So now that I’m a proud, card-carrying Mac dude, although a little embarrassed that it took me this long to see the light, it was inevitable that I was going to get the iPhone 3G. Last year when the first generation iPhone came out I was using a Blackberry Pearl, which I absolutely loved after overcoming some strange geek fears. I was skeptical of the iPhone for a few reasons and even swore that I’d never buy an iPhone. Goes to show you – never say “never.” And if you’re wondering, yes, my foot is deep in my mouth, thanks.
Here was my list at that time in order of importance:
- No enterprise email support. At CitySquares, we use a hosted MS Exchange service by a Canadian company called Sherweb (who’s fantastic by the way). If I can’t seamlessly sync my mobile device with my Exchange inbox, contacts, and calendar, than I’ve already lost total interest in the device.
- Battery. Early reports of the iPhone, even before it was officially released, were that its battery-life stunk. At the time I could get about 2 full days out of my Pearl, which was pretty good for all the abuse it took. Also, the fact that the iPhone’s battery is fixed (i.e., cannot replace/swap it when necessary) was just a philosophical thing for me. That level of proprietary hardware really annoys me. Sony does the same kind of thing with their hardware and that’s kept me from buying Sony products for the past 15 years or so.
- Keyboard: When I first saw the keyboard demo’d last year, I thought the iPhone would be a bust for sure. I just figured that no matter how intuitive the keyboard was people would still prefer buttons, something tactile. For example, when I’d drive around with my Pearl, I could actually type on it with one hand, using just my thumb, without looking at it, well, mostly (not recommended). But over time the critics were mostly silenced by the computer’s ability to interpret and correct your typing as well as the spacing of the virtual buttons.
- AT&T: I just had a religious epiphony when I switched from Verizon Wireless to T-Mobile. Was I supposed to just jump ship again? Where are my loyalties? Also, AT&T long had a bad reputation. Cingular stunk in many ways, then AT&T bought them. To me that seemed like buying rotten meat, not young and healthy cattle. I just wasn’t willing to switch providers again, especially AT&T. Ew!
- Bulk: The size of the Blackberry Pearl was just superior, and still is, naturally. It’s just tiny, but it packs quite a punch. The iPhone just seemed like a step backwards for me.
- Wow factor: OK, the iPhone had a cool touch screen but aside from that it just didn’t excite me. I really enjoy playing stupid little games on my pearl, like Blackjack, poker, tetris. I also liked some of the apps I could run like the twitter app, the Facebook app. It didn’t seem that I could do those things with the iPhone, unless I unlocked it.
Well, here I am, well over a year later, with an iPhone 3G. What got me excited about this generation of the iPhone? All of this, in order of importance:
- Enterprise email support: DONE! Totally solved in the new firmware. So whether you had the first gen iPhone or the new iPhone 3G, you could sync with your Exchange mailbox. It still needs a little work, like I can’t sync tasks, and I can’t contract folders when in my folder view, but those are very minor things. In fact, I get emails on my iPhone 3G quicker than I get them on my Microsoft Entourage email client. It works, and it syncs, wirelessly and seamlessly. Setting it up was no more than a couple minutes.
- Browser: It’s just so sexy. When I first really used the browser, in conjunction with the keyboard, at Gaslight next door on a colleagues iPhone, I was hooked. It worked so intuitively and so intelligently.
- 3G: What’s the use of a slick, sexy, and intuitive web browser if the network is slow? AT&T’s 3G network is fantastic. It’s actually 3.5G and it’s only going to get better and broader.
- Location Based Services: With the baked-in hybrid LBS technologies, using GPS, WiFi, or cellular triangulation, the iPhone is really the first device to be able to provide truly mobile applications, like its built-in Google Maps app, or the various location-aware social networking apps, or the geotagging photo features, and even local search – CitySquares bread and butter.
- App Store: This was really just the icing on the cake, especially once I saw the Monkey Ball demo on the WWDC 2008 broadcast. That was wild! So far I’ve downloaded (and removed) several apps. This was a pretty big reason for buying the iPhone 3G, availability of software to maximize my use and enjoyment.
On Saturday, July 12th, the day after the iPhone came out, Ali and I went to the Cambridgeside Galleria Apple store, stood in line and waited for about an hour. We walked out about an hour later with two 8GB iPhone 3Gs. I knew that if Ali wanted an iPhone something big, something revolutionary was taking place. I mean that too. Ali doesn’t like complication in her technology. She’s the typical user – neither a neophyte nor a geek. Just uses technology as it’s mean to be used – as tools to getting things done better and more efficiently. If her previous cell phone could place and receive phone calls from just about anywhere, than that’s just good enough. Ironically, though, what really got her excited about the iPhone was Monkey Ball. It was a silly game. That opened her mind up to consider it. Then once she realized she could use her gmail account on it, work email, browse the web, feed her zombie on Facebook, she suddenly leapfrogged the smartphone learning curve that I had to go through and just became an iPhone fanatic and expert!
