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Down the Rabbit-Hole: From Treo to iPhone

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

I can hardly remember my life before having a PDA. I held a Palm Pilot for the first time in 1996, a Pilot 1000 my father received at work. He was somewhat non-plussed; technology was not his gig and he deferred to me for most things with a power button. For me, the Palm Pilot was something revolutionary and Graffiti input was mind-blowing.

The addiction and PDA-dependence grew from there for me. I was "plugged in" and my vocabulary would now include words and acronyms like "stylus", "PIM" and "SD Card". As other platforms emerged, like Pocket PC and Symbian, I remained doggedly loyal to the Palm OS through it's progression of versions. I watched Palm OS become Garnet and then "FrankenGarnet." I even got used to seeing "Powered by Access" when I fired up my trusty Palm. I made the leap from PDA to a converged device with the Treo 650, then the 680. Throughout the years I endured the criticisms of Palm's lack of multitasking, multithreading, no wifi (!?!) and antiquated PIM. I remained a Palm loyalist and apologist, looking toward the horizon for a Cobalt or Palm OS 2 that would never come.

More on my migration to the iPhone after the break!

I was feeling restless and the seed of malcontent began to first germinate and then sprout tiny roots. I dabbled with Windows Mobile and felt dissatisfied. I returned to familiar, safe territory with Palm. Though long in the tooth, it was an OS I was familiar with and I had a plethora of third-party software that met my needs. But the roots spread deeper and wider as my discontent grew, and I started looking for an answer that would replace my restlessness and discouragement with hope.

Photo 2

Hope finally came with the release of Apple's iPhone. After much anticipation and fanfare, the iPhone became a reality for me on June 29, 2007. My local Apple Store was open late. I called and sheepishly inquired about iPhone availability, fully expecting laughter followed by an attempt to politely explain that all iPhones were long-gone. To my pleasant surprise, I was asked which flavor I wanted, 4GB or 8GB? Once I knew that Apple had planned well and had numerous iPhones in stock, I drove to the store and was greeted at the door. The store employee asked me which phone I wanted, and I did well to contain my excitement and managed to calmly tell him I wanted the 8GB iPhone. Moments later, he returned with my new iPhone in a gift bag. I handed over my credit card without hesitation and returned home with my prize, anxious to connect it to my MacBook Pro and embark on a new journey.

At Home Activation

Once plugged in, my iPhone activation process began and I was presented with the "Are You a New or Existing AT&T (Cingular) Wireless Customer?" screen. I clicked the radio button indicating I was already an AT&T subscriber and was replacing my current phone (my Treo) with my shiny new iPhone. Moving my mouse arrow down, I could click on "Go Back" or "Continue". I paused. These two choices suddenly appeared in my mind's eye like a blue pill or red pill. "Go Back" was the blue pill. "Continue" was the red pill. The words of Morpheus came to me: "You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."

Was I not in Steve Job's "Wonderland"? Was I not peering through the looking-glass, in this case, the glass of the iPhone's brilliant and unparalleled multi-touch display? I mused upon this metaphor for a moment, then clicked the "Continue" button. I was taking the RED pill, dammit. I had already decided.

The Rabbit Hole

I know there are lots of different options out there for a smartphone or even semi-smartphone, but I'm keeping this strictly about the Palm OS Treo vs. iPhone and my experience making the switch. I took the red pill and I've not regretted it. I've never looked back and wished I'd taken the blue pill instead. I know there are others out there who have made the same decision, others who are thinking about it, and still others that prefer to with their Palm OS Treo (no offense, of course. It's all about free will, baby!). My goal is to take you down the rabbit-hole with me and help you see why I'm liking the journey.

Having used the iPhone as my primary device since what I fondly refer to as "i-Day", I can honestly say there is nothing like it. It's elegant and functional design is what one would expect from Apple, but design is only part of what makes this phone special. Apple has thought of so many of the little touches, like sensors for light and proximity. My cheek has made countless inputs on my Treo when I was on a call, anywhere from scheduling a new calendar event without my knowledge or disconnecting my call entirely. I don't have this problem with my iPhone because it's smart (and who said it wasn't a smartphone??) - it knows when I'm on a call and my cheeks are allowed mischief no longer!

