Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Phone have all become smart

Once upon a time, you could only make voice calls and text a message with a mobile phone; and all those phones were basic or feature phones. Around 2000, Research in Motion introduced Qwerty keypads, brought in features like emails and instant messengers, and positioned BlackBerries as good enough to do office-related work. These devices came to be called smartphones because they made office workers “smart” and increased work productivity.

Smartphones are typically expensive, since they have advanced features. They have bigger storage space, faster processors, wider screens, touchscreens, advanced browsers for surfing websites, and they can be used to download applications and run them. Apple added a popular dimension to it with its iStore from where apps could be downloaded.

Now basic phones have turned smart. There’s this typical anecdote of a basic phone user cocking a snook at a smartphone user by playing Angry Bird, sending emails and uploading photos on the go to his Facebook. The game-changer was Google’s Android operating system, mainly because of the open-source nature of Android. Samsung’s Galaxy series, LG and Indian models like Lava began bridging the divide. Android created quite a wave that has still not abated.

Nokia, the handset many Indians will easily associate with, has been a tad late to wake up; but has caught on. Instead of reinventing the wheel it went back to its good-old S40 operating system, dating back to 1999 and on which its basic phones operate. It tweaked the OS sufficiently to make applications, which usually work only on smartphones, to run on it. So, we have a series of Asha phones that Nokia hopes will give handsets that operate on Android a run for its money.

V Ramnath, Director Sales, says, "Our next billion consumers are young and urban, hyper-social and hyper-aspirational. They want the smartest phones at prices they can afford."

Not just games, the new S40 phones also come with many utility features embedded in them, like eBay, ngPay, ESPN Cricket, Bookmyshow, Yatra.com, BharatMatrimony and Bejan Daruwalla's Ganesha Speaks. Having such sites embedded means the average no-so-tech savvy user finds accessing them much easier.

They also come with improved Nokia browser that compresses data much like the market leader Opera Mini browser. Data compression means you pay less for internet connection.

Blurring of the smartphone-feature phone divide will mean more and more users getting online on their mobile, validating the hypothesis that the next generation will experience internet first on their mobiles rather than on PCs.

(This was published in the Wireless World column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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