1. Favorite thing about the iPhone 3G
To expand a bit more on that. Yep, I think the UI is terrific for many reasons, not least that it is clearly built for capacitive touch screens and is perfectly optimised for finger-based input. Capacitive screens obviously have their downsides but they're clearer and much more sensitive than the alternative resistive screens and this much more than outweighs the negatives (no gloves etc) in my opinion. The use of these ultrasensitive screens and an interface that fully utilises them (large(ish) on-screen buttons, dragging, flicking, pinching gestures etc) largely defines the iPhone experience, but, even with a round-robin, eye-on-the-competition kind of hat on there are other areas in which the iPhone excels of course. Here are a couple off the top of my head:
1) Music. iPhone sounds great (noticeably cleaner and richer than my 2nd gen Nano), is (at least for the 3G) compatible with standard headphones without an adaptor, and the iPhone iPod GUI is by turns very efficient and drop-dead gorgeous. Second favourite thing about the iPhone: it completely replaces my old iPod Nano (which I don't have to carry anymore).
2) Video. I've had PDAs and smartphones for more than 10 years and without exception they either didn't do video at all (early Palms) or completely sucked at it (Treos, PPC, WM and S60 devices). I didn't hold out much hope for video on the iPhone but it turns out to be the real surprise in the package. The recipe for success isn't especially astounding (decent size screen (and not square!), pretty good resolution, frame rate fast enough that everything looks smooth, good contrast, good colours, nice UI), but it's the first device I've owned that gets it right. I don't use the YouTube app much but I watch a bunch of content from elsewhere: EyeTV recorded TV shows (synced via iTunes), BBC TV programmes streamed via the BBC iPlayer web app (BBC iPlayer - Home
- UK only I'm afraid), TV shows from iTunes Store.
3) End-to-end solutions. It's just the simple things that please me, like it takes zero button pushes/mouse clicks/key strokes to get music off of a CD onto my iPhone (put the CD in the Mac, iTunes launches, grabs track info, rips the tracks and attaches album art; put the iPhone in the dock and everything is transferred), or the (similar) simplicity of getting podcasts or music and video from iTunes store onto the device. There is no reason why any of this should be complex and it isn't.
4) Web browser. Partly it's about the UI (drag and flick to scroll, double-tap, pinch to *intelligently* zoom) but partly it's just that the browser renders pages so quickly and so well. The only other browsers I've used that are even in the same ball park are Nokia's S60 browser, which is also web-kit based, and the browsers included in a number of iPhone third-party apps, which I guess are using the core browser components of iPhone OS (good examples are the news readers like NetNewsWire and the Wikipedia apps (Quickpedia is my favourite)).
5) Email. There are certainly improvements I'd like to see to the email app (like a single inbox for all accounts) but push from my work Exchange server works well and the iPhone Mail app does a better job of rendering html emails than any other I've used (probably because the same core browser components are used for this too). This actually makes a fairly huge difference to usage as it means I can deal with much more of my email without having to resort to a desktop/laptop.
6) MobileMe integration. MobileMe was rightly hauled over the coals by the tech media for its initial problems. It wasn't just that it was down periodically but on one occasion it completely failed to transfer an appointment entered on one of my Macs to my iPhone. This is totally unacceptable and if it had done it again (I checked religiously for a while and still do occasionally) I'd have stopped using MobileMe calendar sync altogether. I'd imagine that this sort of syncing is mission-critical for most users (missing meetings just isn't an option) and Apple should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves that this ever went live in the condition it was in (to be fair, I think they are). Happily, however, it seems to be 100% reliable now and up 24/7 and as such it's pretty sweet. In an ideal world I'd never use a cable to connect my mobile device to a desktop/laptop again and syncing would happen OTA anywhere in the world - MobileMe sync gets us quite a long way down that path, and does so without having to have access to an Exchange/Blackberry server.
7) Works out of the box with OS X laptops and desktops. Palm tried and succeeded only with a poor solution; Nokia relies on a combination iSync (for PIM) and OTA/BT downloads (for apps), both of which work well, but fails on OS software/firmware update (which requires a Windows machine); Google (I think, I've not used an Android device) largely side-steps the problem by taking the desktop out of the equation (sounds good - I look forward to this becoming clearer to me during the round robin
); Microsoft doesn't really try (PIM is limited to Exchange AFAIK and some third-party software and all WM software/firmware requires a Windows machine; third-party sync methods - I used Missing Sync - are good but incomplete solutions). Apple, as we might expect, completely nailed it.
8) Software/firmware updates. Most of Palm, Nokia and WM phones I've owned had carrier-specific versions of the OS and associated first-party software. This sucks in itself (often there was a mess of carrier branding) but (worse) meant that updates were released incrementally and frequently not at all for my device. Apple has one current, released version of iPhone OS and updates are available to all at the same time.
9) Wifi. The instant, seamless, no-user-action-required connection to known (previously joined) Wifi networks is such an obvious thing that makes a real difference to using a device that you'd think all Wifi devices would this. Sadly they don't. Case in point, my Nokia S60 E61 was a Wifi device but I had to manually select a network every single time I wanted to use it so, of course, I almost never did. With the iPhone I use Wifi most of the time because as long as I've joined a network before it does so again without my having to do anything at all.
Ok, so that's some positive stuff (from an iPhone perspective), some stuff where I think the iPhone clearly out does at least some of the competition. Here are a few areas where I think iPhone lags:
1) Multitasking of third-party apps. Although Apple gives the included apps most all of the multi-tasking I need (music plays and mail downloads in the background etc) that's not true of third-party apps, which are not afforded the same luxury. Now it's absolutely the case that I don't need eReader to be running in the background (as long as it reopens quickly where I left off - which it does - that's fine) and the push notifications thing (promised but not yet delivered) should be a good solution for some apps (messaging and news reader apps etc), but there are other apps that would benefit from some multitasking love. Would I like to listen to my favourite stations using WunderRadio while checking email or surfing the web? Damn right I would! I said above that I'd never seen the need for jail breaking, but it occurs to me now that that's not actually true because I remember reading about a jail break app that enables full multitasking (the name escapes me) and thinking I should probably look into it. I'd be grateful if anyone could pass on their experiences (Bad Ash?) with enabling multitasking. I suspect Apple is preventing multitasking of third-party apps to prevent problems with the memory getting all used up. I'd love to know how much, in practice, this is actually a problem.
2) Bluetooth. I have no desire at all for A2DP (which, at least for headphones, seems like an exercise in increasing the number of devices to be charged, decreasing battery life, and reducing audio quality) but I can see no reason at all that Apple doesn't provide BT profiles for file transfer. I use the excellent (but sadly no-longer free) AirSharing app for file transfer and viewing. It works great for transferring files from a desktop over a local Wifi network (and it's much quicker than BT) but even on a Mac the direct file transfer via an ad hoc Wifi network is a bit of a cludge (at least a couple of taps too many) and doesn't work at all with Windows machines I think (perhaps with a third-party desktop app?).
An alternative with promise is MobileFiles, an app that allows file transfer to the iPhone via the MobileMe file storage (iDisk). This works with either Wifi or cellular data connections (so avoids the requirement for ad hoc Wifi networks) but isn't quite there yet IMO. At the moment it seems rather slow (possibly an iDisk problem?) and could really do with the ability to sync the contents of entire folders between the iDisk and local (iPhone) storage (at the moment files have to be move one at a time, which is just a pain).
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