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Most so-called iPhone alternatives are nothing of the sort

David Chartier
I think a lot of people are getting confused as to what expensive phones are actually designed for. Analysts are trying to compare the iPhone to efforts from other companies, or folks like Walt are touting the Nokia N95 and BlackBerry Curve as potential alternatives.

While I might be a little biased since I write for TUAW, I still think these are bad comparisons. Just because a phone costs north of $400 or $500, doesn't mean that phone is designed for the same purposes as any other phone in the general vicinity of its price. Take the Nokia N95, for example - it's an über-camera phone (which costs nearly $800, by the way). That's what it does. It has a freaking 5 megapixel camera that is making mobile photo geeks go nuts, and that's what it should do. It doesn't have any form of a full QWERTY keyboard, and it isn't designed to be a full-featured multimedia rollercoaster ride of music, movies, and podcasts. It's an über-camera phone. Period.

In this same vein of comparing apples and oranges (ha!), the BlackBerry Curve comparison also seems way off the mark to me. It's a BlackBerry, which means its heart and soul is still in business and the 'just-what-I-need' mobile web. Sure, the Pearl ushered in an era of a bolted-on MP3 player and media management to the BlackBerry OS, and that speaks to the heart of the Curve's problem here: the BlackBerry is about working with the enterprise for instant email and being ultra-secure for 007-class business users. Bolting on multimedia functionality isn't exactly winning over the folks who are looking for a rich on-the-go media experience.

If the iPhone - a device so potentially different and focused on bringing new things to the table - is going to be compared to anything, my vote would be for something like a Helio Ocean. With a full QWERTY keyboard, a similar focus on non-business communication (AIM, Gmail, video messaging) and a rich media experience including YouTube, it's the best thing I can think of on the market that comes anywhere close to the iPhone.

Substituting expensive phones to compare with the iPhone does a disservice to both devices, because the iPhone easily comes up short with missing features it might never be destined for (ultra-BlackBerry security, an industry-trumping digital camera, etc.) due to its target market, while something like the N95 gets bad marks for not being able to match up to the iPod features of the iPhone or even its full keyboard - features that Nokia's handset was never designed to have.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the possibility that some of the iPhone's features might not be able to be compared to anything at all, at least for now. We've never really had a rich touch-screen media device, or "just the internet" on a 3.5-inch mobile phone. Heck, even voicemail hasn't really improved since quoting your favorite sitcom for an answering machine message was remotely funny. Only time will tell as to how far the iPhone can take us, as well as how revolutionary and all-around different of a device the public deems it to be. Until then, we might have to accept the possibility that there really isn't much to compare the iPhone to - and that's ok.

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