Why It's A Terrible Time To Buy A Smartphone - InformationWeek

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8/12/2011
09:43 AM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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Why It's A Terrible Time To Buy A Smartphone

With major system updates on the way from Apple, Google, and Microsoft, there's good reason to put the brakes on your purchase.

The selection of smartphones from the U.S. wireless network operators is nothing short of excellent. Whether you are a fan of Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone, or another platform, the variety of shapes, sizes, features, and capabilities ranges from good to over-the-top amazing. As good as all these devices are, there's good reason to put the brakes on new smartphone purchases, at least for a few weeks, and maybe even a few months. Here's why.

1. Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich

Google is planning to introduce a major revamp of Android later this fall. The new system software, Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, will combine the best elements of Android 2.3 Gingerbread and Android 3.0 Honeycomb. The idea is to create one master OS that can work just as easily on a smartphone as it can on a tablet.

If Google follows its usual protocol, Android 4.0 will be released on a Nexus-branded handset soon after the software is announced. This device will be the first device to run Android 4.0--and probably the only device to run 4.0 for at least a few months.

Consider Android 2.3 Gingerbread. When it was announced in December 2010, Google followed up with the Gingerbread-running Nexus S almost immediately. The first Gingerbread device updates, however, didn't hit the masses until the early months of 2011--and they're still rolling out. Whether or not today's Android devices will be updated to Ice Cream Sandwich isn't known with certainty, and if they are, the wait time will be agonizing.

Bottom line, if you want the next version of Android before most others, you might as well wait for Ice Cream Sandwich to show up on new hardware.

2. iPhone 5

Let's face it. The hype and buildup ahead of the next-generation iPhone has far surpassed the ridiculous. The tech industry is frothing at its collective mouth waiting to see what Apple comes up with next for its iconic smartphone. Whatever it is, it's likely to impress.

When is it coming? Most believe it will arrive at an Apple event in early September. Others think October is a more likely release date. Whichever it is, definitely put the brakes on iPhone purchases. The last thing you want is to buy an iPhone 4 only for it to be obsolesced within weeks. Don't be tempted by the sales. If you've waited this long, you can hold out for a little longer.

3. Windows Phone 7 Mango

Microsoft is preparing the first major update to its WP7 platform, called Mango. Mango was recently released to manufacturers, which means the base code is complete and the handset makers can use it to finalize their smartphone designs. While Microsoft has squashed rumors that Mango will launch on September 1, it is sure to debut this fall. Along with Mango? Bright and shiny new smartphones.

Microsoft has promised that all WP7 devices will be able to upgrade to Mango, but the current selection of hardware is nearly at its first birthday. If you really really want Mango, I'd suggest waiting until the first batch of Mango handsets makes its debut. The wait won't be too long.

4. What About BlackBerrys?

BlackBerry fans are in a tough position. RIM recently introduced a bunch of solid new BlackBerry smartphones that will go on sale in the next few weeks. They run BlackBerry 7 and boast some significant performance and feature upgrades. So what's the problem? None of them will run RIM's next-generation platform, which is based on QNX.

RIM is hard at work preparing QNX-based BlackBerrys, which should fully usher it into the modern smartphone era. The first QNX devices, not planned until the first quarter of 2012, will behave a lot like the BlackBerry PlayBook. RIM has confirmed, however, that none of its current handsets can be updated to the QNX platform. In other words, BlackBerry 7 is a last-generational update and a dead-end.

But it has been so long since RIM updated its hardware--even if incrementally--that the current generation of BlackBerrys may be nearing the end of their useful life. From an enterprise perspective, dying devices need to be replaced, and that's that. Buy if you must, but wait if you can.

Timing's Everything

We can argue the merits of timely tech purchases all day long. These days, we have a pretty good idea what's coming on the horizon. That makes putting off purchases easier because "things will be so much better in a few months." The problem is, in a few months, we'll have the same dilemma.

This time around, however, I think it is fair to caution the would-be smartphone buyer that things really will be better in a few months, and September/October will be a great time to buy a smartphone.

IT is caught in a squeeze between requests for new applications, services, and device support and demands from upper management to keep budgets lean, staffing light, and operations tight. These are irreconcilable objectives as long as we spend the vast majority of our resources on legacy services. Read our report now. (Free registration required.)

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