I said I’d talk about the good things about the iPhone first – the things that make you go Hmmmm. But first, some context, especially for those who think I’m a gadget obsesses, chaser of trivialities (you’re not wrong, it’s just there’s a reason as well). I’ve had my problems with phones, and have often posted … e.g. about the Samsung, Treo 600, all Nokia phones, the Sony Ericsson range at large, early 3g phones, or just phones in general. I could have posted more previous references; the point is that I don’t think much of mobile phones: they frequently crash, have trouble synchronising, have battery problems, aren’t obvious or are just plain useless. Been there, screen printed several of my own t-shirts.
My criteria for acceptance have been, from past posts:
– Has a battery that lasts at least a long weekend (treo 750 need not apply)
– Has a keyboard that registers your touch simply and effectively (samsung sgh600i need not apply)
– Doesn’t crash more than once a week
– Works consistently.
– Adheres to standards
– Allows me to synchronise text messages, ring tones, speed dials to the PC
So, what about the iPhone? Well, here are the things that make it stand out, for me at least:
– The screen. It’s a big call Apple are asking you to make: big screen/no keyboard versus smaller screen/keyboard. Corporate warriors looking at their blackberries should absolutely stay with those; but individuals who make calls and do lots of text, I think you have a real choice for the first time. I’ve played with many keyboardless phones (P8xx and P9xx had keyboard but were just useless with them so I took the keyboards off with the handy little screwdriver that was provided; HTC touch was better but not great). The screen real estate is brilliant. It not only lets you play with all the ipod stuff – video, coverflow and so on – but it actually gives you room to see, say, a whole contact on one screen, or several similar contacts in a list, or a decent sized wedge of google maps when you’re lost in Manchester (as I was last week – when I used the iPhone to show my taxi driver where the hotel that I was staying at was).
– The keyboard. I was a sceptic, I admit it. Even in the Apple store I wasn’t convinced. After a few days use at home I still wasn’t convinced. And then it dawned on me – you have to trust the system. Windows Mobile, as you peck at the tiny keys with a stylus (fat fingers no use), tries to guess what you’re going to type and tries to save you time by giving you 2 or 3 choices. Apple’s system guesses what you really meant to type – dealing with horrible mis-types at the same time. And, more often that not, it gets it right. Typing texts becomes a one finger flier. It’s not touch-typing, it’s not even feedback typing (I have sound off) but it’s staggeringly fast. You still have to watch for some words – if you type “si” instead of “so”, the iPhone continues as if nothing happened for instance. The HTC touch, whilst a great phone, actually stopped me sending texts – it was so painfully difficult that the effort was worse than the reward; I just stopped sending texts. The iPhone has converted me. And, it’s a fair trade between screen and keyboard. I loved my Treos – 600, 680, 750 – for the keyboards and for one single innovation that they alone had, until now:
– Threaded text. I don’t get why every phone doesn’t have this. It’s essential. All your conversations grouped together under the name of the person you’re texting. If you often have 5 or 6 text conversations going on and can’t quite remember what you said to who sometimes, this will sort that out right away.
– It’s the software stupid. Rarely have I seen a software upgrade applied to a mobile phone during the time that I owned it. Once or twice the Treo folks published an upgrade but, more often that not, they kept it to themselves or just released it to new phones, not as an upgradeable item. Even the recent Windows Mobile 6 upgrade for the 750 has not really made it to the street (pirate Australian versions not included), despite it being more stable and with far, far better battery life than WM5. Apple have already released software upgrades just a couple of months after launch. And they’re following a different strategy from Sony’s with, say, the PSP. They’re actually offering you things you might want in return for things that they want – for instance, for the first time that I can ever remember, your bluetooth headset battery life will now show on the phone’s main screen. They’re also correcting the “duh!” functions that they should have had on day one – tapping 2 spaces will now insert a full stop a la blackberry. In return, they’re locking down some security holes that the hackers have exploited. I have no doubt the hackers will get round it, but it encourages people to go legitimate for sure – show me a hacker who will volunteer to upgrade his/her phone first with all the recent problems around 1.1.1. That said, what should have been a beautiful moment for Apple, the ability to add functionality on the fly, is going to be mostly ruined by adverse PR (and even lawsuits, although there’s nothing new in that for most companies these days) as the upgrade apparently renders hacked ‘phones useless – no need for that Apple, just don’t let the install go ahead, detecting before install that there’s something wrong. Even Microsoft didn’t ever shutdown a PC with a pirate copy of Windows.
