From innovative navigational elements to design based on customer feedback, Web 100 companies design for the user experience. These top digital destinations are also setting the bar and changing consumer expectations.
Here are six companies, one from each Web 100 category, that are improving their bottom line with design.
Design Takeaway: Listen to your users!
A clearer, simpler Chase.com arrived in late 2012. The redesign centered on cleaner, more user-friendly aesthetics, including clearer language and navigation that is more purposeful. For example, all of Chase’s products and services can be viewed in just one click.
The redesign was the multiyear product of incorporating feedback from customers on what they want to see from the number one most visited banking website. Even though customers wanted a new Chase.com, not everyone likes change, however, especially such a drastic one. The financial company took a ‘rip off the Band-Aid’ approach, but explained the new home page to users visiting the site for the first time since the re-launch and even made the login area take up nearly 50 percent of the page’s real estate.
Visitor cookies eventually take over and indicate to Chase to swap out the re-design content (for things like credit card offers) and a smaller login space. The image below is with cookies.
Design Takeaway: Break the mold.
Visit nearly any corporate website, and dull design is sure to follow. Visit Coca-Cola’s, and you’ll get a website that uses content marketing and visual elements to spark your interest and bring you into the Coca-Cola “journey”. The iconic brand completely reimagined the way a corporate website can look, feel and function. The site doesn’t fit into one category, but is a destination for investors, businesses and consumers. Its home page caters to all of these groups seamlessly.
Coca-Cola uses its above-the-fold assets to promote articles and videos, while the below-the-fold area features visually appealing company statistics, conversations and social elements. Again, it’s difficult to pinpoint the direction that Coca-Cola wants to take you to when arriving on the homepage, but that might be the goal – to get lost in the Coca-Cola Journey.
Category: News & Media
Design Takeaway: Images are everything.
When Pinterest pinned itself as a contender in the social scene, it did so in a way we had not yet seen. Its main content comes in the form of images, which users can pin, repin, like and comment on. Pinterest’s use of image tiles was the real groundbreaker, as many other companies – including eBay and Interscope – have imitated the design and have seen increased engagement levels. Pinterest also offers a streamlined navigational bar and search function that helps users sorts through the countless pins of Pinterest.
Moreover, while the social network still brings out all of our crafty sides, Pinterest has major e-commerce benefits, as merchants are increasing website traffic, conversions and finding creative ways to make the site grow their business.
Category: Retail/Consumer Goods
Design Takeaway: Leave a trail.
Between millions of dollars of ad spend on Facebook and its partnership with Commission Junction, Zappos knows a thing or two about acquisition. The customer-first brand also knows it’s their job to provide an effortless user experience. One of the ways Zappos achieves this is through its use of breadcrumbs, which can work by either showing users other available product options or by providing a list of refinements that users have made to filter their searches (this helps users trace their searching steps).
Besides easier navigation, breadcrumbs also make the structure of your site more transparent to readers.
Category: Service Providers
Design Takeaway: Never stop innovating.
AT&T is a ubiquitous think tank that drives and delivers innovation in seemingly impossible ways. Its website, att.com, keeps up with this momentum. In 2012, the brand made several enhancements as part of its continual improvement of the online experience for its customers. Upgrades to the site design and technology have made it easier and faster for customers to get what they need, whether they are shopping, managing their accounts or need help.
For example, AT&T redesigned its account management page to make the most common tasks and most requested information easier to find.
Design Takeaway: More is less.
There’s a reason why Apple’s product packaging is often kept as long as the products themselves. Not only is nothing about the wrapping wasteful (everything has a function), but the product inside is so high quality you are sure you’ll be able to repackage it and repurpose it.
Apple.com works in much the same way. The design takes a minimalist approach that makes the site easy to navigate and visually appealing – almost like a tablet or mobile-like experience.
Nokia's eagerly awaited Lumia 900 might undercut rival flagship phones on price in a big way, according to new reports Wednesday.
If the rumor is true, the AT&T-exclusive smartphone would come in at about half the price of the entry-level Apple iPhone 4S and even less than half the price of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. AT&T officials declined to comment on the reports.
That's a pretty good price considering the hardware the Lumia 900 offers (I was expecting a price of about $200 but no lower than about $150).
