I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time. I purchased my iPhone 3G almost a month ago and wanted to really work with it before committing any of my thoughts and impressions to the pages of GBM. The context here compares my usage and discoveries about the iPhone 3G to the Sprint Mogul, which is a Windows Mobile Device (6.1) that I have been using for over a year.
I’ve been using a Windows Mobile Smartphone for about 3 years since purchasing the PPC 6700, the predecessor of the Sprint Mogul (PPC 6800), both made by HTC. I have enjoyed both devices and they have both served me very well on a number of fronts. I had no real issues with the PPC 6700 and have no real issues with the PPC 6800 as devices. Windows Mobile occasionally drove me a little nuts, but that’s par for the course. With both the Mogul and the iPhone, firmware updates were (and are) important. The Mogul had mediocre BlueTooth sound quality until after a firmware update and the GPS wasn’t activated when I purchased it either. Battery life also improved dramatically after a firmware update on the Mogul. Apple has rolled out two updates so far and I’ll give them this much, at least they are doing so with relative speed. Folks waited for updates (and promised features) on the Mogul for over 8 months. That’s one difference between Apple’s closed shop and Microsoft’s partner arrangements.
So, why buy an iPhone 3G and switch? Two reasons. First, I do strongly believe the iPhone is a great Mobile Internet Device (MID) with a phone attached. For browsing and consuming media on the fly it fills that bill. After using an iPod Touch since December, I really enjoy the touch UI that Apple has come up with. I find it very well thought out. Not perfect but well done. Second, I think the iPhone’s promise as a platform offers more potential in the long run than what I know currently of the future of Windows Mobile devices and MIDs. Perhaps that’s unfair, as we are able to look and touch the iPhone today, whereas with Windows Mobile 7, well, that’s still basically still behind a closed door of secrecy. With MIDs we’re really yet to see what they offer in my opinion. Timing is everything. If I can combine my needs and confine my gadget lust to one device, all the better.
Things I Miss on the iPhone
Going into the purchase for the iPhone there were a few things I knew I would miss. I’ll list them here and go in depth on a few below.
- Video camera (the Mogul doesn’t have a great, or for that matter a very good one, but it works in a pinch)
- BlueTooth Support (Using a BlueTooth headset on the Mogul was instrumental to my usage of the device in a car. I knew Apple’s locked down BlueTooth wouldn’t give me that same flexibility.)
- Easy switching between mail accounts (a simple move of the dpad on the Mogul, more touches than necessary on the iPhone.)
- Tethering (AT&T doesn’t like this idea at all.)
- Swappable batteries.
After using the iPhone for awhile the most frustrating thing I’ve found is the horrendous lack of BlueTooth support. I’m not talking about AD2P stereo support, that isn’t a priority for me. I’m talking about the fact that applications can’t use BlueTooth to communicate. Without a third party solution (none of which work well) you can’t do any sort of voice dialing on the phone. I’m convinced this has more to do with Apple’s previous DRM lockdown agreements with the entertainment industry than it does with the technology. I really miss voice dialing. As a side note on BlueTooth support, being able to tether a BlueTooth keyboard up to the iPhone would make this a truly killer mobile solution for bloggers. Alas, that’s not possible either. It was with the Mogul. Apple loses big here in my opinion. Frankly, I don’t know how they can call the device hands-free without voice dialing and get away with it.
So far, I’ve had no issues with battery life. I really think it depends on how you use the device to get an accurate gauge on this. I’m seeing similar battery life from the iPhone as I do with the Mogul. (Intriguingly, it took two subsequent ROM updates on the Mogul before I found battery life acceptable there.) I’m still peeved I can’t buy an extra battery, but I swallowed that bitter pill when I made the purchase. I remain convinced that this is just part of Apple’s controlled obsolescence planning. I am using Richard Solo’s Lithium-Ion re-chargeable battery as a backup, though quite frankly, as I haven’t been on the road recently, I don’t need to use it much at the moment. That will change as my travel season approaches in a few months.
Being able to tether the Sprint Mogul up to my computer for use as an EVDO modem was my backup plan if I lost or couldn’t find WiFi connectivity. Unless I jailbreak the iPhone, there is no current solution for this, nor do I look for one to legally become available, (according to the AT&T’s laws that is), despite recent rumors. I guess AT&T doesn’t think they can make any money off of allowing this the same way they rook customers for SMS messaging. But hey, they aren’t alone in that. But I guess if you can rearrange the English language when it comes to words like Ã¢â‚¬Ëœunlimited’ you can create the same kind of fuzzy language manipulation with the word Ã¢â‚¬Ëœdata.’
This isn’t really a discovery as I knew I would enjoy this after using the iPod Touch. Being able to quickly surf the web away from a WiFi connection just increases that enjoyment. It is intriguing that in the legions of stories of crashes on the latest iPhone that I see more crashes with Safari than I do with other apps, but then again, I’m used to browsing issues on the Mogul as well. I’ve said before that the iPod Touch is a great Stall Surfing device. The iPhone is as well. Only problem is you might get a phone call at the wrong time.
It is far easier to use the iPhone’s GPS features than it was the Sprint Mogul’s native features (once they finally arrived.) I use Google Maps on both for this kind of navigation, and it is just much easier to do so on the iPhone.
I wouldn’t dare say I have figured out the iPhones touch screen keyboard. I haven’t. Some days it works well. Some it does not. (Perhaps I should say I work well or don’t work well with it.) But that is no different than the slide-out keyboard on the HTC devices I previously owned. I feel just as awkward with the iPhone keyboard as I did with the HTC keyboards. Small keyboards defeat me. So, this is really a wash in my book.
