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Not so fast - before you rush out to buy your new iPhone, maybe you should check to see if any of the other new phones would better suit your needs.

While innovative, the iPhone is not entirely unique, and other phones - either on sale now or due to be released soon - might give you similar or even better features and functionality.

 
 
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Competitors to the iPhone

What's new, what's improved, and who competes
 

One of the most talked about new developments in the cell phone world was a Google phone.

This turned out not to be a Google branded piece of hardware, but rather a phone with a Google sponsored operating system, 'Android' - and the first models of such phones will start appearing later in 2008.

This - and many other phones - may be sensible alternatives to an iPhone.

Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed on the right.

 

 

The iPhone has been described as revolutionary and game changing, and to some extent these descriptions are probably true.

But, although the best known new development in cell phone technology, it is far from the only new development, and the marketplace is becoming increasingly crowded with phones that pack in much more user friendliness and increased functionality.

Plus, now that Apple have clearly shown the success of a user friendly high end phone, competitors are rushing to copy Apple's success.

Should you buy an iPhone now?  One of its competitors?  Or wait for the next round of new phones with even more 'wow' features?

What is the Essence of an iPhone for Competitors to Replicate?

So, there you are, considering the purchase of an iPhone.  And, unlike many who have rushed to the store and bought one, you're at least looking around at other alternatives and choices before making your decision (good for you!).

The first thing you really need to do, when considering which phone to purchase, is to decide what are the 'must have' features you want in your new phone, be it the iPhone or some other competitor.

Perhaps, if you're very organized about this, you might make a list of features you want in a phone, categorized into 'must have' and 'should have' features.  This might include things like long battery life, big high resolution screen, high quality camera that takes video as well as stills, 3G high speed internet access, built in GPS, quad band for international roaming, removable SD or similar storage capacity, total cost of ownership over the life of the contract, and who knows what else.

At that point, you can then score the iPhone and other possible alternatives against the things you want and would like, and then you can make the best decision possible.

Replacing/Upgrading a Current Phone

Just about all of us already have a cell phone, and so a decision to buy an iPhone or any other type of phone becomes more complicated because we are not buying something new for the first time; we are buying something to replace something we already have and therefore have to consider not only which product to buy, but also perhaps not buying anything and keeping the present phone.

There are two dimensions to this - an obvious one and a more subtle one.  The obvious dimension is to score your present phone on the list you created in the previous section of features you must have and would like to have.  Maybe the present phone is already good enough and doesn't need to be replaced.  Because, if you do replace your present phone, there may be a very significant but obscured extra cost :

The possibly hidden cost of changing your current Service Plan

Beware of this issue!  Maybe you currently have a very favorable service plan that gives you lots of minutes for a very low price, or maybe it is good simply because you've already worked your way through most of the one or two year contract period, giving you flexibility and freedom to change providers if you so wish in the near future.

If you're going to change your phone with your current provider, what will happen to your current plan?  Maybe you don't want to keep your current plan and are pleased to sign a new contract with new rates and terms (and a new two year minimum term) but maybe your current plan is better.

If you want to keep your current plan, perhaps you are better advised to buy a phone not direct from your wireless phone company but from one of the third party sellers of phones, and just activate it/transfer it to your current plan.

Three ways to get out of an unexpired contract

Be sure to understand what the cost will be to cancel out of your present contract - this might be surprisingly high and might end up locking you to your present contract until it gets closer to expiration.

There are three ways around an expensive unexpired contract.  The first strategy is simply to buy your way out of the contract and pay whatever the early termination fee might be.  This is sometimes negotiable downwards, particularly if you have moved from an area with good service to an area with bad service.

The second method is surprising - most phone companies allow you to assign your contract to someone else, so perhaps you can sell your present phone and the balance of its contract to someone else (eg on eBay).  Just make sure you understand what, if anything, will be your remaining liability after someone else takes over your contract.

The third strategy would be if perhaps there's someone else in your family who has an expired contract who could take over your old contract.