Use the

What about the keyboard? Where is it? How could ANYONE like a virtual keyboard?? Well, to borrow shamelessly from another film franchise of mega-iconic proportions, using the iPhone software keyboard requires using "The Force" (I'll come back to this momentarily). I really do like the Treo keyboard and had become quite proficient in using it. I have big hands and fat fingers, but I still managed to tap away at that Treo keyboard with minimal errors. The iPhone's software keyboard is unlike anything else I've used for input -- no tactile feel and it's non-existent unless your iPhone decides you need it. The advantages of the iPhone's keyboard are more screen real estate and far less physical force to type something. I had my doubts about this "soft" keyboard, but after just a few hours of use, I became a believer and adopter.

Remember "The Force" I was talking about? If you focus on the keyboard and at least attempt to type correctly, the iPhone is EXTREMELY good at figuring out what the heck you are trying to type and does a FANTASTIC job of correcting your mistakes. For me, Mr. Sausagefingers, I've had little trouble. If I use The Force and have faith in my iPhone, I can tap away at a high rate of speed and feel confident that my iPhone will get it right.

Web-browsing? No comparison, really. That's the first thing I show someone who has never held an iPhone in their hands. Several of my acquaintances have inquired about my iPhone with mocking skepticism, only to begin salivating and babbling "my presssssscious!" (another shameless movie rip-off) as they scroll and "pinch" to their bug-eyed delight on the iPhone's Safari web-browser. With a Treo (using Blazer, Opera Mini, etc.), I only used the internet when I had no other choice, and it was a chore of epic proportions. My iPhone? A different story, my friends. I use the web-browser on a regular basis and now take for granted how it renders full web pages. Man, am I spoiled.

Like millions of others, I have an iPod. I love how I can store all of my music, videos, podcasts, and photos on my iPod. With a Treo, you have the same features using various 3rd-party apps or even the out-of-the-box software that comes on the Treo. There is a big difference for me, though. I rarely used my Treo for multimedia because it felt too cumbersome. I've done my fair share of "tweaking" my Treo, but it was too much of a hassle to use one program for videos, another for music, yet another for photos, and still another for podcasts. I'm not that smart. Rather than use my Treo for multimedia, I carried around my iPod instead. The beauty and genius of the iPhone is it's simplicity -- I can carry around my aforementioned multimedia on my phone and conveniently sync it with iTunes. It's virtually dummy-proof.

How about email? Email, at least for this comparison, is really part of a larger whole, that greater whole being 3rd-party native apps. They are coming for the iPhone as I write this. The Treo wins on the many different email solutions via 3rd-party apps, but for my needs, my iPhone's email app is adequate. I have a .Mac account for email and it is regularly delivered to my iPhone via the Auto-Check feature. This isn't as handy as true "push" email, but I don't mind having the option to have my iPhone check my mail every 15, 30 or 60 minutes. If someone needs to reach me THAT urgently they can always call, right? I've also found a nifty way around the enterprise (or lack thereof) mail problem. I spoke to the IT guys where I work and now my work email is forwarded to my .mac account, so I'm not missing anything. I get all of my email on my iPhone and don't need a Treo to do it.

The iPhone has many onboard features that can be matched or exceeded by a Palm OS 3rd-party app, like stock reporting software, weather, clock, calculator programs ad infinitum, notes, etc. Many of these inequalities that are missed from my Treo days will hopefully be resolved when the SDK is available and developers start cranking out software for the iPhone. Even so, the apps that are standard on the iPhone are well-designed and simply beautiful to look at. They are also very functional and easy to use. Until a parity is reached with 3rd-party apps, I can live with using the myriad of web apps that are available to take care of one or two things that I used to use my Treo for, like a checkbook program (one of my only major gripes). Also, some of the iPhone onboard apps are simply superior when you combine functionality with the expansive screen real estate, like Google Maps. YouTube is also worth it's weight... er... memory space in gold when it comes to entertainment value.

Both the Treo and iPhone have cameras. And yes, both of their cameras are, shall we say, closer to the Fisher-Price end of the spectrum than a Nikon, for instance. Neither platform can brag about the camera, but again, for me, it's about ease-of-use and functionality. With the iPhone, I can take a picture and save it, make it the phone wallpaper, delete it, email it, or upload it to my website to share to the world with one press of the virtual button. Treo has an advantage with the ability to take video, and I'm hoping video will be a future iPhone feature. Also, iPhone is embarrassingly lacking the MMS feature with its messaging so I can't send a picture via text/multimedia message, but hopefully this will also be addressed in future updates.

