Thursday, July 8, 2010

Your smartphone platform choice and why it matters

I have made several posts over the last few months about Android, S^3 (Symbian 3)Blackberry OS 6.0 and other smartphone platforms. As I mentioned earlier, very soon, your choice of a cellphone will not be purely about the brand and feature set that you prefer. You will also have to commit to a choice of mobile operating system.

The real fight in the cellphone market is no longer just among brands.  The name of the game is platform ownership and the real tussle we are seeing is the one between Apple and its iOS (for iPhone) and the Google-backed Android which runs on multiple handsets of Motorola, HTC, Samsung etc. Among the top-end phones like HTC Evo, Droid X, iPhone 4 etc, hardware parity is rapidly becoming a reality. It is the operating system that runs on the phone and therefore, the user experience, that will differentiate the top-end of the market.

Why is this happening? Primarily because mobile phones are rapidly taking over the mantle of mobile computing devices and thin clients that allow access to the cloud. In the future, mobiles will take over many of the activities that you do on your laptop or even netbook today. Owing to small screen size, work/productivity may not be an activity you choose to do on your mobile.  But the day has already come when you can plug your mobile to your HDTV through an HDMI cable and watch a movie, and the day may not be far when you can connect your mobile wirelessly to a keyboard and a monitor and work a presentation off it.

So what are the implications for your choice of smartphone in an Indian context?

1. Wait before you buy a smartphone, if you can
Mobile computing is meaningless unless your phone can actually access a reasonably fast internet connection. Until 3G comes in the picture, it makes little difference which OS you run. This is also why most of the game-changing phones including Motorola Droid X, HTC Evo and even the iPhone 4 have not yet even bothered to make their way to the world's second largest mobile market. But I still feel there is little point spending 10,000 plus rupees on a 'smartphone' today which is already not a smartphone according to the new definition. Chances are that what you own today and called a smartphone, is not one anymore (read the new definition of a smartphone). Wait till the world's top brands make their way into the market, before you decide. The added advantage is that this will also allow the relatively new Mobile OS platforms to get updated and stabilised. Android particularly is still on an upgradation curve.

2. Expand your brand choice
Most people I know are brand loyalists - Nokia, BlackBerry and Sony being the brands of choice. But new brands are coming in at the cutting edge of the smartphone market. The Taiwanese HTC Corp, a once-struggling Motorola, and even Dell is reported to be joining in the fray soon. Hardware parity is a reality (though design and aesthetics is not). Nokia already seems to be feeling the heat of competition abroad and so is RIM BlackBerry. Ultimately, a whole new set of brands could be leading the smartphone market.

3. Do you need to change your operator?
The government has made good money off 3G auctions, but in reality only a handful of operators will be offering the service in each circle. (For the entire list, read this post). I am hoping that they will offer the expensive top-of-the-line smartphones on contract as is the norm in the US.  If that is the case, the most economical way to own a smartphone will be through such a contract.

4. Do you need a smartphone at all?
Going by recent launches of Motorola Droid, Sony Experia etc. in India, it appears that we are talking of a budget of Rs.25000 + to own a 'real' smartphone. Some of us may decide not to spend that much and be happy with 'just a phone'. However, let's face the reality - many people want to own the best and latest phone. And we may not be happy to spend, let's say Rs. 15,000-20,000 - and find that we don't have a smartphone. So, some of us may just opt out of the smartphone race and just use a phone to make calls, maybe receive emails. It may drive us back to lower budget options which companies like Samsung and Nokia are more than happy to cater to. (And mind you, thanks to their own OS re-development, these companies will also offer you a great user experience). Or you may choose to invest your mobile computing budget in a notebook/EVDO.

Truly, the mobile phone market is seeing a shake-up and re-definition. I for one, am waiting keenly for the outcome for us here in India.