Keep your existing phone number

If you are considering changing to a different wireless company, the good news is you can probably switch your phone number over to your new provider.

A Phone is a Combination of Hardware and Software Features

What is more important - what more uniquely determines the capabilities, the usability, and the end user total experience of a phone?  Its physical design, or the software that runs on the phone?

The answer is probably 'both' and these days the two issues are, in part, two sides of the same coin - where and when does a feature start/stop being hardware related and become instead software?

Design factors are very important - not only in terms of what the phone looks like, but also in terms of the phone's size, appearance, and also things such as the battery life.

Sometimes a phone's 'pretty appearance' is enough to guarantee it major success - for example, if you think back to the Motorola Razr when it was first released in 2004, its new appearance and slim form factor rocketed it to the top of the phone popularity stakes, and it was able to initially sell for the outrageously high price of $500, even though, other than its appearance, the phone had nothing else innovative or leading edge at all.

Sometimes the distinctive things about a phone are more to do with its software and the programs which run on the phone, and how they are presented to the user.  This concept is being pushed by companies such as Microsoft with their Windows Mobile operating system for cell phones.

Phone Choices Also Require Service Consideration

So you've found your perfect phone.  But.  Maybe it doesn't work with your preferred wireless company provider.

There is good news and bad news in that respect.  Most phones in the US use either the GSM or CDMA type of technology.  AT&T and T-mobile are the two GSM based wireless companies, and as a general rule, phones will work interchangeably on either network, assuming they have not been locked.  Most phone services in other countries also use GSM.

The other companies (eg Verizon and Sprint) use CDMA technology.  It is sometimes but not always possible to get a CDMA phone re-registered to work with a different CDMA service provider.

But GSM phones will never work on a CDMA network or vice versa.

So when choosing a phone, you might need to limit the phones you consider to phones that will work with your preferred wireless carrier, and/or be willing to change carriers to allow you to get the phone you most want.

Needless to say, if changing carriers, be sure to check that they have good coverage in the areas you are most commonly wishing to use the phone.

iPhone Competitors are Springing Up Everywhere

The exciting good news is that 'Smartphone' type technology is moving ahead in leaps and bounds at present, with development occurring simultaneously in several different areas, both in terms of hardware and software capabilities.

Major companies are involved in the development of new phone platforms, and one of the best trends of all is the move towards 'open systems' - operating systems that can work on multiple brands of phones, and which allow third party programmers to develop new software for.

Modern fully featured phones such as Blackberry and iPhone type units have clearly completely displaced the previous market for hand held 'organizers' such as the Palm PDA, and continue to add new capabilities making them increasingly useful in all sorts of new and innovative ways.

Without a doubt, the iPhone itself has spurred the entire market into a phase of hyperactivity, and we're seeing exciting developments in a number of major areas :

iPhone itself

Perhaps the first competitor to today's iPhone is tomorrow's iPhone.

There'll be another new iPhone in another year or so, which will hopefully  have much needed improvements in areas where the iPhone 3G remains lamentably weak, such as battery life, maybe a better camera, perhaps removable memory cards, and who knows what else.

While it is likely that most software updates as part of a new phone model release will be backwards compatible with the iPhone 3G (as is the case with the iPhone 3G and its predecessor, the original iPhone), changes to the hardware will of course not be available other than by buying a new phone.

This gives you the classic conundrum - should you buy this model iPhone, or wait for a better one in a year's time?  The conundrum is made more relevant by the requirement to sign a two year contract with AT&T as part of a purchase of an iPhone, making it difficult/costly if you want to break the contract and upgrade your iPhone in a year's time.

If AT&T were allowing one year contracts, we'd say the simple answer is to buy an iPhone now and perhaps buy a newer one in a year's time.  But the two year period forces you to make a more difficult decision.

Nokia and the Symbian OS

Nokia is the world's largest maker of cell phones, and is a key member of the Symbian operating system group.

The Symbian operating system, which has been around for a long time, is an open architecture type system.  It can be found on higher end Nokia phones, plus a very few other phones including some Samsung and Sony Ericsson models.

