Looking back on 10 years of smartphones

My first smartphone was the Verizon Wireless VX-6800. I owned two dumbphones before that, the first was a candy-bar style Nokia followed by a flip phone Motorola. The VX-6800 was different. It required a data plan, and ran Windows Mobile (weirdly the same as the price scanners used at my first job in a local grocery store). The phone was built by HTC for Verizon Wireless and was released back in 2007.

HTC's VX-6800 (Titan)

My favorite feature was the Sidekick-style slide out keyboard. It was (retrospectively not very) spacious and had 4 rows of tiny chiclet keys, featuring luxurious backlighting. Windows Mobile was not optimized for touch and the device also featured a Resistive touchscreen, so a tiny stylus was included. The stylus was retractable, and was stored in the lower right corner of the casing. This was a design choice Samsung later emulated with great success on their first 6 Galaxy Note phones (The 7th Galaxy Note actually did have a stylus too, but that implementation was awful, and the device overall was not what could be considered a great success).

While I remember the VX-6800 fondly for being one of the first of many mobile devices I really became truly obsessed with, it also had some horrible features and design decisions. The sliding mechanism started silky smooth - opening and closing with a satisfying snap - however if any lint or grit got between the two pieces of the phone it became hard to fully open the keyboard. The A-GPS chip HTC included was blocked by Verizon from working with any app besides their own VZ Navigator. I found instructions online to install custom ROMs onto the phone to get around Verizon's block, and started tinkering with different software packages.

Palm Pre Plus

In early 2010 I got my next smartphone. I had been tempted by Motorola's Droid, which featured the a similar slide-out keyboard design to my VX-6800, but it ran an early and still pretty bad version of Android (2.0, Eclair).

Ultimately, I chose the Palm Pre Plus. The Pre also had a QWERTY keyboard, but this one was a completely different design from the Droid. The sliding mechanism on the Pre was superior to the VX-6800, and the portrait orientation layout of the device made using the keyboard even quicker and more comfortable. The phone also had wireless charging through it's Touchstone accessory, and I bought an extended battery that almost doubled the size of the thing. I thought it looked like a futuristic Blackberry mixed with an iPhone.

On paper the Palm Pre Plus had a lot of the same features as my first smartphone, but there was a night and day difference when using the phone. WebOS was the software that powered the device, and back in 2010 it gave the iPhone 3G and it's iOS 4 a run for it's money. Looking back, the Pre and WebOS had a remarkable amount of polish compared to the iPhone at the time.

The design of WebOS was influenced heavily by Matías Duarte, the Vice President of Human Interface and User Experience at Palm at the time. WebOS had a User Experience based around a card metaphor, with app multitasking built into the heart of the Operating System. The dynamic cards handled Notifications sophisticatedly, adjusting in size based on the amount and content of notifications. I loved the User Interface decisions made in the OS, but developers were slow to create apps for the platform and Palm's App Catalog lagged behind Apple's App Store and Google Play Store.

Not too long after I got my Pre in 2010, Matías Duarte left Palm for Google. Starting with 3.0 (Honeycomb) the design of Android started to look remarkably like WebOS in some areas. 2010 was also the year HP bought Palm, a move that left me hopeful at the time- but ultimately squashed all potential WebOS had as a true competitor to iOS and Android devices.

In 2012 I got my first iPhone, and I've been using iOS full-time ever since. It was a iPhone 4s, featuring a glass sandwich hardware design and virtual-only keyboard. iOS 5 was a huge improvement over iOS 4 in the area of Notifications, and by iOS 7 Apple had introduced a card metaphor of it's own for multitasking between apps. 

HP turned around and sold WebOS to LG in 2013 and the platform looks very different from the screenshots posted above from yesteryear. LG first applied WebOS to their TV sets in 2014, and has warped into an unrecognizable UI running on other IoT devices like refrigerators.

Android Marshmallow on the left, and iOS 9 on the right.

There were a few more devices created by HP after I bought my Palm Pre Plus, the Palm Pre 2,  Palm Pre 3 and the miniature HP Veer, along with the HP Touchpad and (never released) Touchpad Go tablets.

Now it's 2017 and Apple and Google will introduce the next versions of iOS and Android later this year. Both OS's have grown a tremendous amount since iOS 4 and Android 2.0 Eclair. My iPhone 7 Plus is an amazing device that seamlessly integrates into a suite of complementary hardware and software ecosystems, and Google's Pixel and Pixel XL are the best Android phones released yet. While there were iterations on the Pre concept, it's a shame that Palm's smartphone lineup and WebOS didn't get the same chance to mature.

I still have a soft spot for that portrait QWERTY keyboard style of phone, and have admired the Windows Phone-powered Dell Venue Pro and Blackberry Priv from afar. I've loved my iPhones but I'm always keeping an eye out for the next great keyboard slider!

iPhone 7 Plus Portrait Mode Preview

When Apple’s Phil Schiller demoed the new Portrait Mode feature of the iPhone 7 Plus on September 7th I knew I would be upgrading to the larger phone size from my smaller iPhone 6s. I woke up to pre-order the device at 3AM ET on September 9th, and after waiting a few weeks, my new Jet Black iPhone 7 Plus came on October 3rd. The very first thing I did was install the iOS 10.1 beta 1 onto the phone.

I had spent all summer running the iOS 10 beta on my iPhone so I could get a sneak peek of what hundreds of millions of iPhones would be using in the coming months, but before I saw the iPhone 7 annoucement thought I was done with beta software for the rest of the year.

 I was wrong.

I was wrong.

So now I’ve spent a few days using this new phone and shooting a ton of Portrait Mode photos. If you’d like to hear my impressions of the iPhone 7 check out Episode #73 of Techdown (coming later this week!), but for today I wanted to put together some comparisons showing off my experience using Portrait Mode.

Apple makes it clear that Portrait Mode is a Beta before you take any photos with the feature, and it will likely stay that way once iOS 10.1 is released. With that in mind here are several untouched pictures taken with Portrait Mode disabled (on the left) and enabled (on the right), taken over the past few days.