Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Smartphones Calling

November 2010

By Mike Gould

Apple's iPhone has set the bar for what a smartphone should be, do, and look like. Function is another matter, as the occasional dropped call, lack of connectivity, and other minor problems I've had with my G4 jobbie will attest. I'm still happy with it, but the bigger story is the increasing competition the iPhone is facing with the introduction of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (WinPho 7). And the BlackBerry, and the Droid, and all the other players out there.

The Big Three
According to The Nielsen Company, the three most popular smartphone operating systems (OSs) are Android, with 32% of the market (Jan 2010- to Aug 2010), Apple iOS with 25% and RIM Blackberry (BB) with 26%. Microsoft's old Windows Mobile OS (WinMo) currently stands at 5%, hence MS's need to roll out the new, improved WinPho 7 in an attempt to regain market share.

We're categorizing things by OS here, as all the smartphones out there except the iPhone exist in multiple models from various vendors. Only Apple makes the iPhone, or rather, the iPhone is Apple's only model (excepting the various upgrades; there are iPhone 3Gs out there along with the current 4G model, but only Apple makes them). In contrast, There are a bunch of BlackBerrys, an army of Androids, and, um, a whale of a lot of WinMos out there. At one point last year, Apple pointed out that the iPhone was the single most popular model available, but the true metric is the OS, not the smartphone itself.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Apps?
The Android OS is currently top of the heap, numbers-wise. It is supported by a mob of manufacturers from Acer to ZTE, all with their own take on how the OS should interact with their software. The 'Droid OS was developed by Google, as part of their efforts to take over the world. One reason they are the current leader is that there are so many different companies out there making Androids. I think the sum total of all this marketing is overwhelming the more modest Apple effort.

Part of the popularity also lies in the fact that the software is Open Source; anyone can get into the bowels of the ones and zeroes and muck about, creating their own apps and such that can take advantage of low-level coding. In contrast, the Apple iPhone is based on tightly-held coding that resists basement-level tweakage. This is deliberate on Apple's part as they insist that the best user experience comes from the tight integration of hardware and software.

CrackBerry
... is how President Obama described his 'phone a couple of years ago, as in addicting. Up until recently, the RIM (Research in Motion, the company that makes the BB) smartphone was the total darling of the enterprise (that's the business world, not the spaceship, which uses iOS.42 communicators...). RIM also has time on its side, as it was pretty much the first such gizmo out of the gate, back in 1995. There are a bazillion BBs out there, and many an exec will give it up only when they pry it from his or her cold, dead, sprained, thumbs. But again, a lot of execs these days are looking at 'Droids and iPhones.

And RIM just announced the BlackBerry PlayBook, a new iPad wannabe. It features the video conferencing that the iPhone 4G pioneered, and a slew of features that duplicate many of the iPad apps. Release date is "early 2011" and the price is unknown. Consult the URLs below for more details on this and the other 'phones mentioned here.

The Empire Strikes Again Which brings us back to WinPho 7. This new smartphone OS was announced October 11, 2010, and available on the Samsung Focus on Nov. 8 from AT&T. A total of ten models were announced: Samsung Focus, HTC Surround, LG Quantum, HTC HD7, Dell Venue, LG Optimus 7, HTC Trophy, HTC Mozart, Samsung Omnia 7, and HTC 7 Pro. The Focus retails for $200 and is billed as being a multimedia device. It slices, it dices, it plays movies and music, and, oh yeah, makes phone calls. The (by now) usual.

Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that MS had dropped the ball in the last few years, phone-wise, and vowed the new WinPho 7 would enable them to get back in the game. We'll see. MS has been playing catch-up to, well, every tech company in the world for the last few years. Even Windows use is declining. But the new WinPho 7 is getting rave reviews in the press so anything could happen.

Calling Apple
Hard to believe that a few short years ago, whenever the house of Jobs was mentioned, it was as the "Beleaguered Apple". The iPhone has been a smashing success by any measure - Google it and you get 413,000,000 hits. BlackBerry gets 125,000,000 results and Android Phone finds you 143,000,000 pages.

The iPhone is tops in keeping its users happy, according to J. D. Power's customer satisfaction survey. This year the iPhone got a score of 800 out of 1000, with the greatest number of complaints having to do with battery life. Runners-up were HTC and Motorola, followed by Nokia, Palm, RIM, and Samsung.

As I mentioned, the iPhone isn't perfect; the AntennaGate affair was one indication of this. As you may recall, it was revealed that holding the 'phone a certain way would short out the antenna system, resulting in drastically reduced connectivity. Apple remediated this with a free give-away of plastic cases that fixed that problem. I was happy to sign up for and receive my free case - hasn't been a problem since, although it wasn't much of a problem for me before.

Companies mentioned above:

Windows Phone 7
http://www.microsoft.com/windowsphone/

RIM BlackBerry
http://www.rim.com/

Android Phone
http://www.android.com/

Apple iPhone
http://www.apple.com/iphone/

Mike Gould was a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of the FacTotem constellation, builds lasers into lunchboxen, performs with the Illuminatus Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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