Choices: iPhone, WebOs or Android and why RIM must rewrite

The Mrs is looking to take the leap into the world of smartphones.  Up until this point, she has used a traditional cellular phone and an old fashioned Palm Z22.  The combination has worked okay, but the requirement for frequent manual syncing of the Z22 due to recurring data loss is frustrating.  It is time for a change.

As I am reviewing options, the realization has struck me that what really matters is the OS.  I define the OS as not just the software that runs on the phone but also the supporting infrastructure.  Apple has masterfully innovated through their iPhone OS and complementary applications such as iTunes and the AppStore.  Apple created an entirely new and highly profitable business model with these products.  They then ported the same technology to two additional platforms in the iPod Touch and the iPad and further extended their reach.  In fact their OS and infrastructure was so revolutionary that they have made few changes to it since the launch in 2007 and it still is the leader.

Clearly Apple re-thought smartphone technology and the market and left competitors struggling to catch up.  Competitors have adopted different tactics to address the challenge.  Some like Google with Android, Palm with WebOS and soon Microsoft with Windows Phone have adopted to completely re-write their OSes to compete with Apple.  I think that this is the best strategy because it enables them to learn from Apple and take advantage of the newest technologies in software and hardware.  HP implicitly acknowledged the strength of this approach by purchasing Palm.

The alternative strategy as pursued by RIM and Symbian is to extend an existing smartphone OS to provide iPhone-like functionality.  I believe that this is the most difficult approach and is fraught with risk.  Legacy OSes were designed when physical keyboards were a luxury and the original software architects could not have imagined today’s advanced smartphone applications and interfaces.  Trying to upgrade these legacy OSes with the newest technology is a massive challenge.  The poor reviews of RIM’s first touch screen Blackberry, the Storm, is an example of the difficulties.  I believe that both vendors would be better served with a complete rewrite.

Back to my search for the phone for the Mrs.  As you can imagine, I believe that the right choice is a smartphone using a nextgen OS such as Android, iPhone or WebOS.  I am not comfortable with the maturity of WebOS and so the choice is between Android and iPhone.  Clearly, the iPhone wins today’s popularity contest, but its closed nature and use of AT&T’s over-subscribed network is troublesome.  The other option is Verizon’s Droid Incredible by HTC.  I like the open nature of the Incredible and the integration with Google on the web.  As it stands, I am leaning towards the latter, but discussions are ongoing.

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