Jay Reding.com

iPhone, Therefore iAm

So, I’ve been playing around with the iPhone for a few hours now, placed a few calls, and used pretty much every feature. How is it after all that?

It still rocks. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than any other smartphone out there.

The call quality kicks my old HTC Windows Mobile phone’s ass – it’s quite clear and the reception seems solid. The browsing experience is second to none. The mobile version of Safari displays pages almost flawlessly, and the way in which the iPhone handles multiple windows is pretty ingenious. Over a Wi-Fi connection, the speech of the browser isn’t quite as fast as a desktop, but it’s good enough. The display quality is excellent, and the high pixel density (166 pixels/inch) makes reading text much, much, much easier than with any other smartphone I’ve used.

The interface is a joy. Multitouch just works – the way in which the scrolling responds to a flick of a finger is completely natural. Even though the iPhone uses a totally new interface convention, it’s completely intuitive. The keyboard has gotten some knocks, but once you adapt to it, you find that it’s quite accurate. It seems like the faster you type, the more accurate it becomes. Using it with either one hand or both is fairly easy. Is it capable of writing lengthy blog posts? Well, that would be tricky, but it’s certainly possible, and seems easier than with a conventional smartphone keyboard with physical keys.

The display is incredible. The surface of the iPhone tends to get smudges all over it, but they’re invisible when the display is active. To my surprise, the default brightness isn’t even close to the highest setting either. The display must have some powerful backlighting. The display shows video in shockingly high clarity for such a small screen — even though it’s only a 480×320 screen it seems to have excellent resolution. The video player automatically adjusts the image to fit the screen — this can be disabled by a virtual button press. Battlestar Galactica looked great on the iPhone’s clear display, and even the visually complex space scenes displayed clearly. There was no ghosting or artifacting at all – the motion was crisp and clear.

So, what are the flaws of the iPhone? The flaws aren’t in the hardware, but the software. Which means that the next software revision can easily make the iPhone truly great.

First is the lack of cut/copy/paste. It makes blogging on the iPhone nearly impossible. Getting that to work with the iPhone’s UI would be difficult, but not impossible. In my mind, that’s the biggest flaw of the iPhone in terms of using it as a mobile blogging station. Highlighting text shouldn’t be that big of a problem — already the phone seems to magnify the area under your finger under certain circumstances, and that seems like it would be accurate enough to select text on a web page or in an email. Adding clipboard operations, even if slightly cumbersome, would make the iPhone an ideal mobile blogging platform.

The next gripe is the speed of the AT&T EDGE network — EDGE is slow. It may be efficient for battery life, but it’s still slow. The best way to make it speedier? It would be nice to have a setting in Safari to automatically disable images while on EDGE – that way you wouldn’t be waiting on all that data and pages could pop up much faster. When you’re on EDGE, it’s nice to have the full browsing experience, but it isn’t essential. A just-the-basics mode for mobile travel would be nice.

There are some apps that would be nice to have — such as a Todo application that syncs with Mail, Flash support for the mobile Safari (I needs me badgers), and support for Google Docs (unfortunately, Google Docs doesn’t work on the iPhone, which was a bit of a letdown. No doubt Google and Apple are working on that one). None of those are crucial to the iPhone’s success, but they’d definitely be nice.

My other big pet peeve, and the one thing I miss about Windows Mobile — I want the iPhone to have a home screen that shows my calendar events for the day without having to do anything else with the phone. Yes, you can program alarms, but that’s a workaround. The Home Screen is visually simple and has that spare Apple beauty, but a smartphone needs more info to be available without having to touch anything. That’s the only part of Windows Mobile I miss.

Finally, it would be nice be able to upload photos to sites like Flickr or be able to place images on your blog. The iPhone’s filesystem isn’t visible, but it shouldn’t be difficult to make it so that a file input lets you select an image from the image catalog.

Is the iPhone worth the steep price tag? If you want (or need) a smartphone, the iPhone makes sense. A plain old Windows Mobile phone can be a couple hundred dollars, and when you figure the cost of the smartphone aspect of the iPhone with the iPod aspect, the price of the iPhone isn’t extravagant. The iPhone offers a lot of functionality that’s incredibly convenient to have, as well as being the coolest iPod to date. Yes, it sucks being tied to one network (which will only last as long as the exclusivity deal with AT&T does), but that’s the nature of the rather dysfunctional American cellular market. Apple has already made working with activation infinitely easier than before, which has now set the bar for the rest of the industry. The cost of the iPhone data plan is perfectly reasonable for providing you with unlimited data and a decent number of cellular minutes and text messages.

All in all, the iPhone was a hefty purchase, but it is worth the cost. It’s a pain to break out the laptop all the time when you just want to check IMDB for the name of that one actress who was in that one movie that completely escapes your mind. It’s nice to be able to get directions to the closest pizza joint while waiting in line at the drug store. And since the iPod has already become a fixture in just about everyone’s lives, it’s hardly necessary to sell anyone on having a library of thousands of songs available anywhere.

The iPhone isn’t perfect, but it’s worth the considerable hype. It may not be something that causes you to drop your current cellular provider right away, but if your contract is up in the next few months, it’s worth considering making the switch. Apple has a reputation for making great devices that work naturally — and the iPhone is the Mac of cellular phones. That’s what Apple needed it to be, and it that’s why it will be a resounding success for them.

UPDATE: I should mention, I have had the machine hang on me once. A quick hard reset fixed the problem, but like any just-released piece of software, there are a few bugs around. It’s not enough to be really concerning, but it does indicate that Apple will likely be pushing out some software updates in the next few months which may add new features as well as bug fixes.

I also forgot to mention the Visual Voicemail feature — that is a godsend. No more going through all your voice messages to get to the one you want, just select it and listen. It’s why the iPhone requires a separate data plan, but it’s one of those features that you wish every cellphone had.