Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Switching from the Treo to the iPhone (Usability Issues and Getting Things Done)

Update: I bought an iPhone, and I've successfully switched from the Treo. More posts to follow.

Like many users of the Treo, I'm considering switching to the iPhone, but I have a few reservations. Following the GTD (Getting Things Done) methodology, I've become used to rapidly creating lists and tasks. I'm concerned that the iPhone, with its touch screen keyboard and inability to cut and paste text, is not well-suited for word processing, business, and productivity applications -- but I'd like to be proved wrong.

This post is an updated compendium of opinions and impressions of iPhone users. It's designed to help people, like myself, who are considering switching from the Treo to the iPhone.

(Suggestions for links and reviews would be appreciated. Please post them in the comments section. Thank you.)

In Favor of the iPhone Keyboard

Apple's iPhone Keyboard Movie

The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism.

Both of us were skeptical about the lack of a conventional keyboard, but so far, it's awesome. Sean's tapping out a bunch of Twitters and emails, single-fingeredly, and sailing through. iPhone does a remarkable job of sniffing out what you meant to type if you goof a little -- more so than any other mobile interface I've used. It'll take some getting used to, and it's not the same as a conventional keyboard. But it does not suck at all.

Against the iPhone Keyboard

“Apple says, ‘We’re not selling to the person who lives on his BlackBerry, we’re selling to the person who listens to music and surfs the Web,’ ” he said.

As much as I think that the glass-topped software-powered keyboard on the iPhone looks cool, I keep coming back the one thing that’s important about a keyboard to me - usability.

Steve Jobs boasted that he’s pretty good at two-thumb typing, and several others at Apple claim that they are just as proficient as a Blackberry power user. So far, I’m nowhere close. It took me a couple of days to get used to hitting the right keys using a single finger.

Second, the instructional leaflet encourages you to “trust” the keyboard (or, as a product manager jokingly put it, to “use the Force”). It sounds like new-age baloney, but it works; once you stop stressing about each individual letter and just plow ahead, speed and accuracy pick up considerably. Even so, text entry is not the iPhone’s strong suit. The BlackBerry won’t be going away anytime soon.


Do memos in the iPhone’s Notes program show up on the computer? No.

Without cursor keys, how do I edit something I’ve written? If you hold your fingertip against the glass, a magnifying loupe appears around it. You can now slide you finger through what you’ve written, moving the insertion point as you go.

The weakest app on the iPhone. Cosmetically, it’s a train wreck. The entire iPhone UI is set in one typeface – Helvetica – and it’s gorgeous. But Notes, in a lame attempt to be “friendly”, displays a UI that looks like a pad of yellow legal paper, and uses the handwriting-esque Marker Felt as the font for note text. This is not adjustable. Marker Felt is silly, ugly, and worst of all, hard to read... Both problems with Notes seem to me an indication that it was designed under the assumption that iPhone would debut alongside Leopard. Mac OS X Leopard includes a system-wide “notes” feature, exposed through Apple Mail, and as you can see in the screenshots, it looks a lot like iPhone Notes – Marker Felt text on a yellow legal pad background. Presumably, some sort of synching is coming eventually, at least with Leopard.


From Apple: Using its built-in calendar, iPhone lets you check your appointments with the flick of a finger. iPhone uses iTunes to sync with the calendar application you already use on your computer — iCal or Entourage on the Mac, or Outlook on a PC — just like it does with your contacts. If you don’t already use one of these applications to manage your appointments, now is a great time to start, so you’ll be ready to sync when your iPhone arrives. If you choose not to use a calendar program, that’s OK. You’ll be able to enter appointments directly into the iPhone calendar.

Does the iPhone synchronize with my computer’s calendar and address book? Yes. It can sync with Address Book or Microsoft Entourage on the Macintosh, Outlook, Outlook Express on Windows, or Yahoo’s address book on the Web. If you add appointments or phone numbers to the iPhone, they are added to your computer the next time you sync.

