Thursday, January 31, 2008

Will Only Outsiders Deliver Innovation in Mobile Phones?

When Apple introduced the iPhone, many of the established mobile phone makers publicly scoffed at Apple's ability to enter the mobile phone market, especially once they saw the pricing and the absence of a physical keyboard.

Palm CEO Ed Colligan "laughed off the idea that any company — including the wildly popular Apple Computer — could easily win customers in the finicky smart-phone sector. 'We’ve learned and struggled for a few years here figuring out how to make a decent phone,' he said. 'PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.'" Three months after launch, the iPhone had about triple Palm's market share in the US.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer proclaimed, "There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." Again, just three months after launch, iPhone was outselling all Windows Mobile phones combined.

Of course, we've also seen a lot of established manufacturers introducing iPhone knock-offs in an attempt to compete with the iPhone's success. You might have noticed the LG Voyager, since it's almost always shown with an iPhone-like home screen.

Gruber sets us straight: "That's actually not the main UI of the phone. That's just the interface for accessing secondary features of the phone. The main UI is just like that of any other crap LG phone, and one of the 'apps' you can launch is the iPhone knock-off 'shortcut' mode. And, when you open the slider, the inside screen has a third different UI. The overall experience is worse, way worse, than that of a typical LG phone."

Google has a new open platform, Android, under development that may offer some innovative devices once they start shipping later this year. And Nokia's N95 receives rave reviews, except for it's ridiculous $695 pricepoint.

So who is going to offer a real competitor to the iPhone in this space? Sure as heck not Motorola. They've done such a fine job with the ROKR and the Q. How about Garmin? "What," you say, "the GPS maker?!" Well, sure. Why not. If a computer maker with a great UI can make an awesome phone, why not a handheld GPS maker with a great UI?

Meet the Garmin Nüvifone. Okay, they might need to work on the name, but this phone hits all the other bases square: attractive case design, 3.5" touchscreen, built-in still/video camera, SMS and MMS messaging, a whole host of Google apps (search, maps, mail, traffic, weather), and, of course, GPS-based navigation (duh). Plus it's Wi-Fi and 3G capable. Anyone besides me see a legitimate iPhone competitor here?

I sure hope Apple does.


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