AT&T

Sprint calls AT&T’s 5G E label ‘false advertising’ in new lawsuit

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, lawsuit, Mobile, sprint | No Comments

While it’s true that it’s going to take some time before most of us will actually be able to enjoy the benefits of 5G, that doesn’t mean you can’t sit back and enjoy the fireworks right now. AT&T’s adoption of the “5G Evolution” label has already been controversial among industry followers and fellow carriers alike for watering down the meaning of next-gen connectivity — and now Sprint is looking to do something about it.

The carrier filed suit against what it called “false advertising and deceptive acts” relating to AT&T’s 5G E. The suit notes, rightly, that Sprint, AT&T and other major carriers are all jostling to be first to market, “but calling its network 5G E […] does not make it a 5G network.” In fact, the network is more akin to advanced LTE.

AT&T called itself “[the] first U.S. mobile company to introduce mobile 5G service in a dozen markets by late 2018” courtesy of the label, in a much-maligned attempt to plant its flag. It’s similar to tactics used by the carrier ahead of the rollout of LTE. AT&T has largely waved away criticism, stating that it’s happy that such moves have gotten it into the heads of the competition.

That may be true, but anyone who has watched the industry with even passing interest knows that real network advances take time, and this sort of branding goes a ways toward muddying up consumer understanding. The suit goes on to claim that the 5GE label violates state and federal false advertising laws and does damage to competitors like Sprint, which is invested in the slower rollout of true 5G.

Update: AT&T is standing defiant on this one. Here’s their statement:

We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.

We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC that it cannot deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching ‘legitimate 5G technology imminently.’

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Despite promises to stop, US cell carriers are still selling your real-time phone location data

Posted by | AT&T, john legere, locationsmart, Mobile, mobile technology, privacy, Ron Wyden, Security, sprint, T-Mobile, technology, United States, Verizon, wireless, Zumigo | No Comments

Last year, four of the largest U.S. cell carriers were caught selling and sending real-time location data of their customers to shady companies that sold it on to big spenders, who would use the data to track anyone “within seconds” for whatever reason they wanted.

At first, little-known company LocationSmart was obtaining (and leaking) real-time location data from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and selling access through another company, 3Cinteractive, to Securus, a prison technology company, which tracked phone owners without asking for their permission. This game of telephone with people’s private information was discovered, and the cell carriers, facing heavy rebuke from Sen. Ron Wyden, a privacy-minded lawmaker, buckled under the public pressure and said they’d stop selling and sharing customers’ locations.

And that would’ve been that — until it wasn’t.

Now, new reporting by Motherboard shows that while LocationSmart faced the brunt of the criticism, few focused on the other big player in the location-tracking business, Zumigo. A payment of $300 and a phone number was enough for a bounty hunter to track down the participating reporter by obtaining his location using Zumigo’s location data, which was continuing to pay for access from most of the carriers.

Worse, Zumigo sold that data on — like LocationSmart did with Securus — to other companies, like Microbilt, a Georgia-based credit reporting company, which in turn sells that data on to other firms that want that data. In this case, it was a bail bond company, whose bounty hunter was paid by Motherboard to track down the reporter — with his permission.

Everyone seemed to drop the ball. Microbilt said the bounty hunter shouldn’t have used the location data to track the Motherboard reporter. Zumigo said it didn’t mind location data ending up in the hands of the bounty hunter, but still cut Microbilt’s access.

But nobody quite dropped the ball like the carriers, which said they would not to share location data again.

T-Mobile, at the center of the latest location-selling revelations for passing the reporter’s location to the bounty hunter, said last year in the midst of the Securus scandal that it “reviewed” its real-time location data sharing program and found appropriate controls in place. To appease even the skeptical, T-Mobile chief executive John Legere tweeted at the time that he “personally evaluated the issue” and promised that the company “will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen.”

It’s hard to see how that isn’t, in hindsight, a downright lie.

Sounds like word hasn’t gotten to you, @ronwyden. I’ve personally evaluated this issue & have pledged that @tmobile will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen. Your consumer advocacy is admirable & we remain committed to consumer privacy. https://t.co/UPx3Xjhwog

John Legere (@JohnLegere) June 19, 2018

This time around, T-Mobile said it “does not have a direct relationship” with Microbilt but admitted one with Zumigo, which, given the story and the similarities to last year’s Securus scandal, could be considered one of many “shady middlemen” still obtaining location data from cell carriers.

