Final Words

Even days after originally getting the iPhone 3G I still wasn’t sure whether or not I actually liked it. Many of the features that shipped with the iPhone 3G were also given to the original iPhone courtesy of the 2.0 firmware update. The inclusion of 3G support is great but it kills battery life and in many cases the performance improvement isn’t nearly as great as the numbers would make you believe.

Sure the phone supports A-GPS now, but without any software to really take advantage it doesn’t feel like a new feature. The phone does look a bit cooler now in my opinion, but feels bigger in my hand (albeit grippier). I was understandably confused.

Generally whenever I’m confused, all I need is a resetting of my perspective. I was trying to review the iPhone 3G against the original iPhone, in which case most users would be better suited saving their money and either upgrading to the next iPhone that comes along or picking up an iPhone 3G once their are sufficient applications that specifically take advantage of its unique features (mainly A-GPS, if that matters to you).

For someone who has never owned an iPhone, the iPhone 3G is really no worse and marginally better than the original, which continues to be the best consumer smartphone available in my opinion. The user interface remains the pinnacle of ease of use and speed, making all other phones look and feel old by comparison.

At the same time, the iPhone 3G does give us one of the major features we were asking for last year: 3G network support. Perhaps it’s that I’ve gotten so used to browsing on Edge, or maybe it’s that many webpages don’t load that much faster, or better yet maybe it’s the severe impact on battery life, but the support for 3G just doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Granted, if you’re buying a new iPhone now you don’t really have another option so big-deal or not, you’re getting 3G.

If NVIDIA took a $400 graphics card and started selling a faster version for $199 I’d normally be ecstatic, but given that the increases in monthly fees actually make the iPhone 3G slightly more expensive at the end of your 2-year contract I can’t really get too excited about the price drop. I understand that not everyone will feel this way, as the price drop allows someone who doesn’t have a spare $400 but does have a spare $200 to get arguably the best phone on the planet today. But it still takes some of the hot air out of this balloon.

The opening of the App store is much like the discovery that there are planets outside of our own. Apple has just opened up a universe of opportunities here and I’m not sure even Apple is ready to deal with exactly how big this could get. While the vast majority of iPhone apps that have been released are fairly worthless in my opinion, there are enough hard hitting ones to not only give the App store and the iPhone platform instant credibility, but also reinforce the iPhone’s position as the premier smartphone a full year after its release.

Apple must be wary of the direction the iPhone is headed in. While the UI was absolutely perfect for the phone that launched a year ago, today’s iPhone is hardly the same. With easily over twice as many applications on an iPhone today vs. a year ago, performance and navigation have both suffered. The impact isn’t tremendous, but Apple will have to adjust the iPhone accordingly in order to avoid turning the platform into a bloated, complicated mess.

We often forget that despite its high stock prices, Apple is still a relatively small company compared to other leaders in the tech industry. It was the original iPhone’s release that caused the delay of OS X 10.5, and it would appear that the 2.0 firmware, SDK and App store launch all contributed to the iPhone 3G being a mostly evolutionary product. A bigger Apple would have launched an iPhone 3G with far more features rather than making the real focus of this launch the 2.0 firmware update.

The fact that one of the best applications available in the App store is made by Apple speaks volumes to who needs to be a very active developer for the iPhone platform. The iPhone 3G should have launched with a full iChat client from Apple as well as true turn-by-turn voice assisted GPS navigation (I don’t want Tom Tom doing it, I want Apple/Google doing it). It will be a while until we see third party developers produce apps with the same performance, polish and ease of use as a native Apple application. It has happened under OS X where applications like Transmit, Unison and Omni Graffle are truly leaders in their fields, but the same just isn’t true about the iPhone yet. Until that day comes, and even once it is here, Apple needs to be the most active developer on the iPhone platform. Developers are important, but so is Apple.

The enterprise features enabled by the 2.0 firmware are enough to handle the casual users who just want access to their Exchange email, which I’d guess are the majority of users at this point. However, it is very obvious that the iPhone just isn’t a full featured business phone. RIM will continue to do very well with the Blackberry in the enterprise market, but Apple’s iPhone should do a good job of impeding RIM’s entrance into the consumer market.

