Steve Jobs has pronounced the iPhone “the best iPod we’ve ever made.” And if one were to judge an iPod’s worth by the slickness of its display and the sheer wow of its interface, he’s spot on.
But, with the iPhone, Apple has released an iPod that’s markedly different from previous iPod models—one that adds slick eye-candy and a larger display, but also lacks some favored features of late model iPods. Just how well does the iPhone deliver on Jobs’ claim? Let’s take a look.
Much like an iPod
The iPhone offers many of the same features found on an iPod. They include:
Audio and video: Like a standard iPod, the iPhone appears in iTunes and can be configured to sync music, audiobooks, podcasts, TV shows, music videos, and movies. In regard to syncing it works almost exactly like an iPod nano or fifth-generation (5G) iPod. Just select the iPhone in iTunes’ Source list and configure the Music, Photos, Podcasts, and Videos tabs to select the content that will be synced to your iPhone.
As with an iPod, in the Music tab, you can choose to sync all songs and playlist or just selected playlists. In the Podcasts and Video tabs, you can ask iTunes to sync all your podcasts, movies, and TV shows or choose just a selection—for example, the three most recent unheard/unwatched podcasts, TV shows, or movies. You can also direct it to sync specific podcasts, TV shows, and movies only—for example, the three most recent new episodes of the Macworld Podcast and the third season of Lost .
Because the iPhone’s storage space is limited and video can quickly consume much of that space, those who are accustomed to the expansiveness of a 5G iPod’s drive will likely spend more time managing how their media is synced.
Photos: Like a color-display iPod, the iPhone can sync photos. On a Mac it will sync from your iPhoto or Aperture library (or selected albums within that library) as well as from your Pictures folder or a folder of your choosing. Unlike with an iPod, you can view photos in portrait or landscape mode on the iPhone. Simply rotate your phone to landscape orientation to view photos in widescreen—the iPhone will flip your images automatically.
Contact, calendars, and more: The iPod’s PIM features are among the most underutilized on the device. With a mobile phone, however, having this data with you is crucial. iTunes takes Contact, Calendar, Mail Accounts, and Web Browser syncing and gathers them into a single Info tab. Just as with an iPod, you have the option to sync all contacts, selected groups of contacts, and all calendars or selected calendars. New with the iPhone is the ability to sync selected Mail accounts and all Safari bookmarks.
The volume-control feature Sound Check can be found on the Settings screen on the iPhone.
Sound Check: Just as with an iPod, the iPhone comes with Sound Check—the feature that makes volume more consistent from one track to another. To switch it on, go to the iPhone’s Settings screen, tap the iPod entry, and in the iPod screen tap the Off switch next to the Sound Check entry. Off will change to On. Note that just like with an iPod, Sound Check will work only if you’ve first turned it on in iTunes. You do this in the Playback tab of iTunes’ Preferences window.
Audiobook speed: The iPod can play audiobooks faster or slower than normal and so can the iPhone. If you’re in a hurry or need to take life a little easier by slowing down, go to Settings/iPod, tap the Audiobook Speed entry, and, in the resulting Audiobook Speed screen, tap Slower, Normal, or Faster.
EQ: Here’s another iPod feature found on the iPhone. To change the timbre of the music—make it brighter, bassier, or punchier, for example—choose Settings/iPod, tap EQ, and choose one of the 22 included equalization presets.
Volume Limit: The iPhone’s documentation warns about the dangers of blasting high-volume music at your eardrums. If you’re planning to lay an iPhone on your nearest and dearest and that person likes their music loud, consider setting a volume limit. Travel to Settings/iPod, tap Volume Limit, slide your finger across the volume slider to set a desirable volume, and tap Lock Volume Limit. A keypad will appear that asks you to enter and confirm a four-digit code. This locks the iPhone at this volume. To change the volume limit, press Unlock Volume Limit, which now appears on this screen, and enter the four-digit code when prompted.
Tapping on an album cover or the Info button shows you the contents of each album.
Listening: The iPhone sounds as good as any iPod you’ve ever owned. Mine plays through the portable speaker systems I’ve connected it to via the Dock connector port on the bottom of the phone—though the iPhone tells me that the attached peripheral is not supported and offers to switch the iPhone into Airplane mode to avoid generating audio interference. Like the latest screen-bearing iPods, it supports gapless playback so you can feel secure asking it to play the B-side of The Beatles’ Abbey Road or Brian Wilson’s Smile without interruption.
As the first wheel-less iPod, the iPhone’s touch-screen interface is the most obvious new feature, but additional features lurk within.
Main interface: When you tap the iPod entry on the iPhone’s main screen, you’re taken to the last iPod screen you accessed—a Now Playing screen or the Playlists screen, for example. Arrayed along the bottom of the iPhone are Playlists, Artists, Songs, Videos, and More icons. The first four icons are self-explanatory. Tap each to view playlists, artists, songs, and videos.
