We’ve had our hands on Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 3G for a month now, as we can easily declare that it’s the best mobile phone we’ve ever owned. But there’s a lot of room for improvement. Rather than list features or go over the basics — you can find those anywhere — we thought we’d evaluate the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 2.0 operating system from three specific perspectives:
Big picture: As a smartphone for the always-on, always-connected professional, the iPhone 3G is hit-or-miss. It is elegant and user-friendly, but not as reliable as it should be. AT&T’s network fades in and out, and sometimes disappears. That could be a problem with the network itself, or it could be a chipset problem as one Street analyst suggests. Either way, that doesn’t look like something an Apple software update could easily fix for us. The super-fast 3G Internet that looked so good in Steve Jobs’ WWDC keynote is often pokey. And the GPS is often slow to respond and quick to lose our position in a moving vehicle.
Downloading apps from the App Store is a breeze, but updating them is inexplicably slow. A recent software update fixed a bug that made the iPhone’s virtual keyboard clunky, but we still need to restart the phone about once a day to deal with gremlins — sometimes because it simply stops responding. Battery life isn’t as big a problem as some have suggested, but the last half seems to go a lot faster than the first half. And sorry, but the most commonly suggested remedy for the problem — turning off features like 3G, GPS. — isn’t a valid solution. We paid a premium for the machine precisely so we could use those features.
As a mobile messaging device: Apple’s email app is nice, but sometimes it stops checking for new messages at the interval we’ve requested — or chokes on our trusty IMAP server — for no apparent reason. SMS is fine, though absurdly overpriced. It’s time for AT&T to offer a texting plan between its $5/month (not enough messages) and $15/month (too many messages) options.
We love that there’s a massive App Store full of messaging applications, such as AOL’s (TWX) AIM, Facebook, Twitter, etc., to compete with SMS. Specifically, the Twinkle app for Twitter is a gem, especially its often-entertaining, location-based display of strangers’ nearby tweets. (Discovered at SFO airport yesterday: ex-Forrester analyst Charlene Li!)
But Apple’s rule that only one app can run at a time reduces the utility of an always-on mobile Internet connection. An update is on the way that will let app developers “push” alerts to our phone — for instance, they’ll be able to tell us we’ve received an IM. But the messaging app-makers will first need to retool their services so our accounts stay logged in when our apps are closed. In practical terms, this means it’d need to keep us logged into AIM 24×7 instead of just for a few minutes after we close the AIM app. Which, in the case of Twitter apps, for example, might be out of iPhone developers’ hands.
As a mobile gaming device: Some of the most exciting apps in the iPhone App Store are games. We’ve had the best luck with casual games, such as Apple’s excellent Texas Hold’em game; the Sol Free free solitaire app — better than the one we’d previously paid for; the interesting-but-a-bit-over-our-heads Aurora Feint role-playing/puzzle game; etc.
Meanwhile, we’re disappointed with Sega’s Super Monkey Ball, which, thanks in large part to Apple’s promotion, managed to sell 300,000 copies in the last month. The motion-controlled gameplay is just too tricky and sensitive, and isn’t that fun. We hope Sega can fix it, because the graphics are gorgeous. We’re excited for EA’s forthcoming Spore, and especially for Rolando, which is coming eventually from Hand Circus.
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