Typing Speed

One of the major annoyances I’ve encountered on the iPhone 3G running iOS 4.1 (other than just how slow it is) is typing. It’s simple enough - a dialog box will pop up, and I’ll start typing as quickly as I would on the 3Gs or 4. On those two devices, I’ll generally get to the end and be satisfied with my result, minus an error or two of my own.

On the 3G however, the story is entirely different. When I start typing just about anywhere, the device is slow enough that it often misses the first character or two of what I’ve typed entirely. I don't know if this is something new with 3.1.3, with 4.0, or even if the iPhone 3G had this problem (I don't know because I never owned one, I was a staunch Windows Mobile diehard at the time), but it's incredibly frustrating.

Even as I’m typing, keyboard input on the 3G seems to lag at least a word or two behind, giving me little feedback visually or aurally to verify character input. It's like I'm running circles around the thing just by typing. I can live with waiting for applications to launch (I guess, to some extent), but lagging input is generally what drives me to the point of hurling devices around the room. Just ask my old HTC Touch Pro. That device had an awesome hardware keyboard, but a predictive input system and keyboard driver that never were fast enough for me - I would finish typing, and characters would stream in for 10s of seconds. Amazing.

The 3G isn't quite to that level of frustrating, but it's close for me. Really close. 

For this test, I fired up iTextSpeed and went at the default WPM test fast as I could, just to see if I could out-type this thing. 


Surprisingly, I found that the iPhone 3G was slower to type on with 3.1.3 than 4.x.

Part of that could be improved word autocorrection, or maybe I’m imagining iOS 4.x still feeling slow when it comes to typing. That lag between first character entry and recognition remains, however, and the whole time words were lagging behind input. It's a chaotic experience typing at maximum speed on the 3G because you're given feedback about a word later. For some perspective, on the 4 I can text in the low 80s on a good day. 

Conclusions and final thoughts

What it comes down to is whether iOS 4.1 is faster than 4.0.2, and for that, the answer is an unequivocal yes. The update brings the iPhone 3G nearly back to the snappiness of 3.1.3 in most places, and you get a much faster WebKit JavaScript engine with compatibility updates to boot. That said, it’s obvious that Apple still hasn’t quite managed to optimize the ARMv6 iOS kernel to be quite as fast as it used to be under iOS 3.1.3. 

I'm going to be painfully honest though. If you’re the kind of person that even remotely cares about how fast   your device is or applications launch, you shouldn’t be using an iPhone 3G anymore. It’s that simple. Use the 3G as a backup phone in case something breaks, give it to a family member with a dumbphone, or sell it on eBay or Craigslist - just don't expect the 3G to get any faster. Apple considers the 3G's speed issue fixed, even though it's still not quite as fast as 3.1.3 was.

Pick from just about any modern Android 2.x device with a 1 GHz SoCs, and you’ll feel the difference, same with the 3GS or 4. Even the first Motorola Droid manages to feel faster. That’s the architectural difference a completely different generation of ARM devices gives you, folks.

I'm serious. Pick up any modern smartphone, and you'll get something that feels an order of magnitude faster. The difference is just stunning. I don't know if the 3G has always felt this slow or whether it's made a continual march towards being sluggish since launch - I honestly never had one. But the speed of these devices is making me more and more impatient - Anand maintains that faster CPUs and desktops have made him patient, paradoxically. I clearly have much to learn from this master of Zen, as using the 3G for any period of time tries my sanity.

The bottom line is that if you have an iPhone 3G, iOS 4.1 will make you hate how slow your phone is a little less. Apple deserves credit for keeping a device just over 2 years old fully updated and supported. On the other hand, it’s obvious that Apple could have saved some face had it optimized the initial iOS 4.0 ARMv6 kernel for the iPhone 3G a little more than it initially bothered to.

Faster Application Launches
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  • chdude3 - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    The author of the article doesn't appear to address the issues that I (and several friends, and seemingly a LOT of people posting on the interwebs) encountered when trying to use iOS4.X on a 3G phone. Yes, things became a little slower to launch/open, but the OS itself would frequently pause for inordinate amounts of time.

    I'd launch Safari which would open just fine, but attempting to scroll down a page would cause the phone to freeze for up to 30 seconds before it would become responsive again. This behaviour was all over the phone - it would frequently pause and stutter all the time and rendered my phone nearly unusable.

    I could have dealt strictly with an extra 2 seconds to open the Settings menu, if my phone wasn't constantly freezing and stuttering to the point that it would not allow me to answer an incoming call before the caller gave up and hang up!

    Basically, I want to know if 4.1 will make my phone an unusable mess again, or should I stick with my 3.1.3 downgrade!
  • Brian Klug - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    That's a good point. I haven't really seen safari freeze for a full 30 seconds, but there's some stuttering and pausing for certain on 4.0.2 on the iPhone 3G.

