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After over a year, the wait is finally over. We finally know something about Google’s phone OS aka Android. We still don’t know that much, but we at least know enough to find some really interesting alliances and rivalries brewing. As well as making some guesses about an interesting OS future.

We still know very little about the Android itself. We know it’s open source, Linux (but what isn’t these days?), and includes a base layer compatible with modern cellular networks and modern internet technologies as well as core applications. By providing the underpinnings and a new OS, Google is competing with Symbian (and its S60 / UIQ interfaces), Microsoft, Palm and others who create mobile operating systems. Some of these companies are more threatened by Google than others.

When we take a look at the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) partners – the people who have agreed to work with Google on this project – we see some interesting members and some interesting absentees.

It is not surprising that Nokia is not on the list. As the developer and champion of S60, Nokia already believes it has an open OS that carriers and developers can customize. Why would they want to join Google when they already have the dominant smartphone (by marketshare)? What is interesting is that I suspect Nokia finally feels threatened by an alternative operating system. I say this because ST Microelectronics (STM), Nokia’s big chip partner and a company that Nokia has supported in many ways, is the only major chip manufacturer absent from the OHA.

The Symbian vs. Android battle may also explain Sony Ericsson’s absence from the OHA as well. Sony Ericsson is the primary investor in UIQ, the other Symbian based environment. Though we’ve been hearing that Sony Ericsson are at least investigating additional OSes and so it possible they aren’t as vehemently against Android as Nokia. UIQ has a tiny portion of the OS market share so SE probably isn’t quite as committed to it and it’s unlikely with such a small market share that Android would hurt UIQ sales that much.

This Symbian vs. Android split becomes more interesting when we look at who chose to join the OHA. Motorola’s membership isn’t that interesting. Motorola is in limbo and they are trying out every OS and platform out there hoping if they throw enough spaghetti at the wall, something will stick. No, what’s interesting is that DoCoMo and KDDI are part of the OHA. Fujitsu and a few other Japanese manufacturers have been using Symbian to create phones for these carriers. Both of the Japanese giants have talked about Linux in the past, but neither really did much. But if both these carriers are committed to Android, Symbian could lose the only partner it added after the originals – Nokia and Sony Ericsson.

I do not think the absence of Palm and RIM are shocking or important. Palm is putting all its eggs in its own Linux basket and unless that basket looks like a bright, revolutionary future, they will have dug themselves a grave too deep to get out of. RIM too has all its eggs in one basket, but currently that is a more successful basket and will carry them through at least the next few years. But below i explain why i don’t think that will guarantee RIM’s success far into the future.

Though a rivalry between Symbian and Android is shaping up, there will be none between Microsoft and Android. When we look at the handset and carrier partners in the OHA, every one except KDDI is a Windows Mobile partner. HTC, who until today only worked with Microsoft will be producing Android handsets. Samsung, LG and Motorola all create very successful Windows Mobile devices too. T-Mobile has worked very close with Microsoft and many of the other carriers have long standing relationships with Redmond as well.

I do not believe these carriers and manufacturers are looking to replace Windows Mobile with Android. I believe these carriers are looking to add Google to their list of services they build phones for. Here’s what I strongly believe is going to happen, and why i think Symbian is far more threatened by this move than Microsoft.

I’ve been talking to alot of people lately who live their entire online lives inside a browser. They don’t use desktop mail. They don’t use a desktop RSS reader. (many do use desktop IM clients, if they IM, but this is sooo easily remedied.) Each of these people has a primary platform of choice – Gmail and Google apps, Microsoft Hotmail or Exchange, Yahoo! mail and some combination of other applications, or even just Facebook.

Talking to another friend doing research, he’s learning that not only do teens and young 20 year olds live their lives inside the browser, they don’t even want to download applications. Requiring a download is total non-starter for this generation. These people are also the most mobile-centric of any generation so far and they want access to the same data and applications they have on their desktop browser on their phones. Only a browser model doesn’t work so well for doing things on the phone (even in amazing browsers like the one on the iPhone).

