You are Likely Sick of Hearing About the iPhone, but…

Tons of other people are doing this, but I want to do it as well to document how different the experience is from past cell phone/handheld purchases and initial use.

It was hard to avoid news about the iPhone and also hard to do research until a week or so ago. I hate my current phone because it makes it hard to do things like send photos and text messages. The keys are very small. Worse, the navigation controls are also small. I had avoided Blackberry and Treo devices because of cost and past experience with the Palm OS. The Palm OS was a remarkable thing. It’s simplicity made it fantastic to use and helped me through my .com years, but it’s network integration was paltry and slow. Mac support by cool apps like AvantGo and others was thin and awful. After trying to sync in 2003 with my aging Handspring Visor, I packed it in for the Palm platform. There didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to look at Windows Mobile platform PDAs, because they lacked the killer feature: PDA + phone.

The first thing I hoped when I bought my Handspring (after I ran over my Palm III in San Francisco) was that in a few months, somebody would develop a cell phone module for the Handspring platform. They did and it was expensive and by the time it came out I was unemployed, so I avoided exploring that realm as well due to having to pay for things like food and rent.

When I got my first iPod in 2004, the first thing I thought was that the music playing was fantastic and it was very close to a PDA. Pity that Apple didn’t have a more robust way to handle email or add contacts and calendar items. The second thing I thought was that if the iPod got a phone, that it would be the holy grail of handheld computing.

After the iPhone was announced, I watched all the videos, read all the posts and towards the end got very tired of the coverage and hype. I was thinking that there was no way a product could withstand so much coverage. It would never live up to the expectations of an overexposure like we’ve seen.

The Purchase
Then I touched it. We went to the Apple Store the day after the launch. I was able to walk up and start playing. I touched Google Maps and it was over. Seeing traffic conditions and satellite views was fast (over WiFi) and the interface begged to be touched and played with. I hit the phone menu and scrolled through contacts with a simple finger flick. DONE.

We found an employee and I asked for an 8gb phone, figuring that the extra $100 would mean a movie or two on top of the mail, calendars, music, video podcasts and other crap I wanted to throw at it. Despite a crowded store, there was only a small line waiting for phones to be packaged in the bag and a credit card swipe from the roaming employees. Done in 10 minutes, with a couple of tense moments waiting for seemingly stoned store staff to figure out who was next and if there would be any more 8gb phones left. It took longer to play Leta through several Dora scenarios on the iMacs in the kid area than it did to buy the phone.

The iPhone has to be activated by AT&T before you get to play around. I am already a Cingular (now AT&T) customer who joined nearly a year ago, so I figured my account should move fairly easily.

Activating the phone was a pleasure. It took longer to get my Mac updated with the new iTunes and system update (I had been slacking) than it did to transfer my number to the new phone. Slick. This has big ramifications for retail experience and will likely be overlooked or lost in the complaints people have had about moving numbers from other services. I don’t think that AT&T was ready for the amount of switchers. It’s very interesting to look at this from a customer experience and company culture perspective. Apple prides itself on making orgasmic customer experiences. AT&T prides itself on overcharging for services and hard selling add-ons. AT&T is not alone, but they are the partner with Apple and will be judged by those who have had issues getting their iPhone activated. I couldn’t be happier with my experience, but I bet there are/were some very frustrated customers over the weekend. And I feel for you. Hopefully you are in iPhone bliss by now.

Concerns & Usage Notes
I was most concerned with the smudge factor and size. I had a dream a couple of nights before the product launch where the phone was the size of an 8″ tablet. I figured that it would be larger than my frustratingly small Samsung D807 slider phone and I would look forward to having buttons that I could push and a navigation system that was easier. So far, the larger size of the iPhone is good. Makes for a larger screen to view webpages, emails, calendars and videos. The stolen 60gb Video iPod was nice and all and I’m very upset about the burglary, but watching movies on it was a little less than awesome. iPhone size for me = good.

I figured that the interface would be galaxies better than any phone I’d owned and I was right. The iPhone interface is sweet. Getting around to do various tasks is easy. On my D807 I could hit the green button, scroll through recent calls made and sent and pick a number. Usually around four or five clicks to make a call, more if the desired number is looked up in the horribly pokey contact list or down the Recent list. Two more if the phone was locked. The voice command worked ok, but was super slow to launch and annoying as hell without an earpiece in. Making a call on the iPhone is one swipe to unlock, one click on “Phone” and then one click to recents or one click to Favorites. One click to dial in any list view. So a swipe and three clicks. Maybe another swipe in there somewhere to get to a deeper item in a list view. Measuring clicks is one thing, but it’s definitely faster and easier on the iPhone to make a call. Plus, if you get an email from a contact in your list, you are offered the option of calling the sender. Very sweet. No voice control, but much more enjoyable and easier to make a call than any previous cell phone.

