If you’re going to have to switch anyway…

WMExperts has a story about the specs for the new Windows 7 Chassis 1, a technical spec or baseline upon which hardware makers will base their first Windows 7 phones. Take a close look at this list and see if anything jumps out at you.

WM7 Chassis 1 Specification

Core requirements:
Processor: ARM v6+, L2 Cache, VFP, Open GL ES 2.0 graphics HW (QCOM 8k, Nvidia AP15/16* and TI 3430 all meet spec)
Memory: 256MB+ DRAM, 1G+ Flash (at least 512MB fast flash – 5MB/s unbuffered read @4K block size)
Display:  WVGA (800×480) or FWVGA (854×480) 3.5” or greater diagonal
Touch: Multi-touch required
Battery: Sufficient to meet Days of Use LTK requirements.
Controls: Start, Back, Send and End are required (soft controls allowed as long as they are always present).

Peripherals:

Camera: 3MP+, flash optional, 2nd camera optional (VGA resolution sufficient)
GPS: aGPS required
Sensors required: Light Sensor, Compass (3 axis, 5 degrees, 100 Hz sample rate), Accelerometer (3 axis, 2mg resolution, 100 Hz sample rate)
USB: High speed required, 20 MB/s transfer rate.
BlueTooth: BT2.1 required, must run MSFT BT stack, CSR BlueCore6 or later recommended.
Wi-Fi: 802.11B/G required, must run MSFT Native Wi-Fi stack, Atheros 6002 or Broadcomm 4325 recommended.
Connectors: Micro USB and 3.5mm Audio required.

Options:
FM tuner:  If tuner HW is present it will be detected and supported by the Media application.
Haptics
SD Card (Micro SD recommended)
DPAD, qwerty or 12/20 key keyboards all optional

Think about this. The new Windows 7 hardware is going to require multitouch. This means it’s going to require capacitive touchscreens, different hardware from the current resistive touchscreens that itself requires a completely different, finger-friendly user interface. A stylus will be useless on these devices, which means none (or most) of your existing software won’t work.

We can see from this spec list that Windows 7 will be a clean break from previous versions of Windows Mobile, even from 6.5, which itself requires users to buy new hardware if they want the OS. (Though it’s more than capable of running 6.5 my Sprint Touch Pro isn’t eligible for the upgrade. Why? Because the home button is a little house rather than a Windows flag and Microsoft mandates a Windows flag home button on all 6.5 devices.)

New hardware. New OS. New software. And you need to wait until mid to late 2010 to get it. If you’re going to deal with all that change anyway, are you really going to wait for Windows Mobile?

I didn’t. I bought an iPhone.

The big switch

I’ve had it. You’ve failed me for the last time, Windows Mobile. My Touch Pro is stripped down to just about stock. Nothing more installed on it than GPS Today, WMWiFiRouter and Evernote. And still, it’s slower than my iPod Touch, freezes more than my iPod Touch, and using the touchscreen is less responsive and precise than my iPod Touch. In fact, since getting my iPod Touch, I’ve been consistently amazed at how much I put up with from Windows Mobile, how much I just accepted as “the way things work” because I didn’t know any better.

Well, I’m done. Windows Mobile, even with HTC’s TouchFlo 3D or even the new Spb Mobile Shell 3.0, isn’t good enough compared to the competition. 6.5 won’t be appreciably better, because they didn’t fix the right things (a shinier UI doesn’t mean squat over the same crappy memory management) and Windows Mobile 7, due in late 2010 maybe, brings a whole new set of issues. If I’m going to switch platforms, I may as well do it now.

iPhone 3G 16GB for $150, an offer I can’t refuse?

AT&T has a pretty sweet deal going on right now. I can get a refurbished 16GB iPhone 3G for only $150, delivered 2-day right to my door (which, now that I’m living in a house, I actually have). Order it Monday, and I could be setting it up when I get home from work Wednesday night, give me something to do while I’m installing Windows 7 RC (which comes out on the 5th). That’s really not a bad deal at all, and I still have an iPod Touch I could sell and recoup some of that (or just give it to my 13-year-old niece who has already cracked the screen on the netbook she got for xmas). And word on the street is that you can even get AT&T to credit your account to offset any early termination fee from the carrier you’re leaving. I really can’t see a downside to this. I even like the fact that it’s a refurb, meaning an actual human being has gone over it and said, “Yes, this is okay to sell.”

