Imagine that you are inside your favorite mobile phone retail store. The air conditioning blows cool on the back of your neck; you tap your foot to the Foster the People tune playing softly on the loudspeaker. In your left hand, you hold the smartphone you've been eyeing for months -- you know, the one from the TV commercials, with the funny celebrity.
Committed to the purchase, you step up to the register to pay for your new phone. But looking up, instead of an AT&T or Verizon salesperson behind the counter, you see me, in a fancy tuxedo, shouting some truth in your face: "Don't do it! Don't buy that smartphone! It's going to be obsolete in three months!"
Allow me to grab control of the PA:
ATTENTION, SHOPPERS: Three of the most popular, most heavily advertised smartphones on sale right now -- the iPhone 4S, Nokia Lumia 900 and the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx -- are teetering on technological extinction. In the coming months, we'll see next-generation releases that will make you wish you had waited to buy, with features that won't be coming to older models.
"Extinction" is a strong word, of course: All of the smartphones are still going to connect to the Internet and make phone calls three months from now.
But if you buy any of these three phones today, you might be shaking your head tomorrow. Here's why:
The iPhone 4S
Yes, it's that time of year again, when potential iPhone buyers go into hibernation and don't emerge with their credit cards until the new model is announced.
Right now, it looks like Apple will unveil its new iPhone in late September or early October (based on the latest from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the most accurate and lucid Apple analyst there is). That might be reason enough for some buyers to wait a few months for a re-designed device.
But for iPhone shoppers, there are good, hardware-related reasons to wait for the so-called "iPhone 5" -- not just so that you can show off the new design to your friends.
One technology that is likely coming to the next iPhone, which will not be available to older iPhones, is 4G LTE connectivity. The 4G LTE network is, quite simply, much faster than the 3G networks on the current iPhone models. For the past several months, I've carried around two smartphones: an iPhone 4S and a review unit of whatever 4G LTE Android or Windows Phone device I was testing. The 4G LTE devices were palpably, obviously faster than my iPhone; whenever I needed to check email, or search maps, or stream a video, I would always reach for the 4G LTE phone because I knew it would be able to retrieve what I needed at a faster pace.
The next iPhone will also apparently come with NFC (for mobile payments via touch), a larger screen and a smaller, more efficient dock connector. The 4G LTE is reason enough to wait -- especially if you live in a city, you're not going to want a 3G smartphone two years from now.
The Nokia Lumia 900 (And Every Other Windows Phone)
Last week, Microsoft unveiled key details of Windows Phone 8, expected to come out this fall. One of the most exciting features is a new "shared core" between Windows Phone and desktop Windows, which will make it super easy for developers to write apps for Windows 8 (for the desktop) and easily transfer them over to the Windows Phone app marketplace.
That's huge news for Windows Phone, which has a teensy selection of apps compared to the buffet of options on Android and iPhone. Developers were slow to write apps for Windows Phone 7, which claims a paltry 2 percent of the market. They probably won't be as slow to write for Windows 8, the next installment of Microsoft's desktop OS with somewhere around 90 percent worldwide penetration.
If porting those apps from Windows 8 to Windows Phone 8 is as easy as Microsoft says it is, that means there will be way more options for Windows Phone owners.
EXCEPT: The Nokia Lumia 900, and every other Windows Phone, will not be upgraded to Windows Phone 8. And apps written for Windows Phone 8 will not be able to run on older Windows Phone devices (like, say, the Lumia 900). So, if you buy a Lumia now, you're missing out on potentially killer apps that will come out in the future; you risk being locked in to the 100,000 or so apps that exist right now, for the next two years.
In addition to the greater app selection, if you wait until autumn to buy a Windows Phone 8 device, you'll probably get a faster handset with a better display, as WP8 comes with support for multi-core processors and higher screen resolutions, as well as NFC and microSD storage.
The Smartphone Beta Test may be over, but so is the smart buying season for the Nokia Lumia 900 and every other Windows Phone device.
