One month with the iPhone

The Internet is full of Apple iPhone reviews but at least three people have asked me what I think of mine so I thought I’d write a post about my experiences over the last few weeks.

Firstly (and mostly for the benefit of those who compare the iPhone to a Windows Mobile device) – the Apple iPhone is not a business phone. Period. It’s very definitely a consumer device – if only because O2, who have an exclusive agreement with Apple for iPhone service provision in the UK, specifically state in their iPhone terms and conditions that:

All [mobile data and Wi-Fi] usage must be for your private, personal and non-commercial purposes.

[O2 iPhone Terms and Conditions]

So what about the feature set? Well, despite rumours to the contrary before the European release of the iPhone, there is no 3G model (yet – although O2’s CEO has indicated that there will be a 3G model in the second half of next year). There’s also no GPS chipset. No removable/user-replaceable battery. And at £269, unsubsidised, on an 18-month contract, it’s not cheap either (here in the UK we are not used to paying high prices for handsets as they are generally subsidised by the airtime agreement – possibly why the iPhone hasn’t sold too well in the UK), especially when you consider that none of the available tariffs are particularly generous (e.g. unused inclusive voice calls do not roll over from one month to the next.

But none of that matters because, unlike every other mobile handset that I’ve ever owned, I enjoy using my iPhone. Not very long ago, I sold my HP iPAQ PDA because I didn’t use it. I never really got on with a Symbian smartphone and, whilst a Windows Mobile device would be perfect for work, the iPhone seems to have struck the right balance for me in my personal life. Apple products are often praised as being intuitive and the iPhone is no exception – maybe it’s down to the touch-screen interface (and “pinching” works really well) but something about the iPhone just feels right. Even so, I still have a shopping list of features that I’d like to see (and there’s no reason why some of these shouldn’t be provided in a software update):

  • A keyboard update to show lowercase letters in lower case mode and upper case letter in upper case mode (I know there’s a highlight on the shift key, but entering wireless network keys is a right pain!). A Caps Lock key would be useful too.
  • Cut and paste functionality.
  • Undo options (e.g. my fat fingers accidentally touched the wrong part of the screen and deleted my email signature, which I then had to re-enter manually).
  • A character count on SMS messages (so that I know when I’ve hit the 160 character limit and actually sent multiple messages).
  • Multimedia messaging services (MMS – what’s the point in having a camera phone that can’t send picture messages?).
  • Browser support for popular plugins (Microsoft Silverlight might be asking a bit much, but what about Adobe Flash?).
  • Screen rotation in all applications.
  • The ability to save files on the device and access them through the iPhone interface (e.g. a PDF with a list of The Cloud hotspots).
  • To-do lists.
  • The ability to set different e-mail autocheck values (the iPhone does not have push e-mail) for Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
  • The ability to use my normal earphones – the standard Apple earbuds are still uncomfortable.
  • Voice-activated dialling.
  • A cradle for integration with fully-fitted in-car handsfree equipment.
  • The ability to set up my own ring tones without charge (an alternative to paying for ringtones via iTunes is iToner from Ambrosia Software).
  • Third party application support (an SDK is due in February 2008).
  • Freedom to choose networks!

So, what else have I found?

  • Knowing that I have unlimited data has stopped me from worrying about the costs of using a phone to access the ‘net. In practice, I’ve found that I don’t use that much at all for the odd web page, autochecking e-mail once an hour, etc., although it is easy to rip through a couple of megs when you do need to look something up (this is the real Internet with full-size pages – not specially formatted pages for the mobile web, although the iPhone Safari implementation is prone to hanging when it encounters a page with unsupported content – e.g. Flash). Today is the last day of my billing period and I’ve used around 52.7MB of data on O2’s EDGE network this month but I spend most of my day with a notebook computer and it would be easy to double or triple that if you used the iPhone as a primary communications device.
  • EDGE and GPRS status bar icons

  • Whilst on the subject of data – free Wi-Fi is not very common in the UK and O2’s EDGE coverage seems patchy so I seem to spend a lot of time with a blue box (no E) indicating a plain old GPRS signal, which is painfully slow. EDGE is just about fine for Google Maps and downloading e-mail messages but 3G broadband would make a big difference for Safari and YouTube (which only works on EDGE or Wi-Fi connections).
  • I’ve resisted buying a TomTom for years now (I have a £9.99 mapbook in the car together with a very good knowledge of a fair chunk of the road network in England and Wales!) but I really like the iPhone implementation of Google Maps – even without GPS (which I have to admit would be handy). I would also like it to do some of the things that the web version does – like dragging to adjust the route – and providing public transit/traffic information (which seem to be a US-only features). Also, searching for places seems to be very much biased towards the US (when I’m on a UK network and I search for “Reading” I probably mean the town in Berkshire, not Massachusetts).
  • Leaving the original screen protector in place is not a good idea as I found when I nearly returned my iPhone for replacement beacuse I could hardly hear people calling me, then I realised the problem was that the speaker was covered by a piece of plastic! Apple and Carphone Warehouse both sell screen protectors (I bought the Carphone Warehouse ones for £4.99).
  • The camera is possibly the worst digital camera that I’ve ever used, with a huge shutter delay, slow focus, low resolution and apalling image quality – even considering that it does have a tiny lens.

