Please note: This review is of the original iPhone classic. See also iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS for more information on those models.


iPhone review from someone who really, honestly tried to like it and was disappointed.

I really wanted to like the iPhone. And for what it was intended to be, the iPhone is a marvelous piece of technology. The multi-touch user interface is superb, easy and intuitive in all respects. The high-resolution screen is beautiful and renders even small text sharp and readable. And the much-hyped Safari web browser is virtually indistinguishable from one on a desktop computer.

But for all the iPhone's successes, it fails to provide a comprehensive software library that would make it a truly useful personal digital assistant. True, the device was only recently released, but Apple failed to provide a number of utilities that I need, and furthermore they (officially) refuse to allow 3rd party developers to write their own applications. Not that this stops the truly dedicated hackers, but it at the very least pushed back the development of the software library that would take advantage of the revolutionary hardware to make the iPhone the best smartphone currently on the market.

What the iPhone does right

Despite what critics say, the iPhone really is "internet in your pocket." Wi-fi compatible when it's available and utilizing the EDGE network when it isn't, the iPhone is the first PDA I would consider to be a truly useful mobile internet device for more than just e-mail. It's clearly the iPhone's primary function, as most of its built-in applications are either related to the phone or the internet (YouTube, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Mail, and Safari).

Safari demands a more intimate look, as it's clearly the killer app of the iPhone. Web pages render exactly the same on the iPhone as they would on any Apple desktop computer running Safari, with the exception of Macromedia Flash and Java support. While the screen is considerably smaller than your desktop's, the high resolution and incredible text rendering make everything clear and readable when in landscape orientation, or with a slight zoom in portrait. Besides the pinch zoom, double-tapping a text column or picture will zoom in on that content, making it easy to optimize the content for the size of the screen. Clearly, the iPhone's web browser is in a class of its own compared to other smartphones, to the point where comparisons can only be made to desktop machines.

Oh yeah, the iPhone has a phone in it too. That's almost easy to forget when the main push is for the internet functionality. As with nearly any smartphone, the call quality and signal reception isn't as good as you can get with top-end dedicated phones, but it's perfectly acceptable. Faint praise, perhaps, but smartphones have never won high marks for the actual phone.

As for the PDA applications, Calendar works fine, syncing with Apple's iCal, and incorporates all the standard PDA calendar features. As an added bonus, the icon for Calendar in the iPhone's menu displays the current day of the month. The contacts are another home run though, seamlessly integrating not only with the phone and SMS programs but also with Maps. Tapping on any address will bring up the Maps program on that location, and the contacts list is available as shortcuts from within the Maps application.

The iPod application does not disappoint either, but Apple has had plenty of practice in this area. The iPhone's built-in speaker is one of the best I've tried on a mobile device, but for real sound quality you need to use external speakers or the headphones. The recently-announced iPod Touch is basically an iPhone without the phone, a lower cost, and more storage capacity. One notable disadvantage to the touchscreen interface, however, is that with no tactile feedback, you cannot play, pause, or skip tracks without actually looking at the screen to see where the buttons are (although the headphones that come with the iPhone have a button that can do these things).

The user interface is of course the main draw for the iPhone, and it is beautiful. The 320x480 pixel touchscreen covers nearly the entire front of the phone, leaving barely enough room for the "home" button and the phone's speaker. Portrait to landscape orientation is operational in many applications, but not all of them, and the keyboard is easy to get the hang of (combined with the surprisingly good auto-correct feature to correct typos, it's better than mini-keyboards on other PDAs). The interface makes it easy to click, drag, zoom, and select without trouble.

What the iPhone does wrong

The iPhone's major problem is the lack of applications. After using a Palm Treo for several years, I've come to rely on the army of professional and amateur 3rd party developers who have come up with an impressive and useful software library. Right now, the iPhone completely lacks a scientific calculator (the built-in calculator doesn't even do square roots!), a dictionary, a unit converter, any games whatsoever, and several other useful little programs that I have installed on my Treo. Furthermore, the Memo application lacks the ability to categorize the memos, keeping them all in one enormous list. This is a must for me, as I have nearly 100 memos on my Treo.

Doubtless Apple is counting on the iPhone's internet capability to fill in many of the software gaps. Google's calculator is better than most handheld models, and dictionary.com provides access to every word in the English language, but I shouldn't have to connect to the internet for these things. Even over wi-fi, this only slows down a simple process that should be available on the device itself. Maybe some day enough developers will be available to fill in the gaps Apple has left, but that day is not here yet, and I need my electronic Swiss Army knife.

