Over the last 5 weeks of the 3rd Annual Smartphone Round Robin, the editors of our sibling sites, Casey from AndroidCentral.com, Kevin from CrackBerry.com, Matt from NokiaExperts.com, Dieter from PreCentral.net, and Phil from WMExperts.com have all had their chance to review TiPb's flagship iPhone 3GS. And we've just had to sit here and take it, the good and the bad, the raves and the rants. Well, it's week 6 now, baby, and TiPb gets to retort!
PreCentral.net's Dieter Bohn
Week 1 saw our Editor-in-Chief, Dieter Bohn, this time representing PreCentral.net, return to the iPhone he's reviewed about 5 or 6 times already, and... he was remarkably fair and I'm kind of sad there's nothing much to pick him apart over. Thanks for nothing! One of his negatives is something I've been thinking about for a while, though:
I will admit to being a little tired of the iPhone's design. It's iconic and singular, but honestly it doesn't feel as 'high end' as it once did. Not that the Palm Pre or Pixi is the picture of luxury, but sometime soon Apple will need to remember that phones are fashion and fashion changes.
iPhone 3G was indeed a departure from the original iPhone 2G; it lost the aluminum and gained a new, curved-for-thinness form. And people got really upset their cases didn't fit any more, their docks didn't fit anymore, and accused Apple of changing just to force people to re-buy all their accessories. Then the iPhone 3GS came out, new model same as the one before, and people got really upset that it wasn't refreshed. Fashionistas complained one could tell they had the new model. Both the iPhone casing and the iPhone home screen wouldn't be hurt for an update, but Apple won't win either way.
As for Dieter's conclusion:
We try not to pick winners in the Smartphone Round Robin, but rather talk about user needs and preferences. If you need apps and music, right now your choice is iPhone. If that's not big and you care about openness and multitasking, webOS has a serious leg up. What's sort of amazing is that most users don't need to dismiss either out of hand.
I'd add the mobile web to that. iPhone Safari still hasn't been exceeded and there's a reason iPhone-optimized sites are still what other mobile WebKit clients want to pull. The point itself is spot on though -- iPhone is owning the app and media space while BlackBerry owns messaging, and Android, Palm, Nokia, and WinMo battle it out over "openness" and "in-between". Multitasking we might get in a future update (iPhone 4.0?) but it's tough to see Apple loosening their ties on the App Store until and unless competition forces them to. Geeks and philosophers notwithstanding, some users and some developers prefer the level of trust a "gate-keeper"-style store provide (though Apple could certainly do better on the consistency side).
WMExperts' Phil Nickinson
Week 2 brought us Phil Nickinson, editor of WMExperts.com, and again he was frustratingly fair. He also raised some good food for thought:
Some of the best conversations surrounding smartphones these days have to do with Apple's singular vision. It designs the phones. It keeps a tight fist on the manufacturing process. It largely controls the marketing of the devices. Even the act of selling an iPhone is controlled by Apple. Want to use the iPhone? You have to connect to iTunes at least once. Apps? Only (official) way to get them is through Apple's App Store. Everything, at least at some point, must pass through Apple. Do not pass Go, head directly to Cupertino.
I've been toying with the over-simplification that iPhone involves surrendering control to Apple in exchange for user-experience, Android involves surrendering privacy to Google in exchange for free services, and BlackBerry involves surrendering serenity to RIM in exchange for constant connectivity. There's no perfect device or perfect model; everything is a compromise, and for a large swath of users, that's a good deal. They don't want to control (or have to worry about managing) their device -- they just want to easily use it.
We don't believe in iPhone killers. That's a phrase that was coined by writers who couldn't think of any other arguments to make. No, we're not looking for Windows Mobile 7, if and when it's announced and later released, to "kill" anything, save for maybe the bad taste that Windows Mobile 6.5 left in a lot of mouths. But even that isn't entirely fair. Microsoft announced Windows Mobile 6.5 and for the most part delivered exactly what it promised. No more, no less. A stopgap to hold things over until WM7.
Actor and gadget aficionado Stephen Fry uproariously so elegantly phrased:
Does anybody seriously believe that Android, Nokia, Samsung, Palm, BlackBerry and a dozen others would since have produced the product line they have without the 100,000 volt taser shot up the jacksie that the iPhone delivered to the entire market?
That the iPhone jumpstarted a complacent smartphone industry in 2007 is undeniable, as is the impact its made since. In that context, the media contrivance of "iPhone killer" makes sense. Until something makes that same original-iPhone-in-2007 level leap, it's likely the media will keep comparing everything to the iPhone. Steve Jobs was recently rumored to have said Google's Android wants to "kill" the iPhone, and likely the Windows Mobile team does as well. They have to if they want any hope to be competitive. No doubt the iPhone G4/4.0 team at Apple wants to kill the iPhone 3GS/3.0 as well. That is one of the keys to Apple's success.
AndroidCentral's Casey Chan
Week 3 had Casey Chan, editor of AndroidCentral.com share his thoughts on the iPhone 3GS, and forget the conclusion, he starts with the bang:
Ah, the iPhone. For better or worse, the iPhone has become the starting point for many consumers looking to buy a smartphone. In a sense, it's become the standard for everyone to measure themselves against. Because of its position at the forefront of consumer's minds and the fact that it's in everyone's pocket, that's completely fair. But because of Apple's sometimes senseless decisions in dealing with all things iPhone, it leaves the rest of us a little uneasy.
