I can remember the decision that led up to me purchasing my very first smart phone. Sometime around the end of 2003 I had managed to land myself 4 different part time jobs, mostly because none of them would give me the hours I wanted. This of course meant that my schedule was a tad hectic at the best of times and I found that managing all of them at once usually ended up with me showing up at the wrong place at the right time. So I got myself a cheap and cheerful PDA that ran Windows Mobile and kept my schedule in there, letting me keep track of everything and making sure I never disappointed my various bosses again.
About 3 years later I had landed my first ever System Administrator job and I thought that since I was such an IT bigshot (HA!) I would need a device to match, casting my aging PDA aside. A couple clicks through Ebay and $1000 later I was in possession of an O2 XDA Atom Exec and all the pains that it brought along with it. Initially I was pretty happy with my purchase as it let me do away with 2 devices in place of one and the upgrades to Windows Mobile made it a lot more usable that its predecessor.
Still I can remember trying to use the Internet on it and being extremely disappointed. Apart from the ludicrous charges from my mobile carrier (which was Telstra at the time) most websites failed to render properly and would take an impossible amount of time to load. The experience improved every so slightly when I was in range of a wifi point but considering the only places that had free wifi were in fact my or any of my friend’s houses the usefulness of a mobile web device was completely and utterly non-existent.
I’d mostly given up on the mobile web until the end of 2008. My O2 XDA last legs had long fallen off and it had developed the cute problem of switching itself off if you bumped it even slightly. After doing the rounds for a phone I had initially settled on a Nokia N95 although that quickly got traded in (long story short, got sold wrong model) for a HTC Diamond. The slim device came with a bevvy of Internet ready applications and I had specifically chosen a carrier that had a decent 3G wireless plan to make use of them. It seems that the bad taste that I had left over from 5 years ago was about to be washed away by the minty freshness of a mobile Internet revolution.
And was it ever. I set up my email to sync directly to my phone, my RSS feeds would update every morning before I headed out to work and I always had the weather forecast at my fingertips (with cool animations to boot). The Internet experience was much improved thanks to the Opera Mini browser that does a lot of the heavy lifting on proxy servers before forwarding you the results and the speed of 3G brought all those web pages to me in a time frame that was actually quite usable. I even went so far as to put my phone on my employer’s network and had my work email being pushed to my phone as well, which proved to only be mildly useful but a good demonstration to the higher ups.
The last year has seen a tremendous amount of growth and refinement in the mobile Internet experience and I’m begrudged to admit that its due to Apple’s iPhone. The original iPhone made highly capable (and expensive) phones the ubiquitous status symbol that so everyone wanted. The release of the 3GS made a point of making the mobile Internet experience something that should be available and extremely easy to use. This in turn put the other smart phone giants on the back foot to bring about a similar experience for their users, which until recently they’ve been struggling to do.
Google has done extremely well in this regard with their Android platform steadily gaining ground on Apple every month. It’s got to the point where I can’t say the growth is due to the tech crowd anymore, there has to be a good share of everymen buying Android handsets. It also can’t be due to the Nexus One either, as the numbers were looking pretty good before its release early this year. Whilst they’ve still got a ways to go to dethrone Apple as the number one (7.7 million sold in 2009, 60,000 are moving every day apparently) they’re looking to keep competition healthy in the mobile space, which is a win for us consumers.
Microsoft on the other hand has been extremely slack in this space. Whilst I’m very excited to get my hands on the Windows Phone 7 series devices (I really should install that emulator…) mostly due to their 0 cost to entry for programming on them the first retail device isn’t scheduled to be released until late in the year. Couple that with the fact that their share of the mobile Internet space has been in the single digits for almost 2 years now means that they’re probably the furthest thing from everyone’s minds when they’re going to buy a new phone. It will be interesting to see if they can turn their luck around and make the mobile scene a three horse race, but I’ve got my doubts.
In all honesty the revolution in the mobile space should come as a surprise to no one, but it always gets me when I’m rummaging through my desk and I happen across my old O2 and just remember how far the whole scene has come. With the latest hand helds coming out with processors that were considered top of the line in desktop PCs just a decade ago the days of a phone just being a phone are long behind us, and the future is always looking that much more awesome.