The iPhone is Great! (For Everyone Else)


Stephen Colbert may not be able to get his hand on an iPhone, but yours truly can. :)  (Sorry Stephen, but you’re still our #1 American).

I spent some hands-on time with the iPhone a couple days ago and came away with the same general impression that most have had up to this point, except for one thing:  I don’t want one.

Apple iPhone My So-Called Wireless Life -

Ever since my first cell phone, that ubiquitous Sprint clamshell (I still have it), popularized by the man-in-trenchcoat commercials, I’ve been a cell phone junkie.  I change cell phones faster than a jail stay for Paris, faster than another rehab for Lindsay, even faster than you can turn a gay preacher straight.  I think my Treo 600 stayed with me the longest – almost a year! 

After a stint enjoying a couple HTC phones (the 6600 and 6700 respectively), I’m back on a Treo 700wx and quite fond of it.  I have phones of every design and operating system and I’ve tried just about every carrier.  Some have thrown around the phrase, “Cell phone slut”… I don’t deny it.

Treo 700wxThe Treo 700wx is about as close to perfection as a PDA phone has gotten so far, for me.  I am a Microsoft Exchange user (and about 15 different gmail accounts, an unavoidable consequence of the profession), and using Active Sync on the Treo has been flawless.  I hook my phone up to my laptop to use the internet connection on the road.  I have even broadcast a couple trips from my car using a webcam, laptop, and my phone.  I use it to do remote administration of the servers I manage. I use it to turn on an off the lights in my apartment.  I have all of my favorites, from weather to banking set to pop up instantly.

In short, my life is wireless, and I like it that way.

Note that when I see a new phone, I really couldn’t care less who makes it, so long as I can continue to do what I want to do, and more. So I’m not schilling for Palm, but in order to make the comparison, I have to use my Treo as the current benchmark with respect to what I use a PDA/Phone for. A lot of what I do is possible on the iPhone, but in practice, not so much.

Wait for it…. waaaaiiiitt for it… -

After a few minutes with the iPhone, red flag number one popped up.  Browsing the internet on AT&T’s network is like jumping back to that 1200 baud modem I used to have in my Commodore 64.  The iPhone has a gorgeous screen that screams “TOUCH ME AND BE INFORMED!”… but while the skin is willing, the soul is tired from waiting for the page to load.  From what I hear, the contract with AT&T is for two years!  What a miserable disappointment.  So much for the browsing, and the remote administration (even if it was possible), even the time it takes downloading my e-mail would drain the battery.  It’s got Google Maps, but you’ll miss your exit waiting to the maps to download, so that’s kinda pointless too.

Pairing a phone that begs to be on the internet to a network that all but abhors it is like hiring Mel Gibson to throw a Bat-Mitzvah.  It’s baffling and I hereby request that they drop the “i” from the name, because clearly, there is no “i” on this phone.

There is WiFi, which is a bit of a consolation, but frankly, if I’m in range of open WiFi, I’m probably also in range of my computer or my laptop, so I don’t want to have to depend on it.  My Treo 700wx doesn’t have WiFi, and I don’t miss it.  Never used it on my PPC-6700 because it drained the battery in a flash.  That’s the difference that the network makes.

Best touch keyboard yet, not good enough. Make me FEEL it -

The touchscreen is impressive.  I love touchscreens, by the way… I have never used the stylus on my last several phones.  If the 5 way nav doesn’t do it for me, I use my finger.  So when I first learned that the iPhone was going to have a multitouch display, I was instantly turned on.  But then I found out that’s all it has.

In practice, the touchscreen is a world beyond current touch technology to be sure… and yes, typing on it is also significantly improved.  But, you’ve got to use two hands and you’ve got to look at it.  On my Treo, there’s a lot of stuff I can execute, or even type, with one hand and blindfolded (or driving, which is a lot more common for me).

Typing on the iPhone compared to a Treo (Or any keyboarded device) is clumsy at best.  The touchscreen may be infinitely more accurate than anything you’ve every used before, but still suffers from the lack of tactile feedback.  Typing with it is a little like regaining your virginity, you suddenly can’t be sure of hitting the right buttons, or that you’ve touched hard enough.

