It’s been a boring year for smartphones, sadly enough. Nothing evolutionary happened — the iPhone? It’s not a smartphone… yet — and the same old gang circled around the same old group of business users angling to get a sale or two in before the economy tanked.
But wait? What’s that noise? It’s the sound of millions of cellphone users who are scratching their heads and thinking “Hmmm… maybe I should get a Blackberry.” And, this year more than ever, they’ve been ignoring flash for substance and taking the smartphone plunge. Welcome to the era of the casual smartphone.
Smartphones used to be about one thing — to untether the average office worker and allow him or her to check email and access documents and services while mobile. As we now know, this “convenience” comes with a harsh cost. The twitchy thumbs of Crackberry addicts and the blank stares of WinMo Professional users attest to this fact. But what about the plain old folks — grand[ma/pa], mom, dad, teenagers — who want to get email while they’re driving the mini-van to the grocery store? That’s where casual smartphones come in.
Headed up by the Blackberry Pearl and epitomized by the Sidekick LX, these low-octane — and low-priced — smartphones eschew the standard touch screens and QWERTY keypads found in some larger models to offer a more streamlined operation. Take the T-Mobile Shadow or the LG Venus. These phones don’t have a business bone in their bodies, instead designed to specifically offer email and multimedia playback with a minimum of fuss.
So so we return to the iPhone, which is really a smartphone in disguise. As I mentioned before, the iPhone is no more powerful than the RAZR but, and this is a key point, it takes all of the things casual smartphones do acceptably well — email, mapping, contact syncing — and ups the ante considerably. Put a Blackberry or a WinMo 6 smartphone next to an iPhone and accept that the iPhone is far superior and, in short, is where the smartphone market is heading. Arcane menus and difficult set-ups are falling away to simple one-click systems. Geeky graphics and poor UIs are turning into things of beauty.
If we can say anything about this year in smartphones its that next year will be quite a race. As manufacturers struggle to match Apple’s example there will be many missteps (* HTC Touch * cough *) and many winners. But rest assured that this is the year that everything changed and next year that change will become the status quo.