Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Well, I've finally succumbed to the mania! I received my iPhone on Monday of this week and had it set up and running before I left the office that day.
No big deal, right? Millions of others have been devoted iPhone users for some time now. But I've been a Windows Mobile user for over 10 years - yes, that's right, ten years! I began back when it was Windows CE and used a little handheld PDA from Casio - monochrome touchscreen and all.
Now, I'm no Apply fanboi. There is no doubt that Microsoft and its Windows Mobile software pioneered the way of handheld PDAs and smartphones. In short, the iPhone wouldn't exist without Windows Mobile. That being said, you have to give Apple its due - they have taken the user interface and use-experience to an entirely new level.
They did this by making a series of real, serious and deliberate compromises. And this is the difference between the Apple approach and the Microsoft approach. Microsoft makes software that has to run on over 80% of the world's computers - computers made by literally hundreds of different manufacturers with literally tens of thousands of applications, accessories, attachments and devices in every single area of human endeavor - from the arts to rocket science. Compare this to the radically meager market share that Apple-based devices enjoy and you'll see why Microsoft, at least in the area of mobile phones for this point in time, is a victim of its own success.
That is, Windows Mobile is by far a more powerful and flexible handheld operating system. This seems indisputable to me based on the sheer range of its hardware application and diverse user base. The iPhone OS, however, is really good at running on one piece of hardware for a specific range of functionality. WinMo's great power and flexibility result in the common user complaint: it's too hard and too complex and too sluggish. And relative to the iPhone, this is true.
But let me reflect for a moment on the features I've been using literally for almost 10 years on WinMo devices that the latest and greatest iPhone still can't do: listen to my music with my wireless Bluetooth headphones; edit a Word document, edit an Excel document; easily (drag-and-drop) carry photos, music, video, Office files, PDF files - any kind of file on my handheld and view them and edit (most of) them on the fly; tether my laptop to my cellphone for 3G internet access when I'm not near a WiFi signal (at no extra charge and while making voice calls on the same device); multitask (talk on the phone, edit a document, and use SMS simultaneously); enter text in any of a number of ways - hard-typing, soft-typing (with a dozen different keyboard alternatives available to me), handwriting recognition; and a variety of other things the iPhone can't do.
But even as a self-described power user who actually does a number of the things above on a regular, if infrequent basis, do these added features and capabilities overcome the key advantages of the iPhone for the vast majority of the time you're using your handheld device? The iPhone's key advantages to me (v. my series of WinMo phones) are
(1) that beautiful screen - I'd used a PDA (WinMo, of course) for years with at least a 4" screen - my biggest disappointment in moving to a WinMo phone from a pure PDA was the massive drop in screen size from 4" to 2.8"; the iPhone's screen is what a smart phone screen should look like;
(2) the media capability - sure, I used my WinMo phone all the time for playing music and audio books - done it for years and it worked acceptably well, but after waiting minutes for the WinMo Audible app to launch, the instant-on, slick interface of the iPhone media manager wins out; further, I have a Kindle2 and the Kindle app for the iPhone is a treat to use; and, finally, after trying literally a half-dozen solutions and countless visits to xda-developers.com, I still have yet to find a remotely satisfactory video playback solution for the WinMo platform - the iPhone's is literally stunning - right out of the box;
(3) the price of apps - sure a WinMo phone does more coming out of the box than an iPhone will have a number of visits to the AppStore, but a single app on WinMo (Core Player, for example), will cost me more than all the apps I've already downloaded for my iPhone;
(4) the user interface - this is where, as I said before, the iPhone shines - Apple, by being selective and deliberate, has made the iPhone a general consumer's usefulness dream by anticipating the way 80% of people will use the device (for practically every function in the device) and designed the interface to make that method of use seamless, refreshingly crisp and reliable. Now, I'm definitely a 20% user - I need cut-and-paste, I need multi-tasking - or do I? I use these features all the time on my WinMo phone - and I will miss them on the iPhone (OS 3.0, anyone?), but I'm finding that while I do miss them (on my 2nd day of iPhone use), it's not debilitating - and the upsides so far outweigh the downsides.
Microsoft is going to remain a dominant player in the mobile market and, like their johnny-come-lately reaction to the web, they are playing catch-up. But they will continue to adapt and improve. Had the Samsung Omnia or the HTC Touch HD been available on AT&T for $199, I might have gone that way - but alas, the best WinMo devices are still unavailable to the US cellular population - at least with subsidized pricing. And I can't see paying $500+ for a phone.
How will I get along with my now-impoverished feature set? I picked up a netbook a couple of months ago that may fill the gap. OS 3.0 may give me cut-and-paste - and Documents To Go may come to my rescue in the Word/Excel editing department. To be honest, I didn't use the BT headphones that often and I will only occasionally miss the ability to tether (but perhaps desperately at those moments). The biggest immediate deficit I've noticed is the file management capability (the iPhone SDK compartmentalization making this problematic on the iPhone and made even worse by the requirement to use iTunes). But I'm looking at some cloud-based alternatives that may provide a workable solution.
I'm not giving up on WinMo (and, no, I won't be switching to a Mac anytime soon), but I will wait for the next year or so to see how Android develops and if WinMo can find the sweet-spot between power/flexibility and user-experience.