Round Robin: iPhone, Long Live the King

After a month without the iPhone, it's good to be back. I got used to a lot of things in the 6 months of use with the iPhone that just aren't possible with the other devices. In using the iPhone, I got used to having 7GB of music handy. I got used to carrying around headphones so I could slip into the world of music at a moment's notice. I got used to looking whatever I needed on the real web. I got used to checking voicemails individually whenever I needed. I got used to how I checked email. I got used to threaded SMS. I got used to viewing videos. I got used to not charging my phone religiously every night. I got used to the seamless syncing with iTunes. On my return to the iPhone, I was astounded how quickly I was spoiled with syncing information. It was downright nasty to get all of my information onto a lot of these other devices. After 6 months of using the iPhone, what would have pleased me now frankly shocked me.

That's not to say that the iPhone is perfect. No, there are a bunch of things that I realized I'd miss once I got back to the iPhone. I'd miss to-do lists, I'd miss installing programs, I'd miss the culture of openness that most of the other smartphones possess. I know that I'll have some, if not all, of the features I've been wanting in a few months once 3rd party applications arrive; I'm sure that others will arrive as carrots in the future whether they come from Apple or whether they come from the hacking community.

The future is really why I went for the iPhone in the first place. I wanted to use a device that has a future, not one that has a past. All of the other smartphones, they come with what is best described as baggage. There's a history to how they do things, and when they do something that's probably wrong in terms of how a smartphone ought to work, there's an excuse for it, or some obscure technical reason that was relevant years ago but isn't relevant now. They were designed to work around older technology, and all of that cruft builds up, and that cruft takes battery power. Why else would those thicker devices have worse battery life? In a lot of ways, the other smartphones pioneered the way, but it doesn't seem like they kept up. The iPhone, even with its shortcomings, is a fresher look on what it means to be a smartphone than any of the other devices out there, and I'm pretty sure that it will continue to be that way. Who is going to be able to keep up with what Apple has started?

I'm not trying to dig on anyone that uses these devices. I'm just trying to illuminate why they don't work for me, and see what I can take from the experience of using them.

RIM's BlackBerry

RIM? RIM is worried about Microsoft's Windows Mobile eating into their profit share to focus on the iPhone -- the BlackBerry and the iPhone are pretty much in different worlds. The BlackBerry is buried in this small email world. Sure, email is important, but what about the web? The web opens up an entirely new world, and BlackBerry seems poised to miss it. There's no touchscreen either, which is a real bummer for me. Their operating system is its own alien world too -- buried settings, multiple icons, carrier branding all over the place, their own special version of mobile Java that isn't fully compatible with other versions of Mobile Java... they require their own special data plan that goes through BlackBerry... I just don't get it.

There are some things that I like about BlackBerry, though. Even if it's not the greatest version of mobile Java (J2ME, MIDP2.0), it's still Java, and it provides a lot of access to the device. If you want an IM app, you can have an IM app. If you want to play a game, you can play a game. If you want FaceBook, you can have FaceBook. And the push factor is another great aspect to the device -- it saves on battery life, and notifies you when it has something for you. The unified inbox really allows you to schlorp the emails through.

Palm

With Palm, the software is good. It's just that I can't bring myself to invest money into it -- it's like betting on the oldest horse in a horse race. Put the horse out to stud -- it's not going to win any more races. Its offspring, maybe they can win. To mix metaphors, the phoenix first has to die before it can be born anew, and I'm not in a rush to wait almost 2 years for that to happen. I don't want to wait two years to see what my new smartphone can do. I want to see what my smartphone can do now. When I upgraded from the 680 to the iPhone back in June, I got what a lot of Palm users had been anguishing over for years: a modern looking user interface, a new launcher, a better web browser, wi-fi, better battery life, and a thin form factor. Palm OS shows its age -- it's tough to use with MP3 ringtones... or profiles... or wi-fi... it's web browser is pretty bad...

