It is a pretty known fact that I LOVE the Windows Mobile platform and consider it the best mobile platform purely from a technology standpoint. However, when I joined Canpages in November, I was given the opportunity to purchase any phone that was available by Rogers. Given that I owned both HTC Android phones and Rogers did not carry any Windows Mobile phones that was worth acquiring, the only real choice left really was to get a 16GB iPhone 3GS. I approached that decision with a lot of mixed feelings. In my initial use of the iPod Touch, I really disliked the experience. However, I only used it for a few hours at a time, I was willing to give it another try. Here are some of my thoughts after almost 4 months of use.
iPod application is fantastic
I haven’t tried the Zune yet but I have to say that the iPod is a fantastic music player and the integration to iTunes is quite seamless. I love the fact that it can carry a copy of my favourite music with me any time I want.
I like that you can synchronize multiple Google Mail calendars to the iPhone which you really can’t do with Windows Mobile. While it wouldn’t be the core feature I’d abandon an OS for, it’s definitely a worthwhile feature for me as there are a handful of people whom I care to know what their schedules are.
There’s an app for that
The tagline for the iPhone ads is quite true. And at the heart of any smartphone OS, it is really about apps. There’s an application for almost everything that you can think of. Unsurprisingly, I install a lot of applications. Most free and some paid. I am a bit mixed about if they are cheap or not. In comparison, I probably spend as much if not more on apps on the iPhone as there is no concept of trial versions for apps and I’m constantly paying for apps in order to find a few good ones.My must have apps on the iPhone are Newsie (Google Reader integration), Pocket Informant (much more intuitive than the default calendar), Trillian (instant messaging), Tweetdeck (Twitter the way I think about it) and Shoutcast (Internet Radio)
Awesome on-screen keyboard
This came as a surprise to me actually but the on-screen is not only adequate but I would classify it as extremely usable. There are so many little things about the implementation of this product that made me not miss my hardware keyboard as much as I thought it would. I love that it predicts my mistyped words at a relatively high accuracy. The only times I would have to go and manually correct words would be when I use words that are common among my friends. I like the fact that it remembers the casing of the word that you’ve corrected so you don’t have to remember what it was before. The one thing downside of the on-screen keyboard and this is common for all on-screen keyboards is that it does take up a lot of screen real estate when it’s activated.
The User Interface is mediocre
When the iPhone first launched in 2007, it had the best User Interface out there. It’s greatest differentiator – it was understanding that the use of a stylus was an utter failure and reduced the adoption of mobile devices. It kept the user interface simple and to the point. Even then, the user interface wasn’t perfect and it still isn’t. It’s even hard to say if it’s even the best user mobile interface out there. It’s not dramatically worse than anyone out there. This part is more directed to fanboys who claim that this is the most intuitive interface. While there are a slew of frustrating problems, here are three that drive me crazy. The first is difficult for one-handed use. Many apps have buttons on the top left or right of the screen. This actually makes it difficult for one-handed use. I like the fact that for Windows Mobile, the menus are usually on the bottom left or bottom right hand side. Another is the use of the keyboard. Depending on the app, you either have to press a button on the screen or a button on the keyboard to execute a function. Minimizing a keyboard is even more confusing. Sometimes it’s clicking on another part of the screen and sometimes there’s just no way of minimizing the keyboard. In both Windows Mobile and the Android, there’s usually a button that minimizes the keyboard. Last but not least, is the settings of the app. Sometimes you have to configure the settings within the app and sometimes you have to go to the General Settings that is native to the iPhone app to set it and sometimes depending on the function, you have to check both. In both Android and Windows Mobile, they are always within the app unless it’s native to the Operating System.
Native apps like phone, calendar and mail are quite rudimentary
Although I rarely use the phone functions of my phone today, when I use it, I have certain expectations of it. For one, I am used to using the dial pad to spell out the name of the person. The dial pad is a lot bigger and it is much faster to type through than using the full keyboard. With the iPhone, I first have to click on the phone icon, followed by clicking on the contacts, scroll up to the search bar and then start spelling out the name of the person I’m trying to call. With my Fuze, this same use case is simply press on the phone button, start using the numeric keypad to spell out the name of the person I want to call and it’ll automatically start matching the names of the people that I want to call. The saving grace for the 3GS, however, is that, just like Windows Mobile, the voice command does not need to be pre-programmed and is a relatively quick way to dial someone’s number if you can pronounce the name properly.
It drives me crazy that I still can’t accept calendar invites that come from Google or Outlook which is where the majority of invites come from for me. I still use my Fuze to accept invites. This part is extremely frustrating to use and is a major fail for me.
Perhaps I’m extremely use to the way Pocket Outlook works. After all, I’ve used it for about 7 years now but I find the iPhone mail app quite unintuitive. There are really two major things that bug me. The first is the inability to mark all mail as read. I do get a large number of emails at work that I know I don’t have to read right away. As such, I’d like to mark them as read so that I know when new messages come in. Right now, the badge on the email icon means nothing to me because I have to check each mailbox to see if I have real new mail in each mailbox. This task is further encumbered by the fact that navigating to each mailbox is quite cumbersome.
No running of applications in the background
Most of my entertainment applications don’t require me to have the need to run the app in the background. However, for a number of important apps that I use, the lack of ability to run in the background is detrimental for my use. Take for example, Newsie which is my Google Reader application. I oftentimes have to turn on the app, leave the phone for a few minutes while it synchronizes to the server before I can actually start catching up with my reading. This is a bit of an annoyance but not detrimental to the the device during my day. However, because I can’t do a background sync on Pocket Informant, I can’t rely on the alerts as I’m never sure if the information is up to date or not. The only way to work around it is to constantly open the app to ensure that it’s synchronized properly.
I used to be of the opinion that the Smartphone aspect of the iPhone was an after thought. After five months of using it, I had to change my opinion a little. The iPhone is still quite a smart phone but it’s focus is more on media than traditional work tools which is what I personally look for in a device. As a play phone, the iPhone is a fantastic product. As a work phone for me, I still find it quite cumbersome and lacking.