There’s really no love lost between Apple and I. Whilst I’ve blasted them many times on this blog I’ve never made a sweeping statement against all their products since frankly, if they were crap Apple wouldn’t be in the position they are in today. Still I’ve got a beef with how they deal with developers and how they keep features from their users (citing that it’s not required or bloat) and then releasing that very feature to wide fanfare in another revision (MMS anyone?). Still with them pushing over 42 million handsets worldwide they’ve created a market that I can’t rightly ignore if I’m in the business of mobile applications that strive to have widespread adoption. So about three weeks ago I took the plunge and dropped a cool $1040 on an iPhone 3GS and I’ve spent every minute with it pushing the phone to its limits.
Now I’ve spent a considerable amount of coin on phones before but the iPhone still tops out as the most expensive one that I shelled out for. Usually when you part with this much dosh you’re greeted with packaging fit for a king with extras and accessories flowing from the box. Apple, true to their minimalistic design philosophies, give you little more than the phone, ear buds, usb cable and charger, with the whole thing fitting in something roughly the same size as a house brick. Sure I wasn’t expecting too much but I’ve bought phones for hundreds of dollars less that came with more, so my initial impressions, whilst impressed with the minimalistic nature, were soured by the fact that I had parted with so much for so little. The blow was softened somewhat by the fact that my company paid for 90% of the phone, one of the perks of being a contractor 😉
I then took the time to get the phone set up which (groan) had me installing iTunes. Now I’ve had an iPod shuffle for about a year so you’d think I already had the software installed but this isn’t the case. I’d managed to avoid it by using a program called Floola which allowed me to drag and drop music onto it. After getting the software installed (and making sure not install the bug ridden port of a browser Safari¹) I had my iPhone up and running and something caught my eye.
It was the screen on this phone, it’s really quite gorgeous. Even though my Xperia X1 has almost double the screen resolution it just doesn’t seem as nice as the one on the iPhone, even with Sony’s UI smothering the beast that is Windows Mobile’s default UI. For a long time geek like myself the UI was very intuitive and my better half (who I bought an iPhone for as well since she’d been pining for one for years) didn’t have any issues navigating around her new toy. After getting the basics out of the way I decided to go straight for the heart of the iPhone’s apparent success: the App Store.
Yet again I was met with extremely slick UI design that was done to facilitate the non-tech crowd through a world that was ostensibly for techies. In minutes I was downloading all manner of applications: Echofon, Facebook, Shazam, AroundMe all found their way onto my phone in a matter of minutes of getting it onto the world wide web. My initial disappointment with the lack of included extras was soon pushed aside by the overwhelming amount of functionality that could be unlocked with few clicks on the App store. My inner Apple critic was still shouting loudly in my ear that this was the devils store and any more attempts to dive deeper into this world would be met by damnation of all those who sit atop a pylon of free and open ideals. But the apps called to me because it was just so damned easy.
It took me a long time to be willing to part with extra money to buy something on the app store but it finally happened when I had 30 minutes to kill and I was stuck in a parking lot with just myself and my iPhone. Browsing through the free games section nothing really caught my fancy so I looked through the paid section. Noticing that a long time addiction of mine, Bejeweled, was available I happily signed my soul away and not less than 2 minutes later I was busting jewels like a pro. The game has since brought me a couple hours of entertainment, well worth the $4 I parted with for it.
I was quite surprised by the browsing experience on this phone. With many sites now creating mobile versions specifically for the iPhone (this site included, if you’re on a mobile device it will switch to an iPhone-esque theme for you) browsing sites is quite a lot easier than I thought it would be. With sites that don’t implement it the multi-touch interface makes zooming around the pages quite smooth and very enjoyable, a long way from my roots in Windows Mobile world. I haven’t had a chance to compare the experience to Opera Mini, but from what I’ve heard you gain page loading speed at the cost of some things not rendering quite right. Still I’ll stick with the default browser for now since most people design for that first if they’re creating a mobile site.