The Lumia 900 — which I got a bit of hands-on time with at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month — features 4.3-inch touch screen with a resolution of 480 by 800 pixels.
The unique-looking new Nokia will also be available with either cyan or black bodies, a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor, 512 megabytes of RAM and 16 gigabytes of built-in storage.
An 8-megapixel camera that can shoot up to 720p video is on back, while a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera sits above the Lumia 900's display.
So, do you think $99 is a fair price for the Lumia 900? Would $199 have been a better price? Feel free to sound off in the comments and check out our hands-on video with the Lumia 900 from CES below.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 900 in the foreground, with the Lumia 800 in the middle and an Apple iPhone 4S in the rear. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Sony's PlayStation Vita has got me intrigued.
As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.
But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.
If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.
But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.
I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.
The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious.
The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.
There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2.
We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards.
The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.
However, memory cards for the Vita — which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita — are sold separately.
A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.
It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The game Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Sony PlayStation Vita. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
If you already have AT&T service, your contract and bill will be unaffected.
The new plans roll out Sunday, the Dallas-based company said Wednesday.
AT&T's current smartphone data plans come in three flavors: 200 megabytes of data for $15 a month, two gigabytes for $25, or four gigabytes for $45. As of Sunday, those plans will be scrapped in favor of a new trio: 300 megabytes of data for $20 a month, three gigabytes for $30 or five gigabytes for $50.
In the new pricing structure for tablets, the nation's second-largest mobile carrier will increase the price on only the top two tiers of data. So the 250-megabytes-for-$15 plan will remain in tact for tablet owners, and the new options will be three gigabytes of data for $30 a month and five gigabytes for $50.
Although the plans are more expensive, the adjustment offers more gigs for the money — essentially tacking on an extra gigabyte of data for $5 a month in the top two plans.
"Customers are using more data than ever before," David Christopher, AT&T's chief marketing officer, said in a statement. "Our new plans are driven by this increasing demand in a highly competitive environment, and continue to deliver a great value to customers, especially as we continue our 4G LTE deployment."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: AT&T logo. Credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press
The Lumia 710, Nokia's first Windows Phone to hit the U.S., barely went on sale on Jan. 11 and already Wal-Mart is undercutting other retailers by giving the new phone away for free on a two-year contract.
T-Mobile USA, which launched the phone, sells the Lumia 710 for $49.99 on a two-year data plan, as do other retailers such as Best Buy. The price drop by Wal-Mart is a fast one and it's unclear if other retailers or T-Mobile itself will follow suit.
But if we do see more price drops on the Lumia 710, they will probably be motivated in part by the pending arrival of the new Lumia 900 at AT&T, which is rumored for sometime in March. An official release date and price haven't yet been disclosed for the Lumia 900.
The Lumia 900, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, has a 4.3-inch display and a unique polycarbonate body.
But while the 900 packs a larger screen and a bit more style, it and the 710 are very similar on the inside, with both phones running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor and 512-megabytes of RAM.
The Lumia 710 has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, while the Lumia 900 has 16 gigabytes. And the Lumia 710 features a 5-megapixel camera with a single-LED flash, while the Lumia 900 has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 710 Windows Phone from T-Mobile USA. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles TImes
Nokia and Microsoft's first flagship smartphone for the U.S., the Lumia 900, made its official debut at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The new Windows Phone handset was first unveiled Monday by Nokia, and later that night Microsoft brought the new phone on stage in what was the final CES keynote speech from the tech giant best known for the powerhouse Windows PC operating system.
The Lumia 900 so far has been confirmed as running only on AT&T's 4G LTE network and picks up stylistically where the Lumia 800 left off, with an attractive rounded polycarbonate body and a flat, sliced-off-looking top and bottom.
However, the Lumia 900 will have a larger screen than the Lumia 800 — up to 4.3 inches from 3.7 inches. The resolution of the display will remain 480 by 800 pixels, as is standard for all Windows Phone handsets.
The new Nokia will be offered from AT&T in either cyan or matte black and feature a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot up to 720p video and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for video chatting.
The Lumia 900 will be thinner than T-Mobile's Lumia 710, a 0.45-inches-thick 4G phone I reviewed last weekend.
Nokia officials also told me at CES that the Lumia 800 is finally going to get a U.S. launch as well, but it will be sold only as an unlocked phone. That means the Lumia 800 will sell without part of the cost of the phone being eaten up by a wireless carrier's subsidy, which may put it in the $500-range, though Nokia declined to specify.
