Sunday, September 09, 2007

What's stopping me from an iPhone?

So…the obvious question I get, being both a big fan of Apple's design, and my obvious lust for the ultimate mobile convergence device is: will I buy the iPhone? Obviously, with the recent price cut, I continue to get these questions in ever increasing frequency. Instead of giving my regular "Well..." answer, I've decided to take a critical look if I can be an iPhone user by looking at the applications and functions I use every day in my Palm Treo 680, and see how my current solution set stacks up. I'm going to score each of these, and, at the end, if the iPhone has a high score, I'm headed to the Apple store for a test drive.

Contacts. I have over 6000 contacts in my phone. I know, it seems insane, but I'm like the packrat of all time when it comes to contacts. Plus, I keep notes on each, photos, etc. Finding a contact in the Palm is easy: just start typing. With 6K+ contacts, it can be a little laggy, but generally not an issue. With the iPhone, while you can easily sync with Outlook, the only way to find a contact is either in your Favorites, or to use the scroll and flick method: no direct typing. Yikes. Score: Palm: 10, iPhone: 2.

Calendar. My lifeblood. I've got so many meetings and calls to keep track of, I'd be lost without it. The Treo is a champ: multiple views, including one I can see openings; different colors for different categories, and perfect Outlook sync; even time zone adjustment. The iPhone does a pretty good job, as long as you are not really interested in entering new appointments on the phone itself too often. In other words, as a view only for my Outlook data, it'd do the job...but that's it. Score: Palm: 10, iPhone: 3. By the way, great video review on this:

Tasks. Well, no contest here: no iPhone equivalent. However, to be fair, I rarely use tasks on the Treo, as I track and check off either in Outlook or Salesforce. Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 0.

Podcast player. I listen to podcasts on my bike rides, and rely on them for primary entertainment. With the Palm, I use a combo of pTunes to play them, and Quick News to automatically download direct to the Palm, late at night. The results are pretty good: pTunes is an OK media player with clever functions like skip ahead 10, 15, 30 or 60 seconds, but playlist management is a bit kludgy. And Quick News, while great, can sometimes not download a podcast for any one of a dozen reasons. Not to mention it's slooooow, as it's doing so over AT&T's network. The iPhone, on the other hand, shines, thanks to iTunes integration. I'm hopeful that the new improvements to the iPhone will allow downloads direct to the iPhone over WiFi, but even without, syncing is blazingly fast, and there's no arguing with the iPod UI. Score: Palm: 7, iPhone: 10.

Music player. Occasionally, I prefer music to podcasts. My 4GB SD card usually holds a bunch, and I can swap out for another with most of my music on it. pTunes handles the player duties. But let's not kid ourselves: Apple's got this one locked. And with 8GB onboard, I think SD cards are a thing of the past. Score: Palm: 6, iPhone: 10.

Movie player. Yep, I watch movies and TV shows on the Treo. While I miss my old Palm TX's large screen, the Treo is actually a little better performer. TCPMP handles the Treo movie playing, including Divx and Xvid codecs, but it chokes a little on MP4 content, so I'm limited to ripped movies sans DRM. The iPhone totally gets the nod here: big screen, lots of content, vibrant display, and great battery life. Score: Palm: 7, iPhone: 10.

Calculator. Sad, ain't it? Maybe I need that Nintendo DS Brain Age thing. In any case, it's a wash here: both the Treo and iPhone have one. Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 5.

eWallet. Passwords, codes, numbers: everything goes into eWallet with it's special encryption, easy recall, and perfect PC sync. I'd be lost without it. With the iPhone, there's no app for this, so I'd have to rely on a web based app for this. And web based apps for this kinda data...not so good for security. Plus, ubiquitous web access ain't quite here. Score: Palm: 9, iPhone: 1.

Memos. I use it for writing blog entries on the go, jotting down a note, or recipes. Pretty much a wash here, but the Treo gets a slight advantage because of the tactile keyboard. If only the iPhone's memo app wasn't so damned pretty...Score: Palm: 6, iPhone: 5.

