iGot an iPhone, Initial Impressions and Reflections, Part 3
Before delving further into my initial impressions, I wanted to go back to the topic of iPhone’s display that I hadn’t yet covered – brightness and color. The screen is absolutely the brightest and richest color LCD I have ever seen on a mobile device. In fact my initial reaction upon powering up the device for the first time was that Apple obviously preconfigured these units with screen brightness to maximum strength by default. One of my first actions was to go to the settings screen and turn it down. Imagine my shock when I discovered that brightness level was in fact set at just 50%. Moving the slider to its maximum setting creates a retina popping brightness that could double for a Maglite. So bright in fact that it’s actually painful to look at. Needless to say I don’t recommend doing this. You’ll have no problem finding your keys in the dark with this thing.
To conserve even more battery power I downgraded screen brightness to 35%, which believe it or not is as bright as my Treo 650 set at 65%. I don’t know who Apple contracted to manufactures these LCDs but it outshines everything else out there, literally. The same is true for color saturation and balance as well. I synced my copy of Pirates of the Caribbean that I had purchased off of iTunes to the iPhone (I’ll get to video playback later) and the color and picture sharpness was absolutely eye popping, as one would expect from a device so focused on multimedia capabilities.
At the risk of repetition, the OS continues to wow and impress me the more I use. I’m still awestruck at the fluid nature of the UI. As I said before, after you’ve immersed yourself in the iPhone user interface, you wonder why no one thought of this sooner. Standard smartphone platforms feel so primitive in comparison. How anyone could even look at a Blackberry after using an iPhone is beyond me. Windows Mobile, maybe (remotely plausible). PalmOS is so pathetically out of this league, to compare it with iPhone/OSX is like holding a vintage 1989 Sony Walkman cassette player up against an iPod. It's a joke. Every Treo user should do themselves a favor by donating their smartphone to a third world country, where it belongs. OTPC = One Treo Per Child. Just glue a hand crank to the side of the Treo 680 and maybe there's hope form Palm overall.
Clearly Apple put a great deal of research into designing the right navigation method for user interaction and input. The interface is easier to use and navigate than PalmOS, multitasks more seamlessly and thoughtfully than Windows Mobile, and simplifies connectivity tasks better than Symbian. It’s as if Apple took the best qualities of each platform and rolled them together.
But even more shocking to me, running such complex software – where are the crashes? Shouldn’t my iPhone have locked up on me by now? Again I have to ask this painfully obvious question - how is that Apple, being a relative newcomer to this market, managed to create with such ease a mobile operating system so fast, efficient, stable, and reliable, when device makers with years of experience and pedigree have managed to create such flawed, slow, inefficient, and generally poorly designed software?
Were this a Windows Mobile device I’d be staring at a spinning hourglass as I tap on the screen and make selections, waiting for the OS to perform even basic tasks.
If iPhone were running PalmOS it would be crashing hourly or at the drop of a pin, with a putrefied DOS-era interface to boot.
If it were Symbian under the hood I’d be pecking through menus looking for some feature setting painfully buried away in an unintuitive interface.
And yet Apple did it. I don’t know how, and the dubious side of my brain keeps waiting for some ugly truth to reveal itself, beneath the elegant veneer. Like meeting a beautiful woman in a bar, who smiles back at you, revealing a mouthful of rotting teeth. So far I haven’t stumbled upon any dark cloaked secrets or locked closet doors. And that makes me somehow ever MORE skeptical. This can’t be right, can it? Something MUST be wrong somewhere.
Well there are a few areas that are less than perfect. Aside from the unpredictable predictive spelling, there are number minute features and functions that I would like to see added or changed significantly. One item that I was disappointed by is that background wallpaper is only utilized on sleep/wake. You can set any picture as your wallpaper, which is nice, but you’ll only see when iPhone is wakened. I’d like to see Apple enable background wallpaper on the home screen, with an opacity level adjustment allowing the user to darken and obscure photos so as not to interfere visibility of home screen icons. That’s a minor niggle, I know, but I care about the minutia.
Second, the iPhone interface doesn’t have permanent scrollbar framework. You scroll up or down simply by making sliding gestures with your fingers. That works beautifully! However, if scrollbars aren’t shown it’s not always apparent when a document continues on. I noticed this several times when reading an email or webpage. I would mistakenly assume that I had reached the end of document when in fact it continued on. If visible scrollbars were present I would have known to keep scrolling. Such as it is, you have to basically guess this by continuing to scroll until you encounter a rubber banding feedback effect where the document bounces back again, indicating that you’ve reached the end of the road. That works of course, but I still prefer having some form of indication, be it a scrollbar or a tiny arrow, indicating that I NEED to continue scrolling. But as with the wallpaper thing, this is a minor detail.
