Friday New Tools Feature: Smartphones Go Mainstream

They're no longer just for early adopters; as 2009 winds down, a cornucopia of new smartphones are hitting the market, and they're shaping up to be really good. With the Palm Pre (and future phones running its slick WebOS), all of the new Android phones coming out (2 or 3 new ones coming to Verizon alone very soon), and even a few decent Windows Mobile phones, 2009 looks like it will be the year that ushered in the age of the smartphone.

It has taken a few years for retailers to catch up after the iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone; many have continued to focus on featurephones, essentially regular phones with gimmicky selling points, instead of fully taking advantage of the mobile platform. But that is finally changing in a big way. Particularly tantalizing is the new Motorola Droid (left), Verizon's first real competitor for the iPhone (and the first phone on Verizon in a long time that I actually really want). Though I'm lukewarm on their advertising campaign for it, the Droid does indeed look to be a potential iPhone killer, and might be just the comeback that Motorola needs right now. 

Perhaps iPhone killer is not the right way to put it - there's plenty of space for competition in the exploding smartphone market, and the iPhone is still doing just fine. In fact, this quarter AT&T sold more iPhones than ever - a full 74% of AT&T's new activations this quarter were iPhones, which is a pretty incredible statistic. It points to what I believe is a sea change about to take place in the mobile sphere. Within the next year or two, smartphones will no longer be the exception, but the norm. I've written before about why that's a good thing from the perspective of narrowing the digital divide. But it will also have a profound effect on domestic politics - as mobile devices become the primary entry point to the communications network for more and more people, outreach efforts will have to adapt. However, we should not see this just as a challenge but also as an opportunity; mobility and location-awareness have the potential to revolutionize politics (since, as they say, all politics is local).