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Gadgets & Home Improvement

Smartphone smarts

From gesture control to wireless charging, novel features are winning Android smartphones more fans
The Straits Times - April 5, 2013
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Smartphone smarts

The decision to switch from an iPhone to an Android smartphone was a no-brainer for Mr Kevin Poh. The hard part, he said, was finding something that stands out from a sea of devices with similar hardware.

"Smartphones have become a parity product, where each phone's speed is comparable with another's," said Mr Poh, 34, a copywriter. He eventually decided on a Google Nexus 4 in February.

Companies are increasingly driven to introduce novel features to their devices to differentiate them from the competition.

Last month, Samsung made a big show of its latest flagship, the upcoming Galaxy S4. While the device gets the usual upgrades in processor, screen size and battery, the spotlight was on the Galaxy S4's new gesture controls and camera capabilities.

Imaging features are also vastly improved. Some read your mind and save shots even before you have fully depressed the shutter.

It had become commonplace for smartphones to battle for supremacy with hardware. But hardware innovation pretty much hit the wall a year ago, said Ms Melissa Chau, senior research manager for client devices at market research firm IDC.

"Apple, which has been known for shaking up the scene, hasn't done much either," said Ms Chau. She pointed out that the iPhone has been getting incremental hardware upgrades, but falling short on innovation. This has led consumers to gravitate towards Android devices, which offer vendors the freedom to customise and add multiple features.

In the fourth quarter of last year, iOS and Android devices each held 49 per cent of the market here, a sharp change from the same period the year before, when Apple owned 62 per cent, and Android, 31 per cent.

But Windows Phone has failed to gain traction, even with innovative technology, such as wireless charging for Nokia's Lumia smartphones.

"In one year, Samsung's market share has gone up, contributing to the sharp rise in Android devices from 2011 to 2012," said Ms Chau.

The credit goes to Samsung Galaxy S III and Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE, both of which offered new features, such as gesture control and user interface enhancements, that differentiated them from other Android devices.

But an "innovation" is no use if it does not deliver the best experience.

"Any feature with the initial 'wow' factor which fails to deliver real value on subsequent uses will disappoint users and fail to create stickiness to the brand," said Mr Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst with technology research firm Gartner.

Smartphone user David Lee, 34, an engineer, said he looks for smarter features when considering a new device. On his wish list are Near-Field Communication and a more intuitive voice control.

But there can be too much of a good thing. He admitted: "Gesture controls are nice to have, but can be a bit too gimmicky."

Digital Life gives an overview of the innovative features for the latest and upcoming smartphones.

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