Feeds

Whatever happened to... the smartphone?

We try and find out

Boost IT visibility and business value

Excuse No.3: Why pay more for a slower performance, and worse battery life

Lacking a killer application, smartphones have succeeded more because they're a status symbol, than for practical reasons. Even for the most reliable smartphones, there are serious disadvantages - such as a time taken to open a text message, and having only a half to a quarter of the battery life of a dumbphone. That's for the good ones. In markets where Palm and Microsoft models are popular, they don't even have the reputation for reliability.

The US market has paid dearly. European operators subsidize models heavily, so with a new contract people are offered a top of the range smartphone for next to no cost. In the US, the price is $350 to $700, with most offered at around $500.

Excuse No.4: And then came the iPod

The popular media had been talking about 'convergence' for so long, it took Apple to remind everyone that converged devices frequently combined the worst of all possible worlds. To the consumer, the iPod did one thing very well - media playback. The iPod has grown more ambitious since its launch, but its place in your life remains the same: media is acquired on a PC, transferred painlessly, and then becomes portable.

Can they do the same with all the parts of the puzzle that make acquiring and playing music as seamless?

The suitability of dedicated devices wasn't a secret to business users in the United States, who were accustomed to carrying two devices - a phone and a pager - around with them. Then, just as SMS looked set to kill the pager, along came RIM, to give enterprise users an iPod lesson. The Blackberry does one thing very, very well - and still sets the benchmark for usability. This had the effect of putting the phone manufacturers pretensions into an unforgiving light, and they've responded by bundling service from Blackberry, or one of its clones, into their business range.

And against all expectations, the PDA is still with us. The trend is unmistakable, but despite nine successive quarters in which sales have slumped, between five and six million handhelds will be sold this year. Again, it's not hard to see why. For example, Palm's ancient OS, dubbed "Frankengarnet", still provides superior to-do management (with priorities and categories) than most smartphones - and it gives the user a desktop PIM suite right out of the box, rather than obliging them to sync with Outlook or Notes.

The advantages of convergence remain exactly as they were: one need only carry one device, and one charger. But it remains to be seen how well the phone manufacturers can rise to the challenge.

Excuse No.5: Microsoft reset everyone's expectations to zero

While Microsoft's numbers rarely meet its boasts, there's some evidence Redmond may have succeeded in tilting the expectations in its favour. The European market is currently awash with PDA-style devices, many of which are operator branded, running Windows Mobile.

It's amazingly rare to see anyone using one as their sole device. But then subsidies are generous, and Microsoft offers very generous licensing terms for new models - which explains why they enter and leave the market so quickly. So operators are happy to dangle them as a bait to lure people into experimenting with data services. I've met a few users who have one, and they tend to be professionals, but not technology geeks. Because these Windows PDAs are regarded as a bit of extra bling, and a bonus, this tends to temper criticism. So long as Microsoft can afford to keep flinging these anonymous gadgets at the market, people will become more accustomed to their data being in one device, and phone calls being in another. All of which suggests a long and healthy future for the dumbphone.

What's missing from this list? Are these criticisms too harsh?

In the coming days we'll review two of the most ambitious smartphones to see how well they fare - from Sony Ericsson and Nokia.

What has been surprising to this reporter this summer, has been getting acquainted (or reacquainted) with some of the most senior smartphone designers of the past decade, and discovering they too have returned to the dumbphone. Maybe one had found the secret when he told me:

"Old technology works best." ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Don't call it throttling: Ericsson 'priority' tech gives users their own slice of spectrum
Actually it's a nifty trick - at least you'll pay for what you get
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
Three floats Jolla in Hong Kong: Says Sailfish is '3rd option'
Network throws hat into ring with Linux-powered handsets
Netflix swallows yet another bitter pill, inks peering deal with TWC
Net neutrality crusader once again pays up for priority access
Fifteen zero days found in hacker router comp romp
Four routers rooted in SOHOpelessly Broken challenge
EE: STILL Blighty's best mobe network, says 'Frappucino' Moore
Fresh round of network stats fisticuffs possibly on the cards here
New Sprint CEO says he will lower axe on staff – but prices come first
'Very disruptive' new rates to be revealed next week
US TV stations bowl sueball directly at FCC's spectrum mega-sale
Broadcasters upset about coverage and cost as they shift up and down the dials
Tech city types developing 'Google Glass for the blind' app
An app and service where other people 'see' for you
Canadian ISP Shaw falls over with 'routing' sickness
How sure are you of cloud computing now?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.