Microsoft and Nokia also had no details to offer on pricing or a release date for the Lumia 900. As soon as we can, we'll get the phone in our hands for a full review. In the meantime, check out our hands-on video from CES with both the Nokia Lumia 900 above; and photos and of the Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 after the jump.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 900 in the foreground, with the Lumia 800 in the middle and an Apple iPhone 4S in the rear. Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
Later this year, Sprint plans to launch its 4G LTE network in the cities of Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio; no plans for Los Angeles have been announced as of yet.
So what does that mean for Sprint customers? Hopefully, noticeably faster download and upload speeds on smartphones, tablets and mobile hotspots.
Sprint's first LTE markets are to be activated "in the first half of 2012" along with improved 3G coverage and improvements in "boosting voice and data quality," Sprint said in a statement. In December, Sprint also began testing its LTE towers in Kankakee, Ill.
Of course, once Sprint begins its move over to an LTE network, its current customers with 4G WiMax phones may be left wondering what will happen to their devices — and maybe even what the difference between WiMax and LTE is.
Sprint's current WiMax network offers users average download speeds of about 3 to 6 megabytes per second, which is about four times faster than 3G service. LTE, which uses different cellular-tower and in-phone-chip technology to build out the network (among other differences), offers higher top speeds than WiMax or the 4G HSPA networks AT&T and T-Mobile use.
LTE networks promise speeds that can be as much as 10 times faster than 3G service, with theoretical peaks of 300 megabytes per second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads. Among the nation's four largest carriers, only Verizon and AT&T currently have LTE networks up and running.
Sprint said that it planned to launch up to 15 devices, "including handsets, tablets and data cards," in 2012 that would be able to run on its LTE network and its 3G CDMA network if LTE was out of range.
Current WiMax devices won't suddenly be downgraded to 3G service or anything like that, Sprint said, adding that it "remains committed to our WiMax customers and plans to sell WiMax devices with two-year contracts through 2012."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch, which runs on Sprint's 4G WiMax network. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
AT&T announced that its 4G LTE network is growing, spreading to 11 new markets.
The 11 markets added Thursday are Los Angeles; San Diego; San Francisco; Oakland; San Jose; the New York City metropolitan area; Phoenix; Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Raleigh, N.C.
By the end of 2011, AT&T's 4G LTE service was available in 15 markets: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; San Antonio; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.
AT&T said its 4G LTE service's coverage area now includes a combined 74 million people across those 26 markets.
The nation's second-largest wireless provider also said it expected its LTE network to be "largely complete" across the U.S. by the end of 2013. Sprint and Verizon have both said they plan to have their respective LTE expansions wrapped up by then as well.
Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier, has a 4G LTE network in 190 markets, covering an area with about 200 million people.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The LG Nitro HD, a 4G LTE-capable phone from AT&T. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
AT&T Inc. has officially completed its $1.9-billion purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.
The deal gives AT&T the ability to offer service on wireless spectrum that covers an area of more than 300 million people nationwide, with more than 70 million of them in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
The nation's second-largest wireless carrier announced the closure of the purchase Tuesday in a short statement on its website after the Federal Communications Commission approved the purchase Friday.
The FCC's sign-off on the purchase followed AT&T's decision last week to drop its attempted $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest wireless carrier in the U.S.
Until the AT&T backed off its bid to buy T-Mobile, the FCC was reviewing both the spectrum deal and the takeover together — a move that was expected to push any possible approval into next year.
AT&T's new wireless licenses applies to the 700 MHz spectrum, which the FCC described in its approval of the deal as "underutilized" by the telecommunications industry.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo credit: Lisa Poole / Associated Press
The Federal Communications Commission has approved a $1.9-billion AT&T purchase of wireless spectrum licenses owned by San Diego-based Qualcomm Inc.
The purchase gives AT&T control over licenses that, according to the FCC, "cover more than 300 million people nationwide, including more than 70 million people in five of the top 15 metropolitan areas (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco)."
The FCC's decision on the spectrum deal was set to be delayed into next year as the regulatory agency was reviewing both AT&T's proposed Qualcomm purchase and the proposed $39-billion takeover of T-Mobile USA together — that was until AT&T dropped its T-Mobile plans on Monday.
