iPhone First Impressions

by | July 2nd, 2007

iPhone MetaOk, we joined the herd and there are a number of iPhones active at PINT right now. Despite what some the “haters” online are saying, this is a impressive device.

Frankly, I’m not sure if those folks who are highly critical have spent any meaningful time with the iPhone because everyone I know who has actually encountered it seems pretty excited about what it does. Certainly I don’t think anyone can deny that the iPhone can draw a crowd. One PINTster found their use of email to be a fascination for people in an airport, another PINT employee found Starbuck’s customers passing his phone around. My morning CSE134 class had a number of students staying after class for a few minutes of one-on-one time with the phone.

So if your goal is not to be popular for the next 48hrs, why should you consider looking deeper at the iPhone? Well for starters its interface really is that revolutionary; the pointing, pinching and flicking is all very natural. It is simply fun to use and is very easy to learn.

The device is also a pretty good iPod. The screen is very nice and video playback is top-notch. The album picking interface is a nice touch done using the CoverFlow design found in the iTunes desktop software. And while some may complain that it lacks the capacity of a full-sized iPod, the storage space is on par with the high-end Nanos; one employee already has close to 2000 songs on their phone. The built-in speaker leaves a bit to be desired but then again that isn’t the primary playback mechanism; everything sounds great through the headphones.

Add the data services via the Web and things get pretty interesting. Now here is an important point: AT&T’s EDGE network is very sloooowww. If you have used Verizon’s mobile broadband or even AT&T’s own 3G network you are going to hate the AT&T EDGE network. However, the good news is you likely won’t use it much since the iPhone is WiFi-capable. That is a very important point with huge industry-shaking ramifications.

With an ability to decouple connectivity outside the cellular network and with a focus on just regular old Web pages built with XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the writing on the wall for mobile carriers: the “walled garden” is going to fall very soon. Just as Compuserve, AOL, and Prodigy lost control with the introduction of their Internet gateways, AT&T unleashed the furies here by allowing fully-realized WiFi on the iPhone. It will be an exciting time to be a Web developer for a mobile device if this catches on as it should.

Initial investigations of Web site compatibility on the iPhone is generally good. If the site is standards-compliant, not too large in size, doesn’t use Flash without a fallback form and has worked on desktop based Safari it will likely work without a hitch. If it is overly scripted, Flash filled or too filled with links, it will suffer. We emphasize the last point, if you have too many links on your pages and little white space, your iPhone users will be frustrated. Given that you need to use your finger to zoom, if you have a portal page filled with links you will have few dead whitespace or non-link zones for the user to zoom with and they could very easily instead accidentally invoke another page load. Drag and drop also doesn’t work with your finger as it does in modern JavaScript; however that is rarely done in Web sites so it isn’t much of a loss yet.

On closer inspection the Safari version included on the iPhone seems to be utilizing the same version of WebKit (419.3) as Safari 2 – and not the newly beta Safari 3 (522.12.2) – on the Mac. You can expect this to be upgraded to Safari 3 as OS X Leopard nears release. The HTTP User Agent also shows a unique “iPhone” signature.

Some other small things we noticed:

  • The attitude about typing is mixed. Some find it easy, some hard. It seems to be related to their texting background and the user’s thumb or finger size.
  • The auto-suggestion dictionary has a foul mouth. One employee with the last name Ducker got a bit of shock at what the iPhone thought his name should be corrected to. Fortunately it does learn quickly, but any employee’s named Jucker or Rucker might find similar suggestions. We verified this wasn’t just the puckish nature of our employees at work since numerous bloggers are verifying an extensive swear word understanding in the phone’s dictionary.
  • Yes, the screen can smudge, I guess that’s what happens when you touch things with your greasy fingers.
  • Sure the battery life isn’t crazy long with very heavy use; given you are browsing Web sites, taking tons of pictures, and playing music I am not sure what you were expecting. Any smart phone you use a lot will burn through its battery in no time flat. Yes, it should have a removable battery but as we’ve learned from the iPod, that seems to be the Apple way.
  • The 2.0 megapixel camera works great for outdoor shots but leaves a lot to be desired in indoor low-light situations. A flash would have been a nice addition, but that would have meant a big battery life sacrifice.
  • The ability to upgrade the memory would have also been a great feature.
  • As would have been releasing iPhone as an “unlocked” phone, allowing the user to choose which cellular provider to use it with.
  • It should allow you to put 3rd party apps on its main screen rather than having to go to a site.
  • It should be a heck of lot cheaper. Word on the street is that when broken down, the iPhone actually only costs Apple $200-220 to produce – so they are making quite a profit off the device.

iPhone should also pay your bills, cure cancer, solve global warming, and walk your dog as well…sometimes I think people are forgetting: this is first and foremost a phone, and a mighty cool one to say the least! Yes iPhone haters, it isn’t perfect and iPhone 2.0 may be coming soon, but we’ll be enjoying iPhone 1.0 plenty while we wait.

(the picture up top is our “meta” iPhone picture – that is, a picture of the iPhone, taken with another iPhone)



About

Thomas Powell is a long-time web industry veteran, as well as the founder and CEO of PINT.