Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Phone wars

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a new smart phone. I wrote this mainly to help get some of my thinking down on virtual paper as that sometimes helps me to consider issues. In my family, I know a lot of eyes will glaze over when reading this. That's okay, I won't be offended. ;-) And if anyone has experience, thoughts, etc., please chime in!

I've been using Palm handhelds for several years now. I can't remember exactly when I started, but since I started on the Palm m515, it couldn't have been earlier than 2002 (although I really thought it was a few years before then... maybe I'm forgetting one before that). I was even proficient in Graffiti, the Palm "writing" system since there was no keyboard. I organized my calendar, my contact list, notes, etc. It worked well for me, because before that I would scribble everything down in a weekly calendar that I carried around. The problem with the paper/ink calendar was 1) I couldn't read my writing at times, and if it was an event several months in the future, I'd forget what it was by the time I reached the date, and 2) I tended to misplace these after a while, or the notes I scribbled down on a post-it would fall out.

Somewhere towards the end of 2003, beginning of 2004 (again, I don't remember exactly when), I decided to get a Palm Treo 600. It seemed so logical. Matching up a PDA with a phone. Why in the heck not? Then in January of 2008 (this one I remember!!), my 600 finally kicked the bucket, and I got a Palm Centro. This has been working well to date.

However, there have been major shake up in the Smart Phone community. Of course there's the iPhone, which has been doing remarkably well. To answer it, Palm did a complete overhaul of their phone and operating system, and came up with the Pre, running the new WebOS. I've been following news on the Pre for about 4-6 months before its release. And I was pretty sure this would be the phone I'd buy as soon as my contract is up (Jan 2010).

However, then Apple came out with their newest iPhone, the 3GS. I figured I'd at least look at it. I can see why many people are using it. Besides being a decent smart-phone, there are a LOT of 3rd party software available. And this is one of the biggest things that I have used with all of my Palms to date. I summarize some of my more often used programs later in this post. Anyway, the Pre doesn't have very much in the way of programs written for it yet. The SDK (Software Development Kit) hasn't even been publicly released (supposed to be released towards the end of August). That's what allows vendors to more easily write programs for the device. So the Pre is already behind on that end.

While looking around, I also looked at Android phones. Android is another operating system for smart phones, which spread in popularity when Google gave it full backing and support. It hasn't been around as long as the iPhone, but because the OS is open source, it's been easier for people to create software for it. A new phone with Andriod on it is supposed to be coming out the end of 2009. (HTC Hero). I also looked at Blackberry, but it just doesn't seem to jive with me.

Below is a list of the most common programs I run on my Centro currently, and my thoughts about if they are available on other smart phones. (roughly in the order of use on the Centro)

ChatterEmail (SnapperEmail) - ChatterEmail is a great email client that works superbly with my email system. It was developed by Marc Blank, who was one of the creators of Zork, one of the first text adventure computer games that captured a lot of gaming interest (including my brother and I) in the early 80's. (It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.) It uses the IMAP4 interface, which means if I read some message on the Centro, but not others, or mark them in some way, that change can also be seen if I log on to my email through the web interface, or using Thunderbird at home. It helps to keep all my email coordinated. Chatter also pushes email to up to 7 of my folders. That means if a folder receives a new email message, I get instant notification, I don't have to wait for a periodic polling of my email like most other email clients. The push interface is somewhat draining on the battery though, so when I will be away from a charger for a while, I switch to SnapperEmail. It's another good email program on the Centro, but doesn't do push email. The iPhone and the Pre can connect via IMAP, but neither have the multi-folder push that I use so much on my Centro. Marc Blank stated he's developing ChatterEmail for the Android now, so that's a big plus in the Android direction. This program alone is probably about 50% of my Centro use.