In its approval of the Qualcomm deal, the FCC stated Thursday that AT&T cannot use the spectrum in a way that would negatively impact other carriers using or roaming on nearby wireless airwaves.
The FCC said that, given that AT&T is the largest phone company in the U.S. and the second-largest mobile carrier, concerns of competitive harm were looked at, but any resulting harm wouldn't "outweigh the public interest benefits of this transaction," the FCC said in the order.
In fact, the FCC said it hopes the purchase will prod AT&T and its rivals to use the "underutilized unpaired 700 MHz spectrum" for mobile service, "thereby supporting our goal of expanding mobile broadband deployment throughout the country."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo credit: Lisa Poole/Associated Press
Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile USA's German parent, will also receive licenses to AT&T-owned wireless spectrum — known as AWS, or Advanced Wireless Solutions spectrum — in major U.S. markets, and the ability to allow its customers to roam on parts of AT&T's wireless network.
"Both companies are in agreement that the broad opposition by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) and the U.S. telecommunications regulator (FCC) is making it increasingly unlikely that the transaction will close," Deutsche Telekom said in a statement on Tuesday.
"As part of the break-up fee, T-Mobile USA will receive a large package of AWS mobile spectrum in 128 Cellular Market Areas (CMAs), including 12 of the top 20 markets (Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Baltimore and Seattle)," Deutsche Telekom said.
AT&T also agreed to a seven-year roaming service deal with Deutsche Telekom that will result in T-Mobile's coverage area growing "from 230 million potential customers at present to 280 million.
"As a result of the agreement with AT&T, coverage will be extended to many regions of the U.S. in which T-Mobile USA previously had neither its own high-speed mobile communications network nor the associated roaming agreements."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A T-Mobile billboard near the Bellevue, Wash., headquarters of T-Mobile USA. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press
The company is calling off the deal, which has hit a series of increasingly serious state and federal roadblocks, and said it would take a $4 billion pre-tax charge as part of its breakup fee to T-Mobile.
In a news release about the end of the deal, AT&T cited the opposition of the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission, which had opposed the deal on the grounds that it would create a less competitive wireless industry and potentially lead to higher prices for consumers.
But AT&T said that the acquisition would have helped the wireless industry, and consumers, by allowing the company to continue building out its network and avoiding what it sees as a coming shortage of wireless airwaves, or spectrum, that companies believe is threatening the industry.
"The AT&T and T-Mobile USA combination would have offered an interim solution to this spectrum shortage," the company said in its statement. "In the absence of such steps, customers will be harmed and needed investment will be stifled."
The deal's end comes after an uptick in regulatory and legal action against the acquisition. Late last month, AT&T withdrew a crucial clearance application from the FCC, and soon after, the Justice Department argued its case to block the deal on antitrust grounds was no longer necessary, as the deal could only go through with FCC approval.
– David Sarno
Photo: AT&T executives at a news conference in March when it announced it was buying wireless rival T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom AG for $39 billion in cash. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Citing uncertainty about the fate of AT&T's $39-billion deal to take over T-Mobile, a California judge has indefinitely postponed proceedings in a 6-month-old state investigation of the deal.
In June, the California Public Utilities Commission began officially looking into how the deal would affect California consumers, including whether creating a wireless titan was in the public interest.
But on Thursday, a CPUC administrative law judge, Jessica Hecht, said she was eliminating an upcoming deadline in the case "in recognition of recent developments related to the underlying merger proposal."
"I will continue to monitor developments related to the proposed merger," she wrote, and "will issue a new schedule for these comments or other activities in the future, if appropriate."
The delay came after the CPUC received requests earlier this week from AT&T and T-Mobile to put a hold on the proceedings, she wrote.
The deal cannot be completed until it is approved by the FCC, and the Justice Department's antitrust lawsuit is resolved.
– David Sarno
Image: A T-Mobile store in New York. Credit: Mark Lennihan / Associated Press
Today a government suit to block AT&T's $39-billion acquisition of T-Mobile was delayed until mid-January, with a federal judge asking the companies to file a brief "describing the status of their proposed transaction, including discussion of whether they intend to proceed with the transaction at issue in this litigation."
