An iPhone report

You don't really know someone until you travel with them, right? I've hung out with my iPhone for a weekend now, and we've really hit it off. I'm only the eight thousandth person to throw my thoughts out, but here are some random thoughts on my new baby.

Let's start with the negatives, many of which are missing features:

  • The device is a slave, in part, to AT&T. You don't have to search far for the horror stories spawned this weekend as the iPhone forced hundreds of thousands of customers to interact with AT&T.

  • Recessed headphone port--noted earlier.

  • No GPS which would've made the Maps feature even more killer than it already is. I'm hoping that when GPS is available I can send mine in for a GPS receiver insertion, but I've already set aside a fund for iPhone 2.0. Maybe when GPS is incorporated it can be used for anti-theft tracking so I don't have to stress so much about losing her.

  • Mediocre 2MP cell phone camera with no flash--better than the one I have on my Verizon LG phone, but it's not going to replace my Canon SD800 for pics of friends when out and about.

  • Volume is a bit soft--maybe I'm going deaf from listening to my iPod at such high volumes the past several years, but my iPhone at max volume is softer than other phones I've owned.

  • Speaker is not that loud or clear. Not surprising to me that they can't fit a great speaker with a huge amp in such a tiny device, but if you're wondering about the speaker quality, there you go.

  • Can't go to landscape mode in Mail. You really can't screw up typing in the larger keyboard of landscape mode, but that view only appears for the web browser right now.

  • Need SpamSieve for the iPhone, or I need to start using my GMail account a lot more to filter out the spam. It's been a long time since I've had to deal with spam one by one, and it's not pretty. So far I haven't found a method to delete a group of e-mails so I've been zapping spams one by one which, as anyone knows, is painful in this day and age of spam overload.

  • No copy and paste. I haven't tried that function on devices that don't have physical keyboards, but perhaps there's an elegant way to implement it. I almost think the iPhone could do with an extra button that does different things in various contexts, but I know previous efforts with such all-purpose triggers, like the one they put in BMW cars at one point, have been unsuccessful.

  • No Flash or Java for the iPhone implementation of Safari. It's easy to take Flash and Java for granted now, until you lose them and realize that so many Web 2.0 sites rely on them for basic interface functionality.

  • Web page rendering is just a hair slow for pages that have loaded already. Even once a web page finished loading, if you scroll down a page quickly, the browser will stop to render the next section of the page, presenting you with a grey and white checkerboard pattern while you're on hold. I've encountered this even if it's just a page of pure text. It's not that bothersome to me, but I'm surprised it occurs even with lightweight web pages.

  • No video capability for the camera. I had visions of using the speaker phone with an onboard video camera to do futuristic video phone chats with other iPhone or video iChat-enabled people, and they remain just that, visions.

  • No RSS reader.

  • No to-do items in the Calendar, something that would help it as a PDA replacement.

  • The calendar from your Mac is flattened upon entering the iPhone so all appointments are listed together. When you create items in the iPhone Calendar they can only be sent to one iCal calendar on your Mac.

  • One time my iPhone got stuck in this odd state where Maps and iPod kept bouncing me back to the home screen. I finally solved it by turning the device completely off.

  • Need to allow more third-party app development for the iPhone. I don't mind Apple's closed loop system in many cases because the solutions are so good, but in general, open systems speed the pace of development. For now, I've created a Bookmarks folder in Safari called iPhone and have been tossing interesting iPhone web apps in there, but I'd prefer to be able to select your own icons for the home screen.

  • Can't load your own ringtones. I'm not a huge ringtone person, and I'm proud to say I've never paid money for a ringtone, but I would like to load my own. I guess I'll have to wait a while to use the THX deep bass note as my ringtone.

  • No voice dialing or recording.

  • Can't use it as an iPod disk drive.

  • I haven't found an optimal grip for two-thumb typing.

