Everything You Ever Wanted in an Apple Phone

For the past few months, I’ve carried around my Treo 650 smart phone with something very much like abandon. I’ve dropped it, tossed it, scratched it and let it tumble about inside of my briefcase, alongside my housekeys and assorted other sharp and unfriendly objects, without much care for its overall condition.

All of this, I can afford to do because since late last summer, there has been an almost irrefutable tide of rumor and allegation suggesting that Apple Computer will debut a brand new and potentially revolutionary mobile phone at next week’s Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Never mind that there’s been scant little evidence to corroborate these claims; this telephone’s impending announcement seems assured at least insofar as sheer desire and expectation are able to create technology products out of thin air.

This inevitability figures in prominently with my ongoing relationship with my Treo. I’ve long been dissatisfied with the 650’s bulky form factor and antiquated operating system, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that whatever Steve Jobs announces next week is going to replace my current phone, so why bother with preciousness? As soon as that new phone hits the market, goodbye Treo.

It’s Going to Be Awesome, Whatever It Is

Still, I have to stop and remind myself, from time to time, that I still don’t know what this Apple phone actually is yet. I keep thinking it’s going to be as innovative and market-changing a device as Apple’s own iPod was, and that, in a competitive landscape of routinely ill-conceived consumer devices, Apple’s phone will outshine every other cellular handset out there (which won’t be hard).

I also have to remind myself that this phone very likely won’t have all the features that I want. This is a key point: Apple has a long and successful history of coming to market with fewer features than might be expected in their products. Since Steve Jobs’ return to the company in the mid-1990s, they’ve turned out computers and devices that, at first glance, seem conspicuously under-featured, whether it was the first iMac’s missing floppy drive or the iPod’s missing wireless, AM/FM radio, voice recording etc. Of course, they’ve more than justified this approach by executing the few features they do release with an unparalleled excellence, often demonstrating how superfluous their omissions really were.

Maybe that will happen here, too; maybe all this new product will amount to will be an iPod with a phone attached to it, and maybe I’ll come around and realize that that’s all I need. It would fit nicely with the growing prevalence of the ‘less is more’ theory of product design — in which new products outshine their competition by focusing only on the core elements of what customers really need, ruthlessly cutting superfluous features — of which I’m a big fan.

More or Less

But then I look at this beat up, clunky, inelegant but still quite serviceable Treo 650, and I look at all the potentially superfluous things I use it for: Web surfing, Google Maps, text messaging, impromptu photography, calendar synchronization, email… That’s a lot of stuff that I use very frequently, much more frequently than I ever anticipated. And that’s a lot of stuff that someone like Steve Jobs might consider non-essential.

In fact, when I think of that passel of features in terms of what a design tyrant like Jobs might release, it seems somewhat unlikely. Very unlikely. I mean, think about it: does it seem remotely possible that Steve Jobs would release a phone that’s a browser, an application platform, a camera, a PDA, an email client and an iPod? Would you bet money that he would? That kind of modal schizophrenia seems like it would be a clear affront to his sensibilities, and none of this even addresses whether the phone will sport a keyboard. I’d be happy if I’m wrong, but can we really expect a phone with a keyboard from the Barnum-like genius who gave us an iPod without a screen?

Maybe I’d better take care of this Treo, after all.

  1. I once operated under a similar thought process concerning a previous handset. Once the Apple phone rumors began swirling, I immediately denounced any and all future handset purchases until a final announcement was released by Apple. As time progressed, the hopes and assumed joys of possessing a mobile handset to top the rest which also synced seamlessly with OS X subsided. The reason? The idea of an Apple handset conjured images of being feature lacking or falling short (from a professional standpoint) when compared to existing handsets. Let the initial revisions of the handset make their mark on the world and upgrade once a solid release is made available. Personally, the Blackberrys (Pearl) or Symbian powered handsets are more than capable tried and true solutions.

  2. I can boil down one design point I’m interested to see Apple tackle and it’s the issue of keyboard or no keyboard. I’ve been suffering through texting on a RAZR for a year and fondly look at Treos and Blackberries and their QWERTY keyboards.


