Smartphones are not only revolutionising the mobile phone industry. They are also about to change the way we use computers.
The recession as I’m sure you will agree has certainly been a tough time, and this has certainly been the case for the mobile phone industry. In fact the mobile phone industry is in real trouble. Network operators are squeezed for margins. Handset makers either suffer sharp losses or fight hard to stay profitable. Hurting most are the stars of years past, like market leader Nokia and eternal runners-up Motorola and Sony Ericsson.
They specialise in so-called feature-rich mobile phones – work horses that deliver good performance but are neither cheap-and-cheerful nor smart-but-expensive. But with the world still feeling the impact of the global recession, it is this middle market that suffers most.
It is true across all phone makes. In "the current economic climate" the squeeze on mid-range mobile phones is "accelerating", says Patrick Chomet, who is in charge of terminals (i.e. handset selection) at mobile phone network Vodafone.
In stark contrast the market for high-end phones – like Apple’s iPhone – is buoyant. In Europe, smartphone sales are expected to rise 22% in 2009, defying the 21% slump in handset sales predicted by Pyramid Research. In the United States a poll by ChangeWave Research in June suggested that 37% of consumers already own a smartphone, while more than 14% planned to buy one in the next three months.
Microsoft predicts that in a few years smartphones will make up 30% of the volume and more than 50% of the value of the mobile phone market.
Market leader Nokia managed to get faster to market. The Finnish company readily admits that it missed the smartphone boat, although Kai Oistamo, its executive vice-president for mobiles, insists that "we have an aggressive plan now" for catching up.
Its first new smartphone out of the door is the N97 – a somewhat bulky slider phone with full qwerty keyboard, billed as a "mobile computer handset".
It is an impressive phone boasting huge amounts of storage. However, the N97 has a "designed by committee" feel about it, and I found it very awkward to use.
Also playing catch-up is Microsoft. "Yes, there certainly has been a gap for the last 12-18 months, we are behind," admits Jean-Philippe Courtois, the president of Microsoft International.
Microsoft hopes version 6.5 of Windows Mobile will help relaunch its fortunes, with software powering phones that can straddle the worlds of corporate and private life.
Rebranded Windows Phone, it drops Microsoft’s fiddly "computer desktop" user interface. Large-lettered menus and jaunty iPhone style icons help owners navigate their phones. Great software, except a couple of years late and not quite up there with some rivals.
Making the most of it, however, and emerging as the iPhones one’s most dangerous rival, is a company that until recently had its chief executive sit on Apple’s board of directors: Google.
The HTC Hero uses Google’s Android operating system
With astonishing speed Google not only developed a smartphone operating system, dubbed Android, but also found many handset makers (LG, Samsung, HTC and Motorola) willing to use the software.
HTC’s Android phones – most notably the HTC Hero (also known as T-Mobile G2 Touch) – are the most serious challengers Apple ever had to face.
Following a software upgrade the touchscreen-only Hero is fast and very easy to use. Most owners will never have to consult its two-page "manual". Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, e-mail and SMS are seamlessly integrated, and if you trust your digital life to the Googleverse of Gmail, Google calendar and docs, the boundaries between your computer and mobile phone will blur.
The open-source Android app store, meanwhile, is growing at a furious pace, with currently more than 15,000 apps.
Promises of smartphone riches are drawing companies into the fray like Taiwanese computer maker Acer, which dominates the laptop market.
True to its PC heritage Acer currently bets on Microsoft’s Windows mobile software. One of its first efforts, the Acer M900, is still fairly clunky, but chief executive Gianfranco Lanci has big plans. The real difference, he says, will be the development of a better user interface and especially Acer’s own app store.
Some of Acer’s ambitious plans do involve Android, and point to the real future of mobile computing.
Acer is set to launch small computers that run both Android and Windows 7, says Mr Lanci; Android will give owners a phone’s instant-on experience, while Windows 7 will provide full computing power.
It hints at the start of a revolution in personal computing. Not PCs but mobile phones will be the centre of everybody’s social and multimedia experience.
Microsoft calls it the world of "three screens and the cloud", where the location of your data – your contacts, music, pictures and films – does not matter anymore. Whether you use them at the computer, television or mobile phone, they will be tied together by software, and storage in the internet "cloud".
For the full story go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/8292101.stm
Source: BBC New Online