The iPhone 3G continues to be the phone to get in my opinion. It’s not perfect, but it’s closer than anything else I’ve used. Apple should be very aware of its surroundings. Threatening established PC makers on the computer side and entrenched mobile phone manufacturers on the smartphone side, Apple is bound to be in for some tough competition.

Apple is quite possibly size constrained. As a company that’s attempting to fix both the PC and cell phone industries, it runs the danger of spreading itself too thin. I believe that is why we ended up with an iPhone 3G that offers little more than the original iPhone + new firmware. It’s not a bad summer gift but, everyone seemed to want more. It’s tough to follow a revolution with anything but evolution, which on the hardware side is absolutely true, but with the App Store the situation may be more revolutionary than at first glance.

Last year, Apple made me give up my Blackberry - something I never thought I’d do. Over the past year I haven’t regretted my decision, the iPhone 3G and the 2.0 firmware have both helped address some of the lingering issues I had with the platform. Note that I said some, but not all.

There is lots of room to grow. Faster processors, better battery life, a further tweaked UI and more native applications are all necessary for the iPhone’s continued success, and unfortunately for me and the tons of other line-waiters, it looks like we’ll be in for a repeat performance next year.


See you again next year.

The ball is still in the court of the mobile phone industry. Thirty-love, Apple.

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  • buckdutter - Friday, August 22, 2008 - link

    AT&T's coverage could indeed be better, but then again they are still rebuilding from when they decided to switch from TDMA to GSM, instead of following the natural path to CDMA, which Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel (soon to be Verizon) use, as well as many more localized carriers. The problem with CDMA is that it is going nowhere. The majority of the world is GSM, and CDMA is becoming more and more marginalized, in fact in the next 4 or 5 years CDMA will be practically phased out in the US. Verizon (and Alltel) will be switching to LTE, a GSM based technology which will be a rough transition - either resulting in sacrificed coverage, or more expensive devices (like Verizons expensive "world edition phones") that will run on both their networks. Either way, they will be doing what AT&T (Cingular, whatever) did 4 or 5 years ago, and much later in the game.

    Meanwhile AT&T will make a natural transition from their 3G, which is in all fairness not nearly as widespread as EVDO at the moment, to LTE. Sprint will be going WiMax. Not one major carrier in the US or abroad has made a commitment to the future of CDMA. Verizon has held on to EVDO as long as it could, and has prolonged having to switch, but they are beginning to hit the limitations of EVDO, meanwhile 3G is just getting started, with AT&T planning to follow suit of carriers abroad and boost the speeds to around 20mbps in mid-2009. EVDO will be topping out around 3.2 at most, if even that.

    While having used all the services I strongly disagree with saying that Sprint or T-Mobile even come close to AT&T for coverage, it is largely regional subjective, and is really not fair to work in experiences in one localized area into the review for the phone. Like them or hate them, AT&T recognized early that GSM was the roadmap to go. Like it or hate it, blame Verizon for delaying the inevitable for so long...it makes no sense for Apple to make a CDMA phone when it is so limited in implementation globally. Because of that decision they are the most widespread GSM provider in the US (the US was a little late in getting into the GSM game).

    In the end, AT&T may have a lot of ground to cover, but we should be excited what at least one U.S. carrier took the leap and is building out a GSM network in the states, even though it meant making the sacrifice of less coverage in rural areas as they build the new network out. It will be interesting to see how Verizon copes with having to change over.
    Reply
  • Hrel - Tuesday, August 12, 2008 - link

    Over 2 years the new iphone plane costs an extra 60 bucks, but the upfront cost is 300 dollars less. The iphone 3G is less expensive in every way; even with the incremental increase in contract cost. I'm confused that I need to point this out considering you say it in your article then contradict yourself by saying the old plan and phone was less expensive. Total cost over two years the new one is 240 dollars less. Reply
  • maxnix - Thursday, July 31, 2008 - link

    With no user replaceable battery, it is a toy, not a reliable business device.

