The iPhone: Complete review
Apple iPhone 8GBMacworld Rating
Apple iPhone 4GBMacworld Rating
Apple’s iPhone is a product that’s been years in the making. Apple’s designers have been working on it for years, and the Web has been buzzing about Apple’s entry into the phone market for just as long—or maybe even longer. But now, after six months of intense speculation since its introduction at Macworld Expo, the iPhone has arrived. Although the iPhone is not without a few quirks, it makes good on the hype that surrounded it.
Hefting the hardware
Steve Jobs proudly described the iPod as a beautiful piece of hardware that had amazing software inside it. And with the iPhone, Apple’s hardware designers have once again wrapped the output of the company’s in-house developers into a remarkable piece of hardware. Pictures of the iPhone don’t do it justice: it’s smaller than it looks. Roughly the width (2.4 inches) and height (4.5 inches) of a full-size iPod, depth is the dimension that makes the iPhone feel tiny: it’s shockingly thin, measuring less than half an inch.
However, the iPhone doesn’t feel fragile. It’s got enough weight (4.8 ounces) to it to feel substantial when it’s in the palm of your hand. And as our colleagues at PC World have shown , the iPhone appears to be built to last, with a screen that proved quite resistant to scratches and drops. The iPhone’s back side is a textured silver, rather than the polished stainless steel of the full-sized iPod models, so my guess is that both the front and back of the iPhone will be more resistant to scratches than either the full-sized iPod or the original iPod nano.
This is not to say that the iPhone is impervious to being marked up. Perhaps we were unwise to order pizza at Macworld on the day of the iPhone’s arrival, but the grease from that pizza helped make a point: the iPhone’s screen collects fingerprints. The good news is, the screen’s so bright that in most situations you don’t notice the fingerprints. But it’s enough of an issue that Apple includes a small black chamois cloth in the iPhone box, and the image-conscious iPhone owner will want to give their screen a good wipe-down often.
The dominant physical feature of the iPhone is its black glass face, punctuated by a single physical button on the bottom and a speaker slit near the top for listening to phone calls. But the Home button isn’t the only physical button to be found anywhere on the iPhone; on its side are a pair of volume buttons, which (depending on context) will let you raise or lower the volume of the phone’s ringer, music or video playback, or conference-call speakerphone. Placed right above these two buttons is a switch that slides back and forth; in one position the iPhone will emit sound from its external speaker, while in the other it will only vibrate to warn you that something’s going on.
Using a switch instead of a toggle button was an excellent choice, since you can feel the switch’s position even in a darkened movie theater. However, the volume buttons are located a bit too close to the switch, and on several occasions I found myself pushing the switch (which won’t budge) in a vain attempt to boost the iPhone’s volume.
The iPhone’s top has a physical button, too. It serves as a wake/sleep toggle button: press it and the iPhone goes to sleep and locks instantaneously. (This feature is aimed at preventing you from accidentally pushing an on-screen button; you can still receive incoming calls when the phone’s in this state.) Press that same button and hold for a few seconds, and the iPhone will shut down completely.
Opposite the wake/sleep toggle on the iPhone’s top edge is a recessed headphone jack. It’s a standard 3.5-millimeter jack—the very same sort used on the iPod—but because it’s recessed many third-party headphones won’t fit, especially if they’ve got a large plug or one that turns at a 90-degree angle. It’s too bad that a clunky add-on accessory will be necessary for aficionados of high-quality headphones to use the iPod features of the iPhone. (Although if the iPhone is a success, headphone manufacturers will almost certainly build their plugs to ensure iPhone compatibility.)
The iPhone comes with a set of stereo earbuds that sound pretty good, exponentially better than the earbuds that shipped with the original iPod. These earbuds also include an inline microphone that’s also a clicker: click once to pause or play your music, or click twice to advance to the next track. Although I’m sure that third-party headphone makers will create numerous excellent alternatives, the good news is that the iPhone’s in-the-box earbuds are very good.
