Vicki made an off-hand comment to me the other day to say that according to AT&T I’ve fullfilled the contract I signed when I got my Treo and I’m eligible to get another phone if I sign up for another 2 year contract. Of course, my first thought was “iPhone!” My second thought was that this was a rather cruel thing to tell me when we’re officially in the blackout period when I’m not allowed to buy anything for myself for fear that I’ve made Vicki’s Christmas shopping harder.
I guess the question for today is “Would I want an iPhone even if I could buy one?” And I’m not 100% sure the answer is yes. Buying the Treo was a no-brainer: it could do absolutely everything my existing phone could do, and everything my existing Palm Tungsten E could do, which meant I could reduce my gadget load. It also tempted me to add data to my cell phone plan and so now I use it for email and for mild web browsing (ostensibly for checking weather while away from base, but used more often for checking my friend’s page while in boring meetings). If I could do everything I do with an iPhone that I do with my Treo and my iPod, again it would be a no-brainer. But that’s where it gets difficult. So let’s look at it piece by piece.
iPhone as iPod
Sure, it’s got a way bigger and better screen, and cover flow, but I really like having an 80Gb hard drive with my entire music collection on it. Sure, 90% of the time I just click “Shuffle Songs” and listen to whatever comes up, but every now and then I’ll think “Hey, I want to listen to all my Wendy Carlos/Great Big Sea/Wicked Tinkers/Glenn Gould” and it’s there. With the iPhone, I’d only have 8Gb to play with, and I would have to be a lot more careful about syncing it every day to get a new selection of random songs before I got bored, and I just wouldn’t have all my music for when the fancy strikes me for a specific thing. I’m going to call that even on what I gain is equal to what I lose.
iPhone as Phone
Obviously, this goes without saying. The phone capabilty is there and good, and since I already sync my Treo contacts with my Mac Address Book, I shouldn’t actually miss any functionality and instead I’d gain some. Slight gain for the iPhone.
iPhone as Web Browser
It should go without saying that the web browser in iPhone is way better than the one in the Treo. It’s pretty, it’s functional, it’s Safari, not some stripped down thing that turns some sites like Wikipedia into an unreadable mishmash. And the two finger scrolling and resizing thing is just the coolest thing ever. Big win for the iPhone.
iPhone as PDA (Calendar and ToDo List)
I don’t think my calendars synced 100% correctly between my Treo and iCal – for instance, I think the category stuff didn’t sync, and I’d lose some of the extended capability information that’s in DateBk6. But on the other hand, having the same tool (iCal) on my laptop and PDA would make sure I didn’t lose information in the future. So call that even.
iPhone as Camera
I understand the camera built into the iPhone is much better than the one in my Treo. It could hardly be worse. But to me, that’s not a factor. I almost never use the camera in my Treo. I suppose you could argue that I don’t use it because it sucks, and maybe a less sucky camera would be used more. But my biggest problem with the Treo camera is how the hell do you keep the lens clean when the phone is going into your filthy pocket? Is that going to be any better with an iPhone? I guess not. Which brings up the next item.
iPhone as Expensive Delicate Device
I learned the hard way to buy a magnesium case for my Treo after I smashed the first one while in a location where I really, really would have liked to have some decent weather graphics (at the Pinckneyville Fly In). I’m on my second magnesium case, and both cases have major scratches and worn and chipped off paint, scratches on the screen, etc. The cases add considerable bulk to the phone, but it’s obvious that they’re needed. I can tell that if I bought an iPhone I’d probably have to cover its loveliness with something equally ugly and bulky. So why get something light and beautiful?
iPhone as PDA (Palm programs)
The three programs I use the most on my Treo are CoPilot (flight planner), AvLogBook (log book), and Minicalc (spreadsheet – which I mostly use for tracking my hours at work). I’m not 100% sure I could find on-line equivalents for them all. And even if I could find on-line equivalents, the thing I like with CoPilot is being able to refer to my flight plan even in places with no cell phone coverage, like when flying along at 8,000 feet at 130 knots where my cell phone doesn’t work. This is a big strike against the iPhone. Maybe the imminent arrival of the iPhone SDK will fix that.
iPhone as Mail client
The iPhone email client sure looks pretty and functional. The only problem is that after 5 point releases of Mac OS X, Apple still hasn’t figured out how to do one crucial thing in Mail that every other IMAP client in the world can do, including Snapper Mail on my Treo – and that’s to only sync particular folders in my ~/Mail directory on my Linux server. I fire up Snapper Mail, and it quickly syncs my Inbox and three folders for mailing lists I’m on, and quickly exits. I fire up Mail.app, and it goes into whirling pizza of death mode because it’s trying to index every file in that directory, including some that aren’t mbox files, and a bunch of files that contain every piece of spam that’s gotten past the Postfix spam blocks in the last three years (473782 messages at last count). If iPhone suffers from the same flaw, that’s not a total show stopper for me because I could re-arrange my ~/Mail directory, but it’s a pain.
Cut and Paste
I use cut and paste a lot when I’m composing email, and also “highlight large chunks of text and delete them”. Mostly, because I’m old fashioned and like the “conversational” style where you quote a snippet of the original text then put in your response, then a bit more of the original text then a response to that. I hate the so-called “TOFU” (Top-post Over Full-quote Under) or “Lotus Notes” style where you can’t really tell what the person is responding to without re-reading the entire conversation which is quoted below. iPhone doesn’t have good support for block delete and none for cut and paste? That’s going to be a major crimp in my style.
So there you have it – do I buy an iPhone or not? I guess I could revive my old Tungsten E for the few Palm apps I can’t live without, learn to sync to iTunes every night, build some fancy smart playlists to make sure I have a decent selection of stuff I love and stuff I haven’t heard in so long I don’t remember if I love it or not, and maybe even re-arrange my ~/Mail directory to accomodate the deficiencies of Apple’s Mail programs, and start composing email that goes against every instinct of 20 years of usage. Or I could continue to carry my lovely iPod Classic and my clunky but functional Treo. Hmmmm.