The Recipe for a Successful Smartphone Is Getting Bland

Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, but the upcoming Motorola Droid X that appears on Verizon’s site has me a little bored with the current wave of “superphones,” as Om likes to call them. That’s not a knock against the new Droid specifically — the device is improved over its predecessor — but most of the changes are evolutionary, not revolutionary. That got me thinking about these superphones in general, as the newest features in recent top-end smartphones are also evolutionary. Where are the monumental improvements in today’s phones, like we saw with the capacitive display of the first Apple iPhone  or from the introduction of Qualcomm’s 1 GHz Snapdragon?

Unfortunately, it takes time for all of the pieces of a great smartphone to come together — time to test, design, integrate and build. A chip manufacturer, for example, can’t provide a new chipset from scratch in just a few months time. And developing or upgrading a platform to run atop such chips is no small task, either — it took Google more than three years from the time it purchased Android to deliver its first phone, the G1, in October of 2008.

Although I understand why these business cycles take time, the similarities mean I’m still not jazzed as much by the latest and greatest devices as I was six months ago. Sure there are differences between the Nexus One, Incredible, EVO, Droid X and Galaxy S, to name a few hot handsets. But most of those differences are fairly incremental — a few more megapixels for the camera, an extra third of an inch on a display and the addition of the kickstand, for example — not the kinds of changes that will take things to the next level. Even my own list of suggested iPhone 4 alternatives has more similarities than differences.

Perhaps the problem is that handset makers can’t decide what the “next level” will require. Certainly it’s new connectivity such as the WiMAX radio in Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G. The high-resolution Retina Display of the upcoming iPhone 4 is another qualifier, as is the recent addition of 720p recording on a handful of handsets. But after that, I come up a little dry when it comes to what the next course of the smartphone menu will bring. Am I being too cynical, not giving software enough weight in this situation, or do I just need to wake up on the other side of the bed?

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