Unless you have already bought a smartphone in the holiday frenzy, you might be looking forward to getting yourself a new smartphone after the first of the year. Which phones should you be looking at?
There is a Big Three out there right now in the smartphone arena, though they are ranked by apples and oranges. Apple is there on the basis of a single phone model with a single operating system. Android is in the pantheon because it is the operating system on a veritable plethora of phones from many manufacturers. And RIM / Blackberry is in the list because they have only just recently lost the smartphone crown to the barbarian hordes led by the iPhone, supported by a legion of Android phones.
The easiest one of these to dispose of, in order to narrow down the list of possible phones, is the Blackberry line by RIM. These phones were king of the smartphone kingdom for years, the darlings of the corporate set, flaunted proudly by men in suits in boardrooms everywhere. As often happens to market leaders, RIM has seemed content to rest on its aging laurels, pretty much selling the same old, same old, though sometimes with a different name to try to shake things up.
They have even had a run or two at what they saw as the consumer market, primarily with the Storm as a vehicle, though it turned out to have been a smallish tempest in a tiny teapot. Although the Storm was vaguely iPhone-like, it did not seem to have the charm nor the hipness of Apple’s mobile entry. They have tried it again more recently with the Torch, which does not seem to be going much better.
RIM’s run-of-the-mill (and most popular) models are famous for having a tiny mechanical keyboard under what could be seen as half-sized display. The models that have sold briskly have names like Curve, Pearl, Bold, and Tour. They have tried to play ball with Apple and opened their own version of the iTunes App Store, which they call the App World, but compared to the Apple App Store it is a small world indeed.
The phones from RIM still have appeal for people that may have once worn pocket protectors, and for people that wish to see their choice of a high-tech gadget on the way down instead of on the way up. There is not much innovation at work in the RIM world either; if you don’t like change, RIM may be the phone for you. Or, of course, if it’s the only phone that your company will subsidize for you, and you don’t mind running with the pack, feel free to choose a Blackberry.
Android phones are attracting a larger and larger share of the smartphone marketplace, though none of the individual phones that run Android are making much of a splash. There are about 100 Android-powered smartphones. They are made by a variety of manufacturers, including (take a deep mental breath) Acer, BlueLans, Cherry, CSL, Dell, Garmin, GeeksPhone, General Mobile, Highscreen, HKC, HTC, Huawei, i-Mobile, Kogan, Lenovo, LG, Mototola, Nexian, Pantech, Qigi, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Vobo, Videocon, Vodaphone, and ZTE.
None of these hundred or so Android models have approached anywhere near the sales of Apple’s iPhone, easily the current U.S. smartphone leader. Phones from HTC, Motorola, and Samsung are probably the biggest sellers. A good analogy is possible with the PC marketplace, in which Android is becoming the Windows of the smartphone world: not the best but easily the most common, though quite serviceable, indeed. As for the actual Windows Phone 7, it has yet to make any impact at all on the smartphone marketplace.
It is hard to look at either Android or the phones that run it without thinking of the word clone, just like all those early PCs were clones of the IBM PC. Apple reinvented the smartphone marketplace with the iPhone; Android and all of the phones that it powers are quite a lot alike, though with no one controlling the operating system, it is possible to buy new phones with Android OS versions from 1.5 to 2.2, with and without customer features tacked on to Google original efforts by various manufacturers. This, of course, is causing problems for the developers of Android apps, who do not have a clear target at which to program, and for app buyers, who don’t always know which apps will run on their phones.
Still, if you want to get past the stodginess of RIM, and especially if you find yourself in the rabidly anti-Apple camp, an Android is the phone for you. Look for one that is made my HTC, Motorola, or Samsung and which is running Android v.2.2 and you will not go too far wrong.
On the third hand, you could go ahead and buy the phone that the Android legions are copying; the iPhone. That might even be more palatable after the first of the year, when Verizon is rumored to be authorized to handle the iPhone and it is finally possible to avoid AT&T, which is widely believed to be the worst wireless company in the country. If ever there was a time to purchase a new iPhone, that time is whenever you can buy it from Verizon.
There is not much in the way of price difference among these phones; feature for feature, they cost about the same. It’s more a matter of brand loyalty, if you have any, and perhaps also of whether or not you find yourself on either the Apple or the Windows lunatic fringe. If you’re seventy and chairman of the board, grab yourself a Blackberry. If you’re a dyed in the wool geek who loved Windows Vista and have few concerns about style, pick one of the Android powered phones. If you’re anyone else, get an iPhone, preferably from Verizon.