When we brought the iPhone home, I was excited but hesitant. I was hesitant about the remaining concerns: battery, AT&T, and the keyboard. I actually kept my Blackberry Pearl activated for a few days before making the switch just to be on the safe side. My first couple of days with the device weren’t as amazing as I’d expected. It took me a little time to figure things out, customize things – I like customization. I want my own sounds, I want my own pictures, I want to fine-tune my devices. And after a few hours, I was doing just that.
30 days later…
Keyboard – Grade: A.: In those first few days I was careful not to become so enchanted with some of the iPhone’s bells and whistles that with the keyboard I just settled for less. It definitely took me a couple days to get used to it. I don’t want to be a one-finger smartphone typist – I want to type with my thumbs, and fast. Now, one month later, I’m nearly as fast with the iPhone keyboard as I ever was with the Pearl. Furthermore, the intelligence of the iPhone computer, and its ability to guess what I’m spelling and correct frequent typos is unparalleled in any device I’ve ever used. It’s far superior to the RIM’s proprietary SureType (which I grew more annoyed with over time). In some ways the keyboard is actually better than other kinds, just because its a software keyboard and the available keys are much more easily accessible and there are more of them.
Battery – Grade: B.: The battery isn’t great. And in those first few days I was actually really pissed off with the poor battery performance. One day I left the office at about 2pm for a string of meetings and networking events. When I left the office my battery was about 80%. When I got home that evening around 9:30 it was completely dead. I was really frustrated. How was I supposed to be truly mobile if I had to babysit this thing? Then I started researching how to optimize it. I figured out the following:
- Turn off WiFi scanning. I only use the iPhone’s WiFi at work and at home so why have it scan everywhere I am? Sometimes I’d be driving down the street and I’d look at my iPhone screen and it’d ask me if I want to connect to a network, and it’d list out a bunch of WiFi networks within range. What an annoyance but more importantly, what a drain on the battery! Turning that off boosted performance quite a bit.
- Lower the screen’s brightness. Out of the box the screen is quite bright, too bright IMHO, especially at night. So I took the brightness down quite a bit. Most devices like mobile phones and laptops can get a lot more juice from the battery if you just lower the brightness. It saves quite a bit of power. I believe the screen is the most battery intensive part of a device actually, but I could be wrong.
- Limit Email Pull/Push: I don’t need my gmail account checked every 15 minutes. In fact, I don’t need it checked unless I tell it to check. So turning that off helps too. Same with my MobileMe email, which I just don’t use.
- Turn off Location Services: You can turn it on from within an app, like Google Maps. Then turn it off later. If you don’t need it, turn it off. I don’t need it constantly, not at all, only on-demand.
- Turn off Bluetooth: If you don’t need it, turn it off. I use it in my car, but if I know I’m not going to be in my car for a couple days, then I just turn it off.
There are other things you can do to optimize the battery too, like turning off 3G if you don’t need it, among other things. But the above steps are the ones I took, and now I can get more than a full day out of the battery, which is all I need anyway. I just charge it overnight, like I did any phone prior to having the iPhone. I also have a car charger too, which helps when on the road for a while.
AT&T – Grade: C. Verizon and T-Mobile are much better, no question about it, at least here in the northeast. At my house in Somerville where I’d typically have 4-5 bars on either of those providers, I only get 2-3 bars. If the weather is bad, like it was this weekend, I find myself with one bar, at times no bars, even on my porch. Then I experience dropped calls. Dropped calls has definitely been a theme with my new iPhone in the past month. In fact, one of my colleagues decided to opt out of her iPhone 3G and go back to her first gen iPhone because when she went home to the north shore she had no service at all! So I’m definitely disappointed. It’s not like that everywhere. I’ve driven quite a bit around New England in the past month and have largely been fine with the cellular service and mostly happy with the 3G service. When I’m not in 3G coverage, not terribly often, I’m on EDGE which is just fine for email and light browsing. So as it pertains AT&T’s cell network, I’m disappointed but I’m trying to be optimistic and I’m hopeful that it improves.
Bulk – Grade: B. I’m happy with the size of the iPhone 3G. I think the new curved backside helps too, as opposed to the more flat back in the first gen. I don’t find it a nuisance at all, like I did with all my prior smartphones, with the exception of the Pearl. I used to put my Pearl in the ashtray in my car when driving. It fit nicely in there and was easily accessible. My iPhone, however, does not. So I end up putting it in my cup holder, so it rattles around a bit more. Or I put it in a slot in the door handle, which I don’t like doing. I got myself a cigarette holder cradle for the iPhone but it’s far too tight and I can barely get it in/out of the cradle. Aside from those complaints, the size is not really an issue, especially because this device just packs such a punch. If it was just a regular, middle of the road smartphone, that’d be a different story.
