Meet the iPhone

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The iPhone explored: The Internet on your phone

Among the iPhone’s three personalities— phone, iPod, and Internet communicator—it’s the last one that has perhaps generated the most hype. After all, although there have been many phones that could access the Internet, few have done so well, and none has come close to approximating the same sort of experience you can get on a “real” computer.

After a month of use, we’ve found that the iPhone largely delivers on its e-communicator promise—and then some. Still, this remains a 1.0 product, with the sort of not-quite-there flaws you’d expect from that label. Here’s a rundown of the four main Internet-related apps on the iPhone— Safari, Mail, SMS, and Maps —and how each one performs.

Wi-Fi versus EDGE

Before diving into specifics about the applications, a quick comment about networks and speed: As previously explained, the iPhone accesses the Internet over 802.11b/g Wi-Fi or, if Wi-Fi isn’t available, via AT&T’s EDGE network.

When connected over Wi-Fi, the iPhone’s Internet-related apps work impressively fast; for example, Safari on the iPhone loads Web pages nearly as fast as Safari on a Mac, and Mail downloads messages in an instant. Performance on the EDGE network is a different story. Speeds can vary widely depending on where you are and how many people in your area are also using EDGE. As an example, I was at a local park one afternoon, along with many other cell-phone-toting people—EDGE performance was so slow that I had trouble loading YouTube videos at all while Web pages took a minute or more to load. Later that same day, as the crowds thinned out, EDGE worked much better—YouTube videos, while still slow, were watchable, and Web pages loaded reasonably quickly.

At its best then, EDGE offers a surprisingly usable alternative to WiFi; at worst, the wait for Web pages to load seems endless.

Safari

If you’ve ever browsed the Web on a PDA or mobile phone, Safari on the iPhone is a joy to use, although it’s not without some minor limitations.

General browsing Tap on the Safari icon on the home screen, and a miniature version of the same browser you’d find on a Mac appears. The top of the Safari window features an address bar with two buttons: a plus symbol (+) for adding bookmarks and a circular Refresh arrow. A toolbar with Back, Forward, Bookmarks, and Pages buttons is at the bottom of the page.

Two views of the Safari keyboard on the iPhone—the large, horizontally-oriented keyboard is on the right.

To visit a Web page, tap on the address bar; the iPhone’s keyboard slides up from the bottom of the screen. Rotate the iPhone horizontally before tapping the address bar, and the Safari window will re-orient itself horizontally; so will the keyboard when it appears after you tap the address bar. The horizontal keyboard—which is only available in Safari—is noticeably larger than its vertical counterpart, making it much easier to type in URLs.

As you begin to type a URL, Safari—just like its computer-based sibling—will display a list of sites in your bookmarks and history that match; tap on one to go to it. Otherwise, type the entire URL and then tap Go. The Safari keyboard helpfully includes . , / , and .com buttons while entering URLs. (When entering text on a Web page or search engine, the keyboard switches back to the standard layout.) If you can’t currently see the Address Bar—say you’ve scrolled down the Web page—just tap the very top of the screen; the Address Bar will appear, saving you from scrolling back to the top of the page. You can clear the address field by tapping the X icon on the right.

You can also search the Web by tapping the address bar and then typing your query in the search field that appears just below the address field. By default, the iPhone uses Google, but you can go to the Settings screen to change this default to Yahoo.

Once you’re viewing a Web page, Safari works like any standard Web browser, except for the fact that you’ll have to do quite a bit more scrolling and zooming in on text due to the iPhone’s smaller screen. You can scroll up, down, left, or right by dragging your finger across the page in the desired direction. Flick your finger quickly and the page will scroll on its own with virtual momentum; tap the screen to stop it or let it come to “rest” on its own.

To zoom in, place two fingers together on the screen and then spread them apart—a sort of inverse pinch. To zoom back out, reverse the action. (You can also zoom in on a particular column or part of a Web page by double-tapping on that column; double-tapping again zooms back out. However, this feature doesn’t work on all Web pages; it works best on those pages with columns and table-style layouts.)

On a laptop or a desktop, this Web page text would likely be unreadable, but the iPhone’s display and rendering capabilities make even the smallest fonts legible.

Pages are rendered beautifully, and text is amazingly clear even at the smallest sizes, thanks to the iPhone’s stellar display. I’ve been able to make out text on the iPhone at sizes at which text would be little more than a blur on my laptop or desktop.