On the iPhone’s back face is the tiny lens of its compact, two-megapixel camera. It doesn’t zoom and doesn’t work well in low light, but with still subjects in well-lit areas it produces nice results. It’s definitely more appropriate for fun shots when no other camera is around than as a replacement for your digital camera, even if your camera is five years old. (The camera also can’t record video, at least not with the current version of the iPhone’s software.)
The iPhone’s inside may not be as beautiful as the outside, but it’s full featured. Each iPhone contains either 4GB or 8GB of flash data storage. It’s also got three different wireless technologies inside: a standard GSM cellular connection with support for AT&T’s EDGE network, support for 802.11b/g Wi-Fi networks, and Bluetooth.
The many faces of Apple’s iPhone
Bright, clear display
The iPhone’s display is excellent. Yes, it’s big and bright, but its most impressive trait is its high resolution: It’s 160 dpi, more than twice the traditional Mac screen resolution. Jamming that many pixels together in such a small space means that everything on screen looks smooth, not pixelated. Digital photos and videos look gorgeous, and even the colorful icons on the iPhone’s home screen are so bright and clear that sometimes it’s hard to believe that you’re looking at a computer screen and not something physical, like a sticker. On-screen text looks sharp, more like printed text in a book or magazine than drawn with pixels on the screen.
Of course, the iPhone’s screen isn’t just for looking at: It’s the key driver in the device’s interface. Using the iPhone is a tactile experience—it’s all about touching your fingers (or, if you’re daring, your thumbs) to that screen. Instead of dragging a scroll bar or clicking a mouse, you move through screens on the iPhone by a combination of taps, flicks, and other finger gestures.
The original Macintosh changed the world by providing a physical control to move a cursor around on a computer interface. But the iPhone does it one better—instead of pushing around a mouse in order to make a disembodied arrow or hand move up on the computer screen, it’s your finger doing all the moving. When you touch a photo, Web page, or e-mail message on the iPhone and slide with your finger, it moves along with your touch, as if you were moving a real, physical object. There’s no cursor on the iPhone because your finger is your pointer—which, despite what your mother might have told you, is just what fingers are designed to do.
Fingertips on virtual keys
If pointing is a natural act, typing on a keyboard (especially a tiny one) is its antithesis, but it’s a necessity of our modern age. After the crash-and-burn of the Newton’s handwriting-recognition interface and even Palm’s original Graffiti writing system, the makers of most mobile devices settled on tiny, chiclet-style keyboards as the best way for people to input text.
The iPhone’s designers seem to agree that typing is the best way to enter data on a small device, but they’ve ditched the physical keyboard and replaced it with more touchscreen space. When you’re using the iPhone and reach a point where you need to input text, a keyboard automatically slides up from the bottom of the screen.
The abolition of a physical keyboard is probably destined to be the iPhone’s most controversial feature, at least at first. There’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to using the iPhone’s keyboard, especially for people who are comfortable using the physical keyboard on a Blackberry, Treo, or other smart phone.
I can’t say that my typing experience with my previous phone, a Palm Treo, was particularly good. I could manage, but never felt that I could reach an acceptable typing speed. As a result, it’s hard for me to put myself in the place of an accomplished Blackberry thumb typist who has spent a year honing his or her skills. But I believe that most users—even thumb typists, given an open mind and some training time—will find the iPhone’s keyboard to be excellent.
It does take some getting used to, however. That’s because the iPhone’s keyboard is a failure if taken literally. If you slowly tap every single letter and painstakingly backspace if you press the wrong one, you will never be satisfied. The iPhone’s keyboard excels when you ignore your mistakes and keep on typing, because it senses your finger presses, compares all the nearby keys to its built-in dictionary, and intuits what you’re actually trying to type. Over time, as it learns the kinds of words you type, it improves its auto-correcting accuracy.
