30 Things I Love or Hate About The iPhone

iPhoneThe Lab finally received the new iPhone last week.  Since then, I’ve been digging down into the features to see what all the hype is about.  What I found is a mixture of positive and negative aspects. My summary, for those who don’t want to read all the way through the post:

What’s the upshot?  While it’s not the first device on the market to tackle the convergence of Phone, Media Player, Email Device & Browser, it is one of the finest examples to date.  Yes, there are a number of key features missing, and some glaring application flaws, but that is to be expected of a 1st generation device.  I fully expect Apple to remedy the majority of these issues in the very near future.  And, I can only hope that the cold war between Microsoft and Apple will finally subside so we can stop being forced to live exclusively in one world or the other.  Can’t we all just get along??

Here they are in no particular order:

Nay: Activation – iTunes and AT&T Servers still don’t seem to be in sync.  After going through the signup process, I was treated to the dreaded “Your activation requires additional time to complete” message.  After fruitless calls to both AT&T and Apple Support to find out what the issue was, I just decided to wait it out.  And even though the phone actually activated about 20 minutes later, I was dismayed that neither of the support reps could tell me what the hold-up was, or how long it might take.

Yay: YouTube – The YouTube applet is nicely designed and easy to use.  However, you can only search & view videos that have been converted from Flash to Apple’s H.264 standard.  Which is to say that there is a LOT of content you will not be able to view.  Otherwise, the video you CAN get streams quickly and looks great.  Let’s hope a Joost applet isn’t far behind.

Way Nay: No Flash Support – Of all the plug-ins to include, this one should have been in the top 2.  Considering two of the most tantalizing features of the iPhone is it’s beautiful video screen and excellent port of the Safari browser, the lack of Flash makes browsing a very unrewarding experience.  I visited dozens of my favorite sites, only to be provided with terribly abbreviated layouts as a result of the missing Flash plug-in.  I’ve been hearing rumors that an iPhone version of the plug-in will be released soon, but soon is not soon enough.

Way Yay: iPod – Clearly this is where Apple has some solid design experience.  The interface is superbly crafted.  Everything from the Cover Flow animations for flipping through your albums to the varied and intuitive features provided when scrubbing through the lists.  Rotating the iPhone from Portrait to Landscape and vice-versa provides a wonderful fluidity of functional views.  The TV commercials don’t do it justice.  My iPod’ing experience will never be the same.

Way Nay: Album Art on Windows – Yes, I am a Windows user.  Yes, I also love Apple devices.  Why oh why can’t these worlds ever seem to mesh.  I have an extensive library of music ripped from my CD collection.  I used Windows Media Player to do the ripping, as it worked best on my system.  It also did a fine job of locating the Album Art for each CD as I digitized them.  However, when ingesting my library, iTunes ignored every single Album Art JPG.  Under normal circumstances, I would say: “who cares, it’s the music that counts, right?”  Unfortunately, one of my favorite features of the iPhone is the Cover Flow animation that let’s you flip through your album collection by showing you album covers.  The first sync with my iPhone produced mostly blank covers.  Makes the Cover Flow feature totally useless.  Of course ALL the music purchased through iTunes had cover art.  I did another sync after using the iTunes advanced function to ‘Get Album Art’, but the results were poor at best. Ultimately, I had to manually link each album with it’s cover art in iTunes using the Get Info screen to browse my My Music folders and re-link the JPGs.  So tedious and SO aggravating.  And, for those of you out there that will comment and say “Dude, just use one of those 3rd party tools like iArt for importing the art into iTunes”, I say: D’Uh.  Do you think I didn’t try???

Yay: Video Screen – The 640×480 screen’s colors are vibrant and bright.  I had no trouble using the device in broad daylight.  Although the screen does smudge easily, which impacts on the viewing.

Yay: Video Playback – Works as expected.  I.E.: Very well.  The UI is well designed and very fluid.  Don’t worry if you’ve encoded your entire DVD collection at 320×240 for your Video iPod, the playback is reasonably pixilation-free at that resolution.  But if you have the choice, re-encode at 640×480.  You won’t be disappointed, the content will look amazing.

Nay: No Video Out – Now that we will have high(er) resolution video in our pockets, we will no longer have the ability to see it up on a big screen.  One of my favorite features of my Video iPod, is the ability to connect it to a TV and use it as a VHS when I travel.  Bummer.  Would have LOVED to be able to browse YouTube video on the TV in the hotel….

Nay: Upside Down Screen – The orientation of the screen when you are watching widescreen video seems upside down to me.  The mute and volume controls are on the bottom edge when you are watching a movie.  This is ok if you are holding the device in your hand, but it’s a little strange if you set it down to watch.  Even though there’s an on-screen volume control-bar, I still think it’s wrong to set the player down on the physical controls.

Yay: Camera – Takes beautiful vibrant photos. And while the interface is a little cutesy with the iris animation, it works very well.