The user interface, as wonderful as it is, has two glaring omissions. First, the iPhone completely lacks a copy-paste function. I don't understand this at all. Second, while much has been made of the iPhone's usefulness without a stylus, the touchscreen cannot be used with a stylus even if you want to, it simply doesn't react to the plastic tip (or your fingernail). This seriously limits the precision with which you can tap the screen with a comparatively gigantic human finger. When editing text, you can position the cursor with a magnified view that automatically pops up, but without zoom or magnification, on-screen buttons are only useful if they are rather large. Fortunately Safari has work-arounds for clicking hyperlinks.

Apple's obsession with the iPhone's slim, sleek design seems to have come at the price of battery life. When new, at least, it'll last a full day of use, but you'll want to turn off the wi-fi feature when you're not using it (the small Weather, Mail, and Stocks programs will update just fine in the background over the EDGE network) to save the battery. Expect to recharge the iPhone every night. Rechargeable batteries lose capacity with time, and the iPhone is too new to tell when the battery will have to be replaced, but like the iPod's notorious battery, the iPhone's is not user-replaceable and will need to be returned to Apple for servicing when the time comes.

Finally, I'm sure everyone knows by now that there are certain situations in which you should turn off your mobile phone's ringer and put it into silent vibrate mode. While the iPhone has a convenient switch on the side to put it in silent mode, I'm afraid it's a little too silent. The vibrate feature just isn't strong enough, even in my front pocket, and if I'm not paying attention I can easily miss it. Your mileage may vary, but this is a problem for me.

The bottom line

The iPhone is primarily a mobile internet device. While it is without a doubt the best mobile internet device on the market, that's all it really is, at least for now. If this meets your needs, then this is most definitely the phone for you.

However as far as portable e-mail is concerned, the Blackberry doesn't have anything to fear. The 800 pound gorilla of the mobile e-mail market, the Blackberry's killer app is its unique push e-mail system for corporate e-mail, which managers, salesmen, and anyone else who sends and receives over 100 e-mails a day have come to rely on. The iPhone can only check corporate e-mail at the push of a button, a relatively primitive inconvenience, only currently supporting push e-mail from a free (but less professional-looking) Yahoo e-mail account.

For my needs, the Palm Treo is still the best choice. Thanks to its army of developers, the Treo has a massive and highly useful software library to choose from, making it my electronic Swiss Army knife. I can honestly wait until I get back to my desk to check my e-mail or browse the internet, but as an engineer in the field, I find a portable scientific calculator and organized memo pad indispensable.

Although I've come to this decision reluctantly, the iPhone just doesn't meet my current needs. It's breaking my heart, because the hardware and user interface really are everything Apple promised they would be, but the tiny software library was a deal-breaker for me. I'll be returning my iPhone to the store later this week, paying a $40 restocking fee, which I will consider a fair price to rent this beautiful device for a week. Maybe some day in the near future Apple will open development to 3rd party programmers or expand their offerings themselves, and when they do, I'll be waiting to pick it back up and give it another chance.

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.

-30-

I'd note that the above writeups covered some legitimate complaints about the iPhone, although the 2.0 and 3.0 software upgrades eliminated many if not most of their gripes, and the iPhone 3G and 3G S added even more features.

The iPhone is a smartphone released by Apple Inc in 2007 following the runaway success of the iPod line. Steve Jobs remarked in the 2007 Macworld keynote that their surveys showed the vast majority (>80%) of iPod owners also owned a cell phone, and decided to see if they could compete in that market.

Running a modified stripped-down version of OS X, the iPhone is known for several features not before seen in a device, such as a Multitouch interface, allowing the screen to detect multiple points of tapping at once. The advantage of this is already apparent in some of its original apps, such as pinching to zoom in and out of photos and Google Maps. It also came with "30 new patented features" such as an accelerometer to detect whether the iPhone was held in landscape mode in order to rotate the screen, ambient light sensors to adjust the brightness, and proximity sensors to turn the screen off when the iPhone was placed to the ear.

