It’s very simple. I have a Samsung Galaxy III, a BlackBerry Z10 , an iPhone 5, an HTC Windows 8x and an LG Nexus 4. More or less the smartest soldiers in the smartphone army.
There’s a fire in my flat/hotel-room/bordello/ski-chalet. I have only enough time to take ONE. Which do I choose? This is the question I have to ask myself.
If you want to punish yourself press this link which will take you through all the tech blogs I’ve written, since before the arrival of the iPhone and its transformation, not to say invention of the smartphone and subsidiary app market. You will find that I have relentlessly hammered home my desire for this field to be wide and rich in its biodiversity. I do not want only Apple, or only Samsung, or only Nokia or only BlackBerry to dominate. The more variation and choice in form factors, operating systems, the more innovation in terms of your device and its response to the environment, the better. The more open hardware and software APIs that allow for medical, military, charitable, mercantile, individual, artistic and social interaction for pleasure, gain, reward and the furthering of mankind’s destiny, the better. Boo to monopolies. Hurrah for competition and innovation.
I’ve written about most of the iPhones as they’ve come out and 5 has had perhaps the most “meh” reaction from the trades and the tech journos. Financially it has I think been Apple’s biggest and best seller, so commercially only a moron could call it a flop. But there is no doubt that the words “ageing” and “venerable” are beginning to be used about the OS and its look and feel. No NFC? Still the same old keyboard, still the same old look? Time moves so fast in the digital world, never forget that. The speed with which Palm, AOL and BlackBerry headed from the cloudiest heights to the muddiest depths shows the truth of this. Of BlackBerry more later. So many have such short memories in this sphere. I wrote that a single human year is really three digital years. I first had a working iPhone in my hands in June 2007, that’s 5.5 years ago, which is 16 and half digital years. It certainly seems like that. The G1, the first Android phone, emerged in late 2008. It feels like an age ago indeed.
Those first Google phones were made by HTC and did the best they could to counter the astonishing achievement of that first iPhone. By the time it was available Apple had already outmanoeuvred them with their second iPhone and the introduction of an App Store allowing third party developers to come up with their own little programmes. But Google knew that its might, capital wealth and power could allow it to be patient. Soon the virtues of an open system, different in style and fundamental outlook to the “walled garden” of Apple’s severely marshalled Software Development Kit, would (Google believed) allow cheaper options from the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers – Google not being one of those) to flower in an ever greater, if wilder, garden. Sorry for that somewhat tangled sentence. Google were proved right: besides, while they were waiting for Android to “gain traction” they were making hundreds of millions from Apple users and their heavy iPhone use. Every Google map or search on the millions of iPhones was making Google stacks and stacks of cash.
Apple had also shown the value of Apps, free apps like Evernote, one of the first I ever installed, and famously successful commercial apps like Angry Birds. Android users had to tap their toes and wait in frustration for a few months because developers usually prefer to start an app for iPhone. They know the exact nature of an iPhone. It has a home button and it has a screen yay big by yay big and a resolution of x3 by y3. Some Android phones have hard back and home buttons (ie actual physical buttons) some have soft ones (ie areas of screen hi-lit for you to touch). The actions of all iPhones are consistent across the range however and, maddening for developers as it might be, if your app isn’t properly written and doesn’t obey the coding and API rules, Apple won’t allow it on their store. Converting your iPhone app for Android is then the next step. Your coders have done the maths, you now have to make sure your cunning world-beater will work on an HTC thismodel x and an LG thatmodel z as well as a Samsung allthesemodels xyz, all of which have different buttons and knobs and screen sizes and resolutions and what have you. It’s like the problems the first web browsers had. How to make them work on all platforms.
Yet for all that, the rewards of Android are high. The “community” is growing rapidly. Price is a huge factor. You pay a lot less for a Samsung, HTC or LG Android device than for an iPhone. There is a greater danger of malware getting into such an open environment however, and one reads scary stories. But generally speaking, Android offers you all that is needed. A very small number of users update to the latest version of the Android OS, which is surprising and foolish and a cause of some surprise in me. Maybe it’s just that I’m so fanatical about having the latest update of every app, let alone every operating system…
So it comes down to which model you like. Most people seem to like Samsung. Samsung is a huge company, not as big as Apple yet, but getting there. Moreover, until recently at least, Samsung Electronics were primarily a component manufacturer. Apple and all the big players are major customers for Samsung’s products. They are, weirdly enough, the world’s second largest chip builders and the world’s second largest ship builders. True story. From silicon chip to frigate and ship. Talk about a wide portfolio. Gossip is, speculation says, people are saying … (tell it not in Gath) it would be in Samsung’s interests to design their own OS. Yes! To be like Apple, to design the devices and the OS that runs perfectly on them. Google and some of the smaller Android OEMs might well sleep uneasily in their beds… Word is Samsung already have a prototype OS well into development. Certainly, if I were head of Samsung it’s what I’d set my team to work on. Full integration. In the beginning Palm showed that it worked. Apple has shown it works. Blackberry showed, in its heyday, that it worked. Windows on the other hand showed that not being in control of hardware but providing general software for a range of third party OEMs emphatically did not work. So they scratched their heads and came up with the compromise that is
I like Windows Phone. I was there for its British launch and I applauded the guts with which MS admitted how far from the path of good design and delivery they had strayed with their atrocious early forays into the field. Windows 8 replaced the original 7 (much to the dismay of Nokia who had invested quite a lot in the first two Lumia devices that couldn’t be upgraded to 8 ) and is a fine option as your preferred smartphone OS. You get seamless integration with your Xbox (which was the only good hardware that Microsoft had ever come up with at this point, the brilliant Kinect being its crowning glory) you get little tiles that bristle with info and updates and notifications, and you get a stern Apple like SDK which means developers can’t muck around with its APIs and ways of behaving too much. Some people take to it instantly, others find it a bit cumbersome in some areas. Give it a week and you’ll get used enough to want to keep it, I reckon. The Nokia and the HTC 8x are both excellent. There’s something cheery and optimistic about them. Just about all the apps you’d want are there, as well as the business end of things with SkyDrive and Office and all that sort of howd’youdo.
