capsule review

iPhone 3.0 software update

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Apple has also integrated more fine-grained parental restrictions in iPhone 3.0, which are accessible at Settings -> General -> Restrictions. In addition to a new restriction for disabling the phone's location features, a new section provides the ability to independently filter different kinds of content, such as music and podcasts, TV shows, videos, and iPhone apps. You can prevent children from downloading content at certain rating levels or higher (such as PG-13 or greater movies) or, in the case of music and podcasts, you can ban explicit material. Users can choose a rating system from one of nine different countries, including the U.S., U.K., and Japan.

Apple is now requiring iPhone apps to feature age ratings similar to those it has long enforced for iPod and iPhone games. Parental restrictions allow you to disable iPhone 3.0’s In-App Purchase feature, preventing kids from downloading additional content through installed applications.

Push up

Notifications can be disabled on either a global or individual application basis.

Apple’s push notifications system was supposed to debut last September, but it’s finally arrived in iPhone 3.0. The usefulness of the system—and its ability to hold up under the sudden barrage of millions of phones running thousands of applications—remains to be seen until apps that support it are released.

However, people who fear that their phone may soon be deluged by notifications can rest easy. The iPhone’s new Settings -> Notifications panel (which only appears once you run an app that includes notification features) allows you to disable notifications either en masse or by type of notification within an individual application; for example, you could disable the pop-up alerts for an application while leaving the badge alerts. There is, however, no easy way to turn off just one type of notification, such as alert sounds, for all apps.

Now hear this

The new Voice Memos application lets you record, edit, and share audio clips.

One new application joins Apple’s default set in 3.0: Voice Memos. It’s a relatively straightforward program that does just what it says on the tin: you can record using the iPhone’s built-in microphone or the mic on the iPhone’s headphones. Voice Memos can even record in the background; a red bar appears at the top of the screen letting you know that you’re still recording, and showing the elapsed time. You cannot, however, record phone calls—launching the Phone application ends your recording.

Once you’ve recorded a clip, you can use Voice Memos to play it back and label it, either with one of the handful of built-in labels (Interview, Class, etc.) or by adding your own. You can also trim a clip from inside the application, dragging endpoints on a timeline to select just the section you want (careful, though—there’s no undo); you can then share it via e-mail or (someday) MMS. Voice memos also sync back to iTunes under a Voice Memos playlist, though you can prevent them from syncing by unchecking the option in the Music sync pane of iTunes when the iPhone is connected to your computer. Voice memos are stored as 16-bit mono Apple Lossless files.

Save the date

While the Calendar application doesn’t look very different under iPhone 3.0—excluding the addition of a new search bar—a few hunder-the-hood changes give you more flexibility as to which calendars you can use. Apple in particular touts two new features: the ability to add subscription calendars and support for CalDAV servers.

Calendar adds supports for CalDAV, such as Google Calendar, as well as Subscription Calendars.

If you’re not looking closely, though, you might be hard-pressed to figure out how to use these features. They’re hidden under Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars; tap Add Account and then choose Other: you’ll be prompted with options for adding either a CalDAV Account or a Subscribed Calendar (this is also where Apple has hidden 3.0’s LDAP support for contacts).

Adding a CalDAV account requires that you know your server, user name, and password; adding a Subscribed Calendar requires that you know the URL for the calendar (that’s one place that 3.0’s new copy and paste features really help). Once you’ve entered the appropriate information, the calendar in question will download its events. If you’ve got multiple calendars on a CalDAV account, such as Google Calendar, you’ll have to add a separate “account” for each of them.

Support for these online calendars is great, but there are some problems: for one thing, I noticed that all the additional information can lead to somewhat sluggish performance in the Calendar application. In addition, meeting invitations are still only supported for Exchange users. Those using MobileMe subscriptions still can’t sync with certain calendars on your Mac, such as Address Book’s automatically generated Birthday calendar; however, there is now an alternative for dealing with that limitation (see “Kitchen Sync” below).