Our own Chad Garrett likes to say the iPhone is the first smartphone for everyone upgrading from the RAZR and there's some truth to that. With the iPhone, Apple mainstreamed the smartphone -- they took it from a power device for power users with a powerful requirement for tweaking, managing, and messing around with, and carefully packaged a subset of important features for the masses. That means that, for any particular user -- and especially for a power user -- there's a high chance that subset doesn't include an important feature.
That's Apple's modus operandi, however. They'd rather start limited and add slowly. They'd rather leave something out completely than add in something they don't think just works well enough. They're masters of always leaving something else on the table for the next update. And they're laser-focused on those features they consider essential for the user they're targeting.
And yes, it drives us all nuts, even as they've sold 70,000 devices on the iPhone OS platform and used it to familiarize everyone with the next-step in multitouch iPhone OS UI -- the iPad.
CrackBerry.com's Kevin Michaluk
Week 4 was our best frenemy forever, CrackBerry.com's own Kevin Michaluk and he embraces the same yin/yang theory about iPhone/BlackBerry as TiPb:
I've said it many times over the past two years, be it in blog posts, on our CrackBerry podcast, or to individuals asking advice on what device to buy, that if you want the absolute no-compromise best smartphone solution that you keep a BlackBerry in one pocket and an iPhone (or iPod Touch) in the other. Though both Apple, RIM and every other manufacturer and platform in the smartphone space for that matter have the aim of developing the one device you need (in other words they're trying to be both Yin and Yang), I still think as of now it takes two devices to have Best of Class everything. A device like the BlackBerry Bold 9700 is the ultimate communication and productivity tool, which excels in areas that matter both in enterprise (security, deployment, IT management) and to people who run their business and their lives depending on the phone, maximizing every minute of their day (one-handed speed of use, battery life, push everything, etc.). Apple hit the market with a compelling touchscreen experience that's both intuitive and enjoyable to use that fits into the Apple ecosystem of products and services (ie. iTunes) and took it to the next level by causing a revolution in the mobile app space. So while the BlackBerry is still the ultimate communication / utilty tool, the iPhone arguably remains the ultimate convergence device.
Kevin being Kevin, however, he can't resist tweaking us either. The Man who, in the first year called the iPhone 2G the iSmudge (before BlackBerry copied its black and silver design) and in the second year called it the Ah Frak Phone (on the eve of the BlackBerry Storm launch no less), decided this year he'd call the iPhone 3GS the douchebag phone (he owns one -- as do almost all the Smartphone Experts editors).
NokiaExperts' Matt Miller
Week 5 closed things out with NokiaExperts.com's Matt Miller, who like Dieter is a multi-handset mobile gadgeteer with a lot of experience and a global point of view. His take:
As a guy who has used every smartphone operating system I am also quite frustrated with the iPhone OS because I know Apple can do better as they have shown glimpses of in the past. One of the main things people mention with the iPhone OS compared to other smartphone operating systems is the lack of multi-tasking with 3rd party applications. [...] Personally, the major thing I want to see in the next version of the iPhone OS is support for some kind of Today or status screen where I can put widgets or parts of applications on a single screen so my key information is glanceable without having to dive into applications. [...] Another area I would like to see addressed is notifications. Palm’s webOS and Google Android have the best implementation of notifications while the iPhone’s is pretty poor.
Setting aside that these are some of the most popular reasons people still Jailbreak their iPhones, Matt (and the other editors who took similar issue with iPhone functionality) will likely find many TiPb readers agreeing with him, yours truly included. Only built-in Apple apps can multitask, only your latest push message is shown on the Lock Screen (if you haven't already dismissed it), and that same one message/dismissal is the crux of the notification problem.
This brings everything sharply into focus. Apple prides itself on making software "5-years ahead of the competition" (see iPhone virtual keyboard). They would rather not provide a solution than provide one that they don't think answers the problem simply and elegantly (see cut, copy, and paste appearing only in iPhone 3.). They would rather provide a highly focused subset of functionality for the mainstream than to check off every power-user want (see everything all of us, er... want). Every version of the iPhone adds features that were considered "missing" to the previous version, either as technology and development resources allow, or Apple deems us sufficiently learned on what came before, and sufficiently motivated to buy what's next.
So, if RAM and CPU are at the level where multitasking will almost never crash the Phone app and Apple decides they have the UI for it they want, if Dashboard goes mobile but can remain uncluttered and Apple-esque in execution and DashCode joins the iPhone SDK, if... well, given the rapid rise of push notifications, there's no if -- we need better alert handling -- we just might get some or all of these things in iPhone 4.0.
Conclusion... Coming Soon
Week 6 is my turn. The iPhone 3GS comes home to TiPb and given everything every other editor has written about it, and everything I've written about the Nokia, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, and Palm webOS, I have to re-examine and re-review the iPhone 3GS.
While that may not be conclusive, it will be TiPb's conclusion for this year.