Motorola Droid Razr Maxx
We love the Droid Razr Maxx. It's thin yet durable, packs a great flavor of the Android OS, and enjoys much, much better battery life than whatever smartphone you have. Seriously, check the charts: While your phone is charging, the Droid Razr Maxx is pedaling around on a unicycle, bursting with energy, laughing like a maniac.
Enter a mysterious, tempting update called the Droid Razr HD, and the laughter dies down. The Razr HD will supposedly ship with the same paranormal battery life as the Razr Maxx, while adding a faster 1.5GHz processor, a 720p HD screen and a beast-mode 13-megapixel camera. All of those blow away what the Maxx currently offers, and should give pause to power-hungry smartphone shoppers.
And here's what really ties your hands: The RAZR HD will reportedly land on Verizon's shelves some time this summer or early fall. For comparably crazy battery life with an improved display, camera and processing speeds, you're better off waiting a few months, no?
So, What's Okay To Buy?
Don't buy an iPhone, or ANY Windows Phone, or a Droid RAZR, you say. What CAN I buy then?
The Galaxy S3 is a powerful, speedy LTE-packing choice, as are the new HTC models (the One X, Droid Incredible 4G and EVO 4G LTE). The Galaxy Note doesn't seem like it will be refreshed any time soon, nor does the Galaxy Nexus or Droid 4.
If none of those sound appealing, it's time to either wait until autumn, or else buy now and tempt fate. Just don't say I didn't (make you imagine me in a fancy tuxedo and) warn you.
4.8-Inch Super AMOLED Display
The screen is huge, up from 4.3 inches on the Galaxy S II. A 4.8 inch screen makes it one of the largest displays on a flagship phone there is. Compare with HTC's One X (4.7 inches), the Motorola's Droid Razr Maxx (4.3 inches), and Apple's iPhone 4S (3.5 inches). The resolution is 1280x720.
Samsung introduces 'S Voice' on the Galaxy S III. To wake the phone up and activate the voice sensor, you simply say "Hi Galaxy!" and the phone wakes up; no need to push a button. Other voice commands, in addition to the stock ones in the Google Voice Actions catalogue: Using your voice, you can launch the camera and take a photo, turn the volume up and down, snooze the alarm (say "Snooze" as your alarm is going off -- dangerous!), and send texts and emails.
If you're writing a text to someone, and then you raise the phone to your ear, the GS3 launches the telephone app and automatically calls the person you were texting.
The Galaxy S III comes with an NFC chip that allows you to "bump" information like photos or video to other Galaxy S III owners by touching phones together, using a combination of the NFC technology and Wi-Fi Direct. With All-Share Cast, you can beam your screen to any DLNA-compatible television; All-Share Cast also allows you to share your screen onto anyone else's smartphone for document collaboration.
Pop Up Play
"Pop up play" will allow you to play a video anywhere on the screen while also performing other tasks, like checking your email or responding to texts. You can make the video window as large or small as you want. Here, you can see a YouTube video playing toward the bottom of the screen while a demonstrator prepares to search Google.
The Galaxy S III's 8 megapixel camera comes with burst photography: Holding down the shutter will take twenty photos in a row; you can then choose the best photo and the phone will automatically erase the other 19. A similar function exists on the HTC One line of phones. An alternate function: The Burst camera can take 8 photos in a row and then automatically choose the best one, if you're too indecisive to choose on your own.
Buddy Photo Share
The photography software comes with smart facial recognition: When you take a picture of a friend, it can recognize their face and will prompt you to send that photo to that person's phone or email address.
Essentially an eye recognition technology, the GS3 can sense when you are and are not looking it: When you are looking at your screen, the display will stay illuminated; when you stop looking at your phone, the display goes dark to save power. The feature can be toggled on and off, if you prefer to just let your screen time out.
Here's the first commercial for the Galaxy S III. At least, we think it's advertising the Galaxy S III. It might also be advertising a soap opera or Zach Braff film of some kind.