Sizing up iPhone 4.0 competition

Features Marin Perez 09:25, Apr 08 2010

It's an incredibly competitive landscape and Apple needs to do something special with iPhone 4.0 to continue to be seen as the leader in the smartphone space

Today's iPhone 4.0 unveiling is sure to fill many developers and consumers with glee, but the competitive landscape has changed from only a year ago when iPhone 3.0 was seen as head-and-shoulders above the rest. I'll break down what the other players are doing and how likely it is that they can take the crown from Apple.

The heavy hitters: Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone 7

Google's little green robot is gaining momentum among developers and consumers, and recent data from comScore suggests it has overtaken Palm in U.S. market share. It is also apparently within striking distance of Microsoft.

The Android platform is the geek's first choice because of its ability to multitask and the simplicity of gaining root access. With devices like the Motorola DROID and its $100 million marketing campaign, it has also found mainstream success. The search giant is also now available on all four major carriers and it may soon tackle that pesky fragmentation problem. I would also expect Android 2.5 to not be too far away, maybe as soon as Google's I/O conference next month.

For all its open goodness, Android just doesn't have the same polish or visual beauty of the iPhone. If, as expected, the iPhone gets some form of third-party multitasking, this will neutralize one major advantage Google has. Also, I find it ridiculous that the searching and discoverability on the Android Market is so poor -- this is the company that's bathing in money because of its search prowess!

Research In Motion is still kind of seen as the stodgy businessman device but it still remains the smartphone leader in the United States. The platform is not the most app friendly -- it was never designed for this -- but there are signs RIM is working on a complete overhaul of the operating system. Don't discount RIM because it's very smart, knows the industry better than nearly any competitor and can show some unexpected creativity sometimes (the company won a freaking Oscar).

Microsoft has shown it's not washed up with Windows Phone 7 and this is going to be a full-throttle push against Apple. Unlike the iPhone -- and Windows, I suppose -- WP7 is trying to break away from the app-centric paradigm. Instead, Microsoft is integrating app-like features into centralized hubs that could provide an incredibly compelling and holistic experience. This new user metaphor could be incredibly powerful and should resonate with a large number of customers.

Additionally, Microsoft is the only major competitor that has a content delivery ecosystem that could match iTunes. Apple's iTunes is an unheralded factor in the success of the iPhone and App Store because the company already conditioned users to be comfortable purchasing content with a click. Microsoft's Zune store could be a formidable challenger and the unlimited music subscription service is a clear differentiator from Apple's offerings (at least for now).

Puncher's chance: bada and Symbian

Samsung's bada OS and Symbian are basically considered also-rans but don't underestimate the power of the world's largest and second-largest handset makers. Bada, which means "ocean" in Korean, is a natural extension of the company's TouchWiz UI because it essentially makes everything an easily-accessible widget. I briefly had some hands-on time with the Samsung Wave and I wasn't blown away with it, but I was pleasantly surprised with how fluidly it operated and how useful the OS is.

Symbian is now technically an independent foundation outside of Nokia's control but we all know the largest handset maker in the world will be a major proponent of the aging OS. To its credit, Symbian has gone open source in order to create new versions that potentially capitalize on the zeal of the community. Unfortunately, I have been less than impressed with Symbian^3 and Symbian^4 hasn't exactly knocked my socks off either.

Still, the sheer size and scale of Nokia and Samsung means these platforms will be used by millions of customers around the world, which will attract multiple developers. That's nothing to take lightly.

Thanks for playing

Palm's webOS is an incredibly elegant and intuitive platform but the economic hurdles facing Palm are too much to overcome. If Dell, Nokia, Lenovo or even HTC acquired Palm, then we'd have a significant challenger. I'm still drooling at the idea of webOS at scale on stellar hardware.

Contact Marin Perez via email or follow @Marinperez on Twitter

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