Software Rules, as Phones Become More than 'Smart'
Is the smartphone dead?
A new report from Forrester Research suggests an update to the ways we define and categorize devices, in these increasingly "smart" times.
"Yesterday's smart high-end phone is today's midrange phone and tomorrow's entry-level phone," writes analyst Ian Fogg, the report's primary author.
The report outlines ways the mobile playing field is changing, such as mobile fragmentation increasing, versus moving toward standardization on a single platform, and how mobile devices are eroding the market for specialist devices. Additionally, as hardware features between enterprise and consumer devices blur, software is becoming the greater distinguisher.
"If you have an innovation with hardware, within 18 months it's going to be copied," Fogg told eWEEK, noting how quickly Google shipped a multitouch handset behind the arrival of the Apple iPhone.
"If you think, then, how do you have differentiation, it's with software. It's software that makes a device an enterprise device, enabling it to connect to the corporate Exchange server and the VPN and so on."
Nokia Eseries devices let users switch between profiles, creating a separation between business and personal interactions. "This might be an indicator of where the market will go," said Fogg. "The software will differentiate where we'll go."
In his new report, Fogg offers three new "frameworks" by which to segment today's mobile devices, in lieu of the smart moniker. The first is "extensibility and openness." Phones are "smarter" that can be altered and expanded once in customers' hands, Fogg explains, offering examples of the Apple App Store and its downloadable content, and even camera makers, such as Nikon, which allows consumer updates.
Explaining "openness," Fogg points to Google Android, which is built on Linux and allows innovations to be built on top of the main offering. However, it's a very subjective idea, Fogg stresses, offering the example of how the iPod and iPhone support multiple open formats, and yet Apple is seen as very proprietary.
"The reality is that all devices and firms have both open and closed parts to their business models," writes Fogg. "The trick is to pick where to be open and where to keep tight control."
The second framework is "consumption and creation." Some devices are more geared toward creating - text messages, e-mails, instant messages - and others are more geared toward consuming, such as the iPhone, which offers "good enough" voice capabilities, but an excellent browser that encourages the gobbling up of downloads.
Other devices high on the creation scale, Forrester found, is the BlackBerry Bold, Nokia N96, HTC Touch Pro 2 Windows Mobile and Nokia N97. Among the consumption devices, in addition to the iPhone 3G, are the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic and the soon-to-arrive Palm Pre.
And finally the third framework is "utility and entertainment," which rebukes the old notion of a device being either for consumers or the enterprise. No one wants to carry two devices, and everyone wants a little bit of everything. Executives waiting on a train platform can enjoy a game, and, as Nokia learned, when it initially limited qwerty keyboards to its Eseries line, it's not only enterprise users who enjoy using a keyboard.
"The trick is to understand the correct balance of utility and entertainment for each consumer segment," writes Fogg.
All phones are becoming smart, Fogg concludes, but to take advantage of the way mobile device use is changing, it will be essential for the device industry to understand how their customers use their handsets.
"All phones are becoming smart," writes Fogg, "but some are Einsteins."