There are some limitations to browsing, though. Safari on the iPhone currently doesn’t support Flash or Java, so you will encounter pages with content you won’t be able to view. Depending on the site, you’ll either see an error page or a loaded page with an error icon where the Flash or Java content would be.

While reading a Web page, tap on any Web link to go to that page; use the forward and back buttons to navigate between pages just as you would on any browser. Tapping an e-mail link opens a new e-mail message in Mail while tapping a map link opens the iPhone’s Map application and tapping a phone number initiates a call. And if you tap on a link to a supported audio (AAC or MP3 up to 320 kbps, Audible, Apple Lossless, WAV, or AIFF format) or video (H.264 or MPEG-4) file, Safari will play the media right there in the browser. When you hold your fingertip over a link instead of tapping, after a second or two, an information balloon displaying the underlying URL will appear.

If you need to enter text into a field on a page, tap on the field; Safari will zoom in on the text field and then bring up the onscreen keyboard. While in this text-entry mode, Previous and Next buttons let you jump between text fields without having to zoom back out to click on the next field.

You can open up to eight Web pages in iPhone’s Safari, using miniature previews to jump to a new page.

Safari also lets you open multiple Web pages simultaneously—up to eight. Tap the Pages icon in the lower-right corner and then tap New Page; a new Safari window will open and come to the front. The Pages button displays a number representing the number of pages currently open. You can switch between these pages at any time by tapping the Pages button: you’ll see miniature previews of each page, and you simply drag your finger left or right to find the desired page. Once you do, tapping the red x icon closes the page, or tapping anywhere else on the page brings it forward.

Unfortunately, unlike the full version of Safari, you can’t open a link directly in a new window; and since the iPhone offers no copy-and-paste functionality, you can’t copy a link on one page and then open a new window and paste the URL to open it. Given the popularity of tabbed browsing, I hope Apple will add this feature in the future; for example, the tap-and-hold informational display mentioned above could include a few menu options, one of which could be Open In New Window.

Bookmarks and History iPhone’s Safari, like all Web browsers, includes a Bookmarks feature for saving the URLs for frequently-visited Web sites. To add a page to your Bookmarks, tap the Add Bookmark (+) button on the left side of the Address Bar. An Add Bookmark screen will appear where you can edit the page’s name; you can also place the new bookmark inside an existing folder in your Bookmarks list by tapping the Bookmarks item and then tapping on the desired folder from the easy-to-browse hierarchical list that appears. When you’re done, tap Save.

Safari bookmarks, listed on an iPhone

To open a page from your Bookmarks list, tap the Bookmarks icon (which looks like an open book) on the bottom toolbar. Tap on any bookmark to open it, or tap on a folder to browse its bookmark contents. A back-arrow Bookmarks button in the upper-left corner takes you back up one level.

You can also edit bookmarks on the iPhone’s bookmarks screen by tapping the Edit button. Once in editing mode, you can you can delete any bookmark or folder—except for the History, Bookmarks Bar, and Bookmarks Menu folders—by tapping the Delete symbol (-) next to its name. Tap a bookmark itself to edit its name or URL; you can change its location by using a hierarchical menu similar to the one found on the Add Bookmark screen. You can also rearrange bookmarks within a list by dragging the “lines” icon to the right of each item up or down, and create a new folder for future bookmarks by tapping the New Folder button. Unfortunately, you can’t drag a bookmark into a folder this way.

An easier way to edit and organize your bookmarks is by using Safari on your Mac. When you sync your iPhone via iTunes, the Info tab of the iPhone settings screen in iTunes includes a Sync Safari Bookmarks option; when enabled, changes you make in Safari on your Mac will show up in the bookmarks on your iPhone (and vice versa). This also means that if you see an interesting iPhone-related site when sitting at your Mac, adding it to your Mac’s Safari bookmarks is the easiest way to get the URL onto your iPhone. It also means that deleting a bookmark on your iPhone will also delete it from your Mac the next time you sync the two.

For these reasons, it’s a smart idea to create a new bookmarks folder for adding just those sites you most frequently visit on your iPhone. Because clicking on the iPhone’s Bookmarks button always displays the bookmarks folder you last viewed, this lets you have a much shorter, iPhone-specific Bookmarks screen while still having access—by moving up a level to the main Bookmarks list—to all your desktop bookmarks.

