iDay: The Apple iPhone Revolution Begins
Unless you’ve been lost in the deep forests of the Amazon for the past few months you will undoubtedly already know that today is iDay – the time when Apple begins selling the iPhone which is quite possibly the single most hyped mobile phone in history.
Treonauts have been caught in this hype more than others since the iPhone is perceived to be a direct threat to the Treo and naturally emotions have been running extremely high from day one with my first post Palm Treo 680 vs. Apple iPhone Comparison back in January generating the most heated and longest comment thread ever.
The biggest disappointment for me following the original Apple iPhone Wake-Up Call has been Palm’s lethargic reaction – I have not seen or heard anything in the past six months to demonstrate that the company is listening and openly responding to the passionate outcries of its most loyal customers. The Foleo announcement was the wrong product at the wrong time and the rumours of a forthcoming Treo 800 have also left many Treonauts underwhelmed.
Like many I feel that Palm has on the one hand simply not been listening and on the other made a lousy marketing and PR job getting the right message across to ensure that it properly defends and continues to conquer its rightful territory. The reality is that our Treo with all its faults remains an absolutely amazing smartphone and with another record high sell-through of 750,000 units in the last quarter (announced yesterday) Palm is evidently doing something right.
Having said this, even with these record sales I just don’t believe that Palm is quite squeezing all of the juice it can from its Treo franchise. The issue is that for every thing that the company does right there seem to be an equal number of things that it does wrong. As we all know, 1 – 1 = 0 which may explain why the perception is increasingly that on many fronts Palm is at a standstill since it does not appear to learn and correct its mistakes quickly – thus opening more and more opportunities for competing devices such as the iPhone.
Treo vs iPhone Comparison
A like for like comparison of the Treo versus the iPhone is not particularly helpful since as I have pointed out before the iPhone is primarily a consumer multimedia phone and not a business smartphone.
I will hopefully have an iPhone and some iPhone accessories in my hands early next week but in the meantime I have based this comparison on various reviews as well as video footage of the iPhone in action and also Walt Mossberg’s detailed take.
Screen + Keyboard
The most obvious difference is the fact that the iPhone uses a virtual on-screen keyboard whereas the Treo uses a full physical QWERTY keyboard as well as four program buttons, a 5Way navigation button as well as two dedicated Call Answer and End buttons which make it much easier to quickly access core functions.
The iPhone can thus use some 80% of its front surface to accomodate a 3.5 inch 320 x 480 touchscreen to beautifully display photos, videos and Web pages but according to Mossberg “it sometimes adds steps to common functions”, such as the phone interface which “takes more taps to reach than on many other smartphones” and “the lack of dedicated hardware buttons means extra taps are needed to start using features” even annoyingly needing to “switch to a different keyboard view to insert a period or comma”. The Treo offers a smaller 2.5” 320 x 320 touchscreen which is complemented by the full keyboard and dedicated buttons to provide faster and easier access to the most important functions.
Although in his review Mossberg repeatedly points out the relative “extra” steps required to access functions and accomplish certain tasks he nonetheless claims that the omission of a physical keyboard on the iPhone is a “nonissue”. I personally feel that the lack of both a keyboard and dedicated hardware buttons combine to make it sufficiently harder to use on a daily basis compared to my Treo.
Software + OS + Touchscreen Interface
I am happy to agree with Mossberg that the iPhone’s software “sets a new bar for the smartphone industry” and it “offers the best Web browser” available on any phone today. In comparison, although the Palm OS is still surprisingly good it has not had a major overhaul in more years than I care to count and is quite clearly no match for the absolutely stunning, crisp and dynamic overall look & fell of the iPhone’s user interface. Palm is now working on a revamped operating system but new Treo smartphones running it are unlikely to be released before 2008.
Having said this, for now at least, the iPhone suffers from a major drawback compared to the Treo as Apple does not offer the option to add third-party add-on software and only Web-based programs accessed via the iPhone’s built-in browser can be used. Palm on the other hand can compete with literally thousands of established Treo software titles of all sorts.
