Review – Apple’s iPhone

Apple iPhoneI never really got excited about the years-long rumors of an Apple cell phone. Nor was I all that excited about the idea of a widescreen iPod, since she short life of an iPod battery makes them pretty useless for video.

But I have to admit, the new Apple iPhone is pretty damned slick.


What makes it so cool? I'll tell you.

  • The iPod uses some of the same jukebox browsing that is in the latest version of iTunes, which looks slick in landscape mode. I'm not too hot on the fact that you have to use your fingers instead of that little button at the bottom being replaced with a five-direction control. But the fact that you won't have to remember to take your iPod and your phone with you will be very convenient. That's why I got my Treo, since I always had my phone but never remembered to bring my Palm Pilot with me.

    On the down side, the fact that the lists are still moving after you stop moving your finger would drive me batty. And if they don't have a separate battery for the cell phone and iPod, the whole game is off. There's nothing worse than losing phone access because you listened to too much music.

  • The Phone is pretty normal. It does basically the same things that the Treo does, but makes it look a little prettier. The phone has the same issues the iPod does for the menus, though. And apparently no way to switch back to the original call when you've answered an incoming call waiting call (who really uses partyline anyway?). It says it lets you sync your contacts on a PC, but it doesn't say whether it supports an Outlook sync or if that's only syncing to your iPod contacts. And it's a little odd that the SMS text that you write is highlighted in bright green while the person you're talking to is muted in a dull grey - seems like it should be the other way around, like it is in Skype. I mean, you already know what you wrote.

  • The Photos are a weird exception to the rest of the iPhone. Everywhere else, the navigation is onscreen. For navigating photos, you need to somehow magically know that certain fingure gestures will do different things. It's completely unintuitive, and I really don't understand why they don't have a navigation bar on the bottom for this. That said, I'm sure the power users (who I rarely agree with) will still love it. Rumor has it there's a camera in this thing, but I haven't seen evidence of it yet. I won't lose any sleep if it doesn't have one, though.

  • The Web and Email are where the iPhone really starts to shine. Assuming the speed is decent (I'm assuming it automatically switches from cellular to wifi when available), the way it shows a full web page and lets you zoom in and scroll around is great. The Treo lets you scroll around, but doesn't let you zoom out. Of course, the iPhone should let you choose if you want to start scrolled out or scrolled in, and have an optimized-for-the-phone version like the Treo does, but I'm hoping that'll be a no-brainer for them. No word on whether or not it can open Word/Excel attachments, but my Treo hasn't been able to do that for over a year either (pesky firmware upgrade screwed everything up) so I won't lose any sleep over that.

  • The Maps are awesome. They have finally solved for Google the main drawback to their Google Maps tool - the fact that it tells you to bugger off when you need it most - ie, when you're on the road, lost, and trying to find a map on your web-enabled-but-not-browser-enough-for-Google-Maps phone. I just hope you can set it to have a default location, so you don't have to type in your city every time you want to use it to look up businesses around you. It's just too bad they don't include the hybrid mode, since satellite images are useless for anything beyond site seeing without road map context.

  • The Widgets that are shown are just the basics - stocks and weather - but if Apple's track record for allowing third party development is to be trusted, we're going to see some pretty damn slick widgets before too long. Hopefully a few games among them, since it just wouldn't be the same without Solitaire, Mine Hunter and Bejeweled. I'd vote for Pac-Man, but that's already evil enough to try and play on an iPod with the circular control; I wouldn't want to imaging what a bitch it would be to play with only finger controls.


However, it does have some deal-breaker flaws, for me

As cool as it might be, I really don't think I'll be getting an iPhone. Yes, it's shiny, yes it does neat tricks. But its design is based on two principles that I am absolutely opposed to. It makes the user pay more attention to their electronics rather than less, and it thinks it's smarter than you. Plus a couple other issues that are worthy of note.

