The Only iPhone Review You’ll Ever Need – Part 3

Things that make you go “uhhh…”  I love most of what the iPhone does but there are some things that just make you slap your hand to your forehead.  Some of these can, I hope, be fixed with future software releases, some will doubtless not be fixed until the hardware changes. Some will never be fixed.

First, the things that everyone, especially the UK press, have already complained heavily about:

GPRS/Edge. It’s slow, yadda yadda. Every pundit has slammed Apple for using this 2.5G or even 2G network and for being dumb enough to launch so a laughably slow phone in the European market that is oh so saturated with 3G service after the operators spent their [shareholders] billions (some stats here and here – my reading says 3G market share is about 20% of total in handsets but that there’s limited use, certainly very few browsing the ‘net or doing email).    The difference between “good” edge and standard 3G is not that great.  The difference between full HSDPA and edge is enormous. So Apple has certainly fallen behind the very best but is not far behind most phones.  Blackberries invariably work on 2G, mostly GPRS and not even edge – but their background send/receive makes that less of an issue. The trade-off, though, is plainly increased battery life, a bigger screen, and ready access to Wifi (via the Cloud once the iPhone launches in the UK). So far I’ve really not seen the issue – if you’re working on all you can eat data tariff (fair usage rules ‘n’ all) and have occasional access to Wifi, you’re probably just fine. But, if you’re running Wifi, bluetooth and video a lot you’ll probably see less than a day of battery life – with 3G too it might have been half that. My guess is that, apart from the PR and marketing hype from the other vendors and the noise in the press, you won’t much care about this “downgrade” to an older network)

The camera. It’s “adequate” at best, it doesn’t do video and don’t expect to send any MMS.  The review I link to does a far better explanation of what it’s like.  I’ve taken a few pictures with the camera and it seems ok or, at least, on a par with the Treo (which had an awful camera) but not as good as the HTC Touch (which had a range of options allowing photos to be adjusted for indoors and outdoors).  I take “fun” snaps with my phone, not pictures I want to print or put on a slide show.  Sometimes I use those photos in my presentation slides and they work fine for that.  But this is not a “camera phone”, it’s a “phone camera”.  In fact it’s a “Phone iPod camera.”

So I’m not sweating either of these.  I know Apple will come out with a new phone next year that upgrades the hardware and I’m pretty sure that some of this stuff will be improved in some software releases over the coming months.  I’m also hoping that the iPhone might actually be a catalyst for more websites to do mobile versions of their websites – and for all of them to auto-detect that you’re viewing them on an iPhone.  We built a mobile version for years ago (that’s not quite true – we built style sheets for small screens and auto-detected when a mobile browser was being used so that the pictures were stripped and the navigation was made simpler; it’s not hugely difficult).  It’s actually very frustrating to use google’s mobile search, click a link and then be thrown straight into a page with flash, big graphics, left and right hand navigation and so on.  If the iPhone gives folks the nod that it’s ok to use small screens, all the better for everyone.

But the stuff that doesn’t quite gel for me …

SMS sending. Texts are sent “while you wait” and sometimes that feels like a long wait.  Whilst sending there’s a white bar that fills from 0 to 100% (or perhaps 0 to 168 characters, who knows?).  You can’t do anything whilst that’s happening.  I’m used to phones – Treos and even Windows Mobile – that send in the background and flag an error if there was a problem sending.  You’re also unable to forward one text to another person (see also the “cursor” point below”). This, of course, means that you can’t send a text while you have no reception, say when you’re on the tube, and expect it to send as soon as you have signal again.  You also can’t forward a text or send it to multiple recipients from within a chat stream.

SMS opening.  When you switch to SMS the iPhone opens the SMS application wherever you last were.  Even if you have new texts and you were in the middle of a thread when you last used it, it opens back in that thread.  The odds are, if I have new texts, I want to look at those.  On the upside, if you’re watching a video, it will flash the text up on the screen with a view/ignore dialogue.  I like that.

The cursor.  Simply put, there isn’t one.  If you make an error in some text and need to go back to edit that text, you’ll have to poke at the screen with your finger until you get to the right place.  I doubt that will be with the first poke, it certainly isn’t with me and I don’t think I’ve got particularly fat fingers.  By the same token, don’t expect to be able to copy text, drag and drop or cut and paste.  I have no idea how this gets remedied given there are no buttons to speak of (and i don’t want any more than those that exist now) – it may be as simple as a menu bar at the bottom of text with left/right/select, inelegant though that is (and therefore probably why it’s not there now)

Applications.  Apple has spent years evangelising its stuff, creating a tight knit community of developers who have supported it through thick and thin.  With recent operating systems they’ve created not just applications but widgets and gadgets.  The operating system is a platform and other people fill it with things that they think customers want; if Apple comes out with a better product, then the market adopts Apple’s product, if they don’t come out with a product then someone else fills the niche and the customers are happy.  This approach has worked just as well for Palm (with 1000s of applications) and, of course, Microsoft who kicked Apple’s butt (and everyone else’s along the way) by opening up (we can argue about degrees) their operating system and working harder than anyone else to get developer support.  Now I’m expecting that Apple’s stance is temporary – after all, plainly the iPhone is not even close to being “finished” yet – whilst they mess with version 1 of the iPhone and that as they stabilise it and stop making big changes, they’ll allow application deployment right to the phone.  Sure it might mean several pages for the Home Page or it might mean folders for storing things.  It might also be niche – some people will just like their iPhone pristine – and I suspect that this is the bulk of the market; folks don’t want their phones like their PCs, bloated and prone to crashing as the PC sceptics would say.  But lots of people will want to do other things with it from figuring out where they are in rudimentary GPS terms to waving the phone around like a Wii controller playing pong.  Who knows? Who cares? They should be allowed to do it.  Personally, I want a version of Robert Parker’s wine database and a Nintendo Brain Training programme (the second to help recover from the damage of the first).

Headphones. What were you thinking Apple?  You straight away disabled my shiny Shure headphones by making the socket so different on the iPhone that they can’t plug in.  Why would you do that?  You don’t even sell an adapter in the store – I have to go and get one somewhere else.  Your headphones are average at best – indeed more sound seems to leak from them than go into my ear.

As with previous posts, I’ll update this as I find more. 

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