Chancing upon a very old smartphone industry magazine from 2009 while having an office clearout, I thought it would be interesting to pluck out half a dozen data points, especially in terms of review coverage. A lot has changed in 12 years, but there's still enough here that's recognisable. And, although I used to write for Smartphone Essentials myself from time to time, I'm not quoting any of my own material here - I'm checking to see how right or wrong the opinions of other writers of the time proved(!) Highlights? Verdicts on the Nokia N97 and N96, loads of Windows Mobile 6(!), an iPhone, and the earliest Android handsets.
Recent Features - S60 5th Edition
The arrival of genuine homescreen 'widgets' in iOS (see the screenshots below) has prompted more thought about the concept and about which mobile OS has mastered them, if any. Symbian and Android both had home screen widgets in 2009, while Windows Phone reimagined the idea completely for its 'live tiles' in 2010. And, a decade later, the iPhone joins the widgets party. But have any of these mobile OS really delivered? I say no. Or at least, not yet, with iOS 14's new implementation looking promising for the future.
Back in early 2010 I was part of a panel of people giving feedback on different aspects of phone functions, software and hardware, run on behalf of Nokia. The latter section was about handling a variety of unmarked (non-running) prototypes and saying what we thought about the physicality. Two, in particular, caught my eye, with QWERTY keyboards and slide'n'tilt displays. One went on to become the Nokia E7, running Symbian, the other (larger, which I preferred) went on to become the Nokia N950, running MeeGo. And now, in 2019, inspired directly by these designs, we have a new Communicator, shown off at MWC.
The problem with the tech world is, from an operating system provider's point of view, that the goalposts keep moving. These perambulating pieces of wood killed Symbian, killed Blackberry, have almost killed Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile, and, one day, may even kill iOS as we know it today. With hindsight, it's all too clear, but at the time OS coders were making sensible choices.
The tech media has been falling over itself in the last week to talk about the ten year anniversary of the Apple iPhone, that moment when Steve Jobs revealed the shape of smartphones to come. All singing, all dancing? It really wasn't. Revisionist history says that the iPhone introduced all the features we see in today's smartphones, but that's not accurate...
As an industry watcher, the world of smartphones has never been more competitive or better value. It's also duller than ditchwater. And, apparently, growth has now stopped and sales are in decline... With IFA 2016 just over in Germany, where yet another batch of almost identical 5" touch slabs were announced, I'm tempted to suggest that now really is the time to look for character in our smartphones. Where are the USPs? Are they now relegated to older, almost retro, devices, while new products fall over themselves to stay anonymous?
Despite the various pros and cons for 'touch' over the years, we're firmly in a mode in the tech world now where touch makes the most sense, in terms of text input, controls and general interaction. So why haven't we seen screen sizes increase to fill most of the front area of our phones? I examine the history of the form factor, in terms of screen-to-body ratio, and wonder whether we can't have our cake and eat it, in terms of phones that are manageable yet with monster displays...
Perhaps matching the debate on sealed vs replaceable batteries as a design trend for our time is that of sealed memory. In other words, flash storage for applications, files, documents and media, which is of a fixed size and with no options for user expansion. Is sealed memory ultimately acceptable and, if so, is it possible to calculate a healthy minimum for 2014 devices?
Most readers know me as someone prepared to enter into debate on the subjects of form factor and smartphone design, but also having my own distinct preferences. You'll remember an in depth feature I did on the subject of sealed vs removeable batteries? It's fair to say that, personally, I come down on the 'removeable' side of the fence - yet I find myself, in December 2013, using a sealed design for my primary device. In this feature, hopefully of interest to both AAS and AAWP readers, I examine my objections to 'sealed' and ask which of them, if any, are still showstoppers.
The battle to preserve personal and secure data across mobile platforms goes on. You may remember that I went on an exploratory trip around every secure database system recently, with no satisfactory conclusion. Is it too much to expect to be able to take my PINs, my ID numbers, my software serial numbers, my secrets, from platform to platform? It may be too early to call off the search completely, but a solution is emerging that looks future proof and promising.