Final Thoughts on the iPhone

August 11th, 2007 | Posted in It's All Geek to Me!

After the endless hype and press coverage, I promised it would be some time before I wrote again about the Apple iPhone. The frenzy has died down now so I thought I’d relate my final assessment of the gadget now that I’ve used one for going on two months in the “real world”.

When people see me with the phone I invariably get asked one question… does it live up to the hype? The answer is not cut and dried. In certain ways the phone exceeds the hype, in some it is good but not exceptional, and in some it is woefully inadequate. A lot depends on your needs and how you use it.

Here are the things I find most useful and are my favorite parts of the phone:

Visual Voicemail-
This is the most innovative and useful function of the iPhone. It’s so great I am seriously considering setting a permanent call forwarding on my studio line and using my iPhone for all communications. It is an unbelievable time saver to be able to look at a list of voicemails as you do e-mails and pick and choose which to listen to and which to wait until later. With Caller ID and the contact list, 90% of the voicemails I get are properly tagged with the name of the caller. When you are unable to answer calls for a while and have only a few minutes to get your messages before once again being unreachable, this feature makes it possible to do a quick check and get the important ones squared away. I seldom checked my voicemail when I was out of the studio because of the time needed to wade through them all just to see if you got one that is important. Now it’s a breeze. I can see a stand alone voicemail box in the future using the same technology.

Don’t let the propaganda about the “slow EDGE network” the iPhone uses fool you. Apple was smart to go with EDGE rather than the faster 3G network, because EDGE is everywhere and 3G is only available in certain markets. EDGE is plenty fast enough to check your e-mail and send replies when on the go. This has saved me a lot of time also. I have e-mailed orders for theme park operation supplies just a few seconds after getting a call or text from one of my managers saying they need something ASAP. I would have had to wait until I got back to the studio to do so before. I’ve also been able to communicate with clients via e-mail while on the go, and gone back the the studio ready to get back to the drawing board instead of needing to do all that communicating. Another big time saver.

On a recent trip to NYC, I used the iPhone’s “Map” widget several times to find places I needed to go. Whle the EDGE network does show it’s slowness here, it’s still quite functional. All I needed to do was type in the name of the place I was looking for including the city and state. Up comes a map with the destination marked with a red pin. Tapping the name brings up the contact info including address, phone and website if any. Tap the phone number and it calls the establishment. I found the Forbidden Planet comic book shop, all our restaurant destinations and other places we needed to go, keeping us from wasting time or taking a wrong turn in Manhattan. It was truly amazing how well it worked.

Syncing- Since I switched to my Mac from a PC, I lamented the incompatibility with my phone and my pocket PC in terms of syncing with both my calendar and my address book. Phones never worked all the way with the PC either (at least anything short of a smartphone, which I had once and it crashed so much I returned it). The iPhone syncs seamlessly with iCal and Address book on my Mac complete with notes and all formatting. A touch of a supplier contact and I have item numbers, my account number and other info I need to do business or place orders. I don’t know how well it works with Outlook on the Windows side, but for Macs it’s the only phone that will do this.

Here are the things I don’t like about the iPhone that need addressing:

Internet Browsing-
Like several other things on the iPhone, this is little more than a toy. The screen is just too small to really surf the internet. yes, it can be done and most things can be read or seen, but realistically it’s not a replacement for a laptop and anyone doing real work on the internet can’t use it. No support for flash, so I can’t see a lot of the more fun internet content anyway, nor can I do stuff like on-line ordering or commerce as Safari is way behind in supporting a lot of the kind of eCommerce sites built for Internet Explorer. That is a problem with Safari on any Mac… I have to use Firefox for things like my blog entries, and I have to resort to Parallels and Windows to prices my company payroll as even Firefox doesn’t support my payroll company’s web-based data entry system. The zoom and scroll features are cool but again this is little more than an interesting but unproductive function.

Mail Bugs, Etc.- After the first software update I notice my mail program hangs when downloading is not finished and I am trying to delete or read downloaded messages. That needs fixing. One other thing is an issue with Mail. There is no way to access your downloaded mail messages, or to reply to one, without Mail downloading all e-mail from your server. The moment you press the “Mail” icon, it connects to the interent via either wifi (if available and “on”) or via??ᬨ‚Ć EDGE. It would be better to be able to set Mail to get new mail only upon manual command. If I haven’t checked my mail in some time, it can takes a long time with EDGE to download all the new ones. It would be nice to be able to avoid the download if I am just revisiting an old message, or composing an fresh e-mail.

iPod- While the interface with the iPod part of iPhone is undeniably cool, the small amount of storage space makes this again just a toy feature. I’ve got a playlist of music and about 6 hours of video on it and it’s packed full. It’s easy to set it to sync only what you want, so I can mix and match movies and shows in anticipation of a trip, but it’s no replacement for a real iPod. I am looking forward to the release of a true iPod with the same touch screen/wide screen features.

Lack of Many Basic Phone Features- As advanced as the iPhone is in certain ways, it’s puzzling how backward it is in others. Features that are commonplace on much cheaper phones are totally missing here. No voice dialing?? I used that all the time when driving for true hands-free communication. No custom/downloadable ringtones?? Every phone in existence has that. No ability to send photos with text messages? From a phone with it’s own photo gallery software?? No one touch dialing? There should be a favorites button on the main screen for quick access to the favorites list at the very least. Apple dropped the ball here when they apparently did not do enough research regarding what features are most used on cellphones.

It’s Hot- and I don’t mean it’s hip. 10 minutes of constant use with texting, e-mail reading or iPod watching and the iPhone gets noticeably hot to the touch. All electronics generate heat but I am concerned the design doesn’t allow for proper ventilation. That’s not only a functionality issue but a lifespan issue as well.

Battery Life- This isn’t bad but I basically had to plug the phone in every day to keep it juiced up. Then I figured out that having Bluetooth and WiFi “on” significantly reduced battery life. Now I have those features “off” and only turn them on when I am ready to use them. Much better battery life now, with a plug in every other day more than adequate. Having a removable battery so you can have a spare ready would have been nice.

Of course one of the best things about the iPhone is that most of these issues could be addressed with a software update. Syncing your iPhone up to your computer means it checks for a software update and will download and install if one is available. There’s already been one that fixed a battery level problem and a Safari crash problem, as well as some security issues. Future updates could see added widget applications, improvement in current applications and additional features.

Overall the iPhone has lived up to the hype for me, and has become a valuable tool for my business. The price is an obvious drawback, but I think it was worth it, especially since I was already with AT&T and did not need to switch carriers. Other individuals may not use it the way I do, but in my case it’s a winner.


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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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