Legere later said in a tweet late Wednesday that the company “is completely ending” its relationships with location aggregators in March, almost a year after the company was first implicated in the first location-sharing scandal.

It wasn’t just T-Mobile. Other carriers were also still selling and sharing their customers’ data.

AT&T said in last year’s letter it would “protect customer data” and “shut down” Securus’ access to its real-time store of customer location data. Most saw that as a swift move to prevent third-parties accessing customer location data. Now, AT&T seemed to renege on that year-ago pledge, saying it will “only permit the sharing of location” in limited cases, including when required by law.

Sprint didn’t say what its relationship was with either Zumigo or Microbilt, but once again — like last year — cited its privacy policy as its catch-all to sell and share customer location data. Yet Sprint, like its fellow carriers AT&T and T-Mobile, which pledged to stop selling location data, clearly didn’t complete its “process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data” as it promised in a letter a year ago.

Verizon, the parent company of TechCrunch, wasn’t explicitly cleared from sharing location data with third-parties in Motherboard’s report — only that the bounty hunter refused to search for a Verizon number. (We’ve asked Verizon if it wants to clarify its position — so far, we’ve had nothing back.)

In a letter sent last year when the Securus scandal blew up, Verizon said it would “take steps to stop” sharing data with two firms — Zumigo and LocationSmart, an intermediary that passed on obtained location data to Securus. But that doesn’t mean it’s off the hook. It was still sharing location data with anyone who wanted to pay in the first place, putting its customers at risk from hackers, stalkers — or worse.

Wyden. who tweeted about the story, said carriers selling customer location data “is a nightmare for national security and the personal safety of anyone with a phone.” And yet there’s no way to opt out — shy of a legislative fix — given that two-thirds of the U.S. population aren’t going to switch to a carrier that doesn’t sell your location data.

It turns out, you really can’t trust your cell carrier. Who knew?

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Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

Posted by | 4G, 5g, 5g network, AT&T, deutsche telekom, Gadgets, Internet of Things, Mobile, mobile technology, T-Mobile, technology, Verizon, Verizon Communications, wireless industry, wireless networks | No Comments

AT&T recently started a shady marketing tactic that labeled its 4G network as a 5G network. Now, rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are not having any of it.

In an open letter, in which AT&T is not named directly, Verizon says in part “the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.” TechCrunch agrees. The advantages of 5G networks are profound. The next generation of wireless networks will bring more than just increased speeds, and AT&T’s current campaign of calling a 4G network a 5G network clouds the water.

T-Mobile is more direct in its criticism of AT&T. Because that’s how T-Mobile rolls. Watch.

didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH

— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019

This isn’t the first time AT&T has employed this mislabeling campaign. The wireless carrier did something similar prior to launching its LTE network; it was shady then and it’s shady now.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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AT&T is lying to customers with 5G marketing

Posted by | 4G, 5g, AT&T, CES 2019, Gadgets, Internet of Things, LTE, Mobile, mobile technology, technology, Verizon, wireless | No Comments

After a recent update some AT&T phones now have a 5G E icon. This icon replaces the one indicated the phone is running on a 4G network. But here’s the thing: The phone is still on a 4G network. AT&T has played these games before, too.

This nonsense is a marketing ploy by AT&T. The so-called 5G E (5G Evolution) network is just a beefed-up 4G network and not true 5G, which is still far from being ready for general consumption. AT&T used the same deceptive tactics before launching its LTE network.

Right now only select phones in a few markets will see the change. The wireless carrier intends to roll out this madness to even more phones and even more markets throughout the year.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.

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The top smartphone trends to watch in 2019

Posted by | 2018 Roundup, 5g, 5g network, Android, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, Google, HTC, huawei, LG, Mobile, mobile phones, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, smartphone, smartphones, sprint, TC, Verizon | No Comments

This was a bad year for the smartphone. For the first time, its seemingly unstoppable growth began to slow.

Things started off on a bad note in February, when Gartner recorded its first year-over-year decline since it began tracking the category. Not even the mighty Apple was immune from the trend. Last week, stocks took a hit as influential analyst Ming-Chi Kuo downgraded sales expectations for 2019.