    In fact, one of the more irritating problems with 4.0.2 has been the turn on/turn off lag from the power button. It's so bad that I'll mash buttons to turn it on, then it'll turn on and quickly turn off. On 4.1 standby and resume seem much smoother.

    I hesitate to say it's gone entirely because I believe a bit of that becomes pronounced after using the OS for a while, but I will say that during my time with the iPhone 3G on 4.1 I never saw any inordinate stuttering. That appears cleared up.

  • Colin1497 - Thursday, September 9, 2010 - link

    No, the author doesn't address the real issues at all. But he does manage to be a jerk. So far I'm doing OK with 4.1 on my upgraded phone. I'd do 4.1 for the features at this point.
  • Botia - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    "Apple deserves credit for keeping a device just over 2 years old fully updated and supported."

    Considering a 2-year contract, I would expect 2 years to be the bare minimum, with 3-5 years being more appropriate.
  • gunblade - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Tell that to HTC. My less than a years old Hero is totally abandoned and forgotten.
    Tell that to Samsung too, apparently most of their non flagship (Galaxy -S) device are no getting any support at all.
    I would hope android users hold our vendors to the same standard as Apple.
  • solinear - Friday, September 10, 2010 - link

    I think that the big problem is quantity of products.

    HTC has a large number of designs and devices, supporting every single major provider. They are running devices with many different processors, operating systems and networks.

    Apple is supporting 4 devices (iPhone, iPhone 3G, 3Gs, 4) on one carrier. Throw in those four devices on as many carriers (verizon, t-Mobile, Sprint) and you're looking at significantly more complexity.

    I'm not saying that the other vendors need to only have one device line or one OS or anything, I'm just saying that the other vendors have a lot more complexity to deal with than Apple does.

    Honestly, I think that it's a lot like the old laptop problem with video driver updates. I think that the vendors should support the device for one year, but after that, leave it up to the OS vendor to support and update. If the customer wants to update, then they should be able to without "bricking" their phones. This way I can continue to get updated software, if I want to chase it down and do the legwork.

    As for 2 year contracts, you can upgrade after a single year with the same discount as you could after 2 years with many of the carriers. I upgrade my phones after a year and every time am very happy that I did.
  • CZroe - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    And the fact that it has the exact same performance as the original iPhone means that they have no excuse for not updating it too (same CPU/memory). So, just because it isn't a 3G device they block it from the 4.0-only apps and restrict their potential market. WHY?! Oh yeah: To enforce an upgrade cycle. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that the effort to maintain two kernels could have gone farther.

    When Apple implied that the original phone couldn't handle it, they were lying. Edge vs. 3G does not factor in to iOS performance and it's the same hardware otherwise (minus GPS, of course). It's just like when Apple lied about A2DP not working on the original iPhone due to hardware differences and numeric battery indicator on anything prior to the 3GS (enable either manually using A2DP Enabler or SB Settings; both work fine).
  • gcor - Wednesday, September 8, 2010 - link

    I totally agree. I still have 3 months to run on a 3G contract. I don't see that Apple deserves any credit for fixing something they broke. The additional functionality is paltry compared to the phone freezing up frequently.

    I spent a good chunk of change getting TomTom and a cradle to run on my 3G. It was great under iOS 3 and now is completely unusable under iOS 4.0.2. Reverting to iOS 3 is a problem as I can't restore all the info I've put on it since "up" grading to iOS4. So, till now I've had to choose between hacking around to get the phone to function properly again vs. keeping my data.

    iOS4.1 MAY get me running again, but it feels like yet more hassle and a good chance it won't address my problems.

    Apple prides itself on consumer devices that "just work". The 3G iOS4 saga most certainly did not "just work". "Just fail" is a much better description from my experience.
  • matthoffman - Friday, October 1, 2010 - link

    This is an old article now, but I can't help it -- this phrasing really gets to me. Saying it's a "2-year old device" is disingenuous at best -- it was being actively sold until just a few months ago, so the majority of buyers are still well within 2-year contracts. So "Apple deserves credit"? No, Apple released the 4.0 update with only 3 hardware versions to test it against and yet somehow still managed to make one of those three unusable (calls unanswerable because the slider won't respond, safari and email locking for 20 seconds at a time, most apps not loading 1 time out of 3...). And now they've failed to fully fix it, or provide a supported downgrade option.

    And saying, "just pick up an Android phone" is infuriating. 'Just pick up' a $380 phone? 'Cause that's how much a Droid 1 is now, without a contract...much less the 1ghz phones Brian's actually recommending. And most people with a Iphone 3G are on contract. If I got in the habit of "just picking up" things (it sounds so trivial and carefree!) that involve that much money, I would "just pick up" a foreclosure in short order, I suspect.
  • wm.duncan - Tuesday, September 7, 2010 - link

    Also Brian, the 3G doesn't have the "s" for speed.

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