Recent Smartphone Developments

Some very interesting things are happening in the smartphone “ecosystem” these days that bear watching, especially if you’re in line for an upgrade like I am. The Blackberry Bold that was bright and shiny a couple of years ago is showing its age. Sure, it has real keys, but the email client doesn’t understand IMAP folders, the app store is nearly empty, the screen’s too small, it doesn’t understand 3.5G protocols, and the CPU is lagging behind the current standard. Blackberry may be up to something really, really big, but there aren’t any signs of it on the market today.

iPhones are now available on the two largest networks, but you have to consider what the current model is going to look like a year from now when LTE is rolling out in a big way; Apple is always a little slow to support new radio standards, and seems to struggle with antenna design, which is a fairly major issue for people who still use their smartphones for, you know, actually talking to people. iPhone gains points for the humongous app store it share with iPad, last year’s breakthrough device. Palm has new life following their acquisition by HP, and some new phone and tablet models suggest it could be the up and comer. On the other hand, the world leader and pioneer in smartphones, Nokia, has thrown in the towel on its Symbian OS and is now looking to Microsoft for salvation. You never count MS out of any battle that involves operating systems, but they’re trailing the current darlings at the moment as well.

Motorola wowed everyone at CES with the best in category, best in show winning Atrix 4G. This is an HSPA+ phone that can now be called “4G” according to recent rebranding of the term by 3GPP. The Atrix has some breathtaking functionality, including a dual-core CPU with integrated graphics processor (the nVidia Tegra chip that’s going to be part of the next generation of smartphones,) everything you expect in terms of mikes, speakers, display size and quality, and the fairly decent Android app store and 2.2 OS. You can even plug the phone into a big screen TV since it has an HDMI connector, an important step forward.

Moto has taken an interesting jump with a docking station that’s probably a bigger story than the phone itself. The docking station is essentially a laptop PC without the CPU. It consists of a 12 inch display, a long-life battery, a keyboard, a large touch pad, two USB ports, and a pair of stereo speakers, and weighs in at 2.4 lbs. You drop the Atrix into the docking station, and voila, an instant laptop that doesn’t need to be sync’ed with your phone. Granted, there are going to be some compromises, but the airline experience is bound to be really great and you can’t beat the luggability factor. Atrix isn’t shipping yet, but it’s worth a closer look.

Most smartphones are introduced at the recently-concluded Mobile World Congress, and the Moto-haters who commented on the somewhat fawning Cnet review of the Atrix promised that the lower-cost producers would upstage it, but this didn’t really pan out. LG introduced a phone that uses the Tegra for 3D, a somewhat bizarre concept that doesn’t hold much appeal. Samsung upgraded their Galaxy S with a proprietary dual core without nVidia’s graphics, and HTC’s Incredible S upgrade sticks with the tried-and-true Qualcomm Snapdragon single-core CPU. It looks like Moto is going to be the reigning champion of the kingdom of Android for a while, and we’ll see how well the develop the does-it-all, single device concept. You just know that sooner or later phones will be fast enough that laptops will be unnecessary outside the office. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting close.