Why I don't have a Jesus Phone
As another overhyped Apple product launch approaches, where the mythical tablet is due to be announced, most likely forever changing our lives and making them better in ways we didn't know we wanted; I thought it would be a good time to stand against the Jobs 'Reality Distortion field' and explain why I don't have a Jesus Phone and what needs to happen in iPhone OS4 to not only catch up with the competition, but make me want to buy one....
First a little about my Mobile Phone history.
Up until recently, Mobile Phones had never interested me, i literally saw it as a way of talking to people (imagine that!) and generally playing the odd silly game (snake rules!)
and have owned only a handful of phones:
- Nokia 5110 (The Snake Phone!) was a brick , but a workhorse.
- Sony J5, this phone was my first and last flirtation with form over function . It was lightweight, stylish, had Sony branding, but had terrible battery life and terrible audio quality.
- Sony Ericsson K700i, nice phone, could handle all kinds of abuse and still lasted for days.
- HTC MDA Vario III, a workphone and my first smartphone, it ran Windows Mobile 2003 and was hideous for browsing, email and the stylus driven interface was hard work.
- HTC G1, my current phone and the first time a phone became a multi-faceted productivity tool for me, it has a great OS, great integration with Google (who own my soul),howver is painfully slow, under spec'd and has a ridiculously low application memory allocation.
I should also say I'm a big fan of Apple; I have always been a fan of their computers and only owned Mac's, from my Performa 630 (33Mhz Baby!) to my current Macbook.
I'm also a big fan of the ipod, from my first generation Mac only Firewire iPod to the amazingly sleek nano.
The UI of the original iPod was astounding when released and to this day I believe the iPod/itunes ecosystem is still the most intuitive way to listen, prepare and organise your music library out there.
So you would think the iPhone would be a good choice for me right?
The first iPhone announced by Steve Jobs in 2007 was touted as being at least 2 generations ahead of any other, in some ways this was completely dead on, however back then Apple had it all to prove.
Steve Ballmer laughed off the the iphone as being 'niche' at best and the specs seemed far from cutting edge.
With no 3G, 2MP camera and no real Bluetooth functions, the specs told the tale of an average phone at best, the lack of 3G being a deal-breaker for me. However as Apple had done before with Macintosh and the iPod they shifted the goal posts.
It was technologies like multi-touch, the fantastic performance of the mobile safari browser, the fluid OS and latterly with the game changing App Store, that suddenly made bare-bone spec's not as important to the general masses and in many cases, forgotten completely.
Now with the iPhone 3G and most recently the 3GS, things have improved, however still not enough to make me want to join the herd.
So Why not??
How much has iPhone hardware changed aside form basic evolutionary addition's to the spec's?
If you look at the iphone, it hasn't changed form factor, like at all really. This is essentially a 2.5 year old design and i know it's still a stylish product, but the 'If it aint broke, don't fix it' mentality can only last so long in a market with growing competition.
3MP?? Really?? for such a top end phone, I'm amazed at this very average camera, The N95 set the bar in early 2007 with a 5MP sensor (before the 2MP iPhone was even released) and with no Flash it is far from an attractive proposition. Video recording and MMS were added as 'features' in OS 3, something my 2004 K700i did well!
I am far from a Megapixel junkie and know that even the ridiculous 12MP SE phones have limitations that MP alone can't fix, but 5MP has been generally accepted as a sweet spot.
Sure after three generation's of iPhone OS it's nice to finally see amazing features like 'Copy and Paste' 'Bluetooth File Transfer' and 'SMS Forwarding' but the main thing that frustrates me is some of the basic limitations of the current OS
This was big in 2007, but is starting look very dated now. With the new found competition from Google, Palm, RIM, Nokia and Microsoft, the homescreen with endless pages of App shortcuts, even with spotlight search, is far from dynamic. I find on my G1 (yes this phone is far from perfect, more on that another day) i get a lot of information from my homescreen. With 1.5 'Cupcake' came a lot of new Widgets, at a glance i can see my calendar, news via RSS, the weather and what's happening on Facebook all from the homescreen. Symbian (See image right), Web OS and Win Mob are all taking this approach and is fast becoming a standard.