You can also browse your Safari history via the Bookmarks screen. Just tap the History folder icon to see a list of all the Web pages you’ve recently visited in the last week or so; tap one to visit it again. Although you can’t delete individual sites from the History list, you can empty the list completely by tapping the Clear button.

RSS feeds on the iPhone

RSS Although you might not realize it, the iPhone version of Safari includes a functional, if basic, RSS reader. Enter the URL for an RSS feed—say,

http://feeds.macworld.com/macworld/all
—and Safari automatically recognizes it as a feed and displays it as a list of headlines with a two-line summary of each article. Tap on any item to see the full headline and summary; tap on that to go directly to the full article. (This is where the lack of an Open in New Window feature is especially disappointing, as once you’ve read an article, you have to use the Back button several times to get back to the RSS feed.)

RSS feeds are prime candidates for bookmarking, making it easy to quickly view the headlines from your favorite sites. And the feeds are uncluttered and easy to read. However, unlike the RSS feature on full-size Safari, the RSS feature on the iPhone doesn’t automatically watch RSS feeds, nor does it alert you to unread articles in a feed.

Security features Safari on the iPhone also offers some basic security and “sanity-preserving” features. For example, if you navigate to Settings -> Safari from the iPhone’s Home screen, you can choose to disable JavaScript, as well as to disable video-playing plug-ins. There’s also an option to block pop-up windows. Note that this setting won’t block user-initiated pop-ups—those that appear when you click on a link; it blocks only those nasty ones that appear when you close a window or when a site first loads.

You can can also choose which cookies Safari accepts: none, any, or just those for sites you purposely navigate to. Finally, individual buttons let you clear all cookies, clear Safari’s cache, or clear your browsing history (the last option doing the same thing as the Clear button in the History listing).

Final thoughts on Safari

Just a few minutes of using Safari, and you’ll see that you’re not dealing with a pared-down shell of a Web browser that only works with sites designed for mobile browsers. Setting aside some navigation issues and the lack of support for the ubiquitous Flash, this is about as full-featured a browser as you can find on a handheld mobile device.

Mail

As with Safari, Apple has taken OS X’s Mail application and slimmed it down for the iPhone. Although Mail on the iPhone pales in comparison to the version on your Mac, it’s quite impressive when compared to the e-mail clients on most phones—both visually and in terms of its ease of use. On the other hand, it’s missing some basic features and other features require more steps than they could.

Setup and browsing messages When you first set up your iPhone, you’ll be asked, by iTunes, if you want to transfer your existing Mail accounts over to the iPhone. If you opt not to go this route, when you first open Mail—or if you ever tap the Add Account button in Mail settings, via the iPhone’s Settings icon—you’ll see a screen with large buttons for Yahoo Mail, Gmail, .Mac, AOL, and Other.

Tap one of the first four buttons, and Mail displays a few basic fields for you to fill in: name (your actual name), e-mail address (this is your account name), password, and description (how the account will appear in Mail’s account list). Tap Save and Mail automatically fills in all the other necessary settings and the account is ready to go. I haven't seen a phone-based email client that makes setting up these types of accounts as easy.

When you add an e-mail account in Mail on the iPhone, you can choose between Yahoo, Gmail, .Mac, AOL, and Other…

To set up a new standard e-mail account, tap Other. Because you have to enter all the necessary settings, this process isn't as simple, but, again, the iPhone's interface makes it more straightforward than with many e-mail clients.

First, choose the type of account—IMAP, POP, or Exchange—and then enter the appropriate information in the various fields: your name, e-mail address, and account description; the incoming and outgoing server addresses; and your username and password.

Two things of note here. First, check with your e-mail provider to see if you need to enter your username and password for the outgoing (SMTP) server; not all SMTP servers require this. Second, the Exchange option doesn’t provide true Exchange Server support; it simply configures Mail to use IMAP to access an Exchange e-mail server. In order to use the iPhone’s Mail application with the Exchange e-mail servers used in many businesses, the server administrator will need to enable IMAP on the server itself. Hopefully, Apple will add true Exchange support in a future software update.

