Smartphones are unquestionably today’s most important form of consumer tech. They’re no longer just for business; they’re scaled down computers that keep you informed, entertained and in touch. You probably spend more time with your smartphone than you do with your family, so having the right relationship with yours is key. How do you choose from the five main types? Here’s a quick guide.
Key to the categories
Kudos Will lend you an air of gravitas amongst colleagues and friends
Business Popular with business users, usually due to email / presentation skills
Device Range Lots of handsets at a variety of prices
Stylish Looks good, makes you look good, therefore makes you feel good
Qwerty Smartphones with full, non-touchscreen keyboards
Customisable Home screens, skins and app storage can be tweaked
Web Browsing HSDPA equipped and offer exemplary browsing
Social Networking Adored by members of the always-on set
Fashionable You will see lots of these being flashed around
Apps A huge app store with plenty of new apps regulalrly added
Fun Good for gaming, music/video playback, travel, exercise, dining, social apps
Mature Beloved of very experienced users; i.e., older people
Ten years ago, when Microsoft Windows Mobile launched, people wanted the same systems they had on their PCs. WinMo offered scaled-down versions of its Office, Outlook and other programs in some of the first do-it-all devices (smartphones and PDAs). In 2004, it accounted for 23 percent of worldwide smartphone sales, but by 2008 this had almost halved. Partly because of greatly increased competition, but also because of Microsoft’s ongoing failure to keep its OS up-to-date in the face of that competition.
The Good: Business users are still drawn to WinMo’s corporate-like nature, which allows you to access work email, calendars, office desktop, plus view attachments in all Microsoft’s proprietary file formats. With newer builds of Windows Mobile 6.5, IE Mobile 6 and the likes of HTC’s HD2 and HD Mini’s Sense interface overlaid on its own, WinMo is finally starting to come into line with Apple and Android for ease and enjoyability of use. (By “come into line,” we mean “lag slightly less far behind.”)
The Bad: WinMo 6.5 retains many of the basic flaws of its earliest incarnations: excessive complexity, reliance on a stylus for touchscreens, lack of third-party – and, indeed, first-party – apps and grudging lip service to cameras, media players and anything that might be tentatively described as “fun.” The iPhone, Android and Nokia’s E series have all equalled it in most business users’ eyes. Not surprisingly, WinMo’s worldwide smartphone market share has fallen; it’s currently in fifth place with a 6.8 per cent share, according to Gartner.
What’s Next: Later this year Microsoft will finally start putting the Windows Phone 7 Series into mobile devices. Announced in February, the new OS has been built from scratch. That it’ll be integrated with the Xbox Live online gaming service and will offer greater social networking compatibility suggest the dull, workmanlike approach of yore has been consigned to the dustbin of history. With proper multi-touch support at last, hopefully the dreaded WinMo stylus will be joining it there.
App store: App Store for Windows Mobile Number of apps: 2,500
What WinMo says about you…
You crave security, know what you like and stick with it. You’re quite possibly an IT professional and your favourite wafer flavour is the standard salted.
Our favourite handsets
Htc HD Mini
Samsung Omnia Pro
A million sold in 74 days; 51 million since launch; four billion apps downloaded. The Apple iPhone was born as a fascinating mix of great features – multi-touch, integration between browser, phone, email, media player, and the iTunes Store – and with baffling omissions (most notably, cut-and-paste and 3G). Then 3G and the App Store were added, the iPhone became more a platform than a mere handset, and smartphones changed for ever. Now, it has the kind of brand awareness once enjoyed by the Walkman.
The Good: The iPhone can no longer be said to be in its “imperial phase.” However, it remains the benchmark thanks to its ease of use and its ever-expanding App Store. There’s now an app for every occasion, a game for every journey, and the iPhone 4 and iOS 4 keep the hardware and software improvements coming, subtly opening up new possibilities and keeping things running just that little bit more smoothly. Success breeds success, and any major app developer will look at the iPhone platform first before considering an Android, BlackBerry or Windows port.
The Bad: If you can’t upgrade to an iPhone 4, you may suffer from severe handset envy. The 3GS looks good but its salad days are behind it. And it still has many of the original iPhone flaws: relatively poor battery life, an afterthought of a camera and high price. And though the iPhone 4 is pretty much has the best specs available, it’s by no means leagues ahead of, say, the HTC Desire, and it’s likely to remain notably more expensive. We also resent the depressing peal of rumour and speculation that rings in each new iteration of the iPhone, but that’s a given, right?
