Hello iPhone! Or, How I’ll Miss You SideKick :-(

About a month ago I switched from a being an avid Sidekick user (and fanboy) to a 3G iPhone. I had used a Sidekick for five or six years, starting with the Sidekick 1 (Color) and my last one was a Sidekick 3. I really loved my Sidekick. (The Sidekick was designed by Danger, and was/is also known as the Hiptop. The actual phone was manufactured at different times by different companies, including Sharp and Motorola, while Danger provided the software and data services). The funny thing was that in business meetings, I was often the only one who had a Sidekick, and invariably someone would mention Paris Hilton. Sadly, Danger seemed to have missed the boat on the utility of the Sidekick for C-level types like myself and other business people. Their focus shouldn’t have been exclusively on the teen and 20’s crowd, as the Sidekick, in my opinion, was a better product than Blackberries.

Why did I leave the Sidekick? Here are some reasons:

  • My Sidekick was beginning to show its age, and the new Sidekicks really didn’t offer much of a technological advance.
  • I have been a Mac user since 1984. The Sidekick did not provide any means to sync up with my Mac. The most notable problem with this is that I would have contacts that were exclusively on my Sidekick or on my Mac, and I would have to manually transfer the info from one to the other.
  • The Sidekick’s web browser would not allow you to zoom into a webpage and many times I would be left looking at text that was far too small to read or buttons or pop-ups too small to see. If the page had columns/frames, then there was some hope that you could scroll through the different columns/frames. You also could not open more than one web page at a time. And there were limits on what sort of things you could click on a web page.
  • The email app only handled three POP or IMAP accounts (plus a “pushed” tmail.com account, but this belongs in the advantages lists). I had patiently waited from early on, for Danger to implement SPAM filtering and other mail-rule processing on the server side, allowing people to limit what actually made it to the phone, or having better organization, and while I heard this was being worked on, I didn’t feel like I would see this functionality anytime soon.
  • Sucky camera.
  • No 802.11.
  • No 3G.
  • Their lack of attention to the business market worried me. A Swarovski crystal encrusted Sidekick was a waste of resources that should have been aimed at creating a better browser or a touch screen…
When the iPhone first came out, I played with it extensively. Eventually I decided that until it had a real IM client and pushed email service, I would have to wait. When I got news of the iPhone 3G’s capabilities, including those two wishlist items, I figured it was time. Unfortunately, I didn’t really wait long enough to verify how Apple had implemented that functionality. Still, though, the iPhone provided a lot of great technology and the promise of features/functionality evolving and getting better seemed more likely than with the Sidekick.

Here’s my list of things I love about the iPhone:

  • A web browser (Safari) that shows you web pages as they were meant to be seen, and then lets you zoom in and out, and click on anything and everything
  • A phone app that is well integrated with the Address Book, VM, and Bluetooth.
  • Apps, apps, apps… all sorts of them. Like a WordPress app so I don’t have to use a web page when instead I can have a native app knowing and taking advantage of the iPhone’s UI and functionality.
With any new (and overhyped) technology, comes curmudgeons like me who have to critique it and tell everyone why it really isn’t as good as it all is made out to be. And of course, that’s where I come in.
Here’s my list of iPhone misses. I have faith though that Apple is hard at work with a list much larger, and we will see improvements. In case they may have missed some important shortcoming, this list should help. If you have suggestions you’d like added to the list, send them to me in the comments section and I’ll revise this list with your suggestions (and your name).
  • Battery life! Come on! I can’t believe that even with light usage I have to recharge the phone every six to eight hours, sometimes less, rarely more. For some reason this seems to be worse if you are on the road – too many cell tower switches?
  • Everyone knows that the iPhone needs Cut-Copy-Paste support. But how about the ability to select text, exclusively for deletion? A “Select All” would be handy if nothing else – too may times a field contains text (like address or text fields in Safari) and the only way to clear it is to backspace one char at a time (there is no “x” to click to clear it)
  • Tab between fields; shift-tab backwards. Yes, some text fields come with a next and previous button (and that same area should sport a “Select All”, “Copy”, “Paste” button also), but these buttons don’t seem to consistently be available.
  • When typing, change keypad character to reflect lower case if the Shift button is not pressed and upper case if it is.
  • Shift-backspace for forward delete? Symbol-backspace for word delete?
  • Where is local search? I want a search that looks in email, in my notes, in my application data. Not having a search in email is bad. Since I can’t sort by sender, or Subject, I should at least be able to find by sender; for email, at a minimum search for sender and subject line are required. Searching the content would also be very useful.
  • A good percentage websites sport Adobe Flash as an integral part of their user experience. iPhone does not handle Flash. This must change.
  • How to add photos to an email already in progress? I can start in the photos app and then email a photo, but I don’t see how to add pictures to an email once an email has been started (by hitting reply or clicking a mailto: link in Safari).
  • No rollover/hover support in web browsing. Also, no way to force a “Open in new page”, and no way of right clicking on a link to copy it or save an enclosure to email, etc. Also, what’s with replacing a web page’s popup menus with a silly scroll list?
  • Mail’s handling of different email accounts is poor and tedious. To go from reading the inbox of one account to another, I have to click back to the list of email folders, and then click back again to the list of accounts and then click on the other email account and then the Inbox of that account. Four clicks to go from one account’s inbox to another. This is forcing me to forward all my email to one account so I don’t have to keep clicking up and down the hierarchy to get between my four accounts.
  • How about mail handling rules? Obviously the iPhone’s e-mail can handle multiple mailboxes. How about allowing mail rules to move messages into appropriate folders, or delete them, or color them red? This would be especially useful in flattening the cumbersome hierarchy of multiple e-mail accounts, each with its own set of inboxes, etc.
  • No AirTunes support for playing music to remote speakers? This would ROCK!
  • I’m sure this is just a bug, but how come I can’t listen to my VMs with my Plantronics Bluetooth earphone?
  • Is the iPhone so battery starved that I can’t get real volume on the ring tones or sound alerts? Or is the anemic speaker the biggest that would fit in the iPhone? Unfortunately, the vibrator inside is rather puny and lethargic too.
  • When I click on links in email (or elsewhere), I’d like the links to load first before I am taken to Safari. And let me open multiple links from whatever e-mail or else I am reading.
  • Is iTunes really the most appropriate application for syncing the iPhone. This is a bit of a philosophical discussion, but given how music is just one of many things the iPhone can do, shouldn’t there be a better way to sync? And I am not just talking about the name, “iTunes”, which doesn’t quite fit when you’re using it to upload movies, contacts, apps, etc. No, as an example, I read and send email using my Mac and my iPhone. The sent mail is stored on each device, and is never sync’ed up. That’s not right. iTunes or a new iPhone Sync should sync the sent folders with each other. I know IMAP can do some of this, but IMAP leaves a lot to be desired (like e-mails that say, “this message has not been downloaded from the server” and there is no way to force the download when you should be able to). Same thing with photos taken on the iPhone, and any and all data created by apps.
  • A series of icons along top edge that can report on the status of emails, VMs, SMS, etc.
  • A carrier that has a better network. I can’t believe I am saying this, but T-Mobile seemed to have a more reliable voice network than AT&T. I get quite a few dropped calls, and also find that I cannot make calls in places where I had service minutes or hours before.
  • Now here’s the BIGGIE. What do you mean apps can’t work in the background?!? I can’t believe that I can’t start a few web pages loading and then go off and read e-mail, or play a game or… What do you mean that IMs sent to me can’t be received unless I am in the AIM app at the time? You mena I can’t read an email or a web page while waiting for an IM to arrive? Ah, does Apple realize that the IM app and many others becomes close to useless because of this lack of backgrounding? Um, Apple, do you remember the old Mac 128K-SE era where there was no Switcher, or MultiFinder? Were you trying to replicate that? (If you’re going with “the good ole times” motif, then don’t forget the joy of never-ending floppy disk swapping). This issue goes beyond IMs and web pages loading in the background. This really should be fixed. Whether it is fixed by the OS calling some background task within each app that needs one, or each app gets to install a driver, there has got to be a way for apps to stay partially awake/alive and maintain network and other connectivity. I understand that this may be the exact reason why Apple doesn’t provide this functionality: that AT&T and other network providers don’t want apps that stay attached to the network. Come on though – Sidekick does it, Blackberries do it, and Apple can’t? Besides, don’t you sell iPod Touches that are great alternatives to an iPhone, with no carrier to worry about, yet even they can’t have apps running in the background? Or maybe this is not a carrier problem but a power/battery issue. Still, it makes no sense keeping apps from doing some background work. I can think of a few useful apps that would be useless without background processing.
I’m sure I’ll discover more little omitions and bugs. Check back later for an updated list. And if you know someone on the iPhone team, feel free to forward this posting to him/her.
Before I go, it’s only fair to list what I miss about my Sidekick:
  • The keyboard. I could type at a nice clip, rarely hitting the wrong key, and loved the positive feedback a real keyboard provides. In fact, I could type without looking at the keys on the Sidekick, which I can’t really do on a real computer keyboard!
  • An IM client that was on all the time and would notify me immediatelyof new IMs. Communicating via IM seemed just as fast as if I were IMing from my Mac. Not like SMS messaging which has sending and receiving delays. My usage of SMS dropped and I used IM instead. I think I sent less than a hundred SMS messages over the 6 year period.
  • One “pushed” email account that came free with the standard service and it worked very well. A message sent would typically make it to the phone in a few seconds.
  • Little icons at the top of the screen that were visible no matter which app you were in, notifying you of new VMs, IMs, emails, and if the web browser was done loading a page. (I think it had one for SMS too, but I rarely used SMS.)
  • Great editing support. Backspace and forward-delete, line delete and “Select All”. There was even an Edit menu in most apps, allowing for cut-copy-paste.
  • A 30+ hour battery life even on days the Sidekick was actively used. I could get up in the morning, take the Sidekick off the charger, spend the day using it, get on a red-eye and fly to the East Coast, land and still have enough power to get me through the day, without having to recharge the thing.
  • My best Sidekick story was the time I was Instant Messaging my wife in California, as I walked the old shopping district in Shanghai, then took pictures of traditional Chinese dresses and e-mailed them to her so she could then tell me which she liked best. All from the Sidekick, all within a few minutes.
  • Last, but not least, the Sidekick had a nice speaker and any of its ringtones or alert sounds were quite audible. In addition, vibrate mode was much more noticeable than the iPhones.
Well, I do wish Danger and Sidekick well – competition is what best moves technology along. I’d also like to ask Apple to listen to iPhone users and talk to those who use alternatives. The iPhone 3G is a great device. Yet, it can be, oh, so much better!

2007/9/10 UPDATE:  I saw Apple’s announcement of iPhone OS 2.1, and its availability later this week. Check back later for an updated report.
Here is my 2.1 Update report.

~ by mz on August 29, 2008.

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