Kitchen sync

iTunes now allows you to sync some data both over the network and via iTunes simultaneously.

In iPhone 2.0, Apple introduced the ability to sync your iPhone over the air, assuming you’re using a MobileMe account. Unfortunately, doing so meant that you could no longer sync data from your computer—it was an either/or proposition. With iPhone 3.0 and iTunes 8.2, however, that’s no longer the case: you can now mix and match data over the air and via iTunes, which is great for those calendar subscriptions that you can’t get via MobileMe, such as the Birthdays calendar. You’ll still need to sync with iTunes if those calendars change, though.

iPhone 3.0 also finally brings the much-demanded Notes syncing, letting you exchange those little yellow-ruled tidbits between the iPhone’s Notes app and Mail. That’s right: notes go into Mail on the Mac. This didn’t work great in my tests, due mainly to some weirdness in the way that Mail was set up on my computer, but my colleagues reported it working fine in other cases.

Coming soon

MMS, the ability to send pictures, videos and more via text message, is on its way from AT&T later this summer.

Back in March, when Apple first announced iPhone 3.0, it mentioned two high-profile features that would be supported by the software update. The first was support for the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), allowing users to send and receive text messages that also contain pictures, location information, contact information, voice recordings, and video messages. But though the software functionality is included within iPhone 3.0, AT&T has said it doesn't plan to roll out support until later this summer.

Support for tethering—using your phone’s cellular connection to share Internet access with your desktop computer—is even murkier. Again, the capability is supported in iPhone 3.0, but AT&T’s public statement on the matter said only that the company would offer the feature at some point, and it didn’t specify a timeline or pricing information.

In addition, there are a ton of new under-the-hood features supported by the iPhone 3.0 update that we won’t really get to see until developers start to build them into their applications, such as seamless peer-to-peer networking, support for hardware accessories, embedded Google Maps, and turn-by-turn directions.

Don't bug me

The S in the new iPhone 3G S stands for Speed, but you'll notice there's no S in iPhone 3.0. Sure, sometimes the device will zip along its merry way, but other times it will slow to a crawl. I found myself more surprised when the pop-up keys on the keyboard actually did keep pace with what I was typing. Even the iPhone's limited multitasking is starting to wear thin, as I and some of my colleagues occasionally encountered stuttering music while trying to perform other tasks, like finding directions in Maps or simply entering text in another app. And you may notice a couple of other small bugs here and there, though many of them are purely cosmetic.

Of course, any major update has its fair share of bugs, and it's likely Apple will iron out many of these in subsequent releases. Apple didn't really deliver on the promise of iPhone 2.0, for example, until iPhone 2.1 finally made the update usable roughly two months later. For those who consider performance paramount, waiting for a 3.1 update might be reasonable, if you can continue to do without 3.0's features for the time being.

Macworld’s buying advice

For most iPhone users, iPhone 3.0 is a no-brainer update. The addition of cut, copy, and paste alone makes this a must-have update; and as exhaustive as we've tried to make this review, there are plenty of other small tweaks and enhancements not covered here. On the downside, original iPhone users won’t be able to reap all of the benefits of the update, since their devices won't support MMS or stereo Bluetooth.

iPod touch users, on the other hand, will have to lay out $10 before they can get 3.0, and they won’t be able to use all of the features either, although Apple did confirm that the second-generation iPod touch includes Bluetooth support. Version 3.0 is a more expensive proposition; but again, for $10 you get a whole host of new features, as well as—perhaps more importantly—all those technologies that developers will soon be using in their applications. In the end, $10 seems like a small price to pay for the number of new features included.

Overall, iPhone 3.0 offers useful new features and refinements of existing features. It doesn’t necessarily tick every checkbox on our iPhone feature wishlist, but it’s a solid step in the right direction. And, after all, Apple has to leave something for iPhone 4.0.

Updated 4:44PM PT to clarify details about contact search fields and CalDAV accounts.

[Dan Moren is an associate editor at Macworld.]

Dan Frakes contributed to this review.

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