It should come as no big surprise to anyone who knows me that I had an iPhone less than 24 hours after its availability. The next big thing in mobile communications…was there any doubt? Even the threat of two years’ servitude with AT&T didn’t keep me away. I had to have it. Now let me qualify: I’m no Apple fanboy. I own and use Apple products and PCs interchangeably. In fact, the iPhone replaces my Motorola Q Windows smartphone. That said, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this thing. After the first week, here are some [OK...quite a few] of my thoughts on this amazing device.
iPurchase. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the point of sale experience in Apple stores was wonderful, while the experience in AT&T stores sucked. I’ve heard stories of the AT&T purchase process taking as much as ten times longer than at Apple stores. While AT&T required their long, dragged-out approval process to purchase the phone, Apple stores required $599 + tax.
Unable (and unwilling) to wait in a long line on Friday, I set out to buy my iPhone on Saturday afternoon. The two AT&T stores I checked were out of iPhones. On to the nearest Apple store. Despite everyone’s fears that Apple wouldn’t have adequate supply, they surprised us all. I walked in, waited behind one other person in line, purchased my phone, and walked out of the store with a big smile on my face. The whole process took less than five minutes. No paperwork, no processing, no hassle. It was as easy as walking in and buying an iPod.
iOpen. As with most Apple products, the packaging is simple and elegant. The matte black box opens slowly, engendering anticipation like a Heinz ketchup bottle and finally revealing the new phone in all it’s glory. It’s smaller than expected. It’s black and sleek, largely devoid of physical buttons. Removing it reveals that it’s also quite sturdy.
Does it work? Is it charged? I instinctively press the (one) button on its surface. It’s beautiful. The LCD screen is crisp and vibrant. It seems as if the glass surface itself is the screen. In low light or sunlight, it’s clear and readable. I touch it, and the surface is incredibly responsive. Forget the stylus, those crazy Palm script gestures, or finding the one of thirty-some buttons to turn on the phone. This device is simple and easy to operate. Michael Okuda’s vision of the touch display is finally realized.
The box also includes product information, concise instructions (with the complete manual available online), a polishing cloth, headphones, charger, USB cable, and two Apple window stickers. Every layer – every item – has a tab or tongue to aid in its removal from the box. Designed by Apple in California [cue the angels' voices].
iActivate. Dock, click, click, click, …, click, Done. Seriously, it’s that easy. I’ll be buying stock in the company that built the systems to support this process. It was amazingly painless. It was a little slow, but what do you expect with hundreds of thousands of people all trying to activate their phones at once? Within an hour, I received my first iPhone call.
iConfigure. Setting up the iPhone is just slightly more complicated than setting up your iPod. It was a little more complicated for me since I run iTunes on my Mac Mini but manage my personal information (contacts, mail, calendar, photos) on my PC.
For contacts, I experimented with Yahoo! but ultimately settled on Plaxo to sync my contacts between Outlook on my PC and Address Book on my Mac. So far, so good, but it doesn’t want to sync contact photos. That’s an issue I’ll have to revisit later.
For mail, I initially chose Yahoo! but quickly learned that outbound mail from my iPhone doesn’t respect the Reply-to address defined on my Yahoo! mail account. Since I want my personal e-mail address on all outbound messages from my iPhone, I went back to the hosting service I use for my personal e-mail service. They offer IMAP. I upgrade. It doesn’t push. I’m disappointed. Ultimately, I’ve settled on using my personal e-mail service while also forwarding all messages to Yahoo! This way, I’m alerted immediately when I receive a new message, since Yahoo! pushes messages to the iPhone as soon as they’re received. I read and reply to all messages from my personal account, though, so I can use my personal e-mail address. It’s redundant, but it works. And it gives me more immediate notification of personal e-mail than any mobile device I’ve previously owned.
For calendar information, I rely on Google. I already use Google calendars for work and personal activities, so it’s just a matter of bringing that information into iCal on my Mac. I keep iCal open now, so it gets regular updates from my Google calendars. It’s a one-way connection, but that works fine for me, since I can add events to the appropriate calendar(s) online.
I still have to figure out a solution for photos. I use Picasa to manage my photo library on my PC, and I’m not aware of any easy solution for syncing my fixed Picasa images with my Mac.
It would clearly be easier if I chose to sync my iPhone with my PC or manage my personal information on my Mac. But I don’t. These environments are purposely separated for me, so getting the information that I need to my iPhone is probably a little more complicated than it would be for most people.
iCall. Call quality on the iPhone is very good. In fact, the whole phone experience is terrific. You can initiate a call from contacts, favorites, recents [a new word?], web pages, maps, e-mail messages, …even voicemail messages. And if you insist, you can also make calls from a very usable numeric keypad.
