Don Moore

Me And My Not So Smartphone

In Blackberry, Cell Phones, iPhone, Microsoft, Smartphones on August 11, 2010 at 11:18 PM

Last week Research In Motion (RIM) unveiled the Blackberry Torch, the newest in its lines of popular smartphones. Blackberry, long the king of smartphones in the US, has begun to show chinks in its armor: 2010 marked the first time since 2007 that the Blackberry OS is not the top selling mobile platform in the US, having been surpassed by phones running the Google designed Chrome OS. Coupled with competition from Apple’s omnipresent iPhone line, Blackberry’s reign seems in serious jeopardy.

Given these circumstances, the Torch was seen as RIM’s Waterloo, its last stand against the wave of sleek, modern smartphones overtaking the market. The response to the Torch was decidedly underwhelming. Its noted shortcomings were the same as every other Blackberry device before it: its screen resolution is vastly inferior to those of the iPhone and marquee Android phones; it’s processing is underpowered; it relies too much on its physical keyboard in a touchscreen age. In short, it is too much like the smartphones of five years ago.

The debate over whether the Torch is modern enough to match iPhone and Android devices are reminiscent of the debate over Macs and high end PCs running Windows 7: In reality, a large number of users—a plurality, in fact- still make do with Windows XP, the platform first released nearly nine years ago. Likewise, millions of smartphone users rely on devices that are primitive compared to the Torch or iPhone.

I am one of those millions. For the past four years I have used the same T-Mobile MDA running Windows Mobile 5.0. If Blackberry is outdated, Windows Mobile is positively archaic. Windows Mobile software has used the same basic architecture since its inception in 2000, making it a year older than XP. The hardware is no better: older Windows Mobile phones use resistive touchscreen technology, which requires the use of styluses. Newer smartphones sue capacitive touchscreens, which are sensitive enough to allow input with a fingertip. The processor has a clock speed of 195 megahertz, a fifth of the state of the art 1 gigahertz Snapdragon processor being used in modern phones. The 240×320 display stands in stark contrast to the iPhone, whose self described “retina display” which features a 960×640 resolution- a resolution so high, Apple says, that it is impossible for the human eye to distinguish between individual pixels.

Then, of course, there is the size. Perhaps the most noticeable trend of 2000’s phone design has been the race to be paper thin. This is where my MDA’s age shows most clearly: it quite literally resembles a brick in shape and size. I’ve had my phone likened to a brick by others, as well as had it confused for a point and shoot digital camera. Nicknames for my phone bestowed upon it by others include antique and dinosaur phone.

My friends and coworkers display genuine incredulity at my ability to survive with such a relic. The reality is, I make do with an outdated smartphone because I use it as a “dumb” phone; I have no mobile data plan, and use my phone strictly to make calls. Without web pages and videos to load or apps to download, lightning fast processors and crisp high definition displays are unnecessary. My approach to mobile technology is decidedly old school, and it is in this environment that Windows Mobile phones, as well as Blackberries, thrived for so many years.

The days of a phone being primarily a device for making calls are numbered, however. Blackberry began life as a line of phones focused heavily on email and messaging. The Torch simply builds upon this legacy with more emphasis on web browsing and multimedia functions. Even Microsoft, which has seen its phones lose market share to the likes of RIM, Apple, and Google platforms, has seen the writing on the wall. They are scrapping the Windows Mobile OS in favor of a completely new Windows Phone 7 platform. The new OS will introduce fingertip input, high resolution screens, modern processors, integrated Zune music players-Windows will try to out-Apple Apple.

And what of Windows Mobile devices? Microsoft has stated that upgrades will not be available, meaning all current phones running a Windows OS, including mine, are at an evolutionary dead end. Lack of software support (or even hardware failure, given enough time) will eventually force me to move on to a bolder, sleeker new smartphone. Maybe I’ll even buy a data plan, too.


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