Last week I posted a Top 5 phones list. Funny thing about Top 5 lists, college football Top 25 polls, beauty contests, and most any argument ever held in a bar: People love to hear other people rank things, and love to then rip those rankings apart. What makes it fun is also the point, that there's no way to get everyone to agree on which cell phone is "the best," which Muppet is the cutest, or which BCS team is the undisputed king of the no-playoffs college football season.
We at The Dawg keep making Top 5 lists because you keep telling us you like them and want more of them. Even when you tell us we're wrong, biased, wrong, totally blind, wrong, and that we must be on the payroll of one or more phone manufacturers for putting their devices on the lists, we take your comments to mean that you're interested enough to chime in and want more lists. And so we make more of the lists. Even though we know you'll continue to argue about them, and even though Apple, RIM, Palm, HTC, LG, Samsung, nor any of the other phone companies is paying me a thin dime to put their phone on my lists. Actually, it's precisely because of those two reasons that I keep at it, but anyway.
That said, a reader who goes by the name Wheezle posted something on my August Top 5 that got me to thinking. His comment, "So are there any reasons the iPhone should be at the top that have anything to do with being a communications device? Seems to me you've just recommended the iPod touch," made me wonder, "When is a cell phone not really a cell phone?" That is, how much of what you, me, and Aaron, Adriana, and John like in our phones has to do with phoning and communicating, and how much of it has to do with computers, multimedia, and entertainment? And where's the line drawn between the two categories of gadgetry, anyway?
To specifically address Wheezle's question, what I wrote about iPhone 3GS in the Top 5 list certainly has little to do with communications:
But the multitouch display is still killer, the iPod and App Store are still the best in the biz, and the addition of video capture, voice control, and up to 32 GB of onboard storage makes the 3GS the slightly evolved phone to beat.
I was, however, writing specifically about the upgrades Apple made from 3G to 3GS, and left out much of what has kept iPhone at or near the top of my Top 5 since the first version went on sale in June of 2007. Hopefully that was clear from the context of the full paragraph in the original article.
But let's look more closely at what it is that I think makes iPhone so universally recommendable, and how it differs from iPod Touch. Then let's look at what the device lacks in the "communications" department as compared to a few others that immediately sprang to mind when I read Wheezle's comment.
First off if you don't mind carrying two devices, I'd definitely recommend the option of a non-iPhone for your communications needs and an iPod Touch for your photo, music, and casual gaming desires. You can rock a cheap cell phone with good RF on a cheap plan (Nokia 5310 on T-Mobile comes to mind) and then use your iTouch for all of that whiz-bang stuff without having to pay $30/month for cellular data. For my money, though, iPhone is still the device to beat when it comes to giving the "average" high-end consumer the best combination of features, performance, and design in a multipurpose mobile phone. What I mean by that is the average smartphone buyer is actually a composite of a huge range of consumers: some want powerful phone features, some want reliable mobile email, some want fast mobile Web browsing, some want killer games and apps, some want video to go, and so on. When I look at that vast range of would-be buyers of a high-end phone and then look at every phone currently on the market and try to pick one device that's most likely to satisfy most of those buyers, iPhone still comes out on top.
Most of those consumers are not hardcore phone fans like you, the fine PhoneDog reader. Most of them want a phone that can handle voice, text, Email, and the Web (since they're shopping for a smartphone). Many of them also want a brilliant display, an easy to use user interface, and neato features like a portable photo viewer and music/video player, location-based services like navigation, the ability to extend the value of their purchase via add-on apps and accessories, and maybe some "smartphone" features like calendaring, PC syncing, and corporate Email support.
I also want all of that stuff. I also want it all in one device, a device that I can use on a cellular network or a WiFi network, depending on where I am and what's available. I also want advanced communications and computing features that iPhone doesn't currently do very well, like HTC Hero's ability to integrate my phone and social networking contacts, and to let me know when people on my Favorites list have communicated with me. And like Palm Pre's ability to multitask and gently notify me of system events by way of discrete alerts at the bottom of my screen (Android does it too, but I like Pre's method better).