Tap the More icon, and you’ll see entries for Albums, Audiobooks, Compilations, Composers, Genres, and Podcasts. These entries are similar to what you find on an iPod. Tap them to access these specific screens.
Just as you can change the commands that appear on an iPod’s main screen, so too can you change the icons that appear at the bottom of the iPod area. Simply tap the More icon and, in the More screen, tap the Edit button at the top-left of the screen. A Configure screen will wipe up from the bottom and display icons for Albums, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Genres, Composers, Compilations, Playlists, Artists, Songs, and Videos. To substitute one of these icons for one that appears at the bottom of the screen, just tap and hold on an icon and drag it over the icon you want to replace. Tap Done when you’re done.
An alphabet on the right side of the iPhone’s screens helps you speed up your song and artist searches.
To walk back through the screen hierarchy, tap the left-pointing arrow icon at the top-left of the screen. (On the Now Playing screen this really is an arrow icon. On other screens, this arrow bears the name of the previous screen so you know where you’re going.)
Cover Flow: Cover Flow—the landscape view that displays album covers and podcast artwork rather than text—is one of the iPhone’s flashiest new features. When in the iPod area, just turn your iPhone to landscape orientation and Cover Flow appears. Swoop your finger to the right or left to move from cover to cover.
Tap on an album cover once or tap the Info button at the bottom-right of the screen, and the cover flips around to show you the contents of the album (or as much of the album as the iPhone holds). Tap once on a podcast’s artwork, and it too flips and displays a list of episodes for that podcast. Tap on a selection in this view and it begins playing.
You can flip back to the front cover by tapping the Info button, tapping the item’s title bar, or—in the case of podcasts—double-tapping the blank area in the list of podcast episodes.
Seeking: The iPhone eschews the search features found on the latest display-bearing iPods. Instead, in a screen that includes a lot of entries, you’ll find the alphabet arrayed along the right side of the screen. Tap on a letter to quickly move to that location in the list—R for Joni Mitchell’s “River,” for example, when you’re on the Songs screen.
Built-in speaker: iPods don’t have built-in speakers. The iPhone does. You’ll find its speaker on the bottom edge of the iPhone, on the left side. And no, that speaker isn’t just for phone calls. It will play anything that makes noise on your iPod, including music and a video’s audio tracks.
The Now Playing screen
Less like an iPod
Because of the iPhone’s wheel- and button-free interface, iPod elements such as the Now Playing screen have had to be reworked to accommodate a touch-screen. While some of these features are found on an iPod, they don’t work the same way.
Now Playing: The Now Playing screen is where you control the iPhone’s music playback. It has three layers. The main Now Playing screen shows the album cover, play controls (Previous, Play, and Forward), and volume slider.
To toggle between Play and Pause, just tap on the Play or Pause icon. To fast forward or rewind through a track, tap and hold on the appropriate button. To advance to the next track, tap once on the Forward button. To move to the beginning of the currently playing track, tap on the Previous button. To travel to the previous track, tap twice on this button. To adjust volume, tap on the silver ball in the volume slider and drag your finger to the left or right to decrease or increase volume, respectively.
Tap once on the Now Playing screen and you gain controls for switching on Repeat and Shuffle play, and a playhead and timeline that details the length of the playing track and where you are in the track. You can tap and hold on the playhead and move it to the right or left to move forward or back in the track. Finally, if you double-tap in the Now Playing screen or tap the Playlist icon in the upper-right corner, the cover flips to reveal the album’s tracks.
In this screen you can not only choose tracks by tapping on them, but also rate the currently selected track. At the top of the window, you’ll find five dots. To assign a four-star rating, for example, just tap the fourth dot; four stars will appear. You can also wipe your finger from side to side to add or remove stars. As with any other iPhone screen that displays a list longer than the screen can accommodate, wipe your finger up across the display to scroll down the list.
Except for within the Configure screen in the More screen, you always have the option to move immediately to the Now Playing screen by tapping that same-named button in the upper right corner of the iPhone’s screen. Audio tracks will continue to play even when you’ve moved to a different area of the iPhone (unless you’re making a call, of course, or performing some other audio-centric task).
You can pause playback when using the included headphones/microphone by squeezing the headset’s mic button once. To restart playback, press again. Press twice quickly to move to the next song in the playlist. When controlling music playback from the iPhone’s display rather than the headset, you must move to the Now Playing screen to pause playback or turn the iPhone so it shifts to Cover Flow view and tap the Pause icon that appears in the bottom left corner of the screen.
Video playback: The iPhone has a gloriously wide display for such a small device, and Apple’s not about to waste it by allowing you to view videos in portrait orientation. No, once you tap an entry in the Video screen, the video plays back in landscape view.
