About 150,000 people attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this year, about 5,000 of whom were tech journalists.
Yet everywhere you went, people were using large-format Android phones instead of Apple’s iPhones, which are generally smaller.
There is an assumption that most tech bloggers are Apple fanboys and girls. Yet when I got in line to see the big Samsung keynote address on Day 1 of the show, the crew from one of Business Insider’s more annoying rival publications were all using Android.
I must have seen thousands of people (not just bloggers) using their phones at CES this year — and I felt alone as I tapped away on my little iPhone 5.
Of course, there is a huge bias in my anecdotal, straw-poll impression. Samsung dominated the show this year, and the company had flown in hundreds of its employees for the conference.
Apple, by contrast, doesn’t “do” CES.
To give some credit to Apple, I did notice an executive of one of Samsung’s vendors carrying both an iPhone and a Galaxy S4. Turned out the iPhone was for personal stuff; the Galaxy was for business.
This is not a good sign for Apple.
CES attracts the earliest of early adopters, as well as execs who have to make decisions about which mobile platforms they need to get into bed with. Most of the business is transactional — exhibitors are there to sign up new customers. It’s also an intense business environment: CES is huge, and using a laptop or desktop there is often impossible. So the fact that many attendees appeared to be using Android devices — or at least non-iPhone devices — for mobile communications at CES ought to worry Apple.
The size difference between iPhone and Galaxy was also acute: My tiny iPhone looked like a dumbphone next to Samsung’s Galaxy and Note devices.
It turns out that using a large Android has a distinct business advantage: Business users need to write lots of emails and texts. Doing so on a large Android screen is easier than on Apple's small screens. Call it the revenge of BlackBerry: One of the reasons BlackBerry still has customers is that it's easier to type on a machine built for typing, like a BlackBerry with a keyboard. And while Apple changed forever what people want from their phones with its large touchscreen, the Apple screen is still not large enough to do a lot of typing.
(iPhone users: Just think of how many times you have accidentally made a "wrong" move on Candy Crush Saga because your "fat" fingers pushed a game piece the incorrect way. Those errors, like typos, don't happen on large-screen Androids as often.)
Now, on top of that, note that Android — because it is a Google platform — handles Google apps better. Gmail and Google Calendar are seamlessly integrated on Androids.
At CES I had a hectic schedule that required Ninja-level calendar skills. Yet I felt my iPhone was conspiring against me because I had the temerity to use Google's calendar app instead of Apple's. Repeatedly, my iPhone asked me to sign back in to Google Calendar with a code sent in a text message to prove who I was. Apple hates cookies (the web tracking software that remembers who you are). And the iPhone's iOS system doesn't support cookies. So Google apps that depend on cookies are constantly "forgetting" who you are on an iPhone, triggering those annoying texts.
But no worries, right? iPhone's camera is superior as everyone knows.
CES is a good test of cameras. It is huge, so it tests distance. It is indoors; so it tests low-light conditions. And it is full of people rushing around; so it tests shutter speed and retina sensitivity. I thought, because I was using an iPhone 5, that I had a superior phone camera.
And then I got to the Samsung booth, where I was able to take a few shots with the new Galaxy Note phablet. They were better in indoor, low-light conditions than my iPhone's pics.
Not a good sign, if you're Apple CEO Tim Cook.Texting: still crucial.
And then there is the texting issue. iPhone appears to have a "problem" sending texts to Android users. Some people think Apple has failed to remove some sort of mistake in its texting software that hinders texts to and from Android users. (Obviously this can't be true because of the heightened level of care that Apple brings to its products, right?) Yet of the three BI staffers who attended CES, it was the Android user whose text messages were consistently delivered or received late.
The bottom line is this:
Apple must learn from history. And the history of smartphones is pretty clear — the small screen phone that can't communicate with others loses.
Back in 2007, when the first iPhone was launched, there were two types of phones: feature phones like those from Nokia (which had small screens), and BlackBerry (which had a small screen plus a QWERTY keyboard). The new iPhone had a large touchscreen — and it won the market.Lesson: big screens rule.
While the iPhone killed off BlackBerry and the feature phone business, business users never went away. And if there is one thing business users need, it is the ability to type. The problem today is that the iPhone screen is so tiny it makes typing an unpleasant experience.
On Android, however, the typing keys are nice and big — due to the big screens of Samsung's Galaxy S4 and Note.
So Apple, without a big-screen phone, risks becoming the BlackBerry of 2014 if it keeps its screens so small.
iPhone was once a great phone that offered the height of productivity in its day. But now its screen is too small, and its hostility to Android makes it too inflexible as a business device.
That's why we believe Apple will come roaring back with a large-screen iPhone 6 launch this year.
Because otherwise, tiny iPhones will end up looking like dumbphones, or BlackBerrys, for business users.
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