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Reality Absorption Field: Making the top choice

Ross Rubin

Among Apple competitors, it's become fashionable to pay the company a backhanded compliment regarding iOS. Yes, the patter typically goes, Apple created a breakthrough platform back in 2007. However, the paradigm has now shifted to... something. In the case of BlackBerry, that something is a smooth means of swiping in and out of all your communications at a glance without interrupting whatever else you're doing. In the case of Windows Phone (and for the new Facebook Home user interface layer atop Android), that something is seeing all the updated information around the people in your life.

Now, you don't have to be marketing a rival operating system to Apple's to make the case that updates from your personal connections should bubble up to the top of the interface. But there is also the case that business news should be at the top of that interface. Or information about where you currently are. Or your favorite games. Or, as a former colleague put it, everything related to Gilligan's Island if that is someone's preference (it wasn't hers).

The idea that communications should be the main feature of a phone is a quaint assumption these days. Apple showed its indifference if not disdain for this concept clearly when it designed the iPhone. Unlike previous phones and even many previous smartphones, there were no physical call or end buttons. And phone calling was just another app. Indeed, today a host of alternatives such as Skype, Tango, Fring and perhaps others waiting in the wings that one can use as their main dialer if they so choose. And of course, a host of voice alternatives -- messaging, video chat, -- now exist that were unimaginable when the phone was in its infancy.

A victim of its own success, iOS has given rise to an app sprawl that is difficult to manage once one acquires several pages of apps. But with the exception of not being able to delete those that come from Apple, apps are all given equal opportunity to be presented in the topmost layer of the user interface that Apple allows with the dock providing a favorable position to four of them on the iPhone (six on the iPad). Android widgets and Live Tiles provide different tradeoffs in taking that functionality to a higher user interface layer. Unlike the recently announced Facebook Home, they provide for multiple items to share the spotlight, not an environment that revolves around a single social network. That may work for HTC, but won't for Apple or other mobile OS vendors.

Of course, phones will probably always be used to communicate. Then again, just as voice has lost monopoly of the phone, the phone has lost its monopoly on long-distance, real-time communications. These days, tablets and PCs and even TVs in some circumstances can be used to reach out. By allowing users to choose the functionality that's most important to them, they can best manage when to have the exchanges they want, when to avoid the ones they don't, and how to improve efficiencies to eliminate the ones that don't need to happen in the first place.

Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at @rossrubin.

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