April 18, 2014

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iPhone Report

I got a chance to play with an iPhone Saturday. The big-city Apple Store was packed. Even though they had about twenty iPhones out for inspection, you had to wait ten minutes or so to get your hands on one. Here’s my quick review, based on a thorough in-store inspection.

It’s a sweet-looking device. I was blown away by the screen resolution, which made photos and videos look great. For the first time, I believed I might actually be willing to watch a movie on a handheld device.

The other software, from email to Safari, seemed as slick as advertised. This has to be the biggest attraction of the iPhone.

The screen seemed big when I was playing videos. But it seemed too small when I tried to browse the New York Times site. You had to choose between seeing a good portion of the page in nano-print, or zooming in to see a couple sentences in a comfortably readable size. Other newspaper and magazine websites had the same issue.

I tried typing on the on-screen keyboard, which worked poorly, getting about 20% of the keypresses wrong. I typed with my thumbs, Blackberry-style, which was the only way that seemed natural to me while holding the device. My thumbs aren’t particularly large, so I assume many people would have the same problem. Maybe I would get the hang of it after a few days of typing, but if I didn’t the device would be unacceptable for touch typing and I might have had to fall back on tapping keys with a stylus.

The AT&T cellular data network was painfully slow when browsing the web. A colleague and I had a conversation about cellular plans while we waited for one web page to download. A WiFi connection was much better.

My first reaction was that even if you never used your iPhone to make phone calls, it would be a nice little portable communications device. You could use it only with WiFi and be pretty happy.

But Apple won’t let you do that. If you buy an iPhone, it won’t do much of anything until you purchase an AT&T Cellular plan for it. You can’t even use the non-phone features unless accept a two-year contract from AT&T, which I’m not about to do.

So: no iPhone for me.

Comments

  1. jambarama says:

    Actually, you can get the iPhone without a nasty plan. For now you can get a prepaid plan if you setup your own account, put in a fake SSN (and thus fail the credit check), then you are offered prepaid options:
    http://www.tuaw.com/2007/07/01/prepaid-iphone-in-a-nutshell/

    Pricing: http://www.tuaw.com/gallery/iphone-prepaid-gallery/296285/

  2. James says:

    I just made a comment on the previous post, but I forgot to add something. Last week, Woot had the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet for $135 shipped, and two days later Buy.com added it for $140 shipped. I got it off Woot, and it’s beautiful.

    4″ screen (iPhone is 3.5), 800×480 (!!!) (iPhone is 320×480), touch screen, 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 1.2, 250 MHz ARM ( =-( ), RS-MMC flash slot ( also =-( ). The newer N800 runs about twice as much, same screen specs, but the processor got a bump to 330 MHz and the weird RS-MMC has been replaced with 2 SD slots — not only could you get as much flash as an iPhone, you could swap in different stuff on another card, since SD cards are already a dime a dozen and getting cheaper. Oh, and I guess it also has a webcam?

    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that you could buy this device *and* a decent Bluetooth-enabled cell phone for much less than an iPhone, and get better than double the pixel count. The best part is, it runs on a mostly-open Linux OS, and has a small but active hacking community. You lose the faster processor (600 MHz on the iPhone, IIRC) and the multi-touch screen, but you gain an open OS with free development tools.

    Maybe you’re right about the market being ripe for a convergence device, but maybe there’s still something to the idea of specialization…

  3. Joe says:

    …unless accept a two-year contract from AT&T, which I’m not about to do.

    Is this because you already have a contract with another company? Or because of customer-hostile behavior by AT&T? (I’m hard pressed to think of a non-evil cellphone network provider…)

  4. Douglas Kastle says:

    I think that the iPhone will be the game changer that it is been touted as, but it may not necessarily be the winner (Apple isn’t always successful, the newton any one?).

    If some company comes along with a device that matches the iPhone but doesn’t demand a contract lock in, they could charge ahead and gobble up all the people who are interested in the iPhone but are not Mac zealots enough to accept the current situation. This new hypothetical phone could also be redeployed world wide a lot faster too, as the iPhone is needs to be renegotiated in every market that it wants to sell, that is how they have set it up. They are predicting a late 2007/early 2008 release date in Australia and europe have no distributor, that with the 6 months since the initial announcement might be enough time for this new phone to hit the market.

  5. graphex says:

    The contract and general relationship with AT&T is the biggest drawback with the iPhone. From what I’ve heard, Jobs, et al. courted all or most of the major carriers and AT&T were the only ones that would work with Apple to get the visual voicemail and probably some key handshaking protocols in place. I’ve noticed that you really don’t have to jump through any hoops to ‘get online’ with the iPhone, it just uses whatever it can connect to and can upshift to wi-fi in the middle of a download, which is some pretty impressive software engineering in my book.

