Like lots of people I got a new phone yesterday. It’s sleek, high-tech, and has lots of cool features. It’s also not an iPhone. No, I got myself a Cingular 3125, running Windows Mobile 5.0. In fact, I don’t even want an iPhone. I’ll tell you why, by way of talking about what I’ve been doing with my phone.
Early on, I got it synchronizing with my organization’s calendar suite. Using a piece of third-party software called NotifyLink, I have all my appointments, tasks, and notes showing up on my phone — in Pocket Outlook, no less — as well as sending entries I create on the phone back to the calendar server so they show up in the web client or fat client. It also yelps at me when I need to be somewhere.
I also found a great little third-party agenda tool called Agenda One. It looks phenomenal and is able to cram great amounts of information into screens using extremely tiny but still easily legible text, and I’m keen on trying it more and maybe buying a copy of it.
The iPhone can’t do this. Sure, I could access my calendar via the web interface and Safari but that won’t fire off reminders, and it’s not like any of what I’m doing is new or cutting-edge technology in PDAs or smartphones. I also couldn’t install a third-party client if I didn’t like the one they provided me. It apparently does sync with iCal, but iCal is an island unto itself in many ways, and I don’t want to be tethered to my desktop or laptop for syncing my calendar data. The iPhone also doesn’t support tasks or to-dos.
While it’s not got a lot of internal space, the 3125 does support adding memory through microSD cards. I can get a 1GB card from NewEgg for less than $10, or a 2GB card for about $20. There are also 4GB cards on the market for about $100, and SanDisk has announced an 8GB card.
That’s funny, those last two are the same amounts of space that the two models of iPhone have.
But capacity may be a moot point. I found an application today called Mercora M that allows you to listen to streaming radio on your phone over the Internet for $5 a month. They also have a desktop client available, and with that running you can stream the music you have on your Windows PC to your phone.
Your iPhone has 8GB of music? That’s cute. My phone has 250GB. And I can add more for however much I want to spend on a new hard drive. I don’t think the iPhone does streaming radio, either.
I could also get a car kit that supports the A2DP Bluetooth audio profile, and have my phone play my music through my car’s stereo. Or any A2DP-compliant Bluetooth headphones. Or a home stereo. Or whatever else.
The iPhone doesn’t support A2DP.
The list could go on, I’m sure, but I’ve only had the phone for less than a day, so I haven’t found all the things I want to do with it. But what I’ve been driving at is this, if you’ve not seen it yet: The iPhone is a really pretty, very advanced phone, whereas my (or any) Windows Mobile device (or Symbian, or BlackBerry, or OpenMoko) is a platform. Sure, the iPhone does things my phone doesn’t, like photo editing, but that’s not something I’ve ever wanted to do on my phone anyway. Portable music and calendaring, however, do appeal to me. And even then, someone could write the applications to do those things. I could install them, and away I’d go. The interfaces might not be as elegant, largely due to the iPhone’s multi-touch screen, but that’s not my point.
What irritates me the most is that Apple used to have such a fantastic handheld platform. It was called the Newton, and it was the first serious PDA. The Newton had this amazing concept called Soups for data storage. Basically, the system would store objects — contact entries, tasks, appointments — in its long-term storage. These objects were just bundles of data with attributes, e.g. “name,” “phone number,” “email address,” and so on for a contact. Other applications could work with that data through the soup, without having to worry about harming it for the other application. If you were a doctor using a Newton-based medical practice management app, your application could store height, weight, blood pressure, or other such things in the contact object, and the address book wouldn’t care. This means that there was one storage place for all the discrete data types you’d want to track, and that each of those bundles of data would exist only once — you never needed to enter the same information twice.
I’m sure the iPhone has that level of application integration — such that when you’re creating a new calendar entry it’ll use your address book for listing the people to invite — but because the iPhone is not a platform, there’s no way for third-party tools to get at that data. Web apps will not have access to the address book, or the calendar, or your notes (of course, not even Mac OS X has access to the latter yet). If I wanted to create a medical practice management app for the iPhone, it’d have to be a web application in the first place, and would need to use its own data store, which means that doctors wouldn’t automatically have all their patients in their contact list. This is a huge step backwards for mobile computing, and it’s a step directly back along a path Apple itself walked first.
People have asked, “Well, this is a 1.0 release. What if Apple enhances it over time?” I’m sure they will; they’d be stupid not to. But when they do, I’ll judge the new releases on their own merits and flaws. In the meantime, when I see someone with an iPhone I’m more likely to say, “That’s a really pretty phone you’ve got. Have you seen my handheld computer?”