– Three words: “slide to unlock”. No more pocket noise. With a name beginning with “A” (or “a” to some) I’m often the unintended recipient of calls or texts, sometimes a dozen in a day from the same person (only 1 or 2 persistently do this; you can imagine my response). A very few times I’ve learned positively secret and commercially sensitive information as I listened in, and walked in to the room where the conversation was taking place holding my phone out so that they’d know what they’d done. You just can’t make rogue calls with this phone.
– Proximity sensor. No more beeps and squelches as you press buttons on the phone whilst it’s held up to your ear. The Treo 750v used to spend most of the time during a call changing the time or the alarm function, even though the screen was locked – it just didn’t seem able to resist. Other phones have been much worse. The iPhone disables the screen when it’s close to your ear and enables it again when you lower the phone.
– Big icons, no menus. Press the single button, get the home screen up, select what you want to do and just go. No more pressing of menu buttons, searching up and down for the menu you want, selecting the sub-option and starting what you’d planned. The bulk of the things that you want to do are right there on the home screen or a layer below. Want to check stocks? one button. The weather? One button. Text? One button. Browse the web? One button.
– Rubber band scrolling. This may be a more binary thing – people will hate it or love it. I have just over 1,000 contacts in my iPhone. On earlier phones I’ve always dialled someone by typing the first few characters of their name and then selecting it. The iPhone’s rubber band scrolling was born to negate this – select the start letter and then scroll up or down at speed – see all the numbers in one go and then tap the one you want. Send a text with one tap, add it to favourites to make it easier to get next time.
– Battery life. I’m getting 2 clear days with a mixture of phones, text, wifi, GPRS, video and audio books. It’s good, not great. But it’s better than any number of Windows Mobile 5 devices and as good as any WM6 device (although on none of those did I ever watch video, play audio or use wifi)
– Rock steady. Not a single crash or frozen screen so far. No spinning hourglass or multi-coloured kaleidoscope indicator. No hang-ups. No missed calls because it didn’t ring. No reboots. Just rock steady.
– Bluetooth. I’ve never been a fan of bluetooth. That whole set to discovery, discover, type the 4 digit passcode stuff just gets my goat (no, not the same directionless goat). The Apple bluetooth headset comes with a new cradle for the phone – the headset goes in its own slot and auto-pairs with the phone. No buttons to press, no passwords to guess. On top of that, when you turn the headset on the iPhone automatically switches bluetooth on and connects to the headset; when you turn it off, the iPhone turns bluetooth off. Sure, it’s not stereo for music and sure it’s still bluetooth with its variable reception quality, but it’s hassle free bluetooth.
– Synchronisation. I keep my calendar on a PC in outlook, my music on a Mac (via a NAS). I honestly expected some trouble synchronising to two devices and certainly syncing to a PC. There were no problems. Contacts and calendars moved straight away without a hitch and without any software install; music synced up nicely as did video. The sync for video is a little odd – for TV shows it wants you to sync the X last unwatched, rather than perhaps the first Y unwatched. But it just works. Motorola phones have, in the past, required exports to CSV, edits and re-imports and other phones have just not synced properly. iTunes also backs up items such as SMS allowing you to restore them if there are problems – the only phones I’ve ever seen do that are the Palm-based Treos.
To follow this, in the next few days, I’ll publish the things that make you go “uhhhh”, the things that aren’t so great, some of which I’m sure they’ll fix in software and some that they won’t. I may even add to this post too over the next couple of days to round it out.