The myth of the smartphone wars

There's more room in the mobile phone marketplace than for just an iPhone and another handset platform, such as Android.

Although the iPhone has a lot of admirers, it's possible to critique a smartphone without making it seems as if we are destined to default automatically to the iPhone and only one other rival platform. There should be enough room for more than two platforms coexisting without expecting one's imminent demise.

I can tell when someone is harboring an iPhone superiority complex. The thought process goes something like this: "If you don't use an iPhone like I do, then you must randomly choose a phone off the shelf, have no platform or brand loyalty, and are certainly no connoisseur of electronics."

Apparently, in that mindset, non-iPhone users will fall for whatever looks closest to an iPhone but is not -- for some reason that iPhone users can't fathom but nonetheless speculate wildly about. (Disclosure: I own and use a Motorola Droid 2 and like it.)

The New York Times Bits blog opined that the Windows Phone 7 is not really a threat to the iPhone, but will be to the Android platform, mainly because Microsoft's touchscreen is better -- and after all, the Android touchscreen is "a grainier copy of the iPhone's design." Again, the argument goes that Windows Phone 7 is more iPhone-like, so therefore it's better and all Android users will flock to it.

Unfortunately, that's not the case. The Windows Phone 7 from Microsoft is not the iPhone, and it shouldn't be. However, it allows better integration with Office and Sharepoint servers, and will be able to sync with computers, including Apple products.

It also allows users to choose from among nine different devices, including four new handsets from HTC, Dell, LG, and Samsung. The Windows Phone 7 will also have a user-friendly interface with hubs that merge applications and content.

These are all things the iPhone doesn't have. But the biggest thing the iPhone doesn't have is choice, something that is integral to both the Android and Windows Phone 7 platforms. Perhaps the choice is not in applications, although Android has plenty and Microsoft is adding to its inventory. But the choice could be in the kind of experience users want -- in choosing a handset and carrier, and being allowed to view their smartphone as simply a device -- rather than seeking a vessel that gains them entry into some Apple "religion" where outsiders are viewed as deviants.

The reality is that less than 1 in 4 Americans owns a smartphone. This is probably especially difficult to understand for owners of an iPhone who seem to extol its virtues as if it's their precocious toddler, or who spend more time with it than a significant other. The majority of Americans most likely think that gawking at your phone is annoying and downright pretentious.

With that large a market share for the taking, the smartphone market is wide open to whatever captures potential users' interest, which could be Microsoft if its message resonates with consumers and businesses who have an eye for efficiency.

If most people only spend an hour on the handset each day, mainly dealing with e-mail and some light Web surfing, they may not feel the need to have something that Steve Jobs called "one of the most beautiful things we've ever made."

My hope is that the market can have a small number of successful platforms, and business can use all three of them, choosing whichever ones work best with their particular mindset and business values.

Reach or follow Barbara E. Hernandez on Twitter: @bhern.

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Tags MotorolaThe New York Timesconsumer electronicsMicrosoftsmartphonesCell PhonesiPhonePhoneswindows phone 7

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Barbara E. Hernandez

PC World (US online)
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