Smart phones – they are finally popular in North America!

Written by  on January 10, 2009 

If you don’t know me, I love my smart phones.  My first smart phone was the Nokia 3650, a Symbian-based smart phone in 2003.  When TV shows and magazine articles started to talk about taking pictures and videos, listening the MP3s on the phone in 2006 (and made it sound like magic), I often question them by saying – what is the big deal, I have been doing it since 2003.

In 2006, most of Eurasia already had 3G high speed access, video calling, and a lot of other cool ideas.  North Americans are sadly lagging in this area due to poor understanding of the technology – perhaps due to resistence to change, our obsession for free handsets, and the extreme high cost of paying an average cellular phone bill. I know because my monthly bill between my three cellular phone lines cost $400.

I think 2009 marks the year of smart phones – we have Apple and RIM to thank for the popularization of these devices (and the push of much needed cheap data plans).  Alan of course have been using smart phones for the past 5 year to see a progression of faster (processor speed/video) and smaller phones, with better cameras.

  • 2003 – Nokia 3650
  • 2005 – Nokia 6680, 7710 (Yes, I had a touch-screen smart phone in the day)
  • 2006 – Nokia N80, E61
  • 2007 – Nokia E61i, Blackberry 8830, iPhone 2G, HTC S720
  • 2008 – Nokia N81, iPhone 3G, Android G1, Blackberry Storm

A few notable features of the new phones are:

  • Applications: most applications in before 2007 were focused on productivity, and almost all of them are not tied to a function of any particular web sites.  Facebook and Google created the demand for applications that serve the purpose of a particular website, which also drived the need for Smart Phone platform standardization and a central application store.
  • GPS: I was really hoping for the Assisted GPS (AGPS)/Advanced Forward Link Trilateration (AFLT) to take off on the CDMA networks. Unfortunately with the high cost of deployment and the mobile network’s need to realize profits for their AGPS deployment ultimately caused the mobile location space to muture two years late.  AGPS/AFLT have been deployed in North America since 2005 for the purpose of E911, but the providers felt that they need to protect this information for revenues rather than innovation.  I am so glad Nokia, BlackBerry and iPhones have GPS chips built-in so that we can use location-aware applications such as search and navigation
    • Side note: iDEN phones by Motorola were the first phones that incorporated the GPS chip long before AGPS/AFLT, but the network/phones were industry-specific
  • Music capability: farewell MP3 players, hello all-in-one phone/MP3 players. I have been enjoying this integration much longer than most typical Canadian/American just because I have been using phones from Eurasia.  I am glad they have merged the two together – now I can identify songs from the radio using Shazam, stream audio from, listen to MP3 from my 8GB microSDHC card, and take a phone call all without taking out my headset during a bike ride.
  • Camera: we still don’t have the crazy 7MP+ cameras with Xenon-flash on our phones like the ones found in Japan or Korea, but with 3MP you can finally do something useful like book cover/barcode recognition. QR codes are finally are reality in North America if the application is pre-installed on the phones.

My take on my latest smart phones?

  • Android G1: by far the most pleasant experience that a smartphone can get for configuration/set-up.  Gone are those complex “please insert CD to computer and load a million software” steps. It has been replaced with a simple “please enter your G-mail account info to continue”.  Within 2 minutes of me entering the info, my phone was usable, with my calendar, mail, and contacts all synchronized to my Gmail.  You have to hand it to Google for owning the search, e-mail, profile, and now the phone – it may not be the prettiest, but it is smooth.
  • Blackberry Storm: I was surprised at the crisp display and easy to use touch screen.  I love the fact that the screen is a giant button, and to that there is a difference between hovering / pressing on the touchscreen.  The application library is somewhat lacking, and the keyboard is as annoying as the iPhone one, but at least it works.  The rotate function is cute for the first 5 minutes, but it is no longer cute when a small bump can flip you between orientation.
  • iPhone 2G/3G: no comment.  It has the coolest application store, and the iPod integration is by far the best media player from any phone platform.
  • Nokia: still keeping my options open on the E71, but my E61i has been a reliable workhorse. The os is slow, but it is much more reliable than the rest of the phones out there.

Category : mobile