Competitors to the iPhone
What's new, what's improved, and who
One of the most talked
about new developments in the cell phone world was a Google
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
Replacing/Upgrading a Current
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
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
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
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
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
Phone Choices Also Require
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
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
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 :
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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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published 18 Jul 2008, last update
26 Aug 2018
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