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2 weeks with the iPhone

by Rob Friesel

Having been “with iPhone” for about two weeks now, I thought I’d share a few thoughts:

  1. The iPhone is not the Messiah.1  Obvious?  Maybe not.  The thing gets more headlines than Obama.  But it’s just a phone.  A really awesome phone, with lots of really awesome features — but just a phone.
  2. On the form factor.  Though it isn’t the Messiah, the iPhone’s form factor does appear to be perfect.  Any larger and it would feel like you’d be carrying a brick; any smaller and it would be unusable.  What worked out really nicely in my case was that it actually fit my Timbuk2 phone holster2 — although I wound up (and am still) looking for other “ideal” ways of carrying the device around.  That being said, though the form factor is perfect, it’s different enough from my old phone3 that my old carrying habits did not quite translate over in a 1:1 fashion.  In many ways, that has been the hardest part of the transition — where do I carry this thing?
  3. The battery life is just fine.  It seems like a lot of folks that have done write-ups4 of the iPhone like to poo-poo the battery life.  I don’t understand this.  How much are these folks using the phone?  If anything, I felt like it took way too long to fully discharge for that first deep cycle.  “iPod mode” gets used for a good chunk of the day (≈4 hours, on average), I talk and text as much as I ever did5, and I have a few apps that use their fair of juice throughout the day6 — so I’m going to give the battery life at least a passing grade.  And while we’re on the subject, it recharges plenty fast, too.
  4. The camera is at least decent.  I don’t buy phones for their cameras but that said, I’ve really come to count on having that lens in there.  But it’s about convenience, not about quality; the camera in the phone is about remembering where you parked or catching that serendipitous moment, not about resolution7.  Besides, to be truly fair, all cameras suck when they’re inserted into a phone.  An anecdote:  

    Before I had taken the plunge, I was discussing the iPhone’s camera with an owner of same (you know who you are).  He said that the camera was “good enough” but that he missed the “zoom” on his old Q’s camera.  As the details came out, I determined that the “zoom” on the Q was pretty much the same as the “zoom” on my old Motorola E815.  Which is to say no zoom at all; it just crops down the image and only saves a portion of what it might otherwise normally capture.  (Example: 1280×1024 unzoomed Stolichnaya and 320×240 zoomed Stolichnaya, both from the E815.)  In other words, not being able to zoom with the iPhone’s camera is irrelevant because you’d just be discarding pixels.  Why include a feature that is anything but?

    In summary: The iPhone’s camera is fine but I still kind of miss the “flash” that was in my E815.

  5. The App Store experience.  …is great!  It’s almost too easy to just tap away and suddenly you’ve got ten more apps than when you started.  That said, let’s temper that last statement with the caveat:  “…easy when you know what you’re looking for.”  I already had an idea of what I wanted to install.  Things?  Check!  Remote?  Check! Amazon client?  Check!  &c.  The App Store’s current failing is that it’s hard to browse apps.  Browsing through iTunes makes it a little easier, I suppose — but even “directed wandering” on the iPhone itself seems a little bit of a chore.  Maybe if you’re doing your discovery through AppShopper or Apptism or something like that, once you’ve got the name to key off of, then actually obtaining and installing the app is a snap.
  6. Gaming on the iPhone.  Platforms like the iPhone and the Wii are great because it forces you out of that old joystick and rocker-pad rut.  Give me haptics and an accelerometer any day.  Super Monkey Ball, anyone?
  7. Let go and trust the touch typing.  This takes some serious getting used to.  The first week or so of tapping out text messages and emails took me a really (really) long time because I kept feeling the need to backspace and correct myself instead of letting the auto-correct do its magic.  It’s surprisingly intelligent and does an excellent job of replacing your flub with the right word.  Most of the time anyway; if you forget to put the space in there, you’re just as screwed as you were before.  And unlike some folks, it has not overzealously “fixed” my cursing.  That said, though tapping out messages is pretty fast (when you trust the auto-correct), I do kinda miss the “Quick Text” feature from my old E8158.
  8. Iffy on syncing.  Maybe syncing is partly crippled as a way of coercing you into MobileMe?  Apparently, unlike my first thoughts on the subject, the iPhone really does want to restrict you to syncing with just one “home” host computer.  This seems a bit contrary to what the UI’s options appear to suggest.  Allow me to explain:  the iPhone sync UI in iTunes has a lot of checkboxes.  These checkboxes suggest options.  Options like “automatically sync calendars” (or not) and “automatically sync music” &c.  Now before I made my fateful trip to the AT&T retail frontage to get myself good and locked in, I did a little research.  I scoured forums and support sites and knowledge base articles looking for any conclusive statements stating one way or the other; could I sync a subset of items (e.g., contacts and calendars) from one machine (i.e., my work laptop) and other items (e.g., music and photos) from another (i.e., my iMac at home).  These various sources were ambiguously positive at best and contradictorily confrontational in their worst cases.  I sided with naïve optimism the morning before I went to the store.  That being said, I’d already made up my mind about the iPhone and what I was really looking for was information to inform the best possible syncing strategy.  With that in mind, when I got home and commenced with the syncing, I painted myself into a corner right out of the gate.  Contacts and calendars from the MacBook Pro and then a sync from the iMac to get some music on there.  Now, the problem(s?) were not evident at first.  It appeared that my contacts etc. were all intact from the first sync and the music was added on top of it.  Then:  apps were downloaded from the App Store over Wi-Fi.  A couple of days and a couple of syncs later9 and things start to get weird.  A sync with the iMac replaces all of the music.  A sync with the laptop and then none of the apps on the iPhone will launch10.  So be warned:  the iPhone really only wants you to sync from one (and only one) master, home host computer.  This being despite the fact that the iTunes UI seems to suggest that you can configure things otherwise.  So once they straighten out that (and put native CalDAV support into its calendar), we’ll be all set.

That about covers it.

  1. Everyone knows our Hickory Smoked Savior, Bacon Christ (“the crispiest Messiah“) is on the case to cleanse us. []
  2. It was a little snug, and the velcro just sort of “barely” makes the necessary contact, but it fit. []
  3. A Motorola E815. []
  4. Sorry, no citations or links. []
  5. Not that I’m much of a talker. []
  6. Things, Twitterific, Facebook; I’m looking in your direction. []
  7. Some of us carry “real” cameras for that reason. []
  8. I was never more than 8 taps away from “be home in 15 minutes”? []
  9. I lost track of the order of those syncs, etc. []
  10. Which wasn’t hard to fix, just time-consuming. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

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