This may or may not give you pause.  I text a lot, I email a lot, I browse the web a lot, and I don’t want to always have to look at the phone when I turn it on, shut it off, answer a call, etc.  Having real buttons and a real keyboard is an advantage and frankly, no one has topped the Treo keyboard, especially for my tree trunk fingers. 

Plenty of good with the bad -

The music quality is as good as any iPod, the screen is just too beautiful for words, so it would be a crime to not keep your photos on it.

The phone is awkward on the ear; you can simulate the sensation by holding a brick to your head, or a laptop hard drive, or any other flat rectangle measuring 4.5×2.5.  This isn’t a big deal for me, after having used the Spring PPC-6700, the brickiest brick of them all.

I didn’t see any voice control stuff on it, which would help, but I’m sure someone will develop it.

The camera is pretty decent, no problems there.  The sensor that rotates the display when the device is pivoted is very cool.  There is an ambient light sensor that adjust the screen when it is held to your head or in a dark room… also nice.

Sorry, no iPhone for j.ello…. well… maybe -

My conclusions are thus: 

  • The iPhone is one of the coolest pieces of geek tech to arrive on this planet this decade. 
  • It’s targeted toward wealthy iPod users who are both sick of both their phone and their current iPod, and have been saving up to replace both. 
  • It’s priced for professionals, but lacks the two most important things professionals need… speedy connectivity and a physical keyboard. 
  • Frankly, I’d be half tempted to keep my Treo and buy an iPhone purely for use as a UMPC, iPod, Photo Frame or Male Enhancement.

An iPhone skin for Treos I have, however, heard that Palm has obtained multitouch technology as well (rumor), so in the not too distant future, maybe we’re looking at an iTreo?  If Palm plays its cards right, it can lock up the professional PDA/phone user market for a long time to come.  Apple has taken a good leap, now we just need someone to bring it home.  Unfortunately, the Palm Foleo has placed some doubt in my mind that Palm is entirely in touch with the audience (a big ole’ WTF?) but hey, we’ll give them a Mulligan on that one. 

 What about the Mogul?  -

HTC has revealed the 6800 for Sprint/Verizon, AKA the Sprint Mogul.  After having used two HTC slide out keyboard style phones, I can say that the larger keyboard doesn’t seem to work any better for me, and the slide out bit is a pain in the butt.  Also, both of my HTC devices had awful performance problems.  Palm worked diligently with Microsoft to ensure that the Windows Mobile based Treos, while containing a slower processor, perform circles around the previous HTC devices. HTC Touch I don’t know about the Mogul, but if HTC hasn’t drastically improved the way their device interacts with Windows Mobile, I won’t like it. 

HTC has also launched the “Touch” phone, which is a bit more marketing than functionality.  It’s not a multitouch display, but it plays one on TV.  Really, it appears to be little more than a Today screen enhancement for Windows Mobile 6, IMHO.

HTC does a lot of great work, but they just seem to miss the boat when pulling it all together into a consumer device.

So… back to the iTreo… now THAT would be something to shell out $600 for.

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Reader Comments

exactly my thoughts, although I haven’t had the pleasure of holding one that close to me. good thing even, I don’t want to drool over it. iPhone rev 2 will most probably have 3G support for faster browsing, which takes out the biggest disadvantage that you’ve listed (to most potential customers anyway).

Hi

Great review, I had similar thought without even playing with one!

I was just wondering about the remote management software you’ve used. If you don’t mind me asking, what have you found to be effective on a WM5 screen?

[...] it turns out that the fears behind the touchscreen might have been justified all along after all. Folks, if you’ve never owned a touchscreen device, trust me on this one: they tend to suck [...]

I too will probably be passing on the iPhone this first time around. The innovations on the device have a lot of potential so I’ll be watching to see what the 2nd gen iPhone will be like. With luck, your 2 biggest issues (telecom network and keyboard interface) will be worked out. A few months later, when Apple opens up the iPhone to 3rd-party devs, I think we’ll start to see a lot of great, indispensable tools for the iPhone.

[...] The iPhone is great! (for everyone else). The drawbacks are, as expected, the poor network the phones are saddled with, as well as the lack of a physical keyboard… which is pretty much what many have expected since the product was announced. Not that Apple won’t sell a boatload as soon as it becomes available, though… [...]

[...] months ago I got a sneek peek at the iPhone.  A beautiful piece of machinery lacking only in 3 critical places:  It is a 21st century [...]