05 July, 2007

Thoughts on the iPhone

So I stood in line for the iPhone last Thursday night and Friday at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, and it was a blast. It was great to hang out with fellow Mac fans and geek out, speculating on last-minute iPhone announcements, discussing the imminent release of Leopard this October, and generally being Mac fanboys (and girls) at what could possibly be Apple's most important product launch yet. There were also hecklers and a good number of opportunists, but for the most part people were there out of interest for the phone. We got lots of media coverage, and some of my sound bites have found their way onto here, here, here, and here.

Well, I've been rockin' the iPhone for almost a week now, and it's an amazing device. Here are a few thoughts:

My activation with AT&T went well (I was a previous AT&T customer, for what it's worth), and I was surprised with how simple, easy and fast activation through iTunes was. Being able to comfortably sit at home and choose a plan without the phone store hard-sell was also a big plus. Although I have heard of people having trouble with the AT&T activation (including one of my friends), my own experience was seamless and quick. Twenty minutes after I got home from the store I had already activated and synced my iPhone with my MacBook. It had some music and video podcasts, all my photographs, my browser bookmarks, my contacts from my computer's Address Book, and I was on my first phone call, which was actually an incoming call which very elegantly popped up while I was viewing a video podcast.

After having played with the iPhone for the past few days, I can say that it's met my expectations in all the ways I anticipated it to, as well as surprised me a few times by performing better than I expected it to. There have also been a few rough spots, but these have been minor and I expected them from the outset.

I've been disappointed with the speed of AT&T's EDGE network, but I was expecting this and to my surprise haven't found it as frustrating as I anticipated– the EDGE speeds are tolerable, and in New York it's pretty easy to find a WiFi hotspot anyway. Apple seems to have done its best to work around this limitation, though. The biggest speed lag while using the EDGE network is naturally in the Safari browser, but the separate low-bandwidth applications that you're most likely to use on the street, like the weather widget and Google Maps, run fast enough to be useful on the go. However, once the iPhone hops on a WiFi network (which it does automatically if there's an open or trusted network), it flies. It's just as fast as my laptop on the same network.

I've also found that, now being online all the time, I would like to see an instant messaging application, particularly an iPhone version of iChat. This may or may not be coming soon via a software update from Apple, along with Flash and Java support and possibly other features, such as disk mode and a full file browser once Leopard hits. The fact that more features and updated software will be added in the same easy way that I keep my iPod updated is another big plus in my book. In the meantime, in lieu of an IM application I've certainly been text messaging more than before, since the interface for texting is so clear and IM-conversation-like, and input is so easy.

Another concern I had before buying the iPhone was how well the keyboard would perform and function. I've been pleasantly surprised to find that the keyboard has been very easy to get used to, and I'm now pretty fast and accurate on it. I've barely used my laptop to go on the internet in the past few days (only to view Flash content or large images and to communicate via IM, or write a very long post like this one). The error correction software on the keyboard is good, and it does a very good job of learning what words you use. Since I communicate both in Spanish and English alternately, I expected to not be able to depend on the error correction software as much as most, but I've been pretty happy with the way it has performed. Since the software apparently remembers words you type, it's not limited to the words in its built-in English dictionary.

I've also been impressed with the iPhone's battery life. I've found that an overnight charge is enough to get me through the day. I normally pull the iPhone off its charger at around 8:30AM, and usually don't replace it until around 11PM or midnight. Last night I was out with friends till about 2AM, and the iPhone stayed charged all night, warning me that it was at 15% of battery capacity around 1AM. It's been getting some heavy use too, since whenever I pull it out someone wants to see it in action, and the inevitable 'show & tell' ensues.

The iPhone is also surprisingly scratch proof. Having owned a few iPods, and having had them get invariably scratched up despite my being very careful with them, this is a very welcome improvement over past Apple designs. The glass top resists regular day-to-day usage nicely, and is very easy to keep smudge-free. The brushed aluminum back is also rugged enough to withstand incidental scratches and scuff marks from placing the iPhone on a surface such as a table. I normally keep it in my jeans pocket by itself or on my desk, so it doesn't ever come into contact with keys or coins, and so far I haven't found the need to get a case or protector for it. Its sleek design and solid construction make the need for the additional bulk that these products would add superfluous and aesthetically undesireable. The iPhone is very pleasing to hold, too. Its slim form fits in the hand very nicely, and I find it comfortable enough for extended usage, both in portrait and landscape mode.

Internet usage aside, this is the first cellphone that is truly easy to use. Apple strikes again with a beautifully conceived interface, designed to inform you and stay out of your way, while keeping everything just a finger gesture away. Call forwarding; conference calls; putting someone on hold or speakerphone; receiving and listening to voice mail; and adding, editing and taking advantage of contacts are all incredibly simple and intuitive operations, represented in big buttons, as opposed to the minefield of draconian little menus that you have to contend with on regular phones. I would love for someone like my mother, who is a competent enough computer user, but not too proficient with her phone, to use a phone like this. It would make her experience much more pleasant, and would enable her to do more with her phone.

One of the realizations I've come to over the past few days is that I'm now carrying what is for all intents and purposes a full computer in my pocket, which happens to have a phone on it. This makes the iPhone's high price tag easier to justify—it's certainly worth the money when compared to similar products put there. Once you start thinking about it like that, the possibilities for what Apple can do with the iPhone are very interesting and exciting. I certainly agree with all the voices out there saying that it's a game-changing device. The cell phone industry is going to be an interesting place to watch now that Apple has entered the market with such an advanced device.

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