The mobile devices scene is very interesting to follow at the moment. All competitors have a huge urge to overtake the market, since we know that in a few years billions of people on this planet will buy a mobile device, and whoever gets the biggest market share now, is likely to make huge profits later and benefit of numerous network effects. And boy the competition is really serious. The market is flooded with lots of different devices and almost weekly some manufacturer reveals their latest innovation. Others who come a bit behind in product quality and features try to make it up in marketing and doing the biggest advertising campaigns ever.
What makes this competition particularly interesting to follow, is that many of the players are extremely well funded and staff with the brightest minds on the planet. Apple has billions in cash they’ve earned with their exceptional profit margins on selling iProducts. Microsoft’s owner is still one of the richest men in the world and their desktop and office software monopoly continues to bring enormous revenues. Google is an Internet service giant with a 40 billion USD turnover and Android is certainly one of their highest priorities. Samsung reported in 2012/Q3 that they have 15 trillion South Korean wons in cash (about 10 billion euros) and even Nokia has still 4 billion euros in cash left, so there is lot’s of money around to invest in development (or as in Nokia’s case, on Microsoft advertisements).
The holy grail in this game is the “wow effect”. One must have a solid high quality device with lots of features, but that is not enough. There must also be something exceptional, something that nobody else haves an what differentiates the device from the competition. Something that makes the owner of such an device feel as a better person that those around him. Something that makes the device expensive, but useful and worth the money, something that is like magic.
As we are a Linux company, we hope to see that some of the Linux-based products win the game, and indeed at the moment Android has the biggest market share in software platforms. Since Android version 4 the vanilla user interface has become quite good (and UI alternatives like HTC Sence and Samsung TouchViz less needed) but there is still many areas where Android could improve, both in features (e.g. proper multi-user support and hard drive encryption, API/ABI sensibility) and in quality (performance and stability).
Last week at Slush 2012 in Helsinki Jolla finally revealed the Sailfish OS, and the UI looks very promising. Of course that was expected, after all it continues from where N9 ended, and that was the best phone from Nokia ever (sadly, released only in six countries), both as a software/UI and as a physical device (indeed Lumia flagships continue to use the same form factor debuted with N9). Sailfish OS is based on Meego successors Mer and Nemo UI, which we’ve written about before. The Sailfish OS is going to have it’s own UI, which of the current development version can be seen in YouTube videos.
So far, however, no information about Jolla devices is public. It might not even be completely decided on yet. Why not help Jolla by listing some hardware features which might help build the wow effect?
Our wish list for the ultimate mobile device
First priority is battery life. Some years ago, when Nokia was still popular, there was an extensive study by Nokia on why users like their Nokia phones. On the top came battery life – Nokia phones had longer battery life than the competition. This feature is still important, maybe even more important than before, since new smart phones on average drain the battery in 1-2 days. It would be cool if a device hosted a 4000 mAh battery instead of the 1500-2000 mAh current average. Motorola Droid Razr MAXX HD already has a 3300 mAh battery. It would also be cool if there would be a smaller secondary battery built in, so that you could take out the main battery and replace it with a spare one without shutting down the device. Sony Xperia S already has this feature that enables easy battery switching for those situations when you are on the move. If large battery capacity is combined with newer power-saving chipsets that have a 30% reduction in power usage, battery life would easily be doubled. But that is not enough, because what we want is a smart phone where the battery lasts for a week. To achieve this really smart software features would be needed, and an open source ecosystem with thousands of developers tweaking their own device is likely to deliver the software innovation to achieve this.
Couple these hardware and software features with an accessory docking station, that not only recharges the phone, but also signals the phone that power is readily available and initiates all the backup, update and sync routines so that they don’t have to be run later, and thus have less strain on the battery while on the move.
The second priority could be a cool screen. We already have physically big 4-5 inch screens that spans the whole front of the phone and have desktop computer like resolutions of 720p (1280×720 pixels). Increasing those specs hardly give any real value. However there is other cool stuff that could be done with screens. For example there could be embedded e-ink areas in the screen, that could show the clock and system status messages without consuming power. Or use a OLPC style dual mode screen which has in addition to the normal backlit mode also a power saving reflective mode that can be used in direct sunlight. To continue on the power saving theme, add a solar panel behind the screen, so the phone will actually recharge itself when used in direct sunlight!
Couple the cool screen with HDMI ouput and DLNA streaming so that the screen can be viewed with an external big screen when needed. And if there is none available, a small built in projector would be cool, as done in the Samsung Galaxy Beam.
The third priority is the camera. In megapixels 13 is already common these days, but 8 megapixel would suffice too, and even 6,2 Mpx would be enough for 1080p video recording. More important for image quality is the stabilizer, optics quality and a large aperture size that would allow more light and thus better images in low light conditions. Current best seems to be f/2.4 in Sony Xperia TX, to take a step further f/2.0 would be needed. The standard camera application of course needs to have support for HDR, panorama and other similar features that seem to be standard now, and the lock screen of the phone must have a short-cut directly to shoot a picture so you won’t miss any passing moments. But none of these is wow enough yet. In addition to being an excellent camera for normal images, the sensor should support capturing a wide spectrum and have software filtering, making it possible to take pictures of ultra-violet and infra-red light. In fact, most sensors already capture infrared, but that is physically filtered away to avoid a red tint. The challenge is to do the filtering in software only, so that capturing or not capturing infrared is just an option in the software. Combine that with a LED flash that also emits ultra-violet or infra-red light and the applications could range from a heat camera in your pocket to do-it-yourself crime scene investigation tool. Now how cool would that be?
The fourth hardware feature would be durability, but without compromising the looks and sleekness of the device. It is certainly possible, as shown by the IP55/IP57 certified Sony Xperia V that is dust-proof and water-resistant, yet it looks beautiful. The Motorola Droid Razr phones come with water-repellent nano-coating, scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass screen and a KEVLAR reinforced casing.
The fifth hardware feature we wish to see, is an additional business version of the base model which is just like the base model, but has a slidable physical keyboard. This was already very well made in the Nokia N950 phone, which unfortunatly was circulated in even smaller amounts than the N9. Jolla team knows how it was done. Please make it again!