People simply aren’t upgrading as fast as they used to. This is due in part to the fact that flagship phones are pretty good across the board. Manufacturers have painted themselves into a corner as they’ve battled it out over specs. There just aren’t as many compelling reasons to continually upgrade.

Of course, that’s not going to stop them from trying. Along with the standard upgrades to things like cameras, you can expect some radical rethinks of smartphone form factors, along with the first few pushes into 5G in the next calendar year.

If we’re lucky, there will be a few surprises along the way as well, but the following trends all look like no-brainers for 2019.

5G

Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – DECEMBER 06: Attendees look at 5G mobile phones at the Qualcomm stand during China Mobile Global Partner Conference 2018 at Poly World Trade Center Exhibition Hall on December 6, 2018 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China. The three-day conference opened on Thursday, with the theme of 5G network. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Let’s get this one out of the way, shall we? It’s a bit tricky — after all, plenty of publications are going to claim 2019 as “The Year of 5G,” but they’re all jumping the gun. It’s true that we’re going to see the first wave of 5G handsets appearing next year.

OnePlus and LG have committed to a handset and Samsung, being Samsung, has since committed to two. We’ve also seen promises of a Verizon 5G MiFi and whatever the hell this thing is from HTC and Sprint.

Others, most notably Apple, are absent from the list. The company is not expected to release a 5G handset until 2020. While that’s going to put it behind the curve, the truth of the matter is that 5G will arrive into this world as a marketing gimmick. When it does fully roll out, 5G has the potential to be a great, gaming-changing technology for smartphones and beyond. And while carriers have promised to begin rolling out the technology in the States early next year (AT&T even got a jump start), the fact of the matter is that your handset will likely spend a lot more time using 4G.

That is to say, until 5G becomes more ubiquitous, you’re going to be paying a hefty premium for a feature you barely use. Of course, that’s not going to stop hardware makers, component manufacturers and their carrier partners from rushing these devices to market as quickly as possible. Just be aware of your chosen carrier’s coverage map before shelling out that extra cash.

Foldables

We’ve already seen two — well, one-and-a-half, really. And you can be sure we’ll see even more as smartphone manufacturers scramble to figure out the next big thing. After years of waiting, we’ve been pretty unimpressed with the foldable smartphone we’ve seen so far.

The Royole is fascinating, but its execution leaves something to be desired. Samsung’s prototype, meanwhile, is just that. The company made it the centerpiece of its recent developer conference, but didn’t really step out of the shadows with the product — almost certainly because they’re not ready to show off the full product.

Now that the long-promised technology is ready in consumer form, it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing a number of companies exploring the form factor. That will no doubt be helped along by the fact that Google partnered with Samsung to create a version of Android tailored to the form factor — similar to its embrace of the top notch with Android Pie.

Of course, like 5G, these designs are going to come at a major premium. Once the initial novelty has worn off, the hardest task of all will be convincing consumers they need one in their life.

Pinholes

Bezels be damned. For better or worse, the notch has been a mainstay of flagship smartphones. Practically everyone (save for Samsung) has embraced the cutout in an attempt to go edge to edge. Even Google made it a part of Android (while giving the world a notch you can see from space with the Pixel 3 XL).

We’ve already seen (and will continue to see) a number of clever workarounds like Oppo’s pop-up. The pin hole/hole punch design found on the Huawei Nova 4 seems like a more reasonable route for a majority of camera manufacturers.

Embedded Fingerprint Readers

The flip side of the race to infinite displays is what to do with the fingerprint reader. Some moved it to the rear, while others, like Apple, did away with it in favor of face scanning. Of course, for those unable to register a full 3D face scan, that tech is pretty easy to spoof. For that reason, fingerprint scanners aren’t going away any time soon.

OnePlus’ 6T was among the first to bring the in-display fingerprint scanner to market, and it works like a charm. Here’s how the tech works (quoting from my own writeup from a few months ago):

When the screen is locked, a fingerprint icon pops up, showing you where to press. When the finger is in the right spot, the AMOLED display flashes a bright light to capture a scan of the surface from the reflected light. The company says it takes around a third of a second, though in my own testing, that number was closer to one second or sometimes longer as I negotiated my thumb into the right spot.

