Friday, January 22, 2010

Here's what I want in my next phone

Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.

By my last count, I regularly carry as many as five different devices in my bag, with lots of overlapping functions. But I seldom want to carry more than two, and one of those is always going to be a phone. As good as today's phones are, however, I'm still left wanting. I use of a lot of different phones in the course of my work and while the perfect device still doesn't exist for me, we're getting very close. Here's what I'd like to see in my next phone -- and I'd like it this year, please.

First, the table stakes. It's got have a great voice capability -- I want to make crystal clear calls and never drop them. It's also go to have perfect contact and calendar features, a modern web browser, and an email client optimized for both Exchange and Gmail. Of course, a robust set of third party applications are a must, including a good RSS reader that syncs to Google Reader and a great version of Tetris.

Second, I'd like my phone to be somewhat agnostic toward the rest of the services I use in my life. Increasingly, vendors are tying devices to ecosystems and creating a non-substitutable infrastructure that makes it hard for users to switch devices or services. Android phones for the most part are tied to Google services -- which is great, unless you happen to use Exchange. Then you'd better hope your manufacturer has added some support on their own. The iPhone supports Gmail, but only as an IMAP client, and forget a native app for Google Voice. Windows Mobile devices are excellent Exchange clients, but forget syncing your music directly to iTunes. While some of these limitations can be overcome with party applications and services, I'd like my next device to simply support the combination of services and tools I want to use. I can switch back and forth between services on my computer with no penalty: I log into Gmail in the morning and use Exchange in the afternoon. I chat on AIM and then switch over to Skype. Why can't I do the same on my phone? I use a diverse set of tools and services on my desktop, and I'd like that flexibility on my next phone.

Finally, my next phone will be small. I want it to be with me always, have great battery life and get me through two very hard days of use. Ideally it will support multiple Bluetooth profiles so I can easily link into my car's handfree system, connect external keyboards, and tether it to my PC. While I'm at it, I'd like the ability to run applications in the background -- I'm not happy with the current state of any device in this regard. Like my PC, I want to decide which apps to run, when they're running and have an easy method to quit the ones I don't want taking up memory. Almost every phone on the market today fails in this capacity to some degree or another.

To call today's phones "phones" is a polite euphemism. They're hardly phones; they're PCs that fit in our pockets. That's a fine step along the road, but I don't really want a PC in my pocket -- I'd like something more. Today's mobile devices and platforms are great, but none of them will meet the needs of users tomorrow. That's why this year's going to be such a major mobile inflection point. I'm looking to see who might bring me the next phone I really want to use -- it might be quite a surprise.

To call today's phones 'phones' is a polite euphemism. They're hardly phones; they're PCs that fit in our pockets.

Michael Gartenberg is vice president of strategy and analysis at Interpret, LLC. His weblog can be found at Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com. Views expressed here are his own.
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