Google's Partners Are Pushing Another Radical Feature Apple's iPhone Lacks

Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPhone lacks a number of hardware features common to most expensive Android handsets. You won't find an Apple-made handset with NFC technology, nor can you purchase an iPhone with a screen size remotely comparable to those offered by Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) hardware partners.

Now, another feature can be added to the list: Both Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) and Samsung (NASDAQOTH: SSNLF  ) have embraced waterproofing, offering flagship phones that can survive a dip in the pool.

Apple closing the gap
While Samsung is often criticized for copying the iPhone, Apple has added a fair number of features to its smartphone that were originally embraced by Google's hardware partners. Samsung, for example, offered 4G LTE on its second Galaxy S handset -- Apple didn't bother with the feature until the iPhone 5.

Samsung was first to popularize the concept of a larger screen, originally with its Galaxy Note phablet, and later with its own flagships. Google's other hardware partners, including Sony, quickly followed.

Apple still lacks a larger iPhone, but that should change relatively soon. Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, has never ruled out the idea of a larger iPhone, and numerous reputable media outlets have reported that the iPhone 6, when it ships later this year, will sport a larger screen.

That could put Google's hardware partners in a tricky spot -- while there are many factors that may have influenced consumers to chose an Android phone over Apple's iPhone, the bigger screen has been, over the past few years, a major defining characteristic. If Apple were to finally follow Samsung and Sony in offering a larger iPhone, it could capture some of Google's users.

Is waterproofing the new must-have feature?
But Samsung and Sony seemed to have moved on to the next thing -- in this case, waterproofing. Sony struck first: the original Xperia Z, released last year, can survive underwater at a depth of up to 1 meter.

Samsung followed suit, releasing a special variant of the Galaxy S4 (known as the S4 Active) that was likewise waterproof. However, the S4 Active was a limited release, restricted to a few carriers (AT&T in the U.S.).

This year, Samsung has made waterproofing a focus: All flagship S5s will have the feature. Sony, likewise, remains wed to waterproofing -- like the original Xperia Z, the Xperia Z2 can survive water submersion.

There are, of course, some trade-offs: To make the phone waterproof, all of its ports must be covered. A number of tech critics have found the necessity annoying: Business Insider's Steve Kovach, reviewing Sony's Xperia Z, wrote:

But because the Xperia Z is water resistant, you'll have to put up with some compromises with the design. Every port and opening is covered with a tiny hatch that you have to pry open with your fingernail whenever you want to access the headphone jack, USB charger, or SD card slot. The hatches may keep water out, but they also keep you from quickly getting to the ports. And when they're open, each hatch hangs from a flimsy plastic thread, which is distracting and ugly.

PCWorld also found the port covers annoying, but ultimately concluded that users could live with them.

The advantages of fragmentation
Despite the trade-offs, some iPhone owners are calling for Apple to make a waterproof smartphone: TechCrunch's Matt Burns recently urged Cupertino to follow the trend. Will Apple do so? Maybe, but if the company's recent history is any example, probably not anytime soon.

I can't say for certain if waterproofing will emerge as the next great smartphone trend. While some users may consider waterproofing a must-have feature, others (like me) could probably not care less.

It does, however, highlight the advantage of Android's fragmentation -- a situation that has largely been characterized as a negative for Google. While it definitely has its drawbacks, making software development more difficult, it also has its advantages. In this case, hardware innovation. While Sony and Samsung compete with Apple, they also compete with each other. To differentiate their products, they must be willing to experiment with the design.

Ultimately, that leads to features -- like larger screens and waterproofing -- that set their devices apart, and win consumers over.

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 3:40 PM, PATO12 wrote:

    I ALWAYS WANTED TO USE A PHONE UNDERWATER. AAPL COPING SAMSUNG? THATS A NEW ONE!!

