June 20, 2011 | Andy Boxall
The final quarter of 2011 is all set to play host to the greatest smartphone showdown we’ve seen yet. Apple’s decision to delay the new iPhone until around the beginning of September – for announcement at least – ensures it’s going to do battle with not one but two of its competitors.
The first is Google, who are preparing their next version of Android, named Ice Cream Sandwich, for release around the same time. It’s an amalgamation of the Gingerbread smartphone OS and the tablet version of Android named Honeycomb and is all set to be better-looking and more customizable, but Google hasn’t really provided details of any brand-new features yet.
The potential ace for Google here is another new Nexus phone, currently nicknamed the Nexus 4G. The Nexus range provides a clean Android experience on a super high-spec smartphone, and the Nexus 4G is rumored to have a dual-core processor and a suitably large screen.
But before we get too excited, is another Nexus phone really an ace for Google? No, it’s not. To find out why, we need to look at the history of the range. The Nexus One was Google’s experiment to see whether Americans would buy a SIM-free device direct instead of through a carrier. It was a big deal – or made to seem like one – but it failed, and the Nexus One sold in small numbers mainly to developers or smartphone geeks.
It was followed up by the Nexus S just before last Christmas, available to customers through carriers instead of Google this time, and although it boasts a serious spec and a great design, it still hasn’t set the world on fire. Customers have flocked to Samsung’s other top-spec Android phone, the Galaxy S2, instead.
Why? The Nexus S is too expensive, badly marketed and doesn’t look as pretty as the TouchWiz-covered Galaxy S2. Again, it’s great for devs and geeks, but it’s not for regular smartphone buyers. You know, the one’s who buy iPhones.
All this will apply to the Nexus 4G too, but that’s not the reason it’s going to be a small seller; no, that’s going to be the ’4G’ tag. 4G is relevant to only certain parts of the USA, and completely irrelevant to the rest of the world. A phone which so drastically cuts down on its audience is never going to be a roaring success.
For Ice Cream Sandwich to challenge the iPhone 5, it’s going to need a mainstream device from the likes of HTC, Motorola or Samsung. Given the slow rollout of previous new versions of Android, that may not happen until 2012, and who knows how many older Android devices will be eligible for upgrade, something necessary to convince owners to stick around.
The second challenger is one many won’t be expecting – Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 with the new Mango update. Mango will bring several new features to Windows Phone 7, and will fix a few of the first version’s niggles, but its strengths lie in two key areas – new hardware released internationally and mainstream appeal.
In Europe, Nokia will be releasing their first WP7 Mango phones, while several other manufacturers will be doing the same all over the world; plus all existing WP7 phones will get a free upgrade – showing a degree of support of which Android owners can only dream. Windows Phone 7 is user-friendly, attractive and provided the new hardware has some top-notch processor power, it could gain some much-needed ground later this year.
By putting themselves in the middle, Apple intends to show their competitors how its done. Make no mistake, this isn’t ‘defending’ against the Nexus S, or a decision made out of concern; it’s a bold, fearless attack designed to crush the competition. It’s started already too, as ask any regular mobile phone buyer about a future phone release and most, if not all, will talk about the next iPhone.
In the real world, Apple has already stolen the limelight from Microsoft and Google, and it’s going to take more than a niche device and some European goodwill to beat them.