iPhone 3G Impressions

After a bit over a week spent unlearning eight years of bad phone habits – like having to press buttons to do things – I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on what the iPhone 3G is all about. It’s far from perfect and thankfully all of my issues can be fixed in firmware updates, but overall it’s a fantastic device and I love it. Here are my observations and suggestions.

First, a few criticisms and suggestions for the thousands of daily visits I get from Apple’s iPhone team:

Expand the Bluetooth functions. I understand the need to lock down certain aspects of the hardware, but why can’t I send files to and from it over Bluetooth to use the phone as a portable drive? Almost every phone on the market allows that and they have nowhere near 16GB or storage. Also: I can understand the battery concerns of syncing iTunes, but being able to sync my contacts and calendars wirelessly would be nice.

Let me use my own ringtones. Kindly allowing me to pay extra to turn one of a selection of songs on iTunes into a tone is frankly rubbish. Yes, it’s cheaper than the £3 extortion that some official services provide, but very rarely will I have a song as a ringtone that’s ever likely to be on iTunes, and other phones let me stick any old MP3 on there. And what about when the tone I want isn’t actually music, like the codec sound from MGS? Don’t assume that I’m pirating a song for the purposes of a ringtone. Thankfully there’s iToner to avoid this problem, but I shouldn’t need a third-party app to give me such basic functionality.

Interface standardisation? Apple is usually good about creating interface guidelines and it’s a major reason why OS X is so nice to use, but why aren’t the built-in apps on my iPhone uniform? Why is the button to compose a new email in the bottom-right, but the one to compose a new text message is in the top-right? Why can I turn the phone and type on a landscape keyboard for when I occasionally need to enter text on a web page while email has no support for landscape orientation? Just be consistent.

Give me options for how my contacts work. I like the Address Book integration, and the ability to pick someone’s name and have all their contact information – home phone, work phone, mobile, email addresses, etc – available with one tap. However, why doesn’t searching for ‘dad’ bring up my dad’s details when his nickname field is filled in as ‘Dad’? And why does a call from home not just say ‘Home’ – it’s the home number on my personal Address Book entry, after all – rather than ‘Home to Olly Dean and three others’? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

Let me charge from my USB hub. I have a hub plugged into the back of my 360, which powers several devices like my HDMI switch. You’d think, given that the iPhone is generally charged over USB, that I could charge it from that without having to leave my laptop on or go hunting for hen’s teeth a free power socket, but no. I’m not entirely sure why, either. Even if it’s slower than sucking the full power from an active computer, at least let me do it. I don’t care if it takes all night rather than an hour, because I’m not using it overnight.

And now, with that out the way, let the gushing begin…

I don’t want no stinkin’ buttons. It would kind of be a deal-breaker if I didn’t like the touch screen, I suppose, but it’s a fantastic interface for a phone. It’s intuitive, it’s quick, and it means that your phone isn’t saddled with extra buttons that you rarely use. Even the keyboard is bad, because it has excellent error correction that means you can type quickly without having to be too careful (‘goude’ is corrected to ‘house’, for example, because the wrong characters are next to the correct ones) and apostrophes are added in automatically (‘cant’ becomes ‘can’t’). Put this on all phones and we’ve finally defeated – or at least removed the excuse for – the evil that is text speak.

Apps are awesome. The quality might range dramatically, but I can’t wait to see what we get in a few months and years. My iPhone can upload images directly to Facebook, imitate a motion-sensitive Lightsaber, read my RSS feeds (synced over the Internet with my computer, no less), control iTunes, grab IGN reviews and video reviews in iPhone-formatted form, stream Internet radio, play Colossal Cave Adventure, and use GPS to bring up photos on Flickr that were taken near to my current location. And all of those are first-gen, day one apps.

Maybe I was wrong about convergence. I’ve always been a stickler for my phone being a phone, my MP3 player being an MP3 player, etc. My old Samsung phone was perfectly capable of playing MP3s, but I still carried my iPod because I’d prefer two masters to one jack. By eliminating the line between phone and iPod, this is one of the rare occasions where I’m happy to have the one device, because I don’t lose iTunes, which I couldn’t live without. Although the crap camera hasn’t convinced me not to take a ‘proper’ camera when I want to take more than quick snaps.

The battery isn’t an issue for me. Making and receiving a few calls a day, sending the occasional text, listening to podcasts on my way to and from work, web browsing here and there, and having it check my emails every 15 minutes, all with 3G on, and I can get two days use without hitting the 20% battery warning. I can see heavy users having to charge it daily, but if you’re anything like me you plug your iPod into your computer every day to sync your music and podcasts anyway, and you’ll certainly want to do that if you’re fiddling with calendars all the time. You have to expect to sacrifice battery life for carrying what is essentially a baby computer – with great power comes great battery consumption.

I’d feel naked without it. People have been saying this about their Blackberries and PDAs for years, but I see what they mean now. All my electronic communication with the exception of IM – although that could change – is with me everywhere, as is my music, my calendars, and all my contact information. Oh, and a little thing called the Internet. No more eyeing up a DVD in a shop while that little voice in my head is telling me how much cheaper it would be on Play.com or how much cheaper Amazon would have that book, because I can check. And sod paying money for a newspaper when I can read all of them online, free. Ubiquitous Internet access is the future.

Those are my initial thoughts, then. Most of the complaints are niggling at worst and can all be fixed in future firmware updates, and otherwise it really is a fantastic little device. I just need O2 to expand its 3G coverage around here (great in town; not so great at home) and I’ll be completely happy with it.

4 thoughts on “iPhone 3G Impressions”

  1. Does iTunes even allow us to download ringtones yet in the UK? Every time I’ve tried it’s given me an error message.

    You don’t need a third party app though. In iTunes, pick the song you want (provided it’s not protected), right click, adjust the song length so it’s 30 seconds or under, then right click it again and ‘Convert selection to AAC’. Save new clip to desktop for ease, remove it from iTunes, then just rename the file extension from .m4a to .m4r and reimport it. It should appear as a ringtone. This works fine for mine.

    Unless you’re on a Mac. Then I can’t help you.

  2. I am on a Mac, and I assume the same thing would work, but I just like that app for ease of use. Drop in any audio file (WAV, MP3, AAC, etc) and it sticks it straight onto the phone.

    As for whether or not ringtones are working, I know that in the US it only works with certain songs – the ones that the record labels allow, essentially. But in any case, I’m not inclined to spend 99p or whatever to buy a song that I already own to use it in another medium. The way it works, if I want to go through the official channels and already own a CD, I have to buy the song again from iTunes and then pay a third time for the ringtone. It’s cheaper than some of the premium rate or network operator’s service, but a cheap con is still a con.

  3. “With great power comes great battery consumption”

    Ha Ha Ha! Im purchasing my 16gb iphone on 5th september. (the day my current contract ends) and i cant wait! You have wrote an exccellent summary here. Helps alot!

    Any idea regarding storage size for text messages? Is it limitless because of the 16gb or are you limited to say 100?

  4. One of the firmware updates set the limit at 75,000 messages. Capacity shouldn’t be an issue in that respect.

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