At the New York City CEA Line Show the organizers of Digital Downtown… To Go! Presented a discussion geared towards the future of mobile smartphones. The Rise of Smartphones: Capabilities, Convergence and Confusion, which was moderated by Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis of consumer technology at NPD Group looked at where the handsets are headed and what consumers should expect from the devices in the coming months.
Nigel Rudstrom, VP of Services at Nokia, offered some interesting insight, noting that just a few years ago the mobile phone market was really driven by $50 handsets. “The feeling,” said Rudstrom, “was that the more expensive phones couldn’t sell.”
Now of course we’re seeing the growth of handsets that aren’t exactly smartphones, but are what the industry calls “feature phones.” These are the devices that are still running a native OS rather than a more powerful operating system such as Windows Mobile, Android or Symbian. But we’re seeing the introduction of devices that are able to do more. This is where the panelists, which included several individuals from around the mobile phone industry, agreed. Mobile phones are moving towards becoming “two-handed devices,”
Consultant Richard Sherwin agreed however that there is still consumer confusion over so-called “one-handed” devices and “two-handed” smartphones. This is a good point to make, considering that many feature phones appear similar (at least design-wise) to the smartphone sitting next to it in the display cabinet. Given that the pricing can vary drastically between the two handsets, consumers might not understand how much bang for the buck the more expensive smartphone now offers.
Sherwin also added that the simple addition of one or two “killer apps” on a phone was all the difference it took to make that particular device a best seller. And he also touched upon one of the most important issues with smartphones. While these devices can do it all, or at least promise to do it all in their marketing campaigns, the first break in the link is often the ability to be used as a phone! “Being able to hear clearly when you’re making a call, and have the services work is important,” said Sherwin. “Or the phone won’t be used as much.”
Peter Rojas, co-founder of gdgt, also weighed in on what a feature phone or a smartphone today needs to be successful. “To be taken seriously you have a good browser, a good mobile camera. The bar has gotten very high. And the iPhone is responsible for that, but Palm is responding with the Pre.”
Rudstrom also offered some food for thought in how smartphones may continue to evolve. While there may be some patterns similar to the development of desktop PCs, mobile phones (notably smartphones) offer abilities the desktop, or even laptop PC, lacks. Mobile phones are context aware; meaning it knows where it is, when it is and who is often using it. Thus, we might see more context aware applications, such as location-based apps for smartphones. Just don’t expect the new 4G networks said Rudstrom to change the apps overnight. “That is highly unlikely. We need more efficient throughput, including handoff to Wi-Fi and other support for the 4G networks.”