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Rory Cellan-Jones

How smart does your phone need to be?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 20 Nov 08, 12:50 GMT

If you're a mobile phone user - and we in the UK have more than one phone each - prepare for a marketing blizzard over the coming weeks. Christmas has become a vital period for the mobile operators and retailers, and it's often a chance for them to give a bit of welly to something new.

This year, among the new handsets jostling for attention, are two very different products which tell us something about the way the mobile market is going. I've had a play with both the Blackberry Storm and the INQ1 over the last few days - but I'm not entirely convinced that either handset will deliver what its makers are hoping for. Because both are made by firms convinced that we want something different from what they've offered us so far.

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The Storm is the first touch-screen Blackberry and the latest, most serious attempt by its makers RIM to break out of the business market - which has been a pretty happy hunting ground for the Canadian company and make its way into every consumer's pocket.

On the plus side, it's got just about the shiniest, most vivid screen I've seen on a phone. Watching a movie on it would be a pleasure, and it has all the multimedia capabilities that you would expect on a high-end handset. But for a phone aimed at the consumer, who may not have the corporate back-up that many existing Blackberry users enjoy, it's extraordinarily complicated to set up and I spent a long time trying and failing to synchronise with my desktop computer.

Of course, it's the touch screen which is the key selling-point of the Storm. It's described as "funky" by Vodafone, which has got an exclusive deal to sell the phone, and it clicks in an interesting way when you press on it. But both I and my colleague Dan Simmons found it difficult to use, not very responsive, and generally rather frustrating.

What a Blackberry has always been brilliant at is e-mail - and it's simply harder to write and receive an e-mail on a touchscreen Storm than to hammer away with your thumbs on the keyboard of an old steam-driven model. So business users may be reluctant to switch to a Storm, and, in a depressed market, RIM and Vodafone may struggle to find consumers who think it's worth paying around £40 a month to own such a smartphone.

The mobile operator Three is coming at the market from the opposite end with its cheap and cheerful INQ1 phone. Three spent billions on a 3g network and then tried to persuade us that we wanted to make video calls and download music - which the firm now admits was a complete waste of time. It's now convinced that there's a huge section of the mobile population which wants to use its fast data network to surf the web and chat on social networks - but doesn't want to pay for a smartphone. Hence the INQ1 - or, as it's been dubbed, the Facebook phone.

It's an unremarkable handset - nothing like as cool as the Blackberry Storm - which you wouldn't want to use to watch video or download music. The makers says the INQ1 isn't a smartphone, but a social phone so it has Facebook, instant messenger services, and Skype right there on the tiny screen. Three has decided the killer app for the mobile phone of the future is - wait for it - communication.

Now I didn't find the phone particularly easy to use - for my ageing eyes it was almost impossible to read the screen while updating my Facebook status - but I don't think the INQ1 is aimed at me. As someone on a contract with plenty of call minutes thrown in, I'm not sure why you'd want to make a Skype call from your phone. However, the INQ1 contracts offer very sparse minutes but plenty of data, and for the kind of young user who relies on texts and instant messages, rather than calls, it could be attractive.

So two very different views of what we want from a mobile phone - a shiny, all-singing, all-dancing fashion object which can do just about everything you'd expect from a small computer and a utilitarian communications device which you might not want to wave under your friend's nose. Which of the two will perform better at Christmas? The result of that contest will tell us something about our economic well-being, as well as our tastes in technology.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    I guess they'll call this new approach to product development of their's "Communication 2.0" or some such other trite marketing mumbo-jumbo.

  • Comment number 2.

    "it has all the multimedia capabilities that you would expect on a high-end handset"

    It doesn't have wi-fi which seems like a serious omission to me

  • Comment number 3.

    Our MD returned his Storm as you need to subscribe to blackberry enterprise solution to sync with exchange, went for a newer version of palm, with Windows mobile 6.

    Also, the storm broke on second day.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm more than happy with my iPhone, with MobileMe for personal use and my Exchange Mail account for work.

    Plus, from the App Store I have Facebook, a few games, Movie times, train times, Last.fm etc. and the new Google App with voice search...