Google and Microsoft have figured this out. Their platforms bring the desktop, desktop browser and the mobile device together. Data is synced and shared between all 3 and feel familiar between the three (or at least i’m assuming they will once we see what Android looks like). Although people are not loyal to a any carrier or handset manufacturer (especially in this day of WLNP), they are loyal to online service providers. their email address and the apps they use online are as much a part of them as their phone number is. The new gOS desktops for Walmart reinforce this on a desktop level. Google is approaching this from all devices the same way Microsoft is.

Nokia has taken the opposite approach by announcing Ovi. Instead of aligning themselves with one online platform, Ovi allows Nokia or websites to align themselves with Nokia phones. in cultures like japan where many young users barely ever use a PC outside of work, this would be appropriate, but i don’t think this phone-centric view works in the west, where desktop platforms are what users make an effort to choose and associate themselves with.

i think if we look out a few years, we will see young people in the west choosing phones by what desktop platform it is associated with – google, microsoft, apple, even facebook if they continue to grow. (aol has jumped the shark and i fear yahoo! is a non-starter.) you will by a phone to match your online life because that will allow you to access all the things you do no matter what device is available.

Reuters has collected reactions from all these parties, and i think that what each says only reinforces my predictions. Microsoft says “we already do this,” and they do. Nokia, is overly confident of their market dominance and doesn’t see Android as a threat. while UIQ, which doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, can only say more competition can only help. Reuters too ignores Palm and RIM in their follow up.

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Expect a software update from Apple soon, iPhone users — and a slew of lawsuits to follow. Today it was announced that a hard working team of developers have figured out a way to unlock the iPhone using only software. (Previously a few brave folks learned they could unlock the iPhone with some serious hardware hacking – soldering, scraping, and then more software hacking.)

To date Apple has not tried to stop people hacking its device – either the iPhone or the Apple TV. Apple TV updates have practically embraced the hacks people have come up with and the two iPhone updates that have been released so far still allow hacks, but only work on unhacked devices. (Forcing users to undo all the hacks before updating or suffer through a complete factory restore – i cried a little.)

However past hacks to Apple devices have never broken any of Apple’s revenue streams, or any other company’s revenue stream for that matter. If this one hack continues to work, it will definitely cut AT&T’s revenue, but it will also cut down Apple’s if rumors about them getting a 10% cut of all iPhone data plans is true.

But the issue isn’t that simple. Last year the Librarian of Congress (who, believe it or not has domain over this) said that unlocking GSM phones to work on other carriers is not illegal. So although it’s likely Apple and / or AT&T will try to sue the developers once their identity is discovered, it’s also likely this suit will get thrown out of court.

One interesting thing that was revealed through this process is that the iPhone 1.0.1 update added a hidden settings panel that lets users customize data settings. so unlocked iPhones can be configured to fully work on any network (except for visual voicemail). Could it be Apple is tacitly supporting these efforts, or is this something that was added because of Apple’s rumored multi-carrier agreement in Europe?

A special shout out to Carlo Longino and Craig Froehle for planting the seeds of this post in my brain.

I’m thinking of starting a whole blog simply dedicated to glaring engineering / design mistakes that companies build into their products. But instead, i’ll start a new series of posts here where we can discuss some of the crazy things we encounter when reviewing handsets. Clearly someone chooses to make things this way, but many times it seems the consequences these choices have on users are totally ignored.

For instance, today we’ll take a look at accessory and headset jacks. These days most manufacturers are putting these jacks on the sides of phones. But like our mama said, just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should too. On some phones this placement is acceptable. For instance, tiny flip don’t leave any space on the top or bottom for jacks, so they must go on the side. When you connect a headset or a headphone adaptor to these phones, you can either turn the phone sideways in your pocket or you can leave it upright and let the adaptor jut out to the side a bit. The phone is small enough that you can get away with the mild discomfort of either of these solutions. But what about when phone is larger – like, say, a thick slider or a big QWERTY phone? Well then you’ll most likely have to turn the phone sideways in your pocket if you have a headset plugged in. And that, my friends, is very uncomfortable. The list of phones that commit this offense is longer than the list of phones that get it right, and that’s a shame.