Wow Factor – Grade: A. It’s simple really – I love my iPhone! I’m totally blown away by the stuff you can do with it. This device is not a phone, it’s not a smartphone either, it’s a mobile computer. OK OK, I can’t create and save MS Word or Excel documents, but I wouldn’t do that on a device like this anyway. In fact I don’t know anyone that edits or creates documents on their smartphone. For those that do, well, my hat’s off to you. I can still review a document on the iPhone, no problem. I can even make changes to it and send it back, I just can’t save it to a local file system.
Aside from that, I’ve fallen in love with the iPod and the storage capacity that I still haven’t used up with all my media. I’ve got about 4 GB of tunes, a handful of CitySquares and family movies, and a good portion of my Aperture photo library on this baby! That’s a lot of media and I’m still not using 8 GB. In fact, I don’t think I’m using half of it.
The user interface is stupid. No really, it’s stupid. It’s elementary. It’s so intuitive that if you can’t figure it out, than something is wrong with you. It’s that easy. It just makes sense. Flicking your finger across an app scrolls it left, right, up, down. Double tapping fits something to your screen, in most apps. Pinching your fingers together zooms in, and the opposite zooms out.
Customizing the iPhone 3G leaves little to be desired, although I still wish I could change some of the native sounds, like for new emails. I found a cool piece of software that allows me to create my own ringtones outside of iTunes, which is great. It’s called iToner (Mac only). I mean, screw you Apple if you think I’m going to pay a buck everytime I want to make a ringtone out of a song I purchased! Just, screw you!
Appstore – Grade A+. The Appstore is just terrific, especially if you’re not a dickhead who spends $1000 on an app that does nothing. I’ve spent less than $40 on apps and that alone is a good thing. I remember with my Handspring device, or any of the smartphones I’ve had in the past, I could easily spend $40 on a piece of software that helped me track my travel expenses. The Appstore has seemingly commoditized mobile software. Most apps are free, some you pay for. Here are the apps I’ve installed and my rating and review of them:
- NetNewsWire – Free RSS reader that syncs with your subscription. What that means is this: I have the desktop version of NetNewsWire that syncs with my NNW account and hence my iPhone app. This way the two are always in sync, which is very nice. The UI is OK, could use some work, but it’s an iPhone app and I’m really not complaining – it’s better than any other mobile RSS reader I’ve seen on any other device, by a mile. Grade: A
- NYTimes – Call me old fashioned but I still read the paper, specifically on Sunday mornings, the New York Times. I love it. I also love the NYT website. It’s my homepage. The app is OK, the UI could definitely use some work, and it doesn’t seem too stable. It crashes sometimes when I’m just scrolling through an article – the most basic function of the app. That’s really annoying. Also, I don’t understand why I don’t have an “Email this article” button or anything similar. There’s nothing – no calls to action. I hope this improves. Grade: D
- Bloomberg – It does what it’s supposed to – shows me domestic and international stock exchange updates, and shows me my own portfolio updates, as well as finance news. It crashes once in a while, but it’s slick and I use it often. Grade: B
- Twinkle – I just started using Twinkle after my friend Ryan Sarver at Skyhook Wireless showed it to me. I quickly moved from Twitterific, which I liked, to Twinkle. It’s just got a better UI and the location stuff might come in handy. Grade: A
- WordPress – Pretty lame. I’m able to review posts on this blog as well as the CitySquares blog (both use WordPress.com), but it shows my content in HTML, which stinks. I can’t review drafts that are on the server either, so that also stinks. But I can create local drafts and publish them. It needs a lot of work and I’m optimistic cuz WordPress rocks. Grade: C
- Mobile Fotos (previously Mobile Flickr) – It’s a good solid app that runs well. Yet to crash on me. I can upload/download to/from my Flickr account. It’s got some nice little bells and whistles and it keeps improving. I dig it but I’m hearing good buzz about Exposure and I may give that a try. Grade: A
- Facebook – Frankly it’s pretty lame. It’s exactly like the Blackberry version – just allows me to see status updates, view messages, profiles, and that’s mostly it. I can’t see any of my Facebook apps or do much more than communicate with friends. I’m already growing tired of Facebook, and it’s becoming nothing more than a way for me to keep in touch with long distance friends. They need to release a better iPhone app soon, especially if they’re worth that $15 billion valuation. Grade: F
- Pandora – This rocks. My friend Randy Parker tuned me into Pandora and I’m hooked! Great app! Listen to Internet radio from where ever you are. Create your own stations based on your favorite music and just listen. I love plugging my iPhone into my car stereo and driving around town listening to Internet radio – very cool! It does drain that battery though, but that’s what the car charger is for. Grade: B
