Lately, I've been thinking about switching cell phone carriers. I've been with Bell in Canada for years, but Bell's never been really quick about getting new devices out to market in a reasonable period of time, and lately they've been dropping the ball with regard to smartphones. They no longer have any Palm OS devices for sale, and the only Palm Treo's they have are the Windows Mobile 5 versions, the 700wx. Now, with today's announcement that Bell and Telus (two Canadian CDMA carriers with cross-service agreements) will be charging for incoming Text (SMS) Messages, that's merely another reason to start looking elsewhere. In the past, keeping one's telephone number was a kind of handcuff tying you to your service provider, but since number portability has come to Canada about a year ago, there's nothing tying you to your provider other than your contract and the quality of service you receive (both technical, like coverage, and customer service).
Bell and Telus's announcement could not have been planned any worse. The much-hyped iPhone 3G is coming to Rogers this Friday, and Rogers announced that they will be continuing their existing policy of free incoming text messages, which may inspire some people to switch not only carriers, but phone platforms. But not all is happy in Ted Roger's neighborhood; Rogers is taking huge flack from **potential** iPhone buyers (remember, the iPhone hasn't made it up north legally, yet!). Their phone plans for the iPhone are nowhere near what they are like in the US. Realistically, ALL our phone voice and data plans are nothing like the US market's plans. To understand why, you need to understand the Canadian wireless market.
Up North, we have two CDMA carriers, Bell and Telus, and they have cross-service agreements. Bell is entrenched in the East, and Telus in the West. To gain access to each other's markets, they've made deals to make use of each other's infrastructure, so there isn't going to be a huge difference in plan pricing, since ultimately your service could be carried over the other's network. On the GSM side, we have a similar situation; about a year or so ago, Rogers bought up the only other major GSM provider, Fido, and rolled Fido's network and clients into it's own fold. There's Virgin Mobile and Koodo, but they're not major players here and they only do feature phones, not smartphones, so I'm basically discounting them for this analysis. So, as far as pricing for wireless service goes, you have two choices: your present carrier or the other one (your classic "us or them" scenario). With no real competition up here, there isn't any competitive pricing for consumers. So, choice up here really comes down to the phone platform itself. If you want a particular device, you are choosing a particular carrier. If that carrier has an exclusive on a device, then they can pretty much do what they want for pricing and plan details. It's this kind of lack of choice that has led to the creation of Bill C-555, The Get Connected Fairly Act, which I'll come back to later.
So, at this point in time, choice really comes down to the phone PLATFORM. Why Platform? Because you're choosing a combination of hardware features, OS, and the biggie, Applications! People use the phone platform to DO something; talk, message, listen or watch media, surf, take pictures, that kind of thing. Feature phones have done these things with a closed OS and application set. If the phone didn't do something out of the box, it never would. Smartphones allow you to install other applications to add features that aren't present in the "out-of-the-box experience". With iPhone firmware 2.0 and the iPhone 3G, it is transitioning from a closed platform to a more open one, which has people excited about it's potential as a new smartphone platform. For new smartphone users, the iPhone should be a great experience as a platform, since it's user friendly and "sexy". For existing smartphone users, it's not so clear-cut, so it's time to make some decisions...
If you've been using a PDA or smartphone up to now, chances are you've got a lot of data wrapped up in various applications, and you have your productivity geared up for performing certain tasks on you mobile device. So, jumping to a new device just because it's new and "sexy" may be productivity suicide if you suddenly find yourself without the applications or data you need to be productive. And yet, you're still locked into a multi-year contract with your provider for your new toy, which you can't use as well as your old one. So, the important thing to remember is "do your homework!" Research the platform(s) you're considering changing too. Look at the tasks you presently perform with your mobile, and what data you need in order to be productive or entertained. Where is that data kept? How will you migrate it to the new platform? What other tasks do you use your present mobile for, and do they have equivalents on the new platform? How does it feel to use, and how well can you interact with the user interface? What accessories do you presently use with your mobile, and are they compatible with the new one? If they're not compatible and you really need them, does an equivalent one exist for the new platform? If it has extra wireless features like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, will it work with your existing accessories or other products (like access points or headsets that can have many different protocols or profiles)?
In my case, I have a large investment in Treo peripherals. So, I would obviously like to reuse them where I can. If I choose a platform that doesn't support my peripherals, I would want to make sure that it supports standards that would avoid "proprietary connectors" wherever possible, so I don't have to go through this whole "incompatible peripherals" situation again in the future. I also have a large investment in Palm OS/Treo software, so it would be less expensive and less work for me to choose the Centro from Rogers from a software perspective, but the Centro is over priced on Rogers ($299 vs $99 on AT&T in the US!). The other downside is that it's the same old Palm OS that's been around since my Treo 650 came out years ago, running on similar hardware with minor upgrades in features, software, RAM and camera, but major upgrades in stability.
