All things modern.
If you were in the market for a Smartphone today you may consider yourself very fortunate that your need has a risen at just the time when mobile phone stores are flooding over with options as smartphone consumption suddenly goes through the roof after years of being relegated to the realms of business men in suits and those geeky kids with glasses who come around to fix our computers.
However this it not the case.
To find out why this has occurred we need to take a step back to 2009 when the Smartphone trade was just about to boom. The iphone had existed for 3 years, HTC was making windows mobile a usable prospect with its skins, Android was showing great promise, teenagers started buying blackberries in droves and Palm had introduced its brand new OS. Everything smelled like roses and we all braced for the immense impact that a smartphone for all would have; solve world poverty, provide green energy and solve the crisis in the middle east.
But somewhere along the line this dream was lost.
Today Android is showing its Achilles heel: fragmentation. Because the number of devices running android has mushroomed, developers now have to write and test an application for every phone out there and this ultimately results in poorly made apps that at best give a very poor user experience and at worst crash and hang your phone. Then there is the problem of android versions itself, all named after some sort of desert. Some apps work on one version and not another and who updates the versions anyway? It supposed to be the manufacturer but it’s usually nobody. They are too busy working on their next ‘best phone in the world’ to update last year’s model that you peasants have bought.
HTC who worked so hard to make the ever so unfriendly windows mobile usable has been slapped in the face by Microsoft who basically threw all their work into a pile of sod by releasing an all new operating system: windows phone 7. Now this would be fantastic if said windows phone 7 was any good. Unfortunately instead of building an ‘all new OS’ Microsoft has tried to copy the iphone model, and has failed miserably. What’s worse is that they seem to have listened to all the complaints about the iphone and made an OS with just those things! You must have Zune to make your windows phone work, there is no file manager, no multitasking, an app store with only approved applications and standard hardware requirements. Some might say that to copy the iphone might be a great idea given its success, but when its done badly, all you offer is an iphone imitation that doesn’t work as well and who is going to buy that?
Palm. Poor old palm. Its sad realy. Palm, the long ago king of the PDA, invested its last penny into a brand new OS. The very last breath of this once formidable player in the handheld market went into creating from scratch the perfect OS. Unlike Microsoft however, Palm’s WebOS is BEAUTIFUL! They had the great foresight to spot the missing ingredient in other mobile operating systems, a task manager and make that the basis for their OS. WebOS essentially is a task manager, and this is exactly what mobile computing is about. Swiping to start apps, swiping to close apps, swiping to switch, it was all so beautifully elegant. So what did they do with this wonderful creation? Of course, they put it into the cheapest, crappiest most outdated hardware they could find, locked their devices to a single carrier and didn’t bother to make any hype. They might as well have shot themselves in the head.
But what about the iphone and iOS? How have they managed to cock things up? Well, they haven’t. While others fought to copy them, beat them, laugh at their ‘closed ecosystem’ and so on, apple have improved in leaps and bounds! Fortunately apple has always had its fan base, so when the first iphone was launched in 2006 with rubbish hardware, they were able to still pull a profit. The clincher was the revolutionary touch oriented operating system which although it had its shortcomings, was unarguably the most user friendly, straightforward os ever seen on a touch device. There have been minor improvements to the OS over the years like the addition of multitasking (ironically at almost the same time that Microsoft pulled this feature from its mobile operating system).
With the advent of the iphone 4, apple have cemented their advantage. We now find a user friendly OS coupled with some of the best mobile hardware for sale. Take the display at 640 x 960, the HD video recording, the 5 MPX camera, front facing camera (a feature which also ironically has recently disappeared from most other smartphones), the battery life, and apple has indeed a killer combination. They have even got it to look different in a world filled of full touch screen devices the iphone stands out and a premium product making all those other phones frankly looks pretty silly.
So do we really have the overwhelming choice we thought we had when buying a smartphone? No we don’t. In 2010 only the iphone is worthy contender. The other options are either too underpowered, too slow, too flaky, too cheaply made to have my hard earned money.
What about the future? How long can apple hold on to this? Well RIM has demonstrated a new OS called QNX on their recently released PLayBook (what a crap name). This os is very similar to WebOS, now owned by HP in terms of usability. It is up to RIM and HP to now play their cards right and put a product on the market that consumers would feel their money well spent on. We can only wait and see if this happens. In the meantime, I’m having an iphone thank you very much.