The State Of Smartphones

3/27/2012 6:41:12 PM

The State Of Smartphones

Smartphones are exploding in popularity. According to Instat, smartphones accounted for less than 20% of total handsets in 2010 but will account for 43% of all mobile phone by 2015. IDC predicts that smartphones will experience double-digit growth in the coming years as they snatch market share from feature phones.

Smartphone vs. Feature Phone

Description: The iPhone 4S runs iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's smartphone software.

The iPhone 4S runs iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's smartphone software.

The biggest distinction between a smartphone and every other mobile phone is the ability of that phone to run an advanced mobile platform, such as Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, RIM's BlackBerry OS, and to a lesser extent, Nokia's Symbian, and the Linux-based Maemo and MeeGo. These phones are designed to let users run third-party software, typically downloaded from a platform-exclusive applications marketplace. They also support Web connectivity, email, photo and video capture, digital compass and GPS-based navigation, and more.

Who Makes'Em?

Although the smartphone user experience is mostly defined by the platform, it is important to note that smartphone manufacturers do have some impact on what you see and feel with regard to the device.

Apple and RIM (Research In Motion) don't just make smartphone OSes, they also manufacture iOS-based iPhones and BlackBerry OS-based BlackBerrys, respectively. For instance, every iPhone 4S sold around the world is, from a hardware and software standpoint, identical. With each new OS iteration, both Apple and RIM tend to launch new smartphones that show off the latest features. Both firms allow a handful of phones from the previous OS revision upgrade, but the older models tend to get left out.

Google and Microsoft, on the other hand, rely on third-party hardware manufacturers to create devices that will run the respective Android and Windows Phone 7 operating systems. Companies such as HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Nokia create hardware and work with the carriers (Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Wireless, etc.) to get a version of the target OS installed. At press time, the latest version of Android is 4.0, also called Ice Cream Sandwich. For Windows Phone 7 devices. Mango is the name of the latest update to the platform.

Description: Samsung’s Touch Wiz user interface elements differ from that of stock Android.

Samsung’s Touch Wiz user interface elements differ from that of stock Android.

Unlike with BlackBerry and iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and Android phones come in a much wider variety of designs, screen sizes, and features. To make their devices stand out, many of these manufacturers also add software tweaks to give the phones a unique look and feel. For instance, Samsung's phones use the TouchWiz interface and HTC-based phones use the HTC Sense interface.

Mobile Must-Haves

Description: HTC's Sense user interfece is used on a variety of Android-based smartphones from HTC.

HTC's Sense user interfece is used on a variety of Android-based smartphones from HTC.

Among Apple, Google, Microsoft, and RIM, smartphones offer a surprisingly uniform list of specifications, but there are a few features that set them apart. Apple's iPhones are renowned for being intuitive and let users manage and purchase audio and video content using the firm's iTunes software. Similarly, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices use the Zune software to manage and buy content. Microsoft's phones also offer a unique user interface that favors large text and flat icons. One of the best things about Android-based devices is the sheer number of models available, from inexpensive to over-the-top. BlackBerrys have a reputation for being extremely business-friendly and having a rock-solid email and messaging scheme.

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