I think most geeks wish for a completely connected world: where all the gadgets they invest in can talk to one another, and information can be shared without restriction. Needless to say, it is a wish because it has not yet happened. We come close, of course. But nothing is ever perfect.
And, sadly, I am not starting off this post with such a wish because the iPhone makes it a reality. Rather, after using my new gadget for a few days, I want to point out how far we’ve come — and how far we have yet to go.
In some ways, I am a little late to the party. I am using the third generation of the device, but not because I was somehow against it. I remember when it was first announced in January 2007. In that magical moment, there was no such thing as a "Mac" or a "PC" — we were all downtrodden cell phone users who saw the potential of this amazing device. I wanted to get my hands on it as much as any other gadget geek. No, the reason I waited so long is because I wanted more storage space. I didn’t see the point in carrying both an iPod and an iPhone, but unfortunately I have a large music library, and nothing less than 32GB would be sufficient.
So a lot of what I’ve discovered in my first few days of owning an iPhone is probably old news for longtime users. Seamless integration between WiFi and cell radio. An almost complete web browsing experience at your fingertips. Email pushed to your device. Google sync with contacts and calendar events. A built in camera to take realtime snapshots, allowing you to broadcast it to the world through email or twitter — or any other method that a given app chooses.
It’s all here, and it has all been a lot of fun to set up. I have a feeling the experience is even more connected if you shell out for MobileMe, but I didn’t want to spend the money on that. Even so, the experience with Google’s free offerings is impressive. I have Gmail pushed (well, fake pushed) to my phone, and both Google Contacts and Google Calendar are synced in real time.
What really sealed the magic for me was when I pulled out my wireless headphones. Before I got the iPhone, I wondered to myself if I’d be able to use them with it. You see, the headphones are bluetooth, and comes with its own specialty receiver. You plug the receiver into the headphone jack of an iPod, and the headphones connect to it. But it’s bluetooth, so theoretically anything that uses the correct bluetooth spec should be able to connect to the headphones directly. It was a longshot, but after a bit of tinkering I actually got it to work. Sounds kind of boring, so let me spell this out:
I actually. Got it. To work.
Anyone who is a geek knows how powerful those words are. All too often we are confronted with incompatible gadgets — even if they are SUPPOSED to work, more often than not they have been blocked due to some flimsy corporate excuse.
The iPhone is by far the most impressive connected device I have ever seen. Even before using it I knew how important this thing was, but now that I’m playing with it on a daily basis, the power really hits home.
BUT. Yes, there is always a but. As impressed as I am, it is still not that perfect device that all geeks yearn for. And my biggest complaint is well known: no background processes. Coming from the world of Blackberry, it has been very, very, VERY difficult to adjust to having to run everything manually. Luckily I’m coming into the iPhone game at the advent of Push Notifications, which should help a little. However, I still remain skeptical that this will truly replace the usefulness of background apps. I withhold final judgment on this until Push Notifications are utilized more.
In the same vain, Apple calls Mail on the iPhone push, but really it isn’t. It’s pull at a regular interval — which is fine, that is what the Blackberry does — but true push would be so much more awesome. And it would save battery, too, which I thought is what Apple was trying to optimize with Push Notifications.
Also, Apple hates buttons. The iPhone is sparse, and for the most part it actually works. But with the way Apple is trying to position the iPhone as a gaming platform, lack of buttons only gets you so far. (Just like how motion control on the Wii only gets you so far.) I’m curious if Apple plans on addressing this, or whether it thinks a combination of touch mechanics & third-party accessories are enough to satisfy this department.
It’s annoying that I had to wait as long as I did for something as minor as more storage space, too. I know Apple likes to keep their designs simple, but please — it would not be difficult and would not compromise their design to add a mini SD slot. You should not have to buy a completely new $300 device just to trade up from 16GB to 32GB.
And the battery. No wonder Apple thinks background processes would drain battery — it’s either a poor battery, or it is being pushed to the limit. The iPhone 3GS allows you to turn on a percentage gauge to show how much battery power is left. With it on, you can literally see the battery tick down as you use it. Still, as someone who isn’t using their phone every minute of every day, I have yet to need to charge my phone halfway through the afternoon. I’m curious how it will last under harder use.
There are other minor things, too. Things that could probably be solved with a well-programmed app. And speaking of which, there are a lot of apps. A LOT. And while this helps keep the iPhone entrenched as a strong contender amongst smartphones, it is also a management nightmare. Trying to find an application to meet your need — or rather, the best application to meet your need — is far from a trivial task. Without friends to help point you in the right direction, it can be difficult to truly get at what you’re looking for.
But I’m starting to drift into minor complaints now. In general, the iPhone gets dangerously close to being the gadget that all geeks lust after. It gives near-instant access to everything that is important in someone’s digital life. Photos, internet, email, and many other countless diversions that pop up each day. And it does it in a slick, easy to use interface. I am very impressed, and I hope Apple manages to tie it all together and patch up the remaining holes so as to truly make this the device that sets the bar for all gadgets that claim to manage our digital lives.
(You’ll notice I don’t mention AT&T. While I don’t agree with AT&T’s terms or price structure, I haven’t had a problem with their service. I’ve used them since they were Cingular, and their coverage for the places I go have been just as good as Verizon. In time, my opinions may change. But for now, it is a necessary evil that I am willing to put up with.)