Waiting for Godot, er, iPhone HD

My original plan, such as it was, was to use the iPod in conjunction with my Touch Pro until June 8th, the first day of WWDC, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. This is when they’re expected to officially release iPhone OS 3.0 to the unwashed masses, and everyone expects them to unveil shiny new hardware as well. Both generations of iPhones were released at WWDC and went on sale shortly thereafter, in late June or early July. For a while now, the speculation has been that they were going to release a new, HD-capable and maybe even HD screened iPhone, something to compete more directly with the newer 800×480 HTC devices. But in the last week or so, that rumor has lost steam.

Look, I have no idea what Apple’s going to do. Neither, frankly, does anyone else outside of Cupertino. And maybe Kevin Rose. But anyone else, it’s just educated guesses. Sometimes you can get a long way on educated guesses, but they’re still guesses (see: difficulty in actually making any accurate predictions in climate science). We just don’t know, and basing my purchasing decisions on what I think Apple might do isn’t the best way to go. For what it’s worth, I think we’ll see only minor changes at best to the iPhone 3G, maybe colored backs. The HD stuff will go into a new Apple iPad a little smaller than the Kindle, but all screen. Nice, but not a phone. So for my money, a cheap iPhone 3G is as good now as in July.

Wither Pre?

Of course, the other reason to wait was to see the Palm Pre in person, to ponder it’s pocketable perfection (I’m a sucker for alliteration, sue me). But the more I learn about the Pre, especially in relation to what I’m learning about the iPhone, the less interested I become. For one thing, I have come to loathe and despise sliders. The Pre is a vertical slider, so it’s slightly less onerous than my Touch Pro in that you don’t have to wait for the screen to rotate, but lacking an on-screen keyboard you still have to pop it open even for trivial text entry, like passwords. Ask any G1 owner how long that takes to get old.

The uncertainty about application availability is another sticking point for me. I know what’s available for the iPhone, and have made lots of purchases from the iPhone App Store already (including spending at least $50 already in software I’ve since replaced with alternatives, but that’s all part of exploring a new platform). The webOS App Catalog, however, is still a mystery. We know some of the players that will have apps ready for launch, but a lot of the really important ones for me are still question marks. Will eReader have their reader app ready for launch? How about Evernote? We don’t know.

So between discomfort with the hardware and uncertainty with the software, I’m more and more inclined to give the Pre a pass. And I’m definitely ready to leave Sprint, so that’s another point in the “no Pre for me” column. Which brings me back to getting an iPhone 3G, and the sooner the better.

The Palm Eos, my other smartphone

Of course, we also got some news this week that allows me to hedge my bets. I’m the kind of guy who ran out of fingers holding “undo” places in Choose Your Own Adventure novels back in the 80s. I like to keep my options open, have an escape hatch. And Palm may provide me just that. We got a leaked render of another webOS device this week, what many are calling the Palm Eos. This front facing QWERTY candybar phone is clearly the replacement for the Centro, and should retail at $350 before carrier discounting, putting it somewhere between $100-200 with contract. It’s taller than the Pre but much thinner, very similar in form factor to the iPhone. It kind of looks like a Treo Pro with longer screen (320×400, shorter than the iPhone or Pre, but longer than the Treo). And it’s a GSM device using the AT&T UMTS bands.

So, in theory, I could buy an iPhone 3G now, upgrade it to the 3.0 firmware in June, and then down the line buy an Eos for $350 off contract. Then I could swap my SIM card (it will be nice to be back on a network that uses them again, CDMA ESN swaps just aren’t the same) back and forth between them depending on whether I want the all touch screen experience of the iPhone or the mix of capacitive touch and always available QWERTY of the Eos. Best of both worlds, and on the same account. Both sync with Google, so my data’s the same either way, especially if I have Evernote on both as well.

And I’ll finally be rid of Windows Mobile and all the annoyances it’s brought me. And that’s a good deal no matter which way you slice it.