Video playback controls on the iPhone
You can access the video’s play controls by tapping once on the screen. Like the music controls, these controls include Previous, Play/Pause, and Forward buttons. A volume slider appears below. Above, you’ll see a timeline and the expected silver ball that indicates where you are in the video. Time indicators on either side detail the video’s current playback position and the remaining time, respectively. You can tap and drag this slider to move to a new location in the video. Tap a double-arrow button to the side of the timeline to toggle between Full- and Widescreen video views. (You can also toggle between these two views by double-tapping the screen.)
When you tap and hold on the Forward or Previous buttons, the video will fast-forward or rewind, respectively. The longer you hold, the faster the video skips ahead or back. When you tap and release the Forward button, you move to the video’s next chapter (if it has chapters—if there are no chapters, nothing happens). Similarly, tap and release the Previous button to move back a chapter.
To be taken back to the Video screen, tap the Done button in the upper-left corner of the video screen.
On-The-Go playlist: On an iPod you can create a special playlist directly on the device by selecting an item—a song, artist, or album—and clicking and holding on it. This adds the selected item to the On-The-Go playlist. The iPhone offers a similar on-the-go feature but, because it lacks a click-wheel, things are implemented differently.
To create an On-The-Go playlist on the iPhone, while in the iPhone’s iPod area tap the Playlists icon at the bottom of the iPhone screen. Tap the On-The-Go entry that appears at the top of the Playlists screen. Tap Playlists, Artists, or Songs at the bottom of the screen. When you tap Playlists, you’re presented with a list of all the playlists on your iPhone. Tap a playlist and in that playlist’s screen, you can choose to add all the playlist’s songs or choose individual songs by tapping the Plus icon next to the song. If you tap Artists, you’ll see a list of all the artists on your iPhone. Tap an artist’s name and you’ll see a list of all that artist’s albums on your iPhone. Tap an album title and, again, you’re offered the option to add all songs or you can choose individuals songs to add. (If you have just a single album by that artist, no album entry will appear—only the songs on the album are listed.) And if you tap Songs, you can choose to add all songs or add individual songs.
Similarly, if you tap the More button, you can select tracks by Album, Audiobook, Compilation, Composer, Genre, or Podcast. Just as with the Playlists, Artists, and Songs screens, you can choose everything in the list or individual tracks.
Editing an On-The-Go playlist on your iPhone
When you’ve configured the On-The-Go playlist to your liking, tap the Done button at the top-right of the On-The-Go screen. Later, if you decide to edit this playlist, tap the On-The-Go playlist in the Playlists screen and tap Edit. To clear the playlist of its contents, tap Clear Playlist. To remove individual tracks, tap the Minus icon to the left of the track you want to delete and then tap the Delete button that appears. To reorder the playlist, just tap and hold on an entry and drag it up or down the playlist. To add other tracks, tap the Plus button in the upper-left corner of the window and proceed as you did when creating the original list—choosing categories from the bottom of the window and adding playlists, artists, songs, or categories of content from the More screen.
Shuffle: Unlike on the iPod, the iPhone’s Shuffle command is integrated into playlists rather than as part of a main menu. Whenever you access a list of tracks—in an artist’s or playlist’s screen, for example—you’ll see a Shuffle entry. Tap it and the contents of that list will shuffle. To shuffle all the tracks on your iPhone, tap the Songs icon at the bottom of the screen in the iPhone’s iPod area, and tap Shuffle.
No manual management: The iPod offers you the option to manage media manually. With this option turned on, you can add content to the iPod simply by selecting something in your iTunes library—a track, album, playlist, or video, for example—drag it to the iPod’s icon in iTunes’ Source list, and the media is copied to the device. Not so with the iPhone. The only way you can add media to the iPhone is by using iTunes’ syncing controls. This means that if you have multiple computers, it may be time to think about consolidating your media on a single computer as you won’t be able to add one album from this Mac, move the iPhone to another Mac, and add a different album. If you try to sync the iPhone with the other computer, the media you added from the first computer will be erased and replaced by the synced media from the currently tethered computer. (iTunes warns you before it erases any media from the iPhone.)
No lyrics: Granted, from my experience, not a lot of people use iTunes’ lyrics feature, but I do. Count the iPhone as one more entity that doesn’t support embedded lyrics.
Third-party headphones under-supported: The iPhone’s headphone port is recessed into the case. This makes the plugs on standard headphones incapable of seating properly, which means they won’t work. Belkin and Griffin Technology are making adapters that allow you to use your current headphones with the iPhone.
No recording: With a compatible microphone, recent display-bearing iPods can record audio. This isn’t an option with the iPhone. The current crop of iPod microphones aren’t recognized by the iPhone.
No direct picture import With Apple’s $29 Apple iPod Camera Connector you can directly import pictures from your digital camera to the iPod. This adapter doesn’t work with the iPhone.
[ Senior editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide, second edition (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]