Why The Apple iPhone Needs Native Applications
For the past three years, I've had a Samsung i500. I love it. It packs most of the Palm functionality of those Treo smartphones into a usable phone form factor. In other words, it looks like a phone, but it has everything a smartphone has: Palm OS, internet connection, a stylus, etc. I've always had a flip phone, and I can't figure out why anyone would want something that is otherwise.
The best features on my Palm are the applications I have purchased for it. The Palm OS 4.1 software comes with a program that will sync your Outlook mail, but I wanted something that would pull your mail from the server over the phone's built-in Internet connection. So, I got SnapperMail, one of the nicest applications I've ever seen on a Palm. The program even has a mode for browsing e-mail without a stylus because you don't want to pull it out. It's a great time saver.
I also have MyBible, a great Palm application that turns your phone into a bible study device. You can load in numerous translations of the scriptures, highlight and take notes on verses, etc. Pick a book with the stylus, and then you can type in the chapter and verse via the phone's built-in keypad. Plus, there's no big book to carry around.
A few times, people have called me while on the road saying something is wrong with my website. Most of the management of the site is best done with SSH, but what if I'm nowhere near a computer? I found a free, open-source program called TuSSH which will allow you to get into your full SSH session if needed. I don't recommend doing major administration on such a small screen without a keyboard, but in a pinch, it'll do.
My absolute favorite, though,, is Pocket Quicken. For years, I've been keeping track of how much money I have via the ubiquitous Quicken software, and this is the perfect add-on. Whenever I purchase something or go to the bank/ATM, I pull out my phone and quickly enter the payment into Pocket Quicken. It does a great job at autocompleting the company you're paying as well as the category this transaction goes in. Most of the time, it only takes a second or two to enter the transaction. Plus, I always have that main screen there to tell me what the balance of my accounts are. When I am going to update my desktop quicken, I just HotSync my phone with my computer and it all gets transferred over.
So... what does this all have to do with the Apple iPhone? Well, it has to do with Steve's WWDC Keynote where he announced that you could make web applications for the iPhone. Only one of these programs can be done on the iPhone, and that's using their built-in mail client. I doubt their mail client will have all the features that SnapperMail offers me, either, especially since in January Steve talked about working with Yahoo! Mail and I use my own mail server.
For the Bible, I could log on to BibleGateway and read it there. Who knows, it might look good on an iPhone. But, how long does it take to connect to AT&T's wireless internet? 10 seconds? 20 seconds? No matter what, it's longer than it is on my Samsung smartphone. It's gotta take longer to search via the webform too.
SSH? Well, a quick search on Google shows that you can do it if the iPhone supports Java. But, who knows if it will? Apparently someone is already working on getting an iPhone SSH client working, but I have to imagine it's going to be much harder to do just with the default Safari install than if you actually had a full development environment for the iPhone.
And Pocket Quicken? Fat chance of something that cool and useful coming to the iPhone until they release a large SDK. Sure, I could probably use a Quicken.com account to do the same thing. But, how long would it take to enter a transaction? 10 seconds to connect to Internet, another 15 seconds at the least to login and navigate to the entry page, and then at least 15 seconds to enter it. That's easily 3-4 times as long! Even if it can autologin to Quicken.com over a web SSL connection, it'll still take a bunch longer.
And, what if I'm out of a high-speed data area for whatever reason? I'm dead in the water. I can't use any of my custom applications. One decent solution that was mentioned on this week's TWiT was that it could work if the iPhone was outfitted with something like Google Gears. Applications with Gears or its cousin, Adobe Apollo, could possibly give users such as myself the functionality we need with their ability to work offline and synchronize when they are back online.
So, for now, I'm looking for a phone to replace my Samsung i500. It looks like I'll have to go with one of those bulky Palm Treos.