Scripting News for 7/25/2007

Twitter, month 5 

Another idea that’s gaining maturity, and therefore perspective, is Twitter. It’s now been almost five months since we fell in love with it. By “we” I mean a handful of people in the tech blogosphere, enough to create a critical mass of people to network with, enough so we can explore what it’s like to have a spam-free pub-sub channel for direct communication.

Twitter filled a personal gap that I created, unwittingly, a couple of weeks before I started using it. On February 27, with no announcement or fanfare, this blog switched from a mixture of long-form and short-form blog posts to all long-form. And then in March I started using Twitter, and it’s become the place I use for short-form posts.

Twitter also serves the purpose of what I used to call “email bulletins.” When something newsworthy would happen, or if I wrote something special that I wanted a lot of people to read, I would push a bulletin to people who subscribed. Nowadays I push them to the 1539 people who follow me on Twitter. And it works. When I do it, there are 200 or 300 reads from the people who directly follow me, and 25 or so reads from the main page of Twitter.

I have yet to figure out Facebook. Something about it doesn’t make me want to go there often to find out what’s new. Not sure why I’m not attracted to it and so many others are.

PS: I seem to have discovered Twitter on March 14. Here’s my first post. I clearly didn’t understand it at the time (and said so). By Day 2 it’s already starting to make sense. “What matters about Twitter, btw, is that people are using it.” Throughout March and April are epiphanies on Twitter.

iPhone, month 1 

Today’s the 25th of July, the iPhone shipped on June 29, that’s the day I got mine, so we’re getting pretty close to the end of a month with the iPhone.

The tech press usually doesn’t review products after a month of use, but that’s when you really find out if it was worth the initial hype.

The NY Times reports that iPhone sales are disappointing, I’d like to add that the product itself is disappointing.

I still own and use a Blackberry for its email and web capabilities, both of which outshine Apple’s product. Because the iPhone doesn’t have a search command, and apparently doesn’t store messages locally, it makes a poor choice for a mobile email client.

For example, I brought only the iPhone with me to a meeting in Palo Alto last week. As I was driving to the meeting I could see that I would be a few minutes late, so I wanted to call the person I was meeting and alert them. With the Blackberry I would have been able to do this while stopped at a red light. Just search for the person’s name in my inbox, open the first message, highlight the phone number, click the scroll wheel twice (once to dial the number, the second time to confirm that I want to do it).

In comparison, the iPhone only keeps the most recent 25 messages in memory, and this person’s email was not in that group. No search command. And it doesn’t have a scroll wheel or a clipboard. The light turned green long before I found the email that contained the phone number. (Note: I’ve gotten a bunch of email saying the 25 can be increased to 200, which I have done. Thanks!)

On the other hand, the iPhone is much prettier than a Blackberry and feels better in your hand. I’m not mocking Apple for that, style matters, esp in a personal device. But it seems they could have studied the competition more closely to produce a more feature-complete product.

I still find the iPhone virtual keyboard difficult to use even after a month to get used to it. The Blackberry is very usable, in comparison. However, I like the way Apple did punctuation better than the Blackberry.

It also seems we’re going to have a long-term discussion over whether it makes sense to have a “mobile web” or take the iPhone trade-off, more effort to use its web (lots of scrolling and pinching), but making the whole web accessible, mobile sites or non-mobile sites. I think what Apple has attempted is noble, but it’s not going to work. The screens have limited resolution, and even if they didn’t, even if they could cram a billion pixels into every square inch, there’s the limit of how much detail our eyes can see and how big our hands are.

In other words, after almost a month of trying to make the iPhone view of the web work, I think there is such a thing as the mobile web. We’re going to have to produce versions of websites specifically for devices with small screens.

The other functions of the iPhone, the camera, YouTube, the photo browser, even the iPod functionality, are nice to have, but none of them work very well, and without a functioning web and email interface, they don’t add much to the appeal of the iPhone. When all is said and done, it’s a beautifully designed, colorful, very stylish, cell phone.

A postscript — how different the situation would be if the iPhone had a full SDK, if you could run Mac OS apps on the device, or if it had a built-in HTTP server that would allow you to browse or configure it over wifi from a Mac or Windows machine. In other words, if it had the kind of revolutionary features and was an open platform in the tradition of Apple and the PC industry.

No doubt we’d be trying a dozen different approaches to email, at least one of them would be a clone of Blackberry email, as a holdover for the really great email products that would likely be coming. There’s no doubt a lot of interest among developers in the iPhone, but it probably wil never be greater than it was in the first weeks the phone was released. More likely, the iPhone, if it attains success, will reach it the way the Mac did, after the initial fatal flaws are removed, in the “iPhone Plus” or whatever.

