Update March 2011: This entry is from 2009 and somewhat out of date, but then somewhat not. Everyone uses their smartphone for different reasons, but then there are some important elements that I am still finding useful. I've written a new version of these thoughts: What I do with my smartphone (iPhone) today.
Stuart Henshall has long been interested in how technology changes and affects the way we work. He was a huge early supporter of Skype and has moved into some other interesting areas. The other day, he asked the question, How is your mobile phone use changing? What would your next smart phone do?
While it was a rhetorical question, it's a topic I've been pondering lately too. My current phone is an AT&T Tilt (HTC 8925) - running Windows Mobile 6. It's been a handy smartphone for the last year and a half, but it also has some "features" too that don't do what I'd expect, and a few that are just missing.
Stuart looks at several topics key to his use of the smartphone, interestingly none of them are directly "using the thing as a phone." Some of my topics (playing off his):
- Phone: It needs to work as a phone, even when I don't have "five bars" in my connection. No dropped calls (current phone), and understandable transmission in both directions (an older phone).
- Reading: While I thought I would do a lot of reading on this phone, that hasn't been the case. Smartphones are home of short attention spans. Long emails and other documents aren't easy to process on such a small device. It's not only the frequent scrolling, but I lose a lot of the formatting and context on the phone. For blogs, I have found the same thing. Conceptually, it should be easy to read my blog subscriptions via Newsgator Go or the mobile version of Google Reader. It might help if all the applications on the phone would respect the advanced touch features of the HTC Touch screen.
- Communication: While I don't read much long-form stuff, I do a lot of Twitter, Facebook quick views, instant messages, and quick reviews of email. The phone has to make it easy to do these things either via the messaging interface or in the browser. My current phone does this all fairly well. (I'd like the connection between my laptop and phone to work better in terms of reading & processing email, but that is a drawback of current standards, rather than any one phone.)
- User Interface:
- The UI of the HTC Touch screen is very nice. I now expect most handheld devices to have this capability and have to laugh when I try to tap on the screen of a friend's Blackberry. The auto-rotate is very nice when I open the phone for the keyboard.
- On the other hand, I sometimes get tired of opening and rotating the screen to get the keyboard.
- According to HTC, they developed some interesting capabilities in their touch screen (not quite Apple's multi-touch, but close). Unfortunately, either those features don't exist, or AT&T disabled them, or none of the applications know what to do with them.
- Internet: The browser should just work. This includes playing and viewing all standard media I might come across: videos don't play on this phone without installing some third-party applications. And when the data connection is not operative, I should get an intelligible message from the phone with a way to correct the problem. I do like that the touch screen makes scrolling relatively easy.
- Apps: There are tons of applications for Windows Mobile phones, but there is no central store for them. As a result, I don't have many, other than those that came with the phone and Google Maps, which is indispensable - and provides turn-by-turn. It's nice that it can use the built-in GPS. (I have a few other apps that are for tweaking the phone, which is something I really shouldn't have to do: a registry editor, for example.)
- PIM: One of the key things a smartphone needs to do is deal with my personal information management (PIM) and synchronize that with other places where I keep PIM-type information. Thus my contacts, calendar, tasks, etc should synchronize properly and easily. One of the nice aspects of Windows Mobile is the "easy" connection to Outlook.
- Camera: The phone has a slow digital camera that is fine for what it is. I don't need more megapixels, but I would like to be able to take real snapshots. (A snapshot doesn't take several seconds between pushing the button and taking the picture - it should be instant.) The video capability is nice, and I've used that a few times with the kids and just for fun.
- Games: I expect all phones to come with a couple games. This one has several, including Bubble Breaker which is a mindless time waster - and the kids like it. I don't buy a phone based on the games available.
- Music: I had thought I might listen to music from this phone and put aside my iPod, but it requires a special headphone jack (and it would run down the battery). So I keep the phone and the music separate. Is the iPhone much different in this regard?
- Battery life: The battery needs to give me more than one hour of talk time - preferably several. My current phone has died about one hour into conference calls (with Bluetooth headset), which means I need to leave it plugged in - a small problem when traveling.
Overall, the smartphone has to fit into my life, not my life fit to the phone. It needs to enable me to get things done beyond the standard phone calls of any mobile phone. If it gets in my way, then it becomes a burden to use, instead of a useful device. I don't mind the phone and related applications showing me new ways to do things, as I think we are all learning what could be.