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Google has the edge in smartphone war

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Business Times, September 18, 2012

What does the newest iPhone mean for the future of mobile phones, mobile apps/gaming and mobile payment? Is the future we’ve dreamed of further away than we’d like or closer than we think? Last Tuesday, Apple announced their latest creation, the iPhone 5. It’s been less than a week and the waves are already reverberating around the tech world – and the world at large. The new iPhone is faster, lighter and has a bigger screen than its predecessor but the list pretty much stops there. People were expecting something revolutionary from the company that they have come to know for show-stopping presentations and brilliant design but what they got was something evolutionary. What does the new iPhone 5 mean for the future of mobile? Sadly, it means almost nothing.

The iPhone 5 is nothing short of an amazing piece of design, taking the already-brilliant look of the iPhone 4 and suiting it to the larger screen of the new 5. However, the critical aspects of the phone remain almost identical: the processor is only marginally faster, the main camera is identical and critically, the operating system remains almost unchanged. The new phone does add fourth generation LTE radios which will allow for extremely high-speed internet, but this is something that many other phones have had for going on a year now.

The iOS 6 is somewhat faster and somewhat smoother than iOS 5, and there are a few new interesting apps but the changes are so subtle that people probably will not notice. To prove this point, American chat-show host Jimmy Kimmel took an old iPhone 4S out on the street and told people it was the iPhone 5. People sang its praises and wondered at its magnificence; even comparing it to the iPhone 4 they were carrying without realising it was the very same device. This exercise shows the sad truth about Apple today; they’ve lost their touch and the demographic they attract doesn’t even realise it.

So, what is the future for mobile? Well, with the iPhone 5 proving that Apple is pretty much only in it for the paycheque and has no plans to innovate in the mobile space, who is left? The only competitor still around seems to be the ominous Google and their Android OS. Holding a whopping 68 per cent control of the smartphone market, Google’s Android OS will surely determine where the future of mobile phones is headed. Luckily for those of us who consider ourselves tech-savvy consumers, Google knows that innovation is the path to the future.

The latest version of Android OS, 4.1 “Jelly Bean”, was just rolled out on Google’s flagship phone, the Galaxy Nexus, and it puts the new iPhone to shame. Previously, the iPhone held an edge over many popular Android devices because it was smaller, but the iPhone 5’s growth spurt means that edge is gone and its OS vs OS. Android 4 is simply a brilliant piece of software and its newest version is full of unique innovations. A suite of Google tools are fully integrated from the moment you turn on the phone, giving you instant access to your mail, documents, music and contacts without even having to think. Furthermore, a new feature known as Google Now intelligently provides you with information it thinks you need, when you need it. Got a commute coming up? Google will put the directions in the dock in case you need them.

Searching for restaurants at home? Google brings the results with you to use when you get there. This is the kind of intelligent cloud computing that represents the real future of mobile. Add to that an incredibly smooth look and feel thanks to an initiative within Google known as “Project Butter” and you have an operating system that is suited for the 21st century.

Google is doing with Android what Apple no longer can: making improvements not simply to keep their customers satisfied, but improvements that revolutionise for the future. Apple has done brilliant things in the past, the first iPhone changed the mobile world for the better, and maybe it truly is the loss of Steve Jobs, but it feels like that brilliance has faded. I, for one, don’t think his spark is gone forever; the first iPhone wasn’t made to satisfy anyone except Steve Jobs and it ended up satisfying a generation.

Apple if you’re listening, think about what Steve would do, forget about your profit margins and get back to what you do best: making us say “wow”.

The writer is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community