The iPhone is the best screen I have used out of doors on any device, plain and simple. I’m sure there are others that might compare, but not in my limited experience.
The camera on the Sprint Mogul was no great thing. In fact, unless the lighting conditions were perfect it was almost not worth it. The iPhone 3G camera isn’t much better (both are 2 megapixels) but it does seem to take better pictures. It is more convenient to access and use and that does make a difference. Applications designed to move photos to the web (I use Shozu most of the time) work much better on the iPhone than they did on the Sprint Mogul. The process of using the camera in my experience is must much better integrated on the iPhone.
The App Store
This is where the promise part comes in. The iPhone and the iPhone SDK are a platform. The difference between this and Windows Mobile devices is the difference between Apple and Microsoft. Apple controls both the hardware and software and Microsoft creates the OS and depends on partners for the hardware. In my Windows Mobile experience it was always frustrating to see a potentially exciting Windows Mobile app only to find that it didn’t work on my phone. This same distinct difference applies to the firmware updates I spoke of earlier as well. Apple is controlling the gate with the App store and the phone’s software, (unless you jailbreak the phone.) In theory, an app should work if released for the iPhone, although there are still some rough patches and very curious failures here, so the closed shop approach isn’t all peaches and cream.
Now understand this, I don’t think what we see on the App Store today is all goodness. In the early going there are some issues with quality control and the App Store in general. I don’t download apps over the air straight to my iPhone as that still seems to cause crashes by reports I’m seeing. Some of the applications are truly well done. But I would categorize most as novelties regardless of their purpose. Again, this is where the promise comes in. I think we’ll see great things coming out of the App Store and Apple’s approach to this phone in the future. I guess you could say, I’ve made a long term bet that I hope will pay off.
The app I use the most is EverNote. EverNote ties me into any of my devices and it is very handy to have that data wherever I am. I used it on the Sprint Mogul as well and it worked well there, but I enjoy using it more on the iPhone. The notes are easier to manipulate and view.
I’m experimenting with a few other Apps from the store and most give me functionality that I could get from the web anyway. As an example, I prefer to use Hahlo which is a web application over an installed app like Twitterific for Twitter as an example. This points up the fact that the iPhone’s Safari browser is a top notch mobile browser. Most of what I need to accomplish can be done in that browser. That, at the moment, is the killer app for the iPhone. It hands down beats my browser experiences on the Mogul. It took forever for a version of Opera to work well with the Mogul, but even with a working solution, the two experiences just don’t compare and the Mogul comes in a distinct second place here.
While not an iPhone app, being able to access Windows Live Mesh via the browser is also something that works well for me. I don’t use this often, but this week I was able to access a few files when we were in the rehearsal space and show them to cast and staff to illustrate a point. The promise of this cross platform mode of operation is an important one to me and I’m glad the technical preview of Live Mesh is working on this now.
The examples above illustrate how I currently envision using this device, and to a large extent how I used the Sprint Mogul. I don’t look at either as a replacement for a Tablet PC or computer, but as a way of accessing information or content while I’m on the go. That said, the iPhone could become more of a casual diversion than the HTC devices ever did. The most I ever used those devices for relaxation was listening to podcasts.
Using the iPhone as a phone
IÃ¢â‚¬Ëœm surprised at how much I like using it as a phone. Contrary to Apple’s marketing slogan, it doesn’t just work. You do have to make some adjustments. At least I did. But within a few days, it felt very natural to use this device as a phone. In fact, using it as a phone has become a pure joy. Audibility is very good both ways. The speaker is better than on the Sprint Mogul. Without voice dialing I have to rely on touch dialing of some sort (whether it is a full number or a shortcut) and this is more easily done on the iPhone than on the Sprint Mogul’s touch screen. Accessing contacts is easier as well.
Joy of usage
Speaking of joys, pure or otherwise, this is the big key for me. I really enjoy just using this device. From the touch UI to the phone, to watching and listening to media, it is a joy to hold and use. I look forward to putting it into my hands. With both of the HTC devices, as well as they served me, after the newness wore off, they became merely a tool to accomplish a task with. With the iPhone I find myself frequently using it for web browsing where before I would have used my Tablet PC. Again, it is a great Stall Surfing device. Actually, the iPhone and Tablet PCs share a common thread for me. I feel the same about using the iPhone as I still do about Tablet PCs. I enjoy holding them in my hands and working (or playing) with both. When I look forward to picking up the tool I am going to use for a task, the task becomes more enjoyable. Other devices I have used certainly get the task done, but the iPhone and a Tablet PC are the only two I can say I really would miss if they suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.
Neither Device is Perfect
I don’t believe any device is perfect. They all have shortcomings. Some come built in, some come as things supposedly improve down the road. For example, a listen to, and occasionally watch, a couple of video podcasts. Prior to the iPhone 2.0 software, I was able to only listen to these podcasts if I selected them under podcasts. The video would not play. That was a bonus for me, as it meant I wasn’t eating battery life by playing video when I didn’t want to watch it. Now, however, if I select one of those podcast to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœlisten to’ I get video and audio. If someone viewed that as an improvement they were sorely mistaken. The Mogul served me well. I think the iPhone will do so as well. Both have strengths and weaknesses. But in the end, it is the enjoyment factor of the iPhone, even with the current issues the latest edition is facing, that makes me feel like I’ll stick with that platform in the near future.