I'm coming up on my "New Every Two" renewal, although that program has actually gone away as it used to exist for Verizon, and here's the interesting thing — while I have a vague gnawing in the back of my mind about what new gadget I should pick up, and after having reviewed a half-dozen Android devices and a Windows 7 phone this year — I'm just not that excited about the new options in mobile phones that are currently available. Let's discuss some of the concerns I have about smartphones in 2012.
First, I really like my Droid 2, and it does most of what I need pretty well. It's a solid device with great durability and a very good slide-out keyboard. It has quirks, but it's the devil I know — any future device is the devil I don't know. I've been buying mobile phones since 1987, so I've had more than a few cases where my replacement phone left me longing for my previous device.
I'm afraid this speaks to a problem that smartphone manufacturers may run into. While Apple fans are happy to have a two year or even shorter recycle on their expensive mobile gadgets and have an almost irrational need to be on the latest and greatest version of iOS device, I don't think the rest of the world is ready for such an aggressive upgrade cycle.
To me, it seems like devices are in a kind of purgatory where the release cycle doesn't offer enough compelling reason to upgrade — and why it might be a better choice to wait another 18 months or so. A handful of devices on the market indicate some cool directions where mobile phones may be headed, but they're not quite delivering on their promises yet.
Eventually, we need seamless integration of components with industry standards across manufacturers. For example, it would be wonderful if a keyboard dock from ASUS was port-functionally compatible with a device from Motorola. A modular, mix-and-match world of device compatibility — that is my dream. But there's no way we're going to see that in 2012. Still, some fledgling steps by Motorola are encouraging and make me wonder what kind of devices might hit the market by June or July 2012.
Recent news that the NTBS plans on recommending a comprehensive ban on talking while driving on mobile devices alone is troubling for the future of smartphones, as well. As proposed, this ban exempts in-car devices but not Bluetooth or other hands-free devices on regular mobile phones. Depending on how that shakes down, this could be a hot potato in 2012 for smartphones and wireless carriers.
Personally, I have an in-car phone that I rarely use. The voice recognition is fine for hands-free dialing, but there's no real integration with my digital devices. I buy about 100 minutes a year and generally race to use them up at the end of my OnStar subscription period. This legislation could change all of that, because it makes a specific exemption for using devices installed by the car manufacturer.
If this legislation passes, we may see a move to Android head-units that replace factory stereos with in-car hands-free devices, as well as an increasing focus by auto manufacturers to build smart-device functionality into their cars at the factory. This is another place where there's an outrageous opportunity for convergence.
Imagine an in-car device that hooks up to your factory speakers and offers hands-free, voice-activated, Siri-like functions — and the "detachable faceplate" becomes your mobile smartphone when you exit the car. I should really patent this design immediately, and then sue Apple, Samsung, and Motorola when they inevitably release this device. If this NTBS proposal is adopted as a federal mandate, I'd expect to see devices like this fast-tracked for consumer markets.
For the moment, there really isn't a revolutionary or magical smartphone device shaking things up in the industry. Everything going on is a non-quantum evolution of current trends. When you show me a phone with 24-hours talk time and a 2 week standby time that delivers quad-core processing and is as thin as a RAZR, one that seamlessly docks into a number of accessories (including my in-car stereo head unit) and is built on an open standard, then you'll have my attention.
How many of you think 2012 is the year when we'll see such a device released to market? As for me, I'm not holding my breath for much more than the same old, same old in 2012.
Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his professional role is as a Linux support engineer for a fast-growing Linux/FOSS consultancy group. You can follow him @dcolbert on Twitter or his personal blog, located at http://donovancolbert.blogspot.com.