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HSPA MiFi Appears Unboxed: Sounds Too Complicated

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Image courtesy Slashgear
Image courtesy Slashgear

I still think the Verizon MiFi is the most impressive mobile device I have used, even after weeks of use. It never fails to make an impression on me when I pull it out and with one button, connect to the 3G network and use it on one or more devices. The Verizon (s vz) model that I have was first followed closely by the Sprint (s s) model that is now available and their customers are getting exposed to the magic that is MiFi. Novatel (s nvtl), maker of the MiFi, made it clear that HSPA networks would get the love, too, and the first version of the device for those networks has appeared. But it’s picked up some extra features that I’m not convinced I appreciate.

It may just be the pictures but this model of the MiFi looks a bit bigger than the one I have. Mine couldn’t be thinner or smaller and this new model looks pudgier. If it is, it’s probably due to a couple of new features that Novatel has included in this version. They have included a microSDHC slot to allow files to be shared by devices accessing the Wi-Fi hotspot. That could be a useful feature and I have no problem with it being included as long as it’s not responsible for making the gadget bigger than the models without the drive.

The feature that I am questioning is the inclusion of a Linux-based application server that hosts apps for serving to devices connected via Wi-Fi. This allows for carriers to put their apps on the device for customer use. This sounds OK on the surface, but it has obviously added an unnecessary layer of complexity to the device. One of the biggest strengths I see of the MiFi in my use is the simplicity — push a button and get busy. This app server could add a whole new layer of unnecessary complexity. What if the device hangs up while being used? It will happen at some point; you know it will.

Overall this is another fine model in a great product line for Novatel. It means they can cover just about every 3G network globally and that’s a great thing. Let’s hope it doesn’t keep getting added features that are not really needed.

12 Responses to “HSPA MiFi Appears Unboxed: Sounds Too Complicated”

  1. Chris K.

    Personally, I think this is awesome, provided I can use that storage to sync my Eye-Fi Share card. In one fell swoop, all of my images can go to an off-camera storage device, AND get uploaded to a photo-sharing site, giving me an on-location cache, and an off-site backup. Any setup in which I can reformat my memory card within ten minutes of finishing a photo shoot can’t be a bad thing.

    (Of course, I’d need a monster of a microSDHC card, but that’s only a matter of time…)

  2. James, surprised your down on a new platform before it has a chance to develop. Age often gets the best of even the best of us. The ability to miniturize wont stop so if the platform works,the device will shrik. Long live innovation-even if i dont yet understand where it will lead.

    • I’m not down on it by a long shot. But my view is that this is a good advancement in addition to the simpler original CDMA MiFi, not instead of it. That device is so useful for me that I don’t see a need to make it a whole platform. Bring on these additions but as separate devices. As it stands now this is the only HSPA model Novatel is making so their thinking is apparently to make it a “one device fits all”.

  3. It’s strange to be adding all these features but it does give the highly competitive 3G market a chance to offer differentiated products. Captive portals. Free content. Paid media, TV, music, voip etc via easy to use interfaces.

    Imagine T-Mobile giving away these free to cafes across the country with a captive portal that allows people to get free and paid-for content and internet access and allows the cafe to brand the experience. It’s certainly easier and cheaper than selling them a DSL or cable connection.

    It’s not something most of us are interested in seeing but important because if European carriers don’t start earning money from broadband mobile soon, QOS is going to go through the floor. Mobile broadband is almost a loss-leader here now.

    As for it affecting the user experience, I doubt it will have much impact for those buying the unbranded versions but it’s certainly good to know about it.

    • I found that the more I talked about the potential for MiFi, the more excited I got. We’re used to carrying one or more connected devices, but so far we haven’t really explored the possibilities of local connection in mobility: using the MiFi’s microSD slot as a mini-NAS, shared between several local clients, is only the first step.

      Off the top of my head (i.e. not anything that Novatel suggested to me), I’m seeing future MiFi units as intelligently managing data that’s accessed by several different mobile devices. Say someone emails me a photo: on my cellphone, I want it compressed down to suit the smaller screen, but on my netbook/laptop I want it full-sized. Instead of downloading it twice, and letting the device resize it, why can’t the MiFi get it and then serve up its local version formated to suit whatever I’m accessing it with?

      If I’m regularly checking Twitter, or Facebook, or sports scores, why not let the MiFi do that in the background and alert me whenever something I’ve said I’m interested in pops up; then it could tailor that news to fit whatever device I use to access it. I’m saving money, because I’m downloading just once over the 3G connection, and I’m saving time because it’s quicker over WiFi from a cached copy.

  4. Thanks for the link, James, and the comments. From talking with the Novatel people, it sounds like there’s a fair amount of separation between the 3G/WiFi side of the MiFi 2352 and the applications potential. The latter gets a whole separate CPU, RAM and flash storage, and it sounds like if that part crashed the wireless sharing would keep going.

    There’s stuff Novatel asked me not to talk about yet, but stability is definitely high on their list of priorities, hence why you haven’t yet seen an open SDK for the MiFi. I think carrier wariness comes into it too: they know that if the MiFi breaks it’ll be them that have to deal with the fallout from customers, not Novatel. Difficult thing to balance, but I’m all for ease of use and simplicity and I’m still v.excited about what’s in the MiFi pipeline.

    • Thanks for the update but what you’ve said backs up my fears. Battery life at the very least will be affected with the CPU, RAM and flash storage they’ve added to what I feel should be a simple device with a single purpose. The Verizon MiFi I have couldn’t be smaller and run longer on the tiny battery it’s got inside. This new model just adds needless functionality in my book.

    • I see what you’re saying, James. They’ve actually put a bigger battery inside the 2352 (1530mAh versus the Verizon’s 1150mAh) and are still claiming the same 20hrs standby/4hrs runtime.

      Obviously that does make it a little larger, yes. My feeling is that there’ll remain different models offering carriers alternative feature-sets and users a choice of advanced functionality or extreme portability.