Then there's Windows Mobile, available through Rogers as the Treo 750. Instant compatibility with all my hardware peripherals, but only moderately cheaper than the Centro, believe it or not, at $274. I would have to invest in software replacements to achieve the same functionality I have now on Palm OS, so there's added expenses there, but I know that all the applications I presently use have an equivalent on Windows Mobile. I would gain a Multi-tasking OS, more memory, and a better camera, a newer Bluetooth stack with Stereo Headset profile, but no Wi-Fi. I know I could bend it to my will if I have too, much like I've tweaked my Treo 650. To figure out how much of my software I would have to replace, I could do some testing on the Windows Mobile software simulators available from the Palm Developer Center. So, more work, a bit more money, but a newer OS that has some advantages over the Palm OS that I've known, loved, and sometimes cursed, for so long. Were the Treo 800w to come out this week, it might be a more clear cut winner as a platform choice, but it's only rumoured to be coming out in the US on Sprint around July 13th. If it were to come out in Canada, I think Telus would be the first to get it, since it's CDMA and they're quicker on the ball than Bell when it comes to new devices. There's even a Palm OS emulator (StyleTap), so I could run some of my Palm OS applications on Windows Mobile to smooth out the transition to the new platform.
And then there's RIM's Blackberry. With the devices available right now, it's not really an option for me. It's lacking stuff at the OS level (no vCal, no sending via Bluetooth, no DUN via Bluetooth), and it's really lacking in the PIM applications, as well as for other applications I use right now. There is no Blackberry equivalent to DayNotez, nor is there a touch screen I can draw on when I want to like Notepad or Diddlebug. There are other applications I use regularly and would need to replace, adding to the cost of changing platforms, and in general Blackberry applications are considerably more expensive than Palm OS or Windows Mobile applications. Most of my peripherals wouldn't work with it, but RIM does use standard connectors and protocols, so that in itself is good for the future. Wi-Fi and Docs To Go are coming on the Blackberry Bold, due out around the last week of July, which is a good thing, but still doesn't address some of my other application needs. I don't need push e-mail, the Blackberry's claim-to-fame, so overall, it's still a no-go for me.
And finally, there's the iPhone 3G. It's hyped, it's new, it's sexy, and it's a complete mystery as to what software will be available for it until after this Friday. Out of the box it still can't do copy & paste, or Stereo Bluetooth Headsets (A2DP). It also doesn't do MMS, but that's something I've never even used on my Treo 650, so it doesn't matter to me. It does have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a stable Unix-based OS, and a pretty UI. I'm fast with a Treo or Blackberry keyboard, but I have no idea how well I'd be able to use the virtual keyboard on-screen (I can try out the keyboard at least on an iPod Touch). The price is Right at $199, but then there's those ridiculous service plans starting at $60/month + stuff like caller ID and voicemail. There aren't any software simulators to try out, no demo units in stores (at least until Friday), and I have no idea what software will be available that would replace my present applications, nor is there any idea what the pricing structure will be like. How well will it sync with Outlook, and what exactly will sync? How are other applications to Sync? There is supposed to be a version of the StyleTap Palm OS simulator software coming soon, so that's a plus for smoothing out a transition. There's also a lot of iPhone/iPod accessories available, so that's a plus, as well as the rumored user-replaceable battery. So, basically it's a holding pattern until after this weekend as far as the iPhone is concerned.
So, I still have some of my own homework to pursue, since I want to see how things shake out with the iPhone launch and how the early adopters fare. I try to avoid being on the bleeding edge when it comes to my personal productivity devices. But the best thing about the iPhone coming to Canada isn't the iPhone itself. It's the attention it's bringing to the whole issue of wireless pricing in Canada. The $6.95 Wireless System Access Fee we all pay on our bills was initially created in the 90's in order to help promote the development of wireless telephony throughout our country, and not just in major population centers. It's no longer mandated by the CRTC, but the carriers are still charging it as a pure cash grab. Until now, it was hard to prove just how unfair Canadian wireless plan pricing was, since it was easy for them to say "Different hardware features, different software features, different service features", etc. But the difference is black and white when you can compare Canadian Apples to American Apples when our currencies are so close in value. So, I would encourage Canadian readers to contact you local MPP about supporting Bill C-555, the "Get Connected Fairly Act". Sign the online petition at http://www.davidmcguinty.com/english/Take_Action/Petition_The_House/Petition_C_555_Frais_d_acces.html or if you're incensed about Rogers pricing for the iPhone, sign the petition at http://www.ruinediphone.com/ or better yet, sign both! The iPhone launch has a lot of media attention right now as does Bell & Telus's SMS announcement, so it's a great time for Canadians to rise up with one voice and tell the carriers, and our elected government representatives, "We're not gonna take it anymore!"