The voicemail service is…amazing. Review and listen to voicemail messages anywhere, anytime – even on a plane! Messages are downloaded to the iPhone, so you don’t need phone service to access them later. Listen, delete – even undelete – any message in any order. This is how voicemail should be. If only I could get something this easy and convenient for missed calls at home.
Putting a call on hold, making or taking another call, adding a third party, and initiating other call functions are simplified in a way that no phone has ever before achieved. And canceling all ringers and noise during meetings or quiet times requires just a simple flick of the only switch on the phone’s exterior surface. Adjusting the call and ringer volume is also easy, using a perfectly-located volume rocker on the side of the device
The iPhone comes with Apple’s infamous white earbuds, this pair sporting a tiny, integrated mic with surprisingly good sound quality. When you receive a call, the iPhone gently fades the volume of any playing music, cues your preferred ringtone, and presents you with caller information and big option buttons on the screen. Touch the big green button to take the call or the big red button to pass. The integrated mic on the earbuds also has a hidden, invisible switch – squeeze it to answer and end calls.
So far, I’m unexpectedly pleased with AT&T’s service. Their GSM coverage is far from ubiquitous in the continental states, but the service is much better in my area than it was a year ago. I even get five bars in my house now. AT&T’s new online account manager is also quite good – paying the bill, viewing call history, and upgrading service is easy, easy, easy. Maybe this really is a new AT&T.
iType. If there was ever a reason for people to hate the iPhone before it was even available, it was the touchscreen keyboard. I heard more consumers and pundits dismiss the iPhone’s viability as a true messaging device for this reason alone. Now that people can try it for themselves, maybe the critics will give it a fair try?
The reality is that the touchscreen keyboard is much easier to use than I expected. I’m not a fan of touchscreen buttons – I like an appropriate tactile response from buttons. But with my average-size hands, I have little problem hitting the right ones on this screen. The trick is to aim for the button with the flat part of your finger – the part of your finger that you would use to press a key on a traditional keyboard – and not the tip of your finger. Apple makes it even easier by “magnifying” the pressed key so you don’t have to look away from the keyboard itself. Brilliant.
When you do make a mistake, the iPhone’s predictive text is phenomenal. It’s a little like using the force – you just have to trust it. In one week’s time, I’m already typing faster than I ever could on my Q and much faster than with T9 texting.
iMail. The iPhone delivers the best mobile mail experience I’ve ever known. E-mail messages are much more readable than, say, on a Blackberry. Messages leverage most of the screen real estate and retain some formatting of the original message. It’s not HTML mail, but it’s a lot better than plain text. You can also view various attachments (WYSIWYGish) and send and receive images by mail.
Reinforcing Apple’s consumer demographic, the built-in Gmail support doesn’t work with Gmail for Your Domain. Unless your Gmail address ends in @gmail.com, you’re out of luck. Of course, the iPhone has standard support for any mail service with POP or IMAP access, so that’s always an option for those accounts.
iBrowse. Thanks to Apple, the mobile Web experience doesn’t suck anymore. Seriously. Safari on the iPhone loads full Web pages (not just dumbed-down mobile versions), and a simple double-tap of your finger magically frames columns, tables, images, and other block-level elements for easy viewing and reading. With a flick of your finger, the page glides smoothly to any other region. Zoom in, zoom out, or rotate the phone for a larger, landscape view. Standard Web pages look and work great, but I can’t wait to see more Web sites and applications optimized for this viewing model.
The iPhone seamlessly switches from EDGE to wireless whenever it’s available, so browsing is essentially uninterrupted. Define your preferred networks, and the iPhone looks for others as they’re available. EDGE is typically slower, but it’s tolerable. Your experience may vary.
Oh no…it doesn’t support Flash! Again with the haters and another excuse to dis the iPhone. It’s kind of like saying, “What do you mean you built the biggest and best house known to humanity? But it doesn’t have a pool!” My thoughts on this: someday, it might support Flash. Until then, we’ll survive. This is a better Web than you’ve ever held in your hand before today.
iMap. Apple has implemented Google Maps better than on any other device on the market. It offers streets, satellite, traffic, search, and directions with ease and style. It’s quick and responsive, and it integrates smoothly with your contacts and the device’s own phone and web functions. Think of it as map-based yellow pages.
It would be great if it could already know where you are (via Bluetooth or, better yet, integrated GPS), but you just feed it a location (address or zip code), and then search for a business, restaurant, etc. Once you find and select the business you want, you can see where it is, visit the web site, maybe call for reservations, and get turn-by-turn directions. Then bookmark the location for later reference.
iListen. The iPod functionality on this phone is a nice improvement to the 5th generation iPods…mostly.
