There is a core of must-have productivity apps these days that is beginning to dominate: every operating system has its version of Kindle and Evernote for example, or Dropbox (in the case of Windows Mobile only a free client app at the moment) – the latter two cloud-based utilities allow users to ensure that the files they create on their laptop or desktop are also available on their tablet or smartphone. And vice versa. If you get me. Plenty of security or photo utilities like 1Password or DropImage for example, are beginning to get a similar kind of traction, by being Dropbox savvy.
So in the end, what I suppose I am trying to say is that these phones I have been using are all converging somewhat. I find I am using email clients on all them that are intelligently plugged into Gmail and allow me to do anything in terms of archiving and drafting that I could do with a desktop app like Sparrow or by Gmailing on the web. I use Dropbox on all the devices, and I use Kindle and Evernote too. Each system has its official Twitter app and a variety of third-party options available through their App Store, Market, Marketplace, App World or whatever they might choose to call it.
Little arms races take place between the systems: Apple released the iPhone 4S complete with built in voice recognition for every app that uses a keyboard, as well as the much feted, mocked, loved, tolerated, abused, seduced and shown-off Siri, “your personal assistant”. Just yesterday an Android equivalent Cluzee was announced (who dreams up these names? Are they paid? No, I mean in actual money. Really?).
New ways of integrating GPS, mapping and intelligent shopping, parking, sight-seeing, navigating and trekking come along all the time, but to be perfectly frank things have got to the stage where each of the four systems can be said to offer broadly the same functions and capabilities. Which leaves us, as it always did, with the question of preference. Which experience is most satisfying, most fun, most reliable and most desirable? Or to put it another way, which is the least fiddly, the least flaky and the least intuitive? I can’t claim to have a definitive answer for that. It would be like telling you which breed of dog is best. Opinion, emotional attachment, aesthetics, social pressure and cost will always come into play quite as much as functionality.
We live in hard times and these gismos are not cheap. Your network operators offer upgrade paths that may seem slow to those who want the newest phone now, but it is worth either phoning up or going in to your local store and turning on the charm. One hears stories of some lucky people getting upgraded because the assistant they spoke to seemed to be in a good mood while others whose accounts were identical have been met with nothing but blank indifference.
So to the devices themselves.
Recent news has been bad, very bad, for RIM. I have tried to like their terribly flawed Playbook tablet, but failed to find it had any part to play in my life. I have always thought their original Bold handset was as perfect in its day as a phone could be, and was pleased that after the catastrophe of the Storm and the ho-hum of the Torch they finally produced a month or two ago their Bold 9900, a phone that seamlessly blends touchscreen and keyboard capabilities in a totally satisfying way. If you are a happy BlackBerry fan this will be the phone that you want. Battery life used to be the BB’s great selling point when compared to power-hungry rivals, but what with the way apps use 3G and Wi-Fi and mapping and GPS and Bluetooth, you can easily find yourself out of juice half way through the afternoon if you’ve been hitting the phone hard. But this is true of all the devices under consideration. Blackberry, like the HTC devices, can at least offer removable batteries. The new Bold is also one of the first to offer “Near Field Communication”, a standard yet to be widely implemented that will allow the phone to activate other devices close to it, such as smartpay machines and, of course, other phones or computers.