Phone Wars Part 3: The 800 Pound Gorilla

In less than five years, Android has become the dominant global market leader, with some studies saying close to 80% of the world’s smartphones run it. And from the beginning, it’s been positioned as the anti-iPhone. It’s the most open operating system with a vast array of makes and models.  There are multiple flavors of Android and the overall experience is very dependent on the phone manufactuer/wireless carrier combo. The same phone on Verizon will be a little different on AT&T. It’s not night and day but Android is an inconsistent experience across devices and carriers, and that's probably the biggest knock.  

Pros:  Android occupies an interesting position and appeals to the entire user spectrum. If you’re a tech hobbyist who tinkers with every aspect of your phone, then Android is probably your first choice. But you're also looking at it if you’re buying your first smartphone, even if you don't care about all the technical specs and capabilities.  For more basic requirements such as size, form factor, weight, battery life, and screen size/quality, Android offers many more options across all the carriers.  Add in their non-exclusivity hardware model and a developer friendly ecosystem, Android tries to be everything to everyone.  And it does it remarkably well.  Unlike iPhones and Windows Phones, you can root your phone, which is a process that allows you to attain privileged access to the sub-system. For tech geeks who like to tear apart and rebuild their devices, it doesn’t get any better. This openness leads to variations which allow manufacturers and carriers to tailor it for a better fit within their product lines. An ecosystem as robust as Apple’s and the market leader position should give any customer confidence his/her purchase will hold up well for the life of the phone.  

Cons: The wild west of mobile operating systems. Many people don’t need privileged access to their phone sub-system and a more limited, or closed, system will work just as well, maybe better. The openness also means inconsistent experiences across different wireless providers and devices. Android on Samsung is not the same as it is on Motorola and Samsung on Verizon isn’t the same as Samsung on AT&T.  For some folks, especially those switching from an iPhone, Android can appear more complicated and less intuitive.  It's partially true; the more you understand about gadgets/computers in general, the better you'll do with Android.  A complete novice may feel overwhelmed but it's not a super steep learning curve.  The various flavors can also be frustrating.  More so if you're supporting many devices and trying to ensure compatibility within the enterprise.  For the home user, it's less of an issue but one that's creeping into the picture...

Conclusion:  You're not the dominant mobile OS for no reason.  Android launched at the right time and offered exactly what the industry wanted.  The sales numbers prove it and it's actually shocking how big a lead it is.  With that said, my unscientific analysis is Android users generally fall into a few categories: 1) The anti-Apple contingent. 2) Those who want more options when it comes to the phone themselves. Whether it’s the best screen for gaming or a certain size or the longest battery life, you have much more to choose from. 3) Then there are those who simply like betting on a winner and in the bet for being the ubiquitous mobile operating system of the next ten years, the smart money is on Android.

Next up is Windows Phone, the dark horse in the race.

Phone Wars Part 2: The Granddaddy

Funny to think how back in the mid 90’s Apple was on the fast track to irrelevance. In 2013 they moved up to 6th on the Fortune 500. First came the iPod but the real break through was the iPhone. From day one, it defined the modern smartphone. Over the past few years, our personal and professional lives have been converging at an astonishing rate. More than 50% of us check our phones "while lying in bed" - before going to sleep, in the middle of the night, or as soon as we wake up. We’re connected like never before and Apple timed the iPhone perfectly. It was also cool and this factor can’t be understated. Many people decide they want one before they even know what they’re getting into. They don’t evaluate other options or even what they plan to do with it. Well played, Apple, well played. But what their innovative marketing drives is a simple message: It's easy and you need one. There’s good reason, too. Apple has always had simple yet elegant designs, clean interfaces, and products which work out of the box. No muss, no fuss, just plug-n-play. There’s a reason they have some of the most rabid fanboys.

