How to: transition from a Treo to an iPod Touch and a plain old cell phone

Times are tough. Maybe last year you had the cash to pay for your own smartphone, but now paying the phone company for that high-dollar data plan isn't so attractive. One solution is to go back to carrying two devices, a PDA and a plain old phone.

Alice and I have been Palm users for about ten years. We love the PDA functions and the third-party software, but the current Palm OS reminds me of Mac OS 7.5. It is, as they say, beyond all redemption. As I approached upgrade time for my Treo, I wanted to save money. Then in the space of a month, I talked to two people who were using the Apple iPod Touch as a PDA, because all the applications written for the iPhone will run on it too.

So I simultaneously changed PDA platforms and downgraded from a smartphone to a conventional phone. Here's how it went.

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Calendar:
This was easy. I was already using GooSync to synchronize my Palm calendar with my Google calendar (which is my Firefox home page). Google offers google sync to synchronize the Google calendar with the iPod calendar, and it works so well that I quickly forgot I'd installed it.

Mail:
Once logged in to Google, I linked my gmail account to the Mail app on the iPod. Poof, done. (However, this caused me a lot of grief later, which I'll post about eventually.)

Contacts:
I'm told that if I were an Outlook user, this would have been easy, but I'd been syncing the Palm to Palm Desktop. I had to export my contacts and do major cleanup in Excel. Since I now lacked a desktop PIM program, I decided to make use of an old Mac that had been collecting dust. I imported the cleaned-up data into Apple's Address Book application and synced them to the iPod. It mostly worked - the email addresses imported incorrectly and I need to fix them in Address Book.

I should note here that I tried using google sync between my iPod contacts and my gmail contacts. I don't advise it - this sync is strictly a beta-quality service from Google. Several of my gmail contacts were deleted in the attempt, though I haven't lost any email.

Passwords:
On the Palm, I kept dozens of password hints in a Contacts category with their security set to "private". There's no such thing as a private contact on the iPod, so I downloaded the mSecure app. Here, too, I had to clean up the data in Excel before re-importing it. But mSecure works really well - better, actually, than the main contacts.

Memos and to-do list:
I've had the iPod for a month and, unbelievably, I still don't have this data in it. It looks like Evernote will work for my memos; there's a desktop client and the basic service is free. But for my To Do list, I'm still searching for something with import/export that will back up its data when I sync. I tried one program that promised to sync with Google Tasks, but I discovered that only tasks with due dates get synced, and it won't import.

iPhone apps are mostly a few bucks. Mostly that's all they're worth. Your PIM data is your most valuable data; it deserves to be platform-portable, synced, and backed up. These cheap apps don't do those things.

The phone:
My provider couldn't/wouldn't (I got a lot of attitude at the tech support counter) transfer my ~500 contacts from my Treo to my new conventional phone. They literally told me my only option was to hire a 12-year-old to peck them into the phone. Horseshit. I knew the phone's manufacturer provided a software suite so I bought a data cable, but the phone wasn't supported. Ultimately I signed up for an online Contacts service with my cell phone provider, and cut-and-pasted the fifty or so most important contacts into my web browser. They synced to the phone and I'm reasonably happy.

Data:
I did get a data plan for the phone, just in case I need to Google something when I'm outside of Wifi range. Its WAP browser is thoroughly disappointing - I'll probably cancel it even though it only costs a third of what I was paying before. It's still too much to pay for something I don't use.

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The iPod Touch makes my Treo feel like it was made of mud and straw baked in the sun. Looking at the Web on it is actually pleasant, which surprises me. And, oh yeah, it works pretty well for music and photos. But my new phone feels like the Motorola E815 I ditched two years ago. It's as though the user interface was designed by an engineer with a checklist of features to implement, and nobody asked the users. Surely we can do better than this.