  • No manual management option for the iPod's music, video, and photo content. You have to choose playlists or albums in iTunes and iPhoto for the iPod to sync to automatically. You can be creative in iTunes with smart playlists to manage your music at a finer-grained level, but I don't understand why you can't manually drag songs and videos and and off the iPhone like you can with any other iPod.

A lot of these issues can be addressed by a software update. I'm already giddy at the thought of finding that first iPhone software update available. I've always preferred electronic devices that are software upgradeable; even my home theater pre-amp can be upgraded via software. It's exciting when my PS3 grabs a software update and suddenly can up-res regular DVDs. It's a shame the iPhone doesn't have room for hardware add-ons, like additional memory, but I've never owned a cell phone long enough to make too much use of hardware add-ons anyway.

On to the good:

  • AT&T reception in my apartment has improved a lot since the first day I moved in. I don't know how a single person like myself can judge the antenna quality of the iPhone and the network quality of AT&T, so we'll have to wait for more stringent testing to judge this aspect of the phone.

  • On the first sync, all my Address Book contacts, e-mail account settings in Mail, and iCal appointments moved right over to the iPhone. I'd never had a phone that could sync its contacts with my computer, so I still have to move phone numbers over from my old phone, but hopefully this will be the last time I ever have to do that.

  • Maps is awesome. I don't have one of those GPS screens in my car, but now I won't feel so uninformed when stuck in traffic in my car in LA which is all the time.

  • The iPhone feels like a device from the future. I love just flicking my fingers across the screen to scroll the display. Pinching, twirling, tossing--I feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

  • Speaking of the display, it's gorgeous. Bright colors, solid resolution.

  • The glass screen is sturdy and elegant. It does smudge, but you don't see the smudges when the screen is lit up. The device feels like a luxury device with its high quality build and heft.

  • Visual voicemail is fantastic. Setting up my voicemail box with screen prompts was so much more enjoyable than setting up past voicemail boxes using audio prompts. Now I just need the feature to automatically encode all voicemails from voice-to-text and I may be able to delete some voicemails without ever having to listen to them.

  • When trying to move the cursor to a specific spot in a block of text, you place your finger done roughly where you want it to go and a magnifying glass view pops up to allow for fine-grained control. Some interface specialist can put that on their resume and has a claim to fame for life.

  • The YouTube videos encoded via H.264 look better than the YouTube Flash videos on my desktop computer. That's ironic. You know how I hate the Flash video quality of YouTube. It's odd that the onset of the iPhone that's driving YouTube to recode the rest of its videos to H.264. Now when can we choose to view those on as well?

  • There's a switch on the side to flip the phone to silent. Why didn't any of my previous phones have this? So convenient.

  • Surfing the web via Safari is surprisingly pleasant for a device this small. Double-tap to zoom is intuitive. For many trips, I no longer need to bring along my laptop. For simple tasks--checking e-mail, web-surfing, listening to music--the iPhone works just fine.

Most important of all, the experience of using the iPhone is an enjoyable one. I've owned phones that have had better cameras, the ability to shoot video, and other features the iPhone lacks. But a customer experience does not comprise a list of features. If so, the iPod wouldn't be the runaway market leader. I really enjoy the experience of using the iPhone as it is now, and I can't wait to see how it transforms with its first software update.

At a minimum, the entry of a player like Apple into the market should raise the game for other mobile manufacturers which is something they really needed. Every one will benefit, even those who don't like Apple and its products.

The most annoying thing about the iPhone is the caustic debate between iPhone lovers and haters (a subset of the general Mac and non-Mac religious war). You can't avoid it if you're curious to read evaluations of the device; it spills out and overflows out of every comment thread. Many people who don't want an iPhone feel intent on calling it an overpriced piece of garbage, and iPhone fans are labeled zealots. Reasonable, centrist dialogue has a hard-time seizing the high ground on the web, and the iPhone launch has put a megaphone to the shouting match. No drama, please.

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