Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iPod touch as PDA

As I've described elsewhere, I've been a Palm fan since the Palm IIIx was state of the art. Via the Zire 71, I've had a Palm TX for just over a couple of years. The Missing Sync has made the TX a viable PDA for an OS X desktop, but it's looking a bit tired.

The release of the iPhone 3G in Australia has been an enormous let-down. While I really like the idea of owning an iPhone, and while I've proven myself willing to be reamed by Apple, I'm just not ready to be dual-reamed by both Apple and, say, Telstra. 3G data plans in Australia are nothing short of utterly ridiculous. Several people suggested to me that I look at the iPod touch instead. This was an idea that, initially, I didn't take seriously, mostly because one of those people was Stephen White, and I hate it when Steve's right. In any case, last weekend I did the customary amount of pre-gadget-purchase research on the issue (none), and went out and bought an iPod touch.

It's a nice looking device. The screen is large. At 480×320 pixels, it apparently has the same count as the Palm TX, though that's where the similarity ends. For one thing, the pitch on the iPod is smaller, squeezing them into about half an inch less real estate. The display is brighter, the colour is better. Every thing you've heard about the screen on the iPhone and the iPod touch is true. Many applications (though not all) can be viewed in both portrait and landscape mode, and switching between them is a simple matter of turning the device itself. (A notable exception, as far as I can tell, is the Mail application. I'd really like to be able to read mail in landscape mode.)

Coming from a stylus-based touch screen, the iPod's direct-touch interface is interesting. To be honest, I was skeptical—I assumed it would be hopeless, way too easy to fat-finger everything. Of course, it's not. It works very well. The hot point of a given touch is just the centre of your fat finger. The device seems to get it right pretty much all of the time. Typing is tedious (though, again, significantly more accurate than I thought it would be), but I think the ‘virtual-keyboard vs hardware-keyboard’ debate is largely moot—typing on any miniature keyboard is excruciating.

I am yet to put it through any normal day's use, but as far as I can see, reports of poor battery life seem to be well-founded. I can't see it getting through more than a day of even medium-level use. It will need a recharge at least daily.

Connectivity is via USB cable and WiFi, there's no Bluetooth. I must admit, I really liked cable-less syncing of the Palm TX, but I just can't put the lack of Bluetooth in deal-breaker territory. A proportion of syncing (contacts, calendars and mail) can be done over WiFi anyway, assuming there's a MobileMe subscription. Frankly, that's good enough for me. I'm just pleased to be putting the overpriced fee to some additional use.

I have made some tentative visits to the iTunes App Store. There seems to be a lot of junk. I downloaded Apple's Remote app, and it is as neat as people keep exclaiming. Beyond that, there's a slew of the kind of standard rubbish you see for every mobile platform (for the love of god, who's out there converting all those units?). I used the Palm TX for three main tasks, and I think the iPod touch is going to cover most of it:
  • Diary. The built-in Calendar app, syncing seamlessly with iCal, far surpasses the Palm.
  • Contacts. Again, the built-in Contacts app, syncing seamlessly with Address Book, has this covered.
  • Password storage. We start to hit a rough spot here. I was using a free product called Keyring on the TX. I have no doubt there is a password storage application already available for the iPod, probably several. But it's going to need a partner on the desktop, because I'm not going to type all the information in by hand more than once again. Further, I've got some additional passwords stored in Yojimbo, so ideally I want an iPod version of that (not happening in the near future), or at least something that can share Yojimbo's password data. For now, I'm just going to move from Keyring to Yojimbo on the desktop.
Finally, I very much want to check out OmniFocus for iPhone, as I make extensive use of OmniFocus on the desktop. Obviously the idea is to have the application on the iPod sync with the desktop database, but “Sync requires OmniFocus 1.1, currently pre-release...”. I did enough beta-testing for Omni Group during the OmniFocus open beta. I just don't have a good feeling about letting a pre-release 1.1 loose on my (fairly large) OmniFocus database. So I plan to sit this one out until the real 1.1 release.

11 comments:

  1. I've been thinking the same thing about getting a Touch rather than an iPhone, but I've heard a rumour (surprise) of updates around September, so I thought I'd try something completely different and wait and see.