DateBk6 - Most smart phones have a calendar. DateBook6 is a calendar on steroids! It adds a lot of functionality, many/most of which I probably never touch, but those I do are indispensable. The biggest is putting icons with events. Sounds like a minor thing? It's fantastic when I'm viewing in "Monthly" mode (which is most of the time). I have icons for work meetings, icons for things with each kid, icons for doctor or dentist appointments, icons for various Jewish holidays, etc. At a quick glance I can gather up a lot of information. Then I can delve deeper in weekly or daily views. The developer of DateBk6 is completely rewriting the system from scratch to be more portable (Java based, I believe). It sounds like Andriod will be early on the development list. The Pre may be possible depending on the SDK, which he hasn't seen yet. He's waiting on the iPhone because Apple doesn't allow 3rd party apps to touch internal things, such as the calendar. Their lost. I rely on this application a LOT.

SplashID - This is an application which securely encrypts and stores information such as passwords, credit card numbers, etc. There is no way I can remember all the passwords I need for various work and personal related things. There are several of these type of programs available, so I'm sure I'd find a comparable program on the Pre, Andriod, or iPhone (in fact I think SplashData already has SplashID on the iPhone and Android, and is working on a Pre version). The draw for me for this particular one is that you can also assign icons. If you remember from DateBk6, I like being able to assign an icon. :-)

Luach - Luach (the Hebrew word for calendar) is a wonderful program. Not only does it give you a Hebrew calendar, complete with all the Jewish holiday listings for the next who knows how many years (I went more than far enough in the future to look), but you can also put in birthdays, anniversaries, Yaritzites, etc., and it calculates those dates in future years. Then you can import everything (or pick and chose what to import) into your main calendar. This is something I check often, usually when trying to pick a date for something in the next 6 months, year, etc., and wanting to make sure it doesn't conflict with a holiday. There is a Luach program for the iPhone, but you can't import the dates (remember what I said before about Apple not letting you play with the internal calendar). One person I know puts all his Hebrew date information into his Google Calendar, and the iPhone apparently can read input in from a Google calendar, but that's a kludge workaround.

Sudoku - My favorite time killer game on the Centro. I'm sure there are implementations (multiple) for the various phones (The Pre might take a little while to get out though)

GooSync - Syncs up my calendar with Google Calendar. My wife can see and edit events on my calendar (family events only, not "business" events), then they would sync back to my Centro. I believe it works on the iPhone, not sure about Android.

Shadow - If DateBk6 is a calendar on steroids, ShadowPlan is a ToDo list on steroids. It's designed as an outliner, but I mainly use it for multiple To Do's, including nested To Do lists. (I have to check off X, Y, and Z before A can be checked off). I haven't even started looking to see if there are comparable applications in the other smart phones.

CacheMate - A database that keeps tracks of Geocaches. (a hunt and find type game, using GPS receivers, probably a subject for another post someday). This is implemented in Android, and Geocaching.com, the "main point" for Geocaching, has their own iPhone implementation.

EshSiddur - If I'm out somewhere and need a siddur and don't have one, EshSiddur is a full siddur (with vowels!!) on my Centro. There is a siddur program for the iPhone, I don't know of any for the Android.

So currently iPhone has a majority of the apps, but Android is catching up with potentially more useful apps. The Pre is just barely out of the gate. While there are a lot of good things about each phone itself, it needs software to really make it shine.

Of course another issue to take into consideration is what provider has the phone. The Pre is currently only on Sprint. The iPhone is only on AT&T. With Sprint, I'd have SMS included, AT&T, I'd have to pay extra (and I use SMS frequently). The Android phones are mostly on T-Mobile which doesn't have the amount of coverage as does Sprint or AT&T. Of course the boards are all speculating on when/if phones will be offered by other providers. The Pre is supposed to go to Verizon and maybe AT&T next year. The Hero (Android) may be offered on AT&T and Sprint, etc.

My current contract runs until Jan 2010. So there is still time... And of course by then there may be something else completely new out there to confuse me even more! :-)


Four Divisions said...

Wow... great features, I would love to use it ... Any updates now...

rafael@israel said...

just avoid nokia phones-they are full of problems, they are hard to update if you know this things at user level, but what is terrible-they do new versions that go just with their new mobiles-and it is just unfair.