Clash of the Touch Titans; iPhone 3G 3.0 vs. Palm Pre

The big news of the past week for mobile phone fans was obviously the iPhone 3.0 software update and I posted that this update would have me running to buy the iPhone 3G to use with my AT&T SIM. It turns out that is not as simple if you upgraded in the last few months (I tried the Bold and then went with the HTC Fuze) where AT&T won’t even give me an option to buy one at full price.

I could resort to eBay and pick it up for a lower price than what AT&T will soon charge for a no-committment iPhone ($599/$699), but this bump in the road of picking one up has given me a chance to pause and further think about what device deserves my hard earned cash in these uncertain economic times. As a service to my readers and as a way for me to lay out and figure out what may be the best of the touch-focused devices either available or coming soon from each of the major mobile operating systems I will be presenting you with five Clash of the Touch Titans articles that looks at the operating system, hardware, carriers, 3rd party applications, and overall functionality. The selected touch screen devices will each be pitted against the new iPhone 3.0 operating system update running on an iPhone 3G because it is currently the hottest device available at the moment. Those devices include the Palm Pre, HTC Magic, BlackBerry Storm, Samsung OMNIA HD, and HTC Touch Diamond2.

A couple of these devices can be hacked and jailbroken to add functionality and features not seen in the original device. I will not be considering these methods since the majority of the buyers and readers will not be risking their expensive devices to obtain a few more features using means that are debatable. I also understand that there may be higher end devices, like the N97 and Touch Pro2, but I wanted to stick with touchscreen only devices if possible. That is also why I have the HTC Magic in the lineup instead of the currently available T-Mobile G1/HTC Dream. There is no Palm WebOS device without a keyboard so the Palm Pre is included in the lineup.

Let’s kick off this series with the iPhone 3G with 3.0 OS compared to the Palm Pre running the Palm WebOS. This first article will be focused on what we know about each of these upcoming devices/operating systems, but there are still a few aspects of both that have not clearly been defined and neither is available for any hands-on trials.

Operating System

Mac iPhone OS X: The Mac iPhone OS X operating system found in the iPhone has gone through a few updates since its launch in June 2007 and has gotten better every time. One great aspect of the OS is that Apple has been able to upgrade both the iPhone 3G and original iPhone devices to the latest and greatest version. It reminds me of why I kept an Apple computer for so long back in the 90s and 00s when I could continue to upgrade my computer with operating system updates and didn’t have to go out and buy new hardware all the time to enjoy the benefits of the OS. I still have an original iPhone (with an iPhone 3G being purchased soon) and think that my buddy Sascha Segan wrote a great article on how Apple’s OS upgrade strategy is key to the iPhone’s success compared to other mobile operating systems.

I remember the day I first turned on my new iPhone (after waiting all night in line) and asking myself immediately “How can a mobile phone have this slick of an interface?” It still amazes me how fluid everything seems to be on the iPhone, especially when it comes to navigating the Internet, browsing through photos, viewing email, playing games, and just jumping through all the applications. We have had modern smartphone devices for something like 4 years before the iPhone and it took Apple to show us how smooth an interface could really be if done right.

For the most part, the Mac iPhone OS X operating system is fairly consistent throughout the device and with the iPhone 3.0 OS update it will be even more so (landscape keyboard in all key default apps, MMS support, cut/copy/paste). It is an attractive, icon heavy operating system that is dead simple to pick up and start using. Finger gestures, swipes, pinches, and more are used to enhance the user experience and it really is a fun device to use. This is especially true if you are coming from another smartphone OS that isn’t quite as seamless and zippy.

The lack of multitasking is one area of the operating system that lags behind other smartphone platforms. I could deal with the lack of multitasking for many things, but it sure would be nice to be able to stream Pandora and work with email or surf the web as well as have IM apps running in the background. With the major improvements in the API and the server side push notifications we may see some interesting ways of dealing with lack of true multitasking in iPhone 3.0.

Another area that can use significant improvement in the Mac iPhone OS X iPhone operating system is notifications. Google nailed notifications on the Android platform and Apple should look to them for a way to improve. Currently, iPhone notifications are quite disruptive and pop up on your device no matter what you may be doing. They are also associated with apps and there is no central notification area. The Palm Pre looks to take a cue from Android and appears to get it right so I hope this is one feature that is coming, but was not detailed in the iPhone 3.0 announcement.

The iPhone makes the phone experience a breeze too with the very simple way of letting you choose speakerphone, Bluetooth headset, or handset speaker to listen to your callers. Calling is easy with your favorites or the on-screen large dial pad. Voicemail is a pleasure thanks to the visual voicemail system. The proximity sensor also avoids those unintended display presses and works like a champ.

There is no physical keyboard, but there are on-screen keyboards in both portrait and landscape orientations. The key to entering data successfully is to let the operating system predict your intended input and keep pressing on. If you go back and make lots of corrections then typing will be slow so let the software handle it and push forward to get the fastest text experience.