Within a few hours with the iPhone, my finger was flying over the keyboard, and I’m sure my fingertip was only getting roughly close to the correct letter most of the time. But the iPhone’s software, with remarkable consistency, knew what I had meant to type. I assume that with some practice, two-thumb typing would be even faster, but with my index finger I managed to type faster than I ever have on a tiny device, physical keyboard or not.
The iPhone’s key layout is smart, too: it changes what keys appear depending on context. For example, in Safari’s URL window, you’ll be presented with a .com key. In an e-mail window, you’ll only be provided with characters that can be part of a valid e-mail address. One inconsistency is the presence of a horizontal keyboard when the iPhone is in a landscape orientation: it shows up in Safari, but it would be nice if you could rotate other applications, such as Mail, in order to take advantage of a larger keyboard.
One iPhone text oddity is that the device has no concept of a text selection, let alone copy, cut, or paste. You might think that touching your finger and dragging it across text might select it, but it doesn’t—Apple uses that gesture to bring up a magnifying glass so that you can correctly reposition the insertion point (which is a great idea).
Without copy and paste, you can’t (for example) compose a blog entry in the notepad while in Airplane mode and then paste it into your blog-posting tool in Safari when you’re back on the ground. Yes, you can e-mail that note, and if your blog tool has an e-mail-to-blog gateway, that’ll do in a pinch, but the lack of a better way to transfer text from one place to another can generally hamper interaction between different iPhone programs.
It’s easy to get lost in the hype about touchscreens and Web browsers and forget that the iPhone is, like its name says, a phone. And it works pretty well as one: When an incoming call arrives, the iPhone gently interrupts what you’re doing to display Caller ID information about who’s calling. You can set any of 25 built-in ringtones as your ring and assign custom ringtones to individual callers. Unfortunately, you can’t use your own music or sounds as ringtones.
Once a call is in progress, the iPhone’s large screen gives Apple room to make it clear what your options are while on the phone, including placing people on hold and creating conference calls.
The iPhone uses iTunes to sync the contents of your Mac’s address book (or a set of groups within the address book) with its internal contacts list. Although I was initially resistant to the idea of syncing over all my contacts rather than just a group containing the people I was most likely to call, in the end, syncing everything is probably the best approach, since your contacts are also used for e-mail addressing.
Fortunately, the iPhone remembers which contact group you were looking at most recently. So even though my iPhone contains all 207 of the contact records I’ve got on my Mac, when I tap Contacts I see only the contents of a “Phone” group that I created within the Mac’s Address Book. (If the person I need to call isn’t in there, I can tap on a back arrow and browse the entire contacts list or a different contact group.)
In fact, the stickiness of your current contact group is just one example of an effect you’ll find throughout the iPhone’s interface: When you return to a task you were previously using, things will generally be just as you left it. For example, if you’re looking at a Mail message and then press the Home button to check stock quotes, when you tap on Mail again you’ll be back to that same message.
The iPhone’s Phone application is a five-tabbed interface that lets you quickly get to a numeric keypad for “old school” dialing (especially useful if you’re trapped in a phone tree), see your contacts, and get a list of recent calls.
There’s a Favorites list, too, so you can create a short list of your most commonly dialed numbers. However, creating and accessing favorite people should be easier than it is right now. To add a contact as a favorite, you have to tap on the name in your Contacts list, then scroll down to the bottom of the contact record and tap Add to Favorites, then—if they have more than one number—pick the one you’d like to add as a favorite. There’s got to be an easier way, like tapping on a name and dragging it onto the Favorites icon.
The iPhone also lacks a quick-dial feature that you’ll find on many other phones, in which you hold down a particular button to call your most frequently-called contacts. Obviously the iPhone can’t map contacts to buttons it doesn’t have, but top contacts are probably a few too may taps away.
