I'm in the midst of writing Part 3 of my iPhone vs HTC Touch series (Part 1 here and Video Part 2 here), partially because my comrade Mike over at the iPhone blog, Phone different has said that he's going to call me out on our iPhone podcast because I recently used the phrase "iPhone killer" in my Sprint Touch Hands-on Impressions. The upshot of this link-heavy introduction is that I have a new concept in my arsenal of smartphone punditry that I learned from the Foleo and its curious absence (of all things): The First Device.

It's an awkward name for an important thing, which I'll explain after the break.

Foleo Cancellation One Last Time

As I wrote after the Foleo was 86'ed, the Foleo was interesting not for itself (it was underwhelming itself), but because it was an attempt to create a 3rd category of mobile devices, it was an attempt to "go back to formula" when it comes to mobility. It failed, sure, but what was exciting about it was that it made all of us step back and rethink mobility just a little bit. It's not about specs, or form factor, or even User Interface, but some mysterious combination of everything that makes up a gadget that makes it compelling.

This is another reason that the Foleo was a bit of a tech journalist dream - it gave us a chance to rethink the categories we use to think about gadgets. That was clearly Palm's intention - to shake up our preconceptions about what gadgets are. But the idea of a "Mobile Companion" was complicated from the start. Unlike the original Palm and also unlike the Treo, the Foleo didn't have an instant "AHA" moment when you saw it.

The initial "AHA" moment only lasts a little while, though. It gets the money off your bank account, sure, but it doesn't keep the gadget out of the drawer and in your pocket (or in the case of the Foleo, your gadget-bag).

I need to talk about the First Device in the context of the Foleo because it was the Foleo's creator, Jeff Hawkins, who planted the seed in my head. He clearly understands the concept very well. In our conversation at the Foleo launch event, Hawkins again and again spoke about how important instant-on was.

He spoke about how previously, if he wanted to Google something quickly, he'd go to his Treo. With the Foleo available, it supplanted his laptop and he'd use that instead. The point was that the Foleo became his go-to for quick information. It became his First Device.

First Device

That, in a nutshell, is that the "First Device" is: your go-to gadget that you grab first when you want to "do something." That "something" is different for everybody

  • a quick search
  • YouTube
  • SMS
  • getting directions
  • checking your To Do list
  • jotting down a quick note

...these days it could be pretty much anything.

A "First Device" is what smartphones are to most of us. You have this thing that you grab right away to Get Things Done or Be Entertained. You need it to have a few compelling features:

  • Instant On
  • Easy to Use / navigate (software-wise)
  • Aesthetically Pleasing (in other words, fly)
  • The right size

It's not just about immediacy, though that's important, it's also about filling a need that you have. After you've used your First Device, you want to feel like you got your thing done with a minimum amount of hassle, you want to feel like you accomplished something cool.

A gadget becomes your First Device over time. You have the initial "AHA" moment, then you come back to it, and eventually you learn whether or not a given gadget gets your thing done without getting in your way. Eventually you build an affinity for that gadget and it becomes your First Device or you learn to loathe how it keeps you from doing your thing and it becomes an eBay auction.

Different devices are better at being different kinds of First Device. Blackberries, for all their faults, are great email First Devices. Feature phones are great phone call First Devices. PalmOS devices are good catch-all First Devices, though it's hobbled these days by its looks and speed. Windows Mobile... more on that below.

It's not enough to make a Smartphone that's able to do anything. What a Smartphone needs to do is be a compelling First Device in the category that matters to you most.

iPhone vs. Windows Mobile as a First Device

For me, the iPhone is a good media-First Device. That's to be expected, given Apple's institutional experience with the iPod. But the iPhone is a shockingly good Web-First Device. If I want to check the web quickly (and I'm in a WiFi zone) and I have a Windows Mobile device, a powered-down laptop, and an iPhone sitting on the coffee table before me, I'll usually grab the iPhone. Words can't describe how much better Mobile Safari is compared to anything else out there I've used (including the Webkit-enabled Nokia devices).

Windows Mobile can be a great First Device in nearly every category. The problem, in my opinion, is that it's very personal - you need to do some work to make Windows Mobile become a First Device for you. A Windows Mobile device I've set up is a killer First Device for me in 85% of the uses I want. But were I to hand it to somebody else, it makes a terrible First Device.

Afternoons and Coffee Spoons

Doctor, every time I drink coffee I get this horrible pain in my right eye.
Take the spoon out of the coffee.

Apple made a perfect cup of coffee, web-browser-wise, and then took the spoon out. Everybody else has made a mediocre cup of coffee and left the spoon in -- just in case you want to add more sugar or cream or whatever.

The spoon in this metaphor is the ability to customize your device. It's wonderful to have, but it often pokes you in the eye. It also means you'll be less likely to be able share your coffee with somebody else.

At the end of the day, I do want that spoon in my coffee cup so I can adjust the coffee to my tastes. That's why the iPhone can only be my First Device in a couple of categories. Windows Mobile isn't nearly as pretty, but I can stir in some hazelnut flavor or whatever (Captain, the metaphor is breaking down!) to make it fit my tastes.

I just have to remember to take the spoon out sometimes.

What's your First Device? Sound off below!