Samsung’s S10 is expected to bring that technology when it arrives around the February time frame, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of other manufacturers follow suit.

Cameras, cameras, cameras (also, cameras)

What’s the reasonable limit for rear-facing cameras? Two? Three? What about the five cameras on that leaked Nokia from a few months back? When does it stop being a phone back and start being a camera front? These are the sorts of existential crises we’ll have to grapple with as manufacturers continue to attempt differentiation through imagining.

Smartphone cameras are pretty good across the board these days, so one of the simple solutions has been simply adding more to the equation. LG’s latest offers a pretty reasonable example of how this will play out for many. The V40 ThinQ has two front and three rear-facing cameras. The three on the back are standard, super wide-angle and 2x optical zoom, offering a way to capture different types of images when a smartphone camera isn’t really capable of that kind of optical zoom in a thin form factor.

On the flip side, companies will also be investing a fair deal in software to help bring better shots to existing components. Apple and Google both demonstrated how a little AI and ML can go a long way toward improving image capture on their last handsets. Expect much of that to be focused on ultra-low light and zoom.

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The 5G wars have entered the petty stage

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, TC, Verizon | No Comments

If you’re reading this the year it was written, you’re almost certainly not getting it over 5G. If you’re reading this in the future, congrats, you made it. And hey, remember polar bears?

5G is the latest buzzword to send the mobile industry into a tizzy. This one’s got a particular weight to it, too, given that smartphone sales have started flagging for the first time ever. The fact is that 5G has the power to be a truly transformational technology for smartphones and beyond — assuming we’re not all sick of talking about it by the time it gets here.

The first buds have finally begun to show. This morning, AT&T announced that it’s flipping the 5G switch this Friday. And you can take advantage of it if you live in parts of Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio or Waco. And if you pick up the compatible mobile hotspot.

That’s already a lot of very important caveats, but Verizon was quick to “clarify” things. The carrier (which, for the record, owns TechCrunch), sent me the following unsolicited statement from Verizon spokesperson Kevin King, upon reading our story. “Welcome to the 5G party, begun by Verizon on October 1, 2018.”

Hey, cool, dude.

I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?! 🤷‍♂️

— John Legere (@JohnLegere) October 1, 2018

Now Verizon’s sweet party guy announcement brings to mind this tweet from foul-mouthed T-Mobile CEO John Legere, “I cannot begin to explain how important 5G is going to be for this country, so I have to say congrats to Verizon on delivering its 5G* Home Service today. It doesn’t use global industry standards or cover whole blocks and will never scale… but hey, it is first, right?!”

The fact is that standards can be a tricky thing. Verizon launched something called 5G TF, not to be confused with 5G NR, more commonly accepted as the industry’s 5G standard. That’s led many to label VZW’s as something other than “true 5G.” AT&T, meanwhile, is using NR, but an early version of the spec, which will eventually be upgraded via firmware. Verizon, meanwhile, has been transitioning toward the standard.

Being first accounts for a lot in this industry, especially with the backdrop of slowing device sales. But the reality for most consumers is that ubiquitous 5G is still a ways off here in the States. And while hardware makers like OnePlus, LG and Samsung have been falling all over themselves to announce a 5G smartphone or two, many consumers who shell out that extra premium are going to be spending a fair amount of time on LTE.

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AT&T is turning on 5G access for its new mobile hotspot this week

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, Netgear | No Comments

A little taste of 5G is coming early, courtesy of AT&T’s new mobile hotspot. The carrier announced this morning that it will be firing up limited 5G service in a dozen cities across the U.S. this Friday, currently only accessible via the Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot.

Those who pick up the router will be able to access the new network speeds in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco. Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose are all coming early next year.

The first batch of 5G smartphones are also coming at some point next year, with Samsung notably having already announced two handsets for 2019. In the spring, the carrier will offer the router for a $499 upfront fee, plus $70 a month for 15GB of data, with no-long term commitment — a price, it notes, is around the same as the current 4G hot spots. Pricing for phone plans is still unannounced.

It’s all pretty limited, but in the current 5G land grab, every inch counts.

