Tuesday, January 09, 2007

iPhone envy

Well, I was wrong. My friend Jon asked me what was going to be offered up this morning, and I said, “Whatever it is, it isn’t going to be an iPhone.” This because Cisco owns the trademark to it… In the back of my head, I was really hoping for a phone/iPod combo, not just because it would be cool, but because my i-Mate SP3i Smartphone is starting to drive me crazy, and I am looking for a replacment.

This isn’t to say that the SP3i wasn’t nifty at one time. When I was willing to spring for the $20 extra a month it cost for insanely slow wireless internet service, it synchronized nicely with my Exchange account at work, which was pretty much the only way I ever used its connection. Trying to do anything other than load an extremely simple page (usually one written to be displayed on a Palm) (1) took forever and (2) required scrolling all over tarnation with the dinky joystick of intermittent operation. Said joystick came out of the phone multiple times, and could never quite be put back in correctly, and right now I’m operating with the plastic stub instead. Still, the difference between me knowing I had a meeting to get to and/or to look up where it was or what someone’s number is in my 400+ contact address book was huge.

On a parallel note, the implementation of as-needed-synchronization in Windows Mobile™ 2003 Second Edition’s Pocket Outlook depends not on the ultra-slow network that I paid $20 a month for at all. Instead, the Exchange server sends invisible SMS messages (ones that don’t show up in your text message section) that get interpreted by Pocket Outlook to let it know there’s something new to synchronize. I didn’t have a text plan when I first got my smartphone, and after two months of $150 charges in text messages that I had no idea where they were coming from, I finally switched to mode of synching to just every 30 minutes. My comrades in Windows Mobile ultimately changed the behavior of this in a later edition of Windows Mobile™, which is great, but unfortunately, they weren’t willing to upgrade my phone (they were OK upgrading the SP3, but the SP3i was just too… something… (new? freaky?) And as far as I can tell, the manufacturer won’t upgrade it, presumably because it was already an older model.

As time went by, I gave up on the Internet connection, trying to settle on desktop-synchronization. Unfortunately, it was about this time that I played Good Microsoft Employee™, and dogfooded beta candidates of Vista, for which there was no ActiveSync. Now that Vista has released to manufacturing, there’s now an ActiveSync, but it doesn’t sync contacts or events anymore. “The synch status is on the device.”, only it’s not. Add all of this to the device no longer responding to right button clicks, and taking on the order of 5 to 20 seconds to respond to left button clicks when it hasn’t been used in a while (is it paging things in?), I’m starting to take a hard look at new cell phones.

One of the most annoying things about bar phones, IMNSHO, is the requirement of locking them. Yes, I know it’s not a strict requirement, but I put the things in my pocket and then they auto-dial someone in my contact list. I’m still waiting for an accidental call to 911 to happen. Strange things happen when it is locked though. If I get a reminder, sometimes I cannot dismiss it because it wants you to unlock it first, but the reminder is on top, so you don’t get the unlock UI. There might be some kind of lock timer I could use, but that doesn’t preclude me pocket dialing people, and I don’t always remember to lock it. I was thinking I would have to go to some kind of flip or clamshell phone to avoid that nuisance. I spent some time over the holidays looking for a relatively cheap phone (since I’d have to buy it as an “upgrade” through T-Mobile or get a compatible unlocked phone, as I already have a contract), but hadn’t come up with anything.

And then Steve Jobs shows off the new iPhone.

Something tells me the Exchange support might not be all that great. As it stands, Mail.app has never once been able to synch with the Microsoft Corporate Exchange servers. (In the past, that’s meant that I’ve been even more tied to Entourage and/or Outlook, and had a vested interest in fixing/reporting bugs in those products.) I somehow doubt that the iPhone is going to do better than Mail.app. But still the idea is alluring. The iPod I got as a ship gift for shipping Microsoft Office 2004 ended up going to my wife who lives for her podcasts, and her old iPod had ended up with battery issues. (NB: She recently got it re-batteried and now I have an ancient iPod that I really should load up with some tunes.) Having a newer model iPod that can show video and call folks and can fit in my pocket sounds great. And maybe I can even leverage Entourage’s Sync Services integration to get my info onto the phone…

I guess I’ll keep an eye on it, and if/when it comes out, figure out whether it’ll be worth switching to Cingular or whether it could be purchased unlocked for use with T-Mobile. Until then, I’ll live with my ailing smartphone.

P.S., What would be really cool, would be if it had a slot for not just a SIM card to enable the device, but extra SIM cards to serve as generic smart cards. Then you could use it as your physical token for authentication on machines. Can you imagine walking up to your machine and have it auto-negotiate credential sharing, and have a keychain show up on your box?


Joe said...

I have a TMobile MDA and it took 2 months to figure out why my bill shot up $40+ a month in text messaging. Once I found out it was the SMS messaging I shut that off ASAP and just have the phone setup to sync to the server every 10 minutes.

The blood letting that goes on for text messaging is ridiculous. I've tried Missing Sync but I find that using Entourage inside Corp, while it works, has issues in regards to meetings and other scheduled items.

Sigh... the iPhone really looks sexy and I do want one but I just can't depend on Entourage/Exchange/iPhone syncing working well for now.

Kristen said...

It's handy that Matt and I are already on Cingular. We watched the keynote last night to see the actual demo of the phone and I must admit to being pretty in love. Somehow, slowly, everything in my house seems to have been converted over to Apple products, so I may have to give in and buy and iPhone, knowing that down the road a Macbook is in my future when my current PC laptop dies off. I have to give it to Apple for making their non-computer items very user friendly for us non-Mac folks. If the iPhone falls into the same user accessibility and ease of use as the iPod I'm apt to have one by July. You'll be welcome to play with it to see if you want to convert over to Cingular and acquire one yourself.
(btw, am enjoying your prolific posts these last few days!)