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Windows Mobile (soon to be Android), and other toys aka gadgets

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
  New Apple iPhone is slick, but I'll keep my PPC-6700

Update - June 9, 2008 - Well, Version 2 of the most over-hyped, over-marketed phone was released today at WWDC. The major features added today - 3G, GPS, Exchange Support, true 3rd party apps., and PowerPoint Viewer should have been there last year when the then $600 phone was introduced. Today's announcements just added features that the competition has enjoyed for quite awhile now. The iPhone 3G still doesn't meet my Smartphone needs, not even close. The iPhone 3G will not be on my short list of devices to replace the PPC-6700 when, and if I replace it when the contract ends in October of this year. Following are the reasons the iPhone 3G still doesn't meet my Smartphone needs based on the information released by Apple today:
  • No physical keyboard. I have tried the virtual keyboard on the iPod touch as well as other virtual keyboards on WM devices, and still don't like virtual keyboards. Give me a physical slide out landscape oriented keyboard anyday.

  • No Bluetooth sync support or Bluetooth tethering to laptops, and/or other mobile devices.

  • Finally, true 3rd party apps, but they must be approved by Apple, and distributed exclusively by Apple. No thanks.

  • No background processes - does this mean no true multi-tasking like checking email, or downloading a file in the background while web surfing? I use IM+ frequently in the background on my PPC-6700, and have not noticed any performance, and/or stability problems. So much for Apple's excuse, and of course, their alternative is controlled by guess which company, Apple. No thanks

  • No apparent file explorer that the user can use to copy files to / from other devices such as Network Attached Storage devices, or stream video from the NAS' to the iPhone 3G. I have so many mobile devices that my shared files are stored on NAS's for easy retrieval to / from my desktop / mobile devices, and I frequently stream videos from the NAS' to my mobile devices. Doesn't look like this will be possible with the iPhone 3G. Another no thanks.

  • No mention of changes to Safari - Although Safari overall is an excellent browser, it is far from perfect. Some single column webpages require horizontal scrolling to read each line when zoomed to a readable level in mobile Safari. Unfortunately, the double tap zoom does not always increase the text size of some single column web pages to a readable text size, and you are forced to use the pinch zoom to increase the text size to a comfortable reading level. When you use pinch zoom in mobile Safari, the text does not word wrap, and horizontal scrolling is then required to read each line. One of the more popular classified sites, Craigslist, is a single column webpage, and mobile Safari has a problem displaying the site at a readable text level without horizontal scrolling. When you double tap mobile Safari in portait mode on Craigslist, the text is too small to read. When you double tap mobile Safari in landscape mode on Craigslist, the text zooms to a barely readable text size that could easily cause eye strain due to the small text size. Also, some of the longer subject entries do not word wrap correctly which requires horizontal scrolling for those subject entries. I have to pinch zoom the Craigslist webpages in both portrait, and landscape modes to display the pages at a comfortable text size, and the dreaded horizontal scrolling is then required in order to read each line with mobile Safari. The majority of other mobile browsers, ranging from NetHopper on Apple Newton to the new Amazon Kindle (NetFront), word wrap single column webpages such as Craigslist correctly. Unless this problem is fixed before the iPhone 3G is released, or already is an unannounced fix, mobile Safari is still my last choice for viewing older single column pages unless you like horizontal scrolling each line which gets very old, very quickly. Also, no Flash video support is equal to no full internet in my book, no matter how much Apple says you get the full internet with the iPhone.

    I use Opera Mini 4.x on my WM devices. Opera Mini is the equal of mobile Safari when displaying full internet pages, and is far superior to mobile Safari when displaying single column pages like Craigslist. Opera Mini displays single column pages similar to mobile Safari initially; however, and this is a big however, when you hold your finger on the screen, a context menu appears for Opera Mini. One of the entries in the context menu is mobile view. When you select mobile view, single column pages word wrap again. With mobile view in Opera Mini, single column pages like Craigslist display perfectly at your preferred text size without any horizontal scrolling. The Opera Mini mobile view works flawlessly in both portrait, and landscape modes. Even those extra long subject entries on Craigslist wrap correctly with mobile view in Opera Mini, and no horizontal scrolling is necessary.