Remember, in the 80s Apple was the first company to build networking into every machine, and later the first company to ship a wifi router. Hopefully it’s possible for Apple to open today’s iPhone, and reward the early adopters for betting on them, and get developers busy at fulfilling the opportunities it creates as a platform, not just a device.

Peter Cook says we should look at the Nokia E70.

Jackson Miller notes that there’s lots about the iPhone today on the web. Amazing confluence. When I wrote my review I hadn’t seen any of the other pieces, including a review comparing iPhone and Blackberry (!) by Mark Hendrickson on TechCrunch.

Rex Hammock: “Wait a couple of generations before buying one.”

A NSFW comparison of the iPhone and the Nokia E70.

21 responses to this post.

  1. The Nokia E70 is almost what’s described in the postscript. It’s open as far as the S60 Java platform is, at least. Has a proper built-in keyboard (though tiny), does push e-mail, VoIP, Webkit powered browser, color, high resolution, GPS integration, and all the good stuff. It’s just not as “cool” as the iPhone and that’s what people are really paying for, not good tech.


  2. > Has a “proper” built-in keyboard <
    Translation…Has a small old-style, analog keyboard only techies could love.


  3. PXL, I don’t know if you’re right about that.

    I still find the iPhone virtual keyboard very difficult to use even after a month to get used to it. The Blackberry is very usable, in comparison. Probably should have mentioned that in my review as well.

    However, I like the way Apple did punctuation better than the Blackberry.


  4. Posted by Paul Roundy on July 25, 2007 at 6:50 am

    I recall the first Blackberries looked more like a pager and didn’t even have a phone. The iPhone is 1st gen and has a lot of improvements ahead of it. The mail app on the iphone does stink, no argument there.

    I totally disagree about the ipod integration, it rocks. For me, using the screen interface is much easier than the wheel. I also love going out for a run with a single device, not a blackberry/ipod combo.

    The photo browser is kind of cool too. I have shown more digital pictures in the last month than I have before, simply because they are on my phone.

    Typing got better for me after a while. One thing the blackberry does well is the double space bar puts a period at the end of the sentence feature. I miss that.


  5. Posted by Allan Smith on July 25, 2007 at 7:02 am

    Hi Dave,
    Under Settings: Mail: Show: you have the choice of 25,50,75,100, or 200 recent messages. I don’t like that there is apparently no way to delete messages except one at a time, though. Since so much of the capability is in the software, and it’s 1.0 at this point, I’m curious how many features will be added over time.

    I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone integrates with my car as a basic hands-free system. I have just a regular analog aux-in jack, and when used with that, you can be listening to music through the stereo; when a call comes in, the music fades, you hear the ring, and when answered the call plays through the speakers, while the mic still picks up your voice.


  6. Posted by Jake on July 25, 2007 at 7:10 am

    I agree on the – while it is awesome the caching leaves a lot to be desired.

    I’m actually wrestling with the device for a totally different reason. I use it so much that it’s killing my enjoyment of life and my surroundings. I guess I’ve never had a blackberry or full-email device before, but man, it’s annoying.

    I have no self control, I guess.

    – Jake


  7. The Nokia E61i would probably fit the bill as well — or the E62, which is the same thing (essentially) minus the camera.

    (I don’t think the E70 is available in North America yet; these two are.)


  8. At the end of the day the iPhone release and the iPhone versus Blackberry debate is about as interesting as the early Operating Systems and Web Browser wars.

    Nothing but stories dreamed up by the old media and these days echoed to exhaustion by the tech blogophere.

    I’m waiting for the discussion in the media and blogosphere about the iPhone to come down to earth and move to some real substance … the next level … innovative mobile technology features and applications.

    Think about it … if we had waited for the old guard … Microsoft, Apple, Dell, HP, Adobe, etc. to bring the technology innovation to the web where would we be today?

    All I see right now is desktop web applications/sites being repackaged to these new mobile devices to create some old media attention. Some things never change.

    How long is it going to take for the tech community radar to see all the wide open opportunities here?


  9. I kind of resent that comment Harold.

    I think it’s very useful to look at products based on use, not just on hype.

    And I am trying, best I can, to figure out how to make these things work.


  10. Nokia have produced a software app that lets you run a full, web-accessible Apache-lite http server from your Nokia device over it’s normal 3G/GPRS connection:

    I’ve tried it out on a few different Nokias, it’s very cool – let’s you (with password) access the phone book, take pictures and send messages to the phone owner…

    When I first saw this, I instantly thought of Dave’s ideas about fractional http servers…

    It’s been around for a year or so – I’ve just reloaded the software on my e61 (unfortunately, it doesn’t have a camera), but you can message through it and get the general gist of the app:

    It’s obviously still a bit geeky, but I wonder whether a more integrated version of this will get bundled with their phones by default in the future?


