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.
I couldn’t get the HTC Touch to sync via my Mac. Hardly surprising seeing as it’s a new operating system and Microsoft doesn’t offer Apple support. More annoying is that, so far, I can’t get my Vista PC to sync with it either. So far it just comes up as an unsupported device and the device driver has a big exclamation mark above it.
And I can’t get music and movies on the device, which limits any testing. I’ll sort it out somehow. I’d bet my last pound that the minute I slot an iPhone into either a PC or Mac computer, iTunes will kick into action and the whole thing will be sorted out, synched up and ready to roll within minutes.
For all that, I like the HTC Touch. It’s clearly a cut above your average smartphone and a good attempt to put a more intelligent and user-friendly interface on top of Windows Mobile 6.0. HTC has shamelessly copied the iPhone in terms of physical design and touchscreen interface ideas, but this is by no means a terrible thing. The phone is on sale today and - as such - has the edge on both Apple’s iPhone and other smart phones on the market.
As for me though, I’ll just keep waiting for the iPhone to come out.