Recent Reviews of Familiar Features
After reading a weighty Endgagdet Review and a shorter review from a tech fan I respect, Fred Wilson, I've reached some conclusions about smart phones as a group. They are rapidly converging on a just a few hardware equivalents of APIs.
Almost all the successful designs have touch screens, a mediocre to good digital camera, and are focused on browsing. Some designs mention multi-tasking as a killer feature, but even the weaker multitasking smart phones are quite capable. The iPhone is very capable of allowing me to enjoy music, write this post, while jumping to external sites to copy links. Some architectures (iPod/iPhone) allow all available SDRam to be used by apps, while others have very restricted memory space (all android phones so far). Still, these limitations or lack of restrictions don't make or break the device. The design tradespace is rapidly converging on what users need in a pocket sized portable computer.
- Fully Internet capable in the simplest manner possible. Remembering previous networks/authentication is a must. 3G/4G, wifi whatever gets us connected reliably
- Quality Phone - not necessarily a Telco network
- Largest quality display possible while fitting into a pocket
- a rich software library, but more importantly an active developer community (these guys and gals never get enough financial credit for their efforts). Combination web based/local resource apps are ideal
- Best digital camera and supporting software possible (I'd love bigger optics & faster image snapshots)
- GPS, gyroscope/accelerometer. Must have for augmented reality apps
- Speakers, "has sound" is a killer feature
Local Apps versus the Internet
Although there are many solid local apps for the iPod/iPhone, Blackberries, and Android variant smart phones, most users leverage the Internet connection for reading, writing, and web services. Even apps that are natively Net functional (Foursquare) are much more engaging than stand alone games (Bejewelled). As my friends get Foursquare it gains in utility, but Bejewelled (as fun as it is) remains linear in improvements (developers hours). This ties into designs that leverage Network effects to ride the wave of mutiple user value added.
The next generation of smart phone has more in common with its siblings than differentiating features. The shared interface between human and machine is the convergent quality. Look for the leaders to address this interface as a primary design concern going forward. Perfect voice activation is one level of interface, but imagine interfaces that recognize gesture, neural signals to muscles, and ultimately a device that is capable of recognizing the electronic signals of your mind.
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