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 3:41 PM, djtetsu wrote:

    In code:

    waterproof <> radical

    or

    waterproof != radical

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 3:46 PM, heyjoe4 wrote:

    Great article. I never thought NFC was much of a game changer. You don't see it at POS, where it would actually be useful. As for the larger screen, well personally I don't like the phablets. Would prefer something more comfortable to hold. As for waterproofing, well the user will be reminded every time they use a headset or charge the device. No thanks. Apple stays ahead on quality build, aluminum v plastic. I just don't see Apple benefitting from making a down market, down margin phone.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 3:46 PM, JarJarThomas wrote:

    Good ... after reading the title i first thought you were talking about that radical great pulse sensor ... that is availabe as app since the iphone 4 (or any other phone with a flashlight and apps)

    waterproof ... just thinking about the apple spot ... where some ocean researches took an ipad 30 meters indepth.

    if i want waterproof i just use a case... that makes it much more waterproof than the samsung.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 4:00 PM, rigoberto26 wrote:

    I am not exactly sure who uses NFC, I have it with my android phones, never use it. I do not know any other person who uses it either. And as for the screen size, when you have just one phone, you make it so its universal to accommodate the majority of users. Soon Apple will offer various screen sizes. And about it being water proof, how many people go out and dip their phones in water? Last I checked in all tests where you take an iphone and a Samsung phone and place them in water. The iPhone works afterwards but not the samsung phone. I am not sure about the new ones coming out, but no one really needs that feature, most people do not jump into a pool with their phone. Theses articles are nothing more than paid advertisements for Samsung. No wonder people no longer trust the media these days.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 4:05 PM, bobbydig wrote:

    The Galaxy 4s bombed (only sold 60 million compared to Apple who sold 54 million iPhone 5s last quarter alone, LOL) and Samsung took a huge step backwards with the release of the Galaxy 5s. The water proof feature is nice, but the rest of the features are a yawner. I'm surprised no 64 bit processor. I guess the dated Android OS, especially Kit Kat is so far behind in performance and features, I guess it wasn't worth the effort.

    Screen size, is a preference not necessarily a must have feature. I find Samsung's phones a bit bulky and awkward because of the size. But when you can't innovate as the case of Samsung, just make a bigger screen.

    What Apple needs to do, its not listen to the media, in this case Motley Fool. LOL

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 4:44 PM, briancork wrote:

    Sam Mattera:

    Seriously? Water-proofing? ...So the three things that impresses this author are: water-proof (its actually only resistant), a larger screen, and NFC. But, the goof-ball seems to have forgotten Apple's iBeacon technology (and strategy), and the fact that larger screens don't win any prizes unless the screen quality measures up. And, Apple's forthcoming iPhone 6 will have a superior screen in terms of pixel density combined with size. Sam, call me at out at, the.bean@me.com. I dare you.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 6:04 PM, DarthDon1 wrote:

    NFC technology: Are you kidding? At this stage of the game this is one of the most vulnerable areas of your security. Just give all your info to anyone within range of your device!

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 6:46 PM, normgarry wrote:

    Yeah- because I'VE BEEN ABSOLUTELY DYING TO USE MY PHONE IN THE TUB!

    I'm switching to GalaxyShit3 Immediately!

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 7:01 PM, dbtuner wrote:

    Give me shatterproof screens. Oh wait, the sapphire screen is coming in the iPhone 6.

    iBeacon beats NFC.

    Big phones are bulky. I can use an iPad Mini if I want a big screen.

    Waterproof? Not sure I really care

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 7:47 PM, GuitarJim wrote:

    Who cares about water resistance? Why doesn't Apple add a replaceable battery and a micro SD card slot to the iPhone.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 8:06 PM, dbtuner wrote:

    micro SD cards cause viruses. Copy/get from the Cloud or AppStore

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 8:11 PM, PsiKick wrote:

    Checked, I don't get any bars under water. And why should Apple have NFC since they have their own alternative?