    It seems to me that 90% of the users I see are fiddling about on it with their fingers and not even 10% use Bluetooth. Are there still no voice driven commands? That's how I use my phone.

    Seems like a great device for someone who wants to make calls on their iPod when they are not listening to a lossy audio source.

    Jobs is the new PT Barnum in that he fully exploits the "A sucker's born every minute..." credo. The world is full of lemmings.
    Reply
  • maxnix - Thursday, July 31, 2008 - link

    Welcome fanboys to AT&T's limited 3G. The rest of the world has been there for 5 years. Reply
  • steveyballmer - Wednesday, July 23, 2008 - link

    Sprint or whoever has released the perfect smart phone! It's based on Windows Mobile and is beautiful to behold!
    There is nothing else anything like it! The Instinct!

    The ZunePhone has suffered a few setbacks so this will have to do until we work out the bugs. Buy it! Don't be decieved by that imitation iPhumb.

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com">http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com
    Reply
  • Lezmaka - Monday, July 21, 2008 - link

    I think there's a fairly obvious (to me anyway) reason why the talk time measured is almost half the time the specs state, beyond the best case scenario stuff.

    In most conversations, there's a significant amount of dead air. Even if it's only 1/10 - 1/4 of a second at a time, over the course of several hours, that will add up. But with most music, there's almost no dead air. Even when the person isn't saying something, there's at least some sound being generated. Detecting that dead air and not transmitting would probably be the best for battery life, but even if it continually transmits, the compression would reduce the amount of data transmitted to almost nothing.

    I would guess that choosing an audio source that more closely matches an actual conversation would provide a somewhat more accurate test result. But I'm not expert, so what the hell do I know?
    Reply
  • Giacomo - Monday, July 21, 2008 - link

    Ehm... No man, there's no way this could influence battery life. No matter how intense is the information in the call, most of the energy drain is due to the "line" itself... Keeping the full-duplex conversation online.

    Everything else left to the battery is the loudspkeaker consumption... But it's a ridicolous amount, you won't be able to measure its impact.

    Giacomo
    Reply
  • donhoffman - Tuesday, July 29, 2008 - link

    Actually the original commenter on this was correct. This is a time-honored technique for getting more battery life out of cell phones. Channel allocation for voice calls is done at call setup. A continuous data stream is not needed to keep up the "line". If either end of the call has nothing to send, it does not need to transmit, saving significant power. The technique used in this article probably does underestimate the battery life. Not by 100%, but maybe 20-30%. Transmit power is much larger than audio power. That is why you get 24 hours listening to music on the iPod side, but only 5 or so hours doing cellular phone calls.




    Reply
  • nichomach - Sunday, July 20, 2008 - link

    Not wishing to get into whether the new iPhone is all that, I'd note that the enforced PIN code when using Exchange is usually a policy setting defined in Exchange, and there's a choice about enabling it. That choice'll be made by your Exchange admin(s). If they enable it - personally, I do - then I'd expect it to be enforced on any device that claims to support Activesync. One of my arguments with Nokia's Mail for Exchange client, for instance, is that it doesn't (or didn't) properly support policies like that; that the iPhone does makes it a viable choice if I end up with a director demanding one. If you're using your phone in a corporate environment, then you may be sending and receiving confidential stuff. Enforcing a PIN and supporting remote wipe properly is the sine qua non as far as I'm concerned. Reply
  • Schugy - Sunday, July 20, 2008 - link

    Openmoko will have the best 3rd party support while Nokia and Google (Maemo / Android) have their own ressources. But regarding their openness they are evil. The FIC Freerunner is a nice phone but the Openmoko project still has to develop a lot.
    On the other hand I think that a Open Pandora handheld with a USB HSDPA modem (maybe builtin in future revisions) is a lot more usable and even has game controls. Telephony and navigation could be done via a bt headset+voip and gps receiver.

    All the platforms will feature ports of killer apps like pidgin IM, scummvm, evolution e-mail and lots more. Ports of gnash, the GNU flash player, are possible too but I would suggest to get rid of these stupid and annoying banner ad players. A nice stream or download link for mp4-files will make your full featured (fullscreen / post processing filters) mplayer happy.
    Reply

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