If just one person at any of the guilty manufacturers had plugged one headset or set of earphones  in and tried to put the phone back in their pocket, they would have noticed how uncomfortable things would be. They could have made a difference. But instead a team or designers and engineers carefully placed these jacks where they would be cheapest or most convenient, and not where they made sense. And today, when trying to plug my Sennheisers into an offending phone that put a 3.5mm headset jack on the side, all I got was a pocket full of OUCH. I will not call out this phone by name since it is not uniquely guilty of this offense.

I know fixing this is not as simple as just moving a jack – it probably would require re-engineering circuit boards and designing bodies to accommodate the move. But making changes like this show that a company cares about us users, and that they expect us to actually USE the features they list on the box, and not merely just buy their product because said feature was listed. And for all those companies who would say, “well why don’t you just use Bluetooth headphones, Mr. high tech phone reviewer,” I would gladly argue back “Have you ever tried to use those?” Cripes if anything, including my own body comes between any phone and any pair of Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried, they always cut out. it’s so frustrating and such a drain on the battery that i refuse to use them. 

Recently I decided I would try to join the push email generation. The last time I had push mail was when I was a Sidekick 2 user many years ago, and back then only my personal mail was sent to my handset, as I had separate email accounts for business and personal use. But soon GMail slowly convinced everyone to merge all their email addresses into a single account. This was a bad idea.To test push email I decided to forward my email from GMail to a push-enabled account. This was a disaster – I get so much email between work and friends that my pocket was constantly vibrating, and my phone was filling up with emails I couldn’t care less about as so much the email that comes to my work address is notifications or off topic pitches from PR people. So to stem the flood, I went to set up some filters in GMail to tell it who was important enough to push mail from (by forwarding that to my push account). However GMail’s filters are so basic that it would have taken me hours of manually entering email addresses when all I really wanted to say was “if the email address matches one in my contacts list, forward the email.” (I could do this in 3 clicks – THREE CLICKS – from my Mac.) So my re-introduction to push mail left a bad taste in my mouth. I turned off the push account and went back to checking my email account manually whenever I felt like I needed to check in.

Recently, the iPhone has been intriguing me and so I decided to test out its push capabilities. However my previous experience taught me I couldn’t forward everything to my phone and I couldn’t get the filters I wanted in Gmail. So I took the old fashioned approach and moved my work email to its own separate account. I set my personal email account to forward to Yahoo! push account and created a separate account on the phone to check my work email manually. This solved one problem – my pocket wasn’t constantly buzzing – but created another. Because of the awful way you have to switch back and forth between accounts on the iPhone, as soon as I went to see why my pocket was buzzing, the phone would start checking my work account too and it created an even more frustrating loop of checking and rechecking.

I wanted to turn everything off and just go back to SMS. I thought of ways I could send a nice autoresponder to people telling them that if their matter was urgent, they should text me. That is, after all, what text is for – reaching people as soon as possible with a succinct message. I hate that some people use email like text. I do not hover over my email on my phone or on my computer, we have conduits like IM and SMS for instant communication.

So I did the unthinkable. I turned off my work account altogether, leaving only the push account my personal email is forwarded to, and quickly i was in heaven. I only get about 40 personal email messages per day, and 99% of it is something i want to read. So whenever my pocket buzzes, it’s with something that’s going to make my day (though every once in a while it makes my day worse) – whether it’s an SMS or a push email. Instead of my friends using email like IM (they don’t know it’s coming to me instantly) the mails I get on my phone are like pleasant distractions I can deal with whenever – everyone still texts me if they want me immediately.

