Saturday, 11 December 2010

Which Smartphone?

Having an established position of being someone people tend to consult with before buying their gadgets comes with its own responsibilities. Granted, most people want me to say they've made the right decision rather than being truly interested in my arguments, but still – one of the questions handled to me more often than questions that really do matter is “what smartphone”.
I have recently revised my opinion on the “what smartphone” question: my vote is now with the iPhone, despite the compromised appeal over functionality approach of the iPhone 4. Not because I like Apple or its iPhone so much, but rather because the opposition is putting even poorer shows.

Let’s start with the negligible competition: Nokia’s handling of the smartphone market is simply pathetic (I've said it all before here). It’s latest phone, the N8, could be alright (I hear it’s not), but even Nokia loyalists would have a hard time justifying buying their old apps again with the N8 upgrade. Given Nokia has made it clear it would go towards a new operating system altogether with their future smartphones, the N8 is doomed.
Next is Microsoft. Its Windows Mobile 7 may be good but not yet; it still lacks features the iPhone has had for a while, like cutting and pasting, and it is also unclear what mechanism Microsoft is going to offer with which to perform future upgrades. Personally, I've had enough of Microsoft’s phone to last several lifetimes so I’ll never touch them again, but even those more pro Gates than I am should see that this is a competitor that’s been way too late showing up to the party.

Which leaves us with the iPhone’s most substantial competitor, the Google based Android operating system family of smartphones. Android offers phones that are technically superior to the iPhone, the main reason why lately I’ve been an Android advocate. Why did I change my mind about them? Several reasons:
  1. Lack of openness: Although the Android operating system is Linux based, it has been made clear Google is not making it into a proper open source operating system. It’s not going to be Apple’s tightly closed club, but it’s not going to be an open for all party either.
  2. Too many interpretations: Unlike Apple, who offer one model and make it very clear what it is you’re getting, each Android manufacturer comes up with their own crap they add on top of the operating system. It could have been good, but the reality is that the cream on top seems to always be rotten rather than beneficial. That non standard crap on top makes it hard for you, the person forking out hundreds of dollars on the phone, to change things in order for them to suit you rather than suit the manufacturer.
  3. Too many versions: Right now you can buy new Android phones from several different versions of the operating systems. There’s quite a wide range there: all the way from version 1.6 to 2.2 and as of this week 2.3. The problem there is that it’s really hard for you to know what your phone’s capability is going to be and how that capability compares with other phones.
  4. Upgrade path: Your phone may be the most sought after gadget at the time you buy it, but that won’t be the case for the majority of your phone’s life. Soon after you purchase it new models will come out and your phone will stop becoming a status symbol; it would just be a smartphone that your contract commits you to using for two years. It is therefore important to have an upgrade path that will ensure your old treasure can still do the things the newer phones do.
    Apple is often blamed for forcing users of its older models to upgrade; I agree. However, it has to be handed to Apple that they do provide a clear upgrade path for their gadgets, and that their gadgets do have a two year lifetime. With Android you’re not even certain you'd get that: you can’t find an Android phone you can buy while knowing for certain whether it would be upgradeable to the newer Android operating system releases. Even if you do, that upgrade depends on the manufacturer of your particular device and whether they intend to offer an upgrade path (a question that also depends on the crapware they’ve added on top of the Android operating system) as well as on whether the telco you bought the phone from would support such an upgrade. With Apple you know they will offer an upgrade (whether you like it or not is up to you) and you know the telco won’t have a saying in it.
So there you have it: An Android phone may be superior to an iPhone when you buy it, but after a year or more of service the iPhone will still be kept huffing and puffing long after your Android is forgotten. It’s a pity Google doesn’t think long term about its strategy with Android, because otherwise they should have an easy meal of beating the iPhone.

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