    My gut says The Steve isn’t going to go for something as cumbersome and garish as a keyboard. So, we’re stuck with the typical numeric keypad solution?


  3. Screw Apple phones, I just want to have access to the cool phones they have over in Japan, some of the new ones have more capabilities then R2-D2.

  4. I know what you mean. I’ve got a great little Samsung Blade phone that makes calls and plays music quite handily. But, I want a smartphone. I want to be able to use maps, browsers that don’t suck, IM that doesn’t suck, etc on my phone (most of these things I can do, but without a keyboard, they all pretty much suck).

    I’m as big an Apple fanboy as the next guy, but I had to resign myself months ago to the fact that whatever phone Apple releases — if they release one at all — almost certainly won’t be the phone for me.

    I don’t see Apple getting into the smartphone market — at least not soon. I do see them getting into the cute-phone-that’s-also-an-ipod-and-has-a-shitty-camera-too market, though. Which is cool. I’m sure it’ll be a huge hit.

    But it’s not for me.

  5. I was in the same boat you are until last month. Amazon had the Blackberry Pearl for $25 bucks and I couldn’t say no. It’s half the weight of the Treo 650 and does all the essentials that you mention and I need (Google Maps, random wikipedia searches, posting photos to flickr). That it’s a Blackberry and does e-mail is superfluous. I already have an iPod for listening to music and hate the idea of my audio/video device ringing when I don’t want to be interrupted.

  6. I really, really want to have a crack at designing a phone interface and service offering.

    I’d like to see the phone receiving the local weather forecast every hour or so and displayed when you flip the phone open along with the time. I’d like to see this as part of the basic service offering. A radar map and greater update frequency is an easy upsell.

    I’d like a phone that can knows to switch to vibrate when I’m in a meeting. Bonus points for reminding me about the meeting. Getting this set up shouldn’t suck.

    I’ve wanted to explore using accelerometers as part of a handheld interface for years. I’m not sure if tilting the phone to “peek” at data beyond the edges of the normal screen or shaking the phone is better than pushing buttons, but I’d at least like to check it out.

    As for keys/texting, my thought is to use voice recognition. If the phone doesn’t have the horsepower, have the phone call in and do voice recognition on the other end. I’ve never really understood the fascination with texting when you can just call the other person in a fraction of the time and cost.

    The cell phone is the most interesting platform for application development in the world. The fact that they’re network connected, geo-locatable (they have to be in the US for E911), always on, always with you, and ubiquitous means that as soon as we can get a reasonably widespread and stable development platform, we’ll have an explosion of app development that will make the internet look like peanuts.

    I haven’t tried development in the last 18 months, but last time I tried, the phones were mired in a clunky Java API which seemed designed for “enterprise” users. The only interesting phone development API I know about is Nokia’s S60 Python implementation.

    I’m not familiar with any compelling network-side offerings. Am I missing something? I would expect an API/platform battle, but I haven’t heard of anything higher level than text messaging.

  7. Whether it’s Apple or not I’m hoping someone can come up with a smartphone form factor that actually works. Most of the designs on the market feel more like a collection of parts instead of a well thought-out whole. The order of the day seems to be mashing a keyboard and a phone together and hoping they somehow stick.

  8. I have been in the same predicament. I have had a love/hate relationship with my Treo 600 and now Treo 650 (mostly hate of late). I have been holding off switching until I find my dream device with phone, camera (for flickr with geo tagging capability), e-mail, text, easy sync calendar, easy sync address book, and web browsing as the essential heavy use components. I have begun to rely on Google maps (although I really like Yahoo maps more for ease of use and the tie in to local info, but it is not as easily mobile). I really do not want another phone that has the OS crash when the phone rings (thanks Treo 600 and now it is happening far too often with Treo 650).

    I have been looking at Blackberry (want a Pearl with full keyboard), Nokia N73/E61/E62/N80i, and SonyEricsson phones. There is something not perfect with each. Also the Treo 680 is tempting, but it is a Treo and I really don’t want another bad phone relationship.

    I have been waiting for Apple to make their move, but like you Khoi, I am not sure it will have all I want and need.

