Summary: Alan writes up his day one iPhone impressions today!
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact between hype and reality, luxury and utility. There’s no doubt that if we wanted the phone with the best value, we’d all be going for the “we give you cash back” mobile phones. Just recently, Amazon had a promo for a Motorola RAZR V3xx which ended up giving you over $100 back in cash rebates. The iPhone isn’t about value. It’s about luxury. It’s the reason people want a tuned BMW 335i or Z06 when a Toyota Yaris will get you from point A to B just fine.
Without the media frenzy or the hustle and bustle of the local Apple Store, it was easy to strike up a conversation with the other people waiting in line. There were only about 50 of us at that AT&T store. In my part of the line, there was a businessman who had been using a Treo. His company would cover the cost of service – he just needed to pay for the phone. He had his Bluetooth earpiece in hand as a Zune on his belt. There was a pseudo-techie who would talk about how slow the EDGE network and how the iPhone’s battery couldn’t be upgraded. There was a young woman, probably in her early twenties, who was in college or grad school. She was excited about merging the iPod and her phone into a single device – she was still using a 2G iPod. Of course, the fact that she would have the iPhone early was icing on the cake. Behind me was a young man, probably still in college. He was carrying his Sprint HTC Mogul. He still wasn’t sure whether he really wanted an iPhone or not (he was standing in line though…) but boasted of having sold a launch PlayStation 3 for $3,000 on eBay. Finally, there was a couple in their 40’s. It was the wife who wanted the iPhone. She was immediately enamored by the iPhone the first time she saw it, and it was pretty clear that this was an impulse buy. For her, it was the sleek screen and buttonless operation that impressed her the most. Her husband was clearly being dragged to wait in line with her. He astutely pointed out that there would be no line if they sold the iPhone throughout the day – the 6pm was simply a stunt to inflate the appearance of demand. In the small parking lot of 20 spots or so? Current-gen S-class, GL-class, A8, 5-series, 3-series, and M45 sedans. I ended up getting the second to last 8GB iPhone at that AT&T store.
In typical Apple fashion, the iPhone is exceptional well packaged. One welcome surprise was that the iPhone includes the USB to AC power charger. That wasn’t entirely clear in the official specifications page (especially since the iPods have transitioned to a USB-only charging solution). Included in the package are a headset, a USB sync cable, a dock, and the USB-to-AC power adapter. A brief instruction manual is included. Like other Apple iPods, no CD of iTunes is included – you’ll need to download it first.
The first impressions for the iPhone are very impressive. Compared to a Samsung T809, once T-Mobile’s premium “fashion phone”, the iPhone is thinner and sleeker, although it won’t fit into the “5th pocket” of a pair of denim jeans like the iPod nano used to. The iPhone strikes a nice balance between being light enough to be comfortable yet hefty enough to impart a sense of quality.
Turns out, it’s not an issue with iTunes 7.3. That part of the setup is working fine. The problem is that the iPhone is recognized separately from an iPod. Windows Vista sees it as a digital camera. You need to install Apple Mobile Device Support (built-into iTunes 7.3) which installs USBAAPL.SYS for the following devices:
Apple hasn’t said anything about x64 support, but since the iPod is supported in x64, I imagine that we will eventually see 64-bit driver support for the iPhone. For what it was worth, I was on hold with AppleCare on Sunday for 55 minutes to confirm that there was no workaround for the x64 limitation.
A Second Stumble
I run Windows XP SP2 on my laptop for exactly these reasons. Even then, it was clear that Apple’s compatibility testing for Windows was a second thought. I run Windows Vista x64 for security reasons. On my Windows XP SP2 machine, I have DEP enabled for all applications.
Thunderbirds are Go
Despite what has been said about AT&T and iTunes activation, I had little trouble getting my iPhone up and running. For me, it was as simple as the Quicktime video had promised. With my AT&T and iTunes account information in hand, and it took me less than 3 minutes from start to finish.