Whatever method you use to set up your e-mail, be sure not to give the same name to two accounts—Mail will get confused and copy the settings from one account to the other. And you can’t fix the situation by simply renaming one account; instead, you’ll need to delete one of the accounts and then recreate it. It’s also worth noting that although you can set up Mail to work with a Gmail account—presuming you’ve enabled POP access for that account on the Gmail site—we experienced numerous glitches.

…and if you choose Other, you need to fill in various fields.

To read and send e-mail, tap the Mail button on the iPhone’s Home screen. If you have multiple accounts, you’ll see a list of them on the Accounts screen; tap an account to see its list of folders (for example, Inbox, Drafts, Sent, Trash). Tap Inbox to view messages in the Inbox of that account. As with most iPhone programs, Mail returns you to the screen you were viewing when you last used it. Throughout Mail, tapping the left-arrow button at the top of the screen takes you “up” a level; repeatedly tapping this button will eventually get you to the main Accounts screen.

Viewing the Inbox for an account also checks the account for new e-mail. In fact, if you have an Account set to check for mail manually, as opposed to on a schedule (via the Mail section of the Settings screen), this is one way to perform such a manual check; the other is to click the circular-arrow button at the bottom of the screen in an account. However you have Mail set to check, the Mail button on the iPhone’s Home screen displays the number of unread messages.

Note that larger messages—Apple doesn’t say how big—aren’t downloaded completely; instead, when viewing such messages, you’ll see a button to download the entire message. This works well, although there’s one scenario in which it can be confusing. If you download the initial part of a POP message on your iPhone, then download and delete the entire message using your Mac’s e-mail client you’ll still see the partially downloaded message on the iPhone, along with a generic message that the entire e-mail hasn’t been downloaded. However, there will be no way to download the rest, since the message was deleted from the server by your desktop client.

Mail’s Inbox—note the Load 25 More Messages command at the bottom of the screen.

Once in your Inbox, you’ll see a preview of each message: sender, time sent, subject, and one to five lines of text (how many depends on your Mail settings); unread messages display a blue dot to the left. Tap a message to view it, which will mark it as unread. Although it’s not readily apparent, there is a way to reset previously-read messages as unread: Just tap Details while viewing the message and select the Mark as Unread option.

If you have more than 25 messages in your Inbox, you’ll see a “Load 25 More Messages” command with a summary of your Inbox’s contents just below it; tap this item to load additional messages. (You can increase the number of messages displayed at once by adjusting Mail’s settings.) Unfortunately, iPhone’s Mail doesn't offer message threading; all messages are listed in a flat list.

You can delete a message from the message list—which moves it to the Trash folder—in one of two ways. The quickest way is to simply swipe your fingertip across the message, from left to right; then tap the Delete confirmation button that appears. The second way is to tap the Edit button at the top of the screen, tap the delete (-) button next to the message, and then tap the Delete confirmation button.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to mark all (or multiple) messages as read or to delete all the messages in the Inbox or in a folder; you must view each message individually, and you must delete each message individually. And you can’t manually empty the Trash folder for an account; you have to either re -delete individual messages inside the Trash folder, or you have to wait for them to be deleted automatically via Mail’s auto-delete feature—hidden in the Advanced screen of the Mail section of Settings—which permanently erases messages in the Trash after a day, week, or month.

Another puzzling omission is that, unlike the version of Mail on your Mac, the iPhone’s Mail program has no global inbox—not even as an option—to let you view the incoming mail from all of your accounts in one window. Each time you want to view the Inbox of a different account, you must tap the left-arrow button two or three times, then tap the desired account, then tap Inbox. Rinse, repeat. This leads to an interface that is, as Rob Griffiths pointed out, tap-happy. For those of us with multiple e-mail accounts, it can at times be maddening.

The iPhone only displays the From, subject, and date/time information along with the message to preserve screen space.

Viewing and working with messages Viewing messages in iPhone Mail looks very much like it does on Mac Mail, although to conserve onscreen space, a number of headers are hidden by default; only the From, subject, and date/time information is visible. (Tap Details to see To and CC fields; Tap Hide to hide them again.) You scroll through messages just as you do content any other iPhone program, by flicking your finger across the screen, and you can reverse-pinch to zoom in and pinch to zoom out. As with most applications on the iPhone, clicking on a Web link in a Mail message switches to Safari and opens that URL. (As in Safari, holding your finger over a link shows you the underlying URL.) Clicking on an e-mail link opens a new e-mail message.

