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The Smartphone is Too Complex to be Smart

Estimates of Apple iPhone shipment volumes in the first weekend they were available have ranged from 140 thousand units to 500 thousand units -- depending upon which market analyst was asked.

Meanwhile, ABI Research forecasts that the overall smartphone market segment will grow from 218 million units in 2007 to 426 million units in 2012.

Now that we have a little distance from the launch, ABI believes that it's time to ask "Will the iPhone change the smartphone market?" According to Stuart Carlaw, wireless research director at ABI Research, the answer is a qualified "yes."

"The iPhone will not revolutionize the smartphone market," he says, "but it is a significant evolutionary step forward. As was pointed out once its specifications were made public, the iPhone is not cutting-edge telecommunications." That said, most agree -- it's more usable.

"Where it is radical -- in its user-interface and functionality -- it will certainly change forever the way handset manufacturers think about their design philosophies. And from the commercial point of view, it is significant in the way it assembles its offerings in a completely integrated, brand-heavy package."

Certain technologies critical to the interface are likely to receive greater attention as a result of the iPhone, particularly touch-screens, which will become more sensitive, and accelerometers, which the iPhone uses to orient its displays and active or deactivate controls depending on how the handset is held.

Carlaw adds that, "The iPhone's effect on the market will be similar to that of Motorola's RAZR It will spawn a number of look-alike devices and will be seen as a benchmark for future design. One thing for certain is that the product is not intended to be an enterprise device, so its impact will be most keenly felt in the high-tier feature phone market and in the emerging prosumer market segment."

I believe that mobile phone device designers that merely attempt to mimic the iPhone will be missing the true meaning of the lesson-learned -- the significance of the Apple device is more than the actual design, it's that with a plethora of product sameness they dared to be different.

Granted the product has some flaws, but most analysts agree that the iPhone raises the bar of expectations. Now, I'm wondering, who will be bold enough to expose the broader smartphone category as an oxymoron -- these devices typically aren't so much smartphones as they are complexphones.

My point: mobile service providers, on behalf of their customers, should be demanding that the user experience of all high-end devices are simplified. If they really want to increase smartphone adoption, then they must tell the handset manufacturers when their handset UI designs are too complex to be considered smart.

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