iInitial iPhone iImpressions


After having been conned convinced to buy an iPhone by ss on opening night, I finally bit the bullet and activated it a couple of days later (using a Mac… sigh), and have been using it for a couple of weeks now.
Admittedly, I’ve had more than a few “iPhone moments.” I think my favorite was when I was heading home from an early-evening appointment and a hankering for Chinese food snuck up (you know how these things are). There’s a place I always go to, so I Google-directioned them on my iPhone; the entry included their phone number. I called, placed my order, and by the time I got over there, which was on my way home anyway, my food was ready to go.
Welcome to iLife 2.0!
With that…

  • The screen: bright, vivid colors. The touch screen, when the OS isn’t crapping out—more on that later—is accurate and usable. I haven’t watched any iTunes content on it, but the YouTube content I have watched has looked really good.
  • The web is usable. This is the first mobile-web experience I’ve had where I’ve been like “Wow; this is like using a tiny web browser.” All the other mobile web browsers I’ve been, especially on actual cell phones (i.e. not PDAs, like the Treo) have been… frankly a joke. My favorite usage of this has been reading Google Reader while waiting in various long lines. And their ability to have multiple “pages” or “tabs” is great. Apple totally nailed this one, and I hope the other vendors with their pathetic offerings take notice: this is is the kind of mobile web experience people want; not the crap you’ve been peddling.
  • The gestures are intuitive and awesome. “Squeezing” together/apart to zoom in/out: genius. This works on many of their apps (Safari and the photo app), and it works well. The scroll-by-finger-pointing actually works. When “flicking” various widgets to set the clock or timers or settings and such, they emulated the physics of turning a knob, and added sound, so that it really feels like you’re turning a knob. This kind of touch pushes it from a device I’d use/enjoy to a type of device my Mom would use/enjoy.
  • The acceleration sensor, which causes apps to orient themselves the way you’re holding the phone is also great. Sometimes, it gets a little confused, but I’ve always been able to get it to reset itself. Lilly was showing me the other day that in the Photos application, if you tilt the phone towards another person, as if you were showing them a picture, it will actually flip the photo upside down for them to see it. I think that’s the only app that uses all four axes, and it’s a genius-use of it.
  • The keyboard input is innovative and, in my opinion, pretty easy to use. I think they could make it better—keep reading ;-) —but as an input method, I think it’s actually pretty usable. I think I may be in the minority here…
  • The UI for presenting email and SMS messages is just great. And it has the right balance of showing you summary information—”eh, that’s just spam from my insurance company” vs. “that’s email from my best friend!”—and being able to read the whole message.
  • The shipped mini-apps are pretty useful. I find myself mostly using the Maps, [various] clock [features], notes, and calendaring apps a lot these days.
  • The app integration is pretty cool. But more than that, it’s actually useful. My earlier cell phones has spots for storing people’s email/web addresses, but who ever filled those in? There was no point. With the iPhone, there’s actually a point, and so I’ve started doing this for my contacts, and it’s turned out to be very useful (mail them a photo; find directions to their house, based on the address listed on their webpage, etc.)


  • I had to break down and use a real-Mac (as opposed to a VMware installation) to activate/use the iPhone. I put this as a con on the iPhone’s part, because I’ve heard rumors that the problem is the iPhone violates some USB spec that VMware emulates correctly… so the next version of Workstation (6.0.1?) will have a fix to recognize the iPhone, and work around its ignorance of the USB spec.
  • Despite others’ reports, the battery life… isn’t great, in my opinion
    I don’t talk much on the phone, but my old (“regular”) cell phone, I could charge every other day. The iPhone, I’d better charge every night, or I’m screwed. And that’s if I’m just using it as a phone. If I want to use it as an iPod, or actually use the web/check my email, then I’d better have it plugged in while I’m doing that, or I’ll be screwed by the end of the day for taking phone calls.
  • The YouTube app doesn’t have all of YouTube’s content, just selected content.