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Ericsson software problem has been causing widespread cell phone outages

Posted by | AT&T, Ericsson, Mobile, mobile networks, Softbank, Verizon | No Comments

A problem with the software in Ericsson equipment is causing outages across the world, including O2 users in Great Britain and SoftBank users in Japan, according to a report in the Financial Times earlier today.

Ericsson took blame for the outage in a press release. It apparently involves faulty software on certain Ericsson equipment used on the affected company’s mobile networks. While Ericsson indicated it involved multiple countries, it appeared to try to minimize the impact by stating it involved “network disturbances for a limited number of customers.” The FT report indicated that it was actually affecting millions of mobile customers worldwide.

Regardless, the company said that an initial analysis attributed the problem to an expired software certificate on the affected equipment. Börje Ekholm, Ericsson president and CEO, said they were working to restore the service as soon as possible, which probably isn’t soon enough for people who don’t have a working cell phone at the moment.

“The faulty software that has caused these issues is being decommissioned and we apologize not only to our customers but also to their customers. We work hard to ensure that our customers can limit the impact and restore their services as soon as possible,” Ekholm said in a statement.

While the press release went on to say they are working to restore the service throughout the day, as of publishing this article, the O2 outage maps still showed problems in the London area and throughout Great Britain.

The AT&T and Verizon outage pages are also currently showing outages in the U.S, but Ericsson reports that these are unrelated to today’s issues with their equipment, which are only affecting customers outside of the US.

(Note that Verizon owns this publication.)

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AT&T says it’s getting that 5G Samsung phone, too

Posted by | 5g, AT&T, Mobile, Samsung | No Comments

Samsung announced yesterday that it’s set to bring a 5G phone to market in the first half of next year, name-checking Verizon in the promise. This morning, however, AT&T was quick to note that it will also be getting its hand on the still-unnamed handset in the first half of 2019.

The carrier issued a next-day press release which, like Verizon’s, is less focused on information about the handset than self-congratulatory statements about the two companies involved. AT&T promises “unforeseen possibilities for the tech,” while pledging to “bring the best in technology and innovation to our customers.”

The company’s also quick to note that the untitled Samsung isn’t its first planned 5G device. That title belongs to a mobile hotspot the company announced back in October. The company hasn’t offered up a release date on that one, but the first half of 2019 seems like a pretty safe bet for that product, too.

As noted yesterday, companies like OnePlus and Motorola have already promised to release 5G handsets at some point next year. Apple, on the other hand, isn’t expected to go 5G with the iPhone until 2020.

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Happy 10th anniversary, Android

Posted by | Amazon, Android, andy rubin, Angry Birds, Apple, artificial intelligence, AT&T, China, computing, consumer electronics, digital media, Facebook, Gadgets, Google, google nexus, hardware, HTC, HTC Dream, HTC EVO 4G smartphone, huawei, india, iPad, iPhone, Kindle, LG, lists, Mobile, Motorola, motorola droid, motorola xoom, Nexus One, oled, operating system, operating systems, phablet, Samsung, smartphone, smartphones, Sony, sprint, T-Mobile, TC, TechCrunch, United States, Verizon, xperia | No Comments

It’s been 10 years since Google took the wraps off the G1, the first Android phone. Since that time the OS has grown from buggy, nerdy iPhone alternative to arguably the most popular (or at least populous) computing platform in the world. But it sure as heck didn’t get there without hitting a few bumps along the road.

Join us for a brief retrospective on the last decade of Android devices: the good, the bad, and the Nexus Q.

HTC G1 (2008)

This is the one that started it all, and I have a soft spot in my heart for the old thing. Also known as the HTC Dream — this was back when we had an HTC, you see — the G1 was about as inauspicious a debut as you can imagine. Its full keyboard, trackball, slightly janky slide-up screen (crooked even in official photos), and considerable girth marked it from the outset as a phone only a real geek could love. Compared to the iPhone, it was like a poorly dressed whale.

But in time its half-baked software matured and its idiosyncrasies became apparent for the smart touches they were. To this day I occasionally long for a trackball or full keyboard, and while the G1 wasn’t pretty, it was tough as hell.

