iPhone: the rise and fall of the latest Apple gadget

The iPhone.  It’s a wonderful device.  It was a game changer.  3 years ago when it was released, it revolutionized the phone landscape.  For the first time, people had a portable digital convergence device.  (Ok, maybe it wasn’t the first, maybe it wasn’t the best, maybe it was just targeted at regular people instead of corporate users.)  For the first time, we could walk around with a web browser, a calendar, a music player, an address book, and really manage our lives on the go.  (Ok, I’ll grant that BlackBerry defined that niche for business users, but the iPhone made it cool and made it work for consumers.)

I’m hesitant to sit on the bleeding edge.  I waited until Service Pack 1 to get my iPhone 3G.  It was nearly 2 years ago.  It was a game changer for me too.  At random times in random places, I could check email, surf the web to answer the nagging question, create calendar entries, or just horse around.  I could pull up a map of where I am and where I wanted to go, so the preparation for travel wasn’t as urgent.  I could schedule stuff on my calendar, so no more wads of post-its hoping I guessed right.  And reading email in the 2 minutes standing in line or on the walk home from dropping kids off at school is awesome.  It truly revolutionized my world for the better.

Fast forward 3 years for Apple, nearly 2 years for me.  I waited with baited breath at every Apple announcement for the thing that’d keep the iPhone cool or for them to switch to a new carrier.  (The tag-line for the iPhone I’ve heard not a few times is, “The iPhone is so cool it almost makes up for being stuck on AT&T.“)  In that time, they’ve started to back-fill some missing features, and made subtle improvements, but they’ve really never leaped out and grabbed me again.

The following features were instantly missing from my experience, and with few exceptions, Apple really never delivered:

  • OTA Syncing
  • contact and calendar categories
  • turn-by-turn voice navigation
  • copy & paste
  • an IM and VOIP client that’s always on (e.g. I’ll still get new IMs or receive VOIP calls if I switched over to read my email)
  • 3rd party data on maps (e.g. “map all my contacts” or “where is the closest gas station on my route” or “does Acme, Inc. have an office near me?“  I ranted about this previously – that I want to shove a kml file into maps.)
  • OpenVPN / RDP client
  • disable auto-rotation based on the accelerometer – so I can read in bed Ok, I’ll grant that some of these things have come with third-party apps.  Some have come as jailbreak apps.  Some are just not there.

And I get that I’m hardly a typical user.  Most users looking for “IM client” on a phone would point me at text messaging.  (Yeah, but I can’t text into an MSN IM contact.  And if a Skype contact IMs me back but I’m sending an email, I never get it.  Yeah, I know Trillian Astra is “almost there”.  I’ve been waiting on them for as long too.)

Meanwhile, over the last 3 years since the iPhone changed the landscape, Android and most recently Windows Mobile 7 have come into view.  Neither is as polished as the iPhone was at launch.  (I’ve not seen a Win 7 phone, but I’ve seen a good deal of Android phones.)  Android only recently got pinch-to-zoom, and really only on Nexus One, and the Droid’s map application.  But I see a lot more potential in these devices than in the iPhone.

For instance, me and my family were on vacation in California.  We were caravaning with friends on an unfamiliar stretch of highway.  We popped open the Droid, put in our destination in the voice guidance app, and went back to the home screen.  When something of interest popped up in a friends’ cars, they’d text us or tweet.  As the perfect example, my wife was on the web looking up something, the navigation was telling me where to turn, and a text came in.  It all happened simultaneously.  It just worked.

I’ve played with the Droid pretty extensively since.  I can push the search button, and pull up a web page or a contact or directions.  The back button is just truly awesome – getting me back a web page or back into the previous app or back a page in the app.   It just works.  The syncing is awesome because it just works.  I’m very good at forgetting day-to-day stuff, and so I often find I haven’t sync’d my calendar in a while, and when I do, I double-booked myself.  There’s no android sync procedure – it just does it.

And don’t get me started on the iPhone carrier lock-in.  I probably would’ve gotten a 3GS if my carrier of choice was announced last July.  As it stands, I’m the only member of my circle of mobiles that can’t use free mobile-to-mobile minutes … because I’m stuck in AT&T – say nothing of the service.

When Android finally got pinch-to-zoom, it was a done deal.  I’m sold.  As soon as my AT&T contract is up, I’m sailing away on Android.  It’ll let me use it the way I want.