Where We Were Yesteryear
Smartphone is the buzzword right now, but do you remember some of the original popular Nokia phones? Or when Motorola took the world by storm with their RAZR phones? I do. I remember being the same person I am now, constantly upgrading my phone to the latest and greatest and back then it was all in the phone - there were no application stores or Wi-Fi on your handset.
4G was a pipe dream, heck so was 3G. Bluetooth was around the corner, and Retina displays were probably a wet dream of the late Steve Jobs. Those days saw huge companies such as Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola and more dominate. These companies were making so many phones, and even more money and the market was happy.
Consumers were happy, as most of phone purchases in the beginning were from corporate clients, but the consumer wasn't quite ready to plonk down $900 for a phone, nor did they want to jump on an $80-per-month contract for a device to just call their friends and family occasionally. The market could not have survived an iPhone, or the iPhone would not have survived the market. There needed to be a slow change in companies, consumers, and the middle ground - where virtually everything else lays - app stores, Internet access, and more.
If you remember back to iconic handsets like the Nokia 3210, or 3310, each phone had its specific killer-feature, and you would buy it because it did X over your phone which only did Y. Flip phone when you had a brick? Yes sir. Color screen when you had nothing else? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
These days were filled with small, incremental updates, but it took a while for technology to shrink down to the point of mass production - but even then, the market and consumers weren't ready. In this day, desktop PCs and cumbersome notebooks were used on dial-up connections to access the Internet. If you wanted to check out a website, you'd sit in front of your computer and visit it. There were no social networks, or Angry Birds to fling at pigs. These days were simple - and it made you have a device for your specific application.
A phone for actual phone calls, and a computer for computing. As the Internet became intertwined with virtually every faction of our lives, technology began to slowly seep into our skin - kind of like how Spiderman had the black goo slide onto him and take him over in the Spiderman 3 - this is what has happened to all of us, except we don't all realize that it's bad because we're all in love with our technology.
As with everything else, the market changes, consumers change, and new generations of citizens come along who want everything faster, smaller, thinner, better looking - the list goes on and on. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the iPhone was released. It. Changed. Everything.
We all know it did, because look at where we are today...
Where We Are Now
The original iPhone changed everything - I've talked about this before, but it really did. It opened up app stores to the world, a totally re-thought user interface, and most of all - hundreds of millions of customers now wanted something they didn't know they wanted before. The iPhone sold itself, but it also created an entire new market that it now doesn't want to share.
Nokia is pretty much non-existent compared to what they used to be years ago - they seem to be releasing what they think the consumers want, which means gone are the days that the companies released something you wanted, as a consumer. Now it all goes on trends - something cool comes out, like the iPhone, and other companies think that's what everyone must want.
Google stumbled into the market with their Android OS, and their original Nexus devices, but they never really hit the mainstream. Microsoft had their old Windows Phone OS, but they're losing badly to iOS and Android, and even the new Windows Phone 8 isn't doing too well at all. Throw all the numbers you want at me, spend as much money as you want - but the only way to know when a device sells well, is when your friends start buying them, wish they could buy them, or want them so bad that they will do anything to get one.
Apple and Samsung seem to be the only companies that have this power right now - Nokia, Microsoft, Sony, Acer, Dell, and countless others are all victims to Apple and Samsung. Google have found some success in their Nexus 4 - but it has been so popular, that it sells out as soon as it's on sale as they can't get LG to build enough for them.
The next big issue is operating systems. Apple has their market wrapped up - as they control everything from inception, software, hardware, right up to retail. They have the buying power to push any supplier to the wall and tell them what price to sell to Apple at, but their days are looking numbered.
Google have their Android OS which they license to partners, but partners love slapping on their own crappy UIs, such as HTC with Sense UI and Samsung with TouchWiz. This used to be okay, before Google were pushing out the crazy-efficient stock Android builds with their Nexus devices. Now we have Google offering their own stock Android experience on their Nexus 4 for nearly half the price of a competing Android-based handset such as Samsung's TouchWiz UI-littered Galaxy S III or Galaxy Note II smartphones.
Lastly, we have Microsoft. There's not much to say here as they really can't compete on the scale of Apple and Google and have lost a lot of their older clients from Windows Phone 6.5 and earlier, to Android or iOS.
