The Current Smartphone Market

With Tuesday’s announcement that Verizon was indeed going to be getting the iPhone, I’ve had a handful of friends ask about it. While most of the not-techinically-inclined seem to say that, when they’re able to do so without penalty, they’ll get an iPhone as their next phone.

However, I have a certain group of friends who, for one reason or another, despite being fairly tech-savvy, have kept their Motorola StarTacs from 1996. In the past there’s been a number of conversaions, usually starting with “Hey, man. I’m thiking about getting a smartphone.” But after I’ve said congrats on joining the 21st century and started sending them links to apps in the App Store, they’re all “Hey, I’m on Verizon, dude. I’d love an iPhone, but I’m not leaving Verizon.” FINE.

As of Tuesday those conversations are no more. Now, it’s a new conversation. “I’m on Verizon and I’m thinking about getting a smartphone. But, should I really get an iPhone??”

Overwhelmingly, you should.

As of now, if you’re thinking of getting a smartphone, there’s really only so many options: an Andriod phone, a Windows Phone 7 phone, a Palm WebOS phone, or an iPhone. Since Blackberrys don’t have a modern browser, and their touchscreen offerings have been a joke, I’m going to say picking up anything from RIM would be buying obsolete technology, and I have a rule against that [1].

From the beginning…

Android

It seems like Android is a great option for the extremes of the user-spectrum. On one end, you have the people who don’t really want much from their smartphones; phone calls, email, to update Facebook, and that’s really it. These aren’t the people who care that they have Android over iOS over WebOS, etc. They go into their carrier’s store say “I want a phone that can do this stuff. Show me the cheapest ones you have.” And since Android is “open,” the carriers load it up with crapware, and practically give them away. Those are the phones these people get. That’s fine.

On the other end of user spectrum, you have the genuine Unix-nerd Neckbeards who love Android because it’s Open [2]. You can put together an app for your Android phone that does whatever you want. The trouble with this is that Android’s marketplace is completely unvetted, so there’s plenty of malware on there. Stuff that’s aiming to steal your personal info & upload it to some server on the internet. Sketchy. Shopping in the Android marketplace is like buying sheets from your local dirt-mall. You hope they won’t give you a nasty case of scabies, but you never really know.

Unfortunately, this means that if you want to download apps for your shiny new Android phone, you’ll have to spend an inordinate amount of time researching them to ensure they aren’t malware. Some people don’t mind, but I feel like I have better things to do with my time.

Windows Phone 7

Next on the list is Windows Phone 7. It’s a really promising OS that looks like Microsoft did a great job with. The Metro interface is unique and innovative, drawing inspiration from, expectedly, the subway system signage near Microsoft’s headquarters.

Sadly, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer keeps trying to cram a full install of Windows 7 on a phone, and he’s convinced this is what people want. That Microsoft’s CEO is so misguided about what works on a handheld touchscreen computer is frightening. Regardless of how great of a job the Windows Phone 7 team did at creating a unique, functional, useful mobile OS; there’s no telling when it’s going to catch Ballmer’s ire, and he’ll pull the rug out from under it. That’s a tough spot to be in as a consumer, not knowing if you’re going to be forced to migrate to a new phone platform in a couple years.

Web OS

Then there’s Palm’s WebOS. Palm was bought by HP last year. WebOS is also an excellent OS. I’ve repeatedly said that if I didn’t have an iPhone, I’d have a Palm Pre. I really think the OS is well designed, and interesting. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really taken off. Palm has let the hardware languish, and there really isn’t much developer support for it. No matter how much I like the OS, if you look at the market, you kind of feel like WebOS is on life support. HPs letting it stick around for a little while to see if they can get some support behind it, but if not *whoosh*, it’s off to something new. Again, to a potential new customer, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

iPhone

So that leaves us with the iPhone. Apple’s been kicking ass with it. iPhones exclusively on AT&T have completely outsold all smartphones on Verizon in 2010 by a longshot, despite everyone complaining that AT&T sucks as a carrier. There’s tons of developer support, so you can find plenty of cool apps for work and for fun. Apple’s making a ton of money on iOS, so you know it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And since all the apps in the App Store are vetted, you know they aren’t trying to steal your identity.

I’m not saying there aren’t reasons to go with another phone. But, I think that as of now, the iPhone is the best option for most people.


  1. The rule against buying obsolete technology means that I won’t recommend buying a discounted last-generation iPhone, either. There are cases where it makes sense, but they’re few and far between. By and large, if you’re in the market for a new phone, get the latest and greatest. The mobile market changes so rapidly, that obselescence comes faster here than in any other market I can think of. It’s best to buy the newest hardware, and stave that off for as long as possible.  ↩

  2. The conversation on exactly what Android’s “openness” means is ongoing, and there’s been a whole lot said by people who are much brighter that I am. Suffice it to say that “open” is a blessing and a curse from the perspective of an end-user. ↩