I’ve been looking for at getting a new phone for a while now. Not actively, and not seriously, but it has been on the back burner for a while now. Its interesting, I was talking with Dave last week about this, and I realised that I have never actually bought a mobile phone for myself before. My sister and I got our first mobiles from our parents when we were younger (could have been in ninety three or ninety four, and I think it was a Nokia 2110i, the pre-GSM version), and before the contract had expired and I had a chance to change phones I had moved to London. There I immediately got a company mobile, and have had two or three different models over the years.
They were all fairly basic though, which perhaps explains my reluctance to use a mobile for anything other than making calls and sending texts. I’ve always been of the opinion that mobiles should be used to make calls, and perhaps tethered to get your laptop online. I like the large form factor, or so I keep telling myself. So, I was never really that interested in the funky new things that the cool kids could do with their mobiles. Until recently that is. In the last six months or so, I’ve been looking at the mobile market, and how the technology is evolving. I believe that it has gotten to the point where tiny devices are in a position to be actually useful.
Let me illustrate that for you. I’ve always carried around a PDA, because my memory is crap and I need to be reminded of things. I use it for notes, lists, contacts, appointments etc. In the beginning I had Palm Pilots, which were brilliant even though they suffered from relatively crappy desktop connection software. At some point I replaced mine for a Windows CE device, and stuck with that platform for the Outlook integration. With that, I could schedule a meeting in Outlook, and have it automatically sync with our Meeting Maker system in the office, and my PDA. If I created meetings on the PDA, they just appeared in the right places. It was great, and I went through a bunch of them over the years, culminating in the HP iPaq hx4700 I have right now. Had up until recently actually, as it stopped working a couple of months ago. I’ve been fucked without it too I have to say. There were lost scraps of paper in numerous pockets with tasks that were never going to get done because I never found the notes. It really was time for a change.
There have been a bunch of different options I’ve considered over the last while. Getting an iphone is obviously not an option for me. Windows Mobile was something I have considered many times over the years, but having used a PocketPC for such a long time I can honestly say that the platform isn’t stable enough to rely on for making phone calls. Nokia have come out with a couple of interesting phones recently, but again nothing really inspiring. Then there’s Android, the new mobile operating system developed by Google. The only available handset at the moment comes from HTC, and is called the Dream. Its a touch screen model with a keyboard that slides out beneath the screen. Its small enough to still be a phone, and yet the screen is large enough to easily read emails and web pages with. There’s another one coming out soon, called Magic, which will have an updated Operating System and no keyboard. I really wanted the keyboard though, so the Dream was the way to go.
Unfortunately HTC have just been sued in Germany. They are very probably going to have to stop selling their handsets here until they pay an extortionate amount of money to a patent troll company (albeit one who have already successfully sued Nokia for fifteen billion dollars recently). This meant I had to get the phone soon, before they stop selling it here. My choices were simple; contract with T-Mobile, or developers handset direct from Google. There was no contest really, I bought the developers handset, because it was completely open and can be used on any network. I currently get DSL, landline and four mobiles with free calls between all of them from Alice here in Munich, and I’m mostly happy with their service. I didn’t see any reason to change, so I bought the handset from Google, and it arrived last week.
So far I’m loving it. It comes bundled with Gmail, Contacts, GTalk, Calendar and Maps, all of which are synced with their counterparts on Google. There’s a bunch of other apps installed by default too, such as the mobile version of the Webkit browser that powers Chrome and Safari, the ability to search Google by voice, media player, YouTube player and the Android Market. With the market you can download new applications, both free and by paying for them. Paid apps aren’t currently available on my version of the phone, but they’re coming with an update to the OS next month which is nicknamed Cupcake. Let me give you an example of how cool it is. Yesterday we were in Ikea in Eching. After looking around the shop and arriving at the checkout, we decided that we should get a CD shelf to hold our CDs and DVDs. However, we would have had to track back through the store to find the right shelves, and that would have taken ten or fifteen minutes (its a HUGE shop). So, out came the phone and I searched for “cd regale” (cd shelves) on ikea.de. The one we were thinking of was called Billy, and we found it in short order. I know that seems a bit lame to anyone who has used the net on a mobile before, but for me its like the second coming! Yes, of course I have searched on a mobile before, but always with WAP, or on a phone with such a crappy screen that it made no difference. This is the first time I’ve seen web pages rendered on a mobile device in such a way that it all starts to actually become useful.
Before we decided to go to Ikea, we needed the address. All we could remember was that it was in Eching, but we needed to program the GPS in the car for that. We could have used the phone too though. Opening the Maps application and searching for Ikea gives a list of results that you can scroll through either in a list, or on the map as you can see in the screenshot. Clicking on the result for Ikea Eching brings up a list containing their address, directions from the current location, a link to the web site and the ability to call them direct from the phone. Its a small thing, but incredibly useful. For me, there would be typically an intermediate step there, which is finding something to write the phone number on, or copying / pasting it into notepad or something. Removing that intermediate step is a small thing, but a thing of brilliance. I don’t know if other phones have this feature, and frankly I don’t care all that much to be honest. The simple thing here is that I’m new to all this, so I’ll get delight out of the smallest thing. Oh and yeah, I can copy and paste those details to somewhere else too. Take that iphone users!