postheadericon ECS: The iPhone Arms (and Fingers) Race


The mobile phone war between Apple and all others is set to take on a higher level of battle as the competition rolls out new and more powerful smartphones, stocked full of new design features, hardware and improved software.

But already left in the wake of war is Nokia, which has seen a global market decline as rapid as the fall of the Soviet Union back in the day.

Apple has now eclipsed the once world-leader Nokia in the mobile phone market in shear volume of units sold (June 2011). Other once super phone powers such as Blackberry and Motorola are also falling behind in the race to be the top seller of these mobile devices that are changing our lives, and the way we view mobile computing.

There was a time when the iPhone was considered a gadget; a toy manufactured by a computer company that supposedly knew nothing about the mobile phone market. Now, the iPhone is the benchmark that all other manufactures must meet to defeat. In fact, a recent release of Samsung’s Galaxy S II, which takes most of the goodness of the iPhone and goes even better, is now held up in Australian patent courts, unable to move into the market until the court case with Apple is resolved. It’s just too much like the iPhone for Apple’s liking.

So what is it that all others have to best, in order to win this arms, fingers and minds race with the now megalith Apple Corp? Here is what Motorola, Nokia, HTC, Blackberry and others have to focus on to catch up:

Design

In the battle to be the best smartphone, design is paramount, and one can’t overlook the “looking cool” factor that Apple products ooze in general. However, for the young texting crowd (especially in Asia) Blackberry is making inroads with its colorful hang-around-your-neck Bold and Curve models. But announced this month is something even more exciting from this once business-phone giant: the BlackBerry Torch 9850/60, which by no surprise, looks like the iPhone, but has ditched the capable BlackBerry hardware keyboard, for a full-touch onscreen keyboard experience.

Hardware

While most folk’s eyes glaze over when anyone starts talking smartphone specs, hardware is one aspect that sets mobile handset providers apart. Just as with all of our gadgets, the number of pixels that can be displayed or captured, the speed in which the processor processes, etc., are all factors that can influence the ultimate user experience.

But on these specs, it should be noted that Apple has always been a master at using inferior hardware specs to their advantage, i.e. taking parts that perform less on paper, and have them then outperform in the user’s mind. For example, there is no USB port or extra SIM slot on an iPhone, and it uses a fairly mundane processor to drive the user experience, but as sales show, this has not been a negative factor. In fact, previous to the iPhone4, the handset only had one camera while the competition always included 2, one on the front and one on the rear.

However, the competition is catching up hardware wise, and taking the Samsung Galaxy S II in hand, one can really feel the difference when using its dual-core processor over the one used in the current iPhone: zippy!

Software

Software has always been the iPhone’s strength on the battlefield. iOS 4 is probably the most fluid and effective smartphone OS to date, and allows multi-tasking and a Retina-class with resolution independent display that makes watching movies, reading books, and playing 2D and 3D games just a sight to behold.

However, the new Gingerbread OS from Google (used in the HTC Sensation and others) is an up-and-coming contender, and as mentioned, is making the Galaxy S II a true iPhone rival.

Yet Apple holds top market share on the shear number of apps available to load on a smartphone, with over 500,000 apps available via the iTunes Store and with over 15 billion downloads.

The only other combatant to even come close is Goggle Android, with 250,000 applications in the online Android Market and with over 4.5 billion downloads to date. Everyone else, as with Windows Phone 7, is left literally in the dust, or flat out dead on arrival. This is certainly the case for Nokia’s Symbian operating system, which at one time enjoyed a 78% market share (2003) but will soon be down to about zero in 2012, as no new phones are expected to use it.

So as we can see from above: design, hardware and software are the three weapons that each mobile phone leader has in their arsenal to win over the world of smartphone users. Today, global domination is clearly in the Apple iPhone camp, but with the rise of Android powered phones, manufactures like Samsung and HTC that deploy Android Gingerbread and beyond, still have a place in the race.

First published in ECS Living, Issue 57, Sept - Oct 2011, p.54

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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