When you’re on a call, tapping the screen brings up six commands—Mute, Keypad, Speaker, Hold, Contacts, and Add call. That last command is particularly noteworthy, as it’s an example of the kind of task that can be confounding on other smart phones while being drop-dead simple on Apple’s handset. Whether you’ve initiated or received a call it’s an easy matter to put one caller on hold while you contact another and then bring the three (or more) of you together in a conference call. If only our phones here in the office worked as intuitively.
One of the iPhone's most unique phone-related features is Visual Voicemail, which displays messages by showing you the name of the caller and the time of the call; messages that you have not listened to yet are marked with a blue dot. Tap on any message and that message will be played back, regardless of its position in the message queue. While listening to a message, a progress bar shows the length of the message and current playback position, letting you jump back and forth with the drag of a finger—no more listening to entire messages over again just to hear that phone number you missed the first time. There’s also a large green Call Back button to return the person’s call (assuming the caller didn’t have Caller ID blocked) and a large red Delete button. It’s a fresh approach to voicemail, and a welcome change from the kludgy menu-driven Voicemail systems with which most mobile-phone users are all too familiar.
One of the most useful interface touches on the iPhone is the method you use to scroll through a massive list of information: a strip with every letter from A to Z which runs vertically down the right side of your contacts list (as well as most lists in the phone’s iPod functions). Touch the strip with your finger in the general direction of the first letter of the contact name, song, or artist that you’re looking for, and the list will jump to that letter.
If you want to use a Bluetooth wireless headset with the iPhone, you should be able to do so without much trouble. I easily paired the iPhone with a Plantronics headset, and my colleagues have had success with headsets from Apple and Aliph. However, the iPhone doesn’t currently support stereo headphones, nor can it pair with your Mac for such tasks as passing files, using the iPhone as a modem, or passing call information to your Mac.
The explosion of interest in smartphones is because they’re a mixture of two great tastes that taste great together—cell phones and e-mail. And the iPhone’s Mail program is excellent, capable of displaying formatted e-mail messages, including many common attachment file types.
The Mail interface is a simple hierarchical list that lets you tap through to different accounts (if you’ve got more than one account, as I do). If you’re using IMAP, you’ll see a list of all the mailboxes that are a part of your account. Once you’re in a mailbox, you can see a list of messages, complete with the name of the person who sent it, the message’s subject, and, optionally, the first few lines of the message.
Using Mail on the iPhone couldn’t be much easier: tap the New Message icon to create a new message, and then choose a recipient from your Contacts list (or type in an address yourself). If you’re reading a message, pressing the reply button will give you the option of replying to or forwarding the message.
It’s no fun entering in e-mail settings on a computer with a full keyboard, let alone on an iPhone’s virtual keyboard. So Apple has tried to make e-mail set-up on the iPhone easy, and it has largely succeeded, albeit with a few caveats. When you first set up your iPhone, iTunes transfers all your mail account preferences from your Mac’s copy of Apple Mail. If those accounts are the only ones you want, you’re set.
But if you need to enter in account info yourself, Apple has created several account presets that work for some major account types: Yahoo, Google’s Gmail, AOL, and Apple’s own .Mac. Setting up those services was very easy and required a minimum of data entry.
If you’re not using any of those services, however, you’ll have to enter in a bit more data. And you’ll probably discover one of the iPhone’s major interface mistakes: there’s no option to display the text of the passwords you’re entering. That’s a fine security measure, but when you’re typing on the iPhone’s teensy virtual keys, and most likely not typing any sort of character string that the iPhone is good at auto-correcting—at least not if you’ve got a decently secure password—it’s very difficult to carefully enter in your password and make sure you’ve done it properly. I managed it by pressing my finger down on the keyboard and, if the letter that popped up wasn’t the one I wanted, deliberately sliding my finger until the proper key registered, then picked up my finger. But for long or numerous passwords it’s a big pain, and something Apple should fix.
