Saturday, March 16, 2013

I.T. phone home

A moment's silence, please: my Android smartphone died last week (after, in fairness, a couple of years of serious abuse). This means that I've had to fall back on a four-year-old mobile, one of the first Android smartphones. This is a somewhat painful experience when you've been used to the speed and ease of use of a relatively modern phone, but I can make and receive calls and use e-mail and my calendar, so I at least have the basics covered.

This means, of course, that I needed to choose a new phone. In 2013, the smartphone market has really matured. Every model from every manufacturer supports the same basic functionality; telephony (obviously), messaging, web browsing, location services & mapping, camera and social media. The only real differences are in design, UI and the data infrastructure and application ecosystem that underlie them.

Not that these are the only factors that play a role when we choose our phones, of course. Emotion is involved too; Apple's iPhone range has, until recently, included what were by some distance the most appealing and beautifully designed and engineered objects in the smartphone universe. (In my opinion, however, the elongated iPhone 5 is a design compromise and just looks wrong compared to its elegant forebears). The user interface is completely tired and unhelpful...all those rows of icons insisting that you press here to check your mail, here to check your agenda. I had an iPad for a while and it was a wonderful way to browse the web, but a tragedy as far as doing anything useful was concerned. Merely trying to get a document onto to it to read was an exercise in patience, and the iPhone is obviously no different.

The last time I chose a phone, Microsoft wasn't a realistic contender, but the current iteration of their smartphone OS, Windows Phone 8, demanded careful attention. It has by miles the most useful and appealing UI of any phone OS, with customizable information and functionality presented clearly and beautifully. I've had my eye on the new Nokia, and it really ticks a lot of boxes. I run my business on Google Apps, though, and WP8's integration with Google services is still patchy.

At the end of the day, then, I've decided to stick with Android this time. It's simple to set up the UI just the way you want it, there's huge app support and a vast array of different hardware available to run it on. The main reason for my choice, though is that my data is safe, instantly available and fully integrated. I can walk out of a phone shop with any Android phone, log in and within seconds I've got every e-mail I've ever sent or received (since 1995!), contacts and my full business and personal agendas, all synced automatically without me doing any more configuration beyond hat initial login.

Ultimately, the deciding factor is data portability. This, more so than app support or hardware is why I believe it's so difficult for Microsoft or other players to break the iOS/Android duopoly, but it's also valid at company and enterprise level for larger systems.

Features, performance, price, service and other factors will always play a role when companies need to update or replace their systems, but smart companies nearly always choose a straightforward data migration over new functionality, unless the business case for that functionality is so compelling that it justifies the costs of lost, incomplete or inaccessible data.

Smart companies know that value sits in data, not in applications, systems or hardware.