Nearly a new year and maybe time for a bit of new technology with which sole traders like me can spruce up their business. The choice is bewildering to the newbie so here’s a bit of a tour of the main ‘flavours’ – by which I mean operating systems or the software that enables you to operate the phone.
This is for people who want to be seen with an iPhone – and don’t mind paying for the privilege. Regardless of the contract this isn’t going to be your cheapest option but it’s nicely designed, a pleasure to use and now built for use in the cloud. It syncs well with Google Apps and this can bring all of your Apple kit into union, with all diary entries appearing simultaneously on all machines.
It’s also a very good ‘social’ phone – not social as in social media, which all smartphones will handle very nicely, but it handles video conferencing, music, the video playback is good for younger people (we fortysomethings prefer a bigger screen). IPhone has the largest market of apps if you need to configure your phone to your own specification.
Recommended if: You want an easy to use smartphone, which you can all but build to your own spec.
Not recommended if: You haven’t bought into the “do everything Apple’s way” ethos. Also if you don’t want to be forced to buy a case so that you don’t cut out calls by daring to hold the phone wrongly – seriously, this is a known fault with the iPhone 4.
The original portable emailer is still around in several guises. Look at the Torch for a serious competitor to the iPhone. A solid keyboard makes text entry easy but the leisure features like music and video are well catered for with direct links into Amazon’s music libraries for downloads. Syncs well with Google Docs although needs an extra app to do this with complete efficiency.
If the social stuff is less important to you then the Bold is a good business model with fewer bells and whistles but a nice at-a-glance daily agenda. All BlackBerrys will sync well with a BlackBerry Playbook tablet.
Unfortunately the market is buying fewer BlackBerrys so you’d have to be aware of this before buying; this has led to odd gaps like the fact there’s no Skype app available for a BlackBerry, which is a pain because the hardware should make this easy. Worse still is the news that the next generation of BlackBerrys, based on the new version of the operating system, has been delayed and now won’t be emerging in Q1 of 2012.
Recommended if: You want an easy smartphone mostly for emailing but one which does everything else including satnav.
Not recommended if: You want a wide range of apps – including Skype, which is a glaring omission. And NO ANGRY BIRDS.
The greatest proportion of the smart phone market buys Android phones from various manufacturers, with Samsung and HTC among the most popular. The software comes from Google and it has a completely open marketplace – so whereas Apple will have approved all of the apps you can fit onto an iPhone, Google hasn’t done the same for its software. It’s just a difference in philosophy – Google understands “marketplace” to include an element of openness.
These phones are as functional but never quite as elegant as their Apple competitors. Longer term they’re almost certain to stay in the number one slot in the market simply because Google allows loads of companies to make them whereas Apple is the only iPhone maker just as RIM is the only BlackBerry maker. If Google’s takeover of Motorola is approved then other manufacturers may be a little less quick to make more Android phones.
Recommended if: You want a safe option shared by millions of others, and all the functions you’ll get from an iPhone – often earlier than the Apple community.
Not recommended if: You like an elegant-looking phone, or don’t like companies putting their own overlay over a basic operating system. HTC’s version of the software is slightly different from that of Samsung – and when I played with a Sony Ericsson that was tweaked to work better with Facebook, Twitter et al it was so complicated it made my teeth itch.
Microsoft has been making software for phones and hand-helds for a while but this is only now taking root in the market. It has announced a major tie-in with Nokia, whose own operating system is effectively on its knees.
It’s a little early to say just how this one will develop; certainly Microsoft has played the long game quite convincingly before, and basing its computer software and phone software on the same look and feel so that everything looks as though it’s laid out in “slates” is a good marketing strategy.
Recommended if: You’re a Windows user and want the same manufacturer to supply your phone software for complete compatibility.
Not recommended if: You don’t want to be the first in the class taking a risk with what to all intents and purposes is a new operating system.
There are a handful of other operating systems to look out for. Nokia is still selling phones based on its Symbian operating system, which aren’t as easy to use as anything else on the market. Nokia denies it’s going to kill Symbian off, but its tie-up with Microsoft on Windows Phone has certainly set people wondering. Nokia also announced a more basic smartphone operating system called Meego during the year; by the time it announced it the company had already made most of the developers redundant. It’s difficult to imagine Nokia’s own software being around for long.
The other place to watch is WebOS. Developed by Palm over a number of years, bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2010, HP shocked everybody by pulling out of the market earlier this year – then sacking the CEO that made the decision. In December the company turned WebOS into open source software so anyone can develop using it if they choose – which is a great way to develop apps but not so good if you want any significant market share.
Guy Clapperton is the British author of the books “This Is Social Media” and the forthcoming “This Is Social Commerce”. He has been a technology and business journalist since 1998 and is also a speaker and broadcaster who has addressed audiences in seven countries during 2011. Guy appears on the BBC’s News Channel regularly and writes for the Times, Guardian, Telegraph and other national newspapers in the UK.