While viewing a message, you can quickly switch to the next or previous message in your Inbox, without having to return to your Inbox, using the up and down arrows at the top of the screen. Using the buttons at the bottom of the screen, you can also delete the message (via the trash icon) or move it to a folder (via the folder icon).

If a message includes an image as an attachment, you can view it right on the screen. Word, Excel, text and PDF attachments can be viewed—though not edited—in a window that appears when you tap on the attachment. In either case, you can enlarge the attachment view by using the same reverse-pinch technique used on Web pages and in the Photos program, scrolling around as necessary.

You can view PDFs—and other Mail attachments—on the iPhone (provided the files have the proper extension).

One thing we’ve discovered about viewing attachments: The files need to have the proper extension, or the iPhone won’t be able to open them. Word documents must have a .doc extension, text files a .txt, and so on.

Sending e-mail You can send an e-mail in one of several ways. The easiest is to simply reply to an existing message by tapping the Reply button that appears at the bottom of the screen while viewing a message; this brings up a dialog asking if you want to Reply, Reply All, Forward, or Cancel. Yes, that’s right: to forward a message, you click Reply. If the message has attachments, you’ll be asked if you want to include those attachments with the forwarded version.

If you want to send a new message to the sender of an existing message, tap on the person’s name in the From field and then tap Email in the resulting screen.; you can also add the sender to your contacts. Finally, while viewing a message list or any message, you can tap the New Message button (which looks like a box with a pencil).

Whichever method you choose, you can manually enter recipient addresses, or tap the Add Recipient (+) button to add recipients from your contacts list; if a contact has multiple e-mail addresses, you're asked to choose one. You can also CC recipients, although there is no BCC option. Type your subject and message, and then tap Send. If you have multiple accounts, your message will be sent from the account in which is was created; if a message was created outside of Mail—for example, by clicking an e-mail link on a Web page or in the Maps program—the message will be sent via the default account you choose in Mail settings.

Miscellaneous settings I’ve mentioned several Mail settings; these and more are accessed via Settings, found on the iPhone’s Home screen. Among the other Mail-specific settings you’ll find are the preferences for each account. You can choose the interval at which Mail checks for new e-mail messages, and you can turn off an account temporarily, which means it won’t be checked for new mail and it won’t appear in the Accounts list—instead, it will be hidden until you turn it on again. You can also change your e-mail signature from the stock “Sent from my iPhone” version (or delete it entirely to omit a signature). In an account’s Advanced screen, you can, among other things, enable SSL for incoming and outgoing mail, and set an IMAP path prefix if your e-mail provider requires it.

Other settings include how often Mail checks for new e-mail, how many messages it displays, the minimum message-viewing size, and more. A couple of settings—the audible alerts for when new e-mail is received and when an email message is successfully sent—are located elsewhere in Settings: in the Sounds section.

Final thoughts on Mail

Despite missing some basic features, such as a unified inbox and the capability to delete multiple messages, and other features requiring more steps than they could (and should), the iPhone’s Mail application is a compelling mobile e-mail client. More than one Macworld editor regularly checks e-mail while mobile, something few of us ever did with our previous smartphones. If Apple fixes some of the iPhone’s shortcomings via a software update, Mail could battle Safari and Maps for the crown of “iPhone’s best application.”

Text

Like most phones these days, the iPhone includes an SMS ( Short Message Service ) feature—known as Text—that lets you send and receive text message to other mobile devices. While it’s no iChat, it’s one of the better implementations of SMS I’ve seen on a phone.

Sending and receiving SMS messages To send a message via SMS, tap the Text button on the Home screen, and then tap the New Message button (which, like Mail’s similar button, looks like a box with a pencil). Enter the recipient’s mobile number, or tap the Add Recipient (+) button to choose an existing contact. You can also send an SMS message to someone in your Recents or Favorites list in Phone mode; just tap the > button next to the contact name or number and then tap the Text Message button at the bottom of the contact listing. Type your message and tap Send.

