Tech Talk: Bring on the clones
THERE was a time, and not very long ago, when a businessman and his Blackberry were seldom separated. It was the sort of symbiosis not seen since the Nineties when yuppies went around with filofaxes under their arms.
But technology moves fast, and the retro keyboard that was the Blackberry phone’s original selling point suddenly started to seem inane where once it was individual.
It was the iPhone that did for it, with its sleek touch screen and suite of apps for every purpose. Blackberry’s instant messaging breakdown of 2011 further accelerated the brand’s decline.
Now Blackberry’s maker has embraced the touch screen with an all-new operating system and a phone called the Z10, sporting an iPhone-style “soft keyboard” which appears when you need it and vanishes when you don’t. A variant with a physical keyboard will follow.
The new Blackberry has much in common with Microsoft’s Windows smartphone, a new range of which has just been unveiled by Vodafone, in that it’s been developed not to innovate but to imitate. Where the original Blackberry blazed a trail of user friendliness and new functionality, its successor merely apes Apple and its more immediate rival, the Android system.
Which raises the question: which is the best smartphone to buy now? For my money, there are only two games in town: Apple and Android, and if push comes to shove, I’ll plump for the latter. The reason is choice: there’s only one iPhone (three if you count the still-available previous models) but Android phones come in different shapes, sizes and prices, from Samsung, HTC, LG and others. The Android system itself, developed by Google, is undeniably an iPhone clone but it’s more flexible and less locked-down. It’s easier, for instance, to play music and movies you already own, irrespective of format – not just those you’ve purchased from Apple. Google is also less prescriptive about the type of apps it distributes, so there are more options for personalising your phone with alternative media players, email readers and web browsers.
There’s also the question of size: the screen of an iPhone 5 is four inches from corner to corner, but the Android Samsung Galaxy Note II is about 30 per cent bigger – big enough to write on with a stylus.
Your phone’s usefulness depends ultimately on the number of apps available for it, and it’s Android and Apple that remain the focus of attention for most developers. Without a comparable library, Blackberry is likely remain a third choice for many.
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