Minority Report: Here come the iPhone competitors

Should Apple be afraid?

Should Apple be afraid?

Though the iPhone rivals are starting to appear, Seb Janacek says Apple has someone to fear even more than the Googles and Nokias.

The competition for the iPhone is about to get interesting.

Last week saw the launch of the first phone developed on Google's Android platform. And this week will see the introduction of the first touchscreen device from market leader Nokia.

Initial reactions to the Android-powered T-Mobile G1 were mixed but the overriding feeling is it's not the polished device it might have been.

Apple photos - pick of crop

Check out the latest from Apple in pictures…

♦&nbsp Minority Report: 10 top iPhone 2.0 apps

♦&nbsp Photos: Steve Jobs dances the iPhone 3G tune

♦&nbsp Photos: What should be crowned the king of Apple cool?

♦&nbsp Photos: Apple flying high at Macworld

♦&nbsp Photos: Apple's Jobs slims down laptop for Macworld 2008

♦&nbsp Photos: High life at the high-tech hotel

♦&nbsp Photos: Who's in the iPhone queue?

Its marketing takes a less-than-subtle swipe at one of the iPhone's biggest missing features: the lack of copy and paste - which, for some reason, seems to preoccupy the minds of a large number of people. Over the last two months of owning an iPhone I've maybe missed the feature once or twice. Compared to dropped calls and issues with battery life it doesn't register on the radar.

The T-Mobile G1 seems like a phone that has been rushed to market to try and halt the iPhone's momentum or perhaps hang onto its coattails. Other more accomplished devices are likely to follow, however, and the presence of a new platform will undoubtedly light a fire under the iPhone team.

One thing the Android phone will share with the iPhone is an inability to meet market demand. This week T-Mobile announced it had stopped taking pre-orders for the device, which goes on sale later this month.

Meanwhile, the arrival of Finnish giant Nokia in the touchscreen arena is perhaps more significant. As the market leader for handset industry, it has taken its time to respond to the arrival of new competitors in its backyard.

The company has a history of arriving late with innovations in handset design and interface - but also of succeeding in the market despite its tardiness.

Nokia is likely to be competitive on price, attacking another common complaint about the iPhone, albeit a complaint that is steadily diminishing as Apple continues to lower the cost. Analysts agree the Nokia product announcement, expected on Thursday, is hugely significant for the company.

That the iPhone faces competition is not in doubt; the incumbents, including Nokia, Samsung and others, are responding to the challenge.

However, what's likely to drive Apple more than the pressure of others is the need to out-do itself and go one better than the version number that preceded it.

Just don't expect Apple to start diluting key elements of the iPhone brand identity by grafting on features from other phones and devices.

For example, it's unlikely Apple will introduce a device with a physical keyboard as this goes against the whole design ethos of the device. Jobs spent a considerable amount of premium keynote time deriding the way half the interfaces on competing devices are covered by buttons.

The iPhone 3G still has the feel of a phone which wasn't quite ready for release, with some buggy software (most notably the Safari browser), dropped calls and interface delays.

At the recent iPod launch Jobs announced the release of a firmware update aimed at resolving these and other glitches - but some still persist and it was clear from the July keynote he's not happy with the delivery of the iPhone 3G.

To have major question marks and persistent complaints about the readiness for market and overall polish of what is arguably its flagship product will be as much a driving force to improve and innovate as the arrival of some heavyweight competition.