Additionally, although Mossberg calls the iPhone’s new multi-touch interface “effective, practical and fun” he nonetheless repeatedly points to more than a few limitations including the inability to cut, copy or paste text – a pretty basic and often used function available as standard on the Treo.
There’s no doubt that Apple is the king of digital media having defined the digital music market with its original iPod+iTunes and later also digital video. It is now set to do so again since the iPhone includes a built-in iPod with 4 or 8GB of storage as well as a photo program to display individual pictures and slideshows.
Even with the very good Pocket Tunes (music), CorePlayer (video) and SplashPhoto applications installed on my Treo it’s evident that the iPhone provides a superior experience and much better integrated solution when it comes to multimedia playback – the huge 3.5 inch display is also a bonus in this area.
Multiple gigabytes of internal storage was appealing to me a few years ago when SD memory cards maxed out at 512MB and cost over $100 but with the current availability of 8GB SD cards for about $50 each (I use four) I am more than happy with the memory expansion capabilities that the Treo provides. In contrast, the iPhone’s 4 or 8GB of internal storage is not bad at all but it does not provide the same level of flexibility as SD.
Ten days ago Apple released new information pointing out that its original claim of 5 hours talk time was actually low and it now projects the iPhone to have 8 hours instead as well as 6 hours internet use, 7 hours video playback and a full 24 hours audio playback. For its part the Treo averages 4 to 5 hours of talk time.
However, although the above iPhone claims are certainly very good it suffers from the fact that it does not benefit from a removable battery which means that when the phone is dead there’s nothing that you can do unless you’re next to a power outlet. In contrast, with the availability of standard and extended batteries the Treo can keep going for as long as you like.
As was to be expected from Apple the iPhone delivers a gorgeous slick industrial design that clearly touches you with its beauty and elegance. It’s ultra-thin (11.6mm vs. 21mm for Treo), offers a large high resolution display covered in glass that offers solid scratch protection as well as a side mute switch like the one that Palm famously introduced first on the Treo. Additionally, it also includes built-in WiFi, Bluetooth 2.0 and a 2 megapixel camera.
In comparision, this is the area that Palm has stumbled on and suffered from most in the past year having made only modest product design improvements or innovations since the release of the Treo 650/700. I personally love my Treo 680 but few people will stop to tell me how beautiful it is… Having said this, the iPhone can also afford to be better looking since at $599 (8GB model) it is significantly more expensive than a Treo.
Above all the one thing that the iPhone has in buckets that I would certainly like the Treo to regain is its undeniable “coolness” factor – the fact is that the Treo is still great but it has without a doubt lost some of its edge through lack of product design, software innovation and poor marketing which all need to be urgently addressed.
Additionally, I would specifically like developers of Treo multimedia software such as Pocket Tunes, CorePlayer and SplashPhoto to get their act together to be able to deliver solutions to match the superior music, movie and photo playback capabilities of the iPhone. I would also like to see Palm taking the lead in setting a clear software and multimedia strategy working closely with these developers to ensure the best results.
Will I get an iPhone to test? Of course. Will I switch from my Treo and use the iPhone daily or will it end up like my old iPod gathering dust in a drawer? I think that I’ll be keeping my Treo for some time to come but not without yearning to see innovations like those the iPhone delivers in future Treo models. Having said this, if Apple were to release an iPhone with a full keyboard I think that my decision would be considerably more difficult.
Top 5 iPhone Wins
- Ultra Hip & Cool
- Amazing Multimedia
- Stunning User Interface + Look & Feel
- Best-of-Breed Web Browser
- Gorgeous Product Design
Top 5 Treo Wins
- Usability: Quick & Easy
- Dozens of Personal + Corporate Software/Email Solutions
- Terrific Keyboard + Dedicated Hardware Buttons
- Thousands of Applications Available (from games to GPS)
Treonauts are always part of a revolution…