Visually, the iPhone also does a great job. Everything is typeset in Helvetica Neue – it’s not really Arial nor is it Myriad (what Apple uses most of the time nowadays). The result is that everything is very easy to work with and read. The screen is very sharp and is viewable with polarized sunglasses (although when you have the screen turned to landscape mode, there are some rainbow effects from the capacitance sensors. For unclear reasons, the popular clownfish/anemone wallpaper did not make it to the final unit.
You can easily multitask and the operating system feels exceptionally responsive. Scrolling through emails and haven’t seen a dropped frame. There’s tons of eye-candy. Deleting email messages even uses the OS X Genie Effect to twist and distort the page. The photo slideshow can do a 3-D cube transition between images. The beauty of all of this is that there’s no penalty for these effects. The iPhone subjectively runs as smoothly and quickly as a Blackberry or Windows Media device that doesn’t have these transitions.
The iPhone is an interface that HCI gurus will be talking about for a long time. All you need to do is to watch the 20 minute intro to iPhone video you’re set. Visibility? Yeah – it’s there. For the most part, It’s pretty easy to figure out what’s what. I know exactly what the iPhone is doing and what I can do with the iPhone. (The less obvious stuff like pinching/expanding have been so hyped up that no explanation is needed). The feedback is incredible. I have never used an operating system with such incredible feedback. The limiting factor always seems to be the user rather than the iPhone – the animations never seem to drop a frame and never seem to be laggy. The sensitivity of the touch screen is perfect. The physical, cultural, and logical constraints and mapping are all intuitive which is a long way of saying that all of the icons and buttons make sense, you don’t have to memorize complex key commands to do what you want to do. There are certainly minor improvements that can be made from a usability standpoint, but the iPhone is so far ahead of the competition, it’s stunning.
Sound quality is clear when used as a handset, as a hands-free setup, and even as a speakerphone although the iPhone definitely is optimized for use with the headphones. The contact list works as advertised, allowing quick and easy access to your contacts. It can synchronize with the usual Outlook/Entourage software but also with the Yahoo Address Book. The iPhone lacks voice dialing support which makes Bluetooth headsets and in-car connectivity less useful. Without one-touch quick dialing, it’s impossible to use this phone to make outgoing calls while driving. Bluetooth is also severely crippled in this first revision of the iPhone software. Other than BT headsets, I was not successfully able to pair the iPhone with other devices. The iPhone also lacks custom ringtones, although this is rumored to be added in the near future. There is no one-touch speed dialing feature, but you can have a list of favorite contacts.
As a SmartPhone
The definition of a Smartphone is loose. Everyone seems to agree that a Treo, Windows Mobile device, and Blackberry with push email are smartphones. But what about all of those phones running Symbian OS without push email? Or phones like the 3 year old Sony-Ericsson Z600 which could run Java applications and allow you to download POP email via GPRS even if it were being displayed on a 128x160 screen? Is the smartphone just a phone with a big screen? One with a keyboard? One that can access the internet? Rather than struggle with the definition, I’ll just go over the basics.
My first impressions of the iPhone’s sound quality were negative. Although the radio interference did not seem to be a significant problem, the audio was always veiled whether using the included iPhone earbuds or running it via the dock’s line-out to my audiophile home setup (Primare A20 MkII and Polk LSi9). Despite the beautiful interface, this was almost a deal breaker for me. At first, I thought it was just level matching the line-out of the iPhone to the headphone out of my 5.5G iPod, but there was still something off. Fortunately, I discovered that the iPhone had “Sound Check” enabled by default. Disabling this feature improved the sound quality significantly, and my initial impressions with high-bitrate AAC and a few lossless tracks suggest that the iPhone and iPod 5.5G are close enough in sound quality where it’s not a deal breaker.
Mac Columnist/Blogger, John Gruber, describes the iPhone well: 95% amazing, 5% maddening.
