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If Android is 'cooler' to younger users, Apple could be in trouble

New Android models are just hotter than the stoic iPhone.

From what I've seen, Android may be winning the war against Apple's iPhone in the key battleground demographic of teenage males. I witnessed this firsthand yesterday when I went with my teenage son to buy him a new phone. Given a candy store full of choices, the iPhone seemed old, slow and not cool compared to some of the hot new Android based models available.

My son is heading to high school and had been without a phone for about 2 or 3 months since his last phone was lost. He has been doing very well in school, so after picking him up yesterday I surprised him by telling him we were going to go buy him a new phone.

Of course, he didn't know that I had spoken with AT&T yesterday and changed our family plan to a family-wide sharing plan with unlimited minutes of phone, unlimited text messaging, and 10GB of data transfer a month. This plan actually worked out to be $65 cheaper per month than our existing rat's nest of different plans. Under the new plan, his old number which I had suspended after he lost his last phone, was included.

We went to the AT&T store and told the greeter that we were looking for a new phone. She entered us into the AT&T application on her iPad which was able to pull up our account info. We were put into the queue and told someone would be with us shortly.

While we were waiting we took a good look around the store. This is a fairly new store and is pretty big for a phone store. They had sections dedicated to AT&T U-Verse, tablets and even home phone service. But most of the displays were full of cell phones. They had one section dedicated to traditional (non-smart) phones from Pantech, LG, etc. I had my son start in this section and we looked at the styles and the models. Even these phones had messaging and other apps in addition to phone. With a contract, they were as cheap as 99 cents. They were great phones.

Truth be told, using these devices as a phone is not high on the list of priorities for my son and his friends. Both he and my other son only use about 20 to 30 voice minutes per month. Speaking to the AT&T rep, this is not unusual for boys this age. Text messaging, Facebook chat and other apps make up the dominant forms of communication. Using the phone for apps like Instagram and Facebook, viewing videos on YouTube, taking and sending pictures and videos and listening to music are how they spend most of their time.

After leaving behind the non-smart phones (does that make them dumb phones?), we next came up on the Windows phones. There were about a dozen different models from four or five different handset makers. They were slick and thin, but for the most part had smaller screens. My son spent a little time playing with the tiles and looking at the demos, but at the end of this he was not sold on any of them. He liked them, just not wild about them.

Next we came to the HTC First, the Facebook Home phone. It was very slim, very nice and my son loved the Facebook front end. It was only $99 with a contract. What turned my son off is that he felt it was hard to get to things beyond Facebook. If you had to slide or click more than two times to get to SMS or camera, it was too much. While the Facebook was great, everything else was too far down from there.

Then we came to some of the high-end Android phones. The Samsung Galaxy S 3 (the 4 was advertised but only available for pre-order) and the new HTC One, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and some others. These phones were all around $199 with contract (the Note may have been more). They were all fairly slim (especially the HTC One) and featured big screens. They had custom skins that featured apps in tiles ala Windows 8 (if you ask me).

The HTC model had customized tiles that showed news and updates. The idea of updating that with sports stories was very appealing to my son. Once you swiped that away, you were at the traditional Android Jelly Bean screen. Everything he needed was right there. The HTC model came with 32GB and a superfast processor. It was very snappy. Another deal closer for my son was that the audio was by beats, just like the insanely expensive headphones he has. Yes, the HTC One was pretty hot.

From there, we briefly stopped at the BlackBerry section. While not quite like visiting the dinosaur exhibit at the museum, my son just did not really give them a second glance. I thought the newer models were actually pretty good and functionally looked on par with the other phones. But for the high school set, BlackBerry just had no allure.

Then we came to the iPhone section. Keep in mind that I use an iPhone 4s as does his Mom and his little brother use the iPhone 4. So my son is very familiar with them. He looked at the iPhone 5. He noticed it was a little slimmer and taller than the 4s. He played with the familiar and simple interface of icons for apps. He gave it a fair shake.

At the end of the day, though, the iPhone seemed old and slow compared to the Android phones. The idea of having information on your home screen instead of just icons just seemed like a generation ahead. The Android phones had bigger screens, better sound and seemed more responsive to the touch. They were slimmer and lighter in spite of being bigger.

On top of this, the salesman from AT&T who himself could not have been more than 25 really didn't like the iPhone either. He didn't bad mouth it, but you could tell he liked the Android phones better. His advice was that from a specs point of view the Android phone was hands-down faster and more powerful. They were the same price.

So I left it to my son. Which one did he want? He picked the HTC One. I couldn't argue with his choice. Given the same choice, I think I would have picked the same phone. It is superior in many ways to the iPhone.

Speaking to my son on the way home I found out that a lot of the girls in his class have the iPhone, but most of the boys use Android phones. I didn't know this. Maybe there is something to this. Or maybe it is just a peer pressure kind of thing.

Anyway, it was a learning experience for me. There is a reason Android is pulling away in the market from Apple. It is also a hard road to hoe for Windows phones and a near impossible one for BlackBerry.

If Apple is going to recapture this market, it needs to stop with incremental releases between models. Other than a little slimmer and taller, there seems little difference between the iPhone 4, 4s, 5 and from what I have seen 5s. If Apple waits until iPhone 6 to really refresh the iPhone line, it may be too late.

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