Inside iPhone 1.1.1

There’s more to last month’s iPhone 1.1.1 software update than just bricked phones and blocked apps. The software update for Apple’s mobile phone added several fixes and features—most notably support for the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store—but many of those changes were drowned out by the clamor over disabling unlocked iPhones and third-party applications.

It’s a shame that the features, bug fixes, and tweaks that the iPhone 1.1.1 update delivered got lost in the shuffle, as many of those change deliver new capabilities to what many people believe was an already excellent product. After nearly a month’s worth of face time with version 1.1.1, we know all the ins-and-outs of the iPhone’s updated software. And we can give you the scoop on what you may have missed in all the shouting.

Music on the go

Undeniably, the most prominent addition to the iPhone’s bag of tricks is the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store. First introduced for the iPod touch, the wireless version of Apple’s online music store appears as the 13th icon on the iPhone’s Home screen.

The implementation of the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store on the iPhone is identical to what you find on the iPod touch. There are four major sections: Featured (sub-divided into New Releases, What’s Hot, and Genres), Top Tens (by genre), Search, and Downloads.

Browsing for music is easy and quick, as is buying and downloading songs. Searching is predictive, which is nice—as good as the iPhone’s keyboard is, the less you have to type to find what you’re looking for, the better.

Pay close attention to the name, however—the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store features only music, not videos or even podcasts, and it won’t work on AT&T’s EDGE network. Tap the iTunes icon, and you’ll get a polite message asking you to connect via a Wi-Fi network.

In addition to the regular Wi-Fi store, Apple has joined forces with Starbucks to offer free access to the Wi-Fi Music Store via the coffee chain’s hot spots. In those stores, an additional Starbucks icon will appear and you’ll be able to view a list of the last 10 songs that played in the store, along with links to purchase them on iTunes. The service debuted in Seattle and New York earlier this month and will roll out to the rest of Starbucks’ Internet-enabled locations.

The bottom line: The iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store could very well be a killer app for the iPhone, for the first time making the purchase of media from a mobile device easy and even fun. As we’ve come to expect from Apple, the store just works, focusing on the features you’ll most likely want on your mobile device, without all the extra clutter of the desktop version.

It’s in the mail

In terms of new functionality, Mail got the most attention of any individual application in the 1.1.1 update. Yahoo Mail users can now choose whether or not to enable “push” mail—that is, having mail delivered automatically as soon as it appears on the server. To enable that feature, go to Settings -> Mail -> [your Yahoo account] -> Advanced on your iPhone, and you’ll find a switch for “Use push mail.”

Mail’s Advanced tab snuck in some other features as well, such as the ability to specify ports for incoming and outgoing mail servers, in case your account uses something other than the defaults. (These features are not necessarily available in every type of mail account.) And attachments have been spruced up—you can now view attachments in either landscape or portrait modes… for the most part. While this works for PDF, Word, and Excel files, it won’t work for pictures that are displayed in the body of the message.

The bottom line: The ability to define ports will please Mail power users, and the landscape-viewing mode is great for those who look at a lot of spreadsheets. But Mail is still ripe for a handful of other improvements, such as a unified inbox and the ability to view those pictures in landscape mode.

Lingua franca

With 1.1.1, the iPhone now has the ability to type accented characters. This falls short of the full International keyboard layouts we’ve seen on the iPod touch and which one can probably expect for the iPhones that will be sold abroad, starting in Europe next month. But it ought to help those who find themselves needing to refer to Dag Hammarskjöld or insist on the correct spelling of “à la mode.”

To summon the accented characters, hold down a letter key on the keyboard. After a moment, a pop-up menu of accented characters will appear; just slide your finger to the correct character, let go, and voilà. You’ll find extra characters under E, Y, U, I, O, L, S, A, Z, C, and N—most of the time, just look for the letter the character most resembles. In the punctuation setting, you’ll also find inverted versions of the question mark and exclamation point under those respective keys.

The bottom line: Typing accented characters will primarily appeal to those writing in languages other than English, but the mechanic of holding down the keys for the alternate characters is, if anything, even easier than typing accented characters on your Mac and definitely simpler than on Windows.

Where the iPhones roam (or not)

In the early days after the iPhone’s release, we heard horror stories about people racking up huge bills after using the iPhone’s data features when traveling overseas. In 1.1.1, Apple added the ability to deactivate Data Roaming, which you can find under Settings -> General -> Network. Apple says “When abroad, turning off Data Roaming may avoid roaming charges when using email, web browsing and other data services.” Implicit in that “may” is a “may not,” so your mileage (or kilometerage ) may vary.

The bottom line: Giving iPhone users on the go the ability to disable data roaming with the tap of a few buttons is a smart move on Apple’s part that will spare AT&T’s billing department more than one call from an aggrieved customer.

The Home button: Twice as nice

Early adopters of the iPhone had two common complaints about their otherwise beloved phones—the number of taps it took to make a phone call and the difficulty of controlling music playback if the iPhone was in a pocket. The 1.1.1 update tries to kill two birds with one stone by adding extra functionality to the iPhone’s Home button.

Under Settings -> General, you’ll find a new Home Button entry, where you’re given three options for what happens when you double-click the Home button. It can continue to take you back to the Home screen, bring you to your Phone Favorites, or bring up a floating dialog box of iPod controls. There’s also an option to have the iPod controls appear on a double-click only when music is playing. That even works if the iPhone is at the unlock screen, letting you control playback without having to unlock the phone and bring up the iPod screen.

