Okay, so I broke. It took twelve days, but in the end I just couldn’t wait any longer to get an iPhone into my life.
I’d rationalised against it for weeks before launch – “the keyboard looks like it needs some work”; “never buy 1st Gen Apple hardware”; “wait for 3G instead of EDGE”. But this thing seemed truly amazing – a whole new experience as far as mobile devices are concerned. Ultimately, I wanted in on the ground floor.
So I’m slightly late to the party, and possibly not adding much at this point (I really haven’t scanned the interblogwebnet to see what others are saying about their phones), but I wanted to write down some first impressions, partly for my own later reference, partly for any of the 5 readers of this site who might not have got their hands on an actual iPhone yet.
Getting the boring stuff out of the way first, yes, it’s amazing. The UI is fluid and responsive – the original MacWorld demo and the existent tutorials aren’t gussied up to make it look any better; it really works like that. It is, in short, a thing of utter beauty, and takes mobile usability to a completely different level.
There are several worries I had which have proved unfounded so far.
Battery life seems good. I’ve been using the phone exhaustively (hey, it’s a new toy) and haven’t run into any “argh, battery low” moments yet. We’ll see how it holds out in the long term.
The EDGE thing is less annoying than I thought it would be – the slight speed problems of the connection are more than made up for by the ease-of-navigation around networked content.
The keyboard is perfectly usable after about an hour of practice. In some ways tactile feedback would be nice, but… I’ve never found the teeny-tiny button keyboards on any smartphones to be any better.
All in all, if I was at Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola or Samsung right now I’d be sick as a dog.
That said, here’s the problem with being Apple. Their products are often so very nearly perfect. You can tell that a lot of very dedicated people have spent a lot of time applying a breathtaking eye for detail. The downside of this is that the smallest details which are forgotten (and there will always be a few) stand out so much more.
So, with the basic assumption that the iPhone is jaw-dropping, here are the niggles I’ve found in the first few days…
1) Inconsistency with portrait vs. landscape
The best part about the keyboard is that in landscape mode (mainly in Safari at present) it’s super-usable because there’s more space. This fact makes it really really annoying that in other apps (including Mail, Notes, Calendar, SMS and Contacts) there’s no landscape mode. Turn the phone sideways and nothing happens. More consistency on this would be a godsend – I’d go so far as to suggest that all apps (except iPod video, maybe) should honour the orientation of the phone.
Also, the accelerometer needs the phone to be fairly upright in order to trigger, which leads to some odd “hokey cokey”-like hand movements to get the view to shift, but I suspect that’s pretty much an unsolvable problem.
Finally, the orientation “locks” if the keyboard is open. So you can’t flip your safari view if, say, you’re halfway through typing a URL on the small “portrait” keyboard and want to switch to the bigger one.
2) International number support seems a bit shaky
I have most international numbers (UK-based friends and family) stored as “+44 XXXX XXX XXX”, the standard international format. On my N73 these were always parsed correctly, connecting through to the number in question whether I was in the US or abroad. The iPhone doesn’t seem to handle this though – a text that I tried to a UK phone got a return error message from AT&T complaining that the number was in the wrong format
This is more than a little wrong, and becomes truly annoying when you hit the Phone options pane and see an “International Assist” setting which, I quote, “automatically adds the correct prefix to US numbers when dialling from abroad.”
That’s the kind of slightly embarrassing US-centric error I don’t really expect Apple to make, and I’m not sure what to do about it. I really don’t want to store my UK contacts as “011 44 XXXX XXX XXX”, because then the numbers won’t work when I’m abroad.
“Sit back and hope for a software fix” seems to be the only option.
3) You can’t add contacts to groups
iPhone supports the OS X Address Book’s concept of “groups”, which is great for creating a quick list of co-workers, friends, or local restaurants, say. But there’s no method (that I can find) of adding contacts to those groups on the phone itself. You have to organise them on your computer and then sync the phone. This is particularly annoying because of the good Contacts integration in many iPhone apps.
I noticed this niggle last night when I added a local pizza restaurant to my contacts list direct from the Google Maps app where I found it, and then couldn’t add it to my “Local Businesses” group inside the phone.
4) No re-ordering in the Stock or Weather widgets
In most list views on the iPhone (favourite contacts, for example), there are little buttons you can hold and drag to reorder the list. Not in the widgets though, which is annoying if you have a particular order you want (most visited to least visited places’ weather, for example) because you have to delete the whole list and re-enter it if you really want that order.
5) Mail can’t count
Okay, this is small and petty, but Mail keeps telling me that my account (currently accessed through POP) has “-1 Messages Read”, which is kinda dumb. It shouldn’t matter, but I expect this shiny object, a piece of the Star Trek future somehow warped into my lap, to be utterly perfect in every way.
6) Um… I only have 5 tiny things to whine about
iPhone is a truly stunning achievement. I’ve not been so happy to use (and excited about) a mobile device since I got my first mobile, a Nokia 8110 “banana phone” about 10 years ago. And the big promise of this thing is that regular software updates will be forthcoming from Apple. So hopefully 3 or 4 months from now, the entire list above will be obsolete.
And if that happens, Apple will have pretty much achieved the unachievable – a highly complex device which is, to all intents and purposes, flawless.