Palm vs iPhone — where’s the features?

Sean McNamara
6 August, 2008
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I’m a long-time Palm user — and I’ve resisted combining my PDA and my phone for many years. However, when 11 July rolled around this year, I was in the Apple store lining up for over three hours in the afternoon to get my hands on Apple’s phone/PDA combo.

I love the iPhone — it’s the best phone I’ve used without a shadow of a doubt — but there are certainly things I miss from my Palm which I’d love to see on the iPhone and I don’t think I’m the only one who would like the following features, all of which I used extensively on my Palm.

Phone Lookup. This handy feature allows you to enter the start of a contact’s name, perform the Phone Lookup function, and the rest of the contact’s name is entered along with their phone number. In its most basic form it allows you to, for example, easily enter a contact’s name and phone number as a calendar event — useful for consultants like me.

Where Phone Lookup actually shines, though, is as the inspiration for PhoneLookup Hack — a utility which replaces the built-in lookup with a customisable one. You can specify fields from the contact’s records to include in the lookup, as well as arbitrary text of your choice. This allowed me, for example, to easily enter the contact’s company name, my main contact and their phone number, their street address and a list of codes for me to specify the job type (phone support, on-site support, minimum callout, travel time, etc).

The iPhone’s calendar requires you to enter event details by hand; boy, do I miss PhoneLookup Hack.

System-wide search. Let’s face it, the iPhone doesn’t do search, and where this really lets me down is when searching for a contact. If I have multiple contacts in one company, and those contacts are listed by company, they all appear with the same name in the list of contacts — makes sense. Try and search for the names of the people listed under the company name, and the iPhone doesn’t find a thing. So I have to remember where a particular contact would be alphabetically so I know which of the company’s contacts to open.

The fact I can’t find contacts, notes, events or anything else across my iPhone is quite a shortcoming, and one Apple needs to address at the operating system level, rather than having something tacked on by a third-party developer (or worse, several third party developers with competing implementations).

Apple “gets” search, as proven by Spotlight in Mac OS X. It’s such a shame that it didn’t “get it” with the iPhone, as well.

System-wide cut/copy/paste (and text-select). Cut/copy/paste is a big deal — need to copy something from Notes into your Calendar (done it heaps of times on my Palm), or from Safari to Notes or Mail? Too bad, it just can’t be done. Nor can the technology cut and paste relies on — text selection.

This is a biggie. Need to delete a swathe of text? Position the cursor on the iPhone and press that delete key over and over again. And if you get impatient and just tap at it mindlessly, you’re likely to overshoot where you wanted to stop deleting.

You can’t copy/copy/paste without selecting text first, and you can’t select text on the iPhone.
This is another area Apple needs to address at the OS level, rather than waiting for someone else to develop a kludge.

To-dos. I’m getting by with OmniFocus, but I understand that the lack of to-dos in the Calendar app is a biggie for many people. There are so many to-do apps on the App Store because so many people want basic to-do lists. Now, some of those apps go beyond basic, but many don’t, and Apple needs to see that as a sign of what its customers want.

Week View in Calendar. This is one I really don’t understand — there’s no Week view in the Calendar app. There’s room for a button for it, and it’s surely one very basic calendar application feature, but on the iPhone you have Day, Month and List views, and that’s it. The Palm has always had a week view.

The above isn’t my whole list. Where’s disk mode for file storage (third party apps aside), where’s Java, beaming, contact duplication and typing shortcuts? There’s one item on my wish-list which will certainly rely on a third party, and that’s DataViz’s Documents To Go, which allows not just the viewing of Word and Excel documents (which can be achieved in a few ways on the iPhone), but also the editing of them. Now that’ll be a killer feature for Enterprise customers.

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