A Changing Landscape
by By Lazarus Luan
Smartphones are coming on strong in the mobile phone market, with almost 20% of the US phone consumer market selecting these full-featured pocket computers over the basic feature phones offered through the various domestic carriers. Gartner, a leading marketing consulting group, estimates this market will expand to 25% in the next two years as more users adopt the concept of a mobile computing device paired with their cell phones. Like traditional desktop and laptop computers, smartphones use an operating system that allows various applications (or "apps" as they are commonly known) to run on the device. In the world of traditional computing, Microsoft has dominated with its Windows operating systems and is installed on over 93% of the computers used in the US, with Apple and Linux dividing up the remaining market share. In the world of smartphones, the landscape is considerably different with Microsoft holding on to a rapidly shrinking 7% share and Research in Motion (RIM), Google's Android and Apple's iOS making up over 85% of operating systems used in the domestic smartphone market. RIM, known for their consistently popular BlackBerry products, controls 36 percent, Android has currently risen to 28 percent and Apple's iOS has 21 percent through sales of the iPhone. If this trend continues, Android and Apple will continue to control more of the smartphone market, eclipsing RIM over the next year or so. Outside the US, Nokia and Sony/Ericsson control the majority of the smartphone market with the open source Symbian operating system. To date, no carrier in the US is using Sybian on any of their smartphones, so for the purposes of this guide, we will focus on the smartphones available to the US market.
A New Kind of Interface
The introduction of smartphones as a compact computing device created the need for a different kind of interface than the traditional keyboard and mouse because of screen size constraints and the lack of deskspace. RIM's BlackBerry devices adopted a miniature desktop design, which uses a small screen with roughly the dimensions of a non-widescreen desktop monitor, have a mechanical miniature keyboard underneath and a tiny trackball which is used to control an onscreen cursor. There have been numerous variations on this design, such as the use of a slide-out keyboard or non-qwerty keyboards that save space on smaller phones. As mentioned before, RIM continues to dominate the smartphone market with phones of this design, which has been relatively unchanged since its introduction in 2002. Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the world to a solid-state touchscreen "slate" design with the iPhone in 2007, also making use of large pushbutton icons and an operating system designed around the ergonomics of mobile computing and phone usage. The sudden popularity of the iPhone has driven competitors to continually introduce "iPhone-killers", designed to include the features of the iPhone operating system along with greater mechanical functionality such as a slide out keyboard or an optical mouse. None of these competitor’s phones did much to dent the sales of the iPhone due to the extreme popularity of the Apple App Store and its downloadable mobile applications, until Google introduced the Android operating system, which, like the iPhone, includes its own app store and tens of thousands of available apps.
Mobile applications, or "apps" as they are commonly known, are the heart and soul of any smartphone. RIM first introduced the idea of buying apps through a store accessible through the phone itself. Apple expanded on this idea by creating an environment where "cottage programmers" - application developers who simply worked from home - could actually make money through apps they created and sold through Apple's App Store. Through micro payments, many small fortunes have been made by home developers and software development firms alike over the past couple of years with well over one billion dollars paid out from Apple to date. Google's Android operating system offers developers the same kind of money-making opportunity, but since this operating system is "open-source", the work created by developers can be easily illegally duplicated and made available for free through various "warez" found online. This lack of protection for developers has limited the number of apps available to Android, especially those created by professional software development organizations. Additionally, the lack of a device standard with mobile devices that run the Android operating system sometimes creates unreliable operation on certain Android smartphones.
The oldest mobile computing operating system in use today, RIM's BlackBerry, is still the most popular smartphone on the market. The BlackBerry has a dedicated user base that appears to be very resistant to the newer "slate" phone designs and prefer instead a dedicated hardware keyboard.
Considered by many smartphone users as the ultimate mobile operating system, the iPhone has the greatest number of apps available to it, with over 200,000 available at this time. While the Android operating system is based on the concept of "open source", meaning that anyone can write programs for it regardless of how efficiently or inefficiently the software is written, the iPhone only has apps available to it that have been approved by Apple as being built to the standards they have set for maximum performance.
The newest kid on the block, Google's Android operating system is in its second iteration and has recently overtaken the iPhone in popularity. This is due mainly to the fact that Google has made its operating system available to several phone manufacturers and three different carriers in the US. While the Android app store has only around 70,000 apps available in it, this will rise quickly over the next couple of years as Android phones become more widely used.