It's true, of course, that there's been a divide between Apple and its competitors. The first iPhone was a technological leap that put a powerful computer into people's pockets and purses. It made everybody else seem to be playing catch-up - even when, as the Samsung commercial cheekily suggests, it's lately been more like a game of leapfrog.
So which gap may matter more? The one that's less about which powerful pocket computer you'll choose - iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 8, or something else - and more about what you can do with it, especially on a budget.
There's now a stark divide between the two leading U.S. providers, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, and almost everyone else. The largest networks want to run a meter on your data usage. Their closest competitors are trying to distinguish themselves by promoting unlimited-data plans that invite you to tap your smartphone's full potential.
It wasn't always thus. AT&T introduced the iPhone with all-you-can-use terms in 2007, but dropped the offer - blaming network congestion - in 2010. Verizon, the second to get the iPhone, followed a similar path.
By contrast, third-place Sprint has promoted its unlimited-data plans since it added the iPhone to its product line last year.
Now fourth-place T-Mobile has taken a similar tack, offering new plans starting this month that again feature unlimited data. Even MetroPCS, a prepaid carrier, is promoting unlimited-data smartphone plans.
For many of their target customers, price is undoubtedly an issue. T-Mobile says it offers unlimited 4G service - voice, text, and data - for $90 a month, or $20 less than Sprint's price for a similar plan. For that same $110 a month, AT&T and Verizon offer four gigabytes per month of data shared on multiple devices, plus $15 per gigabyte for overages.
Marty Pisciotti, a T-Mobile vice president and regional general manager, says T-Mobile is responding to customers' concerns about the difficulty of keeping track of data usage and their interest in exploring their smartphones' capabilities.
"Smartphones are becoming so powerful and so prevalent nowadays that you really don't want to worry how much data you're using," he says.
As you might imagine, there's a vast difference in how much data different smartphone users actually go through. And while iPhone users were once way ahead of the pack, that's no longer true, according to Validas.com, a Texas company that helps clients manage wireless accounts.
Validas says that in 2012, iPhone owners have so far used an average of 568 megabytes per month - little enough to avoid throttling, if they were on an unlimited-data plan, or overage charges. But the story was different for the highest-end users. The top 5 percent of iPhone users averaged nearly three gigabytes per month, and the top 1 percent of users topped five gigabytes per month.
And owners of some Android smartphones left them in the dust. Topping the list were owners of an HTC Thunderbolt sold for use on Verizon's new LTE network. The top 5 percent of Thunderbolt users averaged more than nine gigabytes per month, and the top 1 percent used more than 27 gigs. Owners of the Motorola Droid Razr weren't far behind.
Are unlimited-data customers the biggest hogs? Perhaps surprisingly, that's not what Validas' data show.
"When you exclude unlimited customers, the numbers actually go up. It's counterintuitive," Validas' Dylan Breslin-Barnhart says.
Though he's reluctant to speculate, it's easy to imagine some factors likely at work.
One is that the latest smartphones are increasingly popular as media-watching devices. Streaming movies and TV shows is a data-intensive process.
Another is that the latest smartphones are increasingly attractive to "cord cutters," and to less-affluent customers making their way online for the first time, who use wireless devices for their primary Internet access.
Whatever the reason, Pisciotti insists that T-Mobile is eager to get them.
"We're finding a lot of our customers are very interested in making that switch because they're upgrading their phones," he says.
Their competitive edge may not last, says industry analyst Roger Entner, who predicts that Verizon and AT&T will return to unlimited-data plans once they have a better sense of whether their networks can handle the demand.
"The number-one reason people call customer service is a billing problem," Entner says. "Unlimited service makes that all go away."
Contact Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or email@example.com.