My personal iPhone-experience...

Sorry, no technical post today. I have a few project which just require the final touches, but unfortunately, I just wasn’t in the mood to do them. And you don’t want to read something half-finished, right?

I’ve recently got hold of an iPhone. No, I didn’t pay for it, and no, I can’t keep it forever. The iPhone might be one of the devices in ‘07 which raised the most expectations (to either side). No, I’m not using the h-word here - you’re starting the hype in the very moment when you say “hype” (oops).

The iPhone had some tough competitors. I might have to say that I hate mobile phones. What I hate more than mobile phones are ringtones. Whenever I have a mobile phone with me (and that’s really not often), I keep it in silent-mode, because I’m always afraid of that it could start ringing. Not that anybody would call me… For me, the iPhone does compete against the following bundle of devices:

  • a plain-old boring mobile (POBM), aka. Nokia 6310i,
  • a Danger Hiptop (aka. Sidekick) II,
  • an Nokia N800 Internet Tablet.
Now the iPhone promises to replace all of these 3 devices. Let’s see how it does compete:

  1. Very good things.

There are a couple of things on the iPhone which let me say “wow”. The first one is the hardware ringtone switch. You can instantly see, and feel, if the ringtone is on or off, without going to any menu. Yes, even the POBM showed it, but I never trusted a software switch much - especially because the POBM sometimes crashed and rebooted into a state where the ringtone was set to on again. The next thing is the secure and easy keylock, aka. “power switch”.

This is a very special thing for me - after sending once 100+ SMS to a single person (sorry, again), because the POBM keylock just “disappeared” (either because it rebooted, or because I’ve received a message, which turns of the keylock for some seconds on that device, and because of the stupidity of the Nokia engineers (no sorry, here) to not include the “enter device code after key unlock” on that device, whereas much cheaper Nokia-phones have that feature), and it seems my Jacket kept pressing the “menu” button, which goes trough the “menu”, “messages”, “send message”, “options”, “send” (so the previous SMS text is used), “ok” (selecting the first phonebook entry), I just want a really secure keylock. It was the main reason why I kept my POBM switched off whenever I didn’t actively used it. Back to the iPhone: I don’t think I will ever accidentially release that keylock. Plus the touchscreen seems to be really just operated by, erm, water(?), not by any other materials. And I like how I can activate the keylock with a single, distinct button.

  1. Good things

What I also like is the general usability. Most of it, at least. I don’t get why some settings are just reachable using the “settings”, whereas other are integrated right into the application itself. I like the SMS application, though this scheme only works when SMS are free (and unfortunately, they aren’t). I like how contacts are created, I like the keyboard which appears to be the first real alternative to a hardware keyboard i’ve ever saw (but still not as good as one). I like the iPod-application. I like Safari. Safari competes against the N800 when I have WLAN coverage, and that seems to be an equal game. Both browsers have rough edges, and where the N800 can win points with its high screen resolution (800x480), the iPhone wins because of the scaling. What I don’t like is the slow rendering if you pan outside of a pre-rendered bitmap. After all, it’s not magic (realtime HTML rendering), it just feels like that (realtime sprite zooming, hello duke nukem) - but not enough. I couldn’t say that browsing is more fun on one device than on the other. The N800 supports flash, but that’s not necessarily an advantage, given the high amounts of Ads these days. Thanks to the ancient technology used in the iPhone (GPRS/EDGE), browsing isn’t much fun without WLAN. It works ok if you want to look for something special, that’s right. The hiptop was able to do the same. The hiptop had a much lower resolution screen, and couldn’t display some of the fancier html pages, but for most stuff I’ve used it was ok. I’d say, the iPhone wins a bit here, but definitely gets some negative points for the (lack of) speed. The hiptop scaled images serverside, so it’s usually a bit faster, though really not much.

A very important thing for me are emails. That was my main reason to use the hiptop. The email client on the hiptop is very nice - it has the exact featureset I’ve been using (multiple accounts, ability to show email headers, disability to show html mails in their glory details). Though the unique hiptop database structure (apps basically operate on databases, which get synced when you have service), the hiptop was designed to run without service. That’s different for the iPhone - when you don’t have service, you sometimes get error messages. Emails poll every 15 minutes, but what’s if you only had service for a minute somewhere between? The hiptop got messages in realtime, often even before my desktop IMAP client displayed them. The iPhone? Polls all 15 minutes, max.

Nevertheless, I consider the email clients as a useful replacement for the hiptop. I liked the hiptop’s email client much more, though, the iPhone just gets an “okay” from me. It’s better than nothing. And I still miss the hardware keyboard.

