The coming triangular war between Google, Apple and Samsung

Just as the inevitable presidential candidate gaffes promise to make this summer a paradise for late night comics ("Amercia"? Classic!), the pending triangular smartphone battle between Google, Apple and Samsung is making tech reporters cackle with delight.

Or at least me.

Putting aside all the confusing lawsuits among the three parties, the combatants have elevated the smartphone war to where it belongs: technology.

And the initial mêlées involve Samsung and Google taunting Apple ahead of and following its Worldwide Developers Conference next week.

First volleys in this three-sided conflict were fired last week when Samsung announced its Galaxy S III (GS3) smartphones for the top five leading carriers. Unlike the first two Galaxy S releases, which featured different models for each carrier, Samsung tore a page from the iPhone playbook and released identical GS3s for each carrier.

Several carriers are putting Samsung's GS3 on pre-sale just days before Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference. And the GS3s will go on sale soon after the WWDC. That's a tasty Samsung-Apple-Samsung sandwich.

Timing coincidence? I don't think so.

OS Wars

During the varying GS3 events, Samsung executives were not shy about pointing out that their company had surpassed Apple in smartphone sales. Smack!

But GS3 is more than just some fancy new hardware. Samsung has added on some intriguing software enhancements, such as —

Well, I can't rightly say. I mean, I know what some of these features are. And last week Samsung gave the media demonstrations of many of these new features and a chance to play with them, and I'm expecting GS3 review units any day now.

But I am restricted from reporting on my hands-on impressions until June 18.

Samsung's press embargo is somewhat puzzling since the company already announced many of the features, and the company had the phone at the CTIA cellular event in New Orleans last month for the media to handle. Plus, the GS3 is already available for pre-sale. How can folks decide to pre-buy it if they don't have a clear idea of its capabilities? Why do we have to wait to write about a phone that's already on sale?

Map Wars

Then it hit me. June 18, of course, is the Monday after the Apple WWDC ends.

And what's going to happen at WWDC? Apple CEO Tim Cook is likely to unveil iOS 6 (there's quite a bit of evidence to that end), with its own raft of as-yet-mostly-unknown feature enhancements.

So Samsung has used the carriers' announcement of pre-sales to create a wave of pre-WWDC press, then call a timeout until the news rush generated by WWDC blows over, then introduce a second wave of coverage when we all review the GS3 post-WWDC.

Clever.

One enhancement sure to make its appearance at Apple's WWDC is Apple's own Maps app to replace Google Maps. We've already reported Apple's plan to drop Google Maps from future iOS devices.

Google knew this, of course. Apple has been snapping up mapping technology companies for the last three years. Some things not even Apple can keep secret.

So on Wednesday, Google preempted Apple's WWDC Map announcement by announcing its own new Google Maps app with 3D and extensive off-line functionality — know where you are sans network connection, complete with "you are here" pulsing blue dot.

Clever.

Just when the new 3D Google Maps will make it onto Android phones has yet to be announced. But if I had to guess, it'll likely be just before...

Future Wars

...the "iPhone 5" or whatever Apple ends up calling it makes its appearance in September or October.

Even when the next iPhone appears, it'll still be technologically behind the most advanced Android hardware. Yes, it'll have LTE and likely the iPad's dual-core/quad-core A5X chip. But the upcoming iPhone's reported 4.08-inch screen (supposedly a tall 1,136 by 640 pixels, a 16:9 ratio when viewed in landscape mode), for instance, while larger than the iPhone 4/4S's 3.5-inch 960 x 540 pixel display, lags way behind the 4.8-inch Super AMOLED on the Samsung GS3.

One area where Apple may maintain some technological superiority is a new LCD touchscreen formulation called "in-cell," which relocates the touch sensors to eliminate a panel layer, allowing a .4mm thinner display and, therefore, a thinner iPhone.

But how well the iPhone stacks up other than its in-cell display will depend heavily on what fresh new functions are within iOS 6 (hopefully some Siri improvements), and if iPhone 5 includes NFC capabilities.

Google Is Money

A growing number of Android phones, including the GS3, are including NFC capabilities — 100 million handsets this year, 700 million by 2016, according to Berg Insight — which turn your phone into a credit card. Just wave it over a point-of-sale terminal to pay for your goods and services.

But NFC is just a small aspect of the smartphone payment revolution. The far more important is the mobile wallet, which will enable the whole smartphone as shopping and payment platform.

While Apple has concentrated on the user experience and the app/entertainment ecosystem, Google has led the mobile wallet revolution. With its Google Wallet, Google is way out in front of everyone in the mobile wallet space — ahead of smartphone makers, software developers, carriers, financial institutions, credit card companies — everyone, in establishing a mobile wallet ecosystem beachhead.

Folks such as MasterCard and Visa are developing mobile wallet apps for all smartphone platforms. But these mobile wallet apps won't be much good on an iPhone unless it includes NFC. And even if iPhone 5 includes NFC, it will not be a Google Wallet device, a potentially crippling disadvantage as we enter the mobile wallet era.

New Competition?

Of course by the fall, Apple could be facing a new phone foe — Windows Phone 8. Market research firm IDC has predicted sales of Windows Phones will overtake iPhone in 2016.

Personally, this audacious projection made me laugh long, hard and incredulously for several minutes. Considering the less-than-tepid response Windows Phones have received thus far (even though I personally like the OS), I cannot for the life of me figure out how the normally sane IDC came to this insane conclusion.

Maybe IDC is counting on the success of the potential coattails of the matching Windows 8 desktop OS update, or maybe it's looking to create some buzz for itself, but still.

But considering how crazy this summer promises to be in smartphone competition land, I guess nothing should surprise me.

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