And so now that I’ve got a good system in place, I’m wondering how to get the appropriate, important, emails to my phone. It’s easy enough to tell GMail to forward mails from my two fellow Phone Scoopers, but what about all my other contacts who usually send me mail I consider important enough for my phone? that might be a long list.

I’ve considered an auto-responder to tell people they can send email to my push account. I’ve considered a different auto-responder telling everyone – whether they send email to my personal or work account to text me if something is important and turning off email altogether. i’ve considered investigating services like enotifyme, that make setting up filters easier than GMail. and I haven’t come up with an answer I like.

Why? Well I hate the autoresponder solution because it flips the responsibility back to the sender. They’ve already made an effort to contact me (albeit by what may be the wrong channel) and I feel it’s inappropriate to put the onus back on them to use the right channel. Although it would train everyone to use the appropriate medium for the situation, i feel like there should be back end systems to handle that so that people only need to remember one way to contact me and the system takes care of the rest.

But setting up today’s filter systems to take make sure the right emails, calls, texts, etc. get to you how and when you want is so cumbersome. It puts an undue onus on the user. It takes too much time and effort, and there’s no learning mode, so all modifications have to be made manually. I want to make it easy for others, but I want to make it easy for myself, as well (of course!).

Unfortunately for now i’ve chosen to forward a select group of people to my push account and have left the rest to sit and wait until I get to a computer to check their messages. Maybe I should add an autoresponder with instructions for those who aren’t pushed, but can’t some things just wait?

I stopped into iPhone Dev Camp today. I walked in and was shocked to see hundreds of developers staring intensely at their laptops. I honestly didn’t expect so many people, but this is the bay area, and so it is Apple’s and Web 2.0’s home turf. Most the people in attendance had iPhones, but they didn’t seem to be using them. You could tell these were the type of people who generally don’t leave the house without their laptop. They also, for the most part, were not mobile developers.

The mobile interface and development world is small enough that everyone in it knows or at least recognizes each other, especially when it comes to online and not Java development… and i did not recognize a single soul in the place. so I went out to the organizers are expressed my shock at how into their laptops everyone was – both because this was the first dev camp i’ve ever attended (i often attend “bar camps” but those are much more social, even though they involve no bars.), and because everyone seemed much more interested in their laptops and full computer sized applications than mobile applications.

And that’s when the organizers stunned me. they weren’t surprised by the computer-centric makeup of the crowd at all, because the organizers didn’t consider an iPhone a mobile device. “It’s not a mobile device,” one said, “it’s more of a really powerful browser in a small computer.” And that view seems to be the one shared by most the attendees. I went back around and checked on the types of applications these folks were working on. They weren’t mobile centric. They didn’t consider the on the go nature of the iPhone or the fact that mobile UIs usually call for less information and less input. They were trying to squeeze full desktop applications or full desktop websites into the phone. The preliminary results were appalling in many cases. (but they were preliminary!)

But not all web developers are looking at the iPhone like it’s a MacBook mini. I was browsing the iPhone Application List and came across MoviesApp. It is, I would say, my dream movie times application. It considers all the capabilities of the iPhone so it integrates with the media aspects of the iPhone, Google Maps and more. And it also requires a minimum of input and clicks to get the information you want, formatted exactly how you would expect on your iPhone. I’m glad that despite today’s experiences that at least some people understand the iPhone’s highly mobile nature.

Now what i’m really hoping is that these same developers who are making well thought out web applications for the iPhone realize that there are millions more Windows Mobile and S60 phones out there that can advantage of their hard work; and they expand their development to allow these millions of users to experience wonderfully designed applications as well. The one thing I was hoping the iPhone might do is get more people to develop truly well designed mobile web sites, instead of forcing us to use their unwieldy desktop sites or their ultra low bandwidth sites that fail to provide enough information.

