Tag Archives: Gadgets

An iPhone Story

Last Sunday I purchased an iPhone. This was not my plan, but a couple of things came up to prompt this move. This thing is incredible for the most part, but with only one complaint:

The Purchase

First of all, my expectation was that I’d wait until a second generation release came about. I was quite content with my old Sony Ericsson semaphoring to the bimmer’s Bluetooth interface connection, and the old 3G iPod was the hurdy gurdy churning away at the iPod interface in the glove compartment. And these were good times. It all worked just fine – contacts loaded to the dash, control both from the steering wheel, phone call comes in and the iPod pauses until my conversation completes.

Until last week, when the phone died.

It had been dying a slow but natural death. To be honest, the only thing that was wrong with it was that the battery was able to hold less and less of a charge. The thing on my last business trip would last for maybe one phone conversation after a charge, and certainly wouldn’t make it through a couple of hours away from its power leash. But finally it ceased to work while connected to the charger. It couldn’t even hold enough juice to muster up a single phone call connected to power. Clearly it was time for a change.

And then the urgency occurred when a loved one wound up in the hospital, and my phone wasn’t working to receive the calls for assistance. What timing. Friday night in a hospital I had become all too familiar with recently, to the point where you know half the staff by name. Ugh. I need to do something about this quick.

I had two choices: Get a replacement battery for my Sony Ericsson for around $20 to hold me over until a 2G iPhone appeared, or jump on the technology bandwagon early and get an iPhone for upwards of $700 including tax and AppleCare. Naturally I went for the irrational choice and got the iPhone.

I owned the 1st gen Treo 180 when that first came out, and I loved it despite all its flaws. It was a PDA and a phone, and it was highly functional. But somehow the Treo line got confused and didn’t go quite where I was hoping it would, Palm support for Mac was off and on, and the rumors of an Apple phone began. My next phone would be a cheap-ass one with Bluetooth just to hold me over a cycle until something decent appeared. So with the iPhone finally coming out and the glowing reviews, I was placing myself in line for one of these babies.

The Initial Experience

If I may gush…

The purchase took minutes, the unboxing and activation was effortless, and I didn’t find the keyboard too difficult to operate even with my fat, round thumbs and long guitar-player fingernails. The initial sync was a bit lengthy over the USB connection for about 6 GB of data I had ready to go, and I had to rerun it a couple of times to get my contacts list right and to get the software updated on the unit. But once running, it just worked like a hot knife through warm butter.

Every application on this thing works extremely well, and well together. Syncing with my Mac, browsing through contacts, dialing numbers, watching vids from iPod or YouTube, email, calendar, and the rest of it – all very nice. The browser picks up phone numbers and converts them to hyperlinks to dial. Nice. I am sure that this is the finest mobile device created to date – very elegant.

The Browser

I’m going to get this out of the way. At the risk of being unpopular, I really am not a huge fan of the Safari web browser on the iPhone. Here’s why: I can’t resize fonts beyond tilting the screen – unless the page itself has font resizing baked in to the controls – a rarity. Zooming in on the content is inadequate, because I wind up scrolling horizontally as well as veritcally. The default page width for the iPhone is too wide and makes font scales too small as a result.

Now that I’ve had the iPhone for a couple of days, I want the handheld media type even more. This is an effing handheld device – support the handheld media type and prod developers to use it for your world domination goals instead of having to get people to fork their code. Web page layouts are too big by default for this size screen, and the web developer is confronted with the choice of either writing a version of their website just for the iPhone, or they have to install some greasemonkey-style hack. And I’m seeing plenty of websites offering iPhone-optimized versions of their sites so don’t tell me you’re doing this to offer the big giant World Wide Web in all its splendor. Boo. This would be so much better with an option to load the handheld css as an option somewhere. So much. Heck, even on a per-site basis as a preference in the bookmark or something.

What Safari on iPhone does, it does well – zoom in, hyperlinked phone numbers, and highly usable for a PDA web browser. Give me font resizing and the option to load the handheld stylesheet associated with the given web page and I’ll be happy. Bonus points if you can squeeze in a Flash plugin.

The Money Shot

OK this part I’m about to tell you was entirely unexpected. I went in to the Apple Store with no expectation that this thing would want to have anything to do with my BMW’s iPod and/or Bluetooth interfaces. It was created in 1995. This is emerging 1st generation technology two years later – snowball’s chance in hell of working with my car I thought.

I thought wrong.

This thing is sick. I tried plugging it in to the iPod interface and it just worked. OK cool – I can listen to tunes on this thing in my car if I need to. But surely this won’t pair up with my bimmer, right? No – it works effing perfectly. I pair it up, it connects just fine, it syncs my contacts, and I can place and receive calls in my car. iPhone gets charged up in the meantime – bonus points.

This thing just rocks. I am very impressed with the elegance of this innovative and highly usable design. Well done! Just fix Safari for me and we’ll be good.

Gadgetry In Motion

AirPortTV

Apple’s iTV project is exactly what I have been hoping they would do – create a media link from my network to my television. Bring it on. But waiting until Q1 2007 is such a tease, although I can see if the reason were to bring in a higher bandwidth specification for wireless.

I have to wonder about the long stretch between now and launch though, and the motivation behind announcing so early. Are they concerned a competitor will release a similar box beforehand? Probably. I mean, that’s why Microsoft does vaporware announcements – to create that purchase anxiety so people will wait for their offering before buying something that already works and is available in the marketplace.

Poo

Zune, Microsoft’s attempt to piggyback on some of the iPod shine, really looks like something I stepped in last week. The thing is an obvious iPod knock-off – looking like a cheap plastic piece of crapware that I would probably find in a flea market or mounted in cardboard and plastic in the Safeway toy aisle. I actually resisted commenting on this for a while, but when I saw the brown, I had no choice. Sorry.

The announcement of the Zune certainly has generated it’s share of poopy journalism, too. What really cracks me up is how people think that the wireless DRM-protected music sharing feature is going to force Apple to somehow react. As John Gruber points out:

If the Zune were already shipping, and people were buying it, and this feature proved to be popular, then, yes, Apple would need to do something about it. Or even if the Zune had just now shipped, and we could actually see this feature and determine that it was actually pretty cool, then, maybe, Apple would need to do something about it. But the Zune is vaporware.

Not only does the Zune look like a floating steamer, but in typical Microsoft fashion, it is all just pie in the sky now and months away from actually seeing the light of day. Every competitor to the iPod has crashed and burned so far, and it doesn’t look like Zune is promising to be much different. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see a competitor, but no-one seems to have been able to step up to the plate yet.

Wee

Nintendo’s Wii looks pretty damn sweet. And looking at the comparatively steep price points for Sony and Microsoft’s bloated systems, combined with some cool new features, I suspect it will compete just fine in the game console marketplace. With plenty of interesting games (including Zelda, Mario, and Sonic themes), an innovative (if somewhat odd) game controller solution, and it’s low price point, it should do well. I myself lean towards the Wii, simply because it’s cheap, the kids are pretty young, and no-one does that much gaming in our house anyway. (That would have been my job before, but life is busy these days…)