The fact that Palm is still around is testament that they did a bunch of stuff right. If one of their next-generation operating systems had panned out, they might be in a different situation than they're in, and it's unfortunate that they are where they are. Everything is easy to use, there's a bunch of apps out there, it's simple, quick, and easy to use whether you install extra apps or not, and everything is well thought out. There are tweaks that make things even easier, and for the methods that I'm aware of, they're less expensive than the tweaks for Windows Mobile.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile

Microsoft? Microsoft isn't going to worry so much about the high end of things. They have a platform to worry about, and they're going to slug it out with all of the other platforms out there. They're going to target the spacious middle. They don't care about the top 1%, they care about the middle 50% and up. They'd like to compete with the iPhone someday, but they can't even compete with the iPod yet. Microsoft is worried about Linux, about Google's Android, about Symbian -- they have enough to think about, and their software, though ridiculously powerful, requires a bunch of tweaking to get it to work right. And not only does Microsoft have to get it right, but the device manufacturer has to get it right too -- how many buttons is enough? How many is too much? What kind of navigational gimmick will it use to set itself apart? Who is going to build a car kit that's designed to integrate seamlessly with a no-name Chinese Windows Mobile OEM? When will Microsoft ship a decent mobile browser? When will Microsoft figure out their music and ringtone store and make them worthwhile for use? Not soon enough for me. Microsoft will be where I would want them to be when Palm's Linux OS comes out, and there's no way to tell if Palm will be worth the wait or not.

So what's okay about Windows Mobile? Well, the sky is the limit. The only thing it demands is your time. And that you be a super consumer, that you're willing to research the 100+ various models to see which one is right with you. Then you have to hope that the model that meets the stats you want has the same software updates you want, because Microsoft is essentially spineless in terms of how they set up the user interface -- they won't put their foot down and say "no, that goes too far." It's a lawless world of inconsistency, which serves to make it harder to use. The flip side of this coin is that some handset makers know how to get it right. You just have to do the research to get it right. It's going to take a lot of time. A whole lot of precious time. It will also take a lot of money.

And Windows Mobile is really the jack of all trades in this regard. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, but bridesmaid is better than nothing. Windows Mobile has push technology, easy integration with Exchange, the weight of a zillion dollar monopoly behind it, Don't get me wrong, if I had to pick a 2nd horse in this race right now, it's Windows Mobile. If you're going to make a safe bet on the future right now (that isn't the iPhone), this is probably the one.

Apple's iPhone

So where will the iPhone go? What direction will it head? No one can say. The iPhone, just scant months after its release, is already ahead in so many categories. Web browsing, movies, entertainment, music, web videos. Apple has come so far in so little time, and it's only going to get better once the SDK comes out in February. Then the itches that remain will be scratched. It is a shame that the SDK wasn't done when the device came out, though. The first 7 months of the iPhone feels a lot like a pre-release or a beta period -- without third party apps, you really don't see the full picture of the platform's capabilities.

And since we don't have that SDK yet, there's no good way to scratch the 3rd-party app itch. To get 3rd party apps, you've got to hack your iPhone. And while that's not a barrier for some, it is a barrier for others, to be sure. If you can't get anyone to scratch the itch, the itch remains and drives you crazy. This is Apple's fault, and it's why you'll hear a lot of people say "the iPhone is amazing, but...." It's the lack of 3rd party apps that causes the "but," that forces the qualification.

Even if they were able to ship with little widgets on the iPhone, that would have ameliorated the itch. It would have been a balm, if programmers could store some javascript on the phone so we could run little mini-apps that talked to the web.

But here's the rub of it all: even the gripes showcase why the iPhone is such a crazy awesome device. I'm griping about the lack of desktop widgets on my phone. That complaint isn't even possible on the other devices. Apple set the bar very, very high, and they made an entirely new set of rules common. If you're looking to buy an iPhone, the worst case scenario is that Apple stuff generally has a lot of resale value if you don't like it.

The Smartphone Round Robin has been extended to Sunday, Dec 9 at 12PM PST.

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Round Robin: iPhone, Long Live the King

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The one thing not mentioned much if at all in the reviews is that the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T--a problem for me because AT&T doesn't serve my area! The other phones have a wider choice of carriers with the Treo being the best in that regard.

Nice job Mike...I've had a few weeks each with all of these devices (and some windows mobile standard devices as well- Blackjack, MotoQ9) and I've always come back to the iPhone. There is so much there, and so much of it is yet untapped. What other device lets you play games like "Labrynth" (hack required). The Tilt supposedly is the powerhouse... and it does have 3G and GPS...but it's a third slower in processor speed than the iPhone. And the web experience even with Opera and 3G is so much worse than Safari over EDGE. Some people are hesitant to hack the iPhone, and when the SDK is released that will change the game. But hacking it is so worth it RIGHT NOW. Some awesome apps, some really solid games...and totally (I guess mostly) free. This morning I went through the process of hacking my 1.1.2 firmware, which does take some time. But it makes my iPhone worlds better than anything out there. Can't wait until the 16GB 3G iphone with GPS. I have to beieve that is only 6 months away...