If you’ve never used a mobile device for e-mail before, you’ll also discover that you may need to change some of your mail settings (or change servers) to get the best e-mail experience on the iPhone. After entering all the data for my office’s mail server, I was confounded by an error when sending mail. At first I thought that I had entered my password incorrectly (hence the repeated visits to the password entry screen), but it turned out that my mail server wasn’t listening for outgoing mail messages at the same location (SMTP port, for you mail geeks out there) as the iPhone wanted to use by default. After some research I discovered what SMTP port we were using, and appended it (preceded by a colon, of course) to the name of my mail server in my mail settings. It worked, but it was the kind of difficulty that will drive most people to tech support.
Moreover, the iPhone doesn’t filter mail, nor does it have any built-in spam catcher. That means if you’re relying on a client-side filtering program such as C-Command Software’s SpamSieve ( ), you’ll be stunned at the amount of spam you’ll see on your iPhone. The solution: Use a mail server with server-side spam filtering, if you can. If your server also offers other server-side filters, it might be an opportunity to redirect some mail you don’t want to get on your phone, such as messages from mailing lists, elsewhere.
iPhone Mail has a few other idiosyncrasies that I hope will be addressed in the future. By default every reply you send quotes the entire message you’re replying to, with your response at the top. This didn’t bother me, but that style of mail drives some people crazy. And since there’s no way to select a mass of text and delete it, there’s really no way to get around the default reply style. There’s also no way to select all of your mail at once and delete those messages or mark them as read. It’s not a show-stopper, but it is annoying.
Another, much more minor, missing feature is the ability to assign signatures for each of your e-mail accounts. You can have a signature (by default it’s “Sent from my iPhone”), but that signature is applied to every message you send, regardless of account.
Big Web, little window
At numerous public appearances, Steve Jobs has promoted the Web-browsing experience on the iPhone as one that brings you the “real Internet”—in other words, the experience of viewing the Web via a full-fledged computer browser, not dumbed-down pages simplified for mobile phones (or, what’s worse, complicated Web pages that a puny cell phone browser can’t properly render). By embedding a version of Safari on the phone, Apple has brought the iPhone most of the way toward that goal, but it still falls a few notable steps short.
When you’re using Safari on the iPhone, you feel as if you’re using Safari on your Mac. Web pages load in full, scaled-down to fit on the iPhone’s screen. Tap twice on any part of the page and Safari automatically zooms in, making text readable and enlarging photos to fill the screen. The experience is as close an approximation to the Web you experience on your Mac as you could possibly get on a screen the size of the iPhone’s. Web-page text is a pleasure to read on the iPhone’s high-resolution display.
Your bookmarks even come along for the ride, because iTunes syncs bookmarks between your Mac copy of Safari and your iPhone. (It’s a two-way sync, so don’t delete bookmarks on the iPhone unless you’re willing to lose them on your Mac too.)
If the iPhone is a success, the iPhone Web story will improve, too: Web developers can custom-build style sheets to work with the iPhone, as well as make some basic additions to their pages to improve the iPhone browsing experience.
Loading Web pages on a Wi-Fi network felt about as snappy as it did on my Mac, but when I switched over to AT&T’s EDGE digital cellular network, things bogged down. I found browsing the Web on the EDGE network less pleasurable, but still quite usable (though it’s worth noting speed of the network can vary widely).
Safari on the iPhone even has a clever way to support multiple open Web pages at once: tap the Window button and the current page pulls back to reveal that it’s one in a chain of up to eight different pages. If you click a link that’s set to open in a new window, Safari handles the process itself, zooming you out of your current page and sliding you over to the new page.
However, there are a few limitations that prevent Safari on iPhone from truly showing the real Internet. The biggest is the fact that perhaps the most common browser plug-in in existence, Adobe’s Flash, is nowhere to be found. Over the past few years, the melange of different browser plug-ins for features such as embedded Web videos have largely been replaced by a single video player format: Flash. Although the iPhone’s included YouTube player solves the problem for that popular video-sharing Web site, it doesn’t address the larger fact that numerous Web sites use Flash to play video or display other interactive content.
