Apple's sneak peek at iPhone 3.0 shows that most of its smartphone rivals, such as BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, Android maker Google and Microsoft, are still far behind in mobile software. Can they catch up?
There's no easy prescription for any of them. But all have a few obvious places for software improvement:
- User interface. Both design and user experience. Apple blows everyone away here. Even Google Android is handicapped by unnecessary clutter. And no one has been able to get close to the elegance of Apple's gesture-based controls (pinch, finger swiping, etc.).
- Web browsers. Apple's MobileSafari is still the best. The technology behind it, WebKit, is open-source. So why aren't Apple's rivals doing a better job with it?
- App platforms/stores. Apple has made this an important feature for every mobile platform. Now Google, Microsoft and RIM are starting app stores. But Apple just tweaked them again with simple subscription billing and in-app purchases. RIM and Microsoft especially need to leverage their big install bases into getting companies building better software for their phones (especially games, if they want to court consumers).
There's more to the story, of course. Everyone could do better with hardware. Google needs to figure out how to get involved with AT&T and Verizon, the two biggest U.S. carriers. And Microsoft will really, really have to show some all-around leadership. It has such a huge advantage with its dominant PC OS market share. The fact that it's so mediocre in mobile is a disappointment. (Perhaps it will buy RIM or Palm.)
Apple is still a relatively small player in terms of mobile market share. But its lead in mobile software and hardware is still strong, especially now that it's patching some weaknesses, such as copy-and-paste and search. Its rivals must improve -- especially software -- if they want to increase their relevance.
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Dan Frommer writes for Silicon Alley Insider.