Moto Droid (2009)

Of course, most people didn’t give Android a second look until Moto came out with the Droid, a slicker, thinner device from the maker of the famed RAZR. In retrospect, the Droid wasn’t that much better or different than the G1, but it was thinner, had a better screen, and had the benefit of an enormous marketing push from Motorola and Verizon. (Disclosure: Verizon owns Oath, which owns TechCrunch, but this doesn’t affect our coverage in any way.)

For many, the Droid and its immediate descendants were the first Android phones they had — something new and interesting that blew the likes of Palm out of the water, but also happened to be a lot cheaper than an iPhone.

HTC/Google Nexus One (2010)

This was the fruit of the continued collaboration between Google and HTC, and the first phone Google branded and sold itself. The Nexus One was meant to be the slick, high-quality device that would finally compete toe-to-toe with the iPhone. It ditched the keyboard, got a cool new OLED screen, and had a lovely smooth design. Unfortunately it ran into two problems.

First, the Android ecosystem was beginning to get crowded. People had lots of choices and could pick up phones for cheap that would do the basics. Why lay the cash out for a fancy new one? And second, Apple would shortly release the iPhone 4, which — and I was an Android fanboy at the time — objectively blew the Nexus One and everything else out of the water. Apple had brought a gun to a knife fight.

HTC Evo 4G (2010)

Another HTC? Well, this was prime time for the now-defunct company. They were taking risks no one else would, and the Evo 4G was no exception. It was, for the time, huge: the iPhone had a 3.5-inch screen, and most Android devices weren’t much bigger, if they weren’t smaller.

The Evo 4G somehow survived our criticism (our alarm now seems extremely quaint, given the size of the average phone now) and was a reasonably popular phone, but ultimately is notable not for breaking sales records but breaking the seal on the idea that a phone could be big and still make sense. (Honorable mention goes to the Droid X.)

Samsung Galaxy S (2010)

Samsung’s big debut made a hell of a splash, with custom versions of the phone appearing in the stores of practically every carrier, each with their own name and design: the AT&T Captivate, T-Mobile Vibrant, Verizon Fascinate, and Sprint Epic 4G. As if the Android lineup wasn’t confusing enough already at the time!

Though the S was a solid phone, it wasn’t without its flaws, and the iPhone 4 made for very tough competition. But strong sales reinforced Samsung’s commitment to the platform, and the Galaxy series is still going strong today.

Motorola Xoom (2011)

This was an era in which Android devices were responding to Apple, and not vice versa as we find today. So it’s no surprise that hot on the heels of the original iPad we found Google pushing a tablet-focused version of Android with its partner Motorola, which volunteered to be the guinea pig with its short-lived Xoom tablet.

Although there are still Android tablets on sale today, the Xoom represented a dead end in development — an attempt to carve a piece out of a market Apple had essentially invented and soon dominated. Android tablets from Motorola, HTC, Samsung and others were rarely anything more than adequate, though they sold well enough for a while. This illustrated the impossibility of “leading from behind” and prompted device makers to specialize rather than participate in a commodity hardware melee.

Amazon Kindle Fire (2011)

And who better to illustrate than Amazon? Its contribution to the Android world was the Fire series of tablets, which differentiated themselves from the rest by being extremely cheap and directly focused on consuming digital media. Just $200 at launch and far less later, the Fire devices catered to the regular Amazon customer whose kids were pestering them about getting a tablet on which to play Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, but who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad.

Turns out this was a wise strategy, and of course one Amazon was uniquely positioned to do with its huge presence in online retail and the ability to subsidize the price out of the reach of competition. Fire tablets were never particularly good, but they were good enough, and for the price you paid, that was kind of a miracle.

Xperia Play (2011)

Sony has always had a hard time with Android. Its Xperia line of phones for years were considered competent — I owned a few myself — and arguably industry-leading in the camera department. But no one bought them. And the one they bought the least of, or at least proportional to the hype it got, has to be the Xperia Play. This thing was supposed to be a mobile gaming platform, and the idea of a slide-out keyboard is great — but the whole thing basically cratered.

What Sony had illustrated was that you couldn’t just piggyback on the popularity and diversity of Android and launch whatever the hell you wanted. Phones didn’t sell themselves, and although the idea of playing Playstation games on your phone might have sounded cool to a few nerds, it was never going to be enough to make it a million-seller. And increasingly that’s what phones needed to be.