  11. P.S. When I speak of wide open opportunities, I’m not talking about the ones that need the non-existent iPhone devlopment platform or when Apple finally gets one.

    If Apple can’t provide or match the mobile devlopment platform we need right now to innovate we need to move to the correct platform versus being prisoners to their timeline, hype and marketing.


  12. > I kind of resent that comment Harold.
    There was nothing in my comment personal to you. It was about all the senseless over speculation from the media and blogosphere about the iPhone. Enough already … let’s move on.

    >And I am trying, best I can, to figure out how to make these things work.
    From what I have read in the media and blogosphere about the iPhone to date, your type commentary is different and in the minority as it has real substance from a smartphone user. Not the how many could they or should they have sold tone that is turning me off.


  13. Posted by Larry on July 25, 2007 at 8:44 am

    To each his own…

    I for one, love my iPhone relative to my previous phone in many many ways. (had a razr previously)


  14. Robert Scoble calls your review “brutal,” but I think it’s pretty balanced: you do say, “When all is said and done, it’s a beautifully designed, colorful, very stylish, cell phone.”

    I think the “what it can be — or what it could have been” debate is healthy and, frankly, such user debates should take place outside the arena of those who can never find anything wrong with anything Apple does.

    In today’s WSJ, there’s a telling article about Apple that includes this line: “Apple’s designers and engineers are often ‘more royalist than the king,’ says Jean-Louis Gassee…’They know the pain if they don’t ‘ fall in sync with Mr. Jobs.”

    Apple isn’t well served by a chorus of sycophants who will love anything they do, rather, they are better served by those who will spend the money and time necessary to discover what’s wrong with the product and air the debate.

    I love the iPhone — but I’ve recommended to everyone who asks, including strangers who ask me if they can hold it (weird), to wait a couple of generations before buying one.


  15. Hear hear on the mobile web Dave. I remember a chant from back in the WAP days – “WAP is crap.” Perhaps that was just before there were enough devices and compelling sites?

    The middle ground of clean, content driven pages for mobile sites seems to be working very well.

    I know that (even iPhone-less in Australia) my mobile web usage relies on mobile versions of sites – the rest are just too painful for any but emergency use.


  16. Posted by ML on July 25, 2007 at 6:09 pm

    Dave, my opinion after a near-month of iPhone use is quite different. Although I agree that the lack of a search command is unfortunate — fingers crossed that that will be one of the fixed-by-a-software-update features — the iPhone does store messages locally, and I find its message display to be much, much better than that of other “smartphones.” And you can call a number in an email by simply tapping the number right there — no need to “highlight the phone number, click the scroll wheel twice (once to dial the number, the second time to confirm that I want to do it).”

    My experience with the keyboard is similarly positive. I’ve had two other smartphones, both with physical keyboards, and after a week of iPhone use, I could type faster and more accurately with the iPhone than I ever did those other devices. (Part of this, I believe, is because I learned to trust the iPhone’s keyboard and error-correction technology; once you resist the urge to correct in real time, you realize that the iPhone gets things right a surprisingly high percentage of the time, regardless of how imprecisely you type. The same can’t be said about any other device I’ve tried.)

    Finally, I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the other apps; although not perfect by any means, they’re considerably better than similar apps on any smartphone I’ve used. Are you sure you aren’t comparing the iPhone to a desktop computer rather than a Blackberry, Treo, Nokia, or BlackJack? šŸ˜‰


  17. Posted by Jim Reese on July 25, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    Re the iPhone: version 2 of anything is the first version that works.


  18. Posted by sephon on July 26, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Isn’t the point of IMAP to store your messages in a central location? (Although various implementations do allow for some local caching for convenience’s sake.)


  19. The iPhone’s a classic Apple product, with all the strengths/weaknesses pertaining thereto.

    The Nokia stuff is very cool.

    All introductions move the state of the art forward, even if in reaction to kludgistic elements.

    More importantly, the dreamfront advances.

    — stan

    [still happy w/ his dumb Nokia 5185i]


  20. Posted by matt on July 26, 2007 at 9:05 pm

    what version of the blackberry do you use?


  21. Posted by Bob on July 30, 2007 at 7:24 am

    The iPhone is the only multifunction device that pretty much lives up to its promise. There certainly are individual devices that do each of the iPhones’ functions better. But all on one device, there is none better. Using the ipod and viewing video is a pleasure. I can actually see and view the pdf and jpg attachments in an email perfectly. And I can use the web and read articles. I type better on it than any old fashioned keyboard.

    I have owned a Blackjack and a Verizon PDA and they were crap and Windows Mobile is a beast. I would never trade in my iPhone for another device. Sure there are problems. But far less than with any other mobile/pda device that I have used. I will upgrade to versions 2 3 and 4 as soon as they come out.


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