  1. Not so good things

One the first day of usage, I’ve experienced about 10 crashes in different situations, mostly in Safari and iPod. Usually, it just get to the springboard again. iTunes later wanted to sync those reports with Apple. I’ve never ever experienced a single crash with the hiptop. Sometimes it slowed down, but it always recovered from it. But I don’t care much for those crashes. They are fixable and definitely bugs. Nothing to worry much about (unless you are working in that specific team at apple ;).

I don’t like the youtube application. It’s just not fun, because it loads way too long (and why the hell is it loading only at the very moment when I want to use it, and not pre-loading it in the background?) It’s one of these applications I bet you’re using a single time, and never again. Or not even that single time. But I agree that other people are screaming for it, so, well, I’ll just ignore that feature. Google Maps is nice, but a real navigation solution would have been nicer (read: useful), other devices (including the N800) offer this, even if it is non-free. Still, a nice-to-have feature, with a few possibly improvements.

The multitouch is useless. Yes, you couldn’t zoom, but that’s really all. The N800 had two hardware buttons for zooming, and that was fine for me. The camera picture quality is as low as on every other mobile phone. No videos? Not that I’d care much, but other phones can do that.

The accelerometers are nice. But then again, I usually have the iPhone aligned planar to the earth surface, and there, the auto rotation feature doesn’t work. A gyro might have fixed it with some fuzzy logic. I’m used to just rotate the iPhone in those case quickly by 90° for a moment, so the accelerometers can pickup the orientation. What I dislike is that it’s not remembered across application. If you switch between apps, they always reset to the default state, so you have to do the rotation trick again.

  1. The really bad things

The POBM didn’t offer free software updates. That was ok, if there wouldn’t be the bug that the device didn’t offer bluetooth authorization (it did offer that only for n00bs using the default rfcomm port). The hiptop was a closed device, requiring some hacking (or a developer key) to be open for 3rd party applications. The N800 really misses some killer applications. But neither of those devices described itself as being the best of the best. The iPhone did. (Ok, Steve did.) And for this, I just don’t expect the same “mistakes” Microsoft would have only made a years ago: Closing such a platform for ridiculous reasons (guys, your phones are exploitable even without 3rd party software. Hell, they are even more secure once jailbroken, at least in 1.1.1). When Microsoft is closing their Xbox, I can at least partially understand that in the light of piracy. This is definitely not an issue here. Apple used to believe in open standards - but stopped that at the very moment when there was no competition. Was the only reason to believe in open standards to stand a chance against Microsoft, and not because they really believed in it? OK, jailbreaking fixes all these issues in an impressive way - there are really cools apps to install.

Why doesn’t it support cut&paste? Why doesn’t it support a useful bluetooth profile? (even my POBM and the newer hiptops can do OBEX) Where is the RSS-Reader? Where is the instant messaging client? (Hiptop had a really cool one, which even worked when you got no service. It transparently queued them up, so you could continue typing.) Why is Apple completely ignoring that the rest of the world had developed in the last 5 years, and has a very decent UMTS (or even HSDPA) coverage? Apple is always good at trying to push unlocalized products (no, I don’t speak about language) into foreign markets: Back when they introduced the iTMS in Europe, they had completly forgotten that europeans usually don’t use credit-, but debit-cards. It only got interesting after they added localized options to pay. Same thing now with the lack of UMTS. And no, I don’t believe the power thing for a second.

Add a bigger battery pack, if that’s really a problem. But there are dozens of other phones with feature both UMTS and a decent standby time.

In the end the way those devices are sold is the worst of it. Apple, are you selling phones? If yes, let me buy an iPhone, without any contract, for use with my favourite provider. That’s how it works for the other vendors. Are they subsidized? Then why are they $400, and where are the non-subsidized ones? Are you selling contracts? If yes, why does my phone say “T-mobile” and not “Apple”? And since when do providers build phones? If not, why are those “iPhone contracts” I can subscribe to so much more expensive than a usual one? (yes, they are.) In germany, you can get a voice+data flatrate for about 50 Euro/month. If you take the iPhone 50 Euro/month plan, nothing is flat, NOT EVEN DATA (it slows down after 200MB to an even more rediculous speed). And no, that definitely isn’t T-mobile’s (or AT&T’s, or whoever) fault, if they are forced to pay Apple.

The hiptop had a similar model, just that it had cost me 20 Euro/month, with a data flatrate, AND they had their backend, so they at least had a technical reason why you were bound to one provider. The iPhone doesn’t have any reason (no, VV isn’t one.). The only reason, that’s how I see it, is greed.