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There’s an APP for that!

Nokia 9000Way back in 1996 I purchased the first Nokia “Smartphone” – the Nokia 9000, a great big brick of a phone with a horrible black and white display –  at the time this was rocket science, exciting and ultimately a little useless. Once I got over the shock of realising that my home in Newcastle was in a dip and there was no chance of an Orange signal, I began an ongoing relationship with smart phones that continues to this day.

Orange SPVAround 2002, Orange released details of it’s first Microsoft-based Smartphone, the SPV and I started encouraging others to use this – disaster – the main button dropped off after a while and the operating system and applications needed regular rebooting. This then was the start of a long climb to find the perfect phone. I’ve been using Microsoft mobile phones from the earliest models onwards, every day, 365 days a year. I never keep a phone for more than a year and at times I’ve had two.

I’ve also used Nokias and for a brief moment Blackberry… and I’ve written simple programs for them. I use Microsoft Exchange (which for me is an essential part of my working life) and I make heavy use of shared calendars at work. I’ve had several of them in bits experimenting with aerials and I’m not afraid to try upgrading – XDA developers group being one of my favourite haunts.

So I think I know a little about mobile phones.

The original Pocket PC phone offerings from the likes of HTC and their predecessors didn’t work – it’s as simple as that. Between operating system crashes and poor quality mechanics, they were a disaster. I committed myself to supplying these to our organisation and regretted every minute of it initially…  but I stuck with it, after all, Microsoft were improving their operating systems after disasters like Windows ME… and XP was coming along just nicely – it was logical to expect the phone software would improve.

New HTCAnd indeed it did. Today we have a combination of reliable hardware and powerful software in the likes of the HTC Touch II, a horrendously expensive but beautiful phone which is solid in construction and reliable. Of course NO-ONE has yet cracked the short battery life problem – essentially if you have a bright, pretty colour display you’re going to get a day or two max out of your battery no matter who’s phone it is. The new HTCs have it all, glamour, reliability and solid applications.  So why have I just bought an i-Phone?

Firstly I should clarify – I’m a Windows man – I think Windows 7 is wonderful, especially the new 64-bit version… but I’m beginning to wonder if Microsoft should have stuck to desktops as they clearly don’t have the time to devote to the phone market. They were out long before the iPhone and have massive marketing budgets combined with some of the best developers – and yet the i-Phone has a higher market share and most importantly, has APPS.

Microsoft have of course jumped on the bandwagon with their APP store – which is frankly pathetic – maybe a couple of hundred applications few of which are exciting and some of which are very expensive. Meanwhile back at iTunes, the app store has untold THOUSANDS of apps, many free, many a few pence, few more than a couple of quid. Visiting the app store brings on a Christmas-like feeling and an urge to download anything that moves… which I just did.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all going smoothly – NOTHING involving Orange ever goes smoothly. The phone is all working except for the SIM and NOW they’ve decided they should not have sold me this as there is no signal near my home – I’ve been telling Orange that for 10 years!!!  I’m off now to a hill to battle it out with them – hopefully my old SIM will keep working for a while.

But what about the phone? The iPhone itself is nothing remarkable – it’s how it is used that is remarkable. The phone has the now mandatory Bluetooth, wifi and GPS hardware and like the HTCs it also has position-sensing hardware – unlike most of the others in addition it also has a compass.  It is the COMBINATION of these used with very clever “apps” that sets the iPhone apart from the others – that and very smooth operation that just seems “natural”. Battery life is unremarkable but then the phone is THIN and that counts for a lot.

Ever noticed that graphics in Windows-based applications are rarely “smooth” – they tend to jump around – and that applies as much in the mobile world as elsewhere. Well, that simply does not happen on the iPhone – not only to the apps seem “smooth” but the multi-touch facility is not just a bolt-on – it is used very effectively in many apps – it just “feels right”.  From opening the box to installing apps I never once felt a need to read ANY instructions – and I think that about sums up my feelings about the phone up to now. A shame the same can’t be said about the PC-based iTunes program – at least the Windows 64-bit edition – which crashes on occasion and it IS essential.

At this point it’s probably easiest to tell you about specific applications. The very first thing I did on opening the box was to setup my Google and Exchange accounts – and I have to say that went very smoothly. If you want ALL the features of your Outlook setup – such as NOTES – you still need to sync via USB – as Exchange does not sync notes – but then that’s common to the other phones. So the mail, calendar and notes work as you’d expect – but I have to say they seem faster and more intuitive than I’m used to – I could see how someone might manage with nothing more than the iPhone, leaving the laptop back home.

You may wonder why my iPhone apps on the home page are not all standard. Well, for one thing, I could care two hoots about STOCKS but standard apps don’t at first glance seem amenable to deleting. Add to that the fact that  this meant that contacts was on the second page – stocks had to go! Once I got used to moving things around, the rest followed automatically.

Here are my current screens, mostly APPS which I’ve purchased (some free). What’s the best? Well, for me, FILEMAGNET is the best so far, an easy way to load WORD docs and PDFs from my PC to the iPhone – and read them. Only issue so far is that the 2-finger scaling doesn’t seem to work on WORD docs. The most expensive item is LOGMEIN – which is just superb- usable access to remote PCs on the one – the most fun item is probably the SKY controller which lets me set up recordings on our SKY HD box – from the phone – no matter where I am – marvelous.

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So… don’t all these APPS take up a lot of space? I made the decision to go for the smaller of the two iPhones, the 16gig model as I’m not fanatical about movies and music, happy to keep just a working selection available at any one time. Here’s the current status of memory:

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As you can see I’ve not made a dent and that’s including several hundred tunes and a few podcasts. My only concrete plans for now include installing Tom-tom but that doesn’t even take up a couple of Gigabytes so I’m well placed for future expansion – just as well with a 2-year contract in place.

Later today my MILO charging cradle should arrive – I’ll let you know how it goes…

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