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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Gadget War 3 is here

The next big technology war is about to start on the mobile phone battleground. But, says ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, this war is not about features and hardware, but is instead about operating systems.

The next big war in technology is about to be fought, and the battleground is the mobile phone. But it’s not the obvious war over who has the best features, size, weight, sound and screen quality. It is the next phase in the war of operating systems, and it begins this week.

Gadget War 1 ended in victory for Apple, when it’s iPhone completely transformed the phone market, and set a new benchmark for ease of use, integration of applications, and sheer aesthetic appeal.

In the past year, a titanic struggle was waged between Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android operating system, with the latter now by far the leading smartphone operating system globally. They’ve both destroyed RIM’s BlackBerry OS and Nokia’s Symbian, although these two still dominate in South Africa.

The new market landscape reflects the outcome of Gadget War 2, with Android holding uneasy sway over the market.

This week, Gadget War 3 begins. From 11 to 15 June, the annual Apple developer conference, WCDC, is likely to see the launch of the new version of their operating system, to be called iOS6. Apple never confirms ahead of its events what products will be launched, and the arrival of iOS6 was previously anticipated, when the new iPad was launched.

As a result, no one knows what will be in iOS6. However, it’s expected that it will include better integration with the Apple Mac operating system for computers, an improved iTunes interface, more options for touch-screen gestures, and better app updates and notifications.

The expected announcement will come days after the biggest challenge yet to iOS’s market strength: the release of the Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, running on the Android operating systems. It is already in line to be declared phone of the year. More important, it is likely to be the best‚selling smartphone of 2012, too. It runs on the latest version of Android, known as Ice Cream Sandwich, and is dazzling on the eyes, compelling to the touch, and probably the best phone in the world right now.

It’s an important phone for the South African market, which is still loyal to BlackBerry, but losing patience with its unwillingness to name a date for the release of the next version of its own operating system.

Based on trying out an early prototype, the BlackBerry 10 operating system seems comparable to Android and iOS. But it is still on the drawing board, and is likely to be released in September or October. That will be too late for anyone looking to upgrade right now. The three-four month gap will give Samsung a huge head start in reclaiming South African market share.

A further issue for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion is that, if it waits until October, it will find itself competing for attention with the next operating system from Microsoft, Windows 8, set for release on 15 October. Pay careful attention to that phrase: ‚set for release‚ . If BlackBerry maker Research in Motion were able to offer the market the same kind of certainty, predictability and sense of having a clear plan, it would inspire far greater confidence.

October will also, most likely, be the month of release of the new iPhone, number 5. Like the new iPad, it may well drop the numbering convention and be called, simply, the new iPhone. It is expected to move Apple and its iOS into a new era of market leadership, but for the first time it will be fighting on more than two fronts.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 will appear on numerous tablets and phones at the same time. BlackBerry 10 will have emerged. And Samsung will already be running ahead of the market with its deadly strike force in the form of the Galaxy S3.

So when should you buy a new phone? If you need a new phone, buy it now. If you don’t, as an Afrikaans poet once wrote, ‚October is the most beautiful month of all‚ . But it will also be the month of the greatest gadget war of all time.

* Arthur Goldstuck is editor-in-chief of Gadget. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee

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