First the good: Song lists are large and readable, and “album” art adorns the album, podcast, audiobook, and video lists. Scrolling through the lists is quick and smooth, and Cover Flow view lets you flip through your music visually. Cover Flow is cool, but like in iTunes, I’m not entirely sure how useful it is. Shuffling or repeating music is much easier than on any previous iPod [well, maybe, except for the Shuffle itself], and the album art that displays while playing audio is big, bright, and beautiful.
Remember that hidden button integrated into the the included headphones? Squeeze it once while listening to pause or restart and twice to skip to the next track. I’m looking forward to the accessory that adds this capability to any standard headphones. You can also control audio volume with the rocker on the side of the device.
Now the bad: What the frack were they thinking by recessing the headphone jack so far into the top of the device that no other headphones but Apple’s own would fit into it? This just baffles me. It’s even worse that Apple doesn’t include or even make an adapter for third party headphones, and the only device currently available is a hideously designed, gray rubber thing that sticks out of the phone like an antenna. Yeah, that’s going to look great with my Bose headphones plugged into it on the plane. Good grief.
iWatch. I don’t imagine I’ll spend much time perusing YouTube videos on my iPhone, but the video quality of purchased, downloaded, and converted video (movies, TV shows, podcasts, etc.) is stunning. This is where the quality of this screen really shines. The small capacity of the player (7.3GB on the 8GB model) makes it a little cramped for any video collection, but the iPhone will definitely be my device of choice now for watching movies and TV shows on a plane. With a simple iPhone Video playlist, I can drop the videos I want to watch onto the phone right before traveling.
iClick. I’ve never given much thought to the camera on any phone I’ve previously owned, but with a 2 megapixel camera, the iPhone gets a little closer to something I can take more seriously. It’s extremely fast and extremely easy to use. All it does is take pictures. It doesn’t zoom, it doesn’t shoot video. It just takes pictures. Quite nice pictures, in fact. Do I care that it doesn’t support MMS, for which AT&T would likely charge me each time I chose to share a picture over their network? Hell no!
iConnect. Syncing the iPhone is as simple as syncing an iPod. It’s a breeze to keep just unplayed music, podcasts, and videos on your device; or you can be more creative with how you populate the device using Smart Playlists in iTunes. And of course it charges while it syncs.
Supported Bluetooth connections are also a breeze. In no time at all, I had the iPhone paired with my car and my Jabra earpiece. I have, however, experienced some problems with my earpiece suddenly “taking over” a call when I was having a perfectly nice conversation on the phone itself. I’ll need to look into that. In the meantime, I just keep my earpiece off when I don’t want to use it. Connecting with other devices isn’t so smooth. From what I understand, the iPhone doesn’t (yet) support Bluetooth stereo headphones or sharing contact info through Bluetooth.
Compatibility with iPod accessories is basically a crap-shoot. I’ve learned that the XtremeMac iPod cable in my car doesn’t work with the iPhone. It powers the device, but there’s no sound through my audio system. My Griffin iTrip doesn’t work with the iPhone at all, so RF audio is out of the question for now.
I’ve had mixed results using my iPhone with Apple’s so-called “Universal” Dock. Upon docking the device, I’m warned that this accessory is not made to work with the iPhone (despite the new inserts I purchased from Apple for said purpose). With the Universal Dock, I sometimes get sound through my external speakers…I sometimes don’t. I’ve also experienced problems syncing with the Universal Dock, so I’ll be sticking with the new, smaller dock included with my iPhone.
Accessory-wise, my best experience has been with the DLO HomeDock. While it doesn’t pump out any video [I'm assuming the iPhone isn't designed for video output], the external sound and all of the remote’s functions work perfectly with the iPhone. Presumably, Belkin, XtremeMac, Griffin, and a host of other third-party manufacturers are clamoring to get new accessories to market.
iRestore. iPhone 1.0 is not without its quirks. Today I restored “to factory settings” in an attempt to remedy numerous crashes in iPod, Maps, and Safari modes. So far so good – it’s behaving much better now. And I’m happy to report that iTunes backs up all of your settings (except passwords), so you don’t have to reconfigure the device with all of your preferences after you restore. Nice touch, Apple.
iSmile. I’m staggered by this product that Apple has introduced. It has the potential to shake up the mobile devices market in a way that no other company has as of yet. The iPhone has met all of my expectations and, if the stock price is any indicator, all of the market’s expectations, too. I’m happy to be an Apple stockholder today.
I eagerly anticipate what’s ahead. If past history is any indicator, we can expect that it will only get better – which should turn the industry on its head. The iPhone is already revolutionary. Just imagine how the competition is going to deal with Apple distributing regular patches, updates, and enhancements to this device through iTunes. That’s a support model that no other company can provide. It will be interesting to see them try, though.