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.