  9. Khoi~

    I just got the new Treo 680 and like it quite alot! Like you I have been watching and waiting to see what Apple might do when they inevitably enter the phone device market. I decided though (like Jeff) that what I wanted was a smartphone. I didn’t see myself playing music on it (that’s what my Ipod is for) so took the plunge last month with the Treo 680.

  10. Right there with you. I have my 650 in an old rubbery skin case instead of the sweet Vaja swivel clip case because the swivel broke again and I couldn’t be bothered to order another swivel.

    What do I find myself using the 650 for? Phone, organizer stuff (calendar/todo/notepad, addr book), SMS, email, flight tracking, yellow pages lookup, google maps, quick crappy camera.

    But it’s a brick. And I carry my old iPod mini too. And the pictures from it really are crappy. And syncing it isn’t near as easy as it should be – especially since I want it to sync with google hosted apps now too (mail/calendar/addresses). But I can’t give up that keyboard. Or can I? Ugh.

    Tried my father-in-law’s Pearl over New Years. MAN is that light and sleek. Couldn’t sync it for the life of me with his MacBook Pro. Doubt it could play any of our protected AAC files either. Interface is a bit awkward, keyboard works “in a pinch” but not great, and the pearl itself feels a little odd and like it might break/get dirty.

    Sure hope Steve shows us the magic on Tuesday!

  11. I totally agree with you. I have been holding out on upgrading with the high hopes that Apple will release this wonderful new phone that we’ve all been dreaming of, but I truly feel that it will just be an iPod with phone capabilities.

    I hope that Jobs proves me wrong…

  12. I would like a phone that is not an iPod, such that I’ll be able to make a call without having the batteries runned down by listening to music.

    Moreover, I would like to simply connect the phone to the iPod if I need to use the battery in the iPod for an emergency call, and this should be without cables, having the iPod dock somehow on the phone.

  13. If it’s gonna be a “camera phone”, I’d love it to feature things like “geotagging” while taking pictures. This feature would be nice, so you could link it with GoogleMaps.
    iPhoto already have this feature, kinda hidden, but I’d like to have a phone able to link all the pieces together, with a click.

    Although I know that a mobile phone, is a phone, not a digital camera, I’d like to get the “current playing song” name saved in the jpeg exif informations.
    I use to take pictures while listening to the music, I guess this feature would let you re-create that exact feeling of the moment while you were taking that particular image. Giving you the ability (via a click…or 2) to instantly make a photo presentation, complete with its music “of the moment”, and share it with your friends. It would feel a lot like an “instant Deja-vu”.

    For now, let’s hope the phone gets real 🙂

  14. The only PDA I have ever owned is a Newton. I had the software Graffiti, which I loved. I don’t own an iPod simply because I wish it was like my Newton from years ago. (Graffiti was a program where each alphanumaric character was written in the same piece of window space using the Newton stylist. Each character had a simplist gesture. ie the letter T really was more like the number 7. Shifting and switching to numbers had special extra commands.) Maybe something exists just like this? But, I want to buy it from Apple. Why can’t the iPod screen function the same way the Newton did? Entering text was FAST using Graffiti.

  15. I had been a Palm user since 1997 and my last iteration was a Treo650. Like someone else said I had a love/hate relationship with it. Incredible potential, but reseting while I’m trying to answer a call is just annoying.

    I really did not want to part with my Treo 650, but a few months ago, I made the jump and cut my cell phone bill by $40.00 by selling my Treo and tossing the data plan.

    I always felt like I wish Apple would make a mini-OS X that I could run on my Treo. I liked the design but was ready to move on from PalmOS.

    I’d also like to see the cellphone carriers because a bit more reasonable with their data plans.

    We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.

  16. I must say, that my treo 650 is serving me well…it has gone through every type of abuse…and kept on ticking!

    I wouldn’t mind a slimmer design…but all things considered, I give palm props for designing a great device.

  17. “I mean, think about it: does it seem remotely possible that Steve Jobs would release a phone that’s a browser, an application platform, a camera, a PDA, an email client and an iPod?”

    This makes for interesting reading after the fact. It seems like most of your requirements were met, aside from the camera.

    You were pretty close to the mark regarding the keyboard mind you…


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