  • The touch screen makes it an attention whore
    The touchscreen interface is the truly innovative thing about the iPhone, and it's the thing that gadget-lovers are going to fall in love with. But, contrary to popular opinion, I am not a gadget lover. I am a lover of functionality, and tools that make my life easier. One of the things I love about my Treo is that most of what you need to do can be done with one hand while paying only marginal attention, thanks to the five-direction control widget. I can turn on the phone, click over to email, download my latest email, click back to the web and pick Google News from my favorites without actually opening my eyes in the morning, just by picturing where I am in the interface and clicking around through muscle memory. It's a brilliant device.

    The iPhone does almost everything my Treo does, looks a hell of a lot sexier doing it, and probably does it faster, too. But you have to hold the thing with both hands (unless you have an abnormally long thumb) and look at it in order to do anything. It's an attention whore. It makes the user subservient to the technology, rather than the other way around. And I don't even want to think how many people will be taking their eyes off the road to try and dial on that thing. On the Treo, you can program each of the keyboard keys to be a shortcut to either a phone number, web site or Palm app, and the keys are easy to feel with your fingers, so you can place a call without ever taking your eyes off the road.

  • It thinks it's smarter than you
    I hate it when gadgets think they're smarter than you. The iPhone's offense is automatically switching from portrait to landscape view based on motion sensors. That's all well and good if you're sitting up straight and using it with two hands, like they intend you too. But what happens when you roll over in the morning, grab the thing off the dock, and try to read the morning news. You're holding it parallel to the ground so that it should be in portrait mode for you to read while lying down. But it thinks it's smarter than you, so it's automatically converted to landscape mode. Which means you either need to wake up enough to sit up or crane your head awkwardly to the side in order to be able to read the bloody thing. Being able to switch between modes is great, but you need to have the ability to turn off the auto-switch and have an easily accessible manual option available if you want this to be a proper tool rather than tail-wags-the-dog pain in the arse.

  • What happened to the hard drive?
    Ok, I get that this is a phone and phones need to be slim. But they're finally rolling out the long-anticipated "true video iPod" and it's got a hard drive the size of a Nano? You've got to be frikkin kidding me. Although, actually, if the battery for the iPhone is anything like it is for the video iPod, you'll only be able to watch one episode of Firefly before the batter shits out on you anyhow, so maybe it isn't such a big deal after all.

    I would also complain about the idiocy of combining a cell phone (where the battery running out is Bad News) with an iPod (which drains the battery like a vampire), but I am optimistically choosing to believe that early rumors of the iPhone having two separate batteries for critical and non-critical functions are true. They really had better be.

  • Accessories are going to be a bitch
    Pretty much everyone I know who has an iPod has it in a case, with a nice thin clear plastic bit over the screen, to prevent it from getting scratched. And even most of the Treo users I know keep them in holsters or cases to keep their touchscreens safe. But this puppy is nothing BUT touchscreen, and doesn't have an antenna. So pretty much any case you get will either leave the screen open for scratching or be one of those annoying flip-open ones, and holsters will not be an option since there's no antenna to grab it by (which is one of the many reasons you won't see me buying a Treo 680, BTW). The accessory manufacturers are really going to have their work cut our for them with this baby.

So no, I won't be getting one. Even if they were available for my carrier. But I will gladly ooh and ahh over them at the Apple store, and borrow them from friends who are less function-over-form than me. It really is a damned sexy device, even if it's not my dream device.


Signs and Portents

One other thing I should mention about the iPhone: it really does make you think about what the inevitable Mac Tablet is going to be like. If the iPhone is any indicator, it's going to be about as thick as an iPod, won't have a physical keyboard at all, and will be pretty frikkin' cool. I'm not the tablet-using sort myself, but I have a feeling you artists out there are going to flip your lid once the Mac Tablet hits the streets. What do you think, next MacWorld maybe? Or will they pull a Houdini and spring it on us later this year?

