War of the Smartphones

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

I love Apple. The iPhone is a really great gadget — it’s smooth, fast and has really cool features. I’ve been on the verge of getting one several times and nearly won over by its amazingness, yet never fully committed to it. I have two reasons for this. First, because it doesn’t have a physical keyboard, and second, because I am a Google fan(atic). Last year Google entered the smartphone market, not with any hardware but with an operating system (OS) called Android.

Let me make clear what can be considered a “smartphone.”  This category does more than texting and calling; they can also do e-mail, web-browsing, word processing and anything else a normal, run-of-the-mill phone does not. The way these devices are used varies immensely, and thus there are a huge number of distinctive features. Many are affiliated with physical attributes, i.e. a slider, flip, headphone jack, touch screen, keyboard, or other general aesthetics. Second, and sometimes the more important issue, what can the software do? Can it handle games, business tools, social networking functions, etc.?  Whether you’re a corporate mogul, college student or teenybopper, one smartphone is going to satisfy your needs with a huge variety of apps and functionalities available.

That is, in essence, the appeal of the iPhone. According to a Canalys Q3 2009 report, Apple owns 17% of the global smartphone market. That’s just one product bringing in a giant chunk of change. The iPhone’s success with apps has been so great that an app store actually made its way into the OS of many competitors, including Windows Mobile, Palm, Symbian, RIM (Blackberry) and Android, making each respective phone more nimble and prompting almost every cell manufacturer to try and come out with the iPhone “killer.”

It’s virtually impossible to compare and contrast every new device to Apple’s unstoppable behemoth. Not many aim to accomplish what the iPhone has, which is provide the most dextrous product to the widest range of consumers. Google had the right idea when it created Android by designing it for everyone. Android apps can be developed by anyone. You can go out there, download the necessary tools, learn the required skills, create an app and publish it to the market. No need to buy into a developer program, have your app approved (although Google does screen for malicious or illegal apps), or even own an Android phone. I can speak lightly of Palm, Symbian and RIM in saying they are not as versatile, and heavily against Windows Mobile with its many failings.

There are some failings to Android, of course: you have to have a Google account and it runs on only a small selection of phones (for now). But what product was perfect in the first year? The iPhone wasn’t, and  Google’s Android now promises to start taking on the lone warrior with an army of new devices. In its first year, Google has already secured 3.5 percent of the global market and is experiencing growth with the rollout of each successive new device.

One smartphone to check out is the Motorola Droid; it sports a larger screen with better resolution than the iPhone and, while it’s only 1.4mm thicker, it has a four-row, slide-out keyboard. The Droid will be running the newest Android version 2.0 with the new Google Maps Navigation. While it probably wont be the iPhone “killer” (I highly doubt any phone will ever be as successful), the Droid might provide some real competition.

There’s still a lot of ground to be covered by Android and any devices it will run on but, as already proven with the downward trend of Windows Mobile, the market is open for some change and new product growth.

Jon Schwarzmann is a new tech correspondent for Rhombus.

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