For Apple’s first attempt at a phone, the iPhone is pretty damn good. Sure, it’s been overhyped and there is a lot that the iPhone doesn’t do but what it does do, it does well. I can’t help thinking that Apple is learning that mobile telecommunications is a cut-throat business and, as I wrote back at the start of the year:

“Now it’s Apple’s turn for hard lessons – to find out that telcos don’t want what consumers want – instead, they want to control the platform, lock down functionality, introduce their own unique selling points, and encourage customers to upgrade to the next greatest device, in the process locking themselves into another lucrative airtime contract, as soon as the current one ends.”

(Oh yes, and to play on consumers insecurities in order to sell them overpriced mobile phone insurance that they probably don’t need.)

I think The Times summed up the iPhone perfectly when they described it as:

“Expensive but exceptional”

[Jonathan Richards, Times Online, 8 November 2007]

Even so, I’d like to finish up by quoting the eccentric but eloquent wordsmith, Stephen Fry:

“We spend our lives inside the virtual environment of digital platforms – why should a faceless, graceless, styleless nerd or a greedy hog of a corporate twat deny us simplicity, beauty, grace, fun, sexiness, delight, imagination and creative energy in our digital lives? And why should Apple be the only company that sees that?”

“All the big guns want an iPhone killer. Even I [Stephen Fry], mad for all things Apple as I am, want an iPhone killer. I want smart digital devices to be as good as mankind’s ingenuity can make them. I want us eternally to strive to improve and surprise. Bring on the iPhone killers. Bring them on.”

[Stephen Fry, “Devices and Desires”]

“The rest of the world can mock as much as it likes. If you’re going to have a phone/video player/slideshow/music centre/web browser/camera in your pocket, is it so wrong to want one that makes you grin from ear to ear? Not with smugness […] but with delight.”

[Stephen Fry, “Not sensible, but, oh, the joy of it!”]

7 thoughts on “One month with the iPhone


  1. Great review Mark, and you’ve listed my reasons for never getting one. The lack of 3G (I don’t think I could go back!), no MMS (I didn’t even know about that) and no 3rd party apps are the reasons I will never buy one until these are rectified. I have used my HTC Trinity (sold as Orange SPV M700) for over six months now and I am totally happy with the device. The 3G, the GPS (I mix usage of Google Maps, MS Live Maps and ALK Co-Pilot), and the great ROM I use from XDA-Developers.com are just some of the reasons that I am uncharacteristically looking forward to the rest of my 18 month contract instead of listing after the next big thing.

    And I don’t even use many of the iPhone look-a-like apps for it anymore.


  2. Simon,
    But on the flip side, you’ve told me in your comment how you’ve had to resort to a custom ROM and third party apps to get it to do as you want.

    Of course, I may just be bitter because I can’t get a Windows Mobile device from work ;-) but my boss tells me his Vodafone V1615 is very good at editing calendar entries with his ear whilst he takes a call…

    M


  3. Very true, but it’s a rare company that builds a device that works exactly how the end user wants it to. That’s why it’s is vital to allow 3rd party apps – to allow freedom of choice.

    As a side note, my ROM based on WM6 locks the screen on phone use.


  4. The iPhone aleady has caps lock though you need to enable it in Settings/General/Keyboard. Once that is done you double tape the shift button to toggle caps lock and the button itself turns blue. For to-do lists have you looked at tadalist.com? It’s an online todo list thingy with an iphone optimised interface. It works quite well, and the lists are shareable.

    To your list I’d add the ability to text or bluetooth contact details and direct access to my contacts list without going through the phone app.

    The real problem I have with the iPhone though is that it has made practically all the other gadgets I own look and feel like they were designed by a Soviet design committee, and much as it pains me to say this, the Sonos controller is the worst offender.


  5. @Andrew – thanks for the caps lock tip (found that now). As for to do lists, you’re right that tadalist.com (in common with the rest of the 37 Signals apps) is a good alternative (as is dontforgetthemilk.com) but in order to live up to Steve Jobs’ MacWorld Expo hype the iPhone needs to be more than a browser – I think the term he used was “breakthrough Internet communications device” – and web apps are no substitute for third party application support.

    I’d also agree with your additions to my list.

    Like I said,

    “…there is a lot that the iPhone doesn’t do but what it does do, it does well…”

    iPhone v2 should be something really good. I just hope that Apple releases some of the easy items on my wish list in a software update, rather than expecting us to stump up another wad of notes for the new model in a few months’ time. I know there is a price to pay for being an early adopter (in the US it was $200…) but if Apple is serious about making a name for itself in the cellphone business, it needs to keep enthusiasts sweet, because not everyone will stump up £900 for 18 months of phone usage!


  6. Agree with what you’re saying Mark, after 3 weeks with mine there are many things where it falls short but it’s still feels so good to use – I can’t help loving it… – Never thought I’d say that about a phone.

    As mine is un-locked I’ve a raft of apps installed on it now including a much better SMS function, so I can now do basic things like forward a message and send to a group. Not sure if that’s fixed on later firmware versions anyway. Favourite app is the etch-a-sketch, just because you shake the phone to erase your drawing! Really need cut & paste though and I can’t get the Yahoo push email to work (yet).

    Did you hear that the officially “un-locked” French version won’t work with UK SIM cards! Some people will have wasted €649…

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