The Apple iPhone (preview here) has had the Mac community hooked since it was first announced. With three weeks to go until its official debut, other pocket-sized, stylish, internet and email-capable music and video handsets that are also controlled by a swanky touchscreen interface are entering the fray. LG's KE850 Prada phone is being heavily promoted, T-Mobile users can buy the T-Mobile Wing, and HTC is taunting non-Mac addicts with the Touch.
The HTC Touch is an iPhone ‘rip’ from head to toe. But it’s out first, which raises an interesting point. Steve Jobs may claim that the iPhone is revolutionary, but it’s clearly not. Everything it offers can be done today – I just have been doing so in fact. I’ve been using a completely touchscreen mobile phone to place calls, send texts, surf the net and check my email. It may not have a Google Maps app, but the HTC Touch has Microsoft Office and Live Messenger support, so let’s not split hairs.
What it doesn’t have is ‘Designed by Apple in California’ stamped on the back. One thing Apple does well is design user-interfaces. The HTC Touch gets it half right - but only half.
The problem is that the HTC Touch is based around Windows Mobile 6.0. This is a very powerful, but infinitely fiddly system, ultimately designed to be used by stylus wielding bean-counters and not the fat fingers and thumbs of the general public. I could discuss the feature set of Windows Mobile 6.0 with an avid Windows user till we’re both blue in the face, but I still don’t have the time or inclination to use a fingernail to aim at a 3x3 mm icon.
HTC have clearly seen the iPhone interface in action and decided to add a new interface to the HTC Touch, called TouchFLO. This is designed for our unwieldy fingers. Slide a finger from the bottom to the top of the screen and TouchFLO springs into action. It offers big thumb sized icons for all your favourite tasks (email, internet, phone calls); sliding left and right swooshes the menu around to bring up a list of favourite contacts or access to music and videos.
TouchFLO is an incredibly stylish touch, and by far the best thing about the phone. Sadly, when you pick an option (such as music or email) it instantly backs out to Windows Mobile 6.0.