The processing power in new mobile phones is typically only seven years behind that of a laptop. Early reports suggest the forthcoming Windows 7 platform may work on a lower hardware specification than Vista, so we may see the trend for ever more powerful PCs beginning to subside, increasing the potential for phones to catch up with their bigger cousins.
One of the major changes in mobile devices over the last 12 months has been a proliferation of PDA-type phones offering a full Qwerty keyboard or a virtual equivalent.
When I looked at emerging trends in mobile telephony in September 2007 (see Smart thinking, Money Marketing September 27, 2007 page 56) the iPhone was frankly underpowered relative to the alternatives.
This summer, Apple delivered a 3G iPhone complete with many of the other goodies that were missing on the original version. Does what is undoubtedly the coolest looking phone around now meet the needs of the highly mobile business user?
A couple of months ago, I decided it was time to find out and invested my own cash in buying an iPhone. The 3G version is a great bit of kit. The interface is a joy, simplicity itself, and should be an object lesson to anyone building software applications. When compared with the endless lists and menus used by other phone operating system, the iPhone is on another planet. Overall, I would describe the phone as flawed genius. It is a really good phone, easy to use, perfect for reading email on the go and browsing the internet but when it comes to writing emails and, in my case, longer articles, the virtual keyboard is just not practical.
Ironically, this appears to be something Apple could fix with a software upgrade. The browser is famous for changing orientation from portrait to landscape but the virtual keyboard only ever appears in portrait mode. This means that unless you have very small thumbs it is virtually impossible not to hit the wrong keys.
Interestingly, Blackberry has delivered exactly this feature in its new Storm 9500 unit. Also, while I do not find it a problem, the camera, at two megapixels, is seriously underpowered relative to the five megapixels that come with many new devices.
It is also worth remembering that the iPhone is also an iPod, so you do have the world’s best mobile music player sitting on your phone. But if you want to use this facility, it is essential to upgrade from the horrible white bud headphones that come with the phone.
But much as I love my iPhone, the reality is that it is not what I need as a mobile business device. In the last year, this column has frequently been written on my current business phone, an HTC TyTn II, while travelling on London Underground, planes, trains and in the back of taxis. Because of the limit- ations of the keyboard, this is not practical with the iPhone.
If the iPhone is not the answer for the road warrior, what other solutions are out there? For the last couple of weeks, I have been testing a couple of alternatives. First, the HTC Touch Pro, which is effectively the successor to my current TyTn II, and Sony’s slick looking Xperia X1. Both are touchscreen phones with real slideout Qwerty keyboards running on the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system.
The new operating system is a clear step up from its predecessor but in each case I found myself longing for my old phone. If you understand Windows you are going to understand Windows Mobile and the 6.1 release is far clearer and cleaner than its predecessor. Although not a touch on the iPhone, it is adequate.
Each of the new devices is about a third smaller than I am used to and this is the problem. What mobile phone providers do not seem to have grasped yet is that there is a minimum size below which it is not practical to use a keyboard for an extended period.
My previous TyTn II has a keyboard which is compact but enables you to distinguish easily between each key so errors are minimal and I can just about touch-type with it. Each key is big enough to be distinct and it is a real keyboard so you can feel it as you depress the keys.
With the Touch Pro, everything is just too close together. It uses highly intelligent predictive text which tries to guess every word but is very intrusive. Unusually, the Touch Pro also has a video out key to link with a cable, not supplied as standard, to an external TV monitor. This can be used for PowerPoint, YouTube and internet browsing but not, as far as I could find, Word, which would have been really useful.
Of the two, the Sony wins prizes when it comes to looks and there is a lot more space between the keys but the keyboard is metal. Trying to use it over an extended period of time was distinctly uncomfortable.
Overall, neither phone convinced me they were a better alternative to my current solution, primarily because I believe the manufacturers are trying to make them too small.
Not only does this limit the keyboard but minimises the screen size which is essential for browsing and reading email. These are both areas where the iPhone wins.
For now, I will be sticking with my trusty TyTn II so I can both send and receive mail on the road and my iPhone as, well, a phone, and iPod.
I am continuing to look for the ideal business mobile and will report back if my search is successful.
Perfection would be an iPhone with a slideout keyboard and room for two Sim cards, one from a business number one, one for private, in a single device. Now that really would be amazing.