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What went wrong with the smartphone?


The problem with predicting the future is that people do it for themselves. They see the future they want to have. This is what led ARM to believe that 30% of the phones that would be sold in 2004 would be smartphones. A prediction they made in 2003. In 2007 the market was about 15% smartphones. And most Nokia N95 users only got one of those because it’s the ‘best’ Nokia they could get free with their contract. Indeed many of them would be much better off with an 8800.

People don’t even buy PCs as a platform, they want “the internet” or “word processing”. To think that they want an open OS where they can install applications on a phone is as odd as to think that they want an open OS where they can install applications on their television. Today many set-top boxes run Linux but it’s there for the convenience of the programmers not for flexibility for the consumer.

Of course it’s not just ARM which has made this mistake, and ten billion cores on, they haven’t done too badly. It’s been worse for anyone trying to sell one of those open OSes. They have been as much of a money pit as a Cornish holiday home.

I can’t plead immunity. I saw the SD I/O card in a phone as being as powerful as the ISA slot in a PC.

If you work in the industry you’ll have been badgered by people who say “I just want a phone that makes calls”. If you push most of these people you’ll find that there is one other thing they use, be it internet access, music or the camera. And that’s the answer. Not a phone that does a bit of everything but which does something well. If Apple was braver they would not have put a camera in the iPhone. It does music well, very well. Anyone who wants a cameraphone should go and buy a C902. If you want push email you buy a Blackberry (to supplement your voice phone).

And that is what has happened to the smartphone. People have been smarter than the manufacturers. Consumers know what they want a phone to do, and it’s not a bit of everything. It’s one thing well.

Of course with 3 billion phone users out there, plenty of people want a bit of everything, but a lot of those work for companies like ARM working out what people want in the future.

If you are a regular reader you may have noticed the button for the Computer Weekly awards. I’m up against some much more established blogs so I would really appreciate it if you could vote for me in the Mobile Blogs category.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here.



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