What happens next is what separates the Text program on the iPhone from the basic SMS features of other mobile devices. Instead of taking you back to a main messaging screen, Text opens a screen that looks nearly identical to an iChat window on your Mac. Your message to the recipient, and any subsequent messages you send, appear in iChat-like balloons on the right side; any replies received from that person appear on the left side in balloons of a different color. Above each group of roughly-together-in-time messages is the time that part of the ̴conversation” started. (There’s no way to view the timestamp for a particular message.)

iPhone’s SMS app keeps a record of your text messages using iChat-like balloons.

If someone sends you a URL or a phone number in an SMS message, you can tap on these items to use them immediately: a URL will open the link in Safari, Mail, or Maps, depending on the link type; a phone number will call the number. However, if you tap the small > button next to the message containing the URL or number, you can add the link or number to a new or existing contact, or you can send a new SMS message to the phone number. This is one way of getting around the fact that the iPhone lacks copy/paste functionality.

To send another message, tap in the text field at the bottom of the window; Text keeps your entire SMS conversation with the other person preserved in a single screen you can scroll to browse. This conversation window is preserved over multiple conversations, so you can see any messages to and from a single recipient, even if they’re days, weeks, or even months apart. This approach is much more useful than the each-message-stored-separately SMS functionality of most phones.

At the top of each conversation is a Call button that lets you call the other person—at the number used for SMS—directly from Text. A Contact Info button displays the Contacts record for the person, from which you can make a call to a different number or compose an e-mail. A Clear button clears the contents of the conversation window, preserving the conversation itself. A Messages button exits the conversation and takes you to the main Text window, which lists all your current and saved conversations. You can delete any conversation completely by swiping your finger across the contact name/number and then tapping the Delete button that appears. (As with most other “list” views, you can also tap Edit, tap the delete symbol, and then tap the Delete button.)

Here’s what an incoming message on your iPhone looks like when you’re in an application other than Text.

If you’re in one conversation and messages arrive in a different one, the Messages button at the top of the conversation screen displays the number of unread messages in other chats. (The Text button on the Home screen displays this information, as well.) If you’re doing something else entirely—for example, surfing the Web—a dialog pops up displaying the sender’s name (or number), a preview of the message, and options to ignore or view the message. You can also, via the Sounds screen of Settings, choose whether or not an audible alert sounds when a new SMS message arrives.

As good as Text is—and it’s very good compared to the SMS functionality of most phones—it’s not without some significant drawbacks. For example, you can’t create groups of SMS recipients for sending messages to a group of friends, say, or to several members of your family at once. In fact, you can’t even send a message to multiple recipients; Text allows only a single recipient per message.

The iPhone also doesn’t officially support text messaging with multimedia attachments, otherwise known as MMS (or Multimedia Messaging Service ). Say you take a photo with the iPhone’s built-in camera—if you want to send that image to someone, you’ll have to use Mail, as there’s no way to do that in Text. That goes for audio, video, and rich text—those require MMS support, which is currently lacking in the iPhone

Final thoughts on Text

The Text app is no substitute for iChat, and we hope that’s one of the missing features Apple addresses. Still, despite its limitations, Text is still far ahead of comparable SMS offerings, thanks in larger part to its unique interface.

Maps

Despite having a class-leading Web-browser and easy-to-use—if not feature-rich—e-mail and text-messaging applications, it’s the iPhone’s Maps program that is perhaps the most impressive of its Internet tools.

Viewing maps Tap Maps on the Home screen and you’ll see a miniature version of Google Maps. Type an address or other query in the search field at the top of the screen—Maps supports all the same types of queries as Google Maps itself—and then tap search to display a Google map with the search results, displayed as one or more pushpins. Double-tap to zoom in, repeatedly if necessary; tap with two fingers at once to zoom out. (Yes, this is the only app on the iPhone to use the two-finger tap.)

Drag your finger around the screen to reposition the map. As with Google Maps on the Web, tapping the Satellite button at the bottom of the screen gives you a photographic satellite view of the map. (At this point, there’s no Hybrid or Street View, as there is with the Web version of Google Maps.) A traffic button—with an appropriate car icon—displays live, color-coded traffic information, although only for major roads in or near major cities.

If you’ve used Google Maps, the iPhone version will look very familiar.

You can also search for businesses, or even types of businesses, by entering the search term and a city and state or zip code. For example, to find a donut shop near the Apple campus, you could type

donut cupertino
and tap Search; the result is a map of the area with nearby donut shops displayed. If you’ve already found the location—say, Cupertino—you can simply enter
donuts
and tap Search; Maps will search the current map area.

