SmartPhones: Do your homework

iphoneYou may be shocked (or delighted!) to know that I just have a cell phone, not one of those fancy “smartphones” that is a cell phone and mini-computer. I definitely don’t fit into the mainstream here, as organizations and individuals are buying these portable multi-function devices faster than you can say Blackberry. The following information from eWeek provides a powerful picture of the future:

According to IDC’s five-year mobile enterprise device usage forecast, worldwide shipments of corporate mobile devices will surge at a compound annual growth rate of 54%, to more than 82 million units shipped in 2011. . . According to IDC analyst Sean Ryan, more than 40 percent of U.S. workers have “mobilized themselves” by purchasing devices for both business and personal use.

blackberrySo why haven’t I “mobilized myself?” Quite frankly, it’s not that I don’t WANT to use one of these devices . . . it’s just that I’ve not FOUND one that meets all of my needs and at the same time simplifies my life. For most of my mobile work, for instance, I simply take my Apple laptop with me to record notes, view my schedule, make appointments, or do quick research on something. (And yes, I DO take a notebook and pen.) Those little smartphones aren’t as easy for me to use. But then, I don’t do a lot of business travel or need to be on call to perform brain surgery. On the other hand . . . I WOULD like a device that could provide me with the following 10 basic features:

  1. Cell phone
  2. Calendar entry/synchronization with my iCalendar (that gets its info from my Google calendar feeds)
  3. Contact information
  4. Email access
  5. Unlimited web browsing (no limits on data and/or time)
  6. Open platform so I can upload Google mobile apps and other new applications/widgets
  7. Touch screen
  8. Flash enabled (so I can view videos and other multimedia content)
  9. Lightweight, small, easy to read and operate
  10. Downloads and syncs with iTunes

Given those basic features, the one device that seems to meet them all is the iPhone. I’ve been reading off and on about this amazing device, and it appears that it is just getting better and better. Google already has some applications that can be downloaded to the iPhone to improve functionality, especially with Gmail’s new IMAP feature. (IMAP is a type of mail protocol that instantly synchronizes your email with remote devices. For instance, if you are using Outlook, you can connect to your Gmail via the IMAP protocol. If you make a change on your Gmail account in your Outlook email client, that change is automatically synchronized to your Gmail account when you look at it online. By the way, GroupWise also offers an IMAP feature.)

Apple is advertising more SDK (software development kit) upgrades available this February 2008. Take a look at the Apple iPhone website and see some of the new downloads already available for the iPhone (there are already over 600 web apps available): http://www.apple.com/webapps/

A web app that caught my eye is called “mindful,” and it helps you track the food you eat every day, to help you lose (or gain) weight. It includes a food database and might make a person more “mindful” of what (s)he eats. Need an instant metronome? No problem . . . you can download Mymetronome and have it on your iPhone. Need some extra light to find those car keys at the end of your day? If you had downloaded vFlashlight to your iPhone, you could turn that into a flashlight. I’m not kidding! But let’s keep moving . . .

For me, one of the most important differences with the iPhone is the unlimited data usage. Most cell phone services charge you for time you are online. With an iPhone you can surf the web as long as you want (provided you have access to a wireless Internet network). 🙂

There are some drawbacks/considerations you’ll need to know about when considering an iPhone purchase:

  1. The iPhone uses a touch screen interface. This has its advantages, but some people might be missing the keyboards that are part of some Palm devices (the Treo) and the ubiquitous Blackberrys we see here on campus. People who like a keyboard may not like the touch screen aspect of the iPhone.
  2. You may not be able to synchronize your iPhone with GroupWise. I cannot find any information that OIT supports it in synchronizing with GroupWise. For faculty and staff who rely heavily on GroupWise, this could be a real problem. (However, if we are going to switch to Google tools in the next year, maybe OIT WILL support the iPhone.)
  3. The iPhone price tag: $399 seems pretty hefty (until you start looking at Blackberry prices.)
  4. Being locked in to one cell phone carrier (AT&T). It’s possible that the iPhone will be available as an “unlocked” phone (meaning that you can use it with any carrier, provided you have their SIM chip) in the future, but there are no guarantees.
  5. Apparently the battery cannot be replaced, which would be a real drag, since you would need to buy another iPhone.

If you are struggling to figure out what kind of mobile device to get, do your homework:

  1. Decide what’s important to you and then try to find the device that most closely matches those needs.
  2. Know that you will need to learn how to use the darn thing and also spend some time customizing it and making it work with your various programs on your computer.
  3. And as always, let me know if you’ve found any other information about this topic and what you would recommend. I’m all ears, as usual.
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