Evernote, the universal notebook

Everyone knows Evernote is great for note taking, but what else are notebooks for? Specifically, for writers? That’s right, drafts. And with Evernote, I can compose both articles and fiction on any device: locked down work PC, desktop at home, netbook, Windows Mobile and yes, even my iPod Touch.

I wrote my first novel, Between Heaven and Hell, almost entirely in longhand in a paper day planner, typing the pages in at night when I got home. In large part, it was this experience that led me to my focus over the last decade on technology for mobile writing.

As computing moves into the cloud and more of us have multiple computers to use throughout the day, I’ve been looking for a solution for not so much as mobile writing as ubiquitous writing. The ability to access the projects I’m working on or jot down new ideas any time, anywhere. And the center of my system is Evernote.

If you haven’t seen Evernote before, it’s a multiplatform note taking and retrieval application. You can use it on the web, on Windows (installed or portable), on the Mac, on the iPhone, Windows Mobile and a mobile web version for other phones. The data all syncs to the cloud, so what you save in place shows up everywhere else. You can organize your notes in multiple notebooks, and each note can also be tagged with keywords. And of course, you can search for any aspect of a note, from contents to date modified. (Notes even have fields to store your GPS coordinates from when you created them.)

Obviously, this is boon for writers when it comes to research. But what I’ve discovered is that it works just as well for writing copy itself. Every article I write for my blog, and every chapter of novels I write, begin as notes in Evernote. They all live in my “Writing” notebook, with blog entries tagged with “JeffKirvin.net” and chapters tagged with the name of the book they’re a part of. Then I just start typing.

I’ve found that I prefer the various dedicated clients to the web version, just for speed. I use the portable Windows version running off a thumbdrive at the office, installed Windows clients on my netbook and home PC, and I have Evernote installed on both my Windows Mobile-based Touch Pro and on my iPod Touch. Stuff that I’m currently working on is tagged with “!QuickAccess” so I can just search on that tag and see everything at once.

On the iPod Touch, I have to be mindful that on that device I won’t always have an active internet connection, meaning I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to pull notes down from the cloud. Mobile clients don’t store everything locally and sync the way the desktop clients do. They basically just provide a faster interface to your web-based notes. But the exception is that on the iPhone and iPod Touch, you can mark individual notes as “favorites” (they get a little star) and those notes will be locally cached on the device for offline access. So I make sure every time I access something on my QuickAccess list on the iPod that I star it as a favorite.

There is one catch I feel I should mention. On both the iPhone and Windows Mobile clients, you can view any note you want, but you can only edit plain text notes. Any rich formatting– italics, bold, changing the font– will make the note read-only on the mobile device. Since I’m using this for drafts, not presentation, this doesn’t really affect me much. I write everything in plain text and then add formatting only when I copy the text into either Word (for fiction) or Live Writer (for blogging). But I thought it warranted a mention just to save people some of my initial confusion.

If you want the capability to write anywhere you have a PC or a phone, no matter what it is, Evernote might just be the tool for you. I breathe a lot easier knowing that not only is all my writing automatically backed up to the cloud, but that I can get to it, add to it and edit it from wherever I may be.

It’s the apps, stupid

I’ve made the argument that the first generation iPhone wasn’t really a smartphone. It was just a really, really nice feature phone. As the lines between the two continue to blur–and some manufacturers ship the same handset with a smartphone OS under one name and an embedded OS under another–I think it’s worth pointing out what the difference really is. Smartphones are expandable, using third party software to do significantly more than they could fresh out of the box. With feature phones, you might get a lot of capability out of the box, but that’s also all you get. You can’t add new features later. Basically, smartphones have a native SDK.

The iPhone didn’t become a smartphone until the second generation. It wasn’t wasn’t the 3G radio that made it a smartphone, or indeed any of the capabilities it shipped with. What made it a smartphone was the App Store. The ability to easily add software to make the iPhone do different things, things Apple didn’t provide. The App Store is probably the single most important feature in the iPhone and iPod Touch, making iPhone a smartphone instead of a mere media phone, and the iPod Touch a PDA rather than just a media player.

This is a fundamental advantage over previous platforms, and a big part of the reason why the other platforms have been scrambling to catch up. Having the ability to search for, browse and buy applications directly on the device makes it so much more likely people will actually use third party software. I saw statistics back in the day saying that while people who used third party apps on the Palm typically installed dozens of them, over 70% of Palm users never installed even one application that didn’t come with the phone. A lot of them didn’t even know they could. The shiny blue App Store icon on the iPhone removes that limitation.