We're now at the point where it's pretty much a fight between the iPhone and the Galaxy range from Samsung. The new Nexus 4 will make waves once more stock arrives, which should be early 2013. So my prediction from here is that we'll see the new Nexus 4 become the powerhouse from Google and more of an experiment than anything else.
Apple has for years now been the undeniable champion, but they're losing their sparkle as time progresses. They're having serious problems in their iPhone department, losing tens of millions of customers to Google-based products, and their stock prices have seen much, much better days. As it stands, Google are the only ones with enough traction in the market to compete with Apple, and they're doing a damn fine job of it now, compared to the last few years.
Google needs to overcome some obstacles on their journey to fight Apple
Google's biggest hurdle now is going to be competing with Samsung, but we have a few options here. Remember Google acquired Motorola and now we're hearing about 'X-phone', which would compete with the likes of Samsung's phones as well as the iPhone. The smartphone market is worth some $220 billion or so - expect Google to take this seriously.
Google could use Motorola to release Nexus, or this new X-phone as the new, new Android platform. I'm talking about Android 5.0 "Key Lime Pie" here, folks. The step from Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" to Android 4.1 "Jelly Bean", was in my opinion, a huge change in Android as a competitor to iOS. No longer was Google behind in the software game, they put the pedal to the metal and blew past iOS leaving them covered in their Jelly Bean dust.
I think this is why they used cut-throat pricing on their Nexus 4 handset, to gauge public interest - and most of all, reaction - to a super-powerful, up-to-date smartphone. I reviewed one close to release and have it as my daily phone as there is nothing else on the market that remotely interests me when the Nexus 4 is here. If it wasn't that would be different, and there's still millions who haven't used the Nexus. It doesn't have the same marketing power that Samsung does - which is something Google will have to work on.
Marketing sells phones, not specs. How many people do you know own an iPhone 5 and can list its specs to you? I would only have one, and Tristan, I know you'll read this editorial. The others, "just have an iPhone 5". Android phones on the other hand, don't have that same sense of "brand name" as the iPhone does, so they sell themselves more on specs: bigger screens, more RAM, quad-core processor, etc.
It's the same argument as Mac vs. PC. PC users have all the specs in the world, but then with a Mac it "just works" easier because it's all tied into itself, so most users don't care about speed. There are of course different breeds of users, who love specs but still love Apple users - I'm not leaving you out.
Google need to have the power over their partners to make them offer no UIs and a stock Android ROM available to all. Samsung would have a much better chance completely taking Apple over by offering a Galaxy S IV next year, and at the same time offer a stock Android 4.x (or 5.x?) ROM available to those who want to have the stock Android experience without the TouchWiz UI all over it.
I don't see Google doing this as it would take business away from their Nexus and future X-phone departments, which is a thorn in the side of any Android-based maker right now. Samsung's turn around success of the last few years can be virtually wholly contributed to their Galaxy range of products, which run Android, so it's really thanks to Google.
But Samsung's success has helped push Android out into the mainstream, so it has been a give-and-take relationship between Google and Samsung. Google have given Samsung this power, and are going to need to take it away.
Google's Project Glass
Ah, Project Glass. This is where I think smartphones will begin to disappear and wearable computing will become the new multi-billion-dollar market. Smartphones can't just continue to get thinner and faster, or else we're going to be in the same boat that we're in right now with desktop PCs. Huge amounts of power, but what would really push all of it?
We're already at quad-core processors, 2GB of RAM and high-res displays. If we continued on this path, at the same rate of advancements, we'd be on 12-core processors, 12GB of RAM and 4K displays in a 4- to 5-inch smartphone in 3-4 years. This won't happen, period. You can come back to this editorial in 3-4 years time and tell me I'm right, I'm that confident.
Google aren't looking at the now, they're looking all the way into the future. Wearable computing is getting to the point of being realistic as technology is constantly shrinking, and with Google's powerhouse services like Gmail, Maps, Navigation, Google+, Google Now, and many more - an augmented reality-powered set of glasses would really transform the entire technology industry.
Google won't just offer their OS to other vendors to slap into glasses, this will be "Google's iPhone". This will be the product that makes every single person want them, now. The market is ready for it, just like they were for the first iPhone. It's all about services, and if any company has the services to offer a proper wearable computing device to sell to the masses, it's Google.