Locked iPhone is the biggest drawback, along with no third-party apps. One will change soon, the other... not so soon, I suspect.
Basically, locked iPhone means I won't be seeing it over here for quite some time, if ever. The only GSM provider decided not to get it (Vodafone), and while the CDMA provider (Telecom) is building a GSM network, that won't be ready for a year or so. Same for the new entrant building their own GSM network. They get to roam on Vodafone's for now, but that doesn't include data... Hmmm... iPhone is a lot less cool without data...

Great article as always Mike! I agree with all your thoughts on the different smartphones. As great as the iPhone already is, I can't wait to see how cool it'll be once we get all those 3rd party apps rolling in!

i enjoyed the article as well. I know the 3rd party app situation has been talked about. but, i don't think the title is fair. The iPhone is quickly becoming the King. But, it is not their yet.
3rd party apps are huge. I sold mine cause I missed them too much. it hurt my functionality.
i think by this one delay the iPhone falls short.
Is there nay reason why any of the Symbian Devices E611, SE P1i or N95 8gb didn't make it in to the Round Robin?

[COLOR="Navy">The iPhone is king only if you don't need a business phone first, IMO(notice I said IMO, so no extreme bashing, please :D ). No 3G data(although I can stomach that for now) and no way to manage calls and texts properly. I can only use my iPhone for personal use so I know the people calling me are people I can deal with, and don't have to block and filter as often.[/COLOR]

After 6 months I have finally decided to get rid of my iPhone. And I used it a lot, jailbroke, did everything I could do on the phone, but decided WM was the way to go.
Slingbox was reason enough for me. One handed use was another. I liked the keyboard and didn't miss 3G, and the design is 10 times better than any other phone I have EVER seen. But 2 hands were necessary most of the time, and Safari was great to the eye, with zero substance. All the sites I couldn't go to with PIE? Funny, because Safari won't load them either!
The iPhone will be great soon, most likely. I'll wait until that happens.

wow I totally agree, except for the the WM part :D. Palm OS for me.
Anyway,iPhone was totally a great smartphone just didn't do enough.
Its a great weekend phone. IMHO not the King just yet.

My thoughts on this post point out what we've seen time after time on the Round Robin...Preference is really the King...
After a month without the iPhone, it's good to be back. ... In using the iPhone, I got used to having 7GB of music handy.
I feel like having an sd slot is a better option for expandability and listening. The device that comes out with 80gb or 160gb of storage will get my attention; 8 or 16 is an even trade to the sd.
I got used to carrying around headphones so I could slip into the world of music at a moment's notice.
This is nice, but again not exclusive to the iPhone...in fact I find slipping into the world of music easier and a better experience without the cord. Stereo Blue Tooth has changed my world!
Streaming music, live stations like Howard, and even television is a stretch on an Edge device but come as welcome options with an EvDO Treo. Seriously, it makes 16gb of memory quaint by comparison.

I got used to looking whatever I needed on the real web.
Safari is an advance in browsing on the phone. On-device, I'm still liking the speed of Xiino and use Blazer when I have to. For some reason, I don't find Opera to work too well. None of the above compares to tethering the Treo to a larger screen and exploiting the capability of its' speed more completely. On balance, I just would not want to give this option up for what Safari offers.
I got used to threaded SMS.
I can appreciate how you may get used to this. Still, it's not exclusive and they are not the first...I find the Treo's threaded messaging and contact integration very intuitive.
I got used to viewing videos.
definitely better on the iPhone screen, but Kinoma and TCMP even the options. I love searching thru Google video or Youtube...Palm hasnt capitalized on the fact that you can stream these with ease and speed. Elevation Partners, can you hear us asking for better marketing management?
I got used to not charging my phone religiously every night.
I'll still take the option of replacing a battery just in case I left the radio on by accident on a long flight or that sort of thing. And I will go 2 or 3 nights if I'm not talking on the phone...thank you Seidio.
I got used to the seamless syncing with iTunes.
Still prefer drag and drop to syncing, but it's all preference as long as the options are there.:cool:
On my return to the iPhone, I was astounded how quickly I was spoiled with syncing information.
I understood from one of the Round Robin articles that the iPhone would not sync notes or tasks, but the work around was to just send yourself an e-mail. Still, it can't be worse than the Palm Desktop Vista fiasco.
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Great review! I have to say, I have used the iPhone before, and loved it! I am a Blackberry user, and love my Blackberry, but they just don't compare to iPhones.
If I had the money, I would buy myself an iPhone, they just do so much more, and are much more user friendly than any other phone I have seen.