Thursday, November 06, 2008

iPhones for General purpose computing and a quick Android comparison

IBM Researchers Using iPhone App Store as Test Bed | Gadget Lab from

Typing this waiting for my plane on my old notebook, I begin to wonder if the notebook's days are numbered. My notebook is not that old when seen from a conventional viewpoint (what's conventional nowadays?!!). It is 3 years old. People still watch movies that are 3 years old. Children are still considered young when they're three. Nature doesn't change a whole lot in 3 years. But in the technology industry, three years is an eternity.

Three years ago, the iPhone wasn't there yet. Mobile computing referred mostly to notebooks with a handheld here and there.

The PC was within the reach of most people - but to use it one would have to be slightly computer literate. But a phone was a different matter. Anybody could dial a number and receive a call. People took to SMSs like fish to water. It is amazing how the cellphone revolutionized communication and raised the general awareness of a user.

A marriage between a communication device and a computing device was imminent - but Apple, as it is known to do, did it so stylishly that the world was left moaning oohs and aahs. So much so, that there is a whole bunch of imitators following. Whether the iPhone will be eclipsed a la IBM by Intel/Microsoft is left for the world see.

In the US, where the devices are subsidized by the service providers, the iPhone is quite affordable. And my unscientific polling showed a-not-so-insignificant part of the population sporting old and new iPhones. But it is still basically a computing platform.

The current Apple products seem to exude this avant-garde quality which people really love. And sure enough - you have tons of developers falling over each other to develop their apps for the iPhone. Other companies would kill for that kind of a fan-following.

It also seems to be an ideal computing device. No wonder IBM is testing it out as a general app bed.

I don't know when SETI@home (BOINC) will start an iPhone version - to run when the iPhone is charging up and so on.. And you know what? Some one has thought about this a year ago here...

Currently there seems to be at least a version on iPhone and iPod touch. We have enough evidence now to show that people are considering the iPhone more as a generic platform.

Now for the other part. How can Google not salivate when it saw all the traffic it was getting from iPhones. As is well known, a phone using Google's much touted Android was released a couple of weeks ago. Android aims to bring a reasonably powerful computing platform to lower end phones too. To me, it is doing a Microsoft to Apple's IBM. (comparing the PC platform to iPhone-like platforms). And of course, its Chrome browser in its Beta gives the rest of the browsers some hard competition.

Unfortunately, the Android phone (I had it with me for a bit) - at least the first version seems to have floundered. Actually, it is pretty OK but if you look at the expectations people had from it, it was just too much.

Apple has had the luxury and/or burden of making the entire iPhone right from the HW to the SW and packaging. I don't know how much of a say Google had in influencing the packaging - apparently not enough.

Even an old iPhone looks shiny whereas a brand new "gPhone" appears dull and used. With the map application, the Google phone becomes discernibly hot in a matter of little more than a minute. The iPhone wasn't so. The intuitiveness of the iPhone seems to be missing in the HTC phone also. And battery life seems a little worse too.

If you looked at the Android phone by itself, you would say that it is a very good phone. But who buys anything without comparison?

That said, Google's first shot at the iPhone should be taken seriously. They have some really smart people working for them and support from a couple of other manufacturers. They might do well on the third or fourth try - which is not far away, btw.

Coming back to the original thread - Apple and Google have made general computing devices out of phones. I don't know when such devices will reach a level of battery consumption and ample performance where it can be considered general-purpose enough. That day seems fast approaching now with companies pushing envelopes aggressively.

We have an interesting battle to witness now. May the better one win! The consumers will win anyway...

PS: This is one of my few posts on technology. I don't know why I wrote this or if I'll write on such topics again. Anyway.. it is random enough....

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