Augmented reality glasses like Google's Glasses would be incredible: imagine wearing a pair and receiving a call - I'm sure there'd be an option to press the earpiece to accept the call and you talk away without holding the phone. Wonderful.
You'd like to find directions to a restaurant? Sure - just say where you'd like to go and there'll be a virtual arrow pointing in front of you like it's right there physically, in front of you.
Imagine the advancements augmented reality would receive over the years - better displays, faster tech inside, software advancements like we saw from iOS 1.x and Android 1.x to now. The advancements would be absolutely huge and it would be life-changing. This is exciting stuff.
Where We Could Be Tomorrow
I think if we were to give 'tomorrow' a date, we'd put it at 2015-2016. We'll see another iPhone, but it won't be incredible. It'll be the same thing we've seen with the iPhone 5, because Apple used their excuse of it's "designed from the ground up". So if the iPhone 5S doesn't have any huge, fundamental changes, Apple can't claim it to be "designed from the ground up". So this means we already know what the iPhone 5S will be, or at least I'm predicting what the iPhone 5S will be - something not exciting whatsoever.
Samsung's Galaxy S IV will sure receive a bunch of press, but it won't be a huge shift in what we have now. Faster processor, slightly bigger and higher-resolution screen, but it'll still just be what we know and love. Samsung are at the same point as Apple - you don't want to push away your core customer bases with huge changes.
Google's Nexus 4 handset, in my eyes, is already the 'next-gen smartphone' with how smart it is with tech like Google Now. But Google are rumored to be working on X-phone, which I think will be something as a transition between smartphones and Glasses. It'll be something to stick around and be legacy for a few years (with new generations every 6-12 months) to keep a nice transition for people.
Battery technology is another huge factor that needs to be improved. Sure, we're seeing these high-res screens, quad-core processors and increasingly powerful GPUs, but what good is it if we're not getting a week charge out of our devices? Give me a whole week at max screen brightness, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on constantly and I'll be happy.
iOS is really stuck in the old days, it feels and looks so dated now it's not funny. Android is moving in leaps and bounds in terms of its UI, which feels so utterly fresh it's almost next-gen to iOS. Apple needs a huge shift in their operating system, or else they're going to fall too far behind.
I can't see where Apple are going to go from here, as they've done their "designed from the ground up" and what we got was the lackluster, Maps-sucking-ass iPhone 5. If that's all they can do with five years of iPhone behind them, what can they possibly do next? Steve Jobs is gone, and I think Apple really lost a lot of their mojo.
Microsoft, well, they have the money and the name, but I don't see them doing much that will shake the market up. They're stuck right now, and as much as they try to innovate, it will feel like a copycat of iOS and Android, unless they do something drastic. But again, it's the same as iOS, they can't just admit that their flagship next-gen mobile OS "wasn't good enough". Although, I do wish we had some sheer honesty from companies like Microsoft, and then dump out a truly mind-blowing product.
Apple could also release a completely mind-blowing, next-generation product seemingly out of nowhere throwing both consumers and competitors sideways. Samsung also have some decent power to do something, but this is an unknown right now.
I'm writing this piece from the perspective of what we know, and what we know right now is that Google are working on augmented reality tech, and have already showed it off. Apple, Samsung and every other company: feel free to surprise me, I'd love it.
To tell you the truth - I'm excited. I think we're going to see power transition to other companies in the near future and while this will be scary for those companies, it has happened before, and will continue to happen until the end of time - which wasn't December 21, 2012, by the way.
Google are going to replace, if they haven't already, Apple as the powerhouse technology company. Microsoft are going to begin to fade into black as they don't even know what they want anymore, and Apple are getting their last tries now at evolving before they become second place to Google.
Augmented reality is next-generation and smartphones are going to become a technology we once looked at and laughed. Sure, you don't think it now - but how's that MP3 player going for you? Or that CD player? How's that old game console going for you now? Angry Birds with hundreds of millions of downloads, App Stores popping up creating multi-billion dollar business.
Smartphones have replaced so many sectors of business, and have put things that would take up your entire bedroom into a single device that fits into your hand. That next evolution is to give you the same experience, without touching anything - you'll be wearing it.
Phone - check into Pub TweakTown for me and snap a picture of the bar for the image. That's the future - and I'm here, waiting, with my Fry meme stating: SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
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