Smartphones: The Decision

Seven months and seven days ago, I asked some friends and relatives for input on smartphones, specifically iPhone vs. Blackberry.

Not seeing any need to rush into this, I took my time before committing. I especially felt there was no need to rush into this since when you’ve been away for a while and you come back here, everyone looks very, ummm, tethered to their smartphones.

Nonetheless, I could see that given we were going to be here for a while, I might as well jump in, especially considering it would help me to evaluate opportunities for a few business models I was considering.

The first trigger point was when Steph was unpacking her office stuff out of storage and found her old Palm. She was giddy, since she was looking for a way to have her calendar with her while she was out of the house. Instead of either a) installing and supporting the LG application for her laptop that would synch her ancient cell phone to Outlook, or b) installing and supporting the ancient Palm application that would synch her equally ancient Palm, I chose c) and bought her an iPhone, which, since it’s from Apple, doesn’t require any support and never fails. Ever. At least that’s what I told her.

It was all enlightened self interest. It would allow me to play around with the iPhone OS and apps, as well as have one less thing to support in her information and productivity environment. Admittedly, that would be along the lines of one less grain of sand on the beach, but every little bit helps when it comes to supporting Steph and her digital domain.

But for me, after getting her iPhone set up and working with it a bit, I was still undecided. I also played around with a few Blackberries of friends, relatives and at the Verizon store.

While doing research on the mobile market in general, it became clear that the iPhone market was stuffed with existing applications and business models. If not mature, it was certainly crowded.

The same can be said for the Blackberry market: very robust, very mature, very stable.

So both of these options looked more than viable from the smartphone standpoint, but not very exciting in the market segment upside department.

Both were great devices, enthusiastically, even fervently supported by their patrons. OK, yes, some iPhone owners do cross the line into full-on, post-Kool-Aid, cult levels of rabid to violent defensiveness. Strand Consult, in a recent analyst report, even compares fervent Apple defenders, including some of the press, to Stockholm Syndrome hostages. But that didn’t put me completely off of the iPhone because I personally know several iPhone users who do not foam at the mouth. Most of the time.

In the end, my bottom line evaluation was:

  • iPhone – great UI, good to very good ease of use, more apps that you could ever wade through, ubiquitous accessories, and it includes the fruit logo guaranteed to gain you acceptance in certain quarters.
  • Blackberry – rock solid OS, secure platform, badge of honor in any corporate meeting room, fledgling app store and the best physical I/O device in the business (depending on the model).


Touch decision. But I had to choose one or the other.

So, my decision was: neither.

Instead, I waited until early November and bought an Android OS based Motorola Droid when they launched. I spent a few weeks with it, exploring the device, the apps, the OS and the user experience. Three days short of my 30 day cut off to return it, I mailed in the rebate form and locked on the typical American mobile carrier service agreement handcuffs.

Like the iPhone and the Blackberry, the droid is not perfect. However, unlike the iPhone and Blackberry, it’s a high growth market segment with a lot of opportunity. And it’s got some “the new new thing” buzz around it.


Biggest upsides:

  • Verizon network; no comparison between the real-world network experience between AT&T & Verizon, and that’s not even including the 3G aspect. AT&T itself admits its calls in the NY City metro area are dropped at higher rates than its internal standards. And that’s in New York City for goodness sake. Imagine what it’s like out in the hinterlands that lie between the Hudson and east LA.
  • Open platform, and it has been rooted for those so inclined.
  • Open development environment and market; no mysterious and arcane application screening process by Apple app store gatekeepers (although I understand the business reasons why they do this, and I would too if I was in their position).
  • Great screen.
  • Multitasking (multiple open applications)
  • HyperGeek developer community and nascent tribe (read: If I need to recruit some Ruby On Rails developers I might gain a little street cred by flashing my droid).


Biggest downsides:

  • Verizon network; uses CDMA, so unless I’m going to one of 40 or so countries that have some CDMA network coverage, it’s worthless overseas as a phone.
  • Lacks the trackball/trackpad of the BB, which is, IMO, by far the best user I/O device in any smartphone. Ever.


Biggest surprises:

  • I thought I had to have a physical keyboard but use it very little.
  • The small screen size of a smartphone vs. a laptop is less limiting than I anticipated for most things I do.
  • I’ve been using it for reading more than my Kindle. Especially useful for couch surfing, research, newsfeeds, etc.



  • The droid is not an iPhone and never will be. The iPhone wins the ease of use and optimized customer experience hands down. The result of this is the anti-iPhone (as in everything it is not) marketing campaign. I think the droid team did a pretty good job picking a marketing strategy. There was very little potential in anything other than an “uncola” approach.
  • The droid is basically a tribeless device. You are not going to automatically gain entrance into the cool hipster or locked-in corporate type tribes with this smartphone. While researching smartphones I found a story about a guy who went to D.C. for a new job and was told that he’d have to swap his iPhone for a Blackberry or it would destroy his career chances. The same would probably work in reverse if he was going to certain careers in LA or NY City. The only place the droid is cool right now is at meetups of Android OS / app developers. And that will last precisely until the next coolest Android OS phone hits the market.  