Pros: If you already own multiple Apple products (Apple TV, iPads, Macs), or plan to, then the iPhone is the obvious first option. You’re probably already leaning towards it and that makes sense, especially if you’re not a tech hobbyist and don’t care about the number of processor cores and megapixels and AMOLED vs. LCD displays. The iPhone is a safe option. It works well, whether you’re doing the basics or you’re all about apps/social media/games/whatever. It has arguably the best camera and the hardware always feels durable and looks sleek. That moves us to the ecosystem, where you get all your content - apps, games, music, video, etc. Good question, and sure, you can use multiple ecosystems. I do it, I'm an eco-dabbler. I like my Pod but it’s the only Apple product I own. While there's nothing constraining you to one, if you own multiple devices (and who doesn’t nowadays?), you get the best value sticking with one. And Apple’s is easy to get into and tough to leave. Almost magically people who had iPods and wanted their first smartphones became Apple lifers. From a vast library of music, apps, and games to an Apple store 15 minutes from your house, they make it easy to get what you want and you’re also cool while doing it!

iPhone cons: If you’re prone to screen envy, then the iPhone may not be for you. It’s a crisp display but it’s not the largest. The phone itself is smaller on average and depending on your point of view, that may not be a bad thing. The iOS platform is nothing if not simple but it also feels a little "cartoony" and "toyish" which is why iOS 7 was such a big overhaul. It’s also the most closed ecosystem. Apple makes and controls everything: the phone, the operating system, and the marketplace. This is another instance where point of view is important. It may be a pro for some who like the consistent experience and don’t mind fewer options in general with the phones themselves. For others, that’s their biggest gripe. It comes down to what are practical vs. a philosophical issues and only you can answer.

Conclusion: Remember the old saying, "No one was ever fired for buying IBM"? That’s how I feel about the iPhone. It’s been the most popular among friends and coworkers for a while. That cuts across a pretty wide spectrum from folks old and young who don’t know much about computers/technology to software developers and engineers to executives. If you’re already invested in Apple products and comfortable with iOS and the overall Apple "model", then you probably don't need to look further. But for those who are really into their gadgets and aren’t drinking the Apple Kool-Aid, there are options which may be better suited for you. Next time, we’ll take a look at Android and Google, one of the only companies making both Apple and Microsoft nervous...

Phone Wars Part 1: Before You Go Shopping

Smartphones have come a long way since June 29th, 2007. That’s when the original iPhone was introduced in this country, marking the start of the smartphone boom. Sure, Blackberry was around a few years earlier but taking a page out of the Digital playbook, they failed to capitalize on their early head start. They’ve since faded into a distant third and now fourth place in market share, recently passed by Windows Phone. In total, 58% of American adults own smartphones and that number will only go up. The choices have become endless. Multiple brands available in a myriad of colors, form factors, and wireless plans makes choosing one a tough decision. Good thing you stopped by. We’re here to help. We’ll start with the basics in part one and what you should do before you even step foot in a store. Then we’ll cover each of three options available today over the next few weeks.  Sorry Blackberry, RIP.

Ground Rules

Being an informed shopper is most of the battle. Knowing what’s important to you going in will pare down options and then you focus on two or three choices.

1) Your Type - Every phone has strengths and weaknesses so knowing how you intend to use it is the most important question to answer.  What do you want to do with your phone?  Will you listen to music and take a lot of photos with it?  Are you a gamer?  Will you be checking/updating social media frequently from your phone?  Or are you more interested in the basics - calls, texts, maybe a little email?  How and where you use your phone will affect how important battery life is to you. If you’re a power user, are you OK with frequent charging?  If not, how long will a single charge need to last with moderate to heavy usage?

2) Your Wireless Plan - Your carrier will impact your options as several phones are exclusive to one or a couple carriers.  If you're flexible and can easily switch, you'll have more choices.  Do you use a company phone that needs to be on Verizon?  That’s our company plan so when I upgrade, I know if the phone isn’t on Verizon, it’s not an option. Maybe you need to stay with a certain provider simply because you get better coverage in your areas. Or you have an unlimited data plan that’s been grandfathered along for a while and you can’t beat the price if you switch.


3) Size Matters – Are you looking for the lightest possible option or do you like a little more heft to your gadgets?  Form factors run the gamut from super thin and light (but usually plasticy) to blocky and metal (but more durable).  Do you want to slip the phone in a pants pocket regularly and still be comfortable?  When on the phone will you be holding it up to you ear most of the time or do you frequently use speaker phone?

