I’ve been asked a number of times for my opinions on various smart phones. Rather than go thru the merits of each every single time I am asked, I figured I might as well write down my opinions. Some of the following I don’t even technically consider smart phones but I will include them as the questions have been asked. Why don’t I consider some smart phones? Usually it comes down to adaptability. A smart phone’s primary purpose is to organize your information and it’s never the same method for everyone. Without adaptability it simply can’t be a perfect device for everyone, or even a majority of the population.
Android is a relative new comer to the advance phone business. This system has a lot of potential, but implementation errors from the start make this system a shaky competitor. A number of hardware platforms have been released, so at least Google’s inexplicable decision to refuse to test release hardware and go with the dev hardware that constitutes the original G1 can be ignored. That said, the fact that there are so many inconsistencies when it comes to the GUI and internal rules that control the system, the software definitely speaks of how not to do a polished, easy-to-use device. As each component behaves differently, every single function presents a distinct learning curve. The software really feels like it would benefit from the touch of Marissa Mayer and her site usability team. One gets the impression from the current state of the software, and the quality of the G1 hardware that Google was trying to drive home the message that their products are still beta (despite the price tag) and meant for early adopters. Users who aren’t interested in the devices as anything other than a second phone, or don’t have a real need for a mobile device, need not apply.
Symbian has perhaps the oldest heritage of the systems that I shall cover. The ancestry can be traced back to the coding offices of PSION, arguably one of the most successful of early handheld computer manufacturers. Through the years the operating system has gone through many iterations and has a number of fragmented ROMS that the current developer prefers to call user interfaces. In its early days, Symbian showed much promise,. But at this point it proves a greater danger to itself then other systems do. Even the Symbian development community is confuse as to the differences between the various fragments. This results in a number of Symbian third party applications that claim to install on a given fragment but simply cannot. The proves to be a costly and painful issue for users looking for such applications. Combined with GUI designs that are often described as unimaginative and unrefined, Symbian has seen a decline in the number of handsets that it features on.
RIM’s Blackberry devices are an interesting case. Blackberry’s existence is almost entirely supported by the continued presence it enjoys in the world of finance and business. The interface is boring, stale, and unimaginative. That said for what it’s intended and the market it caters to, it is perfectly designed. As someone who often deals with security, I find security, or the nebulousness around it to be RIM’s Achilles’ heel. All email is funneled through and “optimized” on RIM’s servers. This frightens me when we talk about a company that frequently and accidently invites line workers to confidential board meetings. I could never sign my name to any document claiming trust in this company regardless of monetary compensation plans made in an SLA. The following is conjecture but also food for thought .. very unsettling food for me. RIM was once barred entrance from certain countries due to intelligence requirements. Namely countries like China require full access to emails at their discretion and often without need to notify users or even RIM. (Of course this only relates to blackberries used in the respective countries.) With these conditions one assumes the mechanism would be a tool that access the RIM network and extracts whatever information the intelligence organization requires. At least one of these countries have allowed RIM to enter their market in the last three years. If we accept a premise that this would only be allowed if an email extraction tool was made available; one begins to wonder who can get access to such a tool and how can it be exploited. Suffice to say, to much remains out of the control of either the end user or the sys-admin for me to rest comfortably with this system.
Apple’s iPhone … anything I write here will likely be attacked with a zealotus fury. One wonders if this is a strike against the system in itself. Apple’s app store provides a good gate keeping system that, in theory, provides for a complete set of internally consistent UI rules. That said, third party apps not being multi-run is a clear issue for making this device adaptable. Customizations are limited to that which Apple will allow. Even should on hack the OS, limitations exist to allow only the smallest adjustments. I find the interface limited, basic and almost childish in its artistic choices. I take my strongest issue with multi-touch technology. Apple bought the multi-touch technology by buying out FingerWorks and shutting them down. To this day apple hasn’t release a cross platform keyboard to replace the functionality they locked away. I say locked away because the set of gestures available from apple are woefully inadequate compared to the set offered by FingerWorks. My final worry is that the iPhone has inherited a security hole present in every version of the MAC OS released in the past decade. (I say hole not bug as it’s acting according to design and trivial to bypass with the proper freeware.) Bottom line, the culture of the company is 15 years behind in the area of security, and makes the device even more unsettling to me than the Blackberry.
This just leaves my current poison, Windows Mobile. I’ve had a chance to use every version of WINCe since 2.0 right up to its transition to a mobile phone environment. Windows’ handheld form facto has always been a promising base for the handheld market, but Microsoft and carrier GUI implementation have time and again done a disservice to the codebase. Luckily it’s always been very well support by third party applications allowing for easy customization. Additionally, the MS dev network allows for a strong background and guidelines; this, in turn, has surprisingly reinforced strong and consistent internal GUI rules. Windows Mobile recently owes a great deal to the programmers at HTC. They have put the final polish onto the Windows Mobile interface. Assuming you have the proper hardware paired with HTC’s polish, a sold product can easily be formed on the stability and security that has become intrinsic to the modern Windows Mobile environment.