Nay: Camera – 3 things I truly dislike about the camera: One, no little fish-eye mirror or reflector by the lens.  Just try taking a pic of yourself with a friend on your arm without being able to see what you’re pointing at. You will miss the shot every time.  The little shiny Apple logo is no help. Two, It’s only 2MP.  The Cannon I bought 5 years ago takes higher res pics.  With 8GB of storage, this thing should easily be able to accommodate a higher res camera.  So as usual, I still have to carry around 2 cameras with me. Because, even though the iPhone pics are ‘vibrant and beautiful’, they are useless for reproduction.  C’mon guys! Throw us a bone!  Three, no video capture.  Huh?  Are you kidding?  It’s a VIDEO device!

Yay: WiFi – Works great.  Easy to find & attach to networks in hotspots.  Web surfing over WiFi is a FAR more rewarding experience than using the EDGE network provided by AT&T.  Although I have to say, typing in my 128bit Hex WEP key for my home WiFi network was a brutal experience.  Especially since the WEP KEY field is treated like a password and I could not see what I was typing.

Nay: Keyboard – The on-screen keyboard is nearly impossible to use in Portrait mode.  Even with some practice, I was hard pressed to type any word over 4 letters without at least one typing error. Fortunately, I use a lot of 4-letter words in my prose.  The keyboard in Landscape mode is wider and far more accurate.

Way Yay: Browser – Kudos for a great port of Safari on the iPhone.  It is without question, the best browser I have ever used on a phone.  The experience is very desktop-like and the zoom/pinch features provided by the multi-touch screen make it easy to view and navigate the pages.  And again, the rotation of the device to automatically change from Portrait to Landscape to change the screen view makes this a very enjoyable app to use. One comment: GET FLASH!

Way Nay: No Copy/Paste – One of the oldest, most useful UI features in the catalog.  The Egyptians used it to cover the pyramid walls with hieroglyphics.  There are so many ways that the omission of this feature reduces my enjoyment of the device that I can’t even begin to list them.  The touch screen UI standard of scrubbing across text or images to highlight for a Copy/Paste operation has been usurped by a magnification tool.  Pressing and holding your finger over a section of text allows you to see the text in a little fish-eye bubble for cursor positioning.  Is this really more important than Copy/Paste?  Are there a lot of octogenarians using the iPhone?

Yay: Clock  – The Clock applet has some nifty features.  The World Clock is super handy, with the ability to maintain time-zone info for various user-defined locations.  The multi-display shows whether the city is experiencing daytime or nighttime, as well as relative time.  I.E.:  Is it Yesterday, Today, or Tomorrow in that time zone.  There is also a Stopwatch and Countdown Timer along with the now-pedestrian Alarm.  Very useful Applet.

Yay: Weather  – The Weather applet is also nicely done.  Very simple, easy-to-read, 6-day forecast for each user-defined city.  To view the forecast for a different city, you just slide the current forecast off the screen with your finger which will automatically slide in the next one.  I don’t think I will ever get tired of the iPhone UI.

Yay: Google Maps  – Best Google Map applet so far. If you haven’t been using one of these applets to find your way around, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.  Great mapping coupled with a very refined search algorithm (it’s Google, after all) provides an uber-useful tool for finding exactly what you need and how to get there.  This version contains traffic congestion data and satellite overlays for varying the views as needed.  Nicely tied to the iPhone Contact applet to permanently capture location address and phone info.  Downside is: it’s crash-prone.  I have yet to have an extended session that didn’t quit mid-way through.  

Way Yay: Multi-Touch Screen – This is an awesome revolution in touch screen technology. The game is now officially changed.  Everyone should make note of it.  The concepts and uses for basic touch screen technology are very familiar to most.  Essentially, only one touch-point on the screen can be read by a computer at a time.  Great for ATM machines, but most of us have at least 10 digits that we’re used to using to manipulate things in the physical world.  The refinement and incorporation of Multi-Touch technology in computing devices will likely begin the redefinition of the way we interact with machines.  And if that sounds a little lofty, it’s because it is… Basically, Multi-Touch gives us the ability to interact in a more natural manner with a perceived 3-dimentional image through a touch screen. We can manipulate data, whether text or images using natural, humanly-intuitive motions.  Like flipping through an album collection in the iPod Cover Flow, or resizing photos by pinching them down or up in size.  We learn how to move and rotate objects by using thumb and fingers in the crib.  To be able to use that same motion when interacting with a computer will further blend the human-machine interface.  This can’t help but open the floodgates to more intuitive, useful applications of technology.  Even if every other aspect of this device falls short of the mark (and they don’t) this one leap in interface technology would be enough for me to give the iPhone high praise.