    Everything else just seems too clunky to me.

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm one of those folks who has an old Nokia, no camera, no MP3, no colour screen. I turn the phone on and take it with me if I'm going more than 20miles away in the car. Otherwise it sits on the shelf gathering dust. I've yet to understand the 21st century's attraction to the mobile phone with all sorts of strange bells and whistles.

    My phone needs approximately twelve keys (including 0-9,*,#), a mouth piece and an ear piece. I press a sequence of numbers a remote voice at the other end says "Hello" and we have a simple conversation.

    It takes me about half an hour to compose a twelve word txt msg, so I don't use those. I don't have sharp pointy fingers so these gizmos with tiny qwerty keyboards are off the menu.

    The clunkier the better for me and the price tag needs to be less than £30. So I won't upgrade unless someone gives me one for free or when my Nokia dies a death.

    I had a secondhand Motorola RAZR for a while, but it didn't survive a tumble onto the floor. I did like the predictive text on that, could do a txt msg in 15 mins on that one.

    Perhaps I'm a luddite.

  • Comment number 6.

    My kids love gadgets, they are the marketing managers dream.

    Sadly I act as Financial director.

    My phone of choice Nokia E51 wifi bt, 3g, and I can talk to people.

    The trouble is far to many people feel they are Captain Kirk and can "beam me up Scotty" on a video phone........................

  • Comment number 7.

    Dont bother with the Nokia E51 if you have even a few business contacts. You can't search on company. So if you have entered "Vodafone" as the company that the contact "Douglas Barnes" works for on Outlook before synching with the E51 and you know that you want to speak to that man from Vodafone but can't remember his name, you are stuck.

  • Comment number 8.

    I have the new Samsung Omnia, and i have to say it's fantastic! With windows 6, as well as the phones os, its a pretty nifty piece of hardware.

    Syncs to my computer really easily, copy contacts, make/add new appointments on the computer, then plug in the phone, and straight away the phones sync't.

    sometimes txting can be a pain, however i'm installing the iphone txt message software to tackle that.

    Watching full legth movies on train home, listen to music, surf the web WiFi.

    I can't get any better than that.

  • Comment number 9.

    re "we.....have more than one phone each". I beg to differ as a lot of people don't have one at all and many of those that do do not use them. I have had phones in past but have never managed to get them to work and never had a need for one that made it necessary to take the trouble to struggle with badly worded instruction books.

  • Comment number 10.

    @hesmanes

    I also have an Omnia and it's great. Best phone I've used.

  • Comment number 11.

    Not entirely sure you can talk about any phone at the moment without mentioning the iPhone, especially a widescreen/touchscreen/capacitive feedback one that's clearly aimed at the same market.

    I think the Storm should fair better then the G1 in the consumer market, because it at least looks like someone has designed it. But it is an absolute no for business users.

  • Comment number 12.

    'welly'? Can you write English please; this is the BBC.

  • Comment number 13.

    Myself and my partner do not have a mobile and have never had one, so where do you get this rubbish about everybody having one? Though we do have a computer.

  • Comment number 14.

    "I also have an Omnia and it's great. Best phone I've used."

    You've quite obviously never used an iPhone ;-)

  • Comment number 15.

    Comment 13, quick mathes lesson, there is something known as an Average http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average to quote wikipedia "The average is calculated by combining the measurements related to a set and to compute a number as being the average of the set."
    As there are around 61 million people in the UK but 74 Million Mobile phone contracts, on average we in the UK have more than 1 mobile phone each.
    That doesn't mean that every single person has 1.2 mobile phones, some people will have 3 others none. But that is how an average works.

  • Comment number 16.

    My phone need not be smarter than I want it to be. A phone that can leave twitter trials automatically (using GPS lookups over GPRS or 3G or WiFi) is great, but I dont need it. A phone with which I can email my boss when am on the move is great, but I'd rather talk to him - preferably face-to-face, or by phone (yes, phones can still be used to talk to people, as far as I know). A phone that let's me watch youtube on-the-move is good, but I'd rather read a book, or close my eyes for a milliseconds of peace, or just observe fellow humans around, going through their complex lives, and yes, feel superior to them ! Life really begins when you get over technology push.