The iPhone also won’t play back Web audio or video being streamed in the Real or Windows Media formats, although Mac users can play such media on their Macs.
Less major though still annoying, is the lack of support for file upload via Web pages. It would be nice if Safari allowed users to upload certain kinds of content in order to, for example, post pictures taken with the iPhone’s built-in camera to the Flickr photo-sharing site. (An alternative would be for Apple to add support for photo-sharing-site uploads right into the iPhone’s Photos program.)
The iPhone’s iPod functions are like no iPod we’ve seen before—but I’d hazard a guess that they closely resemble the look of iPods to come. Without a scroll wheel to use in navigation, the iPhone’s iPod features take some getting used to. It took me quite a while to figure out how to toggle into and out of Shuffle mode. (The controls appear when you do a single tap on the screen.)
When held in a vertical, or portrait, orientation, the iPhone’s iPod menus are reminiscent of the old iPod, but with much more detail. Instead of a main menu, there’s a row of five buttons along the bottom of the screen. You can customize four of them with elements you might remember from the iPod’s main menu (including Artists, Genres, Videos, and Podcasts). The fifth, called More, is the home for all the options that didn’t make it onto the row of buttons.
When you’re in a list—of artists, for example—you can scroll through it by flicking your finger, or use the same vertical A-to-Z quick index feature that’s present in the Phone’s Contacts list (assuming you’ve got a long enough list of artists or songs). Tapping on an Artist brings up a list of albums or, if they have only one album, a list of songs from that album. Conveniently, you can now choose to begin shuffling at almost any point: all songs, all songs by a particular artist, or all songs in a particular album.
When the iPhone’s in a landscape orientation, the iPod interface switches into Cover Flow mode, in which you flick through a row of album covers. Find a cover that looks intriguing, and tap on it to see its contents. It looks great, but I’m still not convinced about how useful Cover Flow is as a feature—on the iPhone or anywhere else.
Due to its large, high-resolution screen, the iPhone excels as a video player. It’s the largest canvas a video iPod has ever had, at 480-by-320 pixels. (The current video iPod’s display resolution is 320 by 240.) And the widescreen aspect ratio, while not quite a Hollywood-standard 16:9, is still better for watching widescreen movies and TV shows than the 4:3 ratio of the video iPod.
Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have a large hard drive on which to store a massive video library. That means you have to be judicious with the amount of content you load on the iPhone. And if you convert your own videos (from DVDs or other sources), you’ll want to spend the extra time compressing and resizing them to fit on the iPhone. But I was able to load up my 8GB iPhone with 350 songs and eight hours of video, and still have 3GB left over. So while loading an entire season of a TV show onto an iPhone is basically impossible, there’s certainly enough room (especially in the larger model) for a nice selection of viewing options. And in a nice touch, the iPhone offers to delete videos off its flash drive after you’ve viewed them, to free up more space.
There are also several things the iPhone doesn’t do that the iPod does. It won’t output video to a TV, for one, and its iTunes synchronization process is much more like Apple TV than an iPod. I often drag-and-drop music and video onto my iPod when I attach it to my Mac, but the iPhone will only sync with a library or playlist on a specific Mac or PC. If you want to drag-and-drop, you’ll need to do it into a playlist that you’ve set to sync with the iPhone.
There’s also no support for embedded lyrics in music files, and no voice-recorder support, either with the iPhone’s internal microphone or with various iPod voice-recorder add-ons.
Application icons on the iPhone’s Home screen
And there’s more
It’s easy to focus on the iPhone’s four core programs, but there are 12 other icons on that Home screen. A few of them are full-blown applications, while others are nothing more than simple Dashboard-style widgets.