The delay was the newest obstacle to AT&T's embattled merger plans. On Friday, federal U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle grilled the company's lawyers over whether the suit was wasting the court's time and taxpayer money. Of concern is the fading likelihood that the planned acquisition will gain legal and regulatory clearance by next September, when the deal contractually expires. At that point, AT&T would be obligated to pay T-Mobile a $4-billion breakup fee.
The transcript of Friday's hearing makes clear the judge's skepticism — and even frustration — as she repeatedly refers to the strategy of AT&T's lawyers as "presumptuous." At the core of the issue is that, in order to complete its deal, AT&T must not only win or settle the Justice Department's antitrust case, but must also gain approval from the Federal Communications Commission, which controls national spectrum licenses.
But AT&T withdrew its clearance application from the FCC last month. So, Huvelle repeatedly asks, why should the case proceed in her courtroom if the company is no longer trying to get the necessary FCC approval, especially as the clock ticks closer to September?
Huvelle appears particularly piqued by the idea that AT&T is asking the court to hurry up so the company can use her ruling as leverage to get the FCC's clearance.
The following are edited excerpts from the hearing, the entirety of which is transcribed here.
The judge's concerns
Judge Huvelle: …I have no assurance that you're gonna proceed with the FCC in any way to get this resolved in a timely manner. So to ask me to issue an opinion with enough time to allow for an appeal for the FCC, which we don't know what their timetable is — you've had no discussion, I'm sure, or assurances from them, I suspect, unless you want to tell me otherwise. If I had assurances, I might be willing.
…But it's a bit presumptuous to say nothing has changed [since the withdrawal of the FCC application] and you should just keep doing what we convinced you to do over the objection of certainly the Department of Justice without me knowing for sure that the deal will be the deal. I mean, you could change the deal in a month and everybody's time will be wasted, including the third party [Sprint and others, which have also filed their own suit against the acquisition.].
…We don't have any confidence that we are spending the time and effort and the taxpayers' money as well as the money of these other parties, we have no confidence that we're not being spun.
AT&T's argument: the trial will help with FCC approval
AT&T's counsel: …By having their complaint out there and unresolved, [the Justice Department is] having a pocket veto over our deal. In other words, if this trial gets pushed back, if all the things get pushed back, we don't make thresholds, [the] deal has to blow up. We have no alternative. Yet the government has never proved a single thing in court.
…With all respect, Your Honor, I understand Your Honor's concerns, but from the perspective of having a committed transaction with contractually set dates, we've all gated our expectations. We are moving forward with trial. We're making progress, and it will be of assistance to the FCC to have a decided case on the antitrust issues. It just will. And it will put us in a position –
Judge Huvelle: Nobody there said that to me. Have they said that to you?
AT&T's counsel: Pardon me, Your Honor?
Judge Huvelle: I said has anyone said that to you? Honestly. I mean, you think it will if you win, but –
AT&T's counsel: Many people have that said to me.
Judge Huvelle: From the FCC?
AT&T: I have not spoken to the FCC, Your Honor. But, truthfully, it only makes sense that
if this court has decided the antitrust issues, the same government will be bound by those decisions as to the antitrust issues. There just doesn't seem to be — I don't think that's a live issue.
"Use" the ruling to sway the FCC?
AT&T's counsel: We need to get those issues clear, and we need to move with the FCC as well. But the fact that we have chosen not to have parallel proceedings, but rather have chosen as a matter of — pardon me. To essentially get those issues resolved here and use that –
Judge Huvelle: Yeah, use it. I understand that.
AT&T's counsel: — with the FCC, but to have this court's guidance. And we think with this court's –
Judge Huvelle: You could have the FCC's guidance because they have a broader jurisdiction than this court. And they could go first, and it would certainly be very persuasive, if not, according to you, collateral estoppel [a legal basis to avoid trying the same issues twice] because it's the government. So if you wanted the FCC, you win the whole nine yards, whereas here you don't make nine yards no matter what. I'm just one person along the way that you would like to have a decision to use. I agree.
AT&T's counsel: Not to use, to have our day in court.
AT&T's "self-made" problem?
AT&T's counsel: Your Honor, all that's happened with the FCC –
Judge Huvelle: I know. I know what's happened.
AT&T's counsel: – is strategy for how to gain approval.
