New wave of superphones poised to challenge iPhone 4

Displaying their wares

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We have already pointed out that the iPhone 4 faces far more credible competition than its predecessors in terms of smartphones integrating advanced hardware design with a distinctive user experience.

As we wait for Symbian^3 and Windows Phone 7, the challenge focuses on Android, and its supporters are certainly rising to the challenge. This week alone, Motorola is promising to leapfrog HTC with a roadmap heading towards a 2GHz phone; Sprint and Verizon are both talking up the success of their Android flagships; and LG has promised 20 'Google phones' by the end of this year.

Add to this a spirited defense from Samsung of the AMOLED display technology it dominates, rather than Apple's new alternative, and the industry is clearly not letting the iPhone 4 have its own way.

LG, like Samsung, has been strong in high end phones with advanced hardware and multimedia specifications, but closed operating systems. Now the Koreans are getting serious about open OS smartphones. Samsung is likely to produce the first Symbian^3 handset and is readying its gigahertz Android offering, the Galaxy S LG, and along with HTC it will be first to deliver a smartphone for Windows Phone 7, and also for MeeGo, but in the meantime, it plans to increase its Android line-up from a couple of models to at least 20.

Over at Motorola, the US firm will join the increasingly important gigahertz superphone brigade when it ships the Droid Shadow (known as Milestone XT720 outside Verizon). But it is looking further ahead too. Sanjay Jha, CEO of the company's mobile devices and home division, is looking towards smartphones that really can replace notebooks. These would include dual-core processors and eventually 2GHz silicon. Other sources said Motorola is readying a phone that will incorporate the Nvidia Tegra 1GHz apps processor, an iPhone-style gyroscope, Android 2.2 and beyond, and full Flash 10.1 hardware acceleration.

Jha also hinted that, like HTC, it was suffering component shortages because of high demand for its top-end handsets. "(Droid) sales are going extremely well," he said. "If I could build more I'd sell more."

Sprint Nextel is making hay out of its first real stand-out superphone, the HTC EVO. Speaking at an investor conference, CFO Robert Brust commented: "Every year all US carriers, except AT&T, go through a little trauma called 'iPhone introduction'. We have a little churn issue called 'people leaving to go to the iPhone'." But he said the EVO would be better than previous Sprint devices at stemming that tide. "Our hope is that we won't lose as many customers this year as we have in the past," he said during an interview, claiming that AT&T's well reported network glitches and its new tiered data pricing would make Sprint look more attractive.

He was also quick to distance himself from Sprint's previous 'iPhone killer', the Palm Pre, which delivered disappointing results. "The Pre was for people who didn't really want the iPhone," he said, as quoted by CNET. "But the EVO is a phone that people can get instead of the iPhone."

The main new hardware feature of the iPhone 4 was its ultra-high resolution display, using a technology called Retina Display, which CEO Steve Jobs said was superior to the main option for top end phones, AMOLED - which is dominated by Samsung. According to analysts at iSuppli, LCD screens amounted to 1.6 billion units in 2009, while AMOLED was in just 20.5 million units, but its growth rate should be ninefold between then and 2014, compared to 26.6 per cent for LCD. It is unclear how far Apple's alternative is exclusive to the iPhone or whether it will get traction elsewhere.

"Apple is really setting itself apart from the Google Android phones with the use of the 3.5-inch retina display in the iPhone 4," said Vinita Jakhanwal, principal analyst at iSuppli. Apple's system uses an LCD display with advanced In-Plane Switch (IPS) technology to increase resolution and brightness, and support a wider viewing angle and better color quality. Resolution is enhanced further in Apple's system by using smaller pixels, raising the number on the screen to 326 per inch rather than 160 for the iPhone 3GS screen. The LCD/IPS combination was first used on the iPad. By contrast, AMOLED achieves its effects by using sub-pixel rendering and other advantages are greater range of colors, faster response time, thinner displays, reduced power and no need for backlighting. iPhone 4 continues to require LED backlights.

The forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S will be at the cutting edge of AMOLED, which also features on the HTC and LG top end models and the Nexus One. Galaxy S will have a four-inch Super AMOLED display with resolution of 800 x 480. Samsung says that this will be marginally less sharp than the iPhone 4 even though the pixel density is far lower - the difference, it says, will be three to five per cent, scarcely visible to users, and that will come with a 30 per cent power advantage. The Galaxy S is rated at 576 hours of 3G standby while the iPhone 4 is rated at 300 hours.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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