But it’s when the search finishes that the usefulness really starts. For starters, after searching for a business or type of business, tap the List button at the bottom of the screen to view a list of all matches, sorted by distance; tap one to re-center the map on that location.

When you’ve located the desired address or location, tap the blue > icon next to the location name, and a useful screen appears that lets you quickly view the location’s address; get directions to or from that the location; add the location to your Maps bookmarks; or add the location to a new or existing contact. For businesses, the screen even includes a phone number and, if available, a Web page; tapping one calls the number on the phone or opens the page in Safari, respectively. I’ve never found it so easy to locate and contact a store or restaurant.

Tap the blue > next to your Maps search results and you get everything from the place’s location to driving directions.

The contacts integration also works the other way. When you begin typing a search query, Maps displays any contact names that match; tap one, and Maps goes directly to that contact’s address. From there you can use the options screen to get directions to that location. As long as you keep your Mac’s contacts up to date, you’ve got instant access to maps of—and directions to—each contact’s address, whether a friend or a place of business.

Tapping the blue book icon next to the search field brings up Maps’ quick-access lists. The first tab, Bookmarks, lists any address or business you’ve bookmarked; tapping one shows a map of the location. The second tab, Recents, displays all recent Maps activity, with each task labeled by type: Search (for a Google location search), Location (for a specific address), or Start/End (for driving directions, explained below). Tap one to bring it up again. Finally, Contacts displays your contacts list; tap any contact to bring up the contact’s address in Maps.

Getting directions A map is useful, but most people use maps to get somewhere—thus the popularity of sites such as Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, and MapQuest. The Maps application’s other immensely useful feature is driving directions.

Tap the button with two opposing arrows at the bottom of the screen and the map search bar changes to a two-field directions search bar. Tap in the top field to enter the starting position, and then tap in the bottom field to enter the destination. Both fields offer the Bookmarks button, so you can quickly use a bookmark, recent location, or contact as the starting or ending point. If you do a search for your own address and bookmark it, finding directions to and from your home becomes as simple as tapping the Bookmarks icon next to the Start or End field and then tapping the “home” bookmark.

The S-arrow button lets you swap the contents of the Start and End fields. Tap Route and Maps will display (what it thinks is) the best route between the two points. You can tap the Traffic button to view traffic levels along the route.

Maps can display your directions in a handy step-by-step format.

When using Google Maps on the Web, you can click on each step of the directions to view a mini-map of that particular turn; Maps on the iPhone offers a similar feature. Tap the Start button that appears on the route screen, and the route map will zoom down to the first step. The bar at the top of the screen displays the textual directions for that step— Take the ramp onto I-280 S - go 3.0 mi —as well as left and right arrows to go to the previous and next step, respectively. Each time you proceed to the next step in the directions, the map zooms out and then back in to the map of that step.

You can also view the directions as a textual list by tapping the List button at the bottom of the screen. Tapping on any step in this list switches the view back to map mode and displays that step on the map. All in all, this directions mode is very effective—though, for safety’s sake, it requires a passenger to handle the navigating, so that the driver can keep an eye on the road.

It’s not obvious, but you can edit the Start or End points, or start a new driving-directions search, by tapping anywhere in the bar at the top of the screen. You can also switch back to standard map mode at any time by tapping the driving-directions button again.

Maps wish list As useful as the Maps application is, there are a few things Apple and Google could do to make it even better. First, you can’t point to a location on the screen and bookmark it; you have to enter a specific address, or choose a place of business, and then bookmark that. But given the detail of Google’s map and satellite images, it’s easy to find a location you want to bookmark—or get directions to—without knowing its address. Second, I wish there was a way to re-route a section of driving directions. For example, say you want to avoid a particular road, or take a particular street. And finally, it goes without saying that if the iPhone actually had GPS capabilities—so it would always know exactly where you are—Maps would be one of the coolest tools on any portable device.

Final thoughts on Maps

Although missing true GPS functionality, Maps gives the iPhone all the place-finding and direction-giving functionality of Google’s mapping Web site, but adds integration with the iPhone’s other applications.

Rob Griffiths contributed to this article by sending many SMS messages.

[ Senior Editor Dan Frakes covers more iPhone matters at iPhone Central ]

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