Open Letter to Handset Makers: Stop the iPhone Clones

I suppose some congratulations are in order. This past week Sprint announced that the Samsung Instinct became its fastest selling EV-DO handset ever. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that this touchscreen phone’s price had been slashed from $199 to $129 just hours before it became available—most likely out of fear of the iPhone 3G’s impending availability. In the press release John Garcia, president of Sprint’s wireless division, couldn’t help but take a swipe at the 3G part of the iPhone’s name. He reminded the public that Sprint’s EV-DO Rev A network offers five times more coverage than AT&T’s HSDPA network (based on square miles). He shouldn’t have gone there. The goal, of course, was to plant the seed of doubt in would be iPhone 3G owners that its increased data speeds won’t wow once you venture outside of downtown. That’s a fair criticism, but it ignores the fact that the iPhone’s Web browser runs circles around the Instinct’s. I’d rather wait a few extra seconds for a site to load in the suburbs and have it look like the real deal than be stuck with a browser that crowds the screen with icons and crudely formats pages. Speaking of circles, I’ve started using the Instinct and I’m sick of staring at spinning circles as I wait for applications to open. It’s like Windows Vista on a phone. Don’t get me wrong, the Instinct is by far the best competitor to the iPhone thus far, especially when it comes to its smooth GPS navigation and surprisingly accurate voice-enabled local search. And that zippy EV-DO Rev A connection does come in handy when downloading tunes over the air. But the problem with the Instinct, as well as the other touch phones being dumped on the market in time for the “second coming,” is that they simultaneously reek of imitation and a desperate need to stand out. Here’s what I mean. Let’s take the LG Dare. I was playing with this touchscreen device yesterday and right out of the box I was underwhelmed. Why? Because my finger presses weren’t registering. Turns out that the screen need to be calibrated, an option that’s buried in the Settings menu. Why wouldn’t the screen be properly calibrated to start with? And what’s with having two menus? It’s just confusing. Somehow I don’t think being able to snap 3-MP photos and record videos in slow-mo will be enough to get consumers excited with the iPhone 3G right around the corner. Then again, at least the Dare’s screen worked properly after it was calibrated. The Samsung Glyde’s touch display failed to register finger presses on multiple occasions, a weakness that was hardly mitigated by the somewhat unique slide-down keyboard. And while it’s possible to customize the favorites menu on this phone, you can’t simply drag and drop the icons as you can on the iPhone. There is not really one ounce of innovation on this phone, but messaging addicts who consider touch a plus might not care. I still have pretty high hopes for the HTC Touch Diamond, which boasts a super high-res VGA display, a speedy and desktop-like Web browser, and an improved TouchFLO 3D interface. And overall HTC did a nice job of hiding the aging and bloated Windows Mobile with some nifty tricks—you can do almost everything right from the main screen. But then I tried typing. The full QWERTY touch keyboard is too cramped, and the SureType-like option covers up too much of the relatively small 2.8-inch display. And why include a stylus at all if you don’t have complete confidence in your touch screen? We’ll reserve final judgment on this phone until a carrier picks it up and the $779 unlocked price comes way, way down. Am I saying that everyone other than Apple should just stop making touchscreen phones? Hardly. But it seems as though everyone is in such a rush to push their iPhone clones out the door that they’re not taking the time necessary to get their devices right the first time. At the same time, truly innovative phones, like the LG Decoy, are getting the short shrift. Imagine if LG wasn’t chasing the iPhone and was able to dedicate the resources necessary to endow the Decoy’s detachable Bluetooth headset with Jawbone-like noise canceling. I’d buy it. And that’s my point. The most innovative phones I’ve seen this year don’t have touchscreens at all. Another example is Motorola’s ROKR E8, whose dialpad morphs to show new controls/icons when you’re playing music or shooting pictures. It uses touch and haptic feedback in a way that you don’t expect, and the result is a phone that’s pricey but impressive. Part of me hopes that BlackBerry doesn’t come out with the much rumored Thunder and continues to focus on making kick-ass smart phones like the upcoming Bold the best they can be. And part of me wants R.I.M. to show the world that’s it’s possible to make a truly unique touch screen phone that’s not only fun but makes e-mail messaging better than on the iPhone. It’s obvious that consumers want touch, but it’s going to take a lot more than bitching about AT&T’s 3G footprint or touting a single feature here and there that the iPhone doesn’t have to make consumers care about anything other than Apple’s unstoppable sequel.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Axel Bak Says:

    Wow, this article thrills. It thrills so much that I cannot take the site seriously anymore. This is the most sick evidence of hip-hyped Apple religion mania I ever came across. I could explain why here, but that is a waste of time.

  2. Mark Spoonauer Says:

    This commentary isn’t based on hype but hands-on experience with each of these touchscreen phones. There’s no mania going on here. Just reality.

  3. Scott Says:

    So, here is how I see it from what I’ve read.

    iPhone has a better browser than the Instinct.

    Instinct has a better network, better GPS, and then it also has functionality the iPhone doesn’t. tv/radio/and video recording. It also has a nice wide keyboard for quick text messaging.

    Why do you think the iPhone is so superior?

  4. Ruben Says:

    Touchscreen, Windows CE, WIFI and 3G technology is not an iphone innovation so there really nothing that APPLE can do about it. Even some of the iphone features are not by them as well, they just bought the rights from other developers and packaged them as iphone. If this was the case the you would not have motorolla, sony and other phones brands out there only NOKIA’s. Anyway, if you ask me if not for these phones the Iphone would still cost above $600 without WIFI and 3G. Because iphone is not exclusive anymore they are forced to sell the product at the right price.

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