The Text program, which has been built to resemble iChat, works quite well as a messaging tool for the cellular network’s SMS text-message protocol. I was able to send messages directly to other phones, status updates to Twitter.com via its SMS gateway, and even chat with someone who was using iChat via AOL’s SMS gateway.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Text can’t send MMS messages, which are similar to SMS messages but can contain multimedia. Because of this limitation, you can’t send a picture you snap with the iPhone’s camera to another phone via Text. (You could send that photo via e-mail.) What’s worse, the iPhone has no support for any Internet-based instant-messaging network. AOL’s SMS gateway works okay in a pinch—and when your buddies are initiating the chats—but it’s no replacement for a full-blown AIM buddy list. And if you’re in a location where you’ve got Wi-Fi network access but no cellular service, there’s no fallback.
The iPhone is dying for a full-blown instant messaging program, and Text doesn’t fit the bill. Although I don’t have any inside information, I assume the choice of SMS support over instant-messaging support has something to do with the fact that AT&T makes money on SMS message plans. But SMS simply isn’t a replacement for instant messaging, and Apple should make the addition of a chat program a priority for a future iPhone software update.
The Calendar and Notes programs help the iPhone fulfill its role as a personal information manager, but they’re like night and day when it comes to their utility. Calendar is implemented beautifully, with a useful Day view and a mega-useful List view of all upcoming events. You can add and edit events and sync them back to iCal on your Mac.
Calendar’s big limitation is that it doesn’t color-code differences between different synced calendars, and new events can’t be assigned to particular synced calendars—they all automatically get assigned to a single, default calendar. And neither Calendar nor any other iPhone program will let you display or edit your iCal to-do lists.
In contrast, the Notes program is fairly useless. It’s cute, with its brow header and yellow legal-style ruled background. But notes don’t sync back to your Mac, so you have to e-mail them from your phone if you ever want to free them from the iPhone. And not to get too font-nerdy on you, but the Marker Felt font used in Notes is extremely ugly and, sadly, can’t be changed. (Here’s hoping that when Leopard arrives, with its system-wide support for notes, you’ll be able to sync iPhone and Mac notes.)
If there’s ever been an example of Apple’s software-design prowess, it’s the Maps program on the iPhone. Maps is powered by the same data you get when you visit Google Maps with your Web browser, but its interface is so slick—from the ease of finding addresses in your contacts list to the whizzy turn-by-turn direction animations—that it not only puts the Google Maps implementations on other cell phones to shame, it makes the Google Maps Web site itself look dowdy.
The only thing missing from the Maps equation is that the iPhone doesn’t know where it is. Not via built-in GPS (it has none), nor by triangulating signal strengths from nearby cellular phone towers. It’s too bad, because with some knowledge of where it’s currently located, the iPhone’s Maps program would be perfect.
A trio of iPhone icons—Calculator, Stocks, and Weather—will be familiar to anyone who has used their Mac OS X Dashboard Widget equivalents. They’re harmless, attractive, and functional. They also point out how, before too long, the iPhone’s Home screen will need some sort of management tool. Not just because Apple will no doubt add to the 16 icons currently on the screen—but because some people will want to hide icons that they don’t use. For example, I wouldn’t mind if I never saw the Stocks icon ever again. I’m sure someone else feels the same way about Weather. And who knows? Perhaps those who hate math might want to kill Calculator.
The Clock program, on the other hand, is more than just a pretty face. Yes, it lets you see what time it is in major metropolises such as London, Moscow, and Cupertino. But it also lets you add multiple alarms (unfortunately only using ringtones, not the contents of your iTunes library), set a stopwatch, or initiate a countdown timer.
The least exciting, but most useful, of the iPhone’s 16 Home screen icons is Settings. This is where everything behind the scenes on the iPhone happens. The preferences for the iPhone in general, and individual programs in particular, are all located here. From Settings, you can send the iPhone into Airplane Mode (which turns off all its radios, including cellular, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi), connect to a Wi-Fi network, and even connect to a corporate VPN (Virtual Private Networking) server.