Personal Information Management

The Treo, and Palm OS in general, has a very simple PIM (Personal Information Management) that is what first attracted me to Palm so many years ago. I will be the first to admit that the Treo's PIM is superior to the iPhone's PIM in that it is easier to access and more straight-forward. A To-Do list is standard (iPhone, at the time of this writing, requires a web app for any kind of "to do's", sadly). The basic Contacts/Address book for Palm is first-rate, but the iPhone's is very similar by comparison. As for Memos, the Treo allows categorization, which is nice. The iPhone's "Notes" program leaves a lot to be desired, from the Market Felt font to the lack of organizing notes in any kind of logical way.

My biggest gripe is the Calendar. With a Treo, a calendar entry is as simple as opening up the calendar app, tapping on the time you want, and entering the text for an appointment. It's as simple as you care to make it and everything is saved. With the iPhone, you tap on the Calendar, hit the "+" button, then have to enter the appointment details, scroll through the "start" and "end" times, and make sure you SAVE it or it's lost. I've messed up that last step one or twenty times and it can get irritating.

Even with some of the drawbacks, though, I can accept some of the idiosyncrasies of the iPhone's PIM when considering the entire package of what I'm getting with this baby. Although I prefer the Treo's PIM features, it's not enough to even make the blue pill look tempting.

How much deeper will the Rabbit Hole go?

I could go on about the pros and cons, like user-replaceable battery vs. non-user-replaceable, expandable memory, 3rd-party apps, stylus vs. finger (can't say I'm missing the stylus), and maybe my biggest pet peeve of all: CUT AND FRICKIN PASTE, please. I'm not going to tell you, my good reader, that you should be baptized an iPhone convert, but I will say that I was not happy with Palm's lackluster roadmap and was elated to finally have an option to take a blue or red pill.

The rabbit-hole is not uniquely mine. If you look closely, you should find a rabbit-hole in your own back yard (think AT&T or Apple Store) and perhaps, if you are still reading, you'll feel the same compulsion I did and decide to see how deep the rabbit-hole goes for yourself. On the eve of the highly-anticipated SDK release with the promise of 3rd-party apps and future product upgrades, I believe the rabbit-hole will go deep indeed. I traveled a similar rabbit-hole long ago with a similar excitement, but Palm's rabbit-hole, at least for me, resulted in a disappointing dead-end. With Apple's iPhone, I am happy to have found a new rabbit-hole and I believe that THIS one does, in fact, lead to Wonderland.

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There are 16 comments. Add yours.

pdaluver says:

Excellent article Brian! I still use both a Treo 680 and an iPhone, and I agree with your conclusions on both devices. Safari just rules as a web browser! My husband has just switched from a Treo 650 to an iPhone and I'm in the midst of watching him going down the rabbit hole. He's sure enjoying the ride so far! ;-)

Bri Guy says:

Thanks, pdaluver! I'm very much enjoying the trip myself and looking forward to more twists and turns as the hole deepens! I still carry around my old 650 in my bag, perhaps as a security blanket, but once 3rd party apps come online, I suspect the 650 may move from my bag to my "island of misfit toys" drawer ;)

Rene Ritchie says:

Almost my exact story! No matter how much a pimped my Treo with DialByPhoto, pTunes, etc. I just couldn't make it a modern UI or useful media player, and the deal-ender was that it crashed on dial or receipt of phone calls almost daily. (Never mind 3rd party apps, some of which just killed it outright).
And I *never* liked the tictac keyboard. My mushy fingers were always dialing wrong. Plus, when I sprained my wrist, I couldn't put enough pressure on to type or even dial -- no such worries with the iPhone keyboard.
I do miss dial by photo, type to find contacts, IR/BT beaming of PIM data, and a few other things, but over all I'm so far down the rabbit hole Neo, Alice, and Miller's Batman can eat my dust... :)

Bri Guy says:

Yes, Rene, I know what you are saying concerning Treo crashes on calls, sometimes switching apps, or even if it's breathed on. One thing I found completely unacceptable with my Treos, and it may be carrier-specific, is a call-waiting issue that I was never able to resolve. Quite often, if I ignored an incoming second call, my first call would get disconnected as soon as my Treo notified me of the missed second call. This has never happened with my iPhone.
There are still many things I like about Treos specifically and Palm in general, but Palm would have to accomplish something magnificent to lure me back into the fold. Even then, I don't ever see myself parting with my iPhone :)

mclark2112 says:

I just dove in last night. I have been trying to convince myself not to since Jan 2007, when we first glimpsed that beautiful toy.
I am only on my first full day with the iPhone, and I already know it is the device I have been waiting for since I bought my first PalmPilot! Sure it has its weaknesses, but I can deal with them. The browser is simply amazing, and that made the sale.
In my journey, I kept finding myself trying to make my Palm into an iPhone, and it never quite worked. The elegance of the iPhone interface is great. The 8 gigs of memory is unheard of in a PDA.
And I really do consider the iPhone a PDA. It pretty much does exactly what I used my PDAs for anyway. Apps are coming, jailbreak is already here.
I tend to move on from device to device, but this one may stay around for a while. As far edge goes, not really an issue for me, browsing will almost always be done via wifi, edge will only be for email.
The iPhone is what Palm should have been 5 years ago...

DL.Cummings says:

[quote=mclark2112;1425040]The iPhone is what Palm should have been 5 years ago...
Palm should have been a toy 5 years ago? ;)

Rene Ritchie says:

mclark2112 has competitively advantaged the correct!
That I couldn't tell a major difference between my 600 and my 680 was the last straw. If Palm had been caught in amber for 5 years we would have seen the same amount of non-development.
To blow such an incredible lead is mind-numbing.

mclark2112 says:

Palm should have been a toy 5 years ago? ;)
A toy is really all I ever wanted, web, games, tunes, calendar. I don't use lists, something about my personality hates them, so lack of to do items doesn't bother me.
But yes, my Palms have always been more toy than tool. But I always wanted the Holy Grail, the perfect mobile browser. Safari is the closest I have seen...

DL.Cummings says:

[quote=mclark2112;1425107]A toy is really all I ever wanted, web, games, tunes, calendar. I don't use lists, something about my personality hates them, so lack of to do items doesn't bother me.
But yes, my Palms have always been more toy than tool. But I always wanted the Holy Grail, the perfect mobile browser. Safari is the closest I have seen...
Fair enough. Different folks, different strokes.
I know for myself, the fact that my Palm functions as a tool is toy enough for me--not that I don't wish they would have done a bit better as of recent.
I will say that I believe the two differing concepts could indeed be molded together (toy + tool) so as to satisfy a larger percent of the population.

mclark2112 says:

OK, I just did the Jailbreak thing. I used Ziphone, way easy.
I installed a To Do list, really nice, even though I won't use it ;). Email is great.
I even like the keyboard, it isn't as bad as I thought it would be. The predictive/corrective text works well too.

ADGrant says:

Interesting review, thanks. I am still waiting for a few things before I am reading to switch.
1) Push email
2) Full PIM functionality.
3) Pocket Quicken.

andrewg_oz says:

I just have one nit to pick about the article. Re the "cheek and Treo" - you must have missed Prefs -> Keyguard -> Disable touchscreen ?

hotrod says:

I change my mind every day, Treo800w or iphone. I can't wait. If the recent news of gps is true for the Iphone...I'm jumping from my 700wx to an iphone.

Rene Ritchie says:

Waiting for a 2008-era 1.0 to solidify vs. waiting for a 1999-era Palm to wring the last great gobs of death out of their device before (maybe) debuting a new OS in (maybe) 2-5 years?
No contest. iPhone, for me, is the first Treo all over again; the start of something new and big, and I'm enjoying it every bit as much as I enjoyed the Treo until it abandoned me 5 years ago...

lefc says:

I used to have an iPhone, cost me over $600 at the time and I ended up selling it for $250. I'm now getting a Treo 750 and I honestly think I will enjoy it much more. The iPhone has terrible battery life if you use it for anything other than a phone. I did like the internet, but eventually that got boring. It's a neat toy, but really I'd probably rather have an iTouch and a smartphone/PPC.

Counsel says:

I loved my Treo 650, and I wonder why they didn't get more credit for the "touch screen" craze...
Much of what Palm did with that device has not been done better to this day.
At this point (after using the iPhone for 2 years), I am looking forward to the Omnia (formerly known as HD) to move to symbian touch. iPhone is great for general stuff, but I want a smartphone that I can decide what to put on the device without having iTunes be the "big brother."
Of course, your mileage may vary...