I could go on - there's lots that iPhone, in my opinion, doesn't do well that various other devices do better.
But on the whole, thinking about every consumer that I can possibly think about, their individual lists of wants and needs in a mobile phone, and the ease of use that's paramount in making a piece of tech that's actually usable by most of the people most of the time, I currently can't think of anything with more universal appeal than iPhone. That's why it topped the list.
Hero, Pre, and several others are nipping at Apple's heels. Apple basically gave itself a two year headstart with the original iPhone, a device that absolutely knocked the industry on its back. But HTC and Palm, most notably, have advanced further than Apple in the two plus years since the first iPhone dropped. I've said it before and I'll say it again here: Hero with faster response and a better Web browser might just have edged iPhone 3GS out in this last Top 5 of mine. Though Android needs more and better apps to compete with iPhone on a mass consumer scale. Pre with more apps - and, yes, a better Web browser - could also have leapfrogged iPhone, though I do think Pre's industrial design isn't as universally appealing and functional as that of either iPhone or Hero.
But the point is that the gap is closing on Apple's lead in my view of the mobile landscape. That gap is closing right quick, too.
Your view may have iPhone coming in second, third, or a distant, distant last. As it should - with this stuff as in any good sports and/or pub argument, there can't be a clear consensus winner when it comes to picking "The Best Cell Phone EVAR!"
But back to Wheezel's question: Did I actually put iPod Touch at the top of my list? Yes and no. Yes in the sense that iPod Touch is more or less an iPhone clone when it comes to handling two of the four tasks I suggested as being the core of what the "average buyer" wants from a smartphone: Email and the Web. You could even add the third and fourth tasks, Voice and Text, to that list if you had an iPod Touch with the appropriate third-party apps installed and you promised to stay within range of WiFi at all times (since you can send texts via IM these days).
The thing is, iPhone lets you drop that "within WiFi range" caveat and roam free in the great cellular-enhanced wide open. Especially if you don't live in the US where 55% of iPhone owners reportedly just said the thing they most dislike about their device is its carrier. iPhone inherently becomes a communications device where iPod Touch can't be one thanks to its cellular radio. So long as you can get service, that is. cough, cough.
For me, the guy who wants voice, text, Email, Web, maps, music, photos, video, photo/video capture, casual gaming, social networking, and all sorts of other stuff in a mobile device but only wants to carry one gadget with me, ever, it's all related to communications. Even if I'm using my phone to play a single-person shooter game that renders me entirely zoned off from the rest of the planet, I like doing it on my phone in case I suddenly want or need to communicate with someone. So, in a sense, every non-phone part of my phone is all about communicating, even the non-communications features.
Though, yes, I fully understand the tenuous nature of my argument there.
Hero's Favorites widget and social network integration kicks iPhone's butt. Pre's push notifications system and multitasking support leaves iPhone in the dust. Nokia makes a slew of phones with better cameras than iPhone's. Omnia HD's display handles video playback with a beauty that makes iPhone cry. If any of those features stand head and shoulders at the top of your personal list of wants in a smartphone, then iPhone no doubt won't sit at #1 in your Top 5.
But for me, when I try to wrap my peanut-sized brain around the great big entire world of people shopping for phones I wind up with a Top 5 that aims to be a fistful of phones covering every possible buyer's bases, in order of best bet to fifth best bet. And like I said, the whole point is that we're gonna debate it.
The other funny thing about lists? They tend to inspire more lists. Maybe it's time for a whole slew of "Top 5" lists, covering every category I can think of in the mobile phone world. And then maybe it'll be time for Aaron, Adriana, and/or John to chime in with their versions of the lists. And for you all to agree, disagree, and debate it in the comments and forums.
Or, better yet, in person with us at the local pub while watching an ESPN Classic show listing the Top Athletes of All Time.