    I’m not a hardcore texter, so I really don’t know what to expect from a phone based keyboard, but for me at least, I’m able to type accurately and as fast as I’d expect to be able to type with my thumbs. The predictive text is really excellent too-better than I’ve seen on any other device. Not being able to select, copy, or paste text is no good, but Apple doesn’t just dump out a device and forget it – they update things like that.

    I think the price seems reasonable; you’re basically getting a $249 8GB iPod nano, a $100 wiFi card and a $300-$400 PDA (and maybe a $350 apple logo). But of course it is only going to get cheaper. I actually had a Newton, which was in the $400 range if I remember correctly. I thought it was really neat, but it was a real chore to use. The first afternoon I got it, I started trying to put some contacts in to it, and it was not very… easy…

    Anything that is a chore to use just gets abandoned by me, and that is the key here. Perhaps I can get an 5″ screen with 2590×1240 resolution, but if I regularly have to spend 20 minutes loading videos on to it (apparently from folders where I keep videos lying around?) and keeping it update with my contacts and events, I’m just not going to do it.

    My Sony Ericsson P900 is a great example: it can still technically do more things and I can still theoretically write software for it, but it is a chore, so it just never happens. I surfed the web with that phone a couple of times, but the pages took forever to render, or rendered horribly wrong, or I couldn’t figure out how to get it ‘online’ and I eventually started ignoring more and more features because I didn’t want to get out the stylus and try to get the WAP settings or whatever right so I could go online or figure out its awful menu system.

    It is certainly too early to judge the iPhone on its longevity, but it is definitely not a chore to use – it is the software, it is the software, it is the software. Oh and maybe the pretty icons. Thinking on those terms, it makes absolute sense that launching without an API would ensure that the ‘standards are maintained’ for this critical product birth. I would, however, be worried if there isn’t an API a year from now. Hopefully it is just a walled nursery, and the doors will open once things bloom. I think that is what will happen, but only time will tell.

  6. Matt B. says:

    A couple of things:

    For the screen size- did you try turning it on its side? I find that that makes reading webpages MUCH easier. You don’t have to choose between nano print and just a few words/sentences.

    For typing- yeah, you do get used to it. You have to learn to just trust the built in error correction. You make mistakes, but the iPhone is amazing at knowing what you wanted to type. But you can’t use a stylus (or fingernails), it has to be skin contact.

    For EDGE- after using it for a few days, EDGE is acceptable for using the web. Its not fast like WiFi, but it is tolerable. I don’t mind using it at all.

    Oh, and James, that phone may have better specs, but the brilliance of the iPhone is not what it can do, its how easy it does the things it does do. The interface is unbelievably amazing. That is why the iPhone is going to be great: its finally a cell phone that isn’t about specs but about the UI. The UI of nearly all phones just sucks. Even the ones that are decent still can’t compare to the iPhone.

    It has definitely lived up to the hype. I’m blown away with it. So has everybody I’ve shown it to.

  7. Ken Kennedy says:

    I second the N800 recommendation…I have a N770, which I love, but the N800 seems to have cleaned up some of it’s warts (the RS-MMC mentioned above, plus USB 2.0 vs. USB 1.1, and some assorted hardware improvments). Plus…it’s OPEN. You can actually write your own stuff for it, vs. the famously closed iPhone. Recommended!

  8. theruffian says:

    I think Ed hit the mark given how much the iPhone resembles a miniature PC, especially since most of what we do on computers these days is online centric.

    I’d be curious to hear, Ed (and graphex) , if you are going to be putting money down on the “phone” now that you can “unlock” it and use all features except the phone ability.

    I myself am considering it, but then I’ve got a phone AND an iPhone in my pocket.

    What am I really saving, besides the cost of canceling my current plan?

  9. mac user says:

    But you can’t use a stylus (or fingernails), it has to be skin contact.

    I don’t have an iPhone, but my powerbook’s touchpad has a similar problem. Also it has the problem that if a drop of water is sitting on it, it thinks you’re touching it. I wonder if using iPhone out in the rain will be a mess…

    (Anyone knows how M$’ Surface works?)

  10. James says:

    RE: Matt, the 770 is not a phone, but if you get a Bluetooth phone (it’s hard to find one *without*, these days), you can tether to it to surf the net from anywhere. Since it’s not a phone, the interface is nothing like a phone. It runs a heavily modified Gnome-derivative (I think?) on a platform called Maemo, which is largely open and has a lot of “standard” Linux products ported to it already, with more showing up all the time. Since a lot of packages run more or less like their desktop counterparts, if you use Linux at home, you can feel very comfortable with many apps the first time you launch them.

