One step along that path attempted to employ Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.1 platform. At Mobile World Conference in early 2008, Samsung introduced its flagship Omni and Sony Ericsson unveiled its XPERIA X1, with both companies betting that WiMo could help them catch up to the iPhone experience Apple had introduced. They lost the bet.
In late 2008, RIM introduced its touchscreen BlackBerry Storm, which its fans assumed would be like a black iPhone with more serious Enterprise credentials. What they really got was a terrible phone that wasn’t ready for prime time, oddly lacking support for even basic features such as WiFi. The phone signaled the beginning of the end for RIM, which saw its dominant position among Verizon smartphones rapidly whither away in favor of Android in 2010, and then the iPhone itself last year.
Around the same time, Google and HTC collaborated to deliver the T Mobile G1, a keyboard-based phone patterned after the Danger Sidekick. The phone was rushed to market with such haste that it could not be officially supported even by the next 2.0 version of Android released a year later.
That “lack of foresight in design” trend would continue for Android, as well as with other mobile platforms that systematically abandoned new phones as quickly as they could deliver new updates. At the same time, Android shifted direction dramatically in 2009 to focus on essentially producing iPhone clones.
At CES in early 2009, attention dramatically shifted to the Palm Pre, which claimed that it would best Apple’s second generation iPhone 3G and take back smartphone sales for Palm and its new webOS. Instead, just as it launched in June Apple released the iPhone 3GS, a model Apple still sells (and supports in the latest iOS 5). Palm barely remained alive, barely finished its webOS, and after being bought up by HP, even its remaining group didn’t survive long enough to see the iPhone’s fifth birthday.
iPhone 3GS: iPhone OS 3.0
Apple’s third iPhone didn’t dramatically change its form factor, but did enhance its internal components, adding a faster ARM Cortex-A8 processor and PowerVR SGX 535 graphics core, 256MB of RAM, a more competent 3 megapixel camera with video recording features, a digital compass and improved 7.2 Mbps HSDPA 3G wireless features.
In software, iPhone OS 3.0 added support for three features being held out at the time as conspicuous omissions: copy/paste, MMS picture/data messaging, and support for tethering. Apple made the software available to all iPhone users, but for the first time, it became obvious that Apple could deliver a software solutions that mobile carriers might not immediately be able to support. AT&T didn’t support MMS for months, and it took nearly a year before the carrier enabled support for data tethering from iPhones, even though both features had been widely supported on the carrier’s network for other phones.
While Apple was enjoying a network effect of snowballing sales, the flip side was that so many people were buying iPhones that it was changing the market itself; AT&T struggled to keep up with the iPhone’s advancement, because adding a new feature on the iPhone meant supporting it across a growing army of millions of iPhone users.
Apple also introduced an array of accessibility features for the iPhone 3GS, as well as introducing system wide Spotlight search (a key feature promoted by Palm’s webOS), a new push notifications system for third party developers that borrowed the same functionality and technology supporting Apple’s own MobileMe push messaging features introduced the prior year, the CalDAV calendaring standard and 1,000 new APIs for developers.
iPhone competitors: 2009 – 2010
Just after Palm introduced its new webOS Pre, Microsoft began teasing Windows Mobile 6.5, presenting it as a credible platform with a new app launcher (creatively rethinking Apple’s square grid of icons and replacing it with a fresh, staggered honeycomb arrangement!) and a rival new app Skymarket just like the iPhone’s.
iPhone 4S: iOS 5.0
For its its fifth year of iPhone, Apple launched iPhone 4S, an improved version of the iPhone 4’s overall design with a much faster A5 processor borrowed from the iPad, improvements to its camera, 14.4Mbps HSDPA and new support for 1080p HDMI or VGA output or 720p wireless AirPlay.
In software, Apple added a variety of features including iMessage for automatically sending text and multimedia messages via WiFi, Newsstand for delivering subscription content, a new Notification Center for managing local and remote push alerts, and support for Apple’s new iCloud services, as well as PC Free setup and configuration.
Exclusive to iPhone 4S is Apple’s new Siri voice assistant, which adds intelligent responses to spoken requests as a secondary natural user interface, next to the iPhone’s pioneering multitouch interface. Siri can search the web and translate voice to text, but more importantly serves as a way to interact with calendar items, messages, reminders and notes.
The future of iPhone competitors: 2011 – 2012
After a year on the market, Microsoft has found it nearly impossible to find interest for WP7 among consumers. At the beginning of 2011, Nokia announced that it would be dumping its own Meego and Symbian platforms to focus on a new joint venture with Microsoft, although it noted that the fruits of its efforts wouldn’t be ready for nearly another year. Microsoft also has parallel efforts in place to launch Windows 8 as a viable PC and tablet platform, which is also a year away.
RIM is now in a similar predicament to where Microsoft was a year ago, facing delays in getting its new PlayBook operating system to work on its smartphones, and reportedly eying plans to license the software to third parties for production.
After largely wasting 2011 on failed tablet-oriented efforts with Honeycomb, Google has delivered Android 4.0 as its unified smartphone/tablet version of its 2011 efforts, but it is not making it widely available in a way most existing Android users can download and install. Instead, it’s leaving it up to manufacturers and carriers to do the work needed to make its raw code work on existing devices, an expensive effort few are excited about undertaking. Meanwhile, Amazon has derailed Google’s tablet aspirations with the Kindle Fire, which like the Barnes & Noble Nook, uses a year old version of Android 2.3 to deliver a customized, incompatible, closed tablet platform.
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