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 8:59 PM, cykill wrote:

    That's funny my HTC thunderbolt was the first android to offer 4g, I like how you mention Samsung. Jesus.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 9:10 PM, notrozer1 wrote:

    Samsung focus i own (windows phone 7.5) went thru a complet wash cycle and still worked 100%

    thank you samsung for a great design

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 9:14 PM, margiecfl wrote:

    I will say this much, a lot of people want bigger screens. Personally, I like a phone that is easier to hold onto/ sticj in my pocket, but this should change soon.

    I don't think water-proof is much of a game changer, it's nice, but I having never dropped an electronic device in water, I'd rather have easy access to my ports.

  • Report this Comment On March 01, 2014, at 11:13 PM, thethreestooges wrote:

    "phones that can survive a dip in the pool"?

    I have seen people who drive and talk on their phones, but never see anyone who swim and use the phone.

    Hey Sammy, You can bash Apple all you want but I heard Apple is developing phones that's toilet proof. If you accidentally drop your phones in the toilet, just pick it up and nothing will stick on the phone, including the yucky thing. It won't smell either. It's also has antibacterial embedded.

    C'mon, don't tell us that you never use your cell phone while relieving.

    People drop more phones in the toilet than in the pool.

    Let us know if you have real news or insight on what innovation is all about.

    DUH

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 1:21 AM, casualsuede wrote:

    Sigh...the ip67 standard is not waterproofing, it is dust and water resistance.

    The IP67 devices from Sony and Samsung can be immersed in 1M of water for a maximum of 30 minutes.

    That is not being waterproof.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 5:05 AM, ackmondual wrote:

    There are plenty of Iphone 5, 4s, and 4 users who get along just fine without 64-bit architecture.

    In fact, stuff like NFC, 64-bit architecture, TouchWhiz, and fingerprint scanner aren't huge draws for me. NFC is more widely used in Europe and Japan anyways.

    For those who say they just use an Ipad Mini for a larger screen, that's a flawed argument.

    1) you now need to carry around 2 devices.

    2) The fact that you had to get an Ipad Mini for the bigger screen to supplement your Iphone screen proves that you wanted a bigger screen. Some folks do like viewing videos, internet, and playing games on a larger screen.

    3) Even the smaller Ipad Mini is far larger than most phablets. Pocket sizes vary (I hear women's pants pockets can be very small), but I can still fit my Galaxy s4 inside my front pocket. Can't do that with an Ipad Mini. Sure, and Ipad Mini and other 7" tablets have a larger screen that I'd prefer, but I'm going for the convenience of not having to lug around something in a bag now.

    I've seen both sides of preferences... those who think a 4" Iphone is just fine, but there are many who are vocal about wanting a 4.5 to 5.5" Iphone. Can't ignore the cries of the public.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:59 AM, BluBalz wrote:

    why can't the headphone and usb port be waterproofed from the inside?

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 11:51 AM, Justice007 wrote:

    bobbydig:

    "The Galaxy 4s bombed (only sold 60 million compared to Apple who sold 54 million iPhone 5s last quarter alone, LOL) and Samsung took a huge step backwards with the release of the Galaxy 5s."

    Apple sold about 51 million iPhones last quarter. Meaning, a combination of 4S, 5, 5S and 5C. I hope that clears it up for you. In other words, if we add up all SGS3s and SGS4s etc., Samsung as we all know except you would have sold way more smartphones than Apple. So please, stop the nonsense. And this advice is coming from someone who has an iPhone.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 3:54 PM, ericAZ2CA wrote:

    My definition of "radical" features are ones people use. For example, the biometric phone unlocking. I use it EVERYDAY and the Samsung does not have it. I also agree with other commenters, "phablets" are basically a phone that's too big and a tablet that's too small. It's not for me. I have a phone for portability and convenience and a tablet for movies, games, work, and more. This article is quite transparently one-sided. I love the Fool, but not all "fools."

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:17 PM, pjo04 wrote:

    I've had my iPhone 4S waterproofed as soon as I got it 2 years ago. I had it nano coated by liquipel.com But it would be great if it gets waterproof from Apple.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 1:23 AM, Patsyak wrote:

    I go kayaking a lot and as an emergency method of contact , waterproofing is very important to me..

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