Mobility: The Definition of a Smartphone


Mobility: The Definition of a Smartphone

Ok, so you’re on a site called “coolsmartphone.com”. It’s possible that you’re a friend of mine that I’ve linked to this trying to show off, and it’s also possible that you’re just very, very lost and you’re looking for directions back to Google, but the likelihood is you’re somebody who’s interested in smartphones.

Everyone has their own definition of what constitutes a smartphone, what the vital few features are that need to be there in order to make a device more than just a toy. It’s the same with the corporations that make the devices; there’s a level at which they will say “We’re making a smartphone now, it needs to have this this and this in order to compete.” Generally, technology improves, and with it so do our expectations and preconceptions of what needs to be present to make a phone good at any given point in time. But as the iPhone as shown, a device which is less smart but much more polished can sell incredibly well, opening up a market in consumer and prosumer smartphones. Microsoft appear to be following the same strategy with Windows Phone 7 Series (worst name ever), taking a clean break from the enterprise-focused Windows Mobile and pushing more into the consumer market with a clean new UI, Xbox Live! and Zune Pass integration, and a more unified experience with the marketplace as the only way to install applications. A lot of what they’re doing makes sense, but it has also lead to the removal of features like copy and paste, multitasking and sideloading of applications, areas that WinMo had previously excelled in before they came to other OSes, along with a total clean break from Windows Mobile, removing any and all legacy support. But in today’s market, will this approach be successful? It’s easy to see what Microsoft are trying to do here. They’re trying to win over the kind of people who would have bought first and second generation iPhones, people who want a phone that’s just smart enough. But there’s one clear problem with this approach; those people already HAVE iPhones.

So what constitutes a smartphone? Personally, there are five (relevalt) operating systems that make a device smart; Windows Mobile 6.X (especially once HTC have got their hands on it, but I’m going to take it stock for the purposes of comparison), BlackBerry OS, WebOS, iPhone 3.X and Android. Palm OS, S60 and Maemo all come close, but the first is dead, the second is nearing replacement with something much smarter, and the third is a fledgeling OS, similar to the first generation of Android or WebOS, with the kinks still being worked out. It’ll go on the list once it’s ready. WinMo is only on the list because I believe its success is NOT smart, meaning Windows Mobile remains Microsoft’s real smartphone OS, and it’s soon to be phased out.

The five OSes share several features; strong email clients, third party applications of some kind, QWERTY hardware or software keyboard support, high-speed internet on most devices, powerful calender, contact and organisational features and support for powerful processors, touchscreens and high-speed internet. Android, Windows Mobile and especially WebOS stand out for having multitasking. iPhone, WebOS, Windows Mobile (with Opera) and Android have good browsers. WebOS and the iPhone OS (and Android/WinMo with Sense) stand out in terms of UI. The iPhone, WebOS and Android stand out for their ecosystem support (iTunes, Synergy and Google’s various services). WebOS and the iPhone win on graphics. All of them have copy and paste. RIM stand out for their amazing keyboards and fantastic email support, WebOS for its notification services, Android for its openness, Windows Mobile for the level of control everyone has over their devices, and the iPhone OS for its ease of use.

Every OS is different, and each covers different features and different niches of the market. None are perfect, and a great deal comes down to the hardware, along with the specific OS version.  The actual smartphone market is pretty saturated, with a lot of choice both in hardware and software. But what about the next step down?

The market that used to be filled with featurephones (phones that went above simple phone features, with one or two “smart” features and media or browsing enhancements) is becoming increasingly smart too, with devices that have most of the features of smartphones but are squarely focused at consumers. The iPhone is definately in this market, and Android and WebOS have some presence. Blackberries are also becoming cooler, being carried by more teens and celebrities. This is the market WP7S is aimed at, whether Microsoft intended that or not; I never considered iPhone 1.x or 2.x smart, because it was missing a lot of the features that Windows Phone 7 has now REMOVED, such as copy and paste, sideloading of applications and multitasking (some are still missing from 3.x, but I’ve grudgingly admitted that the iPhone is close enough). For this very reason, it would be hypocritical of me to consider Windows Phone 7 Series a smartphone OS even if I wanted to.

In some ways Microsoft are making a good decision; target the consumer market, because it’s bigger than the enterprise market. The new UI and integration to popular Microsoft services are proof of this. But there’s also a bad side to this approach; Microsoft are basically copying the featureset of iPhone 2.0 with their own UI, which is definitely a marmite-style love-or-hate affair, but they’re introducing it into a post Android, WebOS and iPhone 3.0 market, meaning they have far less chance of winning consumers over.

And I still maintain it’s going to be WebOS or Android for me personally, once my beloved Touch Pro2 bites the dust.

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