As the second version of the iPhone is anticipated to ship within the next few months, I am compelled to weigh in with what I would like to see in this new model. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Apple products, noting my recent review of the MacBook Air, being 1 of 6 Macintosh computers which I use at home and in my businesses. I also own two of the latest generation iPods (the 160-GB Classic and video-capable Nano). So naturally, an Apple zealot such as myself would have an iPhone as part of my business (and toy) arsenal, right?
Wrong. In fact, spending a few minutes online reading about its features (or the lack thereof) along with 5 minutes of hands-on experience in an Apple retail store last summer was more than enough to convince me that the iPhone was not even close to serving my needs. Perhaps my needs are different than others who would buy an iPhone over an iPod Touch. I can understand the appeal of the latter: a wide-screen, multitouch, gorgeous multimedia appliance with Wi-Fi which further extends an already popular (and profitable) product line.
If the iPhone is to be an iPod Touch plus a revolutionary phone, I would expect it to incorporate (at a minimum) the standard set of basic cellphone features which have been commonplace for years in much less expensive, low-end devices. In fact, as a high-end phone (as determined by its price point) coupled with a revolutionary user interface, I would also expect it to incorporate all of the basic Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) or smartphone capabilities which have been around for more than 10 years. After all, PDA functions are just software, an aspect of which the iPhone has claimed to be king.
When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone in his keynote address, he praised Research In Motion (RIM) and its Blackberry devices for holding 40% of the smartphone market share and clearly differentiated the iPhone as a non-competitor to this group. All of this has changed less than a year later, as the highly anticipated iPhone v2.0 is rumored to compete directly with the Blackberry devices by offering 3G (higher bandwidth) data capability and push-email support. While these new capabilities are great (especially the faster data rates), the iPhone still lacks a number of other significant features which leave it far short from competing with the Blackberry devices (and even among the aging Palm devices) as a functional business tool.
In nearly a decade as a heavy PDA user I have been loyal to the Palm operating system, even after sampling various incarnations of Windows Mobile throughout its evolution. Since the PalmPilot(TM) debuted in 1997, the Palm OS has offered an intuitive, elegant, and efficient Personal Information Management (PIM) system to organize one’s personal and professional data (e.g. contacts, calendars, tasks, and notes). Everything in this magic handheld device was capable of synchronizing with a computer, making major additions/updates to this mobile database very easy. While Palm has maintained the simplicity and consistency in the look and feel of its OS over the past decade, it has unfortunately done so to a point of its own undoing. Rumored overhauls of its OS (possibly to indicate a renaissance within the company, as OS X provided for Apple) failed to materialize, with the company focusing on repackaging a very aged OS into new plastics with slightly smaller form factors. This lack of innovation in performance and user experience over the past several years has caught up with Palm, and it has been proverbially lapped by its competitors.
Ultimately I switched from my 2-year-old Palm Treo 680 to a Blackberry Curve earlier this year as the Treo simply became unusable as a mission-critical business tool. I found myself having to hard-reset the Treo many times per day, and I became very frustrated with the slow response of the device to user input in navigating screens, dialing, etc. Sadly, I knew it was time to look for an alternative device which would be reliable, even though I had been a Palm loyalist for years.
The only other operating system in a portable device which I had not personally experienced (despite its tremendous popularity) was the Blackberry, so I set out to see if this would provide a viable alternative to the Palm in my usage model. Within a very short period of time after purchasing the Curve, I found it to provide an exceptionally stable and satisfying experience in nearly every aspect, except for the stability with which it functions as a wireless modem for a laptop via Bluetooth Dialup Networking (BT DUN).
In the table below, I compare my experience with the Treo 680, the Blackberry Curve, and the iPhone, rating the raw capability of each device in performing various functions on a scale from 0 to 10 (0 = feature does not exist, 10 = ideal implementation). To identify the best device for my usage model, I multiplied the capability rating of each device for a given feature by the relative importance of that feature to yield a weighted score. This allows me to decouple a device’s particular capability from the practical usefulness of that function. Certainly, each user will have his/her own priority rating for features, as well as individual ratings for how well each task is performed by a given device. My priorities are geared toward serving a small-business professional who has full control over his/her IT gear and values performance, reliability, and efficiency in supporting business functions (while also appreciating a great user experience).
Weighted feature comparison of Treo 680, Blackberry Curve, and iPhone
|Feature||Weight||Treo 680||BlackBerry Curve 8310||iPhone||Treo 680||BlackBerry Curve 8310||iPhone|
|Standard phone functions|
|Contacts dial, sync||100%||7||10||7||7||10||7|
|BT voice dial||90%||0||10||0||0||9||0|
|Multimedia appliance functions|
|Mount as disk||40%||10||8||0||4||3.2||0|
|Remote Mac control||40%||10||0||0||4||0||0|
|Third-party software required|
From the total weighted scores above, the Blackberry Curve provides the best overall user experience given the priority weighting and the corresponding capabilities for the above functions. In its current state, the iPhone needs to add many basic phone and smartphone features to yield a score which rivals the Curve according to these criteria. It would be nice for v2.0 (perhaps labeled an ‘iPhone Pro’ to be consistent with Apple’s laptop branding differentiation) to incorporate these practical functions and really give Blackberry some significant competition among business users.
Since Apple has opened up third-party development by rolling out its Software Development Kit (SDK), there is a potential for non-Apple developers to fill in some of the smartphone-related missing pieces from the table above. However, there are a number of core services which can only be provided by Apple in the form of software support. Here are a few other items on my iPhone v2.0 wishlist (though I know there are many others with a nice anthology here):
- Global copy/paste functionality
- Global search functionality across all applications’ databases (e.g. Spotlight for iPhone)
- Add hyperlinks to dial phone numbers directly from within calendar/tasks/notes
- Contact exchange via Bluetooth (OBEX profile)
- Bluetooth and LAN sync to local computer
- .Mac sync (via LAN/WAN)