Basics of the Smartphone

One of the most frustrating conversations to have is the one where it starts off as “Windows Mobile sucks” or “iPhone sucks” because most people don’t really spend the time to understand the smartphone. Hopefully this post will help people in two areas – better understanding of the device and help them select a device that best suit their needs. There are 4 basic things to think about when it comes to a smartphone – the operating system, the manufacturer, the service provider and the user community. All 4 play a very big part on how the final user experience turns out.

The operating system
So today you’ll hear people talk about buying a Windows Mobile phone, iPhone, Android phone or Blackberry Phone. These terms actually represent the OS. The one OS that you don’t hear about much is the Symbian 60 but it is always associated with Nokias. The most well known S60 device that is used as a smartphone today is the Nokia E71.

The manufacturers
Nokia, RIM and Apple develop their own hardware which they put on the Symbian 60, Blackberry and iPhone OS on respectively. In theory, it gives them an advantage because they have full control over the hardware and software before launch and hence giving them more stability. This is not always the case unfortunately.

In the case of Windows Mobile and Android, OS are shipped to the manufacturer. The bigger brands in the Windows Mobile space are HTC, Samsung, Acer, Asus, Toshiba and HP. Since 2005, there are over 100 Windows Mobile models out there today although HTC devices are the most widely recognized. Each of these manufacturers are then responsible for developing drivers and ensuring capability of each model released. Each vendor also bundles software both home-grown (or proprietary) and commercial for branding and value purposes. Each vendor then is responsible for the stability of the product at that level.

Another thing to note is that while there are many models that have physical similarities, there are 2 major technology in terms of mobile phone technologies which are GSM and CDMA. Traditionally GSM is associated with its SIM based cards. However that trend is slowly changing with the emergence of WCDMA.

The service provider
Most service providers offer either GSM or CDMA service. Depending on your preference or requirement, this could be a limiting factor of which provider you choose. On top of the manufacturer’s bundle, the service provider adds another layer of bloat because of branding purposes. It is also usually up to the manufacturer to tweak the various phone configurations to ensure things like call clarity, internet thoroughput and consistency, dropped calls and various other features to make the phone work within the network.

The user community
The user community is an often discounted factor in purchasing a smartphone. My definition of a user community encompasses not just the consumers but also the developers and hackers that strive to make the product better where they can. An active user community always finds ways to better the experience by answering questions, finding work arounds and often developing solutions or patches to problems. In the HTC Windows Mobile family, the XDA Developers community creates new ROMS, patches software and even create neat utilities that make these devices more enjoyable to use. Often times, it will even go as far as extending the life of a particular product.

While the purpose of thid entry is to help others to think and pick a smartphone, one of the harsh realities of mobile devices is that the expectation of most people is that it just has to work. For example, if rebooting a device takes more than 30 seconds, it’s often not acceptable. People expect phones to be usable all the time. So far the brand that has been anle to do this the best has been Apple and it is shown by the continually rapid growth of their market of the smartphone market.

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