Monday, November 12, 2012

And Then There Were Four

With the announcement from Research In Motion or RIM that the new BlackBerry 10 OS will launch on January 10, the smartphone race heats up. Predictable with this company that arguably started the smart phone category and that was once an essential component of every corporate traveler’s entourage along with a brief case and a copy of the Wall Street Journal, this announcement will be too late for the Christmas buying season. But then BB has never been that big of an attraction for the home user, so maybe that doesn’t matter so much.

The new OS has many positive attributes including a “BlackBerry Hub” that aggregates all of your messages and social alerts — sort of like a super inbox. The intuitive multitasking menu and predictive, touch-friendly keyboard have also received praise. The expected products will include both full screen virtual keyboard devices as well as the familiar physical key style. In addition, The “BlackBerry App World” (think Apple App Store) has been growing with the addition of nonbusiness apps for music, movies, and TV shows. But will it have a version of Angry Birds?

It is a crowded field that RIM used to have to its own. On top of the heap (IMHO) is the new iPhone 5. Although more evolutionary than revolutionary, this latest Apple offering is both ready for Christmas and continues the elegant and user friendly features that are the Apple by-word. And Apple hardware is just an esthetic wonder and an artistic object that is a pleasure to hold and to use. Although the market is a bit confused between the iPhone, iPod Touch, and the new iPad Mini, the iPhone continues its popular success with consumers. The lines of customers waiting to purchase the latest Apple creation are evidence of this success.

The real numbers leader, of course, is Google’s Android which offers new superphones like the Samsung Galaxy S III or Note 2, various LG offerings, or the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD (whew … that's a weird spelling mouthful). Although still not as seamless as the Apple offerings and a confusing collection of versions from various manufacturers, the Android continues to polish the user experience and expand their app store offerings. Even if Android presents a less refined total offering than Apple (and many would disagree with that statement), the number of available phones at various price points insure the continued success of this family of phones.

Finally there is the new kid on the block … new, at least, after several previous outright failures … the Microsoft Windows 8 smartphone. The Nokia Lumia 920 and the HTC Windows Phone 8X are both worthy competitors bringing their own unique user interface and a raising of the competitive bar. Just as with Apple and Android, Windows 8 also appears on tablets.

The broad range of portable devices supported by iOS, Android, and Windows 8 make it more attractive for application developers to write programs specifically for these portable operating systems which increases the number of apps on the phone. BlackBerry attempted a tablet with its PlayBook, but that crashed worse than the Hindenburg.

Missing entirely from these scenarios is the offering from the other original smartphone company, Palm. Their WebOS met little customer acceptance, and was then lost in the purchase by HP. HP later killed the project, although, like a zombie, WebOS is still wandering around the playing field mumbling something about "brains," but not really living up to expectations. (Get it? Living up … zombie!) Now, if it was a contest to see which corporate entity has less of a clue, the competition would be down to HP vs. RIM. But, at least RIM still has a horse or two in the race. HP is “thinking about it.”

And, did you know that IBM created what some consider the first smart phone back in 1994? The IBM Simon Personal Communicator was a handheld, stylus input screen cellular phone and PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) designed and engineered by IBM and assembled under contract by Mitsubishi Electric Corp. BellSouth Cellular distributed the Simon Personal Communicator in the US between August 1994 and Feb. 1995. The Simon Personal Communicator was the first cellular phone to include telephone and PDA features in one device. Although the term smartphone was only created in 1997, when Ericsson described its GS 88 “Penelope” concept as a “Smart Phone,” the Simon may be considered the first of the genre. That's a Simon in the picture at the start of this article resting in its charging station.

And now you know the rest of the story. Tune in tomorrow to hear about the first digital camera that was produced by Apple. History of technology is fun … yes it is.

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