The iPhone doesn't do Multitasking, this is a biggie for me. On my G1 i will check my email while on messenger, and start a browser page loading and even check in with facebook without closing any of the application's. Granted you might argue most users dont need this level of control and neither do I to an extent, but when you start to look at services that just cant run on iPhone because of this limitation, it become more of a dealbreaker. Google's 'Latitude' is a good example of this, this service is an excellent location sharing tool that will display your location to friends using google maps, it's fun and can be genuinely useful when meeting up with people. On the iPhone , the lack of background tasking makes it very difficult to report this info on the fly.
On the Tom Tom navigation application, if you get a call while viewing the map with turn by turn directions, it shuts down the app to take it and then re-launches when the call finishes, suddenly you start to see that its more than about just being a power user , but using power applications well.
These 2 examples might not be important to you personally, but it illustrates where the iPhone could be missing out on some similar multitask dependent services.
Apple argues it's all about the battery life, however the newer handsets running Android, Web OS, Symbian, Blackberry and Windows Mobile all have modern Operating System's with full Multitasking and have similar if not greater battery life.
Now just having Multitasking isnt the end, there needs to be an easy way to manage it, in Android you hold the Home button for a list of recent applications (far from perfect and not very elegant), in Windows mobile depending on the skin and OS version it isnt too far from what you would expect from your PC, in Blackberry you can simply switch application from a menu, however nobody seems to have done it quite as well as Palm and their new 'card's' interface in Web OS (See image Right). Simply swiping through open app's is intuitive and a joy to use and is exactly the route Apple should be taking (Imagine an Expose meets 'Coverflow' interface of running App's)
Apple, however doesn't seem to think people need Multitasking and/or aren't smart enough to manage the power usage of their smartphone themselves and as a compromise released push notifications.
With OS3 came 'Push Notification's' Apple's answer to Multitasking. This essentially leaves some line of communication open to some application's to 'push' information to the front of the screen (like a text message) to alert the user of a new facebook message for example.
This isn't nearly enough and as most iPhone users will agree, endless obtrusive popup messages that have to be addressed in a sequential order is ugly and not very intuitive.
Android's implementation of this is particularly good, using the 'window shade' pull down with a list of any notifications, needing only a click to address them or 'clear' to dismiss.Palm's Web OS again does this very well with an expandable scaleable notification system that is easier to watch than describe.
For an OS renowned for it's polish, 'Push notifications' is a highly 'stopgap' looking solution.
The App Store:
I'm not going to dwell on this , as despite the seemingly strict and sometimes puzzling App Store approval process , they have by far the largest catalogue available on any platform and have changed the way people approach Smartphone's. Apple's need to 'Control the whole widget' also provides a solid minimum standard without the fragmentation Android and Win Mo can suffer from.
However, i do like being able to control my torrents from my device adding new ones with a barcode scan, is all im saying..
To conclude, I'd just like to say i completely get why the masses are drawn to it, had i not been on T-Mobile (at a great discount) i may well have been tempted myself, as the Jobsian 'Reality Distortion field' can be hard to deny at times.
I think for me while it opened up new categories for the consumer to consider, new categories that absolutely have revolutionised the industry for the better and changed the whole concept of what a phone could do, it still falls short.
To me it would be like buying a car with excellent suspension, heated seats and an amazing leather interior made from well nourished Wagyū cattle, that came with a warm duvet and a friendly therapist as standard. A car which also didn't have; electric windows, windscreen wipers, 5th Gear, a glove compartment or a boot. And of course the stereo would turn off every time you turned your lights on ;)
While my G1 has a lot of issues, it ticks all the minimum boxes for me (More on that another time) and you only have to look at the advancements in Android from the Nexus One, Web OS in The Pre and even rumblings from Windows Mobile 7 to see there is a lot of competition out there.
Maybe next week Apple will preview the new OS and it will address all of these shortcomings and i can go back to a world where I like all things Apple and things make sense again!
But until then I'll be browsing the excellent and ever growing competition.