I haven’t memorized the exact address of the restaurant – I know how to get there and that it’s after the Scion dealership and before the next stoplight. With the iPhone, I can go to Google Maps, search the restaurant by name, and now I can call to make a reservation and see directions as well. Of course, if I want to email those directions or even email the address and telephone number to my friend, I’m out of luck. I can email links to cool YouTube videos – just not something practical like directions. Worse, without copy/paste (two of the most commonly used features in Microsoft Office), I’m stuck.
The iPhone is the best fashion phone on the market. It’s no surprise that the majority of customers at the AT&T store I was waiting at were driving luxury cars. In contrast to the D&G RAZR, Juicy Couture Sidekick II, or LRG Sidekick III which are gaudy and garish, the iPhone adopts a philosophy of understated elegance more along the lines of the LG Prada, Gumetal PEBL, and Vertu lineup. Moreover, the iPhone’s style is universally appealing to both men and women as opposed to the makeup-compact appearance of the Bang and Olufsen/Samsung or Panasonic phones which in themselves can be tawdry by form-factor alone. Compared to other fashion phones, the iPhone completely outclasses them in terms of functionality. The B&O phone only has a 3 hour *advertised* talk time, the LG Prada requires users to text with a T9 input (i.e. a numberpad), and the D&G RAZR doesn’t even have EDGE to begin with. Add the iPhone’s excellent iPod music support, Google Maps functionality, and web browser support and it becomes a no-brainer decision. Fashion is about personality though, and this is where Apple’s lack of user-uploaded ringtones is an issue.
As a smartphone, the iPhone breaks the rules of tradition. There isn’t a better MP3 player on the market when it comes to the user interface or that the iPhone sold out in most Apple stores in California. This is better than the Zune, better than the iPod, and is better than anything Creative Labs, iRiver, or Archos has ever put out. 8GB of space isn’t enough for your entire music collection – but it’s certainly enough for a long trip or vacation. When it comes to email, the iPhone is does a great job with the visual presentation. The email application and top-notch anti-aliasing make reading emails on the iPhone a pleasure. Currently, the iPhone does not support Microsoft Exchange Server Push email, but there are rumors that this is to change and Yahoo IMAP push email is already implemented. Compared to other smartphones, battery life for the iPhone is also very good. It is certainly important to recharge your battery to maximum capacity (it will show up as being fully charged in the Settings menu) since the battery bar can appear full even though the phone isn’t fully charged. A lot has been said about the lack of 3G/HSPDA support. This is certainly something that Apple will need to address in the future revisions of the iPhone. You can be certain, however, that the purchasers of the iPhone-as-fashion-phone will also be the first to get the iPhone 2.0-as-fashion-phone.
At $600, the iPhone 8GB is hardly the smart choice for the value proposition. It is a luxury product along the lines of an Aston Martin V8. It’s practical enough to be a daily driver and carries enough performance to satisfy driving enthusiasts, and yet the appeal is in the style and benefits of ownership. Just because a Vishnu 335i or Evo IX can outrun and outhaul the AMV8 doesn’t mean that the AMV8 is pointless (come on Alan, you know damn well if you can swing for the AM V8 you have absolutely no right to do so until you save up for the Vantage -ed.)
There is no question that Apple’s entry into the mobile phone market will have long-term consequences for Motorola, Nokia, Sony-Ericsson, LG and Samsung. As flawed as the iPhone is today, it represents a vision that is ahead of the competition on many different levels. If the iPhone was sold with the usual promotional kickbacks, it would be closer to a $200phone. At that price, Apple would be unable to keep the phone in stock. When cost is the only limiting factor, the competition should worry. As software improvements to the OS add new features and subsequent generations of the iPhone drive the price down and feature set up, the iPhone will be increasingly attractive. When you add the economies of scale and negotiation power brought by Apple’s iPod line, it’s easy to see why competing manufacturers will need to worry.
These are first first-impressions. Look for a more detailed analysis in the near future.
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