Way Nay: No Wireless Media Purchasing – This is arguably the biggest disappointment of the device.  For those of us that were anxiously awaiting an iPod that we could use to connect wirelessly to the iTunes Store to buy music and other media directly, I am very sorry to say, this ain’t it.  The omission of this feature means that you are still tethered to your desktop system for purchasing and downloading new stuff to your iPhone.  Some of us in the tech world are speculating that this feature was bypassed for fear that the thousands (or millions) of iPhone media downloads would bring the AT&T EDGE Network to it’s knees.  And quite possibly so.  Still, I would have preferred a compromise that would allow over-the-air purchases only when connected via WiFi.   I would happily pop into a Starbucks to download a tune when the mood strikes.  On the brighter side, the inclusion of a feature for the iPhone that allows you to upload ‘Purchased’ items back into iTunes suggests that this feature is at least on their radar.

Nay: No Wireless Music Sharing – This one surprised me.  I thought for sure that Apple would have taken note of the Zune’s most appealing feature: I.E.:Music Sharing, and incorporated some version of it into the iPod applet.   Possibly even extending the Zune’s feature set to include wireless DRM license purchases for the shared evaluation media.  But again, sorry to say these features are not available.

Nay: Doesn’t Work With Existing iPod Docks –The connector seems to be the same, but the iPhone invariably displays a warning about the device not being compatible when cradled.  It also displays a bizarre question about whether or not I want to switch on ‘Airplane Mode’.  Errr… I don’t know. Do I?  I’m a little bummed about this problem since I’ve plunked down more than a few bucks to have iPod cradles connected to several devices in my home and car.  I’ve heard that the iPhone WILL work with older docks that predate the iPod Video, but have not confirmed it personally.  For more info on what works and what doesn’t, check out this great Gizmodo article.

Nay: No Cool Flow Animations for Pics or Contacts – With all the great interface features, it was a little disappointing to see that the cool animated selection tool, Cover Flow, was not incorporated in the Picture Viewer or on the Phone Contact screens.  Just flat lists or thumbnails.  Being able to ‘Flip’ through pics of my contacts to find who I want to call seems like a natural fit for this device.  Maybe next version…

Nay: Can’t Rotate Notepad to Landscape – Big deal?  Not really.  Unless you factor in that the keyboard in Portrait mode is nearly impossible to use without making typos.  The ability to rotate the applet to Landscape might reduce the amount of text real-estate, but it would at least allow us to use the wider, more accurate version of the keyboard.  

Nay: Decent POP Email Support  – I tested both GMail and Yahoo Mail with much success.  No problems to report and was happy with the ease of setup.  No support for MSN Mail, but that is partially an MS issue as there are no POP3 services available for those products.  However, in the interest of fairness to consumers, it would have been helpful to have included an MSN Mail applet. 

Nay: Can’t Rotate Email to Landscape – See note regarding Notepad.  Seriously, this really degrades the experience.  You will find yourself spending more time and energy proofing your messages than actually writing them.

Yay: Great Attachment Viewers – I tested 3 major document types: PDF, Word(2003) and Excel(2003).  Both the PDF and the Word docs contained text and graphics with various fonts and colors.  The Excel doc contained multiple sheets and columns with various cell formats including formulas.  Amazingly, all documents displayed perfectly.  One glitch though, I had to re-send the email containing the PDF 3 times before it completely downloaded the attachment.  The previous 2 times I only received partial files, and the viewer was unable to open them.  I couldn’t determine the cause of the problem.  Please comment if you have any info on this issue…

Nay: Very Limited Exchange Support – I was completely unable to test the Exchange connector since our enterprise deployment of Exchange does not support IMAP.  Most don’t.  This will be a major hurdle for iPhone to gain acceptance in large corporate environments.  I truly hope Apple changes their integration policies regarding MS products.  Until then, I feel sorry for the IT guys who are going to have to fend off all the requests for iPhones.

Nay: Embedded Battery – As it is with the iPod, the iPhone battery is embedded in the device and is NOT user accessible.  Or more importantly, user-serviceable.  This was an Achilles heel of the early generation iPods, and I suspect that using the same basic design on the iPhone will come back to bite Apple in a few short years.  Especially since the AT&T service contract is likely to outlast the useful battery life on these devices.  Time will tell…

Way Yay: User Interface – I saved the best for last.  If you’ve read everything up to this point, one thing should be clear:  The interface is super slick.  It will likely drive the UI designs for next generation of touch screen devices.  I cannot say enough about the joyfully natural feel of the apps and the ease of manipulating their features.  I love the smooth motion of the graphics and the real-world physics that Apple has imbued them with.  I would swear that they actually have mass and friction when I am moving them around the screen.  Very cool.

So, What’s the upshot?  While it’s not the first device on the market to tackle the convergence of Phone, Media Player, Email Device & Browser, it is one of the finest examples to date.  Yes, there are a number of key features missing, and some glaring application flaws, but that is to be expected of a 1st generation device.  I fully expect Apple to remedy the majority of these issues in the very near future.  And, I can only hope that the cold war between Microsoft and Apple will finally subside so we can stop being forced to live exclusively in one world or the other.  Can’t we all just get along??