Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich


January 16th, 2007 · No Comments · Gadgets

It’s shiny and pretty and reeks of fine technology. Yes, when I saw the iPhone demo, I had to wipe my chin. When it ships, nothing will say Chic Alpha Geek more than the new iPhone. But, that being said, I doubt I will be the first person standing in line to get one when they go on sale.

The combination of media player, internet device and phone isn’t new. Several are out now, and to the last, most of them offer a pretty poor user experience. For several years, I’ve been using the best one I can find for my needs, and that’s the T-Mobile Sidekick.

I have no doubt the user experience of the upcoming iPhone will be quite high. But when it comes to a Mac-like experience on a smart phone, the Sidekick manages quite well, with a consistent and clear interface that can be used with one hand and no stylus. Added to that the simplicity of always-on Internet and background data syncing and you’ve got a gadget that doesn’t require much thought to use. It isn’t as beautiful or as flashy as the iPhone, but it is functional and fast.

User experience aside, Steve Jobs said the “killer app” of the iPhone is voice, and that may be important for a lot of people. But ask me or a lot of other Sidekick users what the killer app is, and you’ll discover it is instant messaging. Not text messaging, but instant messaging. I found it odd that there was no mention of iChat on the iPhone, only SMS text messaging. This seems like a huge oversight to me. Instant messaging allows me to keep in touch with half a dozen people throughout my day without being burdensome on them or interrupting me, and I can’t imagine not having a portable gadget that can do it now.

I use my Sidekick for these purposes, in order of frequency:

  1. instant messaging
  2. e-mail
  3. web
  4. games
  5. SMS
  6. notes
  7. voice

It seems the iPhone has a different set of priorities:

  1. media player
  2. voice
  3. web
  4. email
  5. text messaging

This different set of options and priorities makes me think that the iPhone isn’t well suited for me.

Keep in mind the Sidekick 3 is also an MP3 player, but I don’t use that because I have a dedicated iPod. The Sidekick isn’t a good media player for me because it has tiny storage, no video support and poor battery performance compared to an iPod. And at this point, on the iPhone side, it isn’t clear if games or other applications like a text editor will be available yet.

But, even still, in the end, for me IM is way more useful than voice, and for this it helps to have a good keyboard. The mini-keyboard on the Sidekick 3 cannot be beat, with a full five row keyboard where most other devices go with four. Without trying it I have no idea how good the virtual soft keyboard of the iPhone will be, but I am doubtful it can be as good as the Sidekick 3. Admittedly I have gotten very good on the Sidekick, to the point where I don’t have to look at the device any more. I’m not optimistic that I can do that with a virtual keyboard, even a very good one.

The iPhone will be a much better media player than the Sidekick, and for what I want, the iPhone would be the best iPod too. It also will have pretty browser with some nice Google integration and widgets. But those are the only major features an iPhone offers that a Sidekick doesn’t, and the Sidekick has IM and a real keyboard (and obscure but useful things like SSH that a geek like me feels better having.)

Perhaps the iPhone feature set will grow when it ships, and maybe the virtual keyboard will be good enough. But until I see proof of that, this geek will have to take a pass on Apple’s shiny new toy. That, and my damn T-Mobile contract has to run out.

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