On Call runs every two weeks, alternating between answering reader questions and discussing hot topics in the cell phone world.
In the age of iPhone, Google Android, and Palm WebOS, a funny thing has happened on the way to the cell phone store. Though handset design has long been the focus of cell phone development, hardware manufacturers appear to be shifting their attention. Software is now taking center stage as companies struggle to distinguish their touch-screen devices from their competitors, and companies aren't being shy about this new focus.
The shift really hit home in September when we met with Motorola following the introduction of its Android-powered Cliq. As my colleague Tom Krazit wrote at the time, Moto CEO Sanjay Jha was clear that his company is resting its comeback attempt on its signature MotoBlur software. Jha characterized MotoBlur as more than software, but also as "emblematic of the shift towards software and the Internet as the main features in a modern mobile phone."
From a company that developed some of the most iconic cell phones in history (hello, Moto Razr and Startac), Jha's words were surprising. Software has always been a part of phones, but it has rarely defined them. Unless you were a smartphone buyer deciding between Windows Mobile and BlackBerry, most customers bought a phone and used the manufacturer's standard operating system without a thought. Sure, more savvy users had their strong preferences, and Verizon tried an abysmal standardized interface on its handsets, but elements like thin designs, colored faceplates, and messaging keyboards got the most attention. … Read more