Every time I hear someone rave about how some new cell phone is going to kill some other cell phone, I get a little twitchy. Certainly some of this feeling comes from the same place that their angst comes from: The feeling that you’re spending several hundred dollars on a phone and several thousand dollars on a plan to be locked in for a year or two using that phone and you want it to retain it’s shiny “best new phone” status. Sadly, it never does, because new phones come out every year.

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that most of the reason we don’t see any uber-phone released - a single device that does everything very well - is because they’re simply taking their time adding the features consumers want just to make them long for the next year’s phone release. The phone manufacturers are like cocaine dealers in that respect. It’s kind of dirty. But we knew the cell companies were dirty, didn’t we?

Anyway, I have my own thoughts about phone platforms, how they stack up, and their future.

Palm Pre

I’m no Apple lover. But I do own an iPhone. There were two primary reasons for switching from my Pre. The first reason is that the Pre’s battery life was terrible. I go to conferences and my phone needs to last the whole day of me making calls, sending texts, and using the internet. The Pre couldn’t do it. I’d have to charge mid-day just to make it the whole way through, and that was unacceptable. From a hardware standpoint, that’s pretty much the nail in the coffin.

The second reason is more a social one. While all of my friends are talking about their iPhones and playing their games and using the apps that are iPhone-exclusive, I’m not. So there’s the issue of peer groups leading to making a technology choice.

It’s funny how well this relates to role playing groups I’ve dealt with in the past. There are little islands of roleplaying groups all over the country, each playing their own favorite game. Sure, you can try to convince people to play your game, but it’s usually easiest just to consent to playing whatever they like. It’s the same with video game consoles. If all your friends play Wii, then you should have a Wii to play with them. If you have the XBox, you’re the outcast in the group of Wii players. I think this is a restriction that phones (and all technology, really, but that’s a completely separate thought) should not have, and one of the things that the manufacturers/carriers will lead us on with as they start to run out of new features to woo us with over the years. But for now, there’s no sharing between makes of phones.

The bottom line: The Pre has an excellent operating system, but somewhat underpowered hardware. Coupled with a poorly-timed ramp-up to launch, Palm kind of botched something that could have been good. My theory is that had Palm launched the Pre within a month of CES, they could have at least avoided the Droid buzz (which was fueled by deep-welled Verizon ad money) and capitalized on the hype they generated. Instead, they waited months. Their hype cooled and was replaced by excitement for Droid.


Here’s my take on Android: It’s crap.

I’m not saying it’s crap because I’m an iPhone owner. I’ve used it, and it’s junk. That’s not to say it’ll always be that way. It’s basically got all of the faults of an open operating system.

This is the crazy paradox. The Droid lovers all tout Android’s openness as its strength. And that’s fine. Generally, that is a strength. But Droid is like Linux. When Linux was young, many enthusiastic Linux developers jumped at it, creating all sorts of applications. But nobody really understood UX at the time. As a result, no two apps worked the same way, looked the same way, or shared any kind of common interface guidelines. The same is what’s currently going on with Droid, but on a more advanced and visible level.

There is a second point that I find difficult to convey to proponents of Android, which is that the Droid model of producing a mobile OS is the exact same model that Microsoft used when they launched Windows Mobile. Usually at this point, the Droid folks plug their ears and start saying “la la la la”.

Microsoft built Windows Mobile as a mobile platform OS. Yes, it was terrible. Why? Because Microsoft never intended it to be put directly on a device as-is and left to rot. They expected each phone manufacturer to customize the OS to suit their needs, but leave the underlying core there so that there would be some fundamental interoperability between devices. Really, that’s a great-sounding idea. You can see that this is finally starting to take off (after how many years?) in some of the newer HTC devices that still use Windows Mobile 6.

Windows Phone

Many problems with this platform are evident simply in the name. Microsoft took some of its most recent design inspiration and slapped the familiar “Windows” name on it. I kind of half think that the culture at Microsoft is blind to how the rest of the world perceives them, and half think that they’re trying to aim what is clearly a consumer-oriented phone at businesses that “trust” the Windows name. I suppose that they failed with the release of the Kin, which is a better attempt at a name than the dry “Windows Phone”, but I think that may be more a fault of releasing another Windows Mobile 6 device right before Windows Phone was released.

Nonetheless, I think there are a number of things the platform does correctly. The advertising is interesting in that it has managed to focus on some of these things. For one, the home screen is informational, which is great. The user interface is also pretty dreamy in parts. I’ve always liked the look of the Zune HD (ug, yet another Microsoft platform that I should be put in charge of making significantly better) and all of its transition animation.

I haven’t actually seen a Windows Phone first hand, but I’ve heard a couple of things. They’re currently somewhat glitchy. This is surprising, considering that it’s Microsoft we’re talking about. Say what you will, Microsoft software may not do things how you want (and might have good reason) but at least is hasn’t been outright buggy, which is why the Windows Phone is something of a surprise. Also, if app launching is anything like the Zune HD, I’d give up immediately. The concept of “loading” needs to die; taking 10 seconds to boot a phone app would make the difference between using the Windows Phone and using some other phone.


I’ve been living with the iPhone for a while now. I never wanted to. What strikes me about Apple products is that, sure, they do what they set out to, and there’s a reasonable amount of flash to it, but then that’s it. You get what you get and that’s all.

There are two prime examples of this. One is the interaction between applications. Things like this drive me crazy. Why does every app need its own integrated web browser? Why can’t I create photo albums inside the phone without iTunes? (Oh, I’ll get to iTunes in a moment.) Why can’t applications easily share data? It seems simple, and I understand Apple’s reluctance to resort to exposing a filesystem (hey, look at the Droid mess), but there’s got to be a better compromise.

The other example of “getting what you get” is the home screen. It’s changed minimally in how many years? Windows Phone has it right: When you turn on the phone, you should get some information instead of having to crawl through thirty apps on the phone to accumulate it.

Apple’s reluctance to let app devs integrate more deeply with their hardware (like with Camera+’s take-over of the volume button to use as a shutter) is understandable, but bizarre. The need to jailbreak the phone to allow these features is such in demand that there is a whole independently-run app store that caters to people with these needs.


There certainly have been many innovations in smartphones in the past couple of years. I’m anxious to see what is to come. The continuing problem with phones is that no single manufacturer seems interested in evolution at the same time as focusing on the user experience.