Now onto a potentially more worrisome issue, if it is an issue. I haven’t yet spent enough time testing the device to draw hard conclusions, but given my extensive experience with wireless devices, I am beginning to suspect that iPhone has some reception issues in areas of weak coverage. I say this because, having travelled with my iPhone in locations where AT&T coverage in my area is known to be poor, my iPhone has several times lost coverage COMPLETELY - as in NO SERVICE, where other smartphones I own maintain active connection, however weak. Again I stress that I need to spend much more time before placing a period at the end of that sentence, but as Poirot famously said, “My little grey cells are busy”.
Battery life is another feature that needs to be thoroughly tested before passing judgment, but based on what I’ve experienced so far I feel comfortable is saying that it is every bit as good as claimed. And once again that opens more questions that indict incumbent smartphone players who preached so loudly that in no way could such a thin device, with a large 3.5” display powered by a desktop class OS under the hood, offer even barely tolerable battery longevity. But it does. So I ask, once again, how is that such a product DOES offer these qualities while you numbskulls at Nokia and RIM can’t even produce a touchscreen device? Shouldn’t my Windows Mobile powered HTC S620 deliver TWICE the battery life of iPhone rather than a meager percentage more? Shouldn’t my Treo 650 with its brick-like form factor and puny postage stamp sized display go days on end without needing recharged? A foul oder of lies and excuses is blowing past my nose, and it ain’t coming from Cupertino. I’m beginning to think handset makers have sat on their hands for years using battery consumption and hardware requirements as an excuse for their lack of innovation. Knock knock fellas, this is your wake up call.
Ok, so that rant is out of the way, for now. I’ll brow beat the handset industry further another day.
For now I will turn my attention back towards Apple. How about brow beating iPhone for a change? Sound good? Alrighty then, how about this – iPhone is only compatible with the included earphones provided by Apple. You read that right. How is that possible you ask? Well the geniuses (and I don’t mean the Genius Bar employees at your local Apple Store) at Apple made one of the dumbest and easily avoidable design mistakes ever made. The iPhone’s headphone jack is countersunk within the brushed metal enclosure, made precisely the same diameter as the iPhone/iPod earphone connector. This means you can NOT ( I stess NOT) use the iPhone with your favorite pair of earphones, or in-car audio adapters.
I have a pair of Shure headphones that are now useless. Thank God I didn’t buy that pair of $60 Senheizer earphones I was about to purchase. If the iPhone has any serious design flaw, surely this is it. Apple could have a least thrown us a bone by including some kind of mini adapter enabling compatibility with standard headphones, but no. The reason why I am shouting so loudly from my soapbox is because this shortcoming is so blatantly unnecessary and avoidable. There is absolutely no reason why such a trivial yet damaging decision was made in the iPhone’s design. Flat out, this was a dumbest decision on Apple’s part.
I’m not finished yet. As wonderful as iPhone, and believe me it honestly is, I still disagree with Apple’s decision to lock out development. As it is, iPhone feels like an empty treasure chest. You have this absolutely amazing smartphone running the a mobile operating system that utterly awe inspring, that puts everything else to shame. And yet the more you use the iPhone the more you want it do, but can’t. I feel like we are all waiting for the other shoe to drop - that Apple has something up its sleeve they aren’t showing us yet, and that’s probably the case. But as it is, I feel like I’m being served a delicious appetizer as I wait impatiently for the main course to arrive. The question is when it will arrive.
Apple seems to have concentrated on getting iPhone’s core functionality and operating system right rather than worry about extending its capabilities. In that regard they passed with flying colors. iPhone is far more advanced, far more reliable, and far more innovative than any other device or software platform on the market today - not only surpassing the competition but making them look stupid in the process; a feat that Apple prides itself upon.
And yet the more I use my iPhone the more it leaves me wanting more. It’s like watching a new blockbuster film only halfway through. What happens next? Apple is leaving me in suspense! My instincts in guessing where device makers are heading are usually pretty good, and in this case I think Apple has a winning hand that it isn’t ready to show just yet, and I can’t say I blame them. Step one was generating hype, silencing the critics, winning analysts, and growing an iconic status before the product even shipped. They managed to pull that off marvelously. My hunch is that by the fourth quarter of this year we are going see some rather shocking and interesting surprises from Apple in the form of value added software and features.
And now comes one of those scandalous rumors that I love spreading, but I spoke with a “source” (you know it’s credible whenever the word source is used within quotations) that Apple does in fact plan opening the iPhone to third party developers. It’s not a matter of if, but when. The exact words my source used was…”you’ll be hearing some interesting “news” on that later this year”.
That winds up the third portion of my so called “initial impressions” pseudo review. I’ll be posting more later in the coming days.
So far my overall impressions are best condensed into one sound bite - iPhone is an absolutely amazing first generation product that surpasses even third and fourth generation smartphones, which are now best described as dumbphones by comparison.