than a hugely re-written WindowsCE does. It would be much cheaper for Linksys to use Qtopia Phone Edition and for the few additional SIP/phone features that they might needed, they could have contracted Trolltech. Let alone that QTopia looks so much better than the currently ugly Linksys/CE UI, plus it’s easily themable. Skype would have been easier to port too, as it’s based on the Qt toolkit too (so that would add more value to the product supporting both SIP and Skype).

The only downside to this idea is that when the phone started getting developed QTopia Phone Edition 4.x had not been released yet (it was released a few months later, it was beta at the time).

The new MacBook

Hey, I should blog about it too, everyone else already has. :-)

I like the new MacBooks, especially the black one. If I get a new Mac laptop (sometime after my 12″ G4 dies), I will probably go for a MacBook instead of a MacBook Pro (price difference is a lot and features are not), *except* if there is a new MacBook Pro with a 64bit CPU released next January. The thing is that the 64bit CPU will offer more lifetime to the product, as eventually, some OSX functions might require 64bit support in the distant future.

Nevertheless, while the MacBook is overall a really nice product, it’s got a few things that I don’t like:
1. No integrated 56k modem. I have to pay an extra $49 for a USB modem (Apple used to sell it for $29, they changed the pricing just a few days ago) that in reality does not cost more than $15. While I don’t use dialup, there are at least 2-3 times a year I need to fax things, and for that I use my Powerbook. Also, when I am in Greece, there is no other option other than dialup in my parent’s village.
2. It’s bigger and heavier than it should have been. Look the “fat borders” it has around the LCD, even if it is perfectly possible to fit the webcam on a smaller border (check Nokia’s N73 for example for a really nice implementation of the webcam on thinner borders). As for its weight, at 5.2lbs is a heavy laptop, when my Powerbook used to be at just 4.6lbs and other, affordably priced, Intel laptops can go as low as 3.8lbs. I would want the MacBook to be 4.5lbs, to be honest, exactly because right now Apple does not have “light” laptops in its product range.
3. The bloody thing comes with both the RAM slots occupied! This means that if you want to upgrade the RAM, you have to throw away one of your memory sticks! Just as I did for my 12″ Powerbook 3 years ago!
4. As many have noted, the “little feedback” keyboard can be a problem. Haven’t used it though, so I can’t tell for sure yet.

Other than that, I like the MacBook and I will probably opt for it, sooner or later.

However, I can’t keep thinking that an even cheaper version, at $999, was easily achievable: 1.6 Core Solo, 40 GB drive, no Bluetooth, no Gigabit ethernet (just normal speeds), no i-Sight, no Apple remote, no optical audio, no s-video stuff. To be honest though, the real value of all these things are below $100, and it would actually drive costs up trying to engineer and manufacture yet another model with such subtle but manufacturing differences. The money you save by removing these features are overcomed by testing and custom manufacturing costs (plus the fact that most customers will opt for the better model for just that $100 of difference). In other words, Apple did the right thing to not offer the suggested “slightly cheaper” MacBook. In fact, I do expect Apple to lower the MacBook price at $999 in a few months time.

Judge shot dead in Turkish court

“A gunman has killed a prominent judge and wounded four others in Turkey’s highest administrative court in an attack he said was in retaliation for a recent ruling against a teacher who wore an Islamic-style headscarf, officials said.”

As I have written in the past, if a particular dress code does not get in the way of carrying out a specific act or profession (e.g. biology lab, gym classes) or it is not indicent, then people should be free to wear whatever they want.

In the specific case of the teacher who wore the headscarf: if the headscarf was just that, and it was NOT covering the face from view, then that teacher should have been free to wear it in a normal teaching class. I am against a full scarf around the head and face for the specific profession of a teacher, simply because kids NEED the connection with the eyes and face. It is PART of the job of being a teacher to have some connection with the kids, especially little children.

I think Turkey tries too hard sometimes to become “modern” (so they can get into EU) that they overrun some of their citizens’ wishes. I don’t like scarfs and stuff –I despise some cultures where women don’t have full rights and have to cover themselves–, but the point of the matter is, the whole transformation should happen with proper education and not laws that remove civil liberties. The current law, instead of making Turkey truly a modern country in the eyes of the EU, it is forcing modernism into a country that it is not ready for it (especially the eastern part of Turkey where most fundamentalists live). And this force of modernism has consequences as the shooting reported above.

The Java fiasco on Linux

Now that Sun has a new CEO (I met him a few years ago in a press event in SF) he tries to make it easier for Linux distros to redistribute Java and he is also looking into open sourcing Java. Unfortunately, from the whole situation, there are three losers: Sun, Red Hat and Gnome.

Red Hat has spent over half a million dollars so far investing on the development of the GNU Classpath clone of Java. My little bird tells me that Red Hat was in secret meetings with Sun for years now, trying to convince them to open Java. Sun’s previous CEO and his surrounding business partners didn’t want that to happen. This forced Red Hat to:
1. Spend money that they shouldn’t have to.
2. Employ two engineers full time helping out with Classpath, while they could be working on something else.
3. Leave Gnome for at least 2 years without a core high-level “modern” language support — especially since Red Hat didn’t accept Mono back then and PyGTK/GTKmm are not the answer to world hunger (unstable APIs and not “modern” enough to compete with .NET).

Sun also loses from the situation, because now they have to compete with a nearly complete clone of JRE and they have already made it clear that they don’t want to see fragmentation in their platform. That was their No1 fear, and it’s now realised. But if Sun had opened Java earlier, let’s say 2-3 years ago, it would have been a big win for everybody in the open source world.

The only people who “win” from the whole fiasco is the GNU Foundation, the people who like to clone everything and re-invent the wheel just for the fun of it. Oh, Microsoft is probably enjoying all this too. Hurrah.