i-810dbe43ac05972d1f746e88ffd40266-2196946657_c2030c66ed_m.jpg
Here at MediaShift, we have had some less than perfect experiences with mobile devices and the Internet. Earlier this year, Mark wrote a manifesto about what would make for a smarter smartphone. And last summer I grumbled about the bad time I was having with my new smartphone. The Treo 680 was under-delivering in the one area that had convinced me to purchase the phone in the first place: surfing the web.

Nearly one year later, I’m not much happier with my smartphone than I was back then. Downloading a new web browser didn’t make things that much easier. The sites still load very slowly, images are distorted or too small. The back button often takes me to places I don’t want to go, and worst of all, if I accidentally hit another button on my keyboard — say email — I’m taken away from my web browsing and I’ll have to start all over again. Text displayed is either too small or too large to read.

The mobile Internet experience on that device is still grossly lacking, and seeing most content is so frustrating that I’d rather just forgo it altogether and do the only thing my phone does really well: play that falling gems game|890336419.

My love affair with the mobile web seemed to have ended before it even started. But now I’ve got a shiny new device, the iPod touch, and it’s more than I bargained for in positive and negative ways. It’s a lot of fun and has made me more productive in some respects, but it’s also extended my workday, increased my media consumption and cut into my sleep time.

Blessings and Curses

When I wrote my original post last summer, I wondered at that time whether all of my mobile Internet issues might be solved by Apple’s then-new iPhone, which was causing mob scenes at Apple stores all across the country. The commercials for the iPhone showed a web surfing experience that was nothing less than ethereal when compared to the torture I was experiencing on my 680. Instead of cumbersome keys that seem to always do things twice, the luscious touch screen lets you go effortlessly from one browser window to another like turning the pages of a book. Making things bigger or smaller — adjusting text size of enlarging images on a website — is done with a mere double tap of your finger on the shiny, perfect screen.

i-1285a7c4ef8d7f06ebbc12f50e298e8b-665675244_ac41b517c7.jpg
The Treo 680 and the iPhone

I wanted it. What I didn’t want was to commit to AT&T for the rest of my days. Because I only really needed the Internet feature of the device — which relies on WiFi rather than a data plan, limiting where it can be used — I opted for the 16 gigabyte iPod Touch instead.

In sizing up my new life of semi-mobile Internet use (I use it mostly at home) with this gadget, there are upsides and downsides, blessings and curses. While I’m mostly getting what I want, the question is whether I’m getting too much.

Blessing: I can finally use the Internet on a portable device

The Touch, right out of the box, is impressive. The browsing experience is close to perfect, or as perfect as I’ve ever seen on something that’s not a computer. In fact, I won’t even hesitate to look at any site on the Touch. It all loads fast, displays well, and I almost forget that I’m not on a computer.

Curse: I can’t stop using the Internet

Before the iPod Touch, I had a set Internet usage and online media consumption schedule. After the workday was through, I’d close my laptop, power off and be through with all the eyestrain and maniacal clicking around. Most of the time I’d relax with some good old-fashioned offline television, or even curl up with a book. Rarely would I ever break that routine.

Now that the iPod Touch is around, things have changed, to the detriment of my sleep schedule and thus my overall well-being. Even when I’m already in bed, if I have some burning question or the unrealistic need to check email, I don’t have the excuse of having to turn on my computer, wait for it to start up, etc. I also don’t have the reluctance to wait and ultimately be disappointed by the Treo.

I simply reach for the always-on iPod, get my burning question answered by Wikipedia — which displays beautifully — check my email, and think “I’ll just have a look at the New York Times…” All of these things were unthinkable with the Treo, but on the Touch they just flow. One thing leads to another and another and just like when you’re surfing on a regular computer, time gets away from you. Before you know it you’re bleary eyed and far from ready for sleep as you’re too “tuned in,” too stimulated.

And while your bedmate might sigh and complain if you hop in the sack and tap away on a glaring laptop, robbing them of sleep, I can tell you that you are free to watch videos on YouTube or spend hours reading RSS feeds well into the night with an iPod Touch without them ever even noticing. Now there’s no excuse NOT to stay up all night doing things online.

