I’m getting old. My girlfriend forced me to buy a nose hair trimmer. Her pet name for me is “Grandpa” because during the winter my two favorite hobbies are taking naps and listening to the radio while lying on the couch. More recently I find myself spending less time in front of a computer too because my eyes start to hurt after a few hours. Another symptom of the aging process is my newfound inability to deal with bullshit. If I find something that works with little to no effort on my part, I use said product or service until a compelling enough reason turns up to make me consider switching to something else.
Now I wasn’t always like this. Less than a decade ago you could say I was a PC gaming addict. I’d spend hours every day looking at benchmarks to find the best components for my rig, which I never really bothered putting in a case since I was swapping out bits and pieces every other week. My need for speed eventually lead me to my local junkyard, where I found a radiator from an old and busted car that I used to water cool my machine. Before New York State gutted their education department, I was lucky enough to take shop class. There I learned how to solder, which came in handy when I had to modify my motherboard to feed more voltage to my overclocked CPU and my expensive boutique RAM modules.
That version of me is dead and buried.
I don’t have the time, nor the patience, to deal with technology like I used to when I was younger, so back in September 2010 I picked up an iPhone 4 and nothing I’ve seen during the past 15 months has convinced me to switch. With each passing month I’m also growing more and more content with the idea that I may not even need to buy another new phone until 2013. Before we get to 2013 though, let’s run through the five most important devices of 2011 and then talk about why 2012 is going to be dreadfully boring.
The Samsung Nexus S
Released roughly 2 weeks before the end of 2010, the Nexus S showed everyone over the course of the next 12 months that a device with stock Android, despite not having awesome hardware specifications, was the best way to enjoy Google’s mobile operating system. Chris Ziegler from The Verge said it best in an article he published in May 2011:
This weekend, I set aside my G2x and bought my third Nexus S.
I’m not bragging, mind you. I certainly can’t afford to own three $500 phones (I sold the first two). Quite the opposite, actually: after having recently owned both the G2x and the Atrix, I bought this phone with a feeling of resignation, defeat, and disappointment that I’ve been unable to find a proper replacement for a phone that launched nearly half a year ago.
He goes on to describe how dual core, at the time, wasn’t really worth paying attention to. That handset vendors rushed devices out to market, meaning they shipped with bugs. And then finally he slams the skins that companies put on top of Android for the sake of differentiating themselves from other handset vendors.
Why didn’t I buy the Nexus S? Simple really, it came out just 3 months after I picked up an iPhone 4, my first iPhone mind you, and in terms of hardware specs I wasn’t really interested in going back to a screen that pushed only 800 x 480 pixels after being absolutely captivated by the “retina display” that Apple rightly trumpets as being amazing.
The Samsung Galaxy S II
This 4.3 inch monster came out in May 2011, at least in Finland. Americans got it later, but that’s not really any of my concern. Anyway, nearly every tech site that reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S II said it was one of the best devices to ever hit the market. Here’s a quote from the review Vlad Savov (formerly of Engadget, now with The Verge) published in late April 2011:
It’s the best Android smartphone yet, but more importantly, it might well be the best smartphone, period. Of course, a 4.3-inch screen size won’t suit everyone, no matter how stupendously thin the device that carries it may be, and we also can’t say for sure that the Galaxy S II would justify a long-term iOS user foresaking his investment into one ecosystem and making the leap to another. Nonetheless, if you’re asking us what smartphone to buy today, unconstrained by such externalities, the Galaxy S II would be the clear choice. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.
Thanks to the obscenely large 4.3 inch screen, Samsung’s insistence on shoving TouchWiz down your throat, and because Android 2.3 Gingerbread wasn’t optimized for the dual core processor at the heart of the Galaxy S II, I skipped buying this thing.
The Apple iPhone 4S
It’s difficult to put into words how much the iPhone 4S was hyped. Rumors said there would be a new case design, 4G LTE connectivity, NFC, a new capacitive home button, and so on and so forth. Sadly, Apple didn’t deliver any of that when the iPhone 4S eventually launched in October 2011. So what ended up being the highlight features of the fifth generation Jesus Phone? Siri, a new 8 megapixel camera, and the dual core Apple A5 processor.
Do I want to talk to my phone while I’m out and about? Do I take enough photos that I’d feel compelled to get a device with a better camera? Have I ever once thought to myself that my iPhone 4 would benefit from having a second core? No. No. And no.
Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo was succinct in his conclusion of the iPhone 4S, which he reviewed the same month it came out:
This is the phone to buy, for most people. Not if you have an iPhone 4, but for everybody else.
So it was the best phone on the market at the time, but not worth buying if you already had the model that came before it. Great. Next!
The Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Like clockwork, nearly one year after the Nexus S came out, Google released the next update to the Nexus family, and boy is the Galaxy Nexus a hell of an update. New version of Android, dual core processor, front facing camera that you can use to unlock the device, 720p screen, all that and more easily make the Galaxy Nexus the ultimate geek phone. But there are two problems.
First, I’m an iPhone 4 user, remember? That means I have a microSIM card. I once tried to use an adapter to shove my microSIM inside a device that only took regular SIM cards, and it was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do with a phone. Not only did I end up cutting myself numerous times, but the stress levels after failing to get that damn SIM card working were enough for me to swear off ever trying to do that shit again. So even if I wanted the Galaxy Nexus, I wouldn’t be able to buy it because I’d need a new SIM card. I’m on prepaid, so I can’t just ask my operator for another SIM provisioned to my account either. I need to use the SIM card I have now until the end of time, or at least until I feel like changing my phone number.
