How Many More New iPhone Generations?

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The new iPhone is out.  Or, at least, we’ve heard about its capabilities.  But I’m not sure how much longer new feature-phone announcements can continue to generate buzz.

My own taste in personal computing devices is eclectic.  I use an ancient, company-supplied Dell to write my articles and blogs (even though the copy desk and art department use Macs); I myself have a Mac Air and an iPad II; and I have a Droid-2 with a Verizon plan.  So I’m not particularly biased toward any particular operating system or architecture.

Nor am I likely to run out and buy a new iPhone in a week or so. The more time I spend with these devices, the less enthusiastic I am about the whole feature-phone form-factor.  (Say that, in your Daffy Duck voice!)  Frankly, it makes for a mediocre game platform, an eye-straining book reader, an awkward camera, an adequate PDA (as long as I enter data on a laptop), and a terrible data terminal.  There’s still a place for feature phones, but I don’t know how many more generations of hype they can support.

At first, when I got the Android, I filled it full of apps, but over time, I’ve removed most, except for the street navigator and flight-tracker, along with the Outlook-related features, which is what Electronic Design uses for email and calendars.

IMO, 99% of Android apps I’ve seen are trivial, if not trash.  (On the other hand, the iPhone has some really impressive ones.  I remember the first time a guy showed me the flight simulator, with gyro-sensor three-axis control, that linked to Google Earth and the Jepp airport data base.  That’s a doozie.  A guy at the ham club developed an app for fox-hunts (hidden transmitter location games).  It Google Maps, and let you point and click at signal peaks and nulls to zero in on the hidden transmitter.  Props to Apple for making that app possible. I’ve found nothing remotely like it for Android.

But getting back to the issue of size, what it really comes down to is reading the small screen and typing.  I’m a presbyopic myop, but my bifocals are pretty good (although I do find myself peering over the top and reading at two inches sometimes).  But I’m an editor, and I can’t edit that way.

What’s worse than reading on a current feature phone is keyboarding. Even with the Droid’s slide-out keyboard, my keyboard typing stinks.  Most of the time, I use Swype and praise its ability to guess about what I was going for -- but at one word at-at-a-time, it’s no go.

So for me, the regular iPad is my “Goldilocks machine.”  It’s “just right.”  And if Android tablets don’t start to attract a higher class of apps than Android phones have, it’s going to be iPads forever for me.

Let’s say the Android tabs do.  Then the next issue is going to be size.  I can touch-type pretty well on the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, and for more intense writing, I have the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, which has the always-marvelous almost-a-Selectric Apple feel. 

But I’m not sure how that’s going to translate to a big-pocket-size form factor.  I’m not even sure about the pad-in-your-pocket meme, since I carry a Swiss Army knife, an LED flashlight, my Prius fob, a key to my wife’s Outback, the Droid, and a heap of change in my pockets. No more room.  Because it would never fit in  a pocket, I tote the iPad in a tight-fitting rubberized case that I chose for its slimness, just so I wouldn’t stuff it like a purse.

In short, by way of predictions, I’m expecting (maybe hoping) that the future feature phone (sorry Daffy.) will shrink back to the size it was a few years ago, while shedding features as well.  (I’m not excited about the alternative of projector phones, but that’s a subject for another blog.)  I also expect the tablet’s popularity to increase, with maybe a slight reduction down to Kindle size, probably achieved by eliminating the virtual bezel that eats up so much of the current iPads’ faces.  That means that, until Google cleans the dreck out of the Android apps playhouse, Apple will dominate.

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Blogs from Electronic Design's Editor covering Analog and Power

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Don Tuite

Don Tuite covers Analog and Power issues for Electronic Design’s magazine and website. He has a BSEE and an M.S in Technical Communication, and has worked for companies in aerospace,...
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