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Tuesday, August 28, 2007, 08:25 am PT (11:25 am ET)

iPhone Review Series: iPhone vs. Palm Treo 650


Email

The Treo offers support for Microsoft's Exchange Server network client, which essentially checks email over the web using a specialized client that talks to Exchange's Outlook Web, its webmail gateway.

It also supports RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server and Motorola's Good Technology services for pushing email directly to mobile devices. All three are commonly used in business to deliver corporate email.

The iPhone currently has no client software to support any of the three proprietary systems; it only supports the open IMAP email protocol, using optional SSL encryption. This has caused ignorant wags to call the iPhone insecure, as many IT shops are afraid to expose their Windows Servers to the Internet for fear they would be immediately taken down by crackers looking for Windows Servers riddled with zero day vulnerabilities to exploit.

In reality, the iPhone does support secure email, just not the kind that ropes corporate customers into high priced client access licenses. The false information promulgated by Windows Enthusiasts makes it potentially difficult for iPhone users to convince their IT staff to support standard IMAP email.

I found Palm's own software support for Exchange mail to be problematic for a number of users I supported. If the client had a problem with a corrupt email, the Palm software would require the user to delete their messages and all calendar information from their mobile and resync from scratch.

This follows the same thinking among IT managers who erase and reinstall Windows PCs from images rather than troubleshooting, simply because Windows is nearly impossible to troubleshoot and that from a practical perspective, it makes no sense to waste time trying.

That means iPhone users will be second class citizens in many Windows-based corporate IT shops, and that users might likely have to forward their mail to a standard account to receive it, or bypass their corporate accounts and simply use the iPhone for personal email. The solution will be for Apple to include support for proprietary emails systems, which it has hinted at doing.

For users not beholden to corporate email, the iPhone offers a clearly superior email experience. It receives full HTML emails and can send out photos taken from the iPhone. It can also receive standard PDF, graphics, and Word and Excel files and display them. The integrated document viewing software handles email file attachments the same way as Safari handles linked files such as PDF or Word documents linked to a web page. In either case, the document is presented in a resolution independent, zoomable viewer similar to Safari web pages.

On the Palm Treo, attempts to download documents and view them requires third party support. One feature the Treo offers that the iPhone doesn't is the ability to edit Office documents. This is offset by the Treo's lack of enough Flash RAM and its clumsy, slow, archaic operating system.

Even when the Treo has a clear advantage, its general software and hardware problems combine to make those potential strengths rather impractical. Anyone who really needs to edit Word documents on a tiny screen will be flummoxed by the iPhone, which doesn't pretend to be a pocket sized laptop. In my case, the benefits of trying to use the Palm's Office editing features (provided by Documents to Go third party software) were simply not practical enough to miss on the iPhone.

More information on syncing and using data files on the iPhone are presented in "Using iPhone: File and iTunes Sync Via USB, Wireless, and Over the Air," "Using iPhone: Notes, ToDos, Attached Files, and Mac OS X Leopard" and "Using Apple's iPhone in the Enterprise."

Calendar

During the periods where I could get my Treo to reliably sync with my desktop, one of the primary useful features was its calendar, which was equal to contacts in terms of being powerfully useful on a mobile device. The Palm's sync problems, particularly on the Mac, greatly limited the potential of this feature. The two layer sync between Palm Sync and the Mac's built in Sync Services resulted in lots of my Palm data ending up duplicated, and basically kept my calendars and to-dos perpetually messed up.

The iPhone syncs beautifully with iCal and Sync Services, but only from the desktop. There's no support for over the air synchronization with web services such as Google or Yahoo, or even Apple's own .Mac. The iPhone even lacks any support at all for To Do items or Notes.

That leaves the iPhone's calendar firmly stuck as a consumer-only solution. That problem will be fixed in the move to Mac OS X Leopard, which includes support for new system wide calendar, notes, and to-do events much like the existing Mac Address Book handles system wide contact data today.

Until Apple solves that problem over the next two months, the iPhone's calendar is only serviceable, not impressive. Further outlook on Apple's future iPhone plans were noted in the article "Using iPhone: iCal, CalDAV Calendar Servers, and Mac OS X Leopard."

Mac Friendly

Compared to the Treo, the iPhone has a very different set of strengths and weaknesses in its support for email and calendar services. However, the advantage of the iPhone is its clear future of improvement; Palm quite obviously doesn't care about Mac users and will never improve upon its existing muddle of flaky syncing and sloppy, slow, and inelegant mobile software.

No other vendor can offer the level of integration between a mobile and a desktop because no other vendor makes mobiles, desktops and the software that powers each.

A vendor like Palm only makes a small subset of the software involved, and clearly doesn't care much about Mac users. It has been focusing its efforts on providing support for Windows and Office users. In doing so, it's captive to Microsoft's own proprietary standards and systems.

Palm had to jump when Microsoft announced its own ActiveSync built into Windows, which basically obsolesced Palm's own HotSync. That left Palm struggling to incorporate support for portions of ActiveSync to allow Palm OS devices to get data from Exchange Server, while also maintaining and supporting its own cross platform HotSync. On the Mac side, Apple developed its own Sync Services architecture and delivered support for integration with Palm devices, but Palm's lack of interest in Mac users squandered its opportunity to deliver a fine Mac product.

Apple's now going it alone, and the iPhone really shows up the core deficiencies of Palm's approach. Palm is essentially turing itself into a Windows Mobile vendor at a time when Windows Mobile isn't otherwise growing. Microsoft itself faces the problem of developing a software platform that isn't worth much.

While Microsoft makes lots of money from automatic sales of Windows on every PC sold, there is no volume market for PDAs running Windows Mobile, and Microsoft has done little to give consumers any reason to choose Windows Mobile for mobile phones. That leaves Microsoft to develop a complex, unique operating system and development environment for a platform that only sells a few million devices every year. Windows Mobile is much like Apple, if it were a software-only platform trying to make its money licensing its Mac software to hardware makers.

Just as Apple couldn't maintain a business selling unique OS software to Mac clone vendors, Microsoft can't maintain its Windows Mobile business selling software to Palm and other WinCE licensees, because hardware makers won't pay enough for the software to sustain the huge efforts Microsoft has to invest in it. That's why Microsoft has lost billions of dollars in its WinCE efforts over the last ten years.

Apple on the other hand makes its money selling iPhone hardware and earning service revenues shared with AT&T. Apple's iPhone hardware sales are already set to eclipse Microsoft's Windows Mobile sales as early as next year. Apple's sustainable hardware sales mean the iPhone platform features will develop as rapidly as the iPod's and the Mac's, which Apple has regularly advanced at a pace far faster than either Palm's own OS or Microsoft's Windows Mobile.

The iPhone is not only self-sustaining in a way that no other mobile OS vendor can match, it's also an advertisement for Apple's Mac and iPod lines, making it in Apple's favor to market each in integrated ways. That will give the iPhone strong integration with the Mac OS, but also allows it to borrow from the success of the iPod.

On Page 4: Video iPod, Bluetooth, Battery Life, Cases, and WiFi.