Is mobile handset differentiation based on hardware coming to an end?
Back in 2007 I wrote a piece on my blog titled: The future of handset design: from hardware to software. And today this is getting more real (and validated) than ever.
When it comes to mobile handsets the rate of innovation introduced via hardware (HW) vs. sofware (SW) is and will be mainly on the SW side.
Differentiation, especially on common platforms (such as Android), will be primarily driven by SW, this is: Innovation on UIs and interface paradigms (on Android we can see this with the introduction of Moto Blur and HTC Sense), better applications (developer ecosystem adding lots of application that in turn adds to the usefulness of the handset), and better services (some phones will be very good at social things, while others at music, and so on). At the end it is SW what makes the handset more dynamic and useful and different.
Today is a great time for those doing R&D in the areas of Human-Computer Interactions (HCI).
Differentiation is necessary. But typically differentiation drives fragmentation. So the follow-up big question is on the fragmentation introduced by the different UI paradigms. Will applications need to be adapted to each new paradigm (i.e. as in many versions?). Yes, very likely.
Developers writing SW for the iPhone only have one paradigm to worry about. On the Android though, as expected we are seeing different UI paradigms (with related APIs) but fortunately the rest of the platform should remain consistent across manufacturers so fragmentation is hopefully localized to the UI only. For mobile Java (beyond Android) fragmentation is yet to be solved. For mobile web and widgets, the same although I am seeing a lot of noise around the JIL Widget SDK.
Fragmentation across platforms will continue. Fragmentation within a single platform shall be localized to the user interface (or the user interactions). Allowing for the UI to be redefined/reconfigured allows for incredible innovation on human to machine interactions which basically redefines the perception for a given handset. The next best thing is re-configurable software and hardware, but for that you will have to go play with platforms such as Bug Labs (which BTW is an extremely cool platform).
(Images sources: PopSci, Nokia, HTC Phones, Benzinga)