The bottom line: The biggest problem with using the new double-tap features of the Home button is retraining your muscle memory. But reducing the number of taps it takes to make a call will please heavy phone users, and music lovers will appreciate the simplicity of summoning playback controls.

Sounding off in text messaging

Despite some limitations, iPhone users have had the ability to switch ringtones since the device’s debut. But control other system sounds had been restricted to a simple on/off option. The 1.1.1 update added the ability to choose a different sound to signal the arrival of text messages.

As with ringtones, the list of text message sounds is limited to the tones that Apple includes. You can choose among the default Tri-tone, Chime, Glass, Horn, Bell, or Electronic. However, you still can’t change the sounds for new voicemails, e-mails, sent mail, or calendar alerts.

The bottom line: If you loathe the iPhone’s default “Tri-tone” text message alert, then your new options may seem like choice unlimited. But the iPhone doesn’t let you use ringtones purchased from iTunes as text message alerts, and it just makes the inability to change the other alert tones that much more perplexing. And, while we’re at it, how come we can’t customize text message alerts on a contact-by-contact basis?

Now you don’t see it, now you do

One frustrating aspect of life with the iPhone has the discovery that things you can accomplish with ease when using an iPod aren’t possible on Apple’s other handheld device. Case in point: outputting video to a TV. But that’s now possible with the 1.1.1 upgrade.

The catch? Even if you own a way to output to your TV from your video-capable iPod, your iPhone requires either Apple’s $50 Composite AV Cable or the $50 Component AV Cable. (Consult this Apple support document to see what will and won’t work.) Third-party peripherals that provide video output for previous iPods will not be compatible with the iPhone unless specifically noted. Under Settings -> iPod you’ll find an option to output video content as widescreen and whether to use an NTSC or PAL signal.

The bottom line: As nice as the iPhone’s screen is, you probably don’t want to crowd three or four people around it to watch a movie; TV output is a welcome addition for such scenarios. But the insistence on using new video accessories is annoying to those who already own an iPod dock or AV cables.

The end. Period.

When typing an e-mail on a pre-1.1.1 iPhone, reaching the end of a sentence meant switching to a different keyboard mode just to add the period. Now, there’s a shortcut—tapping the spacebar twice inserts a period followed by a space. You’ll still need to switch modes to use commas and other punctuation marks.

Not sure how you feel about this shortcut? You can activate or deactivate it under Settings -> General -> Keyboard.

The bottom line: As with the new Home button shortcut, the only problem with this feature is remembering that you don’t have to take the trip to the punctuation mode. Once you retrain your mind, this is a huge timesaver—at least for the remaining four people who actually bother with punctuation marks when text messaging.

Order up

Rearranging the cities in the Weather app or your stocks in the Stocks application used to involve a tedious process of deleting the original listings and then re-adding them in your preferred order. Thankfully, the 1.1.1 update simplifies things considerably.

In either Weather or Stocks, tap the “i” icon in the bottom right corner to view the list. Reordering is as easy as grabbing the handles on the right side of the row and dragging the items into the order you desire, much as you already could with your phone favorites. When you hit “Done,” you’ll find everything rearranged to your liking.

The bottom line: A nice addition that probably won’t save you too much time unless you’re a religious user of the Weather or Stock apps, in which case, this might brighten your day.

Battery included

If you happen to have one of Apple’s extremely minimalist Bluetooth Headsets, you may find yourself thinking “How the heck will I know when its battery is about to run out?” Previously, the iPhone would display a gauge of the Bluetooth headset’s battery life when both iPhone and headset were plugged into the dock. But now the iPhone shows a gauge in the status bar whenever the headset is on and paired with the phone.

The bottom line: Users of Apple’s Bluetooth Headset will reap the benefits here, especially if they’re the type who frequently forget to take the earpiece off.

Call the exterminator

While Apple plans to come out with developer guidelines for third-party apps next February, at this moment, support iPhone still must be of the web-based variety. Fortunately, Apple added a tool in 1.1.1 to assist anyone interested in creating sites that are iPhone compatible.

Under Settings -> Safari -> Developer, you can enable the Debug Console. That adds a small header bar under the Location field in Safari to report how many errors were encountered while trying to load the page. Tapping the bar will bring you into the console proper, where you’ll be able to switch between viewing HTML, JavaScript, CSS, or all errors.

The bottom line: Despite the forthcoming Software Development Kit for the iPhone, there are still plenty of great reasons to develop web apps for the platform too, and those programmers will find the iPhone’s Debug Console helpful for troubleshooting.

Small fry

The 1.1.1 software offers plenty of other minor additions. For example, video playback now supports closed captions when available, the volume for rings and alerts is now louder, and the alert volume now matches the ringer volume.

In addition, Apple has fixed a number of bugs, including some security vulnerabilities in Safari and elsewhere. The fixes also resolve at least one nagging issue I ran into in prior versions, where trying to login to a VPN would present me with a numeric keypad instead of the full alphanumeric keyboard.

The bottom line: The update certainly doesn’t fix every problem or add every feature that users have clamored for on the iPhone. But it at least proves that Apple is dedicated to updating the iPhone and that, to some extent, the company listens to the feedback offered by early adopters.

[ Associate editor Dan Moren blogs about the iPhone at iPhone Central. ]

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