The Verizon Hub Widget Phone Just Got a Lot More Exciting

The Verizon Hub Widget Phone Just Got a Lot More Exciting

I’m reviewing the somewhat anachronistic Verizon Hub connected phone. Now that I’ve seen its future—an open platform built on Linux with sleek hardware from this decade, like capacitive touchscreens—it’s way more exciting.

The Hub isn’t going to be a single, one-off device—there’s going to be a lot of different hardware running it—which alone makes the proposition much more interesting, since platforms by definition are extensible, flexible and more likely to benefit from active development. In other words, it can and will get better over time.

Today I saw the software update that’s coming in a few weeks, as well as builds further out in the future running on prototype hardware, which introduces among other things, a WebKit browser (same as Safari, Chrome, Palm Pre, etc.) a real email client, and a Twitter app. The big thing is that, like every other phone OS it seems, it’s getting an App Market or “Widgets Bazaar,” where you can—duh—download apps to your Hub. For now, every widget will come from Verizon, like a Flickr screensaver app or a pretty swell Rhapsody app that lets you stream music. But! The Hub is built on Linux and will eventually be opened up for anybody to develop for, which is obviously when it’ll be able to reach its full potential. It kind of reminds me of Chumby, except it’s a full-fledged VOIP phone too. Unfortunately, they don’t have a timeline on when that’s happening.

There’s also no exact timeline for the new hardware either, though a “new release of some kind every few months” is what they’re aiming for. The new Hub hardware corrects a lot of the first-gen’s problems: Namely, it’s got a capacitive touchscreen (the kind that the iPhone, G1 and Storm have) meaning it’ll be a much better—maybe even multitouch—experience. It’s also just way sexier: The excess fat has been trimmed off, so one version is just like a glossy seven-inch upright touch tablet, while another version has it floating on a speaker, more like a multimedia hub. The new phone is more commensurate with the device too—glossy, ergonomic and with a nicer screen. Verizon’s thinking about offering a range of different handsets with more capable premium models that can text message from the phone and cheaper basic ones.

Also down the road is more integration with other Verizon stuff, like FiOS. They’re toying with a remote DVR app, for instance, which would be pushed just to people who have FiOS. With everything on a common Linux platform, the hope is that developers will be able to whip up a single app that’ll run across everything Verizon—their FiOS boxes, phones and of course, the Hub.

If you’re wondering what direction the phone companies are trying to roll in, this is pretty much it—AT&T is doing similar things with U-Verse and its mobile side—wrapping you in a giant, head-to-toe Snuggie of data supplied exclusively by them. [Verizon]