By Tham Yeun-C
EVOLUTION revolution - that's what's been happening in the world of smartphones.
Over the last couple of years, these gizmos not only have the smarts to get folks working faster, better and more securely, they have also upped the fun ante.
This year, even smarter smartphones are set to hit stores near you.
No wonder then that a rash of these devices have flooded, or will flood, the market.
Samsung today unveiled its highly anticipated iPhone look-a-like, the Samsung Omnia, which is slated to go on sale here this month. The touchscreen 3.5G smartphone also comes in 8GB and 16GB versions and boasts a 5-megapixel camera.
Taiwan's HTC will also launch the Touch Diamond here later this year. The flat, all-black touchscreen has a 3D user interface with animated weather widgets and motion sensors that allow people to play games by just tilting the phone.
Then, there's Apple's highly anticipated 3G iPhone and Google's Android platform, both slated for a launch this year.
All in, expect animated widgets, more videos, games, and easier hook-ups to music and friend-making Web services such as Facebook. Phone makers are banking on these cool tools to attract a new type of smartphone user - those who do not necessarily want the phone just for a 24/7 connection to their e-mail inbox.
High speed mobile broadband services such as 3.5G, 3G and Wi-Fi are paving the way for today?s bandwidth-hogging music and video applications.
Dial up the fun
CREDIT the iPhone, which burst onto the scene last June, for bringing back the buzz around these advanced devices.
"Apple has put pressure on traditional vendors to improve usability and come up with more intuitive user interfaces," said Carolina Milanesi, director of mobile devices, technology and service provider research at Gartner.
The iPhone also redefined the profile of the smartphone market, attracting close to 6 million users who bought it more for its looks and YouTube-watching diversions than for working on the go.
Nokia country manager Grant McBeath said many of those buying Nokia's smartphones were "people who want to be entertained [and] to access the Internet anytime, anywhere".
At Research In Motion (RIM), long a major player in the enterprise smartphone arena, the tide is also turning.
"The mobile world has evolved dwell beyond phone calls and simple messaging to solutions that connect people to everything that matters most to them," said Gregory Wade, regional vice-president for RIM in Asia Pacific.
Busy professionals make up the bulk of the company's 14 million subscribers. But last year, RIM launched the BlackBerry Pearl, a prettied-up version of its device that came in candy colours such as pink and red.
Recently, it partnered DipDive, a social networking platform started by Black Eyed Peas member Will.i.am and inked a deal with Microsoft to provide Windows Live instant messaging services - popular with the younger set - on its smartphones.
Microsoft is also muscling in. In 2007, 11 million phones were shipped with the Windows Mobile software used in smartphones. The Redmond-based giant expects the numbers to hit 20 million by the end of its fiscal year in June.
During a recent tour of its Mobile and Embedded Devices Experience design centre in Seattle, Andy Lees, its senior vice-president of mobile communications business, talked about injecting ?fun? into the operating system (OS), traditionally considered complex by analysts.
He hinted that some big changes to the eight-year-old OS are afoot, but gave no details. Already, at the innovation lab in its Seattle campus, there are anthropologists, designers and audio engineers tweaking the OS for everything from user interface to start-up tunes. One prototype measures just 2.5cm by 5cm, barely bigger than a lipstick.
Although Microsoft is not planning to make devices, insights gained from these prototypes are shared with its device partners who might incorporate some of the design elements into future devices, said Tonya Peck, a senior manager at the lab.
"Smartphone makers are starting to realise that the archetypical business user is really just myth," said Aloysius Choong, research manager at IDC's personal systems group. "No one has just business needs, so smartphone makers are gearing up to fulfil these other personal, entertainment and aesthetic needs."
This article was first published in The Straits Times, Digital Life on 10 June 2008.