iPhone: The Good, the Bad, the Hopefully-still-to-come

it's hard not to talk about the iPhone; I'm still learning about it from the virtual airwaves and from walking around with it myself.

Here are a few gripes and grins.

Gripe: EDGE is slow. The mobile version of Google (Web and Gmail) is a godsend, but EDGE is still slow. And I'm told that in New York it's relatively great, compared to lots of other places in the country. Which leads to ...

Gripe: Wi-Fi. it works, the phone prompts you with networks to connect to, it's all good except that it sucks the life out of the battery. Fast. Which leads to ...

Gripe: I have some information about the battery and battery life. Maybe most people understand this, but I did not. When Apple says that the battery will degrade after 200-300 charges, I know from painful iPod experience they mean it. It turns out that refers to "full charge cycles." So if the battery is drained to one-fourth full, and you charge it, and the same thing happens two days later, that's 1.5 full charge cycles.

My own unscientific impression of the iPod is that it makes a difference at what point you recharge, and instead of plugging the iPhone in each night and taking from mostly full to full, as I used to do with my iPod (whose battery is completely shot), I'm trying to let it drain more.

The big gripe here is dread of the day when the iPhone has to go back to Apple for a new battery. It's one thing to be without your iPod for 3 or 4 days, but your phone?? Which leads to ...

Grin: AppleCare. Sending the phone to Apple for a new battery will cost about $80 and will happen sometime after the 1-year-warranty runs out. Getting AppleCare for the second year of ownership, which will include a new battery if and when the original one degrades sufficiently will cost about $70, and include all the other things that AppleCare will cover. Speaking of iPhone contracts ...

Grin: I met the other day with the founder of a German-Swiss start-up who finds himself often on this side of the Atlantic. We compared iPhones and I asked him about its relative uselessness outside the U.S. He first pointed out that it's an incredibly functional iPod. I was surprised he'd pay $60/month for that. He then told me that he wasn't. At the store he gave a social security number that began with 999. That was enough to fail the credit check. So he was asked if he wanted to go pre-paid for the phone service. So he has the best of both worlds. The world's greatest iPod, and in the U.S. he can use it as a phone, paying only for the minutes and text messages he uses. I also compared iPhones the other day with my chiropractor....

Grin: My chiropractor is a Mac head. He has some PCs in the office, but mostly it's a Mac network. His scheduling and billing run on the Macs. When the front desk tells a doctor that a patient has arrived, it's with iChat. Very cool. When I saw him the other day, we compared phones and phone stories. He told me he got his the first night. The grin is how. "I went to the Apple store on Fifth Avenue at 9:00 p.m.," he told me. "I figured most people would forget that it's open 24 hours." Sure enough, he walked in, bought the phone, and walked out in 10 minutes, a mere 3 hours after the hundreds of people who waited on line all day and longer. There were some fears that Apple didn't make enough phones for the launch, but it turn out they did. I had lunch today with a friend who held out for the first weekend, then on Monday walked into the Apple store and out 10 minutes later with a phone.

We can talk about the progress of iPhone hacking, but the legitimate iPhone programming going on to extend its functionality is impressive all on its own.

Grin: I'm told, though haven't seen it, that there's a remote desktop application for the iPhone already that puts you in control of your office (or home) computer from the iPhone. I can't imagine using it a lot, even with a Wi-Fi connection on the iPhone, but for grabbing that one file that you left back in the office, or sending out one key e-mail message while on vacation, it's going to be a lifesaver. (The one I heard about seems to be here, make sure you read the security warnings, but there's also this.)

Grin: Twitter on the iPhone. Twitter, you may or may not know, is a weird little system in which you send messages from your phone or your computer saying what you're doing at that very moment. "On line at Starbucks," for example, or "Enjoying a beautiful sunset atop Cathedral Peak in the Sierras" (which obviously you're not doing if you're Twittering about it). Anyway, there's a separate Twitter interface for the iPhone which, smartly, involves only going to a dedicated web page, instead of any kind of new app to go onto the phone itself. There will be tons of these.

Gripe: So where are the AIM, Yahoo Messenger, and other IM apps for the iPhone? No one seems happy with Meebo and eBuddy. Best at the moment, according to Gizmodo, is Jivetalk from Beejives. I tried it briefly with Yahoo Messenger, and it seems to work pretty well. The IMs went from desktop to phone very quickly, the other way took a bit longer. And you don't see when someone is typing, which is important in chat. (Jivetalk showed "offline" one the phone, which was confusing. On the desktop, though, looking in from a different account, I was "Available," and it's not clear how to change the status to, say, "Invisible" or "Busy." Jivetalk is, after all, in its alpha release.)

IM will surely get better quickly. You have to wonder, though, if the absence of dedicated apps at the iPhone's launch was something that AT&T insisted on. IM does, after all, cut into SMS revenue for the carrier.

Grin: Speaking of iPhone versions of stuff, I really like the way Apple thought out most of the ways things work, and tweaked desktop software for the different interface. Take the weather button, for example. On the face of it, it's nothing more than the weather widget in Dashboard. But it's formatted differently, and you can scroll through your different cities by sliding screens left and right. More importantly, it knows you're not always connected to a network. So, for example, in the subway today, I pressed the Weather button and got the message: "Cannot activate EDGE network." I was then shown the most recent weather information the phone had obtained, with a small message across the bottom, "last update 9:42 a.m." The weather Dashboard widget isn't nearly as informative (though it does show the last weather it had).

Gripe: One thing that wasn't quite as fully thought out is iCal. Now let me say, one of the biggest advantages to the iPhone for me, over a Treo or Blackberry, is having the same iCal on the phone as on the desktop. I can synch with both my home and office computers, and all three have the same information (I get the same alarms three times, one on each, for a single appointment, but that's a tiny gripe). But there's no To Do list on the iPhone (that I've found, anyway). How wrong is that? I've taken to using the otherwise not very needed "Notes" button, but the To Do list on the desktop iCal lets you set priorities, alarms, and due dates, assign items to different calendars, keep lists of completed items, and so forth. None of that, of course, exists for a mere note. You can't even, as far as I can tell, re-order your notes differently from the order in which you receive them. Hey, hackers. How about doing something really useful, like recreating the To Do pushpin on the iPhone?

Final Grin: Still and all, the iPhone is a marvel of engineering and design, and I'm still thrilled with it. I told my wife on about the second day, "I love it more than any other piece of technology I've ever loved, and I've loved me some pretty good technology in my day." I'm not exactly singing it at the top of my lungs, as David Pogue of the NY Times does in his new brilliantly over-the-top video, "IPhone: The Musical," but I'm filled with the same song in my heart and lightness of step.

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