The April 2024 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

iPhone 3.0 - The Little Things Mean a Lot

A quick look at the software side of the newest iPhone upgrade

4 min read

iPhone 3.0 - The Little Things Mean a Lot

The release of the new iPhone is the Gadget News of the Day, but I'm waiting a few days before getting mine.

If I do. Last time around, it seemed the biggest changes-other than 3G data rates-were in software, and so I'd enjoy most of the upgrade benefits for free on my existing phone. So step one was to update to 3.0 and see if that's true this time around.

The update was straightforward, though I've heard it wasn't for some people, and I'd read that it could easily take an hour even without complications. I wasn't prompted into 3.0, which was odd. When I checked for updates, I was told 3.0 was available, but I had to update to iTunes 8.2, which of course took me into Software Update... hmm, an Airport update, that might be important..., oh, a 268 MB OS update, that would take a long time, skip it for now....

The iPhone update was not even half an hour,, as it turned out. The first things I noticed were not the big-ticket items-Spotlight, Voice Memos, and Cut-or-Copy-and-Paste. Certainly, Cut-and-Paste is a very big deal, especially from the Notes app, which I rarely used because you could only reuse the text by emailing it. But for me, it's the little things.


To take one, the Recent Calls and Voicemail lists now show what phone number someone called from.

This seems miniscule but to me it's huge. Let's say you missed a call while out rock climbing, and it showed up on “Recents,” or they left a voicemail. Good. Now you want to call back. Can you just tap and initiate a call to them? Yes, but you don't know what number you're calling-home, work, mobile, whatever. Does it matter? If they called you from their mobile phone, don't you want to call them back there?

I'm sure that's what the original software writers at Apple said to themselves. But it's hours and hours after they called. The best phone for them to call you from at 9:00 a.m. isn't necessarily the best number to get them on now that it's 6:00 p.m. So you tap the arrow, go to the contact list and tap the number you want. What a pain. Now, at least the list shows which number they called from, and if it's the one you want, you're able to call in one tap. It's not the two extra taps that used to annoy me so much as the thoughtlessness of the original design. Similarly if you use the arrow in Voicemail, previously you would see a contact's phone number, but just that one, and you couldn't edit it. Now you go into the entire Contact entry and anything in it.

There's one other tiny change that's a really big deal for me. I used to have a problem listening to podcasts, in part because street and subway noise here in New York can be unbelievably intrusive, and I had trouble replaying the bits I missed. The noise of course is still there-there's nothing Apple can do about that-and it routinely drowns out audio (no matter how good or noise-cancelling your headphones are, by the way). But it's much easier to rewind now.

On the iPhone, you rewind music (or go forward) by moving a virtual button on a timeline slider that goes from 0:01 to the end of your song. The slider works fine for a 3-minute song, letting you go back or forward to within a few seconds of where you want. But for a long podcast, it was a disaster, jumping in increments that might be a minute at a clip for a 40-minute episode. iPhone 3.0 has two fixes.

The first is a little circular-arrow icon with a “30” inside it: This rewinds 30 seconds. Nice. The second is a new trick: Press the button downward (toward the homescreen button) and then across-the force with which you press downward determines how slowly you rewind. (A message pops up saying, "Slide your finger down to adjust scrubbing rate.") With a lot of force, you go only a few seconds at a clip. Double-nice.

There are lots of other new little tricks, like an e-mail icon in podcasts that opens up a message that already has a URL for the podcast in its body, with the cursor helpfully in the To: field and the Subject: line filled out with the podcast's name (though unfortunately not the episode name if there is one).

There are lots of little tricks that I keep expecting that still don't appear. For example, how do you reorder the Phone / Favorites list, other than delete and re-add? I want to press down on any entry until they flutter, and then simply move them around-just like you do for the app icons on the home screen.

And there's one huge trick that's not in this release, sad to say: multimedia messaging (MMS), which allegedly is coming this summer but probably not at all for the oldest phones, like mine. But with some big-ticket changes that require new hardware, such as the auto-focusing and video-taking camera, I might have to get the 3s anyway.
Give me your arm as we cross the street


Call me at six on the dot

A line a day when you're far away

Little things mean a lot

"Little Things Mean a Lot," words and music by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz


The Conversation (0)