But there’s something else here that makes the iPhone and iPod Touch special. Not only are apps much easier to add to the iPhone than other smartphones, but the apps themselves tend to be of an average higher quality than those on other platforms. I know there’s a lot of fluff on the App Store, and I should point out that I haven’t purchased a single one of the myriad choices for providing artificial flatulence, but the apps I have purchased have all been more polished and stable than most (but not all) of the Windows Mobile apps I’ve used. On the whole, the average iPhone app is a more satisfying user experience than the average Windows Mobile app.

In the next few days, I’m going to spotlight some of what I think makes the iPhone stand out, and compare those apps to counterparts on other platforms. So far, here’s what I have in mind:

  • Tweetie in the iPhone vs PockeTwit on the Touch Pro
  • Birdhouse (a unique and excellent idea)
  • eReader, Stanza and Kindle, oh my!
  • What to do: Toodledo vs Life Balance vs Ultimate ToDos
  • Evernote on the iPhone vs Evernote on Windows Mobile

If you have any other ideas or suggestions for iPhone software you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.

Starting down the the path to the Dark Side

It’s time I just come out and say it. I have little to no faith in Microsoft’s ability to execute with the future of Windows Mobile. Specifically, upgradeability is a problem, and without that, new hotness features like the new user interface and app store are completely irrelevant for most Windows Mobile users.

While Apple, Google, Palm and even RIM are providing easy, free and in some cases non-destructive (leaves your data in place) upgrades, virtually none of the devices currently on the market, even those with more than enough horsepower to handle it, will be upgradeable to Windows Mobile 6.5. And upgradeability from 6.5 to 7, due out next year, looks similarly bleak. In the midst of a global recession while the competition is adding value to the devices people already have, Microsoft and their partners seem to believe that their users will be willing and eager to upgrade not once but twice to new hardware inside an 18 month window.

Microsoft, of all companies, should know better. Witness their current difficulty in getting users to upgrade from Windows XP. My company, a Fortune 500 corporation, just added Firefox as an option alongside IE 6 this week. The collective “thanks, but no thanks” from the user community they got for Vista will ring hauntingly familiar when people don’t line up to buy handsets based on their new operating systems. A deep recession is the worst time to pull what is likely to be seen as a bait and switch: Buy a hot new Touch Pro today, but you’ll have to buy the Touch Pro 2 to get 6.5, and then something else next year to get 7.

Conversely, other mobile platforms are showing far more good faith with their userbase. Even owners of the original iPhone will be able to upgrade to the forthcoming 3.0 firmware this summer, although their hardware won’t support all of the features. Palm has promised over the air, non-destructive upgrades for webOS on the Pre, fitting with their “everything in the cloud” philosophy. So taking a solid look around, I decided to try something else. The Pre isn’t out yet, and the Blackberry is still fairly primitive as mobile OSes go, not much more advanced than PalmOS Garnet. Y’all see where this is going.

No, I didn’t buy an iPhone. I bought an iPod Touch last Friday. The plan is to use this for a few months to get used to the Apple mobile OS and application experience, and then make an informed decision this summer to go one of three ways:

  1. Buy a third generation iPhone, or a refurb second generation (confusingly known as the 3G; I know why it’s called that, but still awkward) if the hardware differences aren’t all that significant (kinda hoping for an iPhone HD tho, mmm nummy 720p graphics)
  2. Buy a Palm Pre and either continue to use the iPod Touch for media (thinking primarily ebooks– eReader, Stanza, Kindle– and video from iTunes) and the Pre for everything else, or just the Pre and give the iPod to my mom if the Pre has eReader support at launch
  3. Buy a Blackberry Pearl and use it strictly as a phone, messenger and tether it over Bluetooth (yay, PdaNet!) to my iPod Touch when I’m out of WiFi range

Notice that none of those possibilities mentions Windows Mobile. While I’m hanging on to my Touch Pro until one of the aforementioned three possibilities emerges, I’m already acutely aware of how clunky and awkward it is, even with TouchFlo3D, compared to more modern alternatives.

