Does anybody remember what a smartphone looked like in 2006? Back then I was using an HTC Wizard, which many knew as the Cingular 8125, and it was packed. I’m sure that if HTC would’ve figured out a way to add a kitchen sink to it, they wouldn’t have thought it twice. It had lots of ways to expand it either through miniSD expansion, IrDA, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth, and even had removable battery. Back then; it was all about more, and nothing like today where it’s all about less.
Those of you who think that non-removable batteries are the new thing in town are wrong. Almost every Pocket PC released in the early 2000s lacked a removable battery because your personal data was stored in the device’s RAM, and therefore would be lost if you removed its power source. Surely it also allowed for a much slimmer design if we compared my 2001 Compaq iPAQ h3630 with the HTC Wizard I was using five years later, but OEMs were forced to move away from the concept because it simply wasn’t practical for the user.
The biggest challenges customers faced with sealed devices were the lack of expandable storage since apps began being relatively small in the early days, and then grew to sizes that devices just couldn’t support. The other problem was the fact that the battery couldn’t go as long as the user wanted, and there was the risk of losing your data if it died. Removable batteries and storage were such a logical solution, since the OEM wasn’t faced with the additional cost of providing enough storage for the user’s needs, and selling extra batteries was a business in itself.
Then you guessed it, the iPhone came along. No ports, no expansion, no removable battery, nothing, just a clean slate. What many have forgotten though is that the original iPhone did do some things that no other phone could do back then. It had twice the amount of flash storage built-in than you could ever buy on microSD expansion at the time since it launched with 4 and 8GB of storage in times when microSD HC didn’t really exist or could be afforded. And since the iPhone was limited to EDGE speeds, the battery somehow lasted the whole day. These were much different times when there were no iOS third-party apps to limit your storage, and well, the first-generation iPhone just worked because of the specific market circumstances at the time.
What I sometimes wish that both Apple and even competing OEMs would remember though, is how the following iPhone generations sucked when it came to both storage and battery life. Once the App Store began to exist with the iPhone 3G, it was either apps and some music, or music and no apps. Once 3G began to exist, it was either great navigation speeds and no battery, or battery and no iPhone to use. It was clear that technology was not ready to continue supporting a device you couldn’t expand, and still, Apple continued with their locked mentality. The great thing about that era though, was choice. You could either go the Apple route and become frustrated or jump-ship to Android and choose how to handle your device.
Now what really upsets me about the turn of the decade is having Android OEMs copy what they shouldn’t copy. Why o why are great devices like the HTC One X sealed? Is it because you want to make it thin? What stupid marketing study ever told you that we Android users prefer a thin phone over a phone we can expand to our needs? How do you plan to compete against a much thinner Galaxy S III when Samsung engineers just slapped a thin phone in your face with all the removable battery and expandable storage you clearly couldn’t build?
Samsung clearly understands that it’s too early to seal devices, and here are the reasons why and a couple of thoughts on how it should be done:
OEMs remember: It’s a phone, not a painting
There’s nothing wrong with a beautiful phone, really. Sex appeal sells better than anything else an OEM could ever add to a device, but there has to be a limit. OEMs should make sure that a phone is as useful as it is beautiful. A painting is meant to be beautiful because it’s meant to be admired, but a phone on the other hand, is meant to be useful and admired at the same time.
There are ways to balance this though, and I’m sure Samsung engineers could teach the world a thing or two. They make beautiful phones that are useful in every way. In no way am I saying that Samsung phones are also sturdy, since I’ve seen how well the screen of my first Galaxy Nexus cracked after just one fall. Sadly though, any Samsung engineer could argue with me in that phones are meant to be used, not dropped. Even though that statement would seriously negate the reality that the device will face, I have to admit it’s true.
Smartphones are computers that make phone calls; treat them as such
Can you imagine a computer without a USB port? How useful will it be? Ultrabooks are lately moving away from removable batteries, but given how big a computer battery is, it’s clear that the average user didn’t carry an extra battery around anyways. The difference between a typical computer and a smartphone is that you can replace the hard drive on most computers relatively easily, and well, you can also choose to stick to those types of computers if that’s what you prefer. If you need more storage than that, hey, buy a portable hard drive and you’re set. On a smartphone that’s a different story. It’s almost impossible to add or remove the built-in storage on the device, so unless you ship the device with storage expansion, the user is toast. If the Galaxy S III wouldn’t exist, then there wouldn’t be such a thing as frustrated users of competing devices.
We can’t afford “the cloud” yet, so stop it!
How many of you have real unlimited data without throttling? I’m sure a small minority. As Brandon recently showed us, streaming true HD content to a device can kill a limited data plan in a week if you’re not careful. I find it funny each time OEMs like HTC boast about how they’re now giving you 25GB of free DropBox storage. That will never work unless they also offer a higher cap in our current data plan if we buy their device.
The media has outgrown storage and usage patterns
Is there really any point in buying a device with the latest Tegra 3 Quad-core processor technology if I won’t be able to use it all I want? On the other hand, I sometimes think that OEMs haven’t even notice that the average hard-core game on the Google Play store is as large as 1GB. iOS games are even bigger by contrast. It’s of benefit to Google, developers, OEMs and just about everyone that consumers don’t become paranoid about the device they use. The more they can play with it, the more they’ll come back and buy the next iteration of all the products involved.
There’s no point in boasting about your phone’s LTE connectivity, or processor speeds if the device sucks at using either of these technologies.
The bottom line
User habits are too demanding for a sealed device. I’m sure that’ll change in the future, but it’s too early for that. If the device won’t last at least 24 hours of hard-core usage, and the storage won’t be enough to provide each user with all their usage needs, then simply don’t sell it. I think the biggest advice I could ever give to OEMs is that they should really stop investing on things they still can’t provide. Stop spending extra cash on providing more flash storage if you can’t really provide enough. All this could be solved if you provided just enough storage for the device to shine, and then let the user spend on the amount of extra storage that they want.
Motorola has proven that they can build a sleek and powerful device that can go for days on LTE data speeds with the Droid RAZR MAXX and Samsung has shown everyone how devices don’t have to be sealed to be sexy. If you’re an OEM and don’t have good enough engineers to follow this trend, then hire better ones, because they do exist.
Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments down bellow. Do you prefer a sealed device or do you prefer all the expansion possible?