Having bought an iPhone is kind of like being in an abusive relationship with an extremely attractive martial artist. You just know you should get the hell out while you're ahead, but you always get lured back for another beating. Except in this case, you'll be tied in to an 18-month contract, with no chance for reduced time for good behaviour.
The iPhone. It's not perfect. Far from it. In fact, it's so fatally flawed, that it's a bloody miracle Apple decided to market it at all. And it is even stranger that so many gullible fuckers keep buying them. I'm one of those gullible fuckers. Here's my story.
A tidbit of background: I work as a tech journalist. I see most gadgets before they hit the streets, and I occasionally catch myself having to wipe my drool off tech that hasn't even been seen by anyone but the R&D boffins tech companies keep locked in the basement.
It's completely baffling to me, how Apple have managed to ignore some of the most basic functions you can find on a modern cell. This is particularly true when it comes to SMS/MMS services. I'm fully aware that the US is firmly stuck on the short bus when it comes to SMS payments, MMS services etc, but seriously - if you're going to market a phone to an UK audience, SMS and MMS should be at the top of your priority list. It's unfortunate, then, that the iPhone isn't even a dinosaur: It's an amoeba. My very first mobile phone - the oh-so-humble Ericsson GH388, with a 2-line green-and-black text screen - had a functions that are lacking altogether from Apple's halo-wearing speaking stick.
In the past 5 years, consumers have been so used to being able to send and receive picture messages, that you'd be hard pushed to find any phone in the marked that can't deal with them. Apple's finest? Not so much. Send a MMS to it, and it goes 'huh?'. Needless to say, it doesn't fare much better when you try and send one either.
Ask Apple, and they'll tell you that they don't like MMS, because they prefer pictures to be gloriously high-resolution. 'You can e-mail them to people!', is the official line. Which is all good and well, but is that a good excuse to deprive people of technology which stems from 1998? Consider this: the iPhone is only offered with 'unlimited' data-plans. Because of this, to the network operators, data-usage is a cost. MMS messages are pure profit. Apple get a cut of the profits. I don't want to get too technical and business-analyst on your collective asses here, but what we're looking at here is akin to shooting yourself in the foot with a vial of Phone-lonium-210.
Talking about high resolution images. Dear Apple: If you're going to hide behind the piss-poor excuse of preferring your users to send high-resolution images, don't you think it'd be a good idea to actually include a high-resolution camera? 2 megapixels just isn't going to cut it among today's megapixel-hungry consumer hordes - you get cameras with more megapixels with a happy-meal at McDonald's these days.
I can hear the counter-argument already: "but Haje, you always say that a great 2-megapixel camera is far better than a bad 6-megapixel camera!". It's true, of course, but truth be told, the camera on the iPhone isn't all that great either. For one, it's a scanning camera (it reads line by line, storing the information as it totters along), which means it's useless for taking photos of quick-moving objects, or when taking photos out of a car or train window. This sort of technology is perfectly fine on a web-cam, but when the iPhone is pitched against its competitors such as the highly capable K-series (K for Kamera, see? No, me neither. Weird people, those Swedes) from Sony-Ericsson, it's set for a beating: The Scandinavian-nipponese eye-phone wipes the floor with the iPhone, wrings it over a bucket, and subsequently uses it to clean the windows, while whistling the Postman Pat theme song.
Every camera phone I've owned over the past 3 years have had some sort of lighting (Mostly LED, but newer camera phones, like the rather quite phenomenal SE K850i, have Xenon flashes built-in), auto-focus and macro-modes. The top fringe of camera phones are starting to be serious replacements for the digital compacts that were on the market only a few years ago - and Apple's first attempt makes a poor comparison.
So surely, if people want to waste their cash sending tiny photos and video clips to each other via MMS, Apple should let them?
Well yes. They should. Apple obviously missed a trick there. Except on the Apple iPhone, you couldn't send video clips either - the phone has no way of recording video. Never mind that just about every camera phone has been able to record video since the dawn of time (that's around 2002 or so, in case you were wondering). For a phone that is trying to position itself as the ultimate multimedia device, this is just embarrassing. With 8GB of built-in memory, it's hardly storage that's the issue...
Even ignoring the lack of MMS, the other milking cow for the european wireless mobile cellular telecommunication giants - SMS - is also lacking. In some ways, the iPhone's take on the topic: I love how the iPhone threads SMS conversations much like an iChat conversation, for example. But a pretty face fails to save Apple's skin here as well.
Things you can't do with the iPhone include seeing how many characters you have typed so far: It doesn't stop you from typing looooong text messages, but fails to remind you when you go over the magical 160 character limit, at which point you are actually sending two SMS messages - or more, if you go over the next 160 character block. Not a problem if you're on an unlimited message plan, but god forbid you're on a pay-as-you go contract or regularly send messages abroad - texting 161 characters by accident means you get billed twice, and at 14 pence per text (to Spain from the UK, on T-mobile), it can quickly become expensive.