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According to gizmodo, this is the Motorola Zante, a new danger-based device that we’ve been hearing rumors about for many months. It’s reportedly a much thinner sidekick with updated features. But what i want to know is which one of these is the real Zante. The picture on the left is the first Zante’s that appeared on the net. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the keyboard is a grid, the way most smartphone keyboards are laid out. When these renderings first appeared i noticed immediately, because as a former sidekick user, i know the one thing that sets these devices apart is their keyboard, which normally has offset keys like a full-sized QWERTY keyboard. I was disappointed that Motorola might have abandoned one of the sidekick’s biggest strengths in the name of making it thinner and more modern. but i knew these images were just renderings and so i reserved my judgement.

then yesterday, the image on the right surfaced. notice that in this image, the keys on the keyboard are offset from each other. in fact the keyboard looks almost exactly like the sidekick 3. If this is really the final rendering of the Zante, then it seems that Motorola has finally done away with the D-pad normally found on the left. Which only makes sense, since it became redundant after Danger introduced the trackball on the right to replace the old scroll wheel.

Of course all this analysis is still based on rumor, not fact. But if all these images are surfacing now, it can’t be long before this device is officially unveiled.

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on the right is picture floating around the internet of a rumored nokia feature phone called the 7500 of the new Nokia 7500, a fashion phone introduced in China today (see link in comments). on the left is the Prada store that opened in Tokyo about 3 years ago. is this Nokia’s answer to the LG Prada phone?

O2, a carrier in Europe, has begun to show off the Cocoon. It is a simple clamshell phone that was designed by a team of trend spotters and a custom manufacturer instead of by a large phone company or ODM. And even though it is just a clamshell phone, it is not a clamshell phone like all the rest. It looks more like something that came out of AU’s design series than yet another RAZR knockoff.

The Cocoon looks like a curved white bundle of ribbon with flat black plastic sides. On one side is external playback controls, on the other is a scroll wheel. And hidden under the curved white front is a huge OLED matrix that can display the time, incoming callers or track names.

Instead of O2 going to a manufacturer with a laundry list of new technologies they wanted, they contacted a firm who asked cool people they know. and what sort of features did these people come up with? It’s not video streaming or a laptop replacement or anything bleeding edge. It’s simple stuff that would enhance how most people use their phones day to day. The Cocoon comes with 2 GB of memory in addition to a MicroSD card slot, so there’s plenty of room for music and pictures even before users purchase a memory card. It comes with software that lets it sync music from Window Media Player or iTunes.

But memory is just the start. The designers looked at how these users wanted to make the most of their phone and took this into account. With full playback controls and an external display users don’t need to open the phone to use it as a music player. They took advantage of this to create a charging dock that holds the Cocool sideways so the controls are exposed on top. When in the stand, the phone displays the time in a large font and can be used as an alarm clock or mini stereo thanks to a 3.5mm speaker jack in the back of the dock. The camera is only 2 megapixels, but is auto-focus and has an automatic flash as well, so it is still capabble of taking decent features. And of course the Cocoon has a custom designed OS with lots of rich graphics.

Nothing about the Cocoon is high tech. It doesn’t have any newer features than the Sony Ericsson  W800 launched 18 months ago except for 3G calling. But it still feels new and exciting, simply because they listened to people and not companies when designing it.

We have made every effort to keep a rational distance from the iPhone hype – the daily news bits, the predictions of its success or failure, and the complaints about lack of certain features or how the features it has work.

We’re not here to repeat any of that. You’ve read it enough times already. Instead, let’s talk about who we believe Apple is building the iPhone for, because it seems many analysts have not come to the same conclusion as we here at Phone Scoop.

Since its unveiling, the majority of analysts and pundits have compared the iPhone to smartphones like those from Palm, HTC and Nokia. Part of this is due to the fact that like those phones, the iPhone runs a known operating system – in this case OS X – and it was believed programmers could write applications in the OS’s native language instead of using Java, BREW or some other sandbox environment. These folks, along with many hopeful Mac developers were disappointed to learn the iPhone would not run third party applications at launch.