Calendar Screenshot

Tasks / To Do List

Do To Do items show up on the iPhone? No.

There's no mention of a Tasks / To Do list function in the iPhone manual. (If anyone knows of any third-party options, please comment.)

Presumably, the tasks function on the iPhone will be more complete once Leopard is released: Forget manually entering a new item to your to-do list every time an email hits your inbox. Simply highlight text in an email, then click the To-do icon to create a to-do from a message. Include a due date, set an alarm, or assign priorities. Every to-do you create includes a link to the original email or note, and to-dos automatically appear in iCal, complete with any edits or additions you make. And since to-dos are stored with your email, you can access them from Mail on any Mac.

@task for iPhone is a task and project manager for the iPhone.

Ta-da List

Merlin Mann at 43 folders discusses task management on the iPhone.


Apple's Leopard, Mail Notes & iPhone for GTD?

GTD Apps for the iPhone?

Getting Things Done with an iPhone - total black belt productivity

There's a discussion about using GTD on the iPhone on the forum.

iPhone vs. Treo

10 Ways the iPhone might kick the crap out of my Treo*

Which one will it be? Apple's iPhone or Palm's Treo 755p

Palm Treo 680 vs. Apple iPhone

The 1G iPhone is an Apple product featuring the least ability to synch with a Mac, compared to third-party alternatives, in terms of basic PDA functionality. At the moment if I had to choose one of these devices, I’d go for the Palm 680—and keep my iPod. It’s the only solution that has all my “critical” features.

(More links to come.)

Last Updated 7/4/7


Huck said...

If it only did sprint

John said...

Can the iPhone be used as an EVDO modem? This can be difficult for a Treo and an Apple notebook to do (I know of only one person who got it to work).

Joshua Schwimmer, MD, FACP, FASN said...


According to David Pogue, "No."

Pete said...

I am glad you took the time for this analysis. I held off on switching from a Treo 680 to an iPhone becuase I was concerned that it would not support the essential features required for my GTD system. The task list and notes defciencies are a deal breaker so I guess I will be waiting this one out.

Hopefully apple will add To-Do and notes syncing. I really don't want to rely on a web app to make up the difference.

Huck said...

The power of Gmail in GTD systems is such that it wouldn't be the end of the world to maintain that and access it through the iPhone.

I am still waiting to be in a position to use it full time before making the plunge. I can only use a sprint phone in my hospital.

Anonymous said...

Anyone figure out how to create a "Palm-like" to do list on the iPhone?

John said...

Here's the quote:

“Apple says, ‘We’re not selling to the person who lives on his BlackBerry, we’re selling to the person who listens to music and surfs the Web,’ ” he said.

Here's my comment: they are not selling it to BlackBerry users because the iPhone is a HUGE step down from the BlackBerry. My BlackBerry sync's everything to and from the Mac. iPhone cannot do that (see article).

iPhone is overpriced and incomplete. Using one is the stigmata of brainwashed Apple sycophant.

Anonymous said...

If you use IMAP email, it's pretty easy to set up context folders to implement a GTD system. I use the iPhone's notes application to capture thoughts, ideas, to dos and other snippets of information during the day, I then email these to myself and file them on the appropriate folders. You then work from your lists, just as you would using any other piece of software.

I use this system for notes as well. With so much business bring conducted via email these days, it just seems to make sense to manage all of this in email. I've got so used to working in this way, that a dedicated to do list application would only complicate things for me.

By the way, the keyboard on the iPhone is pretty amazing. I just blast away with one finger, hitting all kinds of incorrect letters, but the software takes care of everything and turns my mistyped words into proper English. You really do have to let go and trust "the force". After less than a day, I was quicker than I ever was on my old Treo 650.

When I'm in my stride, I can easily achieve typing speeds of 25 to 30 words per minute, with almost no errors.

This entire post was made from my iPhone, by the way.

Hope this gives you some perspective and food for thought from a real iPhone user.