Saturday, June 30, 2007

iPhone: first impressions

In case you had not heard, the folks who camped out for days to get their hands on the new iPhone sort of wasted their time: unlike the Nintendo Wii, Apple was prepared for the demand. So much so, that today, I wandered over to the Apple store, where I was easily able to get my hands on an actual iPhone to play with (along with dozens of other people).

The good:
  • This thing is the ultimate of small and large. The body is incredibly slim and the size is extremely small, smaller than my Treo, or even my old Palm TX. The screen is startlingly large, especially for movies. There is no obvious bezel, so this baby is all screen.
  • The UI is amazing. The perfect Apple UI, it's sexy, responsive, and unbelievably cool. Transitions, scrolling, fonts: this device just screams craftsmanship.
  • The phone is extremely great. Call quality is excellent, UI is superb, and address book integration is stunning. And that's not even mentioning the elegant touch of blanking the screen when you hold it to your face while calling.
  • The screen cannot be believed. Bright, vibrant, and everything practically pops. with no reflections. Images are perfect, movies and Cover Flow ache to be savored.
  • Just incredible UI touches. The dropping of the pins on Google Maps, the speed sensitive flicking of your finger in Cover Flow, the intuitive interface. Magnificent.
  • LOVE the widgets. Yahoo Weather is unbelievably sexy, though strangely you can't reorder the cities you are looking at, just delete or add. Stocks was very cool. And Google Maps was delicious. Even Notes were DAMN cool, with a miniature yellow legal pad and sketch like font.

OK, enough gushing. Let's talk about the bad.
  • The keyboard is as bad as the Newton's handwriting recognition was when it first hit. Yes, the iPhone tries to automatically correct your typing issues, and does an OK job, but this is clearly a device that can only be typed on with a single finger; two thumbs are out. The sensitivity of the keyboard is wonky, and it only takes advantage of the optional horizontal orientation when in web browsing mode; what a mistake. I can see Doonesbury cartoons making fun of this anytime now.
  • Web browsing is slow, even on WiFi. This surprised me, as we're talking about Safari on a closed OS X environment. Why so slow? There are no other apps to slow it down? In contrast, the YouTube app was extremely slick and responsive. I was pleasantly surprised to see NetVibes load smoothly with no issues, but signing in was a strange experience on navigation controls that were hidden under translucent menus.
  • Email was a pain. Sure, reading was actually cool and sexy (especially loved the inline photos, etc.), but writing only was good if you were replying or emailign someone in your address book. Typing the address in the To field was an exercise in frustration (see the keyboard issues).
  • Orientation changing sometimes worked. Worked great in iPod mode for music, but video stayed stubbornly widescreen. Not that I'm complaining, but still... And the orientation change only works for some apps, not all.
  • What the heck is up with Bluetooth? Bad enough they shipped a multimedia device without Bluetooth 2.0 (2.0 lets you stream audio to headphones wirelessly), but there seemed to be no obvious way to set the iPhone's Bluetooth name. Normally, not a huge problem, but in an ever increasing Bluetooth world, you better know what you are pairing with!

There's far more, but check out this accurate rant from another user:

1. Bluetooth is ONLY good for connecting a headset. That's it.
2. There is no file browser on the device at all. Data must be organized (if at all) in the appropriate application.
3. The camera is a simple application that has ONE button: the shutter. Pictures come out okay on the device, but nothing too fancy on a monitor, especially if it was an attempt at a macro shot.
4. SIM card is damn near impossible to open, if at all. I didn't look into it extensively.
5. Web browser is slow, even over WLAN. Even the simple OneList web app that was created takes around 20 seconds to load over WLAN. You can not highlight, cut, copy, or paste and text from a website, and you can not save any images you find from a website either. The only nice thing about it is the tabbed browsing, which crashed on me when I went to Engadget and YouTube on two tabs. This is the only application that allows you to use the keyboard in landscape mode.
6. The keyboard sucks. It gets slightly better after the iPhone "learns" you, as the employees said, but even then, it's not a device you can use with one hand comfortably, much less without looking.
7. You can only send one picture at a time in an email.
8. No custom ringtones (yet, as we were being told) and the alert tones can not be changed whatsoever.
9. The default ringtones are incredibly lame.
10. The only form of customization outside of a lame default ringtone is the wallpaper, which you'll only see when you need to unlock the device or when you get a phone call.
11. "Picture pinching" or using two fingers to zoom on any content is certainly fun to play with, but not practical whatsoever. This operation depends solely on using the device with two hands.
12. No document editor or native viewer. You can not store documents on the device to be viewed, they can only be viewed as attachments when they're sent to your in an email.
13. Visual voicemail is laggy and reacts about the same way as pushing the fast forward and rewind buttons on traditional voicemail systems. The only advantage is for those that get that many voicemail messages a day that they need to sort them according to priority.
14. NO games. None.
15. No voice dialing.
16. No speed dialing (which can be made up by the "quick list", but getting to that quick list isn't as fast as holding a single key on a real keypad).
17. No video (capture).
18. No MMS.
19. It's still <4GB for $500 and <8GB for $600
20. It only takes around 2 hours to explore every menu without any options for expandability except to scrounge around for new web apps that will load slowly and nowhere near as smoothly as the native apps.

The Apple Store I was at sold out of the 8GB versions by 2pm again, but the 4GBs were still available. And they said they expected more in tomorrow. So, I don't expect this to be a rarity. What I think I'll be doing is waiting to see what happens with three things: addressing the email/keyboard issues; looking at expansion to 3rd party apps and widgets; and definitely finding out how the synchronization with Outlook goes, as that's my life right now.

Still, definitely a game-changer, and a whole new class of device, but right now, the price keeps me away for the tradeoffs I mentioned. As the late-30's mother next to me breathed, nearly orgasmically, "I so need this," I would suggest you try for yourself, and make your own conclusions.

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