Texas Hold 'em Poker (and other games).
Yep, got to have something to do in those idle moments. The Palm one is pretty decent, and keeps me entertained. iPhone one...wait...what's that? There are no games for the iPhone? You have to be kidding. Yes, I see that there are some web-based ones, but that, again, requires connectivity. And how can I say this...theres not a lot of signal strength usually in most restrooms. Score: Palm: 7, iPhone: 0.

Email. Using SnapperMail (not the included VersaMail, thank you), I can manage all of my email, from multiple accounts, while traveling. No Blackberry push, or course, but extremely powerful. iPhone's mail app has been pretty much derided as too lightweight for real emailers. For instance, Engadget's comments:
"There's no other way than to come out and say it: we are extremely disappointed in the iPhone's email app. So much so, in fact, that despite the keyboard and the rest of the things the iPhone lacks in the features department, its mail support may be the largest factor in killing its status as a productivity device. Don't get us wrong, the application is just fine for anyone who wants to do light email, but it lacks the power and convenience that frequent-emailers require."

Still, it does support Yahoo push email and Gmail's full Ajax interface, so you get some definite upsides. But for a device that is all about all in one for mobile professionals, this might be the Achilles heel. Oh, and remember: the keyboard is screen based, not tactile. Score: Palm: 8, iPhone: 5.

Bluetooth. Yes, both have it. But the Treo lets you use any cell headset, sync wirelessly, beam data, and, with the help of Audio Gateway, even streams audio to my Bluetooth headphones. The iPhone? Talk on a BT cell headset. That's it. Ugh. Score: Palm: 8, iPhone: 4.

Edge to iPhone here, but barely. Quality is certainly better than the Treo's, but you can only send as an attachment to an email from the iPhone: no MMS. Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 7.

eReader. I buy and read ebooks all the time on the Treo. Great for traveling. On the iPhone, there is no option. None. Ugh. And, even if there were, even with that great screen, you'd have to read them two handed: turning the page would require a flick of a finger, instead of a one handed hold and click operation. Score: Palm: 7, iPhone: 0.

Google Maps. Available on both, but no question it's sexier on the iPhone. Better integration, as well, not to mention faster over WiFi. Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 7.

GPS. My Treo uses TomTom software and Bluetooth to talk to a small receiver. When I'm in a new city, I pop out the GPS, fire up TomTom on the Treo, and I'm driving like a native. iPhone: did I mention it's got Google Maps? Hope that'll keep you happy, 'cause there's no sat nav happening here. Score: Palm: 9, iPhone: 0.

Travel Tracker. Venerable champ on the Treo, but requires entry of data on the Treo, which is painful. It does, however, seamlessly sync with the Calendar app, so my appointments and flight show up already integrated. iPhone has nothing in this regard, but it's implementation of the Safari web browser means I can use TripIt, which blows away Travel Tracker. Downside: requires a connection, of course. Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 6.

And finally, the Web. I read the news, catch up on the NY Times and SFGate, check out name it. The Treo advantage is that I can turn off images when the connection is slow, and that sites with a mobile version automatically detect my browser and redirect me to that optimized view. The experience is definitely limited, though. The iPhone has the Web down cold, with Safari, tabbed browsing, and Ajax support. All great when you are on WiFi, but I'm guessing a little painful on EDGE. Still, how can you argue with a full browser? Score: Palm: 5, iPhone: 9.

Final score: Palm: 124, iPhone: 81.

Now, this is completely subjective. And, it does not take into account the other iPhone-only functions, like widgets or YouTube. This is meant to see how much I lose by going to the iPhone, and if I can stand the loss for the increase in sexiness. Based on the above, I think I'm still staying with the Treo. If the iPhone gets it's email in gear, and offers a solution for an eReader, and, critically, adds some games, we might be talking again.

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