    This comes back to the point I was trying to make — I’d rather have two devices (for cheaper!), each of which does a subset of all the stuff I’m interested in well, than one device which tries to do it all but has shortcomings, especially if the device is “closed” to prevent me from making it work better.

    That said, the “psychic” soft keyboard that you can use with your bare fingers sounds pretty damn good to me; maybe somebody will write something similar for 770/800. I hope it can be done without breaking a patent. I’ve been thinking of starting a new project; I should look into that….

  11. James says:

    Sorry to make a second post, but I hadn’t read Mac User’s comments yet. I believe MS Surface uses several IR cameras built into the table to look for stuff on top of it. The WP article about Surface has some details — I know it can see fingers as well as read barcodes on the bottom of objects placed on the table. It’s a neat idea, but I have to wonder how much processing power is needed to constantly interpret the input of 5 different vision devices. Maybe the processing happens onboard each camera? I know that’s how a lot of industrial automation machine vision works…

  12. Mitch Golden says:

    In response to this and the previous post, I think I should call attention to the QTopia Green Phone, which is an entirely open GSM/GPRS phone on which it is possible to develop and deploy GPL software. For some reason it hasn’t gotten much publicity yet.

    http://trolltech.com/products/qtopia/greenphone

  13. Tester says:

    But you can’t use a stylus (or fingernails), it has to be skin contact.

    I don’t have an iPhone, but my powerbook’s touchpad has a similar problem. Also it has the problem that if a drop of water is sitting on it, it thinks you’re touching it.

    Aha. It must use electrical conductivity to sense when it is touched. => Use a stylus with a metal, rather than a plastic, tip.

  14. Tel says:

    I saw the QTopia Green Phone at a demo and it is really cool. You can ssh into the phone. If you like the QT API then you will have no problems writing applications for it. Also it supports Java. There’s a full development kit with a gcc toolchain for linux and an on-screen emulator for testing and debugging. Very easy to work with.

    The main thing that puts people off the Green Phone is the price… base-price is USD 700 making it MORE expensive than the iPhone. More expensive than just about any other phone on the market. At least it gives you the ability to expand the flash with a mini-SD plus you can do what you like with the bluetooth and it handles SIM cards from various network providers because it’s an open platform… I would have liked to see 802.11b/g so it would work as a local SIP / VoIP phone in the office.

    I was thinking hard about what to program for it and I didn’t come up with such a huge list: call screening based on caller ID (unknown or missing IDs go straight to answering machine); signal-strength data logging; battery-life data logging; barcode reader for the CCD camera; timesheet data-entry (presuming the phone is always in your pocket and quick to key in the category from a preset list, maybe add an audio note or photo if required).

    All cool things, but nothing to justify the cost and effort…

  15. Laurent GUERBY says:

    Nokia N800 has a very good screen and is a very open device (you can even change the battery, take that Apple :) .

    For my phone I’m waiting for the Neo1973 from the openmoko.org folks so I’ll have an open PDA/internet tablet and an open phone.

  16. Dave says:

    Regarding escaping the clutches of At&t. You can cancel your contract after a few days and not be charged certain fees by At&t. I think you have to cancel within three days. So you end up paying $600 for the iPhone and according to someone who already did this the wifi connection still works. Just look at the fine print in the At&t contract.

  17. sake says:

    The iPhone isn’t even a full-featured iPod!!!

    Apple has crippled manual management of your music on your iPhone, you can only sync playlists. And Apple has turned off the ability to play music that is on your iPod via iTunes. Both of these feature reductions are a huge pain if you have more than one computer–such as a desktop and a laptop computer.

    So, even if Apple would sell you an iPhone without needing a contract to make it work, it lacks features even an entry level iPod has! Way, way lame…

  18. Old Lady says:

    Could it be sour grapes? After a learning curve of 10 minutes and without ATT service, you decide you wouldn’t want an iPhone anyway. So you are an IT guy. What about the rest of us? I am a senior citizen with AT&T service already and I don’t type with my thumbs.

  19. Bill says:

    Many good questions have been raised in the above comments…

    But the big question is, will it blend?

  20. TAP says:

    I’ll give the iPhone another look when version 2.0 comes out…

    1) it’s built to AT&T/Cingulars system (the company has a long term deal with Verizon). And the AT&T Cingular infrastructure is a painfully SLOW system. And around here it has a very low tower density.

    2) no expansion slot. How is someone supposed to put lots of tunes on it?

