The other day, when we posted about this idea that you have a choice when it comes to your mobile device, we didn’t really get into what kinds of choices that you have. With that so fresh in memory, and some people looking at what kinds of options they will have at some point this year when it is time to look for a new mobile, let’s put out there some platforms that are worth taking a look at – platforms beyond the Apple iOS and Google Android ones that are essentially the usual choice in these moments.
Back when MMM began, Microsoft was the large and reaching PC arm that made life all kinds of difficult for many mobile companies. They were successful in part because of their strategy of attacking phone-like mobiles with their Windows Mobile Smartphone platform, and the PDA/PC-like devices with their Windows Mobile platform. After the iPhone, such a strategy was nixed for something more coherent, and largely a forshadowing of the kinds of changes all of Microsoft’s products would see. The result is called Windows Phone, and depending on your perspective, its either a really good idea, or one that needs a bit more to be complete.
The major companies selling Windows Phone devices are Nokia, HTC, Samsung, and a few more up-and-coming companies. The base experience with Windows Phone devices assumes consistent connectivity, and something of an attachment to or trusting of Microsoft’s cloud services and developer-enabling to knit a solid experience. Social networking integration is played up big, but done in a manner that relies on hubs to information, rather the apps-per-service. I had some extended time with one Windows Phone device and cannot say that I came away totally convinced that it was perfect for me. However, I have come across several people who have Lumia devices and really do like them. I get why they do, and given the way their lives are connected around people and events, Windows Phone does make for a decent choice there.
Like Windows Mobile, BlackBerry was around even before MMM got started. Then, it was all about the super-professional who used it to keep connected, or the kids of those professionals who received the hand-me-down and utilized BBM and the tight messaging experience to stay connected. And also similar to Windows Mobile, the BlackBerry platform is seeing a reinvention of itself. In about a week, the first all new BlackBerry devices in over a year will be unveiled (during the Super Bowl for those USA football fans out there) and these will be a radical departure in everything except the attention to security, typing, and getting things done that has always marked this platform.
BlackBerry is only made by one manufacturer (RIM, the parent company), yet sold through carriers. Generally, its been a very friendly platform for carriers to carry. Developers have also found the BB platform a bit of a hidden gem (one of the little known facts about applications for BlackBerry is that they constantly make developers more money than on other mobile platforms; those who own a BB are more likely to pay for software, and more likely to have the money to pay for it).
The closest device in my stable to this upcoming BlackBerry is the Nokia N950 (pictured) which uses the MeeGo operating system. BB10 (the new platform for BlackBerry devices) shares some with it, and refines a good bit of things along the way. The gesture-based interface to peek at notifications and running applications, the separate work and personal modes, and even the ease at which it will integrate with automotive and big-screen experiences goes a long way towards making this a platform to not count out. Sure, you can get a BB7-powered device right now, but that won’t be upgradable to BB10, and you will certainly miss much of the energy that developers and carriers will put towards making sure this new one is a huge success (webcast tomorrow too, so yea, peep that energy).
Several Other Choices
The other thing that 2013 seems to have under its belt is the rising of many open source-based mobile platforms either being announced or even to the point of having devices available. Here’s a small summary of the notable ones:
- Tizen: perhaps the only one of these other choices that has a ton of muscle behind it. Tizen is an Linux-based open source effort that has its foundings in the previously mentioned MeeGo initiative. Samsung is the primary company behind Tizen and has promised that at least one Tizen-powered device will be unveiled at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in a few weeks. Aside from integration to Samsung’s other product families (TVs?), there’s not much known yet about its targeting or what the aim for this platform will be from them. Given Samsung’s abilities, they could literally pull off anything.
- Jolla: another movement/project/initiative which comes from the ashes of Nokia’s Maemo/MeeGo efforts, Jolla has already announced their platform, called Sailfish OS, and carrier agreements in Finland and India. Its assumed that the initial focus for devices will be in Eastern Europe and Asia, with other markets getting attention as they ramp up production and marketing. Thing is, Jolla doesn’t so much want to be like HTC or Samsung, they posture more as a movement, and I wonder how that will influence the uptake of devices – especially by those in the mobile ministry sect.
- Firefox OS: from the folks who brought you the web browser that literally changed the game, the Mozilla Foundation seeks a similar disruptive performance in mobile with Firefox OS. Firefox OS is the web-based entrant of this group, borrowing lessons from Palm/HP’s webOS, Nokia’s Maemo, Intel’s Moblin, and even some from Apple. At this point, they’ve already announced the platform and a developer preview phone. What remains to be seen is the kind of effect Firefox OS will have as its being pointed at areas that are still getting 3G up and running, and the Internet while there, isn’t a primary aspect of being on a mobile device.
- Ubuntu Mobile: the last platform worth keeping your eyes on, and one in which has a bit longer of a gestation period, is Ubuntu Mobile. Very much like the full Linux distribution, Ubuntu Mobile is designed to shift the power of the mobile device into the hands of the user, not so much the service providers who might offer the hardware. Right now, there is a preview version of Ubuntu Mobile available (a) for those with certain Android devices or (b) those with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and want to go the route of building from near scratch. The first official devices should be here in 2014, and there’s much work happening on the OS, but its also one to watch as it will be similar to Tizen and Jolla in that there’s Linux on the back and lots of leveraging web frameworks in the middle.
And Then There’s…
Honestly, there’s not much more out there. Yes, you can make the argument that there’s just too much happening in terms of this focus on smartphones and there needs to be something said for non-smartphones. I won’t disagree with you. I’ll just point out that its a lot simpler, you might be happier, and things just work. Non-smartphones are still very solid choices, even if becoming a limited option if you shop through a carrier store. Your best bet is to seek out a mobile phone brand you are familiar with, and then use sites like GSM Arena to compare similar models.
You also might be like a few folks and find that Android is a better place for your mobility than Apple, which also isn’t a bad decision to make. You just want to be sure that you also count the costs in terms of applications you might need to repurchase, getting used to a different form factor, or getting acquainted with some of the niggles between tablet and phone experiences. Its different to move to something new, even if it does seem like a near-copy of what you used to use.
Having said all of that (and if you got to the end of this), I hope this helps you make a decision this year or upcoming when its time to look at mobile devices. I’m not of the opinion that mobile is no longer about devices, but I do think that its a better environment when we know our options, and exercise the freedom to go mobile in the best way possible.