Life is a journey - this is mine.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

iPhone - 2 months in

Back in November thanks to a generous employer and an unexpected windfall, we decided to take the plunge get iPhones for Tonia and I. This meant switching cell service from Verizon to AT&T, and also meant that we'd have to get my son a new phone as well.

First off, let me say that I was skeptical about switching to AT&T. At my last job, the company coverage was with AT&T, but since I had my own phone and account already on Verizon, I just kept that. I was always impressed that I had coverage in areas where my coworkers didn't much of the time, but rarely had the opposite occur. I was bummed that the iPhone was only available on AT&T. It also annoyed me to no end that GSM/GPRS/EDGE phones and devices would almost always cause audio interference - that buzzy-poppy sound you hear in your speakers when such a device is near an audio component. Well, I'm happy to report that coverage in my neighborhood (where I use it the most) is much better than Verizon - so much so I wish now I'd switched some time ago! The current 3G technology the phone uses also doesn't cause the interference. Finally, I did need to call AT&T customer service about a billing change, and they were great to deal with. So, woo and yay all around for AT&T so far.

Now to the phone. Wow, it lives up to the hype. It's an amazing device that works well, is easy to use, and has been rock solid. Having come from a Windows Mobile HTC device to a Palm Treo 700p and now to an iPhone - I can say the smartphone market is strong and improving.

The genius of the iPhone isn't that it does web browsing, or that it plays music and video, takes pictures, does text messaging, email and, oh yeah, phone calls, and does them superbly. It's the hardware and apps. The hardware is amazing. I still find myself amazed at what the thing can do. And the couple that with the apps that are coming out in droves, make this thing invaluable. I never dreamed someone could code up something like Decibel - and SPL meter in your PHONE. I do sound occasionally at my Church, and this app has been very helpful. Guitar Toolkit is another. I play guitar, and having a tuner, scale and chord reference, and metronome in such a handy app on my phone, has been so helpful. Finally, I do computer systems work and am oncall a lot as part of my job. Sometimes that can be hindrance to real life - but not anymore. With the iSSH app, I can login to our servers from anywhere at anytime without needing my laptop. What a great thing to have. Not too long ago, I was at a movie with my son. One of our webservers was having fits, and let me know via (silent, of course) text message. I was able to leave the theater, login to our network with my phone, correct the problem, and be back in my seat in 5 minutes.

The drawbacks: there are several things, however, that just boggle the mind. First is text messaging. 2 things about text messaging on the iPhone bother me. First off, the conversational style is great if your use case of text messaging is solely interacting with people. When machines are sending you texts, that style just gets in the way, especially when it comes to deleting messages. If something bad happens, it's not unusual to get several hundred texts in the space of a few minutes when dealing with a systems problem. It's real pain to go back and delete those one at a time. With my Treo, it was 2-click operation. Purge messages, confirm. The other thing about texting is the tones. There's a small set of tones available to set for messaging, and the loudest one doesn't always wake me right away. That's a bad thing when you're responsible for responding to issues in the middle of the night. It boggles the mind that you can't use any tone on the device for any sound event you want.

The next mind-blower is you can't take video with the camera. I can't understand why this feature (which my son's $20 LG does an admirable job of) isn't available on a device of this caliber.

And speaking of pictures and video, the thing doesn't do MMS. Say what? Again, my son's $20 LG does this well, why is this not a feature on the iPhone? My sister-in-law used to send my wife a picture of our niece (who turned 1 yesterday, Happy Birthday, Kenzie!) every week via MMS. Now those messages just disappear. She can't email from her phone, so now we have no way to get our weekly updates on the little one.

Next, there's the lack of Flash. This also boggles the mind. Doing a lot of creative work for my church, I run into flash-based websites all the time. I have to get the laptop out to deal with them, no quick fixes or queries from the phone when comes to Flash sites. I know the tech is there - there's a YouTube app that plays videos...come on already.

Finally, there's the lack of cut/copy/paste functions. This has become a real annoyance for me. If I'm working with someone online troubleshooting something, I can't just copy/paste a command with from my shell to IM or vice-versa. Also, if someone sends you a link in an email that isn't formatted so Mail recognizes - can't copy/paste then correct it. Again, boggles the mind why such a ubiquitous and expected functionality in a GUI OS is missing from the iPhone.

So, all that said, I love the iPhone, and hope these annoyances get resolved sometime soon on my current hardware. It's strengths do outweigh it's weaknesses for me, but I'd still like to see some progress. If it were to get destroyed, I'd replace it in a heartbeat - well it might take a bit longer than a heartbeat, but I currently wouldn't consider anything else currently on the market.


Anonymous said...

Steve - I bought a Macbook over the Christmas break, and understand some of your iPhone pain.

Some things are good (battery life, size and weight, build quality and keyboard). Some things so-so (like lack of firewire port, narrow viewing angle and fuzzy text on screen). And some things stink (graphics output to a larger display, upgrading to OS X 10.5.6 breaking mail and stuffing up a few other things).

It is curious how Apple can only get some things right. It has also increased my admiration for Microsoft enormously.

Overall I like it, but I feel it should not have significant flaws for the price it sells.

Bruce Milne said...

Funny, I've been doing all that and more on my Nokia E90 for like a year and a half now. Yeah, I know, the interface isn't as sexy. The iPhone is sexy. I just couldn't live with a 'smart' phone that does not have a native SIP client on it, and I think I would miss the keyboard.

Anonymous said...

Great review. I agree with you and about copy/paste situation. There's also a related issue about shortcuts to ical/address book and the like. It makes me think that part of squezing the OS onto the iPhone involves scaling back the services.

As for MMS, that's dead technology. I email pics and have started to create a me gallery for them, which really makes a lot more sense. You can also post photos direct to facebook if that's your thing.

The music apps are the killer feature. I love decibel and love Shazam even more!