  • Comment number 17.

    I am now on my second O2 XDA, and have even managed to get my luddite father to get one, htey are that simple to use. Admittedly not the prettiest phone ever, but mine has literally everything I could possibly want in a phone, Wifi, GPS, slide out qwerty keyboard, touch screen, ect...

    Coincedentally, my father also had a blackberry but returned it in a week! Far too difficult to use for him!

  • Comment number 18.

    We must be reaching the point where mobile phones are regarded as just another every day device instead of an exciting “cool” innovation. When we reach this point mobile phones will start to have fewer features and suppliers will start to compete on price instead of gadgetry and looks.

    I am old enough to remember how this happened with pocket calculators. When they first came out they became more and more complex with evermore features added. People would get their new calculator out at the pub and show it off to their mates just like they do now with mobile phones. But at some point people stopped being excited about them and calculators became the straight forward inexpensive devices that we see today. I expect the same thing to happen to mobile phones – the forthcoming economic recession will probably accelerate the process.

    Ten years from now will laugh at the excessive complexity of today’s’ mobile phones just as we laugh at the flared trousers of the 70s.

  • Comment number 19.

    "The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jonetechs and Dan Simmons put two mobiles aimed at very different users to the test, the Blackberry Storm and 3's INQ1. "

    "Cellan-Jonetechs", indeed.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7739684.stm

  • Comment number 20.

    #5

    "Perhaps I'm a luddite"

    Not quite, the Luddites smashed textile machinery in a doomed attempt to protect jobs that had been made redundant by new technology...

    Your'e just sensible. Only buy new technology when it does something you want to do, not because it's got "Apple" written on the box.

  • Comment number 21.

    mine is a phone and a walkman - it does ok for me

  • Comment number 22.

    @ 14

    i have used the iphone, it's ok i guess, though if i want to listen to music i'm not tied to having to convert all my songs to AAC format (very tedious) and there are a number of things the iphone can't even do!

    so until Apple can make the iphone with all music format support, put a flash with the camera and more mega pixels, be able to record video, have a removable battery, hmmmm and maybe a few colours other than black, oh and not have it tied to one network.

    Then i might have a look at getting one if the price is right.

  • Comment number 23.

    I regularly call my brother-in-law in Canada via my skype phone while I drive back from work in Derby. It has its uses!

  • Comment number 24.

    @22,

    Straight from the Apple iPhone Tech Specs (http://www.apple.com/iphone/specs.html%29:

    Audio formats supported: AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible (formats 2, 3, and 4), Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV.

    You do not have to convert anything to AAC, it will play MP3, WAV, AIFF. About the only format it can't play is WMA, but if you have iTunes on a PC, it will convert all your WMA files to AAC.

    All your other points are moot in my opinion.

    And you can get the iPhone in white (16GB only) as well as black, plus there are a plethora of cases available in any colour you desire.

  • Comment number 25.

    @ 24 hmmmmmmm nope im still not convinced, however thanks for posting that info on there, it was an alright read,

    Anyway if i did buy one Apple will only come out and say that they've designed the new iphone and it will be released in a month or something. I'll wait to see what the next one brings

  • Comment number 26.

    @25,

    Well if you perpetually wait for the next model you'll never buy anything!

    It's your choice. Personally, my iPhone is incredible, I can truly work from anywhere now (Exchange ActiveSync, plus MobileMe keeps me in sync), plus you can buy (for no more than a pint of lager) Apps that make the iPhone even more powerful.

    I have AirSharing (turns your iPhone into a wireless Hard Drive), MobileFiles (access your iDisk from anywhere), Net Utility (network diagnostics), and VNC/RDP so I can logon to my networks from anywhere.

    Plus the games are fantastic - I have tons of them, most are free, but some are worth the small fee. Air Hockey is such good fun, and 2 player as well!!!

  • Comment number 27.

    I really wonder what these people do all day with just their devices to keep them company. Being "in sync" surely means an out of touch Billy-no-Mates. Making or receiving a phone call is about as exciting as...as a phone call. Unless, of course, it's that blonde you've had your eye on, ringing you for date. It must be something to do with still living at home...

