Honor Roll: Smartphones

Android • Apple • Windows

Today’s smartphones are bigger, more versatile and, well, smarter than ever before. They have sharper, thinner and tougher touch screens. They allow you to complete data-heavy tasks more quickly. And soon, they even will deliver clearer cellular calls.

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If your cellphone flips open like a clam or is shaped like a candy bar that has a screen and buttons, you’re now part of the wireless minority. More than half of all cellphone users in the United States have a smartphone as of June 2012. And if you don’t have a smartphone, you likely will have one in the months ahead, because  cellphone manufacturers increasingly are abandoning basic cellphones (what also are called feature cellphones) in favor of smartphones, which do much more and also have a lower retail price than basic cellphones do.

You can buy a smartphone today that was state of the art just a year ago for as little as $100 if it’s purchased with a 2-year service contract. At press time, smartphones outnumbered traditional cellphones 4-to-1 among cellphones that are sold by the four major national carriers, according to our analysis. Experts say this reflects the industry’s demand to sell smartphones as much as it reflects consumer demand for them.

For instance, 2 out of 3 people who bought a cellphone during a 3-month period that ended in June 2012 chose a smartphone, according to market-research company Nielsen. Furthermore, shipments are expected to increase to 1 billion worldwide in 2015 from about 120 million in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced, says Tony Henning of market-research company 6Sight. 

So now that we’ve become a smartphone nation, even consumers who typically use their cellphone for nothing more than to call or to text are more likely to buy a smartphone that has the latest capabilities, such as high-definition video capture, turn-by-turn navigation, video chat, paying for purchases, and cloud-based image storage and sharing. Experts say that in 2 years, only a handful of basic cellphones will be made to satisfy the last stubborn smartphone holdouts, which means that it could be difficult to find a basic cellphone to buy in 2014.

APPLE PICKING. At press time, 86.1 percent of all smartphones in the United States used either a Google Android (51.8 percent) or an Apple iOS (34.3 percent) operating system, according to Nielsen. At least 100 smartphone models use Android, while just three iOS-based iPhone models are available. And the red-state/blue-state war between Android and iOS will escalate in fall 2012, when the latest version of the iPhone is expected to arrive.

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All sorts of cues and speculation about what new features will drive the iPhone 5 emerged when Apple unveiled its latest mobile operating system (iOS 6) in June 2012. Together with advancements in Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant, Siri, the iPhone 5 likely will include voice-prompted turn-by-turn driving directions, which would be the first time that this capability has been included as standard feature on a smartphone.

In addition, the iPhone 5 likely will have the capability to automatically transmit a canned text when you can’t take a call immediately, and it will remind you to return the call. You also likely will be able to mark iPhone-snapped photos, then send text notifications to friends and family to let them upload these marked photos from, for instance, the cloud.

In addition to the iOS 6 features, it’s been reported widely that the iPhone 5 likely will have a 4-inch touch screen (compared with the 3.5-inch display that’s on all other iPhone models) and will work on 4G LTE wireless networks, which are the fastest cellular networks.

One lingering question is whether the iPhone 5 will include near field communications (NFC), which allows you to use the device to make mobile payments. An increasing number of Android cellphones have that capability, so it seems logical to us that Apple would add NFC to the iPhone 5.

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