Friday, November 09, 2007

My I

Okay, on this day of technological goodness, when the iPhone finally launches in the UK, I thought it appropriate to write my own view. Yes, I’ve had one a while. Yes, I know O2 and Apple hadn’t yet sold them in the UK. Yes, I’ve been bad.

So, to start, it is a thing of beauty. The one thing you have to give Apple is they know their potatoes. Its design really is spot on. Brushed steel back, chrome edging and a black lacquer front. A few discreet buttons, a few tiny punctures for speakers and mikes, and that’s it. Modern minimalist design at its best. I really, I mean really like the look.

But is its beauty only skin deep? My own view weighs mostly on the side of good, but its got a couple real crackers of faults. I have to say I love the total thumb navigation. Moving through the functions is intuitive and easy. You’re no more than three touches away from any other ability. Its all pretty faultless.

They have also put a huge amount of thought into how a phone PDA would be used. So, you move from one function to another, and your state in the previous function is preserved. Lets say you’ve got the iPod playing Madge, a call comes in, and Madge is held in her complete innocence to start up again when the call is over. If you’re surfing the internet and move mid way through typing a URL, its just where you left it when you come back.

Other cuteness is that the screen goes black when you hold it up to your ear to take a call. You might wrinkle your nose at that, but its very important on a phone which is navigated by touch on its screen. Other phones don’t and I’ve had problems in the past of the phone rubbing against my cheek causing odd navigation to go on while I’m obliviously on the call.

The applications provided out of the box are superb. The phone implementation of Safari for web surfing is by far the best mobile web browser I’ve used. Instead of “interpreting” the web page to simplify it, you get the whole web page. Yes, it comes up very small, but a jab at a certain aspect and it zooms up, or you can easily slide the screen around. Very very good. The phone also seamlessly switches between picking up a WiFi signal if your subscribed to one, or using GPRS on your phone carrier. Very slick.

The new iPod software is so smooth. The way the navigation changes when you shift the phone from horizontal to vertical is particularly swish, and I love flicking through the album covers to choose what to play. If you haven’t seen this, you must. It is a technology interface at its best. I love browsing my CDs to pick which pleasure I’ll listen to next. This evokes that wonderfully. The phone can get confused though and be slow to respond to the shift in factor, which is a nuisance.

You’ve got custom versions of Google Maps and Yahoo Weather. Google Maps is cute, but a bit of a gimmick, without satellite navigation its not much use (I hear you can enable that, but I haven’t). Yahoo Weather I use every day. Its set to my local town and has a neat function that lets you quickly flick through the weather in other locations. I find it quite comforting to know what weather my mother has in Vancouver. There is also a very simple clock function that lets you choose a number of time zones to display in analogue version. Again, I use that every day.

The phone function? Fine, very easy to use. It replicated with my outlook contacts and is probably the easiest contact tool I’ve used. Very easy to find someone, and a neat favourites function to keep your regular call list handy. There’s good sound quality from the handset and I’m told my voice comes through nice and clear. Really good long battery life.

But… and there are some big buts, its not perfect. From a corporate view they haven’t built a secure enough email function. I’ve had to ban their use in our company, its just not good enough. Nor is there any remote management functions to wipe the phone remotely if its stolen. Most of you won’t care about that, but it’s a disappointment, they could have done more, and the device would have slam dunked blackberry. I suppose they don’t need to control the corporate market though, so c’est la vie.

More important? It only has 8 gig memory for the iPod. I’m sure they ran out of space & power, but given the iPod functionality is one of the main reasons I desired an iPhone so I can loose an extra device from my pockets it’s a real loss. I can’t carry my whole music collection.

I also just can not understand why they designed the earphone jack the way they did. Its inset into the unit, and unless your plug exactly fits, it doesn’t. I suppose its an aesthetic thing, the pure white Apple jack fits perfectly in and looks good. I also suppose Apple gets a nice margin on follow on sales of earphones, but it’s a really crap bit of design in an otherwise excellent device. Two follow on quibbles. I don’t like the Apple ear buds, they don’t fit my ears. I’m continually having to fiddle or else loose sound quality. I LIKE my other earphones, and I can’t use them (I’m sure some cleaver clogs has invented an adapter I just haven’t found yet).

Second, and more important, the earphones supplied have a hands free mike attached. This sounds like a really good idea. When a call comes in, your music fades out and the call comes in seamlessly. However, the phone sound quality into the earphones is bizarrely poor. I don’t get it, its fine from the speaker in the handset, but just horrible into the earphones. I’ve taken to unplugging the earphones and using the handset for calls, which just defeats the purpose.

Like all apple devices the battery is built in. This is another thing I just don’t get. Everyone else in the world, and I mean everyone, does removable batteries. Apple doesn’t. Not only does it mean you will eventually have to send it back in to get them changed, but it means you can’t carry around a spare battery. For someone like me who travels a lot, that’s just a pain in the ass.

I also object to Apple’s tactic of only selling to one mobile provider, and then going out of their way to punish people who use it on other carriers. I completely understand the profit motive behind it, but they would have made just as much money, if not more, through a different sales route. It’s a corporate arrogance I find distasteful.

However, overall I really like it, a thing of beauty inside and out. The focus on usability is clear. It actually is a pleasure to use. There are just these few glaring faults, and the earphone jack one is just a real own goal. I will continue to use it though, some crosses can be borne…


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