Friday, April 4, 2008

Wireless Industry Suffers From iPhone Envy

If there's one thing I saw too much of at this year's CTIA Wireless show, it was iPhone knockoffs. LG and Samsung were the most glaring offenders, with the Vu and Instinct. Apparently the wireless industry can't "think different."

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple should be blushing with pride right about now. It seems every company out there wants to have a phone to compete with the iPhone, and rather than make new and interesting products, they have simply tried to imitate the iPhone.

LG and Samsung both launched new phones that appear very similar to the iPhone, right down to the size, color, and silver accents. They also use touch screen user interfaces. On one level, I applaud both efforts because they do improve the overall experience and usability of cell phones. On another level, I am disappointed that neither really brought anything new to the table.

The touch interfaces on both phones were somewhat klugdy, requiring multiple taps to get the phone to respond. Samsung and Sprint (NYSE: S) reiterated many times that the Instinct device is still running a beta version of the software, and that all the kinks will be worked out come the June launch of the device. After seeing no less than three different Instinct demo units crash while using them, I'd have to say that Samsung and Sprint really need the next two months of development time.

The Vu is a more finalized product, as it is based on the Prada phone, which was released about a year ago. The UI is a final build and worked well enough, but it simply doesn't compare with the iPhone's usability.

I expect future generations of iPhone knockoffs will be better, but for the moment, the iPhone still bests the competition in usability.

These touch-enabled devices are important, and I really think they will play a bigger and bigger role in the handset business. Rather than imitation, though, I'd like to see innovation that goes beyond what Apple brings to the table.

Samsung, LG, Nokia (NYSE: NOK), Motorola (NYSE: MOT), Sony Ericsson, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM), Palm, can you do that?


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