Developer: Apple, Inc.
Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.10 or Windows XP, USB 2, iTunes 7.3.
Memorial Day week, 2006, found our family on vacation in New England. We spent a day in Boston, doing all the touristy things, capping it off with a ride around the harbor. It was on the ferry that I left behind my favorite cap of the moment, the Life is Good Oval Chill Cap on Moss. Some time later, I began looking into replacing the cap, but the Life is Good folks seemed to never have in stock the cap in the Moss color I liked.
Flash forward to July 2007, and a concerted effort on my part to locate a cap locally. The Life is Good Web site was telling me they weren’t shipping the cap in Moss (although they are now), but they were in Olive, a greener, brighter color I would be just as happy with. Only the online store was again out of stock, hence the local search. Frustrated, I pulled out my iPhone and launched Safari.
AT&T’s EDGE network pulled up the Life is Good site in a reasonable amount of time, and I ran a search for local retail affiliates. Presented with a list, I tapped on the “View Map” link for the retailer closest to my current location, and the iPhone’s Maps application, powered by Google Maps, opened to show me the street layout for the address. It was about three minutes away from where I had just finished lunch, so I tapped on the name of the business on the map, and got the store info from Google, just like you’ve seen in the iPhone “Calamari” commercial.
Tapping on the phone number, I began driving toward the retailer. Two rings, and I got the “no longer in service” message. Odd, I thought. Could Google have the wrong phone number in its database? I continued driving to the store, as it was just a few blocks away. Sure enough, Google was right: the retailer was out of business. Stopped in the parking lot, I pulled out the iPhone again, opened up Safari, which still featured the Life is Good retailer search results, and went to the next store on the list. Same thing: Google map, tap on the retailer name, get the store info, tap on the phone number, the iPhone dials. I put the Pilot in gear and headed off.
During the ensuing conversation, I was informed that yes, they did have the cap I was looking for in stock, and yes, they would hold it for me. Twenty minutes later, I walked out with a new Life is Good Oval Chill Cap in Olive, and life was indeed good. Total time from the moment I pulled up Safari to go to the Life is Good site to purchase completion was under half an hour.
This is the sort of thing the iPhone was built for.
I could never have accomplished the above on my old Motorola v557. For one, its Web browser, well, how shall I put this lightly? It sucks. Even for a stripped-down browser, it really, really, really doesn’t do one much good to look up anything. Even if I’d been able to get the retailer search results on the Moto, it wouldn’t have been as easy to switch between functions—Web browser to map to phone—as it is on the iPhone.
Sure, if I had a Treo or Blackberry, I could have done all of the above a lot easier than on the Motorola, but based on my limited exposure to both of those platforms, something tells me it wouldn’t have been as smooth an experience as it was on the iPhone. The ease of use of the iPhone experience is based on the attention to detail that Apple is renowned for. This is quite simply the best mobile phone I have ever used.
Is it perfect? No. Are there other phones on the market with features the iPhone doesn’t have? Yes. Does that make a difference? No. Again, it’s not about having the most features, but how those features integrate together to make using the device as easy as possible, if not joyful, for the user. Palm and RIM can only dream of a user experience one has when using the iPhone, and based on personal experience, I seriously doubt whether Motorola even has personnel devoted to usability.
The (non) Hardware
There are few phones on the market that are as beautiful as the iPhone. The sleek, dare I say sexy blackness of the front, coupled with the brushed aluminum back with the lower quarter a contrasting black, the Apple logo a shiny mirror…Sorry, did I wander off there? The iPhone, very much like the iPod, is a device which begs to be held, to be used. This is why one saw, for days after the device went on sale, so many tweets on Twitter from new iPhone users who proclaimed words to the effect of, “I just can’t put this thing down.”
There are only four physical buttons on the iPhone: the sleep/wake button on top, the ring silencer switch and volume control rocker on the left side, and the home button at the bottom of the front. Everything else is controlled from the iPhone’s generous screen, including the keyboard.