- Salesforce – I have a big problem with this app – I’m paying a monthly fee for the salesforce training experts information in this app and I can’t view the company dashboard! All I can see is my own account. I don’t have much of an active Salesforce account but I’m constantly checking in on the company dashboard. I should have access to that through the iPhone app. Grade: D
- Google – It’s installed but I’ve yet to use it. I suppose I should just remove it. I just end up going to Google.com directly in Safari. Grade: N/A
- BofA – Bank of America app. It’s OK. All it really lets me do is check balances, make transfers and find locations. Once you’re signed in to the BofA app all it really does is take you to its mobile banking website, which is pretty basic. I suppose that’s a very good thing though, for security, so I appreciate that. I will say that the ‘find locations’ came in really handy a couple weeks ago with a friend. He needed a BofA banking center and I was able to quickly find one with the BofA iPhone app and then map ourselves to it with the iPhone Google Maps app. That was a nice surprise! Just handy stuff that you don’t realize how useful it is until you actually need it and use it. Grade: A
- Monkey Ball – I’ve played it like twice. I suck. I thought I’d like it better but when you suck you suck! I like to show it to people who’ve never seen it though. Grade: A
- HoldEm – Just a great app if you like poker. I wish I could play other poker games, but HoldEm seems to be such a big deal this decade that ya can’t get around it. The graphics are absolutely stunning! If you like poker as much as me, you’ll love this iPhone app! Grade: A
- BrainChallenge – I think this is my favorite iPhone app. It’s a nice little program that’s packs quite a punch. It’s got all sorts of brain tests you can take the help you stay sharp. I don’t know if it’s doing that for me, but it’s fun to take the daily brain tests in the morning and see how I progress in certain areas. I’m not very strong in logic and math, but I’m very strong in memory, vision and focus. So I can train in my weaker areas and hone my others. It’s actually a very intelligent little app and I use it daily. Grade: A
- MLB At Bat – Handy, but not overly impressive. I can see realtime boxscores and so forth. It updates at any frequency I specify (1 minute) automatically. I can even see video replays. But that’s about it. I expected more for $10. Grade: C
- Units – Helps me convert liters to pints, or miles to kilometers, dollars to yen, etc. But I don’t do that often. I look forward to needing it, cuz it looks promising. Grade: N/A
- Morocco – I grew up playing this game in school and I loved it. I’m on the expert level and I’m close to beating the computer. It’s a fun game, great for killing time at a doctors office or just for relaxing. Grade: A
- FiatLux – Silly, just a blank white screen (or whatever color you choose) in the event you need a light. This actually came in really handy a couple weeks ago in the dark while trying to unlock a bike. Grade: A?
- PhoneSaber – Silly, fun, dorky, fun, nerdy, fun, dweeby, fun, pointless, fun. Grade: A
- eBay – I don’t use eBay often, but when I do I’m all-in. I’ve yet to use the app. Grade: N/A
- iBeer – Silly, fun, sad, fun, signs of a problem, fun, obnoxious, fun, pointless, fun. Grade: A
- Bubblewrap – a screen of bubblewrap, pop them. Stupid. Removed it.
- Loopt – I want to use it, I really do, but no one does and it’s buggy and cumbersome. Gave up, removed it.
- More Cowbell – A cowbell you tap on. If it wasn’t for the guys voice I’d still have it installed. If it was Will Ferrel especially. Removed.
Sure, I’ve had some issues with the iPhone too, but they’re small, nothing that’s ever caused me to curse loudly or feel my blood pressure rise. Mainly that includes the occasional app crash. I’ll be in Bloomberg looking at my stock prices, or in Facebook looking at status updates, or in MLB looking at scores, and bang – it just crashes. But starting up the app again and going through the same process doesn’t result in a crash, so it’s sporadic. I tolerate it because, well, it’s tolerable.
I’m impressed with the push services built into the iPhone too. I can see when I get Facebook messages even though I’m not in the App. I can get emails and SMS when I’m on the phone. But I can’t swap from one app to another without killing one to get there. That’s a little annoying, but it helps a lot with the performance of the device. On a typical Windows Mobile smartphone you could have 10 programs open, and when you do that the device just slows to a halt. The iPhone doesn’t allow you to get there. Still, though, I wish I had some flexibility with being able to run more than one app at the same time.
Well, this was a very long post but I needed to get all that up here! I feel much better now!
Do you know of any other iPhone apps I should look at? Am I missing anything?
Do you have an iPhone? What do you think?
What about AT&T?