With another year almost past I thought Iíd reflect on what has been in the mobile industry.
On the iOS front what stuck out was how Apple began diversifying their iPad lineup. At the beginning of the year we just had the iPad 2. A few months in we got the 3rd generation iPad with quadruple the resolution which was surprisingly replaced just a few months later with a 4th generation model which has the same resolution as the 3rd gen but with a faster processor.
More importantly, Apple released the iPad Mini. Basically itís an iPad 2 in a smaller package with a better camera and a lower price tag. While Apple really had a chance to strike at Android with the iPad Mini they basically maintained the status quo with the Miniís $329 price tag.
Regardless, thereís still room for a ton of competition in the tablet market.
Compared with the iPad, on the iPhone front we went from iPhone 4s to iPhone 5 in September. While it wasnít a huge upgrade over the 4s the 5 has a substantially faster processor, a more capable camera and most noticeably; a longer screen. The first increase in screen size since the iPhone came out about 4 years ago. Is it enough to compete with Androidís latest and greatest?
Itís pretty amazing that Apple has gotten this far with essentially one new model at a time. Of course, while variety is the spice of life thereís something to be said for just having one current model at a time. Having just one current model at a time makes it easier for customers to understand your lineup. It helps their phones maintain their value, stretches Appleís marketing dollar, lowers the cost per phone, etc.
It will be interesting to see if Apple will continue with essentially one new iPhone model a year.
While the iPhone 5 wasnít a huge upgrade, Android phones have been busy playing the hardware game. Screens have grown considerably, RAM and performance has increased, NFC has become more commonplace. To me, the biggest hardware trend in Android was the high definition display. Pretty much everyone has at least one phone with a 1280x720 display. In fact, late in the year HTC introduced a phone with a 1920x1080 display which appears posed to be the new 1280x720 for 2013.
While itís definitely a case of diminishing returns once screen resolutions go past 1280x720, itís still nice to know that the hardware game is keeping Android OEMís honest.
Samsung is the market leader when it comes to Android handsets and indeed; their Galaxy S III has aged very well so far, heck I still use one every day while the Note II is still the Android phone to get.
On the tablet front, things are a little murkier. One thing a lot of people donít realize is that most apps donít look all that great on an Android tablet. If you ask me the problem with Android tablets is that they donít cost enough.
Before you tell me Iím crazy let me clarify. Last year (in 2011) the first Ďtrueí Android tablet came out. Iím talking about the Motorola Xoom. I actually own a Motorola Xoom and Iíll be honest, it was crap when it came out and it has not aged well at all. It was slow and choppy. In fact, most Android tablets that came out in 2011 were similar. They had too much resolution for their processors (usually the Nvidia Tegra 2). That plus the fact that the first Tablet-focused version of Android was a train-wreck means Android tablets were off to a bad start.
Since Android tablets started off badly, it caused their selling prices to fall which means they donít get the same cutting edge hardware that their phone cousins do.
Now in 2012 hardware has improved somewhat. Many tablets are now powered by Nvidiaís Tegra 3 processor. Itís not the fastest chip out there but it provides adequate performance. The problem is Androidís bad start on the tablet front means that the tablet software side is a bit stunted. So, whenever I use an Android tablet things just donít look right.
Luckily, thereís a huge place in the market for Android tablets. After all, the alternative, an iOS tablet will cost you at least $329. Sometimes price matters.
Weíre also seeing Android branchout. I have a Samsung Galaxy Camera right now and while itís not perfect, itís clearly the future of still cameras. Android media boxes which connect to your PC are also becoming popular (hopefully they figure it out and it doesnít get fragmented to death).
Windows phone started off the year slowly. While the ecosystem did see the LTE enabled Lumia 900 and Titan II but their lower resolution 800x480 displays and single core processors kind of got lost in the wave of Android hardware. Yeah, some will say that hardware doesnít matter but as someone who has used both they didnít have enough under the hood to compete. If youíre not the market leader, you have to try harder on the hardware front, not put less in your phones and then try to explain it to customers.
Later in year we saw Microsoft do something pretty amazing. A simultaneous launch across their desktop, laptop, tablet and phone operating systems. On the desktop and laptop side we have Windows 8, a touch optimized version of Windows. Windows 8 can also be found on tablets but Microsoft also has Windows RT, a version of Windows for tablet which runs on ARM processors (the same kind youíll find in iPadís and Android tablets). Then we have Windows Phone 8. Confused yet?
Windows 8 is a much needed release. My observation is that the desktop and laptop markets have been stagnant for a few years now so something drastic was needed. Heck, I used to be a huge PC nerd who upgraded my desktop and laptops yearly but havenít done so in about 2 or 3 years. Still, whether or not Windows 8 is what the doctor ordered remains to be seen.
Windows RT is very confusing. It looks just like Windows 8 but it doesnít run the legacy programs you expect it to run. I guess whether itís good or not doesnít really matter since consumers donít understand it.
Windows Phone 8 is another much needed release. With it comes with the requisite new hardware. Between the Samsung ATIV-S, HTC Windows Phone 8x and Nokia Lumia 920 theyíre not quite enough to compete with what you get on the Android high-end but they definitely bring enough hardware to the table that theyíll be able to complete for the next few months.
Will Windows Phone 8 be enough to ensure the future of the Windows Phone ecosystem? Will Nokia be around a year from now? The future on these two is still murky.
Itís funny to reminisce about Blackberry in 2012 because to be honest, nothing much happened in 2012. RIM has been lying low in 2012 as they conserve their resources for their big Blackberry 10 launch in 2013. Yeah, there has been lots of rumors and news about BB10 but for their actual handsets that you can purchase now, itís been very slow.
I guess on a personal note, the most interesting thing to happen to me Blackberry-wise is that I finally picked up a Bold 9000. A friend gave me hers when she was done with it so Iím pretty happy to add it to my collection.
So itís been a pretty interesting year in 2012. Will 2013 see the pace of change speed up or slow down? Certainly, on the tablet front it should be interesting if iPad continues its dominance or whether Android will be able to gain traction with itís lower prices.
Will Apple start speeding up the pace at which they release new phones like theyíve been doing with tablets?
Is Microsoft going to become a player on the mobile side or are they going to just be a Ďthird choiceí.
Speaking of third choices where will Blackberry fit into the marketplace with BB10? Stay tuned!