Samsung Galaxy Note (2012)

As a sort of natural climax to the swelling phone trend, Samsung went all out with the first true “phablet,” and despite groans of protest the phone not only sold well but became a staple of the Galaxy series. In fact, it wouldn’t be long before Apple would follow on and produce a Plus-sized phone of its own.

The Note also represented a step towards using a phone for serious productivity, not just everyday smartphone stuff. It wasn’t entirely successful — Android just wasn’t ready to be highly productive — but in retrospect it was forward thinking of Samsung to make a go at it and begin to establish productivity as a core competence of the Galaxy series.

Google Nexus Q (2012)

This abortive effort by Google to spread Android out into a platform was part of a number of ill-considered choices at the time. No one really knew, apparently at Google or anywhere elsewhere in the world, what this thing was supposed to do. I still don’t. As we wrote at the time:

Here’s the problem with the Nexus Q:  it’s a stunningly beautiful piece of hardware that’s being let down by the software that’s supposed to control it.

It was made, or rather nearly made in the USA, though, so it had that going for it.

HTC First — “The Facebook Phone” (2013)

The First got dealt a bad hand. The phone itself was a lovely piece of hardware with an understated design and bold colors that stuck out. But its default launcher, the doomed Facebook Home, was hopelessly bad.

How bad? Announced in April, discontinued in May. I remember visiting an AT&T store during that brief period and even then the staff had been instructed in how to disable Facebook’s launcher and reveal the perfectly good phone beneath. The good news was that there were so few of these phones sold new that the entire stock started selling for peanuts on Ebay and the like. I bought two and used them for my early experiments in ROMs. No regrets.

HTC One/M8 (2014)

This was the beginning of the end for HTC, but their last few years saw them update their design language to something that actually rivaled Apple. The One and its successors were good phones, though HTC oversold the “Ultrapixel” camera, which turned out to not be that good, let alone iPhone-beating.

As Samsung increasingly dominated, Sony plugged away, and LG and Chinese companies increasingly entered the fray, HTC was under assault and even a solid phone series like the One couldn’t compete. 2014 was a transition period with old manufacturers dying out and the dominant ones taking over, eventually leading to the market we have today.

Google/LG Nexus 5X and Huawei 6P (2015)

This was the line that brought Google into the hardware race in earnest. After the bungled Nexus Q launch, Google needed to come out swinging, and they did that by marrying their more pedestrian hardware with some software that truly zinged. Android 5 was a dream to use, Marshmallow had features that we loved … and the phones became objects that we adored.

We called the 6P “the crown jewel of Android devices”. This was when Google took its phones to the next level and never looked back.

Google Pixel (2016)

If the Nexus was, in earnest, the starting gun for Google’s entry into the hardware race, the Pixel line could be its victory lap. It’s an honest-to-god competitor to the Apple phone.

Gone are the days when Google is playing catch-up on features to Apple, instead, Google’s a contender in its own right. The phone’s camera is amazing. The software works relatively seamlessly (bring back guest mode!), and phone’s size and power are everything anyone could ask for. The sticker price, like Apple’s newest iPhones, is still a bit of a shock, but this phone is the teleological endpoint in the Android quest to rival its famous, fruitful, contender.

The rise and fall of the Essential phone

In 2017 Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, debuted the first fruits of his new hardware startup studio, Digital Playground, with the launch of Essential (and its first phone). The company had raised $300 million to bring the phone to market, and — as the first hardware device to come to market from Android’s creator — it was being heralded as the next new thing in hardware.

Here at TechCrunch, the phone received mixed reviews. Some on staff hailed the phone as the achievement of Essential’s stated vision — to create a “lovemark” for Android smartphones, while others on staff found the device… inessential.

Ultimately, the market seemed to agree. Four months ago plans for a second Essential phone were put on hold, while the company explored a sale and pursued other projects. There’s been little update since.

A Cambrian explosion in hardware

In the ten years since its launch, Android has become the most widely used operating system for hardware. Some version of its software can be found in roughly 2.3 billion devices around the world and its powering a technology revolution in countries like India and China — where mobile operating systems and access are the default. As it enters its second decade, there’s no sign that anything is going to slow its growth (or dominance) as the operating system for much of the world.

Let’s see what the next ten years bring.

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