- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2010

According to research released Monday by the Nielsen Co., “Multipurpose smartphones that allow users to access the Web and e-mail as well as run thousands of apps and share text and picture messages are now 25 [percent] of the U.S. mobile market, up from 23 [percent] in the last quarter.”

As a result, by the end of 2011, there will be “more smartphones in the U.S. market than feature phones,” Nielsen says.

Will that phone be an Apple iPhone, a Google-powered Droid or a Research In Motion BlackBerry? In a word, yes — although the iPhone is the more likely choice, Nielsen says. BlackBerry still leads at a 33 percent share, Nielsen indicated, while Android grabbed 27 percent and the iPhone 23 percent.

However, Android’s gains seem to come from those leaving “feature phones,” devices that have a version of e-mail and text messaging along with voice service, and perhaps those switching from the BlackBerry.

All this comes as a backdrop to the recent release of Apple’s iPhone 4, which I’ve had for about 10 days, and which my wife has had since her recent birthday. It’s her first smart phone, and viewing the device through her eyes has been a treat.

Jean loves the 5-megapixel digital camera that, now, comes with a built-in LED flash. The pictures she’s taken are quite good, and look good when printed in a size larger than the iPhone’s screen. Neither of us has done much with the iPhone 4’s HD video recording (at 720p resolution), but another friend who has used it claims the video is better than that of his larger hand-held cameras.

Of course, she didn’t get the iPhone solely for photography, but also for voice calls, e-mail and Web surfing. AT&T’s voice plan — unlimited voice calling for $69.95 per month — is good, and the 2 GB of data per month for $25 should be fine, though I’m nervous pending her first bill.

The 200 text messages per month for $5 seems a bit parsimonious at this point (extra texts cost 10 cents each), but given that all our phone charge spending is now approaching $100 for this one device, I didn’t want to go further and get 1,500 texts for $15. (Full disclosure: My employer provides my iPhone 4 under a corporate plan.)

Once you get past that monthly tab, breathtaking for some, the iPhone 4 is a wonderful tool. Call quality is great, although I find myself “face dialing” a bit more here than with previous models; headphones to avoid this are, I hope, en route, and in the car, Bluetooth is a better solution.

E-mail is improved under the new iPhone OS 4, with the greatest tool being the grouping of messages in “threads,” allowing you to follow the back-and-forth of a conversation more easily. Web browsing with the iPhone version of Safari is fine, certainly better than with many other devices.

Two of the great advances of the iPhone 4 are the ability to multitask and to share “FaceTime,” essentially a videophone call, with another iPhone 4 user. Multitasking lets you run multiple applications at once, with available memory being the only limitation. It’s a good feature if, say, you’re downloading a file but want to check available restaurants in the area, or are listening to music — remember, this is an iPod extraordinaire — and also need to use a GPS to find your way while walking through town.

The FaceTime feature uses the phone’s voice service for calling and Wi-Fi for the video transmission, as well as a built-in second camera on the phone’s face. While a great innovation, and possibly the first really practical application of video calling since the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the Wi-Fi requirement might be a bit of a hassle when traveling. One can only hope future technology might advance things, and in less than 45 years.

Apple is also claiming “stellar battery life” of up to seven hours of talk time on a 3G network, 300 hours of standby time and six to 10 hours of Internet browsing, depending on the wireless service, 3G or Wi-Fi, used. I haven’t benchmarked these numbers, but performance seems good.

A final, impressive figure is the price. Apple is pricing the 16GB model at $199, and the 32GB unit at $299, with a two-year commitment to AT&T. These hardware prices are very good, and represent a great value for a phone that, if research holds, likely will be your next hand-held device.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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