Saturday 28 July 2007

The frustrating state of mobile computing

The new Palm Desktop did not work with Vista and refused to progress beyond the splash screen. To be honest, I've not spent a huge amount of time investigating the reasons. This means that looking for a new PDA device is still on the agenda. Of course, the traditional PDA market has almost gone, merged into mobile phones, which is where I've focused my attention.

The main players in the mobile operating system market are Windows Mobile, Symbian, Palm and Blackberry. To add to the mix, phones based on the Symbian operating system have a couple of choices of operating environments - Series 60 and UIQ.

All have their pros and cons - I've never been comfortable with the old Windows PocketPC interface. It always felt like Microsoft stuffed the Windows desktop down into a small device. This was in comparison with the Palm OS which was stunningly easy to use in comparison. However, with the latest version, Windows Mobile 6, things might have changed, so I should keep an open mind. I would at least expect it to sync my Outlook data well!

Series 60 looks very powerful and is certainly well supported, with Nokia as it's biggest backer. Having read up a bit on it, the two big problems are that it does not synchronise Outlook categories (which I use heavily) and does not support a touch screen (or at least most devices don't). The latter problem is manifested in the web browser that uses a little joystick to move a cursor around the screen - no, no, no, no, no!

Conversely, UIQ, the other Symbian based platform pushed by Sony Ericsson, is touchscreen oriented. Now this might still be an option - the new P1i smartphone does look pretty nifty, and it also comes with a pseudo-QWERTY keyboard. I don't have any experience with it's ability to sync with Outlook though so will need to investigate further.

I've not been a huge fan of early Blackberry models, partly because I wasn't keen on dragging my work around with me all the time, but also the early UI wasn't very appealing. Some of this might be the "interesting" theme one of my colleagues has chosen. I do know that it does Outlook (or Exchange to be mor precise) very well, and the new model is very small and looks just like a regular mobile. If I can get one from work and it manages the calendar and contacts well enough, then maybe that's all I need...?

The remaining contender is Palm. Bearing in mind this whole process started with the miserable failure of Palm to support anything but their top of the line products means their inclusion here is surprising. Let me explain:

I followed the Browse and Buy Devices link on Microsoft's page and specified that I wanted both a touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard, and that the device should support wi-fi. Of the few devices returned, the Treo 750 fulfilled the criteria. It also supports 3G which is another pre-requisite (but wasn't a filter option).

Now the Treo 750 is a Windows Mobile device but it does tick all the boxes. It's only a small sideways step to look at the Treo 755p which is effectively the same model but running Palm OS which I am very familiar with.

This comes full circle to originating problem - will the Palm sync with Outlook 2007 on Vista? My experience with the beta software has been poor, but perhaps I need to wait for the final release.

Why Palm OS? It's architecturally very poor and desperately in need of a new core (I've been hoping for this since Cobalt was announced!), but the user interface is still very, very nice compared to the competition.

I guess the first step is to see if the company will get me a small Blackberry, if only to replace the clunky, old Nokia I forget to carry with me. Then I'll check out the state of the market. Until then, I guess I'll carry on with my Sony Ericsson K800i for phone use and forgo all my personal contact data.

Side note: Despite my first thought regarding the Palm Foleo was "Palm are dead - who wants this product?", it looks like a software ecosystem is starting to develop for it. It's far too expensive at present (and really needs a touch screen), but maybe there is more to this device than first appears...

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