In the interest of doing a full review of the iPhone I decided that I’d best buy some music as well, and while I’m at it let’s see how it would perform downloading an entire album over the cell phone network. Hitting up the store I decided that I’d grab an album of a band I’d just recently come across: Miami Horror. For the princely sum of about $8 I was treated to a full album of tracks and in the space of a 15 minute walk all but 2 tracks of it had finished downloading. Colour me impressed as I’ve tried doing things like this before on other phones and been quite disappointed. The whole experience left me wanting to do it again just for the sheer novelty of being able to think of a bad, look them up on iTunes and have their album on my phone in less time than it would take for me to drive to the closest record store. Once again Apple’s philosophy of “It just works” seems to be a winner.
But of course since I am at heart a geek there are some things about my new iPocketCandy that aren’t all sunshine and rainbows. In the nation’s capital 3G coverage is somewhat spotty for my carrier (Three) and this usually incurs me roaming whenever I go indoors. That’s not too much of a problem since the iPhone has a switch to not use Internet when roaming (which is bloody awesome, I had to get an application for Windows Mobile to do that). However the process of getting it to switch back to 3G takes about 2 minutes or so to complete when the same operation on Windows Mobile took about 10 seconds. Given that the device also freezes for about 5 seconds when switching networks by itself this has become a bit of a bugbear, especially considering I’m in and out 3G reception most of the day.
I’ve made a habit of keeping a good contacts file in my Outlook ever since I moved to a Windows Mobile phone. You can then imagine my elation when I saw an option to sync directly from Outlook in iTunes. That was until I actually tried to sync them to my phone upon which I received the error that there was no default mail client installed. Funny that since I had the email client open at the time. A couple furious Google searches later proved that I wasn’t alone in this problem and it in fact lies with Apple, since they haven’t built in support for the x64 version of Outlook. For a company that likes to tout itself as an innovator it gives me the irates when they miss something as simple as this, especially when the problem has gone unresolved for months. I ended up creating a CSV file of my various contacts and uploading them into Google Contacts (I’d never seen this before) and syncing them that way. That’s 4 hours of shenanigans that I shouldn’t of had to go through.
There are also some other tasks, like importing your own ring tones, that feel like they were purposefully made difficult so that you go for Apple’s solution. When you first plugin your iPhone iTunes won’t even show the ring tones folder, which would send most people straight off to the store to buy a ring tone they want. Sure its relatively easy to work around but is it really that hard to have the option there right from the beginning? I’m sure the sales department had a say in how that whole thing went down.
The iPhone is also the reason why I believe the iPad is not a revolution of any kind. Whilst I’ve yet to get my hands on an iPad the countless videos and reviews I have read show me little more than an overgrown version of the very phone I now carry with me. Most of those 42 million people who bought the iPhone did so because they actually had a use for the damn thing. The iPad however fills a need that none of them had previously and subsequently I can’t fathom that the initial rush of purchases are anything but people who would buy whatever latest widget that Apple released. Sure it would make a great “coffee table device” but really think about how often you would actually use such a device, and then think again if you had an iPhone in your pocket. The use cases for the iPad shrink considerably the more thought you give to purchasing it, which ironically I think is the exact reason why it has so sold many (yes I just called all iPad owner’s thoughtless brand whores, what are you going to do about it?).
That all being said however I can’t detract from the fact that the iPhone is the best mobile phone I’ve ever had. Everything about it just works (eventually at worst) and the amount of functionality that can be unlocked through the App store is quite phenomenal. Apple’s commitment to making what was once geek now chic works incredibly well with the iPhone and I can see the reason why over half of my tech oriented friends choose the iPhone as their smart phone. For anyone that can afford one the iPhone is a purchase that you won’t soon regret and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how my future Android purchase (currently shaping up to be a HTC Incredible) shapes up along side it.
¹Seriously, Safari on Windows is a bloated piece of garbage with numerous security holes. From all accounts its fine on OSX but it seems the team who ported it to Windows didn’t put a heck of a lot of thought into it and as such I can’t recommend it to anyone. Chrome/Firefox are still the safest and best browsers on this platform.