Searching for Quality Apps, Innovative Devices

By Don Reisinger  |  Posted 2009-11-05

10 Things Apple, Google and RIM Won't Tell You About Mobile Phones

When Apple announced that its App Store had over 100,000 apps Nov. 4, undoubtedly some users were impressed by the news. Certainly that must mean that there are tens of thousands of apps that we would want, right? Don't be so sure.

See, the problem with the mobile phone business is that too often customers both in the consumer space and in the enterprise are forced to focus on certain features, while ignoring others. It's a great benefit to Apple, Google, Research In Motion and other major companies in the space and it helps those companies sell so many phones.

But there are some flaws in some of the mobile devices those companies (and others) sell that don't get the kind of attention they might deserve. Admittedly, those companies develop great products, and increasingly so. But the devices are flawed in some ways too, and we can't lose sight of that.

Let's take a look at just how flawed they are.

1. Touch-screen quality varies

For the most part, touch screens just aren't as great as most folks claim they are. In fact, they're very difficult to use. The iPhone easily does the best job of producing a viable touch experience. But when you evaluate other products, like the Palm Pre or the BlackBerry Storm, the experience isn't nearly as reliable.

2. Virtual keyboards are the worst

Whether it's the iPhone or the BlackBerry Storm2, a virtual keyboard simply doesn't provide an experience that justifies ditching a physical keyboard. More often than not, typing on the iPhone yields some crazy results. And that's the best of the bunch. Trying to type on a device like the BlackBerry Storm is awful. RIM improved the BlackBerry Storm2, but it still can't quite match the iPhone. And neither device can match a physical keyboard.

3. Getting locked into a carrier is awful

Although it was a smart business move for Apple, the very fact that the iPhone is locked down to AT&T is unfortunate, to say the least. In the mobile phone space, being able to switch carriers can mean the difference between happiness with a mobile phone and unhappiness. In some areas, AT&T's coverage is abysmal. Coverage isn't universal for any carrier. Having the option to bring a phone to the best provider in an area would undoubtedly result in happier phone owners.

4. Don't be impressed by quantity

There may be over 100,000 apps in Apple's App Store, but that doesn't mean that it provides more value than the competition. The vast majority of applications in the store receive little attention from the majority of users.

In fact, the App Store is littered with junk that most customers can barely use. The same can be said for any other app store. The iPhone might have the most applications available to it, but unless a user finds quality in those applications, that means very little.

Searching for Quality Apps, Innovative Devices

5. There are limitations

Unfortunately, every major mobile phone on the market is being limited by the rules set in place by carriers. Remember Google Voice? It wasn't an isolated event when Apple refused to accept Google Voice for the App Store. Any VOIP (voice over IP) app that attempts to connect to AT&T's 3G network can't have access to the App Store. AT&T, like other carriers that have similar rules in place for other devices, is worried users will opt for VOIP rather than place calls over their carrier's cell tower. It's an understandable fear. But it also limits the value of using these "next-gen" devices.

6. The old is still good

Although the allure of touch-screen mobile phones is strong, the big companies in the mobile phone space don't want users to realize that a simple flip phone with a nice camera and video recording capabilities is still a worthwhile device. Does it have all the bells and whistles? Of course not. But it still provides value. And in many cases those phones have some of the best reception on the market.

7. Follow the leader

After Apple revolutionized the mobile phone industry, most of its competitors have been content to simply mimic what Apple has done with their own mobile business models. That has led to the mobile industry becoming more derivative. There are undoubtedly some new features that have made their way into products such as the Palm Pre and Android-based devices, but for the most part it's just more of the same.

8. The enterprise is suffering

Although the BlackBerry has been the leader in the enterprise for a long time, RIM has made it abundantly clear that it intends to compete with the iPhone. But as the iPhone continues its dominance in the consumer market and its competitors try to keep up, what's left for the corporate world? The hope is that many of these new devices will start appealing more to business users. But for now, many of the mobile phone vendors in the space are focusing on consumers and the corporate world is left wondering when it will finally benefit.

9. The quick power drain

Almost every vendor in the mobile phone space makes big promises about battery life. But experience has shown that they rarely deliver. For example, the Palm Pre experienced some of the worst battery troubles of any of the new-generation devices on the market. It was a real problem at launch that caused many users to complain. Palm has addressed the problem, but the damage was done.

10. The future looks boring

Over the past year, the amount of innovation in the mobile phone market has been less than stellar. For the most part, the ability to multitask is what has dominated new ideas. And there doesn't seem to be much more to look forward to. For now, vendors are trying to determine how they can catch up to the iPhone. Windows Mobile 7, the next "big" mobile release from Microsoft, looks to be more of the same.

It's unfortunate, but it's how this business works.

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