After all my attempts to convince myself I did not want to buy into the hype and spend time and energy trying to get an iPhone on the day of it’s release, I owned an 8 GB iPhone by 6:20 pm yesterday.
Sigh…. I am such a tech toy geek.
In my defense, I was actually at the Mall of America at 3 pm yesterday to deliver supplies to my caricature/tattoo booth in the Park at MOA and to meet with a new artist that starts today. Just out of curiosity I went by the Apple store, which had a queue of at least 150 people outside it. They were all clacking away on laptops using the Apple Store’s free wifi, and some had been there for a long time judging by the blankets and pillows strewn about. No thanks.
Then on my way out of the mall at 4:00 I went by the AT&T store on the 3rd floor. I was startled to see only 14 people in line. I asked the AT&T rep if that was really the line, and he confirmed it was indeed. He asked if I wanted to get an iPhone. I thought about all the overblown hype, the difficulties and bugs that are bound to be issues with an initial product as complex as this one, the reliance on the snail-like AT&T “Edge” network, the large price tag, the almost useless amount of iPod memory…
…I immediately answered: “YES!”
I was given a numbered wristband, and told I was allowed to leave the line for up to 15 minutes if my neighbors agreed to this… although as my wristband was numbered I did not see where my neighbors had any say in the matter. I sat in line for a short time, then used my 5 minutes to go buy a book and a soda. A two hour wait did not seem very long. I’ve waited longer for a 60 second ride on a roller coaster. I settled in with my book (Richard Bachman‘s aka Stephen King‘s BLAZE, see later review) for the wait.
Two hours later there were 50 people in line, and they let the first 5 people in. There was security all over the place, and only one guy had the key to the backroom and was able to actually get the iPhones. So there were 5 cashiers that were mostly waiting for this very slow person to trudge back and forth bringing out one at a time. Even so they did not have to do anything but ring them up, as all activation is done on the internet with iTunes. My turn came quickly, maybe 6:15 or so. I walked up to the salesperson and had the following exchange:
Salesperson (very cheery, smiley and enthusiastic): “Looking for an iPhone?”
Me (deadpanning confusion): “No, I was interested in a Treo…”
There was a moment of stunned silence. I wish I’d had a camera for this guy’s expression. The salesman next to him overheard and did a double take. Then I grinned. I suppose they’ll hear some variation of that gag a few hundred times over the next week or so, but my delivery got them. Suckers.
I was walking out of the store at 6:20 with my iPhone.
So… the verdict? A big thumbs up for the most part. The iPhone does some things incredibly well, and reinvents other things. It has limitations and some common and handy cellphone features are left out that I will miss. Overall it lives up to the hype. Here are some highlights:
Activation- This is done via iTunes 7.3 (have to download the new version… no disc in the box). Once installed you simply dock the iPhone like an iPod, and an activation window appears in iTunes. You answer questions using check boxes and it walks you through the process. Since I was already an AT&T customer, I simply had to enter my existing cell number, the zipcode and some identifying info, and it was all set up. I chose my “data plan” (since my voice plan would remain the same) which was $20.00 a month for the basic unlimited internet and 200 text messages. The only snag happned when it tried to register me with the iTunes store. I get an error each time it tries (whenever I dock the phone) which says the iTunes site is “too busy” and to try again later). It’s likely overwhelmed by geeks like me trying to activate the phone. Thankfully this is not a step the iPhone needs to function. Also because of some glitch you cannot transfer the main number of a family plan account to an iPhone. That necessitated my changing the main number on our plan to The Lovely Anna’s phone. I was told this would be a temporary glitch.
I activated with iTunes on a Mac. PC’s may be different.
Syncing– The iPhone then appeared in iTunes just like an iPod, and I was able to make choices as to what got synced, etc. I chose to put only one playlist of audio on the phone, the last three episodes of “Lost” and “Heroes”, and an album I created in iPhoto called “iPhone pics” so I wouldn’t waste space on the phone with useless pictures I didn’t want to take with me. Like the iPod, the syncing worked quickly and easily. My Mac’s “Address Book” was copied over to the phone, my iCal data and the mail accounts info for my POP mail account. No e-mails were copied, however. This is too bad, and I wanted to be able to take e-mails I’d received in the studio with me on the road. There might be way to do that but I haven’t figured it out yet. One thing, the iPhone dock grips the phone like a vice and it’s hard to get in and out.
Again, all this on a Mac. Who knows what may lurk within a Windows/iPhone sync.