Judge Huvelle: I know. But don't you understand from those of us who are not one of the parties, that this "strategy" has a slight aura of using — I think is the word that you used — the court to some extent, and the third parties and the Justice Department?
Judge Huvelle: Your problem is also self-made with the FCC.
AT&T's counsel: No, Your Honor, we don't think it's self-made because we have to get this trial done. Forget about the FCC for a minute.
Judge Huvelle: That's what you may have done. I'm not doing that. I'm sorry.
'No reason' to keep going
Justice Department attorney Joseph Wayland: … We filed [our lawsuit] in August thinking that we needed to do so because the FCC might complete its process, and we needed to be ready.
And that's what Section 7 [ an antitrust law] does. It gives us a right to block. We don't have to approve. The court doesn't have to approve. It's simply a blocking statute. We invoke it when we think we need to stop a transaction.
Right now, Your Honor, there's absolutely no reason to invoke it because this transaction cannot close, and they cannot get it closed until they file with the FCC.
– David Sarno
Image: AT&T and T-Mobile phones at a RadioShack in Los Angeles. Credit: Danny Moloshok / Reuters
The two phones could be mistaken for twins, sitting side-by-side with 4.5-inch touchscreens, and similarly designed plastic backs with 8-megapixel cameras sitting rear-center.
However, aside from the outside looks, the overall experience of using the two phones is quite different and it’s on the software side where LG comes up short with the Nitro HD.
The Nitro HD is one of a new wave of smartphones (along with handsets like the HTC Rezound and upcoming Samsung Galaxy Nexus) that is upping the ante for screen resolution into high-definition territory, with a 1,280 x 720 screen resolution.
The Nitro HD’s display is one of the nicest I’ve seen on any smartphone so far. Streaming video, websites, apps all looked detailed and worthy of being called high definition. Colors came though balanced and accurate. Images looked smooth, with pixelation hard to find due to a density of 326-pixels-per-inch, which is the same pixel density as the iPhone 4 and 4S.
The display also features edges that are curved to roll into the sides of the phone’s body, so running your finger across the device for any swiping motion on-screen is extra satisfying. It’s such a small detail, but not having a hard edge to run into makes using the touchscreen a thoughtlessly pleasant experience. Nokia has taken a similar approach with its Lumia 800 and this is a design touch I wouldn’t mind seeing on more phones.
The internals of the Nitro HD are top-notch as well, with a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM and 4 gigabytes of built-in storage pared with an included 16-gigabyte microSD storage card.
Photos from the rear camera looked good, but colors came out a bit oversaturated for my taste; 1080p video shot by the camera was impressive.
But all this goodness felt a bit held back by LG’s modifications to Google’s Android operating system and a few other gripes.
Every handset maker out there adds their own “skin” over the top of Android in an effort to stand out in the crowd. But LG’s version of Android adds app icons, widgets and even fonts used in the operating system that all feel a bit too big, as if LG is failing to take advantage of all the screen real estate the Nitro HD’s display has delivered.
Battery life was poor, as is pretty much standard for just about any 4G smartphone nowadays, especially phones with 4.5-inch screens requiring so much power. In a week of testing, I found that I needed to charge the Nitro HD before my work day was done, after charging the phone each night as well — so keep spare chargers around at home, work and in the car if you’re considering buying the Nitro HD.
The Nitro HD also has a quiet, flat sounding speaker that wasn’t good for talking to a friend on speakerphone, much less for video watching or music listening — so a nice set of headphones would be a good accessory as well.
At $249.99 on a 2-year data plan from AT&T, the Nitro HD is fairly priced (though it’d be a lot nicer at about $200), but the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket and HTC Vivid are worth a look if you’re looking for big-screens and 4G speeds from AT&T.
Like the Vivid and the Galaxy S II Skyrocket, the Nitro HD runs on AT&T’s 4G LTE network if that network is available wherever you are, which so far isn’t very many places.
AT&T’s 4G LTE network is up and running in Atlanta and Athens, Ga.; Baltimore; Boston; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Houston; Indianapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Las Vegas; Oklahoma City; Washington D.C.; San Antonio; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, with more markets planned to launch next year. If you’re outside of those markets, the Nitro HD (and other AT&T 4G LTE phones) run on the carrier’s HSPA+ 4G network or its 3G network, each of which are speedy in their own right, whenever you have a strong signal.
