Those Pesky Migration Issues

by David Lane

I hate having to change. I do not know a lot of people that really enjoy it, but there are just certain aspects to change that bug me. And when it comes to changing technologies, it is even more of a headache, both in the short term and in the long term.

When Palm first announced their new WebOS-based Pré, I instantly wanted one. I have been a PalmOS user since the first Palm Pilot replaced my Sharp Wizard as a PDA. OK, so there were a few years of using a couple of paper based systems in there, but when the Pilot came out, I was pretty much hooked. When my Treo650 died, I had two options. Move to the 700W or the Centro. Having test driven a 700W for a week at a conference, I knew it was not going to measure up to the load I put on my devices, so I made the decision to go with the Centro, figuring I would upgrade to the Pré shortly thereafter. This was before Palm, in one of the strangest marketing decisions ever, decided to hang their hat on the Sprint network and lock out the others. I am still not sure what the phone vendors get from these exclusive decisions, but clearly the networks get an awful lot out of it. But I had bigger fish to fry. I live and work in Metro Washington, DC and the choice of network is almost as important as the choice of handset. In fact, in many cases, the network you are on is more important than the capabilities of the phone. It is more than marketing and coverage maps. It is reliable functionality. So I had to wait for the first wave of the Pré to be sold and Palm to open distribution to the other networks, which it finally has. Now I have only a couple of months left before I can upgrade.

And then, this morning, an article in Ars Technica, predicting, not only the death of the Pré, but potentially Palm itself has me rethinking my entire decision, and contemplating a move to another communication device all together, which leaves me in a quandary of having to ask all the migration questions over again.

And if you have never asked them, let us ask them together and see what we come up with. First and foremost, this is not just a phone. As Shawn Powers has opined, cell phones are less about the phone and more about the other services that are available. Unfortunately, whatever device I get, it has to work well as a phone. I still do phone stuff. I talk to vendors, communicate with less technically savvy people and occasionally apply for jobs, all with the phone part of the, well, phone. So it has to be comfortable to use as a phone. This was one of the knocks against the early editions of the BlackBerry – it was not, from a form factor perspective a good phone to use as a phone. It was very difficult to use it for a half-hour conversation. (I suspect this is part of what gave rise to the large after market of headsets, both tethered and bluetooth, but I digress.)

The next thing it has to do is support more than one email account, preferably via APOP but POP3 works too, and the ability to send back through that account, on a number of different systems. I have four primary email accounts, and they are three different email providers. None of them use Exchange, and I don’t care if they push, as long as they support pull and notification. This is not a huge obstacle anymore, but it is a requirement.

Now we get tricky. It has to support my address book and calendar. This is one thing that Palm did well. It was a great Personal Information Manager. It would integrate appointments, link them with the SMS, email scheduling and note taking function and it was seamless. It would synchronize updates from a PC based program (admittedly it was the Palm desktop, but it was a clean interface for what it did) and allow you to manage your world. It just worked. And it worked in the dreaded upgrades too. Each version of the code would import the older versions without a hiccup. And that is critical for any PIM. If you cannot upgrade your data without pain, then the PIM is not going to work for you long term, and let’s face it, how many of us like retyping into the data fields all of our contact information. If, like me you have been doing this for more than 20 years, you have hundreds of addresses and associated phone numbers and email addresses. Starting over is not an option.

I would like a real browser. That is one drawback on the Centro, and in fact all the PalmOS based systems is that the browser is crippled. This is not a major issue most of the time, but it does occasionally bite me when I am trying to do something, usually look up a restaurant address (another reason why I detest web sites that have over used flash and do not actually have a textual address somewhere, but I digress.)

So far, most systems fall into the acceptable use category. Now I am going to get fussy. It has to have a keyboard. Not a touch screen keyboard, but a physical keyboard. I have used touch screens and they are nice for a short LOL or On my way, but when you are typing up a response to an email or working on a document, they fail miserably. And I have written up some fairly lengthy documents on my Treo and my Centro over the years, especially when I am somewhere without another form of Internet access. And in the same vein, once I have written them, I want to be able to get them off the device too, so cut and paste to email or simple synchronization is critical.

It has to be able to read a variety of documents. Most notably these are the ones that arrive as attachments to email. I am not going to insist it open a Primavera project schedule, but certainly word processor documents, spreadsheets and PDF documents are essential. It can do it either as a native function or though a third party, I am not fussy, as long as it can be done. It would nice if it could edit them too. One of the reasons I have continued to pay money to DataVis.

My final must have requirement is probably a little odd, but that is me. It has to be silent. It can vibrate and it can have a turn off the noise option, but I have to be able to disable the stupid beeps and clicks and aogahs that the UI designers seem to think are important to functionality. They are not. They are annoying and one of the first features I look to disable when I get my unit out of the box.

Those are my must have requirements. It would be nice if it had an eight hour battery life under normal usage, but I can live with six. Less than that is not acceptable. I would prefer a colour screen, but more importantly is the ability to read it in bright sun. This seems to be something that is harder to find and even harder to test in advance if you do not know someone with a test set. And finally, it has to be available on my network.

Based on those requirements, it would seem I am leaning towards an Android-based unit. Not because I can hack it if I feel like it (I do not have that much free time) but because it meets my requirements. Would I like to have a Pré? Of course. If I could be sure the company will be there to support it and the applications I wanted for it were available, but that is my concern right now. And it is a bit of a concern with an Android-based system too, to a certain degree. I am not concerned that Google is going anywhere, but I am concerned that it will be obsoleted by the next big thing and there will not be a clear functionality upgrade path available. Two years from now I am not sure I want to be making these decisions again, and I am not sure I should have to. But I am afraid I am going to. And that is one of the things that concern me about Open Source in commercial devices. I am not opposed to change, it is the whole process of migration that I hate.

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