What’s Next: The obvious next step? Add FaceTime support over 3G instead of just Wi-Fi. Soon, the first 4G networks will boost data speeds fivefold. An iPhone 5 with 4G connectivity could do for mobile video conferencing what 3G did for mobile web browsing. If Apple is serious about popularising it (it’s been around since 2003 and never caught on) maybe it can also find an elegant way to stand the iPhone 5 on a desk, so video calls can be made without the need to have it in your hand.
App store: The App Store Number of apps: 200,000
What iPhone says about you…
You value tactility, versatility, style and ease of use. You’re creative, well-off, and you probably own other Apple devices.
Our favourite handsets
Symbian does appear on phones other than Nokia’s, but Google’s Android OS is really living the open-source dream. Its debut, the HTC Dream/ T-Mobile G1, was more impressive than anyone else’s efforts to beat Apple to that point. Today, the OS is vastly improved, while hardware from HTC, Samsung, LG and Sony Ericsson now matches or surpasses Apple’s, at keener prices. Android overtook the iPhone in the all-important US market in the first quarter of this year to nestle behind BlackBerry. Standing start to market leader in five years? It’s looking possible…
The Good: Increasingly stylish handsets make a polished counterpart to Android 2.1, which berths Google’s family of key apps – Mail, Calendars, Maps and the Chrome browser. Live widgets for news, social networking, etc., are better than anything the iPhone 3GS offered. Lower prices are a huge boon. And the Market, Android’s app store, continues to quietly grow: 50,000 apps, and around 8,000 new ones each month.
The Bad: The apps Market, though growing, really is a poor relative to Apple’s. The fact that many of the handsets have OLED screens and multi-tasking seems to have them gasping for a recharge even quicker than the iPhone.
What’s Next: Android 2.2, codenamed Froyo (“frozen yogurt” – all Android releases are named after desserts) will introduce support for Adobe Flash 10.1, USB tethering and the ability to function as a Wi-Fi hotspot. The UK’s also recently seen the release of Maps Navigation, a free, full-featured, turn-by-turn satnav. Considerably better than Nokia’s also free-to-all Ovi Maps, it could force some dedicated satnav manufacturers off the road. Analysys Mason, London-based strategic consultants, forecast that Android smartphones will dominate emerging markets alongside other open-source OSes Symbian, and Bada from Samsung. So while Android is already big, it’s only going to get bigger.
App store: Android Market Place Number of apps: 50,000
What android says about you…
You like to be on tech’s cutting edge with both hardware and software. You’re not averse to value for money but you still like things that are premium.
Our favourite handsets
NPD Group’s analysis puts Research In Motion’s BlackBerry atop the US smartphone market, with a 36 per cent share. At just over 20 per cent worldwide, it’s the planet’s second-most popular platform after Symbian. Why? One word: email. Keeping workers in touch since 2002, BlackBerry has long had the slickest mobile access to email and text messaging. Add a rock solid set of devices, increasingly good web browsing and business related apps. CrackBerry? You bet.
The Good: BlackBerry has become an iconic status symbol for the more businesslike among us. Models change regularly, but the best ones all have the same blend of tactile and responsive QWERTY keyboards with incredibly simple synching of email, calendars, tasks, notes and contacts. It’s high-end, compact – but not too compact – unfussy, and has serious, professional attitude. With 3G and Wi-Fi on models such as the Bold series, and GPS plus the ever-reliable BlackBerry Maps, and the slowly growing force that is App World, and there’s a hell of a lot to like.
The Bad: Not the most scientific research ever, but a recent Crowd Science study suggests that 40 percent of BlackBerry users would switch to an Apple iPhone or Android – a higher level of potential disloyalty than its rivals. BlackBerry users are also most likely to use it purely for work. Apple and Android offer far more enjoyment, glamour and style. What must be more worrying for RIM is that while users get used to typing on the excellent touchscreen keyboards of HTC and Apple, its own touchscreens lag far behind. And other smartphones are getting better at the push email game.
What’s Next: BlackBerry App World is expanding. With 6,000 very decent apps, it’s a long way behind Apple and Android, but it’s twice what it had this time last year. RIM has opened up its push service notifications to all BlackBerry apps, improving the user experience when it comes to news, live sports scores, Twitter and Facebook. The forthcoming (due in autumn) BlackBerry 6.0 OS will offer a new web browser and user interface, support Adobe Flash and make the touchscreen control of its devices more convincing.
App store: BlackBerry App World Number of apps: 6,000
What BlackBerry says about you…
You’re a busy pro with his mind on the job at all times. Forget trendy touchscreen phones; who can bash out 100+ mails a day on one of those?
Our favourite handsets
BB Pearl 3G
BB storm 2
BB Bold 9700
Courtesy T3 magazine. See the August issue for a companion piece that compares the best smartphones.