In the TV business, a hit TV show is said to "jump the shark" when it can no longer sustain the qualities that made it a hit in the first place, and so resorts to some sort of weird stunt in what is usually a failed effort to maintain fading ratings.
This week, the cellphone business may have jumped the shark with two bizarre events.
Last week, Sprint unwrapped the Kyocera-made Echo, a cell phone designed somewhat like a trundle bed. Echo looks like a thicker version of a regular slab cell, but the top 3.5-inch screen top flips up and over and clicks alongside a second 3.5-inch screen pancaked underneath to create a single 4.7-inch square screen with an eighth-inch bezel seam in the middle. One program can be run across both screens as if it were a single display, or each screen can run a separate, independent program.
Then on Friday and Saturday T-Mobile gave anyone who signs a two-year deal any phone in the store for free, including the carrier's $100 4G models. That's right — competition in the cellphone business has gotten to the point that T-Mobile has been prompted to actually give away its phones.
These are unlikely to be isolated retail or product "jump the shark" incidents. We're sure to see more cell strangeness as the World Mobile Congress convenes next week in Barcelona, a potential Shark Week sans the Discovery Channel cameras, which we'll explore after our own jump.
I can't remember a time of so much brouhaha in the mobile device business, and I've been doing this for 25-plus years.
For instance, suddenly everyone and their mother wants to be in the tablet PC business. We've got Android tabs from the known and unknown, Android 3.0 Honeycomb tabs from Motorola, HTC, Toshiba, Asus and others, we have HP's new webOS tab, Dell just unveiled a 10-inch Windows 7 tab, we'll soon, maybe, at some point, have the BlackBerry PlayBook tab — we even have a 2.8-inch tab from Archos (a 2.8-inch tablet?!).
Just how many tablet PCs do these folks think we'll need that don't have a single-but apple logo on the back, especially when just a year ago we were poo-pooing iPad as a stupid name and possibly a stupider idea that would become Steve Jobs' own shark jump?
And now there's a tablet shiver (a "shiver" is what you call a group of sharks, I just found out) all happening just when the blue whale of tablets, the iPad 2, is already in production and poised to displace all the water in the tablet aquarium.
(The results from the "iPad will Fail" link are actually pretty funny in 20/20 hindsight, as this piece might be if all or even some of coming tablets gain traction. Being ridiculously wrong is no biggie — I once loudly and longly proclaimed DVD would never succeed because we already had laserdiscs. Thankfully, that presumptuous prediction was posted on a now dead Web site and lost in cyberspace.)
This forthcoming tablet feeding frenzy is going to be entertaining, if nothing else.
Honestly, it's been a week since Sprint unveiled the Echo, and I still can't decide if the dual screen idea is Einstein or Ernest. Keeping your brain straight between what's happening on each screen when running different apps on each was like trying to rub your head and pat your stomach (or vice versa) simultaneously. Conversely, the two-screen approach to email, messaging, and the Gallery and video apps was pretty compelling. Echo is compelling and cheezy at the same time.
Echo, I think, is merely the first whisper of cell shark jumping to come next week in Barcelona and in the coming months. For instance...
All four major carriers now have 4G handsets, and this summer AT&T will launch its own additional 4G LTE network, which will present its own shark-jumping opportunity: just how do you market two different 4G networks (HSPA-Plus and LTE) at the same time without resorting to leaping a hammerhead marketing?
In Barcelona next week, LG is expected to announce its LG Optimus 3D glasses-free 3D phone, to which you'd naturally ask "Why do we need a cellphone with a 3D screen?" even if it takes 3D photos or played 3D games? (Hope that sarcasm doesn't come back to haunt me.) Is LG about to leap-frog a great white?
Sony Ericsson will finally let everyone get their hands on its PlayStation phone, an idea that's either too late or…no, it's just too late. SE is gathering itself skip over a thresher.
Along with its aforementioned webOS tablet, HP also launched two new webOS cellphones. Tell me again, why do we need yet another cellphone with a tiny screen running another OS? HP is poised to pole vault a pigeye.
But apparently we need even more phone operating systems. At Barcelona, we may see the first phones running the MeeGo OS, a Linux-based OS supported by Intel and Nokia. And speaking of Nokia, today it officially dumped Symbian and will shack-up California-style with Microsoft and Windows Phone 7, and may even move its offices from Finland to Silicon Valley. There'll plenty of shark-watching off the coast of Monterey and Big Sur — inland, that is.
Then there are rumors abut a Facebook-branded phone, which will do…what? Cue the colcloughs!
I have a feeling Steve Jobs (if he's back from medical leave) or his stand-in will be playing either Quint, Hooper but probably Chief Brody when the Apple 4G or 5 is announced this summer, making the cellphone ocean once again safe for cell swimming.