I was able to connect to my office’s VPN a few times, although I was unsuccessful on some occasions. And I ran into an annoying bug: despite the fact that I asked iPhone to remember my VPN password, it insisted on asking me for it every time I tried to log in.
The iPhone tech specs claim battery life of up to eight hours of talk time, six hours of Internet use, seven hours of video playback, 24 hours of audio playback, and 250 hours of standby time. Apple arrived at these figures under testing conditions that may not necessarily reflect your own use.
Macworld is running battery tests of our own, and we’ll post the findings once we have them. But Macworld staff have been impressed with the anecdotal results we’ve seen so far, given the number of tasks you can throw at the iPhone—often at once.
The AT&T factor
Unlike other Apple products, the iPhone is the result of a partnership between Apple and AT&T, the company that’s exclusively providing the cellular network for the iPhone. iPhone owners must be AT&T customers, and commit to being AT&T customers for two years.
The result is that it’s fairly hard to judge AT&T aspects of the iPhone. While I’ve been an AT&T customer (and before that Cingular, and before that — oh, the irony — AT&T) for years and have been relatively happy with the service, I’ve also heard from many people who hate AT&T’s cellular service. Add to that the fact that every cell phone user tends to use their phone in a different set of areas, each with their own particular coverage characteristics, and that makes it difficult to give any cellular carrier a broad judgment. What might be great service for one person might be horrendous for another.
In addition, I’m aware of numerous complaints from iPhone buyers—including at least one on the Macworld staff —about long, drawn-out issues with activating their phones. Still others have complained about poor customer service on the part of Apple and AT&T during the product’s first days of existence. Without downplaying those issues, it’s worth noting that neither Apple nor AT&T has ever released a product like this before, and it’s not surprising that both companies are still figuring out how to handle the attendant customer-support issues. If you’re changing from a different carrier and are skittish about AT&T handling the changeover, you might want to wait a few weeks until the initial surge of iPhone sales drop off and both companies have learned some valuable lessons about how to handle iPhone activations.
If you’re not sure AT&T is the right carrier for you, despite your interest in the iPhone, my advice is even more amorphous: Find someone who uses AT&T and who uses their phone in the same places you do, more or less. See how their experience is. Or ask a friend to borrow their AT&T phone for a couple of hours and take it to the places you tend to use yours, so you can see for yourself.
Macworld’s buying advice
In both hardware and software, the iPhone is a truly new creation. In the technology industry, we tend to call these “1.0 products,” and many savvy consumers choose to wait until a second version arrives, presumably with the original version’s bugs worked out.
The iPhone certainly has room to grow, and there’s no doubt that future versions will build on the impressive list of features in this initial product. But let there be no doubt: this first iPhone is an impressively polished product, with none of the haphazardness that we’ve come to associate with anything 1.0.
Among its liabilities are some features that ideally would be addressed via software updates, including adding instant-messaging support, some method of selecting text and moving it between programs, a faster quick-dial feature, Flash support in Safari, and improvements to the Notes program including the ability to sync it with the Mac. Other weaknesses, like its lack of support for faster cellular networks and absence of GPS capabilities, will have to wait for a new version of the iPhone’s hardware.
But the iPhone’s positives vastly outweigh its negatives. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware with a gorgeous high-resolution screen and a carefully designed, beautiful interface inside. The iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard will end up pleasing all but the most resistant Blackberry thumb-typers, making it an excellent device for e-mail. Its Safari browser cleverly condenses full-blown Web pages into a format that’s readable on a small screen. Its iPod features make it a versatile audio player and a drop-dead gorgeous video player. And, yes, it does pretty well at making phone calls, too.
To put it more simply: The iPhone is the real deal. It’s a product that has already changed the way people look at the devices they carry in their pockets and purses. After only a few days with mine, the prospect of carrying a cellphone with me wherever I go no longer fills me with begrudging acceptance, but actual excitement.
[ Jason Snell is Macworld’s editorial director. ]
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