The iPhone’s price of $500 or 600 is also more in line with that of smartphones that the average mass market phone. It is true that most high-end feature phones launch at a lower price when sold with a contract. However some phones such as the Black Motorola RAZR launched at over $400.

Recently some people have begun comparing the iPhone to corporate-centric email devices like the Blackberry (as well as Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones) because like those devices, the iPhone is capable of sending and receiving email as well as browsing the desktop web. These people tend to be surprised that a $500 phone wouldn’t have native support for Microsoft Exchange.

I don’t believe that the iPhone is designed for smartphone users – at least not smartphone users who pour over the huge libraries of software available for their device and customize it. These people represent a fraction of the cell phone subscribers in the US and abroad. They do represent a larger percentage of people willing to spend lots of money on devices and software, however, which is why so many companies pay attention to them. But other manufacturers are devoting plenty of attention to these users.

I don’t believe that the iPhone is designed for corporate email addicts either. The number of people who use Exchange is far outpaced by the number of people who have “standard” email accounts. Even most corporate users have their own personal email accounts with Gmail, Hotmail or some other POP or IMAP service. However, as with the smartphone crowd, corporate users often spend more money on devices and calling plans than others, so great deal of attention is devoted to them.

But what about everyone else – all those people who comprise the vast “mass market”? These people usually just get a free or inexpensive phone, but they have been convinced to get something more expensive and / or more advanced in a few cases. Often they will spend more if a phone has an impressive design – one that is well beyond the ordinary. Other times they will spend more for features that they use all the time and want in their mobile phone.

When mass market users upgrade to one of these more expensive devices, they aren’t looking for every feature under sun, or the option of every feature under the sun. They are looking for a good, solid, friendly version of the feature(s) they want.

The SideKick’s success among IM addicts is an excellent example. It appealed to people who used the internet and all of its common communication channels (im, email, web) every day. It had a unique form factor and a unique set of features. And even though it hasn’t been a huge success, the SideKick has gotten many subscribers to switch from a simple feature phone to a more advanced handset. In many ways, it paved the way for the iPhone.

The iPhone’s target audience is not smartphone “geeks,” nor corporate “suits;” it is every man, woman and child who doesn’t want to spend a dime on a phone because there’s no reason to. Learning to use a phone, especially an advanced feature phone or smartphone is difficult. Most high end phones are usually packed with features that nobody except the carriers want. And most phones are not designed with any real sense of style – they are either derivative or just plain ugly. And so with the iPhone, Apple is giving all of these users who normally don’t want to spend a dime on a phone a reason to spend 5000 of them.

If analyst reports are correct, Apple had trouble finding an American carrier for the phone, and are having even more trouble finding a European partner. Many are chalking this up to rumors to that Apple is driving a hard financial bargain, however i believe they are overlooking the fact that the iPhone does not have any advanced features that the carriers want. Instead it has advanced features that users – regular mass market subscribers – want.

The day the iPhone was unveiled at MacWorld, a number of my friends – most of whom are free-phone users – immediately contacted me asking when it was coming out and telling me they were starting to save their pennies. They were getting one. While geeks were disappointed with the lack of 3G support, these free-phone users were enamored with the simple access to features they use, be it on their phone or on their PC. Normally these folks get frustrated with even the most basic functions like 3 way calling or texting. They loved the fact that they could easily sync their own music and videos onto the iPhone and not have to struggle or wind up at the carriers’ mercy. And applications like Safari and Google Maps appealed to them – they use a browser and Google maps all the time.

Today’s announcement that the iPhone will also ship with a stand-alone YouTube application sealed its place as a mass market device. With brands like Google, YouTube (which, yes, we know is also Google), and iPod Apple knows exactly who it’s aiming this phone at – every 18-35 year old out there. These brands, and the features they represent, are what many mass market consumers are looking for in a “smart” phone.