7 Comments:

  1. as sexy as it looks, you bring up some great points. the fact that the scrolling keeps going, kind of like a wave, and won’t stop immediately would be irritating.

    it should have voice command for use while driving. that would eliminate the need to look at the screen to search for contacts to phone. now if the voice commands extended to the music selection, that would be awesome!…but then again, maybe not?

    i too thought that 4 and 8 are so little! it was pointed out to me that 30gig would make it a hard drive, which i think then could cause music to skip when bumped.

    lastly, the touch screen. sooo cool, yet omg! those baby’s are going to get so scratched! i hate those flip up cases, but that may be the only solution.

    i’m also sure this baby won’t take being dropped, even a short distance, very well.

    me: undecided but sadly leaning toward no

    • That’s a fair point. And yeah, if you look at the iPod as just an extra feature for the phone, the hard drive size makes sense (and blows the Treo out of the water).

      I guess the “true video ipod” thing is based on the fact that we don’t have visibility into Apple’s product roadmap. Two things that have been highly anticipated over the past few years have been an iPhone of some sort or another and a widescreen, touchscreen “true video” iPod. The fact that this product combines a lot of the features of the of these two product-demands gives people certain expectations that may or may not be inline with what Apple actually intends.

      Taking a step back, though, and looking at this as a phone that just happens to have video, it makes more sense. Just so long as there is a non-phone widescreen iPod with a beefier 30/80GB hard drive options coming down the pipe at some point, to satiate the other half of the demand.

      Of course, I’m not one of the people who’s demanding such a product. I don’t even use the video on my iPod. My main excitement about the original inclusion of video into iTunes was that it meant something like Apple TV was soon to follow. I’ll be watching that product line pretty closely over the coming year to see if it can give me back the faith in consumer-centric UI design that I haven’t really seen since the old WebTV days.

    • And as far as the phone goes… If they replaced the single button at the bottom with a 5-direction control, with a back button to the left of it (and possibly a pair of zoom buttons on the right) that would solve 80% of the issues I have with this sexy-ass phone, and move it to the top of my wish list. Hopefully this is something they’ll add in the next generation!

  2. The Letdown.

    come on, you kinda expected this from me.

    I was expecting the small memory, since I like my large, HD-based ipod, but wouldn’t want to hold one to my ear for an hour – too big and heavy.

    I really liked the (dual)flip phone being touted on youtube. Sadly, it was not to be. Wonder who came up with that one, since it was a pretty slick UI and commercial.

    Assuming it switches over to WiFi (and why doesn’t it have VOIP software built in for $500??) is a nice IDEA, but phones are having trouble with it. Especially where wifi passwords are concerned.

    Speed – I can’t grasp why they’re using EDGE (128kbps, essentially 2x dial-up). Cingular rolled out 3G 6 months ago (700kbps), and Verizon just rolled out 3Gv.1 (1000kbps, faster than cable). Why is Apple releasing a product in 6 months on Cingular with far less bandwith?

    This brings me to the price issue – I have the latest Cingular phone (with 3G) and the biggest ipod, and combined they cost me less than the $500 price tag for their product, which isn’t ready for another 6 months.

    Maps – I have google mobile maps on my phone. Using it is… interesting, but it does work fine, and would work GREAT if I had QWERTY pad on my phone.
    Oh, I should mention that G-maps mobile is an Application I downloaded to my phone.
    Default location – oh, we can all dream. Same goes for (portable)GPS systems – can I please have a default starting location of where I am right now?!?

    I get a full movie (2.5 hrs) of video watchin on my 60gig 5g ipod. The smaller 5g (30gig) has less battery time -part of the reason I went for the 60. Though it’s worth pointing out that watching a whole movie and losing the life of my phone would be lame, lame, lame.

    • Re: The Letdown.

      The EDGE is the killer for me. Re: VOIP, I’m sure that Cingular is partially to blame.

      The other item is the lock-down they intend on applications. If I could download what apps I want… not just limited to the officially sanctioned apps, that would be a plus.

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