Searching for the perfect cloud

I’m still having trouble finding an ideal cloud computing solution. I haven’t written much recently because Google Docs is just enough of a pain in the ass to get to that I don’t bother with it. Turns out I have to be able to write locally, including on my phone. So a 100% web-based solution is out.

For the moment, I’m back to writing in plain text files (not only do I not need word until my third draft, which is more of a revision of the second than a full draft, but it’s actually a distraction dealing with italics and word count when I’m trying to compose) and keeping them in sync via Live Mesh. This works, and works well, but the Mesh clients on my netbook and smartphone chew up a lot more CPU and battery than I’d like.

Rumor has it that Google is going to announce their GDrive cloud storage any day now, and that it will provide access from any device. Given that they say the same thing about Google Docs, and Docs is frustratingly read only on mobile devices, I’m not sure how much to believe them there.

On the PIM side, I’ve ditched hosted Exchange and it’s montly fee (hey, in these troubled times, etc.) and opted for NuevaSync. This works just like Exchange as far as Windows Mobile is concerned and gives me “set and forget” over the air sync to my Google Calendar and Gmail contacts. I’m not one of those “thousands of contacts in discrete categories” kind of people, so Gmail contacts is fine for my needs.

I am currently without a tasks solution, though. I’ve tried implementing GTD for Evernote, but the Windows Mobile client is too limited to really manage my tasklist in Evernote on the go. I’ve tried RememberTheMilk, but don’t like the web interface and don’t like their timed-sync client for Windows Mobile. Google opened up Gmail Tasks to mobile users yesterday, but Opera 9 can only handle the basic XHTML client. If NuevaSync can bring the same easy syncing I get out of Gmail contacts to Gmail tasks, that will be a home run. But until that happens, I’m pretty much at a loss.

Exchanging Exchange

My hosted Exchange provider started acting weird again recently, and I decided I’d had enough. At the same time, the new Live Mesh client that was supposed to improve compatibility with Windows 7 started causing my netbook to freeze up (solid, no moving the mouse pointer even) about five minutes after booting up. Now while the rational thing might be to switch to a different Exchange provider, I decided to shake up my whole computing ecosystem and see what was involved in living La Vida Google.

Exchange email to Gmail

This was probably the easiest transition to make, because of the way I was using my email in the first place. When someone sends me an email to jeff@jeffkirvin.net, it goes first to my domain host, then redirects to Gmail, then gets autoforwarded to my Exchange provider. So all I had to do was turn off that forwarding, and start using Gmail as my mail client instead of Outlook. Frankly, this has worked out better than I expected on my netbook, since I don’t have the overhead of running Outlook to deal with anymore. A lot less random (The program is not responding) messages in titlebars now.

It was a little more challenging to make the switch from Exchange to Gmail as the email client on my phone. Windows Mobile is, obviously, designed to work with Exchange. Setting it up for anything else is a lot less automatic. I opted to go with Google’s IMAP option rather than POP, which meant I wasn’t able to use Microsoft’s automated setup (which defaults to POP). I went with IMAP for two reasons. One, it synchronizes with other mail clients should I decide later I’d rather use something like Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird on my Windows 7 machines instead of Gmail’s web interface, and two, it supports subfolders for labeled items, particularly starred items. I went through the manual IMAP setup instructed provided by Google, and have email syncing to my Touch Pro without a hitch. It’s not push, like my Exchange email was (Google doesn’t fully support the IMAP IDLE protocol), but I’m okay with pulling new messages every 15 minutes. In fact, I might even change that to 30 or even 60 minutes to reduce distractions. If someone needs to contact me quickly, there’s always SMS, Twitter, or an actual phone call.

Exchange calendar to Google Calendar

This was a little more challenging. First I recreated every recurring appointment I had in Exchange in Google Calendar. I could have exported from Outlook to .csv and then imported into Google Calendar, but I have only a dozen or so recurring appointments and very few one-off appointments, so it was probably faster to just recreate them, especially given how easy it is to create new appointments in Google Calendar. That took care of the desktop easy enough, but mobile is a little more challenging. For that, I had to download Goosync. A one year subscription is about $30, or you could go for $60 for a lifetime subscription. This is way less than I was paying for hosted Exchange, so it seemed like a no-brainer. I downloaded and installed the Goosync Windows Mobile client and set it to sync my calendar and contacts. It runs in the background and syncs every half hour, which seems to work okay. Appointments on the device retain full fidelity including repeat settings and alarms.

