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Grappling with an iPhone

July 23, 2009

Well it had to happen, didn’t it? My getting an iPhone I mean.

Here am I, a technology marketer; how could I continue to have any credibility with my peers (or even my neighbours frankly) if I didn’t get one?

I had been a loyal Vodafone subscriber (and still am for my personal phone), and have never really rated O2. Had Vodafone offered iPhone contracts then I’d probably have moved before. But when my new boss said, “You need to have a mobile device, would you like a Blackberry or an iPhone?” the choice was not hard. Even better ’cause they’re paying for it.

I’ve had my 3G S for a week now, and while I’m definitely impressed, it has some drawbacks compared to the HTC Artemis (P3300) that I have been using for nearly two years.

What’s good about the iPhone?

The interface. Lots has been said about this, but the clarity and resolution of the screen, the ability to view full web pages, and zoom in and out with the touch of a finger, scrolling by hand gesture. All excellent. Just the best interface on a mobile device that I’ve seen.

3G. My previous device wasn’t 3G. GPRS or Edge only. 3G is so much faster (when you can get coverage… see below).

The capacity. 32Gb is great. So much better than the 2Gb card which was the maximum I could put in the HTC. I can even get most of the music I want to carry around with me on there, but I don’t think I’ll be giving away my 80Gb iPod just yet – I’ve got over 60Gb of music on there.

The AppStore. Excellent. What a resource. No wonder Nokia are trying to copy it.

What’s not so good about the iPhone?

The documentation. The stuff in the box. In typical Apple fashion they assume that it’s all so intuitive that you can just work it out. Admittedly they include a little folded quickstart guide… but what it doesn’t tell you is where to put the bl**dy SIM card. The tray is so well hidden that I had to Google it to find it. And even then it took me a few minutes to find the hole into which to prod the little metal toothpick that came in the box.

Even the manual on the website isn’t great, and it doesn’t seem to have been completely updated for the latest OS or the 3GS.

Typing. Frustrating frankly. I can touch type – perhaps not to typing pool standards but at up to 56wpm using all 10 fingers. This hard-won skill is no use whatever with the iPhone. Admittedly nor was it any use with my HTC either, but at least Windows Mobile had cloned Palm’s Graffiti stylus writing language with which I became proficient with the first Pilot 5000, so I could do that at high speed.

Now I have to type on a virtual keyboard. My fingers are a bit large to yet guarantee that I know which key I’m hitting. Turning the device sideways makes the keyboard wider, so more accurate typing, but not all applications – particularly settings – work sideways.

3G. Yes it’s fast. When I can get it. Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147 on Twitter – follow him!) recently blogged about O2’s 3G coverage in the excellent dot.life blog on the BBC website. In there is a link to Ofcom’s 3G coverage maps of the UK. Make up your own mind, but to me it seems that O2 has the worst 3G coverage of the major mobile phone networks. That’s maybe why I can’t get it on the train on my way to work (in many places on my train line there’s no O2 phone network coverage at all), or at times in my office. Hopefully it’s made enough money out of its iPhone exclusive that it can upgrade the infrastructure.

Crippled bluetooth. Apple have crippled the bluetooth so that it works only with audio accessories. So I can’t connect it to my PC and do file transfer. Apparently I can buy an extra bundle/package on top of the already pricey O2 contract which allows me to use the iPhone as a 3G modem (known as “tethering” for some reason I haven’t worked out yet). Internet sharing, as it is called in Windows Mobile works out of the box.

Missing applications.

Satnav. My HTC came with a full TomTom Navigator as part of the package so a rather irritating lady called Jane would tell me when to turn and when I’d reached what she thought was my destination. The iPhone has GPS but only shows you where you are on a Google map (when it can download it, see 3G above). If you want a real satnav application you have to buy it from the AppStore, together with the maps to store on your device.

FM radio. My HTC has an FM radio (provided you plug in the headset). Technically Apple don’t support the iPod radio remote on the iPhone, but I am reliably informed that it does work. I’ve managed to get my Gear4 Blueye to work so I can listen to Radio4 on the way to work. Why don’t I listen to internet radio instead? See 3G above.

Mail signatures. I have set up multiple email accounts, but the iPhone software only allows one signature which it applies to every email account. Grrr…. anyone know of an iPhone app that sorts this out?

Conclusions

I could go into much more detail about Outlook/Exchange integration, syncing with a PC and the need to have iTunes installed with all its drawbacks. But I won’t.

I know I haven’t used all the facilities yet, but I suspect that I haven’t found all the limitations yet either.

Would I hand it back?

Would I return it and go back to my HTC Artemis? No, I don’t think so. But I do think that there are lots of opportunities for others (HTC, Nokia, Microsoft) to do some things better, and I’ll be looking for some major improvements in the future.

But Apple have sold 21.4 million units to the end of March 2009 (according to Wikipedia) so they must be doing something right. And the adoption of iPhones and iPods is driving up the sales of iMacs and MacBooks so Apple probably has as big a share of the personal computer market as it’s ever had since the introduction of the IBM PC.

And they’ve revolutionised mobile computing on the way.

Well done Apple.

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