    The Jobs Reality Distortion Field conveniently never “mentioned” this; I mean, why would you want to see your friends’ content, as opposed to the latest Justin Timberlake YouTube video? Of course, Flash doesn’t work in iPhone’s Safari, so… no joy there. This is a problem on the Apple/iTV, as well.
    (I’ve been told this is because Apple couldn’t make up its mind about what format it wanted GoogleTube to (re-)encode the videos in, so they encoded what they could do before launch. It’s unclear if they’re going to encode everything, or if this is even true.)
  • No SSH client. That’s sorta expected. Yes, there are “web-based work arounds.” No, I don’t care.
  • No IM client/iChat. This is somewhat unexpected. The cynic in me says this is by AT&T decree (“If you give them a choice to not use our crappy SMS service, then we can’t charge extra for it!”), but I figured Apple (and Steve Jobs specifically) would have had more balls than this. Yes, there are “web-based work arounds.” No, I don’t care.
  • The keyboard’s predictive text is… not great. It can pick really, really random words at times (when’s the last time I used the word ‘rein?’) And it only suggests one word. I would really like a way to scroll through lots of suggestions, like T9 does.
    It doesn’t seem to be able to learn words that I use often (even words-that-I-and-my-friends-use-that-aren’t-words, like “SweakreBird”; don’t ask.), which my old LG phone did a great job with. So, I have to type those words out… and sometimes, I have to tell it (yet again) that it’s not the word it thinks it is.
    The UI for “No, go away, don’t correct this” isn’t… great either. If you press a space, it drops the suggested word into place… which is convenient for quick typing, but it took me like 3-4 days to figure out that if I wanted the suggestion to go away, I had to touch the suggestion, where there’s an “X” next to the word to make it go away. So, I touch the suggested word to make it go away? Huh?
    I can understand that they maybe the designers didn’t have many options here, but (unlike the rest of the phone), that’s not very intuitive. There’s also a lot of room for improvement, I think. Beltzner was telling me that the Crackberry will put a period and emit a shift when you double-space (as if it’s the end of a sentence). It’d be great if the iPhone picked up some of these tricks from other vendors… although, they’re probably all (stupidly) patented.
  • No MMS (picture/video text messages).
    I actually didn’t care so much about this until someone mentioned it, and pointed out that it’s kinda pathetic, given the iPhone’s capabilities. The answer is “Yes, it is kinda pathetic.”
    I was mostly OK with that, though, ’cause I seldom send photos to people… until I got a text message today from someone pointing me at viewmymessage.com, which looks to be an AT&T service allowing you to login (with a completely random login and password… which is… y’know… useful) and view MMS content sent to you by others. Of course, the site had no clue what I was talking about when I first tried to login when I got the text message. I just checked again, and while it did work this time, it uses Flash to display… a photograph. Which is such an AT&T-like thing to do. So I couldn’t have viewed it on iPhone’s Safari.
  • First-Generation-Apple-Product-Wonkiness (FGAPW): I didn’t really think it would happen to me, but… surprise!
    • First, there was the complete battery drain problem, which was… not so amusing.
    • Secondly, I’ve had the iPhone crash once… which actually isn’t bad.
      But it crashed in a really bad, painful way: I was listening to music in the iPod app, and the volume slider started to act weird. If you just touch it the bar (not where the slider is), it won’t move the slider… you have to touch the slider knob and drag. But the screen had some weird redraw-artifacts around, and when I touched the screen, it moved the volume from about 10%—which was more than adequate for the music I was listening to on the headphones I was listening to it on—to 100%. And it completely blew out my ears.
      About ten seconds later, the phone refused to redraw that portion of the screen (and showed a weird grayish test pattern), and then it crashed. But hey… it’s not like Apple is known for caring about its customers’ hearing loss.