Exchange contacts to Gmail

I solved this the same way I solved the calendar issue, with Goosync. The one problem I had was that I need to re-add my contact photos and weed out dozens of incomplete contact records Google saved for me automatically that I really don’t want. Once they’re set up, though, they work well enough in Windows Mobile for email, SMS and dialing.

Exchange tasks to Remember The Milk

Gmail supports tasks now, but the feature is still in its infancy, and I can’t find any good way to sync them to other devices. So instead, I went with the most popular of online task lists, Remember The Milk. This has great integration with other services like Gmail, iGoogle, Twitter and SMS. I could use their MilkSync application to sync tasks from the web interface directly to Windows Mobile’s Tasks application, but since Tasks is generally ignored by TouchFlo 3D on my Touch Pro, it’s just as easy for me to manage my tasks on the device in Opera through RTM’s mobile interface as it would be to keep them in the Tasks application and dig that up every time.

Live Mesh to Google Docs

Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept behind Life Mesh, and it’s still technically a technology preview, not even a beta. I’m sure the issues I’ve been having with it recently will be ironed out, especially now that Mesh has been moved under Steve Sinofsky’s Windows division (which is on track for their best release ever in Windows 7). But for now, it’s just not stable enough and requires way too much CPU, especially on my Windows Mobile phone and my netbook. So instead, I’ve uploaded my current projects to Google Docs. This works well enough on my netbook and desktop, though I can’t do much offline because Google Gears doesn’t support Firefox 3.1b2 yet. It also means I can view, but not edit on my phone because Google Docs doesn’t support that through their web interface. I’m still trying to come up with a way around this, but all I’ve come up with so far is saving documents from Google Docs to my desktop, then using my phone’s drive mode to copy them to the phone, then reverse the process when I need to get the document from the phone back into Google Docs. Usually this won’t be worth the trouble. I might just write new material in an email addressed to my Google Docs address and then copy and paste it where it should be the next time I’m online. Still not ideal, but it should work for the rare times I have to write something on the phone. Writing on the phone itself isn’t as big a deal for me as it used to be now that I carry my netbook everywhere I go.

iGoogle or Gmail Labs?

On my phone, I’m accessing my data pretty much the same way I always have, other than the aforementioned difference with tasks. (Hey, Llamagraphics, any chance of a web-based LifeBalance? You could knock RTM right off the map!) On my Windows 7 machines, though, I have more choices. I could keep using Outlook (right!), but even if I opt to go with the web interface, it’s still not cut and dried. I could use Gmail for everything, or I could use iGoogle, Google’s widget driven homepage. Gmail labs offers the ability to insert small side modules for Calendar, Docs and RTM to the right and left of the message list, which has everything on one page, but pretty tiny, especially on my netbook. It is nicely arranged, though. With iGoogle, I can spread stuff out over multiple tabs, change the layout at will, and add in other stuff that I can’t do in Gmail. (Also, Gmail is blocked by content filters at the office, but Google isn’t.) I have three tabs set up in iGoogle. Organizer contains Gmail, Google Calendar, Remember The Milk and Weather. Media contains Google Docs, Google Reader for my RSS feeds and Google News. Social contains widgets for Twitter, Google Talk (my IM of choice), Facebook and MySpace. If I open these up in separate tabs in Firefox, that’s pretty much everything I need for my daily use.

A method to my madness

And last, an ulterior motive. Part of the reason I’m taking this opportunity to transition off Exchange to something a little more open is to make it easier to move to a Palm Pre when they go on sale in March (yes, I’m standing by that prediction), or to an Android-based variant of the Touch HD. I’m still happy with Windows Mobile today, and with a little third party help and some choice registry tweaks it can be as slick and modern as any other mobile OS (more on that to come), but I’ll state publicly that I’m not sure they can overcome the public perception that they’re “old and busted” before such rumor festers into fact. Fortunately, cloud computing offers choices enough to build your own solutions.