Editorial: What’s “Nexus” for Smartphones?

OK, ignore the pithy title a second and let’s be serious. What is next?  Where do we go from here?

Let’s look at the background. Apple and Google have created and sustained the smart phone market respectively, since it’s coming-of-age era around a 5 years ago.  We can argue about the timings, but the generally understood wisdom is that with the iPhone, Apple changed the game.

Apple launched their iPhone in 2007 to a rapture of still-virginal opposable thumbs.  It brought several key features such as:

  • 3.5″ Capacitive TFT touch screen
  • GPRS & EDGE connectivity along with 802.11g WiFi features
  • Full multi-touch feature set
  • Built-in iPod

These features were widely considered to be game-changers.  With one move they managed to dismiss the Windows Mobile platform as an ageing, handicapped Operating System that was well overdue an overhaul, and became serious contenders for the much coveted business market along with RIM’s Blackberry devices.

Apple also managed to create a brand new market space for developed mobile applications leading to the generalisation of the term “Apps”, widely attributed to their marketing campaign’s natty slogan, “There’s an App for that”. Whilst Apps, or mobile applications were around long before the iPhone, they were expensive to develop and market and as such were expensive for the consumer.  Apple’s iPhone release saw a development initiative not previously seen in the marketplace.  Keyboard warriors and at-home developers from all sides of the globe set about creating their own little empire.  This eventually spawned such ground breaking titles as “Tip Calculator”, “Cut The Rope” and of course “Angry Birds”, where you take control of a bizarre selection of birds, hell bent on revenge against their egg-snatching Green Pig enemies.

Many iterations of the iPhone later, we’re left with the iPhone 4S, which boasts a full range of data connectivity (albeit not fully 4G compatible), 8MP camera capable of recording video at 1080p resolution, up to 64GB of internal storage, a 1Ghz Dual Core processor, and the latest iOS5 operating system.

Enter Google.  With it’s open nature (until Honeycomb that is!), Android, Google’s mobile OS, managed to deploy a generally comparable level of user interface and design to that of the iPhone, but presented it in such a way that encouraged and pricked the interest of a number of leading OEMs.  Android also has a whole internal, and indeed wider external development structure that potentially edges Apple’s in sheer size.

Google showed the world how Android operating systems should be deployed when they introduced the HTC manufactured, Google Nexus One smart phone.
It’s flagship device launched in early 2010 and had, amongst others, the following features:

  • 3.7″ Capacitive AMOLED touchscreen
  • GPRS/EDGE/HSDPA connectivity along with 802.11g WiFi features
  • Full multi-touch feature set via firmware update
  • Widget based home screen UI

In it’s own way, the Nexus One was a game changer also.  The operating system was the star of the show.  It’s multiple-screen based user interface allowed a plethora of widgets to be added to home screens for quick reference and information.  Weather widgets, clock widgets, social media widgets were all included by default.  The list now extends much, much further.  Couple this with the fact that Android is built on a Linux kernel and is open source, and you have a techie’s dream device surely?

With the release of the Nexus One we saw a very clear divide between the two camps start to form.  You either liked the perhaps more polished veneer of the iPhone and the ease of use of it’s user interface, or you yearned for that special widget to display pictures on your home screen and the customisable interface allowing those inclined to “theme” the Android deployment to your heart’s content.

This month saw the launch of Google’s latest flagship device, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus which comes complete with a whopping 4.65″ Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen, full 4G compatibility, 5MP camera capable of recording video at 1080p, up to 32GB of internal storage, a 1.2Ghz dual core processor, and Android’s latest operating system (4.0) dubbed “Ice-Cream Sandwich”.

I can appreciate the appeal of both, and have indeed owned, or extensively used both camp’s offerings at some point in my life.

So with the two biggest players in the game each releasing their latest and greatest this year, along with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices starting to gather some pace with the release of the Nokia Lumia 800 device, and also Blackberry still holding down the business phone market with their Curve and Bold devices, where do we go from here?

If you take a quick scan at some of the specifications of these phones, they do everything but make your breakfast for you!  From Near field communications (NFC – McDonalds is a personal favourite place for me to issue contactless payments), to 4G, and the advent of 3D resolutions and recording, what else is there to release?

Are we fast getting to the point of no return whereby devices will start to be tiered back in both price and functionality in a bid to grasp at an alternative and potentially niche market space?  Do we really want or more pertinently need all these “cool” gadgets on our phones when the primary function for most is making and receiving calls and messages or some variation?

My point is this, and it’s taken over 700 words to get here – what else can be done with our devices currently and into the future?

Let me give you some food for thought….

  • Cameras – 8MP cameras are not uncommon, but with advances such as 1080p and 3D recording (urgh!), can we expect much more?
  • Data Connectivity – With 4G taking off in the US, we can expect 4G to come to the UK within a few years (yes, that long), which will improve data speeds once fully deployed.
  • Battery Technology – greater improvements in battery life would be very advantageous, especially for the resource hungry features smart phones have currently and the 4G rollout mooted for a 2013 rollout.
  • Smart phone Projectors – Projection technology has been discussed for a considerable amount of time, and has been trialled for use with keyboards, but potentially could be expanded.

And for some more bizarre and futuristic ideas…

  • Flexible device material – allowing the roll up of a tablet machine or phone?
  • Holographic touch displays – touched on in the Projector tech, but better clarity
  • Eco Friendly – Properly devised Eco-friendly Solar powered devices

Now it might be me, but none of the first list are unique selling points in my opinion, and many of the latter list are just fanciful fairytale technologies currently.  What else can we expect?  Do we need another “game changer” a-la the emergence of the iPhone to kick start the innovation again, or am I simply expecting too much?

One thing is for sure, for now, improvements in speed, screen technology, and storage are the best we can hope for from the new generation of phones.  For some that might well be enough.  For me, I’m sticking with my Nexus One device and hoping for something more radical soon.

Sources: GSM ArenaNFC Wiki