I don’t think I’ve seen quite so many super-gadgets launched in so short a span. It’s been quite a festival of smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks and in-betweens. There was the Note II, not so long ago, a whole set of smartphones from HTC including a signature Windows Phone 8 handset and the ramped up One X+ Android phone. Nokia’s Lumia 920 and 820 are on the coming-any-moment list and Google launched more Nexus devices, including the big Nexus 4 made by LG. Then there was the iPad Mini, which hasn’t arrived here yet, and of course the iPhone 5 which arrived and went out of stock instantly. And some powers that be decided India must do something hi-tech, so they launched the Aakash 2 — again. I hope we hear about it next only once it’s done changing the lives of millions of Indian students. In two and a half months, if luck is on RIM’s side, BlackBerry 10 will launch, bringing another re-imagined OS, apps and new smartphones. What a surfeit of choice. If only the heating competition would cool the prices down…
With this spate of new top-of-the-line gadgets coming in when shopping is on our minds, it’s only natural for consumers to look for the ‘best’ among smartphones and tablets. But there really is no best. I’ve seen technology divide users as if it were a religion, with iPhone users treating their favourite device like a ‘godphone’ and evangelising it to anyone considering buying a smartphone.
I’ve also seen the Android camp unleash its most vitriolic sarcasm at the ‘fanbois’. Windows diehards are also becoming active and pretty soon we may have ‘BlackBerry people’ with a thing or two to say. Much the same is happening with form factors. But, stop to consider how boring a world we would have if there were but one option — which would soon wither from lack of challenge. We need variety and choice, and thankfully, we’re getting them. I’ve said this before though, and now one can explore the idea with more examples, but in looking at the newest, fastest gadget with the most powerful specs, don’t forget to explore the potential experience — in relation to you and your own way of using devices. It sounds obvious but all too often I get asked whether one should buy a phone because it’s “supposed to be the best”. Recently, for instance, someone asked me to pit the iPhone5 against the Galaxy Note II. As soon as the discussion began it quickly moved away from which had a faster processor and more RAM. After all, the devices couldn’t be more different from one another as far as the experience goes.
The iPhone5, with its clean cut design and a look that spells perfection even before you touch it, is fantastic for those who instantly love the way it looks, especially for those who are already Apple fans. It’s all about an ecosystem that is in many ways ahead of everyone else, no matter what the activity. The apps in the App Store, which some believe will reach a figure of one million before the year ends, ensure that there’s a lot to choose from for different types of users.
The Note II, which may not look as satisfyingly designed and doesn’t have that many apps to draw from on the Google Play Store, has a different advantage. It’s all about the stylus meeting that 5.5 inch screen, which it does with silky smoothness and high speed. The Note II is productivity-oriented; more of a lean-forward phone-tablet than say an iPad or Mini and less personal than the iPhone. The size of the Note, which I often see listed as a drawback in reviews, is precisely what its users want: some extra real estate without going into the 7+ inch territory. So the two devices suit different types of people.
As for the iPhone5 vs Android phones, the ecosystem evolving from Google offers a different sort of experience. Google puts to use what it knows about users — and it knows a lot because it’s got your search habits, your location, your Gmail and more. Travelling with a device that has Google Now (on the Jelly Bean version of Android) is an interesting way to experience this information push. The Play Store may not have as many apps as Apple’s and of the same quality, but the direction it takes in knowing what you want is going to be valuable to some.
Windows Phone 8 enters this landscape with a refreshingly different approach. It’s still evolving and doesn’t have anywhere near the number of apps that established ecosystems do but if it gives users specific applications that really fit into their lives (such as the Kid’s Corner that so many appreciate already), it will also appeal to a certain kind of user.
The hardware, no matter how attractive, has to fit into the ecosystem of applications and a form factor to match and then be able to deliver a compelling experience. That will make it the ‘best’ for someone.
mala(at)pobox(dot)com, (at)malabhargava on Twitter
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 26-11-2012)