Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Comprehensive iPhone comparison to three other handsets

Information Week has an interesting comparison of the iPhone with the Palm Treo 755p, the RIM BlackBerry Curve, and the HTC Wing. David DeJean, the author, was looking at how these phones (the latest in their respective lines) handled Web browsing as compared to the iPhone. Along the way he came up with three rules to govern them all:
  • Rule #1: Does it have a full keyboard?
  • Rule #2: The more pixels, the better.
  • Rule #3: Browser features matter -- a lot.
I'll cut to his conclusions:
One thing that became obvious to me as I looked at these various Web interfaces is that data speed isn't as important as good software. Even with improvements like the upgrade of Windows Mobile to Version 6 and the spread of touchscreen support on smartphones, not much has changed. If you didn't like the PocketPC there's still a lot not to like about Windows Mobile and its Mini-Me version of Internet Explorer. Palm still hasn't delivered its next-generation operating system for the Treo line, and BlackBerry's browser remains essentially unchanged.

What the Treo, Blackberry and Wing have in common is a reliance on a menu-driven user interface (taken to an extreme in Windows Mobile), hardware that simply isn't up to the task of supporting a fully functional Web browser, and browser software that tries to do something like Web browsing with both its hands tied behind its back. Going forward these deficiencies will be even more obvious as Web services and Web-delivered applications get more sophisticated.

The good news, as you might expect, is the Apple iPhone. The genius of Apple is its ability, over and over again, to completely reinvent, from the ground up, the user interface for hardware, and to support it with brilliant software. Web browsing on the iPhone is a paradigm shift, a completely different experience -- just as the BlackBerry was, in its time, a paradigm shift.

The elements of the technology that makes the iPhone so different will find their way into other devices, just as the BlackBerry's thumbpad and push e-mail have become more or less standard on smartphones. Touchscreens and direct interaction with the Web page will become standards of their own sort because they've come along just in time as computing, both personal and business, moves to the Web.
Ignoring the overly lavish praise, the second paragraph stands out. Basically where Apple got it right and so many others get it wrong is a poor interface coupled with slow hardware.

The iPhone came out of the chute with a 620MHz ARM processor, while everybody else is half that speed. The processor rules, folks. It always has, and it always will. The last time I saw such as fast ARM in anything was Dell's Axim X51v with a 624MHz XScale 270 running Windows Mobile 5. And Dell has since discontinued that model.

And the interface. Love it or hate it, the iPhone's touch-screen-only interface means never having to use (or loose) another damn stylus. The industry's slavish adherence to the menu interface no matter what has simply transfered our frustrations from the dominant Windows platform to the mobile platform. And we, of course, have Microsoft to thank for that with its Windows Mobile platform. Palm attempted to modify that with its Pilots back in the day, but it was only a hybrid solution at best, with the menus hidden up on the top edge and still requiring a stylus. Apple blows all of that away, and in the process scares the bejesus out of the ultra conservative handset makers, particularly Microsoft. Is the Apple interface any good? Only time will tell.

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