So, taking a look at the good and the bad of the Nitro HD, the new phone sits among the nicer phones available from AT&T at this time, but there is one major hurdle I see that would make me hesitant to purchase this device: the question of Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Nitro HD runs on Android Gingerbread and LG hasn’t yet said whether or not its flagship AT&T phone will be upgraded to the latest version of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It seems a no-brainer that LG would make the move to Ice Cream Sandwich eventually, but many hardware manufacturers have made a habit of leaving devices stagnant when it comes to Android.
As great as the Nitro HD’s hardware is, it’s the software, both in its current form and its undefined future, that holds this phone back from living up to its potential.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The LG Nitro HD from AT&T. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
If you're familiar with ZTE in the U.S., then you're familiar with low-cost or free phones from prepaid or contract carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, and from major carriers such as AT&T.
And you'd also know that ZTE's phones are nowhere near challenging top-tier handsets such as the Apple iPhone, or Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. Like HTC used to do, ZTE often makes products devoid of their own brand for carriers looking for entry-level devices.
But next year, the Chinese company is looking to change things up and launch a high-end smartphone in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
A high-end ZTE handset, running on speedy 4G LTE networks, could arrive toward the middle of next year and "by 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE," said Lixin Cheng, ZTE's North American president, in a Hong Kong interview with the Journal.
Such a smartphone would offer iPhone-like features at a price still somewhat lower than Apple's handset, Cheng told the Journal, declining to go into specifics about price.
The newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, starts at $199 for a unit with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, increasing to $299 for 32 gigabytes and $399 for 64 gigabytes.
The idea may seem a bit far-fetched if you've never heard of ZTE before, but the company's growth is very real. As noted by the Journal, ZTE grew to a 5% share of global cellphone shipments in the third quarter of the year.
That recent push propelled ZTE to pass Apple as the No. 4 shipper of cellphones (not just smartphones) in the world, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. Aside from phones, ZTE also makes mobile hotspot and USB-wireless dongles for carriers such as T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.
ZTE is "in talks" with U.S. carriers about selling its high-end phones, which may run either Google's Android operating system or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software, Cheng said in the report.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ZTEusa.com, ZTE's website for the U.S. market, which displays the AT&T Avail, an Android smartphone ZTE builds for AT&T. Credit: ZTE
AT&T's cellphone service was pegged with the lowest satisfaction rating for the second year in a row in an annual Consumer Reports survey of wireless providers in the U.S.
"In the newest satisfaction survey of Consumer Reports online subscribers, a provider called Consumer Cellular topped the Ratings — and AT&T found itself at the bottom of the Ratings for the second year in a row," the magazine said in an article about its survey, which will be published in its January 2012 issue.
The survey also offers rankings for mobile carriers in 22 major metropolitan markets, the L.A.-area among them.
"Of the four major U.S. national cell-phone standard service providers, Verizon again scored the highest in this year's Ratings, followed closely by Sprint. Survey respondents gave very good scores to Verizon for texting and data service satisfaction, as well for staff knowledge," Consumer Reports said.
"T-Mobile was below Verizon and Sprint but continued to rate significantly better than the higher-priced AT&T, which recently withdrew its application to the FCC to merge with its better rival."
For AT&T's part, Andy Shibley, the carrier's vice president and Los Angeles general manager, said the complaints noted in the Consumer Reports survey aren't being ignored.
"We hear our customers and we are committed to getting better and better," Shibley said in an emailed statement. "And that will continue as we deploy 4G LTE technology to millions of more customers. We have turned a corner, and we are making progress toward our goal to offer our customers the best experience anywhere."
AT&T also said in a separate statement that it has made more than 1,700 network improvements in the Los Angeles area this year and that dropped-call rates in the L.A.-area have fallen 41% over the past year.
Subscribers of prepaid and smaller carriers "are happiest overall with their cell-phone service," Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports, said in the article. "However, these carriers aren't for everyone. Some are only regional, and prepaid carriers tend to offer few or no smartphones. The major carriers are still leading options for many consumers, and we found they ranged widely in how well they satisfied their customers."
The Consumer Reports survey was put together using the survey responses of 66,000 of the magazine's subscribers and focused on experiences with their carrier's customer service and support.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ConsumerCellular.com. Credit: Consumer Cellular Inc.