  • Judging it solely as a cellphone, the iPhone is… frankly, just awful. I’ve had multiple comments from friends/family that I sound like I’m in a wind tunnel when I’m using the phone, either in speaker-mode or using their “headset.” There have been Mozilla conference calls where I’m trying to talk, and people just can’t hear me on my iPhone.
    Lilly said “Yah, welcome to AT&T’s service,” so I don’t know if it’s the iPhone itself, or AT&T’s network, but… as an Apple user, I just shouldn’t have to care. It’s a crappy experience, both for me and for people I’m calling, and they need to make it better. Yelling repeatedly “I’M CALLING FROM MY NEW iPHONE” is not a great word-of-mouth marketing strategy.
    I believe it was rhelmer who said “But, but, but… it’s the best phone Apple has ever made!!” And I hate to tell you Steve… but that’s not saying a lot.
  • Judging it as a PDA, it’s… Ok… but not what I would call great or perfect. There have been a number of occasions where I’ve been doing something else (entering notes, surfing the web, writing an email) where the phone just seems to lock up for five or so seconds… and then I hear one or two rings from the phone ringer… but the UI has locked up, so I can’t actually answer the phone… and then it goes to voicemail. This is unacceptable, but I don’t get the feeling that Apple thinks this kind of behavior in their products is unacceptable… which leads me to…
  • Part of my problem with the iPhone is that Apple has, in my opinion, a completely wrong engineering focus/aesthetic here. Which is to say that they have their normal artistic-aesthetics-above-anything-and-everything-else focus, which is incongruent with a device like a cellphone.
    When I have a device like a cellphone, I expect it to work. I could be out in the middle of the desert, and if my car breaks down, I’d better be able to call someone. The fact that I maybe-couldn’t with the iPhone, because a) AT&T’s service, frankly, is crappy, or b) the battery is dead/low, because I was using it as-an-iPod on my trip, or c) because of general wonkiness in the phone itself is… a lawsuit waiting to happen. And honestly, I hope that someone is on a 911 call with an iPhone, and it screws up, and Apple gets sued over it, because I don’t think they’re going to get the message any other way that cellphones are not iPods.
    You can’t just fit them with a battery that’s going to die in a year, and provide a service plan that involves the phone just “going away” for two weeks to get refitted with a battery. That’s ludicrous and unacceptable in a product like a cellphone… and I’m also expecting a class-action lawsuit in about a year to be filed over that, too.
  • There is a general theme here regarding AT&T’s general customer service: it’s this old school “Oh no, we don’t have to care; we’re the phone company…“-attitude that I actually have high hopes that the iPhone will start to put a dent in. In reality, maybe this is an iPro, because the iPhone, despite its shortcomings, really raises the bar for all the other cell phone manufacturers and providers who’ve been shoving just complete garbage down the market for years now… and repeating to us that this is what we want. (My favorite pet peeve, which the iPhone doesn’t seem to have, was my old LG cell phone’s limitation of 52 text messages, even though the phone itself had memory available for a bunch of applications, games, and ringtones, that… I never ever used. So the space was completely free… but do you think I could store 53 text messages?

Despite all the cons I just listed, I think I’m probably gonna keep it… with the understanding that I’m probably gonna get conned into buying a new one in 12-18 months.
Having my email and the (real) web on my phone really is just too good a thing to go back to a “normal” cell phone, and in talking with friends who have Treos, it’s not like Windows Mobile (or whatever they’re calling WinCE these days) is any better.
(A friend says a lot of the multitasking/locking up problems, he sees on his Treo when a call comes in too… “Real-time operating systems are too hard. Let’s go shopping…”)
And the more I think of it, the more I come to the conclusion that it’s not like any of the cell phone producers or cell network providers are… drop-dead great. I will admit that Verizon has a better network than AT&T, and I think Apple needs to focus on making the iPhone a decent, reliable phone in rev two.
I would take them fixing that over addressing any of the other cons I listed… and if they can do that in Rev 2, I will gladly, if sheepishly, buy another one.