Mobile Phone Madness

The mobile phone market is currently experiencing an explosion of new devices and features where every manufacturer is trying to outdo each other and get a piece of the pie. Just have a look on GSMArena at the different models available (or announced) for each brand. HTC has 37 models listed, Sony Ericsson has 149 models listed, LG 228, Motorolla 233, Nokia 261 and Samsung has a massive 457!

That's over 1300 different phones just between 5 manufacturers. Granted not all of these are current. If we take a look at the 'Coming soon' phones, HTC is currently sitting on 1 (the Hero), Sony Ericsson on 10, Motorola 15, Nokia on 16, LG 31 and Samsung 48!

Now a lot can be said about these stats. The first thing that pops to mind is that Samsung is spamming the market. Why does a manufactuer need to concurrently develop, manufacture and release 48 different models!? Choice is good for the consumer though, or is it?

I won't get into a debate of what's the best mobile phone or the best manufacturer as I have no personal preference or allegiance to anything in particular. It's interesting to take a look at the different marketing strategies however. Apple have come in with a single device, now in its second (or is it third?) iteration and have dominated the market (or at least have done well for themselves, I don't have sales figures to compare). The likes of Samsung, LG and Nokia have been in the mobile phone business longer and have also done well for themselves, but rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, they seem to be dominating by sheer numbers with perhaps fewer sales on each individual model.

So how does this impact the consumer? The way I see it is if you have an iPhone, you'll be sticking with it for at least a year or two before an upgraded model comes out, which is good considering the price of these things. If you buy a Samsung on the other hand, by the time you're done signing your contract and walking home, a new model will be announced with a bigger and better camera, bigger and better screen and a new custom-made whiz-bang interface. Too bad you're probably stuck on a 2-year contract though...

Now again, I'm not favouring the iPhone. Hardware-wize it is inferior to a lot of new devices out there. The new 3GS release is particularly dissapointing, especially with only a 3.2MP camera with no flash (only a marginal improvement over the original 2MP model). Sony Ericson is soon to be releasing the Satio, a 12MP full touchscreen phone with both Xenon and LED flash. Likewise Samsung will be releasing the Pixon12, another 12MP phone with Xenon and LED flash. These leave the iPhone 3GS for dead spec-wize.

The reason the iPhone does so well is because there's only one model. This means everyone is using the same hardware and software, which means application developers can target a very large audience, hence more incentive to support the platform. Also Apple can focus all their quality-control and attention on the one product, rather than 48! This means a clean user interface that has probably gone through lots of user-acceptance testing and trial groups, and continual maintenance and feature updates (although does it really take 2 years to implement copy-paste and MMS? And how much longer till bluetooth file transfer? Software Update 5.0?).

Even though the iPhone doesn't do multi-tasking, or bluetooth file transfer, or have a decent camera, it sold over 21 million units by March 31st 2009 (according to Wikipedia). This is before 3GS even came out (released in Australia today btw, and if the marketing hype is anything to go on, it will be just as successful if not more so than the original).

As a techy sorta guy, I don't want to buy an iPhone because it's technologically inferior (both hardware and software features), but looking for alternatives is so confusing that it makes you wander... Do I wait two or three more months for the Satio or the Pixon12? And by then, what else will be announced? Will it make me want to wait even longer? The thing is though, no phone will ever come out during this period that will keep a tech-addict satisfied for a 2-year long contract period. The technology is evolving way too fast to keep up with the latest and greatest.

I'm currently still using a Nokia N73 relic because I keep putting off upgrading to next month, and the month after, and the month after that. On my current wish-list is the Nokia 6700 (slim-metalic S40 with 5MP), the Nokia E55 (slim-metalic S60 with 3.2MP, WiFi, GPS, compact qwerty, long battery life), the Nokia E52 (identical to E55 but with regular T9 keyboard), the Satio and Pixon12, the HTC Hero (hate the case, love the Android customized interface) and the Samsung Galaxy (first Samsung Android, but without all the pretty UI customizations of the Hero). Also on the horizon is Windows Mobile 7.0 (no release date yet), Google Android 2.0 Donut (rumored to be the first Android version used on a Sony Ericsson) and possibly the mythical Microsoft Zune Phone.

Of course, by the time any of these actually come to a store near me, at least 10 or 20 other hot new models will be announced which I'll be reading reviews of and drooling over while others will be happily showing off their 3GS with the light-saber application, and I'll still be texting on my slow and buggy N73.

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