I, for one, applauded Apple’s decision to go with a virtual keyboard on the iPhone. Then again, I was coming from a T9 situation in my mobile use, at which I was never very good at (a generational thing, perhaps?), so I didn’t have the keyboard usage a Treo or Blackberry user would have. I am much faster at texting with the iPhone’s virtual keyboard than I ever was with my Moto’s T9 pad. The lack of tactile feedback, a worry for so many, has not been a factor for me. The iPhone’s auto correction works fantastic, and the fact that it’s learned my own spelling nuances makes typing on it much faster.
Using my iPhone to twitter via iTweet.
I love the physical switch to silence the phone. Whenever we went in to church, or some other venue where it would be rude to have one’s phone ring, it was always a two step, minimum, procedure to silence my Motorola v557. When the miniscreen on the top of the v557’s clamshell died, that became something like a seven-step process. Just to put the phone in vibrate mode. Now, with the iPhone, one step. Flip. Silenced. Flip. Ring.
The sleep/wake button on top also serves to lock the iPhone when it’s in use. To power off or on the iPhone, one holds the button down for several seconds, until the desired result takes effect. While the iPhone is on, however, a quick click of the button locks the iPhone. This was also a multi-step process on my Motorola, but one in which I rarely indulged since the v557 is a clamshell phone, and there wasn’t much chance of the buttons accidentally getting pressed.
If there is a phone currently on the market with a better display than the iPhone, I am unaware of it. The iPhone’s display is stunningly gorgeous and perfectly bright. The text is crisp and easy to read. Photos and pictures look amazing. It gets a little washed out in bright, direct sunlight, but not so much that you still can’t easily read what’s on the screen.
I keep telling myself that I’m going to get a Bluetooth headset for my iPhone, but over the past year I’ve gone without a headset of any sort, and the iPhone earbuds are doing a decent job. These are also the first stock earbuds from Apple where I don’t have to worry about the right one falling out after a few minutes of use. (My right ear canal is apparently much smaller than my left.) I was unsure of the mic-on-the-earbud-wire setup at first, but no one’s complained that I was difficult to hear when I’ve used them.
Many others have said it, and I’ll echo their sentiment: having a real Web browser on one’s phone is a vast improvement, even if it doesn’t have Flash and Java. It sure beats the stripped-down, painful-to-use browsers one finds on the majority of other phones. Yes, the mobile version of Safari does crash more often than the full-blown version, but it’s not like it’s every session, nor even every day (at least for me). The iPhone’s Safari, coupled with IMDb, even helped to resolve a…spirited discussion my wife and I were having one evening.
From the introduction to this review, you’ve probably gathered that I love the Maps application, and you’d be right. I’ve even used it to do my own “Calamari”-like search in my local area for Mexican restaurants, and, just like in the commercial, the little red pushpins came raining down on to the map. (To be honest, it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know already. Then again, Tex-Mex is my favorite, so I’ve already noted the nearby haunts.)
So far as the iPod controls go, I love using the iPhone for listening to music more than I do my 60 GB iPod. If there were a 60 GB iPhone, I’d be in hog heaven. While I don’t use Cover Flow hardly at all in iTunes on my Mac, I find myself using it more on the iPhone, for the eye candy, if nothing else. The iPhone screen is the perfect size for browsing album art.
I’ve never really been a big user of IMAP with e-mail, since my long-time e-mail client of choice is POP-only, but I really appreciate having e-mail accounts that have IMAP support. I honestly don’t have a need to be plugged in to my e-mail all the time, but it is nice to be able to send and receive e-mail on my iPhone. I just wish I could get the e-mails in to horizontal mode as easily as one can do with Web pages in Safari.
There are times when I’ve called my parents during the work day, when I needed to talk to both of them at the same time. This usually meant calling my mom first, since her PBX system gives her the ability to merge phone calls; she’d put me on hold, then call my dad, and merge us all together. I no longer have to rely on mom for that; my iPhone makes it easy to do myself. It’s great to be able to put a call on hold, too, something I was never able to do with my old Moto. Because when you’re yelling at your toddler to stop torturing one of the cats, the customer service rep at the sprinkler company really doesn’t need to hear that.
