Review: iPhone 2.0 software update

The original iPhone was an amazingly capable device, but it certainly wasn’t perfect. The 2.0 software update is a major improvement over the original iPhone operating system that adds dozens of new features and refines several old ones—changes many users have been waiting for since the iPhone’s introduction. Perhaps best of all, it’s available to all iPhone and iPod touch owners. (iPhone users can upgrade for free, while iPod Touch owners need to decide if the update is worth $10.)

The App Store

The iPhone 2.0 software only adds one new application, but it’s a gateway to an entirely new world. The App Store lets you to download and install applications created by third-party developers (some for free, others at a cost).

On your Mac, the App Store is part of the iTunes Store, but on the iPhone, it’s an app unto itself. Unlike its neighbor, the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, the App Store is available over Wi-Fi or a cell connection. The only hitch: if you try to download an application larger than 10MB, you’ll be asked to use Wi-Fi or download it via iTunes on your computer.

Tapping on any application in the store takes you to a description of it and a screenshot. To buy or download an application, you tap the price: if the button reads Free, it will change to Install when you tap it; if there’s a price, it will change to Buy. Once you enter your information, the App Store will return you to the iPhone’s Home screen, where it will add the icon for the app you’ve chosen to download, along with a progress bar showing its installation process. (You can do other things while the application is installing.) If you purchase apps on your iPhone, they should copy over to your computer the next time you sync. In our tests, that wasn’t always the case—if yours don’t sync automatically, select Transfer Purchases From iPod or iPhone Name in iTunes’ File menu to force your files to transfer.

To remove a third-party application, you can tap and hold its icon. The icons will begin to dance on the screen, and a black X badge will appear in their top-left corners. If you tap that X, you’ll be asked if you want to delete the application. Because applications must store all their data in the app’s package, however, deleting an application also deletes all its settings and stored information.If you delete an app that you wanted to keep, you can redownload it later for free (unlike media from the iTunes Store); you can load applications onto as many iPod touches and iPhones as you want, provided they’re synced to your iTunes Library.

Just a few taps and you can fill an entire iPhone home screen with programs from the App Store.

While third-party applications broaden the iPhone’s abilities exponentially, they come at a price beyond the cost of the application: Because those applications and their attendant data take up room on your iPhone, backing up your phone—which iTunes does every time you sync it—takes much longer than before.

But don’t worry too much about the iPhone’s applications eating up your phone’s storage space: while some programs, such as Apple’s own Texas Hold ‘Em, are plus-sized, the vast majority of the 25 applications I installed were under 1MB.

Mail

The iPhone’s built-in apps have also had a makeover. Managing e-mail on the iPhone, for example, is easier than ever.

In previous iterations of the iPhone’s mail program, your only option for deleting or moving messages was to do so one at a time—a royal pain if you receive all but the most minimal amount of spam. You can now delete or move multiple messages by tapping the Edit button in any of your mailboxes or folders and checking off the messages you want to modify. At the bottom of the screen, two buttons give you the option to delete or move the messages you’ve selected.

After tapping the edit button in the mail application, check whatever messages you want to delete or move in one fell swoop.

In addition, the iPhone 2.0’s mail application adds a number of new fields when you compose an e-mail. You can now edit the blind carbon copy (Bcc) field, which allows you to send messages with an invisible recipient list. You can also choose which of your e-mail accounts to use when sending a message.

The iPhone 2.0 now allows you to specify backup SMTP servers for each of your accounts. The list can include SMTP servers for accounts other than MobileMe and Exchange. (U.S. phones also include an entry for AT&T’s own SMTP server.)

Apple has also added better support for attachments. In addition to Word, PDF, and Excel files, you can now view PowerPoint presentations and iWork documents and play back certain audio and video files. You can also save images sent to you as attachments by tapping and holding them. Doing so will give you the option to save the selected image, or all of the attached images, to your iPhone’s Camera Roll. Images are the only files you can save; other document formats are consigned to life as e-mail attachments.

Unfortunately, iPhone 2.0’s version of Mail still lacks a couple of features that first-generation iPhone users have been clamoring for—in particular, a unified inbox and the ability to view and compose mail in landscape mode. (Currently, you can only use landscape mode for viewing attachments.)

Working in the enterprise

Many users of the iPhone 1.0 were disappointed that it was virtually useless in a corporate communications environment. While you could log on to some Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), the device was incompatible with Cisco System’s IPsec protocol, and there was no native support for the Microsoft Exchange server—perhaps the predominant server technology in corporations.

All of that has changed in iPhone 2.0. The software update brings with it full support for Microsoft Exchange, including its ActiveSync technology, which allows for contacts, calendar, and mail information to be wirelessly “pushed” to the phone, automatically updating your device whenever that data changes on the server.

Setting up an Exchange account on the iPhone is as easy as setting up any other e-mail account: under Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendar, you choose Add Account… and select Microsoft Exchange. After you provide your username and password, the phone will verify that your account really exists. If it does, you’ll be asked to enter some server specs that your system administrator should provide.

Setting up an Exchange account on the iPhone is as easy as setting up any other e-mail account. Once we got accounts up and running, we were able to access an Exchange e-mail account as well as retrieve contact and calendar information from the server. The iPhone’s Calendar application supports Exchange event invitations—a nice feature, and notable in that Apple does not let you accept invitations from its own iCal software sent to your e-mail; you still have to handle those on your Mac.

One thing to note: Contrary to earlier reports, personal iPhone users don’t need to pay the $45 corporate data plan in order to gain Exchange support.

The enterprise support also includes a number of features aimed at IT managers. They can distribute configuration profiles of phones, remotely wipe the data (sensitive or otherwise) from lost phones, and install special custom applications for use in corporate environments. The iPhone 2.0 update supports an alphabet soup of security protocols, including Cisco’s IPsec VPN, WPA2 Enterprise, and 802.1x. VPN support has also been improved in iPhone 2.0: you can now set up multiple VPN configurations and the status bar will display a VPN icon when you are logged into a secure network.

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