More on Phones

It’s amazing how Apple has set the agenda in the mobile phone space, and it’s only been too evident in the last few days. Apple’s iPhone OS 4 event last week not only drew the tech media but managed to splash out headlines across what might be termed, for want of a better word, the “mainstream media”. The BBC, ABC, SMH and other generalist/unspecialised all reported on the event in a way they would never have done for Nokia.

Nowhere was it more evident this week with the announcement of Microsoft’s Kin One and Two, the bastard children of Windows Phone 7 and Danger Sidekick, acquired by Microsoft some time ago. Sure, the BBC had a story on it, but it’s accorded about the same prominence even on their Technology news page as a report on the implications of Apple changing some legal terms in their iPhone Developer agreement, something which affects no-one outside the developer community.

Whatever else happens, it’s certain to be an established fact that Apple set the zeitgeist of the day just as much as Google does.

iPhone OS 4.0

As many suspected, Apple finally announced multitasking in version 4 of their iPhone OS. It’s clear that they’re playing catch up here to the bleeding edge of the market in the form of Android, as the multitasking implementation has many similar features (I sincerely hope it doesn’t add to more fuel to the patent suing fire which helps nobody.

Most importantly for me, 4.0 ticks many of the boxes for which I’m attached to my jailbreak, with a couple of exceptions. The multitasking isn’t much to me, apart from the value to be gained from having a VoIP or IM app running in the background. On the other hand, comparatively straightforward advances that could easily have been there from day 1, such as folders, SMS character counts, custom wallpapers (avoiding every iPhone looking like each other), and multiple & save-able on-the-go playlists in iPod are things that put 4.0 on par.

Multitasking, a unified inbox, message threading, full text search, improved spell-check, and finally (finally!) improved support for localisation in the form of English (Australian) in voice control together all make it a can’t-miss. An excellent breakdown is available at iLounge.

That said, I don’t think even with the convenience of multitasking there’s anything quite like SBSettings, and it’ll be hard to let that go – the Settings app will certainly be running in the background for me. There’s also themeing – with the point again being to make my phone more personalised to me, as well as giving me the ability to have my own SMS tone (why a restriction Apple? can’t make money off the SMS tone market?). And finally of course, there’s just the general I-can-screw-with-it nature of the beast that makes me want to keep a jailbreak. Chances are I’ll forgo that though, as missing out on all that goodness for a few small things isn’t worth it.

Finally, in spite of all the advances, Apple still hasn’t fixed the fundamental notifications interaction, nor have they added any method to give more information on the default lock screen. That contrasts sharply with Microsoft, which is a nice segue to the Microsoft Kin.

Kin One and Two

Danger’s Sidekick never actually made it to Australia in any substantial way, probably because it was a Telstra exclusive, but by all reports it made a big splash in the US, and its form factor certainly appeared to influence a number of subsequent designs. They’re certainly fun looking devices, and the ease of messaging on a physical pad made it a hit in a key market segment, the teens and their 20something siblings.

Little surprise then that Microsoft, Danger’s owner since 2008, is hell bent on keeping this valuable advertising market interested in their devices by announcing two new models, the Kin One and Two. They’ve chosen to orient the whole device around “the social” – essentially a way to say it gets twitter, facebook and all the rest of the social networks and puts them in one place. The operating system looks like a slimmed down version of Windows Phone 7. and it doesn’t have any possibility for user-installable apps.

Until the iPhone’s app store was unleashed upon the world, the majority of people got the software from the manufacturer on day one and that was pretty much it. Sure, some devices you could install more apps or run mini Java applets on newer handsets, but none had that customisability. Now though, the apps are your customisation, so to find Microsoft selling the Kins just as Google and iPhone ramp up their devices seems a bit backwards.

It’s the Henry Ford metaphor: Any colour so long as it’s black. Microsoft expects the target audience will see that they’ve got their favourite social networks already available and hope on board – thankfully Microsoft steered clear of the temptation to try to push their own network.

There’s something to be said for the simplicity that this offers for people who want a phone that does the basics well and offers some extra features that you don’t have to go out and find or think too much about. There’s definitely a niche for these.

On the other hand, who exactly does this target? The idea of the installable apps has become embedded in the market, and it would have to be a price point difference that shifts people towards this. When you’ve got a Kin and your friend brings out their iPhone/Nexus/Droid and starts playing with a game, you’re going to want to ask about the games you’ve got. When a new social network comes into play in the next 6 months or year, where are the Kin people going to be? Simplicity is a trade-off.

Either way, the Kin looks like an early preview of where Microsoft intends to go with Windows Phone 7, and for that alone it’ll be intriguing.

Where’s that Nexus One?

Dammit Google, dammit HTC, where do I get my Nexus One/Desire/HD2 Android 2.1 in Australia? Get it here already, I need a new toy!

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