Apple shook up the mobile phone playing field with the introduction of the original iPhone a year ago. Phones with touchscreens were nothing new; most Windows Mobile phones have used them for years. But the older phones used resistive digitizer screens, which were operated by a tiny metal stylus. The iPhone uses a capacitive digitizer that’s operated by touching fingers to the screen — a remarkably convenient option, by comparison. It didn’t take consumers long to figure out this was the way to go with touch and other phone makers quickly followed Apple’s lead.
While making a handset with a touchscreen is no big technical feat, the process quickly makes clear the pivotal role that Apple’s UI plays in producing a good user experience. Indeed, UI often ends up being the crucial factor that separates the good phones from the rest. And while the number of phones competing with the iPhone is growing all the time, most come from three companies:
HTC –– Until the last couple of years, HTC was largely making phones for other companies, such as Palm. But once they introduced their own brand to the market, they quickly established themselves as high-end device makers. HTC was also one of the first to dive headfirst into the touch phone pool, and have since produced model after model.
The first (and still available) was the HTC Touch, a phone based on the Windows Mobile platform. Going with the Windows Mobile OS was an easy decision for HTC since it’s a mature platform with tools to handle both the consumer and enterprise markets. The problem is that it wasn’t designed from the ground up for a touch operation, which can severely limit such a phone’s usability. So HTC designed the TouchFLO interface, which sits on top of the Windows Mobile base and adds touch features.
While the HTC Touch wasn’t a bad first attempt, it fell short of being a solid competitor to the iPhone. It followed up this year with the release of the Touch Diamond. A sleek black phone with an enhanced UI designed for touch, it has been well received. And since Windows Mobile has more features than the iPhone, the Touch Diamond was an instant, solid competitor.
This month HTC extended their touch offering with the Touch Pro, which is very similar to the Diamond but also includes a slide-out QWERTY keypad for business users. The lack of such a feature on the iPhone has been roundly criticized by serious email users.
Currently HTC is creating a lot of buzz in the enthusiast community with its yet-to-be-released handset, the Dream. This touch phone is said to be based on the brand-new Google Android platform that T-Mobile is expected to launch next month. Information is gradually leaking out about the Dream — it looks like a device similar to the Touch Pro, complete with a large touchscreen coupled with a sliding QWERTY keyboard.
LG — Electronics giant LG has been making feature phones for years and have produced some solid touchscreen, non-phone devices. Feature phones have typically been viewed as less capable than their smartphone competition, but that criticism is harder to make these days as feature phones can now handle PIM functions and messaging. LG’s first touchscreen phone was the Voyager, which includes two displays — one big touchscreen on the front of the device, as is common, and a non-touchscreen on the inside. The keyboard flips up like a small laptop to be used with the interior screen, making the Voyager a distinctly different type of phone.
Samsung — Electronics firm Samsung has jumped into the touch phone game in a big way with the recent release of the Instinct, using a media advertising blitz to make clear how serious they were about this new genre. The Instinct has only been out a short while, but it’s already getting rave reviews, and from experts that are known for being hard on such devices. Its web browsing capabilities, notably, rival that of the iPhone.