So we come down to the BlackBerry which was launched today. I’ve been lucky enough to have had one for a little while to play with and I am very impressed. Everyone knows how high the stakes are for BlackBerry (formerly known as RIM or Research in Motion) – their share of the market has been falling and unless they can coax back some users it is generally regarded that they will be toast. Gobbled up by Lenovo (who gobbled up IBM, the original and biggest and most unassailable name in computing there ever was, but whose ThinkPads are now made by the Chinese giant) or gobbled up by someone else. Gobbledytoast, that’s what the wiseacres are predicting if BlackBerry doesn’t get this one right.
In a smartphone you want smart fast access to all the things you most do. Actually texting and phoning come low down on that list with most users. You want it to be easy to see your calendar, select text from something to tweet it, copy a URL from somewhere, deal with a file in your DropBox, send an email, check a friend’s facebook page, share pictures, … all the kind of thing we’re used to doing now and expect as of right. The BB10’s USP is that all this happens in one simple and smooth process. There’s none of the old in-out in-out, as Alex used to say in A Clockwork Orange. There’s a move you quickly learn, thumb straight up and to the right and there is your “hub” all your incoming mail, texts, tweets, FB notifications, BlackBerry Messenger odds and ends and so forth. You just hold your thumb down and reel through. There’s a deep BlackBerry quality in the DNA that reminds you of your first ever RIM device, whichever that might have been. I haven’t yet worked out how to take screenshots (oh, just learned that you hold the up and down volume rockers for a second or two: simples), but there’ll be plenty of the web. It comes fully loaded with all the NFC, 4G or 3G capabilities you could want. One version has a physical keyboard the other a virtual. Both use a super spanking heuristic algorithm that learns how you type and offers a word up over individual letters on the keyboard, hovering there like ghosts, which you can just flick into your text. You have to try it to understand. Like sex, it’s much easier to do than to describe. Or am I thinking of swimming? Anyway, whether they’ve bought the very clever algorithm which goes with the incredibly successful British dev company SwiftKey or not, I don’t know, but inputting text works very well. Like most phones the response when you move the device from landscape to portrait and back again is a bit laggy compared with the super swift iPhone response, and the copy and paste takes a little getting used to.
But if “taking a little getting used to” is the worst I can say of it, then let me say the best of it. I think the BB Z 10 (the virtual keyboard version) is one of the very very best gadgets I’ve ever played with. From the moment you slide your finger up and the gorgeous display fades subtly into view to the moment you pull down the little sleep curtain to reveal a pretty orange alarm clock, you are won over.
I wish I had more time to write more technically and more coherently, but I wanted to publish this as a quick response.
The fire question.
I’d grab my iPhone and the BB10 Z and risk getting burnt to a cinder.
Cowardly, but true. Or possibly brave, but true.
But well done BlackBerry, I say. You have played a blinder and I wish you all the luck in the world.
Whether “the market” agrees with me, only the future will decide. And the future is hurtling towards us so fast. In three months time how will this blog read, I wonder?
A final comment on “endorsements” and all that. I have never received money or goods in order to endorse them. I am lucky enough to get sent gismos all the time (many of them with “Evaluation Unit. Not for Sale or Lease” printed on the back). If I like them I say so. If I loathe them I say so too (as witness my trashing of the Blackberry Storm some years ago). I know how lucky I am to be in this position. But I do want it understood that for me it’s all about passion. I can afford any and all of these phones and when the keyboard version of the BB10 comes out, for example, I’ll go out and buy one. I could wait like everyone else, but like professional tech reviewers, I am lucky to get early evaluation units. I give away most of them once I’ve looked at them, to deserving student nephews, or undeserving wastrel friends, but I can’t be bought. Sorry to bring that up, but … just though you should know.