  • Smartphones are a little about telephony and a lot about a pretty powerful handheld, networked, mobile computing and media device with significant levels of internal telemetry.
  • The potential of this intersection point of capabilities (telemetry, geolocation, computing, media, network & communication) have not yet been even partially explored. Yes, even with the iPhone’s 100k apps. Not even close.


The numbers:


            Global GSM users: ~4,000,000,000 (4 billion)

            Global CDMA users:  ~423,000,000 (423 million)


Apple iPhone apps:  >100,000

Android apps:            ~20,000

Android apps market: 37.7% paid, 62.3% free.


Projected sales for Motorola droid between launch 9 November and year end: 1,000,000.


Smartphone OS sales in North America, Q2 2009 (prior to droid launch):

  1. Blackberry, 5,500,000
  2. Apple 2,600,000
  3. Windows 984,700
  4. Symbian (Nokia) 383,600
  5. Android 380,000
  6. Other 480,300


Global mobile sales, Q3 2009:       308.9 million, 0.1% increase year over year

Global smartphone sales, Q3 2009: 41.0 million, 12.8% increase year over year


Global mobile manufacturers’ market share, Q3 2009:

  • Nokia: 36.7% (down 1.5%)
  • Samsung: 19.6% (up 2.5%)
  • LG: 10.3% (up 2.5%)
  • Motorola: 4.5% (down ~4%)
  • Sony Ericsson: 4.3% (down ~4%)


Global smartphone manufacturers’ market share, Q3 2009:

  • Nokia: 39.3% (down 3%)
  • Research In Motion (RIM)(Blackberry): 20.8% (up 4.9%)
  • Apple: 17.1% (delta not reported) (7.04 million units in Q3)
  • HTC: 6.5% (delta not reported)
  • Samsung: 3.2% (delta not reported)




  • An Intel backed 4G standard named WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is currently rolling out in limited markets in the U.S., including here in Austin, Texas (see photo). A competing standard known as LTE (Long Term Evolution) will begin rollout in 2010 to 2011. U.S. WiMax provider Clear states their speed is 6 Mb/sec (mega bits per second) downstream and 1 Mb/sec upstream on its 2.5 Ghz (gigahertz) network. European LTE 4G system provider TeliaSonera promises speeds of 20 to 80 Mb/sec on its 2.6 Ghz network. Actual LTE data rate will depend upon the frequency at which your local system operates. For instance, Verizon has committed to cover the entire U.S. market with LTE at 700 Mhz (megahertz), which will probably deliver lower data speeds than higher frequency band systems. LTE is the clear winner in this global standards battle, even though it will be later to market, as it has majority support among infrastructure and device manufacturers, and carrier networks.
  • It wasn’t that long ago that we all got very excited about moving from a 10 Mb/sec hard wired network to the then-new, blazing 100 Mb/sec copper network. A global standard 20 to 80 Mb/sec. mobile network added to a two to five years increase in computing power at the handheld smartphone level adds up to some very interesting possibilities.
  • The mobile development market will remain fragmented. As if the world needed it, Samsung recently announced it would build its future smartphones on its own, proprietary OS named bada. Consequently, the cross-platform development frameworks space (Rhomobile, PhoneGap, Appcelerator, etc.), which implies, if not promises, “build once, run everywhere,” will continue to exhibit rapid growth. Acquisition of the leading players may happen prior to IPO, with appropriate suitors being the hot question of the moment.
  • In addition, mobile fragmentation is not just limited to the OS, it also includes the delivery of media, specifically video. In the long term, HTML 5 may handle video adequately all on its own. Prior to that, the pending release of an updated Adobe Flash player browser plugin will help it be fairly mobile ubiquitous. However, Flash will never reach the 96.71% market penetration it enjoys on the web on smartphones, if for no other reason simply because Apple won’t allow it on the current iPhone platform as a browser component, although they will allow standalone iPhone apps to display Flash based content. Consequently, video Content Delivery Networks (CDN) that handle all necessary scaling, formatting, presentation and delivery to all mobile platforms from a single segment of video media will remain viable for the near- to mid-term.
  • The majority of the world’s mobile users are using 2G phones on 2G networks. The highest growth rates in mobile are at the high end with smartphones and at the low end with very low cost plans, such as $2 or less per month, especially in India. While most people concentrate on opportunities at the high end, the numbers on the low end (3.5 billion users) are staggering. It’s important to remember that even 2G phones can do text.



The Clear WiMax marketing balloon drifts over our neighborhood on local market launch day morning, 10 December, 2009.



Sources: The Register, Strand Consult, Gartner, Cnet, Wall Street Journal, Wired,, 3G Americas, Gartner press release is here:

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