There are other grievances as well. For example, the iPhone doesn't allow you to send the same SMS message to more than one recipient at once. Seems innocuous enough at first, because there are other ways to do this, right? Wrong. On all phones I've owned in the past ten years, it has been possible to forward a text-message somehow. Not on the iPhone. "Ah", I hear you cry, "But it's a smartphone! Why don't you just copy and paste the text into a new SMS conversation?". Good thinking, but there's no way of copying and pasting text on the iPhone either. So, if I want to send a message 'Hey, guys, have we covered the launch of the new Samsung G800' to all of my colleagues, I have to re-type the message every time. Inviting all your mates to the pub (which, let's be honest, is the only real use of group SMS messages) becomes a rather tedious affair as well.
It doesn't end with the text messaging, though - the phone-bit has some stupid flaws as well: I tend to save all my contacts with international prefixes (+44 for the UK, +31 for the Netherlands, etc), but if someone calls or sends me a text message from an UK phone which doesn't identify with the international prefix (i.e. 07940... instead of +447940), the phone doesn't understand that the person is in my phone book, and refuses to identify them. Why, I ask of you? WHY?
When using Google Maps on the iPhone, it helpfully lets you select a contact in your address book as a 'to' or 'from' address. Which is amazing, apart from the fact that Google Maps somehow doesn't parse '2 Balcombe Street, London, NW1 6NW' as a valid address, so you're reduced to typing it in yourself, at which point it somehow, magically, understands. That's annoying enough in itself, but it gets worse: A cool function in Google Maps is that it uses web search to tie in with the maps. So if you search for The Apple, Bristol, it finds my favourite Cider-imbibing venue. It even gives you the exact address and their phone number. It then, helpfully, offers you to store all this information in your address book, as a contact. Fantastic! However, if you then select 'The Apple' from your address book as a destination for Google Maps, the phone goes 'I haven't got the faintest idea what you're talking about, mate', hiccups twice, and continues staring into the rapidly declining level of pure-grain-alcohol in its proverbial glass. More importantly, it'll refuse to navigate you to the right location, despite the fact that it stored the location information itself, from a location it knows about. The mind plays a hat-trick of boggle.
The rest of the apps aren't as well integrated as I'd like either. If you, for example, set up a meeting in your calendar - let's for the sake of argument say that this meeting takes place at The Apple in Bristol, the 'location' field isn't clickable. This means that if you're not sure where 'The Apple, Bristol' is, you have to type it into Google Maps yourself. Surely, having a field called 'location' is begging for a clickable link? Or a 'see location on map'?
The list of niggles goes on for miles. A non-exhaustive list: Why can't I select an image from the web as my wallpaper? Why doesn't it automatically play the next podcast in a series when the first one finishes? Why does the calculator not have a square root button? Why do Notes not sync with anything, despite the fact that Leopard has Notes built into mail.app? Why is there no free-text search in the address book, so I can search for 'Evesham' to call their PR company, rather than having to remember it's Kerri? Why can't I delete or move photos from one folder to another in the Photos programme? Why does iTunes automatically downsize my photos before they are uploaded to my iPhone? Why can't I use multi-touch to zoom in the 'stocks' application? Why can't I log in and leave comments in the YouTube application? Why can't I tap somewhere on a Google map and select 'navigate to here'? Why isn't 'Port of Spain' (the capital of Trinidad) a valid time-zone city?
And yet, despite that this phone has more for me to bitch about than any other mobile phone I've ever owned, I would never go back. It's the first phone that syncs all my 600 contacts, thousands of calendar and to-do list items and a few thousand songs perfectly first time, every time, with my Mac. It's got the most amazing screen I've ever seen. You can tap-type faster on this screen than any other mobile phone I've ever used. Despite all its flaws, the Google Maps app is a seriously cool piece of software. And - I've said it a few times, but it bears repeating: It's gorgeous.
I've had an Apple iPhone for about a month or so. I've pulled 10-people crowds for a quick demo on more than one occasion. It has the best mobile internet browser I've ever used, the calendar application is fantastic, and the Google Maps is a sure-fire crowdpleaser.
Would I pay £300 for it? Well yes. In fact, I did. But Apple can pull the other one if they think I'm prepared to sign up for a 18 month 35-quid-a-month contract with O2 for the privilege of using their raprod. Besides, by show of hands, who here thinks that the iPhone will still be relevant in 18 months? Of course it won't - there'll be a much slimmer, better, 32GB version available by then. And, as a proper little gadget whore, it is my duty to update to the next-gen iPhone as soon as it becomes available. At which point, I'll probably whinge about it some more.
I wouldn't swap it for anything, though. I guess it's just one of those relationship that's worth taking the occasional beating for.
This article was researched and written on an 8GB Apple iPhone with firmware 1.0.2, bought from the US via eBay, hacked by yours truly, accidentally bricked during an update to 1.1.1, painstakingly un-bricked and returned to 1.0.2, before numerous days of futile hacking resulted in a (nearly) working 1.1.1 install. Currently, only one thing isn't working. Probably for the best of my bandwidth bill and productivity, to be fair: Oh YouTube, why do you taunt me so.