4) So Do Appearances – Today's mobile screens are great and getting better.  Resolutions, colors, they’re like mini HD TV’s.  Generally the better the screen, the bigger it is.  Not to say smaller phones aren’t good but the bigger screens out now are noticeably better.  Thinking about what you’ll do with your phone helps here.  Are you a gamer and/or watch a lot of videos?  You probably want bigger.  Mostly do the basics, calls, texts, check email?  Then screen size and display quality will be less important.

5) Ecosystems – Ah, this is the real front line of the smartphone war.  We’ll get into this more in future posts but the hardware is a means to an end.  Similar to companies who sell you a printer but make their money on the toner you buy for years, phones are simply the hooks.  All the content you buy, the music, games, apps, movies, whatever you download onto your phone and other devices, that’s an ecosystem.  Have multiple Apple products and purchased a lot from iTunes?  You've invested in the Apple ecosystem.  Each of the major players runs their own and wants you in it.  Ideally, exclusively.  If you use multiple devices in addition to your phone, i.e., tablets, internet TV, game consoles, the good old PC, etc., then you get the best value sticking with one.

That covers the basics.  Decide what you want/need to do, figure out how much flexibility you have with your choice of carrier and plan, and choosing a new phone starts feeling less like a part time job…we’ll get into the iPhone in the next entry.

Cloud 101 - is it really new?

It's commonplace today.  There's cloud storage for our phones and you use apps in the cloud and stream movies from the cloud, it seems like everything has gone to the clouds.  That's actually true, but maybe it was always there.  Now some tech aficionados will want to debate more modern or technical definitions of "the cloud" but for the rest of us, thinking of it as the Internet is a good place to start.  It's definitely more than that, but the Internet is the foundation.

Where did the term come from?  While it's not entirely clear, there are computer network diagrams dating back to the mid 1990's that use a cloud symbol to represent the Internet.  Other servers are connected to the cloud, but external to it.  Since then, the cloud symbol became increasingly common in these diagrams.  As the Internet exploded, "the cloud" on the diagrams became a hot topic in meetings.

Now that's only one piece of the puzzle.  FYI - I'll try to limit it to a few pieces, just so we keep this to a manageable read, especially for the first one.  Anyway, the Internet has been big since the late 1990's so why does it seem the cloud has only caught on over the last couple years?  Short answer, virtualization technology, mobile devices, and bandwidth.  Especially the last two.  Virtualization has been around forever.  It's where we started with mainframes and vax computers.  Over the years it's evolved to delivering a rich, full featured PC desktop experience so well that you don't know whether you're running locally or remotely.  Gratuitious plug:  VADAR has been a market leader in this regard, supporting virtual platforms since 2000.

One of the big changes over the last 5 years has been the shift to mobile devices - smartphones and tablets.  These fundamentally changed how we work and play, further overlapping the two, which may not be a good thing but that's a post for another day...the traditional PC business is on a steep decline with mobile devices taking over.  And what do we do with these devices?  We consume content.  Whether it's music, movies, games, work apps, social media, texts, email, whatever, we consume.  Where does the content come from?  You got it, the cloud.  Which brings us to the other big change.

How do you get to the cloud and more importantly, get stuff from the cloud?  That's easy, it's over the Internet.  It's on, I connect, it's fast, it's reliable, there's not much to it.  For a lot of people, that's all they know and all they want to know.  Which is great.  That's what good technology should do.  The part a lot of us don't see is how much bandwidth has increased.  Think of bandwidth as the size of the road between you and the internet.  The wider the road, the more traffic that can flow through.  And the faster it can go.  Speeds are literally doubling for the same price or less than what they were 3 years ago.  You may have seen the recent news about Verizon supposedly limiting Netflix bandwidth b/c Netflix uses an insane amount during peak periods.  The result is likely a "toll" Netflix will pay, and probably without much argument, to Verizon.  As those who control the information superhighway open up more bandwidth and make it cheaper, businesses respond with more and better options to deliver their products and services to we the consumer who appear to have an insatiable appetite.

So to answer our original question, the cloud isn't really new.  It's natural evolution in our hyper-connected world.

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