Apple is not taking any chances communicating its message and attempting to educate its target market. Instead of talking about specs and technology, Apple is showing off software and interface. These are the things that matter to regular users. They are showing off every day scenarios that your typical web surfer and cell phone user might find himself in. Surfing the web, playing music on an iPod, deciding what to eat, calling friends and sharing YouTube videos and showing how the iPhone works while doing all this.

And these users who care about YouTube videos and think threaded SMS that looks just like iChat is the cutest thing since Hello Kitty do not care about 3G or Exchange support or whether the iPhone can run 3rd party OS X applications. They care about being able to figure out their phone’s interface, about battery life, and about the phone’s style. And this is what the iPhone is trying to nail.

We cannot say if Apple really really did nail what matters yet. After all the iPhone hasn’t launched. All we can say is those are the type of features that Apple has expended its efforts on. The iPhone still could fall short of the mass market’s expectations. But that won’t be because it doesn’t support Exchange. I promise you that.

Many phones, either because of their manufacturer or their software, offer features that other models don’t. And for today’s example, it’s not because of patents. I’m talking about software. For instance, the Sidekick offers an unparalleled IM experience, the Blackberry offers one of the most hassle-free email experiences, and the Treos – both Palm and Windows Mobile – are the only phones that offer well implemented threaded SMS. (The Blackberry displays threaded SMS too, however it is a bit inconsistent, and since the SMS are not label with the author, reading them can be confusing.)

It’s unclear who decided that SMS, like email, should be displayed in a flat list organized by how recently they were received. At some point in time I’m sure this made sense – either because it was the only known paradigm or because developers had not figured out any other ways to display it.

However unlike emails, which are usually long and content heavy, SMS are short and typically involve a number of exchanges between the two (or more) participants. Rarely does one SMS get sent off and that is the end of the conversation.

This is especially true outside the US and Korea, where text messaging often supplants voice conversations altogether. Though initially people adopted using SMS instead of voice because of cost, now in many places it is simply how things are done, regardless of cost. In the US an unlimited messaging plan can be had cheap on most carriers, while voice seems to be getting more expensive. Even without this new cost advantage, people here are switching to SMS-centric communication.

This trend has been growing long enough (for years, actually) that companies have had plenty of time to catch up with it. And yet none of them have changed their SMS applications from the email inbox style to the IM chat style. Yet the only three companies that have an SMS style text application developed it that way from the very start. Blackberries, Treos and now the iPhone have all had threaded SMS since early in their history, if not since their beginning.

Manufacturers and OS designers have had years to observe the positive reactions to this method of SMS display. In the mean time, even email applications have caught up. Gmail displays mails back and forth on a single subject in a unified, threaded view. Both Apple Mail and now Outlook make attempts to thread messages as well. So despite the fact that email applications are larger, have more overhead and have been around longer, their designers have realized the value of the conversation and adapted. But the designers of mobile phone software, where the primary purpose of the device is conversation, still refuse to acknowledge this.

After using threaded SMS on a number of review phones, I firmly believe that any phone that doesn’t have is less usable, and thus less desirable than any phone that does. This could be one of the reasons many mass market trend setters are turning from Sidekicks and the like to Blackberries and Treos. It isn’t because they’re sexy or stylish, it’s because they display SMS right (and do email well).

Although Apple is by no means the first manufacturer to have threaded SMS, they may be the ones to put it on the map, simply because everyone – most of all every manufacturer – is paying attention to the iPhone. We can only hope that they don’t spend all their time focusing on the hardware technology, but also investigate the software. Manufacturers need to make this change.

Personally, I have decided I can’t wait another generation or two for threaded SMS. I investigated all the third party options for threaded SMS on S60 devices and was disappointed by all 3. But there are better options for Windows Mobile devices, and both the iPhone and Blackberry Curve have native threaded support and are sexy and interesting. My next handset will be selected from this group of options.