As of Monday, Verizon's 4G LTE network is 1 year old.
It's also the largest 4G LTE network in the U.S., with AT&T having launched its LTE service in November, while Sprint uses a WiMax 4G network and T-Mobile's 4G service runs on a HSPA+ network.
Sprint and T-Mobile are planning to move over to LTE sometime in the future, but when they do, the two carriers will have some catching up to do, as AT&T does now.
On Dec. 15, Verizon's 4G LTE network will expand to a coverage area of 190 markets, populated by about 200 million people, the company said in a statement.
So what's the difference between 4G in an LTE flavor versus WiMax or HSPA+?
LTE networks, from both AT&T and Verizon, offer higher top speeds than the other networks and can be as much as 10 times faster than 3G service, with theoretical peaks of 300 megabytes per second for downloads and 75 megabytes per second for uploads.
HSPA+ networks have theoretical top speeds of 42 megabytes per second for downloads and 23 megabytes per second for uploads. Sprint's WiMax 4G lists a theoretical top speed of more than 10 megabytes per second for downloads and 1 megabyte per second for uploads.
But, as always, just how fast and how reliable a phone or tablet runs on any cellular network varies by city, by device and by carrier.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Motorola Droid Razr, one of Verizon's latest 4G LTE phones. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
The Federal Communications Commission agreed to allow AT&T Inc. to withdraw its application for approval of its proposed $39-billion purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc.
The agency also potentially dealt a further blow to the teetering telecommunications deal by announcing Tuesday it would release a report detailing its staff findings that the purchase was not in the public interest.
FCC officials said the 109-page report, which would be posted on the FCC's website later today, found that the combination of two of the nation's largest wireless providers — AT&T has the second-most subscribers and T-Mobile is fourth — would harm competition and despite the company's public claims would do little to expand high-speed Internet access and would not lead to more jobs.
The FCC staff analysis, which took six months and was based on more than 200,000 pages of documents, found that AT&T's acquisition of T-Mobile would lead to job losses, agency officials said.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski signaled last week he opposed the deal when he moved to seek a hearing and review by an administrative law judge — the steps the agency takes to oppose a transaction.
Afterward, AT&T and T-Mobile's parent company, Deutsche Telekom AG of Germany, said Thursday they intended to withdraw their FCC application to focus on winning an antitrust suit filed by the Justice Department to block the deal.
Both the FCC and the Justice Department must approve the purchase. FCC officials said they will provide their staff analysis to Justice Department officials. If AT&T wins the suit or reaches a settlement, it can reapply for FCC approval. But the usual six-month review would start over from the beginning, FCC officials said.
AT&T objected to the planned release of the FCC report, which it said it has not had the opportunity to rebut.
"This report is not an order of the FCC and has never been voted on," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. "It is simply a staff draft that raises questions of fact that were to be addressed in an administrative hearing, a hearing which will not now take place. It has no force or effect under law, which raises questions as to why the FCC would choose to release it."
– Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: AT&T offices in Detroit. Credit: Associated Press
Smartphone screens keep getting bigger and thankfully, the resolution on displays is finally starting to grow too.
The latest example: the LG Nitro HD, which features a 4.5-inch screen with a 1,280 x 720 screen resolution. That'd be 720p, the lowest possible resolution that can be considered high definition.
As such, this will be AT&T's first HD-screen phone when it goes on sale Dec. 4 at a price of $249.99 with a two-year contract, the carrier said in a statement.
But the promising touch screen isn't all the Nitro HD has going for it. The new LG handset features a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor (that's the same clock speed as some laptops), an 8-megapixel and 1080p camera on the back with an LED flash, and a front-facing 1.3-megapixel camera.
Verizon has a 720p screen phone of its own in the $300 HTC Rezound, which I'm currently testing for an upcoming review. Both of the competing handsets run Google's Android Gingerbread operating system.
The Rezound, which has a 4.3-inch touch screen, runs on Verizon's 4G LTE network and the Nitro HD will run on AT&T's 4G LTE network. The Nitro HD will also offer 20 gigabytes of storage with 4 gigabytes built in and an additional 16 gigabytes on an included microSD card.
Stay tuned — we'll have a review of the Nitro HD soon as well.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: The LG Nitro HD, from AT&T, front and back. Credit: AT&T