Monday, August 04, 2008

Smart Phones

Let me preface this post with this: I love what Palm has done. I hate what Apple has done.

Ok, got that out of the way.

I've been a "smartphone" user since it was available. I've been a loyal Palm user since the Palm III. I really jumped aboard the bandwagon when the Visor Deluxe was introduced and color came streaming back into my life. Then, a co-worker of mine told me something that I'd never forget: "Man, I wish I could make phone calls from my palm pilot."



An era was born. The treo 270 came out sometime in 2002. I didn't get one. The plan was so expensive, and did I really need one? Then, the treo 600 came out in 2003. I got one about 6 weeks after release. I wasn't sure what to expect. But when it came and I made my first call to my old co-worker buddy, he said something else I haven't ever forgotten: "Man, I'm loving this device."



I really did love my Treo 600. It had color Palm OS. It had my calendar, contacts, applications, etc. I could make phone calls and it was a great form factor. Small, no flip, a full keyboard. Sprint had reasonable pricing plans. I was hooked.

Eventually, Palm grew this creature. They added 320x320 support in the Treo 650, supported the cutting edge Palm OS 5 "Garnet". They released patches to fix bugs and sold a host of applications and accessories. Not only could I make phone calls and schedule appointments, but soon I could play SNES, John Madden Football, and tether it to use as a DUN modem!

Then, one day, the 700p came out. We begin a dark era...



The Treo 700p had a "p" appended to it's name, because Palm ventured out into the market and felt adding Windows Mobile to its line would add value to the Treo product. They could reach more customers. And they did. They also added more issues and more support load. The Treo 700p had a number of problems, readily identified, and Palm Support could not allocate the time and effort to fix them. Eventually, formal complaint letters poured into Palm's headquarters, message boards were flooded with angry posters, and Palm had to do something. Pocket Tunes skipped, applications froze, random resets, long lags and delays occured. It was awful and Palm knew it. They took a step forward and created a Blog where they could better communnicate with users. They began working on a patch to address the issues. And they eventually released the predecessor, the Treo 755p, to fix the real issues that couldn't be corrected with software. I was one of the poor schmucks who took the leap to the 755p and paid the full price for it. Don't feel too sorry for me, I could have jumped ship right there and transitioned to the BlackBerry. Sadly, I didn't. I couldn't. I had purchased so many apps already that I found myself in the "grocery line" predicament. I'm already invested in my current line and cannot switch now.

Around the same time, buzz got louder surrounding Apple's new invention: the iPhone. I hated Apple. I still dislike Apple. Apple is a company that prides themselves on keeping everything they work on held captive from third party intervention. They are willing to trade freedom for control. But I had to admit, even for an Apple-hater like myself, I was pretty impressed by the form factor and advertised features and demos that I saw from the early prototypes. I fell into the collection of outsiders who scoffed at the iPhone out of principal and not practicality. It wasn't until Apple announced the 3G model and a $200 price tag, before I seriously began considering it. Looking back, I think I bought it out of peer pressure, too, but I discovered that in the end, my peers were right. There are still things that the iPhone is not very good at and a laundry list of things I would like to see improved, so I will post my pros and cons at the end of this post in a compare/contrast with the Palm Treo device(s).

My Treo 755p grew old on my really quick. The battery began to diminish, my SD card (which was now a MiniSD) became corrupted and so apps began to run slow. It only took about 9 months for this to happen. I was forced with a decision to invest another $100 in replacing the battery and SD card, or upgrade. Upgrading to another Treo was hardly an option for me. I would never consider a Windows Mobile Treo. The Palm was all I knew and I had hundreds of $$ worth of software to switch over to another OS with basically the same hardware and form factor. To top it off, Palm made various suggestions that the Palm Pilot and the Palm OS was no longer a part of their strategic plan. The Centro was their baby, and they made it clear that the Centro would get all of their efforts and attention, when they began releasing the device for multiple carriers, in multiple colors, with software updates including the absurdly, long-awaited for Google "My Location". Statements made by Palm reps on their own Blog indicated that the Treo device had no plans to support Google "My Location". And I believe them. Palm is all but dead. Even with fantastic sales from the Centro and their ego-boasting articles of success, Palm's profits and stocks are dismal. Their lack of support and unclear direction are indirect evidence that they are sailing from hear on out.