The killer app of the iPhone was that "it makes phone calls" according to Steve Jobs. It was billed as the "best iPod ever," because it was an amalgam of an iPod, mobile phone, and wireless internet device. The iPod interface aspect was completely new; consisting of a touchscreen and CoverFlow, which allowed you to scroll through album covers in an iTunes-like style. The mobile phone aspect practically hid the keypad in favor of address book and favorites lists. The iPhone was a first in that it included Visual voicemail, which let you scroll through the voicemail messages by name and play them as audio files in any order you wished. As a mobile internet device, it contained a full Safari browser, which was unheard of among cell phones of the time. It also had google maps, an email client, a youtube client, and originally shipped with widgets like Weather and Stocks. It also contained a WiFi antenna which could be used in place of the original iPhone's EDGE data plan.

Critics originally derided it for its non-replaceable battery and lack of a keyboard, although Steve Jobs portrayed it as a strength of the device, as the on-screen keys could be remapped for any application or language, and could vanish when not needed, providing more screen space. I did find out after a few hours that it has really good autocorrect built in that figures out words based on the keys next to the ones pressed and fixes it while typing. I type about as fast on my iPhone as using my old Palm Treo now. Touted as a "one button phone" (for the home screen button) it was hailed by Steve Jobs as the culmination of years of work and design. Steve Ballmer pooh-poohed the idea of the iPhone, saying it was hundreds of dollars (the 8GB model originally sold for $599US without carrier fees). Many said it would not be able to compete with Palm or Blackberry devices. Still, it became the most talked about technology device of 2007, with CmdrTaco of slashdot saying "they're going to print money with this thing" to pundits mockingly calling it "the Jesus phone." Apple sold millions in the first few weeks alone, and fans queued up in lines with some waiting a week before release.

The iPhone shook up the mobile phone market as well. Apple originally pitched the idea to Verizon, which turned them down without even looking at a prototype. Instead, Apple went to Cingular, which at the time was the largest mobile carrier in America, and they accepted a deal immediately. Apple stipulated that they would be in charge of development and could put whatever they want in the device, which is something that others like Motorola are unable to do. Activation of the phones was initially through iTunes, meaning you bought the phone, brought it home, and activated it online instead of in the store.

The iPhone did have some early flaws. Originally it was expensive and non-subsidized, meaning the carriers did not have any discounts on the device (which shook up the mobile market). It was a GSM phone which was locked to Cingulair (now part of AT&T), and Apple legally pursued any businesses that tried to make money off unlocks. It ran on the 2G EDGE network, which was widely panned as being slow compared to the cutting-edge (but less ubiquitous) 3G systems in place. Apple did not release an SDK or allow third party apps to be installed on the device, which spawned a lively hacking community to create unofficial ones that could be installed by "jailbreaking" the iPhone. There were supporters and critics of the decision, with Apple suggesting developers develop web-apps. By New Years' 2008 Apple relented and announced that they would release an SDK later that year and lined up big-name developers to develop for it, as well as the iPod Touch which was announced 9 months after the iPhone and was basically an iPhone without the phone.

In 2008 Apple demonstrated their SDK and programming features, which showed OS X roots and features like using the accelerometer for games and the always-on internet connection to develop online-interfacing software. What was more surprising was that Apple developed an App Store for the iPhone and iPod touch, which functioned in an iTunes-like fashion and let you buy apps even on the mobile device itself. The device would download the app over the air or through Wifi or through iTunes on a PC and install it as a package. All programs would be approved by Apple, and only delivered through the App Store. The reasons were myriad; fear of viruses propagating through iPhones, high quality-control, prevention of pornographic or illegal or bandwidth-hogging apps, and an Apple monopoly (Apple took 30% of the sale price and gave the rest to the developer). All of this was to be incorporated into the 2.0 software release for the iPhone, and allowed other features like a more robust email client, MobileMe syncing, Push notitfications and Exchange support, as well as 802.x wifi support and VPN improvements. Apple wanted to compete in the business and enterprise markets, adding features like remote wiping, IT tools to setup and administer devices, and security improvements like signed apps.

In 2008 Apple timed the 2.0 software release with the release of the next generation of iPhone, the iPhone 3G. In a thinner and sleeker design, it used the much faster 3G network and improved speakerphone as well as a much longer battery life (3G drains it much more, meaning they couldn't release 3G originally). Apple also made deals with other carriers to sell the iPhone in 60 other countries. The price also fell dramatically, to $299US for an 8GB model and $399 for a 16GB model, with carriers subsidizing the price to get it that low. It became a hit, selling millions of iPhones worldwide and tens of millions of apps through the App Store

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