Digital World: Would-be iPhone injurers

Only devices that can 'kill' iPhone are phones built on Google's Android.

iPhone 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
iPhone 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As the anticipation mounts for Israel's first "kosher," official iPhone experience, attention has turned to the slew of "iPhone killers" that have avalanched at us this summer. It seems that every big cellphone maker has gotten on the touchscreen/wifi/accelerometer/application-rich/phone/Internet-device/toy, and, of course, each company is touting their product's superiority. On paper, many of these devices really are better than the iPhone, feature for feature. The Samsung Omnia II/Jet (S8000) has a faster processor and a better screen than the iPhone, and the Sony Ericsson C905 has a better (far better) camera than the iPhone could even dream of (ditto the LG Arena). And then there is the Palm Pre, in a class by itself and the first of the new generation of "killer" devices that are trying to wrest the title of coolest phone from Apple. The latest attempt to take the crown comes from Nokia, which recently released the N97 and its somewhat older little brother, the 5800 XpressMusic, which I recently acquired. There's a lot to be said for the Nokia phones (which I will say below). But before I am accused of shilling for the Finns, let me say it clearly: The N97 (which I spent some time with) and the 5800XM (which I use) are not iPhone killers, simply because they are not iPhones. The two cameras, the video recording capacity, the mini flip-out keyboard (on the N97), the extreme memory capacity on the N97 (32 GB built in, expandable to 48 GB) and so on, will never be enough, simply because they're not made by Apple. Why? Can a brand name really trump features to such an extent? The only thing I can think of is that the 1984 Apple commercial introducing the Macintosh - with the jogger smashing the "Big Brother" screen controlling all the automatons - has really sunk deep into the Western psyche, forever branding Apple as the counterculture, rebellious upstart that always knows better than its "elders." As the owner of no fewer than five Macs (two Macbooks, two Mac Minis and an iMac), I'm just as susceptible to this mind-melding. (Note that I didn't say the Macs weren't better than anything anyone else is offering, but as a "Machead" I am very familiar with this mind-set. Is a $1,600 Macbook Air really so much better than a $400 netbook?) The only devices I see as having a chance of really "killing" the iPhone are perhaps the phones built on Google's Android, because Google has that cool counterrevolutionary cachet as well. But I digress. As much as I and you would like a "real" iPhone, we don't want to shell out the huge sums they can be expected to cost here in Israel. (Even if they are offered at a subsidized price, you are going to end up paying a goodly - perhaps a princely - sum.) With the arrival and the clamoring for the iPhone, however, prices on other wannabe killers have dropped somewhat (the N97 is too new, but a number of other touchscreen, etc., devices were on sale at Orange when I paid them a recent visit). They may not be iPhone "killers," but they are good enough to compete in the same space, allowing them to maybe beat up and "injure" the iPhone, at least on some features. Always on the lookout for a bargain (or, always cheaping out, depending on how you look at it), I picked up a Nokia 5800XM at Orange recently for NIS 499, far less than the $299 I was prepared to spend on an unlocked version of the phone at Amazon. According to Nokia, some seven million of the things have been shipped since it was introduced in late 2008, so I guess I was in good company. I mentioned earlier that "perceived coolness" is one of the major reasons for the iPhone's success, but there is also one thing the iPhone has over any other device sold by any other manufacturer: the iPhone Appstore and the iTunes store for iPhones. Having perfected the touchscreen/accelerometer, etc., device first, Apple was able to get many developers to write applications for the iPhone; there are currently more than 65,000 applications in the App Store's bevy. By now, every phone maker has an app store for its platform, but according to this handy chart (, the Apple version has far more - far, far more - applications than any other version. If the App Store is the real secret behind the iPhone's continued appeal, despite the its relative feature deprivation compared to the other "killers," both Google and Nokia intend to remedy that situation. The Android Market (as the store is called) already has thousands of apps, and Nokia just recently opened its app store, Nokia Ovi (which is supposed to mean "door" in Finnish). The applications in the store are specifically for Nokia's higher-end N-series and touchscreen phones, with the major in-app development and sales to come as Nokia moves more N97s. Fortunately for me, the N97 and the 5800XM share operating systems (Symbian OS 9.4 + S60 platform 5th Edition), so the majority of the upcoming N97 apps will work on the 5800XM as well. Browsing the Ovi store, I came across a couple of great titles. JoikuSpot is a nice Symbian app that lets you share your phone's 3G connection as a modem for a laptop when you're away from a wifi hotspot. Even though the official Nokia Internet radio application for the N97/5800XM is still under development, I found a great application called Tunin.FM, which lists hundreds of stations that can be accessed with my phone, including some of my favorites. And then there's Fring, the be-all communication program that lets you use Skype (including Skypeout), Twitter, Facebook, MSN Messenger, ICQ and a slew of others. And, of course, there's the built-in GPS location finder, voice-driven driving directions (in Hebrew or English), etc. My favorite app, though, is one of the few I actually opened up my wallet to purchase. Called Myphone, it lets you turn your Symbian device into an "iPhone," at least in look and feel. From the "slide to unlock" to the little iPhone-like icons for your favorite applications, Myphone (from a site with the unlikely name, is enough iPhone for me - considering the 5800XM didn't cost me the thousands a "real" iPhone would!