A Treo user moves to an iPhone 3G

As a long time Palm Treo 650 user, I decided to make the leap to the new Apple iPhone3G. Read on for the good and the not so good of my experience.

I like to think I have a great deal of patience; you have to when you have a three year old running around the house.  Maybe it’s this trait that somehow contributed to my couple hour wait in line at an Apple store to purchase an iPhone 3G; why else would I be willing to stand there?  While I often read about the latest hardware I almost never buy the first edition, waiting instead for the refined (less buggy) version.  Yet there I was a few weeks ago, standing in line at the Santa Clara store waiting to upgrade my trusty Palm Treo 650 for a shiny new iPhone.

Why the switch? As a Palm OS user since 2000, I was well acquainted with the Palm platform.  I had invested heavily in the commercial applications over the years, even going so far as doing some development many years ago.  I had used three devices (Palm V, Palm m515, Palm Treo 650, all of which I still own) with great success.  The Treo 650 had been my standby for over three years, and it functioned great in the field.

Yet Blazer, the internet browser in the Palm OS, offered limited functionality and was never fully stable for me.  Opera Mini was a nice addition, but the Java virtual machine on the Palm OS was slow and cumbersome and Opera’s responsiveness suffered.  I missed not having WiFi and with no SD card driver options (the hacks were not stable in use) I was left high and dry. Web apps had always been an important to me, but now I found myself needing them beyond what the Treo could deliver.  The latest Palm offering left much to be desired.  Looking for an alternative, I turned to the iPhone.

The original offering of the iPhone did not win me over; with basically no SDK (software development kit) I wasn’t going to be able to extend it myself (unless through web apps) and others wouldn’t be able to provide the applications I would need.  When the jailbreak of the phone happened, my interest was again rekindled.  With the announcement of an SDK, I figured I’d be on board with whatever the next version was.  That turned out to be the iPhone3G.

About a week after launch I purchased one.  The in store activation requirement was frankly ridiculous, though it only took me 15 minutes at the most.  My thoughts on such a policy is that it has only made it harder on both store employees and consumers looking to buy and hasn’t made people like AT&T any better.

The iPhone itself is quite nice to handle.  It’s sleak, polished, and has a gorgeous screen and fonts.  The touch screen is easy to handle, and the controls are straight forward.  With iPhone nearby, the Treo looks dated in it’s design (then again, my Treo looks dated compared to a Palm V as well, so take that with a grain of salt).

The one thing that I thought I would dislike about the move is the on-screen virtual keyboard.  Having moved from graffiti (does anyone remember it?) to the the Treo’s keyboard I remember it took some getting used to, but I grew to like the feel of the keyboard.  I thought this would be no different and after a few days, I’ve found typing on the virtual keyboard quite easy.  My biggest complaint is lag; randomly applications and some web forms have considerable lag between key press and display and it’s absolutely brutal.  SMS seems to be the worst case.

Speaking of SMS, the app lacks polish.  The SMS app in the Treo is better in my opinion, offering character count and MMS support inline.  While I’m not big on MMS and don’t miss this feature, I miss the character count.  A simple list format option as opposed to conversation mode would be nice, as well as filters to simply see sent messages.  For me SMS is not a deal breaker, but it could stand some feature enhancements.

The other apps that come standard on the iPhone (contacts, mail, calendar) offer basic functionality I would put on par with the standard Palm OS offerings.  The contacts annoy me because you can’t set a default group (it always reverts to Show All), and switching groups (sort of like categories in the Palm) takes too long.  I could do for a simply dropdown list or filter option on the search.

I’m not holding Apple fully responsible given that I used a number of apps on Palm to handle my extended needs.  These included DateBK5, AddressXT, and Snappermail, all which offered extended functionality over their bundled counterparts.  My assumption is that developers will (much as everyone did on Palm) extend the iPhone OS with enhancements as time goes on.

There in lies the problem for my use of the iPhone for daily business: it doesn’t currently offer the types of applications I use to get work done.  The App store is nice and it has some slick applications, but in terms of productivity I need things like Docs to Go (sometimes I need to edit some numbers, not just view) and ACT! which at the moment the iPhone doesn’t have counterparts to.

What the iPhone may lack in applications, it does not lack on web functionality.  I’ve been progressively moving to web based applications, running apps like Google Apps for Domains, Remember The Milk, and a lot of custom self-hosted services.  It is for this reason that the iPhone is going to be my main phone of use.  Using WiFi and receiving calls is a godsend and once Google Docs has edit functionality in it’s mobile version, I’ll be pretty content.

The other reason that I purchased outside of business use is the hacking potentional.  Running the jailbreak which came out a short while after my purchase opened up more possiblities (secure shell (SSH) was a must anyhow, as it sees daily use on my Treo).  I’m already working on a USB hardware hack, and I have plans to write some software as well.

Overall, I think the iPhone is amazing even given the transitional pains I’ve had moving to it.  As more applications become available and when they add cut and paste functionality, I’ll be certain I’ll be able to leave the Treo behind.  I’ll just have to be patient.