  • Comment number 28.

    @ 25

    You should get a job in sales! By the sounds of it you actually use the phone and not just get one because everyone else has one,

    Airsharing sounds pretty nifty, how does that work? Via bluetooth? The other apps you mentioned sound similar to what i use on my phone.

    I've turned my phones UI into what the iphone uses, the slide to unlock app, even my main screen is the same as the iphones main menu, games are available too that use tilt motion sensor.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi hesmanes,

    http://www.avatron.com/products/

    Basically if your iPhone/iPod touch is on the same wireless network as your computer (Mac, PC or Linux), then you can connect to it wirelessly and use it as a hard drive.

    All clever stuff, and incredibly useful.

  • Comment number 30.

    I find the public obsession with the mobile fairly inexplicable, [although I can see why combining it with a camera makes sense.] It's expensive to use, intrusive, easily lost, fiddly, distracting, difficult to read, highly irritating to everyone else when used in a public place, dangerous for drivers, and completely dispensible except when on longer journeys. I do have one, but when I REALLY need it - stuck up Ben Nevis, or afloat on an upturned yacht in the middle of the Atlantic, I can't use it anyway. But what really really bugs me is, that, while the mobile becomes more sophisticated year on year, the technology of the humble homephone (now even further reduced to being called the 'landline') remains exactly the same as it was in the dark ages!
    No, its my opinion that the mobile is a marketing coup foisted on a gullible public who like to have something to do with their hands now that cigarettes are out of fashion. Its a marketing coup almost on a par with bottled water . . . I'll leave THAT bugbear for another day.

  • Comment number 31.

    Used my first mobile at work about 20 years ago. Needed to have a company car to go with it as the phone and two batteries weighed about 2kg and the spare battery had to be kept on charge in the lighter socket.
    Tried everything my friends have shown me through to Blackberry and i-phone. Have gone back to my old Samsung C300 on pay as you go. Still going after several years, battery lasts most of the week, and messages to me are restricted to texts.
    No fancy stuff + no problems and no hassle from everyone else.

  • Comment number 32.

    "You've quite obviously never used an iPhone ;-)"

    Actually I have - for about 10 days. Nice phone but too many limitations.

    Unlike yourself I don't limit myself to one company's products. :)

  • Comment number 33.

    Mark_MWFC,

    Care to name the limitations?

  • Comment number 34.

    For me they were:

    1) No expandable/swapable memory
    2) Reliance on iTunes for loading
    3) Can't use it as portable USB storage unless you install additional software on the Mac/PC which sort of defeats the purpose
    4) No Bluetooth phone to phone transfer
    5) Poor camera
    6) No MS Office edit functionality

  • Comment number 35.

    1) Is 16GB in your phone not enough?
    2) You can use iPhone Configuration Utility for enterprise to configure iPhones if you need to.
    3) You can use Air Sharing which uses zero-config bonjour, and you can access your files using any browser.
    4) Easily fixed by Apple in a software update. Not really a problem for me, but I can understand why it's important for some.
    5) All phone cameras are poor. Again, megapixels do not make a good camera. Lens quality, processor all play an important part, and no phone has a good enough lens because they are too small.
    6) Try EverNote, or wait for MobileFiles which does allow editing of MS Office files (but to be honest, the thought of opening and editing a Word/Excel/PowerPoint document on a tiny screen is the stuff of nightmares).

    So I think I've covered all your complaints. Any more questions?

  • Comment number 36.

    Just the one really:

    Why are you giving me a load of irrelevant answers which don't answer why the iPhone doesn't suit my needs?

  • Comment number 37.

    Phone makers should try and match utilitarianism and cost effectiveness in a much better way; and, in an effort to cram as many features onto the newest phones, having a phone that seeks to replace a sat nav, camera, laptop, iPod etc and it becomes the jack of all trades.

    It's also a bit unfair to compare the two phones because both are appealing to distinctive markets.

  • Comment number 38.

    rory,
    it has to been very smart.

 

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