A good friend pondered if it was worth having an iPhone without the Visual Voicemail feature. While my answer would still be “Yes!”, if you use Visual Voicemail for any length of time, it will likely start to make you mad that no other handset maker or service provider has thought of this before now. It truly puts the power of voice-mail control where it belongs: in the hands of the user, not in the hard-to-use maze of a provider’s menu system.
Even as I believe that the iPhone is the best mobile phone on the market for the above-average, non-Exchange-requiring mobile user, it’s certainly what one would classify as a 1.0 product.
From a hardware perspective, my biggest quibble is that there’s not a physical button for the camera. Trying to hold the iPhone steady to snap a photo while pressing the virtual shutter release is an exercise in steely nerves and muscles, and one generally ends up with less than stellar results, even for a phone camera. A physical shutter release, on the bottom right side of the iPhone, would allow a user to rotate the iPhone sideways and use it as one might a real camera.
If you regularly use the camera on your mobile, and you’re looking for the best possible quality, you’re not going to find it in the iPhone. The iPhone’s camera is typical of what you’ll find amongst similar phones. For a lot of people, yours truly included, it’s good enough. So far as better-quality shots are concerned, I figure that’s why I carry my little Canon PowerShot S500.
The headphone jack is recessed too deeply, and the hole for said jack is too narrow. I cannot use my Aiwa noise-reducing headphones, a mainstay with my iPod, with the iPhone without an adapter plug.
I’ve never been a big MMS user, but I know many are, and the fact that the iPhone currently doesn’t send MMS messages could be a deal breaker. I have no hard evidence to back this up, but something tells me this feature will be coming to the iPhone, since it hardly takes a rocket scientist to figure out that a cameraphone needs to be able to send pictures it takes to other people. I do find the fact that I cannot send an SMS message to more than one person at a time rather annoying, though. Let’s hope that gets corrected soon as well.
While I love the iPod controls on the iPhone, I really don’t care for the fact that there’s no disk mode. I really don’t like having to get my media on the iPhone via playlists and syncing. I’d much prefer to be able to drag and drop at will whatever I want.
I do miss having speed dial on one of the T9 numbers. The Favorites list on the iPhone is a decent alternative, but it still takes a minimum of three taps to dial a favorite, versus just one press of a key on the old T9 keypad. This will be something that one won’t see easily fixed, as some of the issues above, with a firmware update.
I’ve never been a heavy user of custom ringtones, but I have enjoyed a few. I had gotten so used to the two or three ringtones I had been using that I missed them upon switching to the iPhone. It does seem strange that a device which seeks to mix one’s music with a mobile phone wouldn’t make it very easy to select any song on the iPhone as a ringtone for any contact. We can only hope that Apple is working on such an obvious, brain-dead feature in a future software update for the iPhone, especially for music which one already legally owns. I do not buy a lot of music online, from the iTunes Store or otherwise, preferring to rip CDs in to the formats of my choosing. So Apple’s new ringtone service really doesn’t do me much good.
Inasmuch as I’ve gotten good at typing on the virtual keyboard, it would be nice to have it available in its widescreen glory in all applications. And what’s with the creators of iChat not putting a mobile version of the application on the iPhone? It’s also nice to have Bluetooth on the iPhone, but it’s limited to headsets. My crappy Motorola phone did easy file exchanges over Bluetooth with Apple’s own Bluetooth File Exchange application; you’d think this would be another obvious, user-friendly feature for Apple out have included out of the gate, but I imagine we won’t see this unless we see disk mode come to the iPhone.
In The End…
You may think that as much time as I’ve spent telling you what I see as the iPhone’s shortcomings that I may be having regrets about my purchase of it, especially since I was one of those who paid the $599 premium as an early adopter. You would be wrong. Inasmuch as I was shocked by the sudden $200 price drop last month, I still feel the iPhone is a great value at the original price, and a veritable bargain at its new price.
And while I would like to see the above items in the iPhone right now, I realize that not every product is perfect, especially when the first version is released. Users considering the iPhone should realize that, too.
Despite my druthers, I still love my iPhone. No matter that I think it could be better, it’s still the best mobile phone I’ve ever used. For the majority of heavy-use mobile users, it’s the best phone for them, too.