  • The price reduction looks nice, but is it really a price reduction? Sure, it is US$200 less than the Version 1 iPhone; however, the dock is no longer included, and there are strong rumblings that the data costs increased by $10 monthly. If that is true, the $200 reduction is actually a $40 increase (plus dock cost) over a 2 year contract in the US. We'll know the rates for sure on July 11.

  • The iPhone 3G, like the original version, is a sleek, sexy looking device, but I am not a fan of the grossly over-hyped interface. I have used finger scrolling, and the only true multi-touch gesture (two finger zooming) extensively, and just don't like them. If you do, fine, you'll have a nice looking device that meets your needs. It is definitely not for me though. For me, finger scrolling, and the pinch zoom are designed more to impress onlookers, than efficiently navigate. As for general screen navigation, I have been using finger navigation for years with my WM / Palm OS devices. Approximately 95% of my PDA / Smartphone use in without a stylus, and has been for years long before the iPhone was released. Selecting items by finger may be a tad easier, and slicker with the iPhone due to increased spacing between entries, but it is definitely not an iPhone innovation. Many devices have offered touch screens for years, and most can be navigated with a finger.
Original post follows:
The new Apple iPhone is slick, and Steve's reality distortion field was in full force during the keynote. We don't now know all the details, and many important Smartphone features may be are missing in the first release of the iPhone. Specifically:
  • Spreadsheets, databases, html editors, ftp client, etc. are critical for me. There was no mention of these types of apps being included, or support for third party apps being permitted in the first release of the iPhone.

  • Virtual keyboards are ok for short messages. Anything over a sentence or two, and many will find virtual keyboards are not a preferred input method. I still enjoy typing on the slide-out keyboard of the PPC-6700; the keys are large enough for my fingers. I tried a virtual full screen keyboard on a 4" VGA resolution PDA about a year ago, and it got old quickly. I no longer use it; virtual keyboards for anything over a sentence or two are not for me.

  • I am used to the broadband speeds of EvDO. A downgrade to Edge would be an unacceptable performance hit.

  • When I turn on my PPC-6700, one of the softkeys on the home page is Contacts. The Contacts softkey can be selected with a finger, stylus, or the hardware key below the softkey entry. Once the contacts are displayed, I press the navigation control down to scroll the contacts quickly while the first letter of the last name is displayed in a large font. When I reach the desired contact, I select the desired contact with my finger/stylus, or depress the navigation control. An even quicker method is to use the alphabetical index at the top of the contacts screen. With a maximum of three taps with my finger, or stylus, I am at the beginning of the listings with the same first letter of the last name that I desire. When I select the contact I desire with my finger, stylus, or navigation control, all of the phone numbers for that contact are displayed with appropriate labels (work, home, mobile, etc.). I select the number, or label I desire with my finger, or stylus, and the number is immediately dialed. If an email address, or url is included with the contact, you can select either the email address or url entry, and the email app. will start a new message, or the web browser will open the selected url. The iPhone has a vertical alphabetical index for contacts which is a nice feature although I do not remember it being demonstrated during the keynote. Maybe, the iPhone's contact application is a big improvement over the free phone you get with a 2 year contract, but nothing really new in this area when compared to a recent Windows Mobile Smartphone other than a little extra eye candy. The finger scrolling on the iPhone looks slicker; however, the button scrolling is quicker on the PPC-6700, and both devices have an alphabetical index. I can turn on the PPC-6700, and make all the selections outlined above using the fingers on the same hand I am holding the device with. Not sure if the same steps could be accomplished as easily with one hand on the iPhone. FYI: Contacts on Windows Mobile devices sync with the calendar app of the full desktop version of Outlook which is included on the CD along with ActiveSync.