So, in early July, I ordered my first iPhone. It took about 2.5 weeks to ship, but man was it worth the wait! Let me first talk about the things it can't do (or can't do well). And believe me, there are things it's not good at- don't let Apple bigots tell you things like "well, it can if..." or "you don't really need to because...":

iPhone: The Negatives

1. Keyboard. It's virtual and will never be as good as the real deal. I'm getting better at typing, but I don't believe it will ever be equal to the Treo.
2. Select Text (copy + paste). Doesn't exist. Moving your finger across text will only pan the page. Word has it there's work being done in this area, but as of this post, it's just not there.
3. iTunes. I hate iTunes. But to get information to and from your iPhone, you'd better start liking iTunes (or Jailbreak it, which I will explain later).
4. Developer SDK / 3rd party apps. It's there but it will cost developers. Third party developers must pay $100 to sign up and give 30% of their profits to Steve Jobs. In addition, not everything is exposed and easy to use. (however, read on about JailBreaking)
5. Mail application. It has a slick interface, but let's face it: it's no ChatterMail. The lack of features is embarrassing.
6. Native file handling. There is none. On my Treo, I could receive arbitrary attachments from eMail, save them to SD and transfer them to my computer. I could BlueTooth contacts, rename folders, copy files, delete things. With the iPhone, it must be either a photo or a song and even those must by synchronized through iTunes. Which means I must also be running a Mac or Windows. Ugh.
7. No removable battery. It's usually no big deal, but if you're on a 12 hour airplane flight, you're screwed.

iPhone: The positives:

1. Form Factor: It's 480x320, which makes it wonderful to view things on. But it's still very light and sleek.
2. Safari. The greatest browser to exist on a smartphone. Blazer is a joke that keeps getting funnier.
3. GPS. Enough said.
4. Visual Voice Mail.
5. Accelerometer. I can change the application's look & feel by simply changing it's physical orientation. There are also several creative games that are making more use of this chip.
6. Multi-touch interface: it's a brilliantly, intuitive feature, so why didn't anyone figure this out sooner?
7. Price: Palm is notorious for releasing $600 Treo devices. You just can't beat $200 for an iPhone
8. It runs Unix (again, see Jailbreak section below)
9. Native VPN support that supports several VPN services and easy to use and configure. I never could figure this out on my Treo.
10. App Store: I stick by what I said before about the SDK, however, the App Store also offers something unique to iPhone users and to developers. As a user, I can centrally locate all apps available and download them straight to my phone. I can also, search by category, make purchases, check for software updates and see star-ratings for each application. For developers, you have a means to market your app to every iPhone user out there and an easy way to sell your app.
11. WiFi: Why has it taken Palm so long to release a smartphone with WiFi and never for the Palm OS?


Jailbreaking
Within months of the first release of the iPhone, hackers found a way to disable the Apple application signature verification routines that exist on all iPhone firmware. By disabling the verification, new firmware was released that users could install and allow for 3rd party applications to be developed and run on the iPhone freely. This opened the door for a lot of customization that was missing from the iPhone software. Some of the nifty apps that can be run on the iPhone by jailbreaking:


1. Cydia: An Open Source debian package installer to find new open source applications, resolve dependencies, and become aware of available updates. Essentially, it's the AppStore, but everything is free.
2. MxTube: A YouTube downloader, so you don't have to be online to watch videos
3. NES Emulator
4. Winterboard: A replacement for Apple's iPhone launcher, SpringBoard
5. MobileTerminal: a Unix terminal app to interface with your iPhone
6. SSH (server and client)
7. Cycorder (a video recorder)
8. dTunes (iTunes, but everything is free!)


There are many, many others available including an HTTP server, Samba server, a full GCC compiler and debugger, etc.

In conclusion, there is no comparison. The iPhone simply puts all Palm devices to shame. Perhaps one day, Palm will wake up. My guess is they will, but it will be way too late.

3 comments:

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Cheers
Christian, iwspo.net

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