iPhone First Impressions


Waiting for the iPhone in SLC at the Apple store
Waiting for the iPhone in SLC at the Apple store
(click to enlarge)

A little less than a year ago, I asked "what mobile device should I buy?" I received a lot of good advice on different phones, but in the end decided that nothing was quite right. I've had my iPhone for about 60 hours now. For the most part, I've been pretty amazed. Apple set a very high bar and they delivered. Count me as an unabashed fan.

When I was waiting in line on Friday, Paul Beebe from the SL Tribune was wandering around talking to people. I chatted with him for a while and ended up getting quoted:

High temperatures didn't dissuade, Phil Windley, a Brigham Young University computer science professor and former chief information officer for the state of Utah.

"I think it's kind of fun to do this," Windley said. "I could have waited until Monday, but it seemed like something fun to do."

Though Windley thinks the iPhone is the first handheld computer done completely right, he won't be surprised if it has a few bugs that need to be worked out.

"It will probably disappoint me in some way. But that will give [Apple] an opportunity to sell me another one later," he said.
From Salt Lake Tribune - The wait is over -- Apple's iPhone is here
Referenced Mon Jul 02 2007 10:06:47 GMT-0600 (MDT)

I didn't actually say I thought was done "completely right." I said that from what I'd seen, it behaved like you'd expect an integrated mobile device to behave--unlike everything that's come before. Of course, that's not a very easy quote to deal with.

So, what do I think after 60 hours? Here, in no particular order, are some of me thoughts so far:

The screen is big, bright, and beautiful. Even in bright sunlight it was usable.

The integration of various applications is a breath of fresh air.

Syncing works fine. The iTunes based syncing system works flawlessly and got all my data on the iPhone without any problems. Lots of choices on what gets synced and how. I like that the phone starts up iPhoto to transfer my pictures from the phone to my computer.

As reported you have to activate the phone. When you start it up is says "activate me" and won't do anything until that is done. Right now, I'm not sure that's such a big deal since I can't imagine too many people will pay $600 for what's essentially a fancy iPod with a Wi-Fi browser without service. But as they age, I think a lot of people might want that feature.

My activation went very smoothly. There've been reports of significant problems with activation by lots of people. I didn't have any--in a few minutes I was up and running. I couldn't transfer the number from my old phone since it's on a corporate account. I'm still trying to get that straightened out.

PDFs work--as long as they're small and you won't want them later. The PDF browser works find, but lacks controls for skipping pages, viewing thumbnails, and so on. So, if you get a PDF with a few pages as an attachment, it works great, but if you want to view a document with dozens of pages, navigating is a real pain. Also, there's no please to store it but as an attachment to an email, so getting to it later might not be very convenient.

Typing was surprisingly easy. Let's be clear: a screen-based keyboard with no tactile feedback won't ever be as good as a real keyboard. That said, I'll gladly make the tradeoff of a screen-based keyboard for a larger screen as long as it works reasonably well and the iPhone keyboard exceeded my expectations. I've been practicing a little, but I can type with two thumbs without too many errors. The auto correction works very well.

Wi-Fi hotspots work great. The iPhone finds Wi-Fi hotspots and attaches to one's you've signed into before without fanfare. When I'm home, the iPhone uses Wi-Fi instead of EDGE and when I step outside, it switches to EDGE seamlessly. Just want you'd want.

Speaking of EDGE, it is slow, but it's usable. For the most part, I didn't feel hampered by EDGE's speed. The one notable exception was trying to show off the YouTube feature when you're not in a hotspot.

Browsing works surprisingly given the relatively small screen. The iPhone zooms in on individual sections of the page by intelligently looking at the HTML structure. Pages that have narrow columns fare better, but dragging most pages around to get to what you want isn't a big deal. The one exception: fixed width formatted text that's too wide is very difficult to deal with on an iPhone.

My charge lasted all day and then some. The battery life seems to be more than good enough for the kind of use I made of the phone. I used the browser and SMS a lot. I talked more than usual.

I like the "vibrate switch." This is a small thing, but I love phones with a dedicated switch to put the phone in vibrate mode. Much nicer than dealing with 15 menus when you go into a meeting.

Bluetooth is a disappointment. Using the Bluetooth to connect to my headset worked fine. The lack of A2DP support for wireless stereo headphones is a real let down. What's more the phone shows no services. You can pair it with your Macbook, but there's nothing you can do with it. If Apple is going to make computers and phones, I expect some major CTI (computer-telephone integration) as a result. I've been a huge fan of BluePhoneElite and Salling Clicker since I got my first TiBook. I don't really want to take a step backward with the iPhone.

ATT is the weak link in this partnership. I've mentioned the activation problems that many had. Beyond that, going to the ATT account site over the weekend to set up auto pay and other features on my account was a jarring disconnect from the smooth, integrated experience of the iPhone.

Lots of iPod accessories don't work. Don't expect your iPod accessories to work with your new iPhone. My Shure EC2 earbuds don't fit in the recessed hole where the plug is. (Shure's promising an iPhone accessory that includes a mic in August.) My Monster FM modulator that I use to play my iPod in the car will charge the iPhone, but it won't play music.

No cut and paste. There's been a few times I wanted to cut and paste some text. As far as I can tell, there's no way to do that.

My biggest concern was something that kept nagging at me all weekend. Being a geek, I was constantly thinking of cool things to do with an iPhone that it doesn't do right now. Without developer access, will it be expandable enough? I'm on record saying that browser apps could be good enough. Maybe they will. I use GooToDo, for example as my ToDo list and it works fine on the iPhone (although some tweaking of sizes would make it much better). The biggest problem I've come across so far is using the bookmarks interface as the way I browse applications.

Until it's programmable, it's a very nice, very slick, extremely fun Web appliance. But, it's not a computer.

There's still lots to play with. I haven't opened Word or Excel docs on it yet. I want to play with Google Reader and Google Docs. I'll be sure to post anything that surprises me. The iPhone is not the perfect device. Still, it's "insanely cool."