After an extended period of little visible development, Symbian is accelerating its new feature development and hopes to become a major player in the high end phone marketplace.  There is already a moderate range of application programs written for the Symbian OS, and more are in the pipeline.

Nokia's support of Symbian would seem to ensure the ongoing presence and importance of Symbian based phones.

Microsoft Windows Mobile

Microsoft needs no introduction to any of us.  Phones that use the Windows Mobile operating system are available from a goodly number of manufacturers, including Motorola, Samsung, HTC and Palm.

Although early versions of Windows Mobile were clunky and disappointing (something that seems true of all early version Microsoft products), the OS is steadily improving, and is currently on release version 6.

An increasing range of software is being developed to run under Windows Mobile.  With the power of Microsoft driving the product, it is likely to be a major player in the realm of advanced cell phones.

Google Android

Google is developing a new open platform operating system, called Android.

This new OS will work on a range of different phones, none of which have yet been released, but are expected to start appearing later this year ( some time in the second half of 2008).  Phones that will run the Android OS from Samsung and LG have already been announced.

We expect the first version Android phones will have limitations and problems, but we also expect a fast cycle to improve these limitations, and with the force of Google behind Android, it is another contender for future market strength.

Note that there has also been talk about Google developing its own hardware, sometimes referred to as a G-phone.  This speculation appears to be unfounded.

Blackberry

The Blackberry range of phones, made by RIM in Canada, already have a vastly larger market share than iPhone, and continue to outsell iPhones.  RIM has been goaded into a frenzy of feature updating over the last year subsequent to the release of the iPhone.

RIM is releasing new improved models that follow in the evolutionary path and similar design styling of previous Blackberry phones, with the latest evolutionary step forward being the Blackberry 9000 or Bold, to be released by AT&T probably in August (details on RIM's website already).

In addition, RIM is also due to release a new unit later in the year that is very different to earlier Blackberry phones.

This new unit, variously referred to as the Blackberry 9500 or the 'Storm' or perhaps the 'Thunder' is clearly intended to be a direct competitor to the iPhone - it has a similar design to the iPhone, with a large touch sensitive screen dominating the front and a virtual keypad on the screen rather than a traditional keypad below the screen.  It will have 3G capabilities and is believed to be first available through Verizon.

See this website for information on the new Blackberry 9500 unit.  If you're a Verizon customer, you'll definitely want to wait to compare this to the iPhone before making a decision.

Palm OS

We include this more for the sake of completeness.  Sadly, Palm seem to have lost their way and their forward direction, and their excellent earlier units such as the Palm Treo 600 and 650 are no longer state of the art, and their market share seems to be dropping and dropping.

Few people would consider a Palm OS based phone to be very forward looking these days, and the ultimate rejection has to be from Palm itself, which started making phones based on both its own OS and on Windows Mobile, and its latest phone, the Treo 800, is available only in a Windows based format.

Proprietary Systems

Some manufacturers have done a good job of building reasonably intelligent and useful phones using their own proprietary hardware and software.

Sometimes these other phones are branded by a phone company (such as, for example, T-mobile with their Sidekick range) and you don't even know who made the phone.

One such supplier of phones is HTC, a company that has made a large number of phones for rebranding, and which is now starting to release phones under their own name, too.  Most HTC phones use the Windows Mobile platform these days.

Summary

The iPhone is a great phone with a lot of appeal to it.

But it is also expensive.  You need to try and rationally analyze what you actually need and can justify in a phone and the cost of its ownership/service plan, and - if you're a higher end user - you also need to be sure that you're buying a phone that is not only adequate for your needs now but which offers the promise of some continued functionality for the next year or two.

On the other hand, if you're just irrationally in love with the iPhone, no-one is going to criticize you for a small personal indulgence.  Perhaps it is indeed acceptable to simply go out and treat yourself!

Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed at the top on the right

 

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Originally published 18 Jul 2008, last update 02 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
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