  • With Safari on my Mac desktop, I frequently encounter pages which will not render correctly. Only time will tell whether a Safari based browser is an asset or a liability for the user. The inability of Safari to render some pages correctly occurs so often that I leave my five year old Sony Vaio laptop in sleep mode next to the iMac G5 so I can view the pages Safari can not render properly. There has been a plethora of overhype regarding the mobile Safari browser. It is definitely a good browser, but the overhype would make people believe every other Smartphone had a WAP only browser. In 2004, my Clie TH-55 PDA with WiFi using the included NetFront browser would display a fit to width version of a desktop (not WAP or mobile version) webpage after you entered an address. The TH-55's initial page rendering looked very similar to the feature being touted by Apple as new in 2007. Although the TH-55 was not multitouch, an icon on the bottom of the screen could be tapped with a finger or stylus to zoom the page. In the summer of 2006 (6 months before the iPhone was announced, and a year before the iPhone was released), I was regularly visiting the desktop versions (not the mobile versions) of my bank and credit card websites using NetFront 3.3 on a Windows Mobile device. The NetFront browser supported all existing web standards, and had no problem displaying all the features of the secure banking sites. In fact, I do not recall any pages that NetFront 3.3 could not display properly. The browsers in the other devices may not have been as slick or smooth as mobile Safari, but they were not the weak browser siblings that the Apple overhype would lead you to believe, and they were available long before the iPhone was announced.

  • I use several Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices to share data among my plethora of PC's, Mac's, and PDA's/SmartPhone. The NAS's are available 24/7, and I do not have to leave a PC on 24/7 as a file server. Even with the latest version of OS X Tiger, my Macintoshes cannot connect to one of the NAS devices. Every Windows Mobile device I have owned is able to connect to all NAS devices flawlessly using the included File Explorer. If a Macintosh cannot connect, will the iPhone be able to connect? Robust NAS connectivity is a critical feature for me in all my devices. Update - Since the iPhone does not have a file browser, and does not support third party apps, you cannot connect to a NAS device, and have no data to save.

  • I already use a full featured, rich text email client on my PPC-6700, FlexMail 2007.

  • Resco's Photo Viewer can zoom pictures by tapping on an icon with your finger or stylus, and the pictures can be moved around the screen easily with a finger or stylus. Also, with Resco's app, you can select the percentage you wish to zoom directly. Increasing/decreasing the picture size on the iPhone by expanding/closing your fingers on the screen looks cool (although I suspect a user with arthritis, or longer fingernails may have a problem), but bring your screen cleaners. Just about every photo app I have used on a PDA or Smartphone allows the user to move the picture with their finger or stylus.

  • CorePlayer on the PPC-6700 can play more video formats than iTunes can without have to convert the video.

  • There is a lot of buzz about the large icons on the iPhone as if the concept was new. Every Palm OS PDA, or Smartphone device I can recall had program icons large enough to select with your finger as well as the stylus. The program icons on my Windows Mobile devices are large enough to select with my finger as well, and a virtual keyboard appears when data input is needed. I frequently use my PPC-6700 without the stylus. Within an application, the icons may not be a large as the iPhone's; however, they are usually large enough to select with a finger.
Maybe my opinion will change when the final iPhone specs are available, and/or I actually get to play with the iPhone (Update - opinion has not changed). As of now, I will pass on the new Apple iPhone. The iPhone may be the perfect device for some; however, it does not appear to be a good device for my smartphone needs. For me, the iPhone hype is more reality distortion field than a revolutionary new device. Also, remember that you were watching the iPhone's demo projected on a huge screen during the keynote. Items may not look as impressive on a 3.5 inch 320 x 480 screen.

There have been posts about competing products to the iPhone being discounted due to the introduction of the best phone ever made in the universe, the iPhone (the over hype of the iPhone is quite nauseating). I purchased my PPC-6700 in October, 2006 for US$199 after rebate. Since the iPhone was not announced until January 2007, it seems the discounts were available before the iPhone.

Just so you won't think I am one of those anti-Apple bashers who hate everything Apple, I currently have 4 working Mac's (including the MacBook Pro), more iPods than I could ever justify, several Newton's, and own Apple stock. I like most Apple products, but I also realize there are times when non-Apple solutions are a better fit for your computer/entertainment needs.

