Researching Mobile Technology

It recently became time for me to upgrade my phone, or so my service provider told me almost every day for the past few months. Because of this and the fact that I have been woefully disappointed with mobile technology in general, I set out to do my research properly this time to make sure that I got a decent product that I wanted.

Among the criteria that I set were:

  • That the phone needed to comply with certain standards, most importantly being the 3.5mm audio input. I was tired of having to use feeble adapters that broke at a glance for proprietary sockets that served no purpose except to extort money out of me.
  • That it needed to be affordable. I’m a working student, so I’m on a budget.
  • That it needed to be extensible. Not just hardware-wise with a bigger memory card, but also software-wise – i.e. it needed decent app support.
  • If possible it should have a touch screen(I’ll explain this in a moment) and I wanted to be able to develop for it.

I wanted a touch screen phone not just to say that I have a touch screen phone, but also to check out the cool new technology there. My 3rd year project was all about Multi-touch technology and Natural User Interfaces and to be honest it fascinated me so much that I was researching things to do with it more out of a personal need to know more than to actually do well in the project (We did do very well, mind you…).

I wanted to be able to develop for it so that I can get a toe in the mobile computing world and see how things work differently there. I’m a Computer Science student – computers fascinate me.

These rather specific criteria narrowed the field down quite a bit.

Obviously there was the iPhone option. Excellent touch screen (probably the best on the market), standard headphone jack, iStore and it has an API for developers. All of this comes at a hefty cost, though. The iPhone itself is wildly expensive in South Africa, coming in at around the R10000 – R12000 mark. Apps on the iStore cost money too, and the API is for Cocoa (a Mac OS X-only Objective C API), which meant that I would have to get a Mac or at the least OS X and then I would have to shell out more for the iPhone API. A great product it may be, but I don’t have that kind of cash at the moment. [EDIT] In retrospect this was a very good decision. I did not, at the time, consider the draconian lock-in that Apple forces upon its customers. Slick it may be, but I would’ve broken it into tiny tiny pieces by now.

There was the Nokia 5800 option as well. A decent touch screen with a good OS and it has the 3.5mm jack, but development for it is rather stinted.[EDIT] Another good decision considering that Symbian is, more or less officially, dead. Long live Symbian!

So I turned to the newcomer. The flagship of the Open Handset Alliance and Google’s foray into mobile computing: Android. I started looking into the Android phones available in the country and whether I could possibly develop or at least try and learn to develop for the platform and I was surprised. There were a number of phones already and it looked to be quite easy to start developing.

The phones were all HTC’s which made me shy away at first. HTC’s have been nothing but trouble to any of my friends that owned one, but the more I read the more I became convinced. Google was advancing Android at a rapid pace, and HTC was trying to take full advantage of this giant in the computing industry. I looked at the Dream and the Magic and the Magic caught my eye. I researched a little more and found that they were releasing two more, the higher end Hero and the more budget Tattoo. If I had a bigger budget, I would have gone with the Hero, but I didn’t and thus I looked in the direction of the Tattoo – comparing it with the Magic.

The HTC Tattoo has slightly better hardware (debatable as the Tattoo has a resistive instead of capacitive screen) and better software, though the latter is potentially rendered moot as HTC is rumoured to be releasing Sense as an update of sorts and Google periodically releases updates for Android. Both were similarly priced. In the end what threw it was the slightly slicker appearance and the 3.5mm jack.

And so it came to pass that I selected the HTC Tattoo for my next phone. In the next post I’ll have some first impressions of it.

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About HawkiesZA

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