Curse: I want to be totally mobile, but I can’t

The ability to stay constantly connected only goes so far with the Touch. Since this isn’t the iPhone, and is really just a media player, I have to depend on a WiFi connection in order to access the Internet. While this is fairly easy to find in San Francisco, I’ve found myself in other locales where I wanted to take it out and consult a map or a restaurant review, but I can’t because there is no accessible WiFi signal. I’d love for the Touch to replace my Treo so I could get a smaller phone, but that’s not going to happen. The only answer here is the iPhone.

Blessing: It’s good for more than just browsing

Incredibly slim and attractive, the Touch has got all sorts of features I thought I would never use, like the ability to watch movies and store photos. All I really wanted was a portable device that would let me browse the Internet, nothing more than that. But the Touch is so enticing that it’s tempting to take advantage of everything it has to offer. And that’s what I’ve been doing.

Curse: More media, all day, all night

i-00d6e90c023cc5e7e369d351ae75724d-1605812348_9adc790e02.jpg
Movies on the iPod Touch

Before the Touch, I rarely downloaded anything from iTunes. I’ve written in the past that I don’t like watching television on my computer, because it’s uncomfortable. With the Touch, I’m watching more Internet TV than ever before thanks to the nice big horizontal screen. I’m tempted to download TV shows and watch them with my headphones on when others in my house are watching things I’m not interested in.

This is a good thing I guess, except that it’s taken the place of other activities such as reading…or just being. And it also allows me to watch way into the night, as I am not bothering anyone with noise or light. Once downloaded, I can watch the shows anywhere, without the need for a WiFi connection, so this has me watching TV all the time, everywhere.

More Good Than Bad

In the end, it’s me who’s to blame for most of the “curses,” not the Touch. I need to become more disciplined when it comes to my media intake, and not expect my MP3 player to replace my phone. The good things about the device are really good, and the curses are actually blessings when you are far from home.

I was traveling last week, and I found that it’s an excellent travel companion. When bad movies were the only options on my flight, I was able to watch my favorite television shows on an ample-enough screen with excellent video quality. And when it came to being connected, I didn’t have to rely on expensive international roaming data packages from my carrier, but could instead rely on free WiFi at airports, coffee shops and hotels to easily access email, read news, and even send text messages home over the Internet using my Touch.

It seems my non-mobile phone is better than my mobile phone in every way, except voice. But in this digital age of email relationships and chat-enabled offices, the human voice and my interaction with it is becoming less and less necessary (which isn’t to say I don’t miss it).

I was in Europe last week and the big tech news on CNN International was that Apple was looking to squash Blackberry on the business device front. Apple wants to make the iPhone more enterprise friendly, as company leader Steve Jobs took shots at Blackberry’s approach to email. If Apple were actually able to come up with a way to make typing emails on the iPhone as easy as it is on a “real” keyboard, such as the one the Blackberry boasts, I think they’d have more than a good chance at dethroning Blackberry. On my trip, on numerous flights, I saw young business people going back and forth between iPod for entertainment and Blackberry (or Treo) for emails. It was a real world look at the market that Steve Jobs would like to tap into.

The iPod Touch, nearly identical to the iPhone (without the phone part) is already superior in most ways to my “do it all” Treo phone. And the iPhone itself, with the exception of the keyboard issue seems to fill all of the requirements that Mark laid out in his list of what would make the perfect smartphone — though it’s still lagging in storage space for music or photos.

While I am mostly kudos and technolust for this little device, I still can’t help but think that the big lifestyle changes inspired by harmless little gadgets might mean bad things for us in the end. The increased reliance on devices makes it hard for us to just sit still, be idle, relax. Reliance on media to pass the time in moments of inactivity makes us less likely, in my opinion, to actually have a respite from our increasingly electronic, ever demanding lives. And techno toys like the Touch, while fun, make it pretty much impossible to disconnect.

What do you think? Are gadgets like the iPod Touch or the iPhone making it more difficult to disconnect? Do you think these devices enrich our lives or make them worse? What gadgets do you need for your daily life and which could you go without? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.

Photo of iPod Touch by bizmac. Treo vs. iPhone photo by vrogy. iPod Touch movie photo by Titanas, all via Flickr.