The web browser over WiFi is spectacular. I’d always avoided using the web on other phones because the charges were crazy (unlimited internet/data for $20/month is a great price and should be recognized as a deal compared to other data packages with other phones, even from AT&T) and the interface blew. Navigating always looked lame and slow and font rendering horrible. Using the navigational gestures, the browser pretty much screams for Apple to start using more gestural stuff in their other products. I hope they do. I would love to be able to scroll down a long web page with a flick or get through long lists of contacts, Finder views, etc etc. You really have to experience it to believe it. The pinching and unpinching, plus rotation really shows off the hardware and software accomplishments that make up the device. Major omission: it’s time for a Flash plug-in.

Email is equally impressive. I had my doubts, but since I’m a Mac user who uses the free Mail application, all my accounts, even unused ones were picked up by the phone and it went out and got my mail without any real interaction on my part. Impressive and addictive. Since I’m not a Blackberry user, I can see myself with a similar addiction problem with email and a phone, just with a more graphical interface and sweet sweet flick scrolling. I am quickly sensing that I’ll have some rules laid down by my wife that will forbid checking email during social times and meals. I would imagine that the non-Crackberry people will find themselves in a similar state of email bliss. I’m not sure this is entirely a good thing, but responding to clients and critical emails from anywhere will be nice.

Google Maps is crazy. You type in where you are (city or address or whatever) and it brings up the same style of Google maps as the web app. There are tabs for map view or satellite view with a list view that toggles a recent searches screen. Very very nice. The pinching and moving with fingers is something to experience. If you are viewing an area with real-time traffic available, that information will show up in map view and I can imagine that even with a slower load time, would prove invaluable for commuters and travelers. It’s a great app and almost as addictive as browsing the web and email. Bravo.

YouTube is really easy to search and very fun. For the videos we’ve looked at, the iPhone version is better and easier to get around than the web version. I haven’t tried viewing a video over EDGE, just WiFi, but it’s really smooth and being able to scrub around in the video to do things like watch a pratfall or hear a nice quote is amazing. When I’ve seen commercials in the past with phones and video, nothing has touched what Apple has done here. Brilliant again. Now we wait for more videos to show up in iPhone format.

The screen does smudge but it’s bright and clear enough that unless you tilt the phone to catch the glare, you won’t notice. Maybe if you are a heavy lotion user or your hands are perpetually coated with a thick layer of petroleum jelly the smudges will be a problem. The supplied cloth makes it as good as new with a minimum of fuss. Only anal freaks will likely have issues. And I imagine those issues will be around long after the iPhone has been supplanted by the brain implant phone.

The iPod part of the iPhone is really nice as well. I do miss the tactile feel, but not as much as I thought I would. One major caveat: an adapter or new heaphones will be needed. My existing headphone/earbud jacks won’t fit the jack on the iPhone and I’m not a fan of the Apple provided earbuds. I paired my Bluetooth headset no problem and will likely use that for phone calls most of the time. It sounds miles better with the iPhone than my D807. This might be perceptual rather than actual, but the Bluetooth really does seem clearer and better. I can think of a few scenarios where I’ll want to have a microphone on my earbuds and for those times, I expect to use those that came with the iPhone.

All in all, I’m very impressed with the interface and the device as a whole. Unlike other handhelds or phones, this is something that I want to use. I don’t loathe trying to find a contact or send a text message or email.

Things I Don’t Like
These are really things that I hope are addressed in software updates or are things I’ve overlooked or can’t find.

  • I can’t see a way to send contact information. If I have a contact and want to share it, there doesn’t appear to be a way to do it.
  • Music management isn’t as nice as with regular iPods. You have to move playlists only. Unless I’ve missed something. Lame. FIX THIS APPLE.
  • Typing. I’ve got large man hands and it has been slow going. I’m sticking to single index finger typing for now, but it’s been a little harder than I’d hoped. This is not a deal-breaker, just a whine. I wish more apps worked in landscape mode so typing was a little easier.
  • Too many clicks to pause music.
  • Reading feeds mean web browsing. I want a feed reader.

Here are some other first impressions:
Daring Fireball
Ars Technica
Great observation in Time
Derek Powazek
Jason Kottke: 1, 2

I’ll likely add to this post or create new ones over the next little while. I’m digging on this new toy. Pretty damn hard. Bravo Apple!