    3) You can’t swap the SIM card with another phone if you drop the iPhone (two reasons: it’s built inside, and it’s a weird physical format card… if you want to use a different phone while your iPhone is being fixed you have to use another sim card))

    4) no MP3s (what would it cost to add the most common format on the planet?). I’ve got over 100gb of MP3 tunes and MP4 videos…

    5) no GPS (you have to tell Google maps where you are before you can tell it where you want to go).

    It’s not like GPS is a new technology… it’s in the prepaid phones you can buy at the local 7-11…
    And you can’t even add an external bluetooth GPS – the Bluetooth implementation is badly broken.

    6) no replaceable battery (my 8 year old Nokia had that…)

    7) the camera is only 2megapixel? and no flash, no physical shutter button, no zoom. I can live without the first two, but I need zoom. And you can’t flip it around to face you for the future vChat/picturephone application.

    8) no AvantGo (my ancient Palm 3 has that)

    9) no Vindigo (local info) (ditto)

    10) no Adobe Flash in the browser – and that breaks a lot of stuff (how much would it have cost to include it?)

    11) no Adobe Acrobat (PDF reader) (ditto)

    12) no slide lid (which would prevent a scratched screen) (a slide lid could be 1/2 of a clamshell design, which I much prefer)

    13) no car cradle with external antenna (no antenna jack – and my 9 year old Nokia had that). And I need an external antenna where I drive.

    14) no way to connect an external keyboard (and have you priced out a bluetooth keyboard recently?)

    15) you can’t use an audio file as a ring tone. Even ones tripped to a specific length.

    16) can’t have different ring tones for different incoming calls (i.e. one for spouse/kids, a second for extended family, a third for everybody else… and my 3 year old Nokia can do this)

    17) can’t talk to a printer unless it’s a pricey bluetooth one… the iPhone can use the internet via a wireless network, why can’t it talk to the printer on my home wireless network? Everything else can (it’s not like drivers for a Laserjet are difficult)

    18) can’t talk or sync to an Exchange server (the corporate mail server).
    Better yet, fully synch with Outlook’s Contacts, Calendar and Tasks (and make Categories work).
    A blackberry can do that, why can’t a “newer and better” product do it?

    19) The music playing app quits when you start up the browser. Hello, the mac multitasked 20 years ago, why can’t the iphone?

    20) It’s too slippery… you can’t pinch it between your shoulder and your ear while you scramble for a pen and paper (you are forced to get a case).

    21) It needs MUCH louder ringtones and stronger vibrate feature. Why can’t it use the microphone to sense the surrounding noise level and adjust the volume to compensate? The local fast food stand had that in the mid 1970s… if you drove up in a quiet car it was “just loud enough”, if you drove up in a open exhaust street racer it got much louder – and automatically (the person inside didn’t have to turn any knobs).

    22) Bluetooth file transfer. Hello? It does bluetooth, why can’t it do file transfer?

    23) be able to edit documents using a Bluetooth keyboard

    24) Why can’t the landscape feature work on ALL the apps, and expecially the keyboard? Or didn’t anybody try to use IM in the R&D lab?

    25) Add iChat. Or is that too obvious?

    26) Add all the iCal features, and make them sync. At a bare minimum I’d like the To Do list to sync with iCal To Do pane.

    27) Where’s the eBook reader?

    28) Why isn’t there a Home key in the browser? Better yet, have a Home key and a couple of Prime keys (i.e. shortcuts to your two most favorite web sites)

    29) Why no Cut and Paste?

    30) A natural application that’s missing – a password vault

    31) If you miss a call/email/text there is no visual or audio repeat notify feature (i.e. beep, flash, or vibrate every 5 min until you check your phone). The Blackberry uses a single bicolor LED for this – it changes from green to red and back.

    32) I have to return to the main menu every time I need to see if I have any email or messages waiting. Every other phone I’ve seen has an icon at the top of the screen indicating that you have emails/texts/voice mails waiting. Some even tell you hoew many.

    33) 64-bit editions of Windows are not supported. Yes, that’s official Apple policy.

    34) You can’t even set up the iPhone unless you have an iTunes account.

    35) Obviously Apple hasn’t figured out that the world knows what a shift key is for. Adding a shift key to the front of the unit would have made the user interface so much intuitive/easier to use.

    Compared to current cellphone products the iPhone falls flat on its face in everything but sex appeal and esthetics.
    Apple does every other product so well (even the Newton – which was a PDA that was well ahead of its time), why they couldn’t look at each of the top 20 phones out there and consolidate all the features and then make something that was better than all put together is beyond me. Must have had some microsoft folks on the product.

    Personally, I’ll wait for version 2.0 and reconsider…

    And I can’t be the only one with these complaints.

    If you are willing to overlook the fact that it’s on the worst of the cellular carriers it’s a darned good product, but it could have been an excellent one.