    A couple of questions though:

    Does the calendar application only syncwith iCal (I tend to use a Google Calendar synced to my work Outlook)?

    How is it as an iPod? (Because if I get one, then I may well be forced to surrender my old iPod to my wife)

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  2. Purchasing just before product updates is a hobby of mine.

    Yeah, me too - that's why I'm trying very hard to resist. Whether I am successful remains to be seen.

    I can currently fit my entire collection in 32G, but with only a few gigabytes to spare.

    I've only got a 30G now, so not a big stretch for me if I cull a bit. I was wondering about the battery life for music playback - am I going to make it from home to home without a recharge?

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  3. I sympathise... I hate it when I'm right too. I thought I was wrong, once, but it turned out that I was wrong.

    I was also looking at OmniFocus, but found another program that looks more interesting, "Things"... because it has some ability to interact with other people without being a full on project management too.

    http://www.culturedcode.com/things/iphone/

    Has a desktop app too, of course. Surprisingly, it appears to be slicker than Omni... which I wouldn't have thought was an easy thing to do, seeing as Omni are a very slick mob.

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  4. Hi Steve,

    I sympathise... I hate it when I'm right too. I thought I was wrong, once, but it turned out that I was wrong.

    You were wrong not to install Mutt for me when I asked you to back in about 2003. I'm still not over it.

    "Things"...

    I've heard of it, but haven't looked at it. There's a fair bit of inertia behind my OmniFocus setup at the moment, so I will definitely check that out when 1.1 ships. I'll take a look at Things in the meantime.

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  5. You caught me in my idealistic "gonna clean the systems up!" phase. If you'd asked again a few months later, you would have gotten me in the cynical "it'll never change" phase.

    In fact, I remember my Gentoo "whatever you want, I'll put it on for you because now I don't have to maintain the smegging thing now" phase. I even installed vim, instead of the real version of vi.

    It still amuses me that I held out for a year, pointing out that the real version of vi was the authentic deal, and if you used vim then you may as well concede that emacs won the war.

    I, myself, use joe.

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  6. I was wondering what you think about replacing a palm 3c (yes a little outdated) with the new ipod touch. it would be a gift for my wife. i tried to push her towards the iphone as a all in one device, but she'd rather have her pda and phone separate. the only requirement she has is that she can keeps separate calendars with palm calendar and outlook calendar (she doesn't sync the 2). Not sure her exact rationale, but probably to separate client and personal. Would the ipod touch meet her requirements. It sounds like it only syncs to outlook (we're window users)
    thanks

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  7. I was wondering what you think about replacing a palm 3c (yes a little outdated) with the new ipod touch. it would be a gift for my wife. i tried to push her towards the iphone as a all in one device, but she'd rather have her pda and phone separate. the only requirement she has is that she can keeps separate calendars with palm calendar and outlook calendar (she doesn't sync the 2). Not sure her exact rationale, but probably to separate client and personal. Would the ipod touch meet her requirements. It sounds like it only syncs to outlook (we're window users)
    thanks

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  8. Would the ipod touch meet her requirements. It sounds like it only syncs to outlook (we're window users)

    Basically, I just don't know. Any Windows users want to chime in?

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  9. Hi Paul,

    Any news on the OmniFocus integration and usability on the iPod?

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  10. Hi Paul,

    I would love to use an iPhone/iPod but whenever I try to persuade myself to spend some money on either I find myself in doubt: the iPhone is simply too expensive (at least here in Europe) and the iPod always seems to be a little incomplete (and I already have a few older iPods lying around...). GRRR!

    But thanks for your tip!
    Harald

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  11. (In fact, I think the iPod touch makes for a comparatively lousy iPod. I use my old 60G colour iPod in preference for playing music. Basically, I really miss the click-wheel.)

    Bite your tongue. When I get Over the Air Podcasts in firmware update 2.2 I'll never go back ;)

    Would be nice if there was a built in FM receiver though. And I'm tempted to think that they're avoiding cut and paste out of sheer bloody mindedness...

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