The Interface- This is where the iPhone shines. The user interface is as elegant and intuitive as the Mac. The icons are glassy and gorgeous, and the screen changes not with clunky flashes but with swooping, zooming, wiping or dissolving transitions. The screen resolution is better than the current video iPod. The touch screen works very well, and the innovative rolling-scroll, pinch-zoom in and flick-zoom out will quickly become part of everyday technological features and the tech vocabulary. It’s everything they advertised in this department.
The Phone- Surprisingly, this part of the iPhone is lacking the most. No voice dialing, no easy one-touch dialing… the fastest way to dial a number takes three screen touches. First, you have to have the number added to your “favorites” list. Then you press the “phone” icon, then the “favorites” icon, then the name. Otherwise you have to press the “phone” icon, then “contacts”, scroll to the name, press it, then press the number on the digital button to dial. There will be a few extra car accidents involving the iPhone over other cellphones in the coming months. You absolutely cannot dial a number without paying attention to the screen. If you have the attention to give it, then it works quite well with pleasing visuals when calls come in, and easy to use buttons that pop up to give you choices when things get crazy. If you are on call A and caller B beeps in, their caller ID is displayed two buttons pop up allowing you to ignore the call or place caller A on hold to answer it. Then additional buttons appear alowing you to “swap” back to caller A, or to merge the calls for a conference feature. You can also place a call on the speaker phone, on hold, mute the mike, bring up the keypad or look at contact info during a call. There are lots of other features, most found on other phones but not done as “pretty”.
I’d love to tell you about video voicemail, one of the features I am most looking forward to, but I can’t set it up as apparently AT&T’s network is also overwhelmed right now. Both internet access to my AT&T account and phone access to voice-mail, which you use to record your greeting and set preferences, is inaccessible.
Contacts is the best part, especially for Mac users. I’ve never had a phone that is as seamless at syncing ALL the info I have for contacts. Every number, name and other data are there, PLUS any notes which I use all the time for clients and vendors. It even uses the little pictures you can have in your Mac address book.
The iPod- Apple claims this is the best iPod they’ve ever made. I’d agree, but again the low memory makes it little more than a cool feature. The on-screen controls are easy to use, and the cover flow interface will quickly make iPod users forget about the click-wheel. The rotation feature is very cool, where the screen turns to landscape when you turn it sideways. That works for photos as well as the music, but videos seem to always play landscape regardless (not a problem, as that’s the best way to watch them anyway). No, the problem is the tiny flash hard drive. I placed 4.3 hours of video and 15 hours of audio and about 160 photos on it, and half the memory is used up already. It’s good over a few movies and some of your favorite playlists for a trip somewhere, and that’s about it. When they come out with the same concept as a dedicated iPod with about 80 GB’s of memory, look out. That is going to be something.
The Internet- At first I thought the iPhone was going to be a terrific internet device, but it definitely has it’s drawbacks here. Yes, the Safari browser is great and works very well… but only when using a wifi signal. The “Edge” network is as slow as they say it is. I don’t really care, as I was perfectly fine with using a wifi network to do any surfing I need. The iPhone connected to my home wifi network easily, even though my SSID is not broadcast and I had to manually enter the name of the network as well as the WEP password. Once done it connected seamlessly. I was able to surf the internet via my home wifi, and in fact can read this blog right on the phone. I can zoom in and out and scroll just like with pictures. The ‘tabs’ feature is also cool, as instead of using tabs it just zooms out to a cover flow-like visual of open pages, which you can scroll through and tap one to zoom in on it. It downloaded my mail without a single setting entered, as it got those from my Mac when I synced.
The problem with the wifi is that there does not seem to be a way for it to remember the WEP password. Everytime it goes to sleep, it logs off the network and even though the network info is still there and it seems to try and connect, it cannot. There is a “cannot connect” error. I have to set up the wifi again, retyping the name and WEP password each time. Maybe this is a glitch, and maybe there is a setting I am missing. I’d read the manual but… no manual. Once a real, high speed nationwide wifi network is a reality, the iPhone will be shown to be ahead of it’s time. Right now it is little more than a toy feature.
I have barely scratched the surface of the iPhone. I haven’t touched “maps”, “stocks” or other main functions yet. From what I’ve seen this is a highly useful toy and unless it proves fragile or very buggy I will not begrudge the 2 hours I spent in line nor the $600.00 I dropped on it. The fact that it syncs so well with my Mac for both contacts and the calendar, and acts as a full featured PDA/mini computer makes it worth the coin right there for me.
Yes, I succumbed to the iPhone temptation. Maybe there’s a Twelve Step program out there for techno-addicts.
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929 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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