Update 6/29/07 - Well, today the most over-hyped device in history was released. I have seen many videos about the iPhone on various technical sites, and read many reviews/blog entries. Nothing I have read or seen has changed my opinion that the iPhone is an inappropriate match for my Smartphone needs. Edge, no third party apps (web 2.0 and/or widgets do not cut it for me), and no hardware keyboard are just three of the reasons I will not be purchasing an iPhone, at least version 1.0. I am sure the screen is excellent, and the web browsing experience is probably one of the best on a mobile device. However, the claim that you now have the full internet experience on a mobile device is typical of the over-hype associated with this device. How can you have the full internet on a device which does not support Java, Flash video, Windows Media, or Real content? Also, browsing on a 3.5" screen is not one of my top priorities for a Smartphone no matter how bright the screen is or how high the DPI. There will be several iPhone owners at the next PDA User Group meeting, and they will be passing their iPhones around for the other meeting attendees to get some hands-on experience.

Just A Thought - Many (not all thankfully) tech centric sites are very Apple friendly, and repeat the Apple CEO's pablum word for word as if it is gospel. Many of the reviews for the iPhone have multiple paragraphs praising the wonderful interface, great browsing experience, and multimedia capabilities of the iPhone. In the same article, there may be one or two paragraphs basically dismissing the many deficiencies of the iPhone as irrelevant even though other high end Smartphones have been offering the features missing in the iPhone for years, and Smartphone users desire the missing features. Now, I am not questioning why the iPhone's interface, browsing, and multimedia abilities are included in all reviews. They are certainly the strong points for this device, and deserve accolades. However, I wonder if the iPhone had a Microsoft or other vendor label, how many paragraphs would be reaping praise, and how many paragraphs would be covering the many deficiencies of the device. I suspect the numbers would be reversed with most paragraphs in the reviews concentrating on the deficiencies. Also, how long before we see the first mention of "multi-touch syndrome" as a medical diagnosis?

Update 7/14/07 - I attended two user group meetings this week that resulted in 4+ hours of iHype iPhone demos. Frankly, I am even less impressed with the iPhone after the 4+ hours of demos than I was before attending. Yes, the interface is nice; however, the iPhone doesn't really do much compared to the Smartphones I have used. I also think that some users will tire of the constant screen touching after the "newness" and "coolness" of the iPhone are gone. The pinching and squeezing of the screen to zoom in/out will also get old fast, in fact, it is already old for me. Safari seems to be a nice mobile browser implementation although surfing on a 3.5" screen just doesn't do it for me no matter how sharp the screen may be, and Safari on the iPhone is missing some essential ingredients such as Flash video support.

I appreciate a nice interface as well as anyone, but I am definitely a function over form user. The iPhone just doesn't have the functions I need. It doesn't matter how cool the interface is, if the device doesn't do what you need, it is not a good match. I find it a bit ironic that Apple keeps saying that there is a learning curve for the virtual keyboard. Ironic because Apple usually mocks the concept of a learning curve, including the learning curve for finding features in competing Smartphones. I also find it a bit ironic that the CEO always goes to the home page for the NY Times during iPhone presentations. Ironic because the front page of the NY Times has a Flash video which the iPhone can not display. So much for the full internet in your hand mantra. If the iPhone does what you need, and you don't mind spending $600 $400 for a limited feature Smartphone, go for it. Maybe a future version will cause me to salivate, but the lack of critical features for me in version 1.0 leaves me with dry mouth.

Update 9/6/07 - The $200 price reduction for the iPhone has not changed my opinion that the iPhone (version 1) is not a good match for my Smartphone needs. I have seen several postings on the web about how iPhone and iPod Touch users can surf while laying down on their bed. This is not new. In 2001, using a Visor Prism with an Intel WiFi Springboard module, I was able to surf from the bed with a mobile device, not a heavy laptop. The pages displayed fine using the then new Blazer browser. Now I use a VGA Windows Mobile device, or the OQO model 01+ to surf while resting on my bed. The OQO model 01+ actually does support the full internet experience, unlike the iPhone which does not. Apple touts the iPhone as being 5 years ahead of other devices. For the ability to surf the net from your bed without a heavy laptop, Apple is 6 years behind.

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I was a Palm OS champion for years, but switched to the Windows Mobile platform in 2005. My experiences using my Windows Mobile devices, and other electronic devices will be detailed in this blog. The posts reflect what I like, and do not like about a device, or application. Your needs, and opinion may be different.

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