Had the Galaxy Nexus used a microSIM card, I still wouldn’t have bought it. Why? Earlier in this article I said the 4.3 inch Samsung Galaxy S II was too big. What makes you think I’d want the 4.65 inch Galaxy Nexus?
Sascha Segan from PC Mag published this personal anecdote yesterday:
In this office, 4-inch screens like the one on Verizon’s HTC Droid Incredible 2 seem to be a happy medium for everyone, and even a well-designed 4.3-inch phone can seem like it isn’t too overwhelming.
Had the Galaxy Nexus shipped with a 4 inch screen, I’d probably be 600 Euros poorer right now and I’d also have a new phone number. At 4.3 inches I would have had to think about it real hard. But at 4.65 inches? Hell no.
The Nokia Lumia 800
Nokia’s first Windows Phone is the most controversial device of the year. Just 9 months after Stephen Elop got on stage in London and told the world that Nokia would be depending on Microsoft for the future success of the company, the Lumia 800 hit the market. Built by Compal, with guts from Qualcomm, and in a body that was meant to showcase Maemo, the operating system that would have put Nokia back on the map, the Lumia 800 rightfully elicits some strong emotions. It’s pretty, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s flawed.
To charge the Lumia 800 you need to open a small plastic door that then hangs off the top of the device. When I look at that, alarm bells go off in my head. How reliable is that going to be over time? And then there’s the hassle of opening and closing that door. Even if it takes just 10 seconds a day, it’s still something I’d rather not have to fiddle with. My next qualm is with the screen, which only does 800 x 480 pixels, something I’m not willing to downgrade to after having an iPhone 4 for over year. But what really kills the Lumia 800 for me is this quote from Niklas Savander, Executive Vice President of Markets for Nokia:
We made the decision to go to Windows Phone when Mango was pretty much done, so we were able to impact some elements of it but you’ll really see the fruits of what we can do with Microsoft when the Apollo version of Windows Phone comes out.
He’s basically saying we should wait a year to see the real deal. That the Lumia 800 isn’t Nokia’s best work. Why would I want to buy it then?
So what about 2012?
During the next 60 days we’re going to see the devices that will dominate the conversations within the mobile industry for the first 6 months of 2012. At CES in January we’ll see Nokia launch in America, and we might also get some more information about Tango, the minor update to Mango, otherwise known as Windows Phone 7.5. Then there’s Mobile World Congress in February. We’ll likely see the third generation of the Samsung Galaxy S there. I’m expecting that it’ll have a 720p screen, faster processor, and hopefully Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. When those devices actually hit the market is another topic all together.
Then everything’s quiet until June when Google hosts their annual I/O event. We’re probably going to see the next version of Android shown off there. Also in June is Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference where we’ll get a sneak peak at iOS 6.
Again total silence, then the back to school season kicks off. Expect a new iPhone in September or October, some new Android devices in October or November, and of course the next Nexus device in November or December. Also of note is that Q4 2012 is when we’ll see Windows 8 and Windows Phone Apollo ship.
With that rough framework in place, here’s some of the reasons why I’m probably going to keep my wallet shut in 2012.
First, anything announced at CES typically doesn’t ship for another few months. That and whatever is announced there is usually meant for the American market. I’m in Finland, so I really could not care less. Mobile World Congress isn’t any better. The Samsung Galaxy S II was announced in mid February, but it didn’t ship until the end of May in Europe, and until August/September in America. Not spending money during the first half of 2012 will be a walk in the park.
Second, NFC will become a standard feature in 2012 smartphones, but it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work across different platforms. Earlier this month I spoke to Eldar Murtazin, Editor in Chief of Mobile-Review, and he said that he couldn’t get a Nokia Symbian device, a Nokia Maemo device, and an Android device to exchange information between each other via NFC. What’s the point then? As for mobile payments, my bank has yet to support that, and they’ll likely not care about NFC until the iPhone has it.
Third, 4G LTE is useless for the way I use mobile data. Earlier in this article I mentioned that I’m a prepaid user. That might have shocked some of you, but here’s something that’s even more disturbing: I use the slowest data package my operator provides, just 1 megabit per second down. In Finland all the data plans are unlimited, you just pay more for faster speeds, similar to how you’re likely paying for your home broadband connection today. That 1 megabit download speed is more than enough for me. Twitter, email, basic web browsing, what exactly am I going to do with a 40 megabit per second pipe?
Fourth, if I ever do buy an Android device again, it’s going to be a Nexus. My first Android smartphone was a Nexus One, and my next Android smartphone might be whatever comes after the Galaxy Nexus. Knowing how Google’s done past Nexus releases, we’re not going to see it until the very end of 2012.
Fifth, the highlight features of the next iPhone will likely be NFC and 4G LTE, which again, are two things I don’t really care about right now. Rumors say the iPhone 5 will have a higher resolution screen, but I doubt that. As for apps, I don’t see developers ditching support for the iPhone 4 anytime soon. Hell, the iPhone 3GS is still selling. If I start running into issues with using the latest and greatest iOS apps, then I’ll upgrade my iPhone 4, but those apps have to be extremely compelling.
Sixth, Windows Phone doesn’t impress me. That can of course change, but right now what I see has loads of potential, but there needs to be just that little bit extra. I’m hoping Microsoft brings back Kin Studio, which was an online dashboard that let you see everything on your mobile device in a timeline view. It died when the Kin died, but some say it’ll return.
And that’s it really. Curious to hear your thoughts!