If someone asked you to pack five articles for a doomsday survival kit, your smartphone would surely make the cut.
It piques my curiosity that something so central to our lives is most often purchased on an impulse, as we yield more to our superficial instincts on such things as looks and reputation, rather than make a well thought out decision on what works best for us. The best way to illustrate this is to compare how most of us buy a smartphone against how a homemaker would purchase a pressure cooker. Just visit a nearby home appliance store to find out just how many questions are asked.
At the risk of exaggerating, I would say picking a smartphone, these days, is like identifying a partner. What sort of partner — romantic or business — depends entirely on you. But it surely is a marriage or a business agreement of sorts. And there is no bluffing here. If you end up with the wrong partner, it could be painful. Add to that the fact that you might get jealous of people who made the right choicee.
Smartphones have taken a very long time to reach the stage they are at today. The dinosaurs to today’s evolved smartphones are the PDAs (personal digital assistants) that made its appearance in labs and niche markets nearly two decades ago.
When we say today that phones are getting smarter, what we effectively mean is that they are getting more human. Smartphone manufacturers constantly assign human values to devices in their advertisements. There are phones with personal assistants that have human voices, others that understand our gestures, respond to our voices and run algorithms that constantly study our behaviour. Our phones know what food we like, what movies we hate and the music we like to chill out to.
While these features are getting standardised across smartphones, the choice to pick the right phone becomes all the more challenging. Effectively, when we buy a smartphone, we commit ourselves, like we would in a human relationship, to an ecosystem — be it Android, Apple, Microsoft Windows or Blackberry.
And this has several strings attached, just like in an Indian marriage: it is not enough to know just your partner, but also the overbearing uncles, the annoying aunts and the friendly cousins. Each of the mobile phone operating ecosystems comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Which brings me to the central recommendation on buying smart phones: pick something you know you have a future with and one that can sync and connect seamless with other digital devices you have. Some of the mobile phone ecosystems are flourishing and others not so much. A good yardstick will be to find out whether the developer community is enthusiastic about the mobile operating ecosystem. Check if the latest and the most happening Applications (apps) are available in your phone’s marketplace.
For the most bang for the buck, see whether the handset vendor pushes out regular updates of the mobile operating system. You don’t want the spark to run out all too soon.
Like all relationships, this too requires constant revision and reinvention. Some of the Android handsets, for example, that were sold just six months ago are unlikely to find the latest software update.
In one of his candid conversations with veteran technology writer Walt Mossberg, Apple’s Steve Jobs said he viewed Apple essentially as a software company that manufactured hardware. What that effectively means is, when you buy a smartphone, you are essentially getting a device that is a gateway to an ecosystem.
If all the research sounds geek and Latin to you, there is the old-fashioned way of picking a smartphone based on the specifications. That is more like picking a partner based on a matrimonial advert — it might still work but only if you are willing to take your chances, make some compromises and don’t mind doing things in a little last-century style.