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48 Hours with an iPhone

Okay, so I’ve had my iPhone for a while now, but back when I got it I took a few notes about my first impressions.  I thought I’d clean them up a bit and post my thoughts for anyone who still on the fence about buying one.

I, like a lot of you, have been following the iPhone since it was just a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.  Hundreds of bloggers and journalists have written about the device.  Now that I’ve had one for two days, does it meet the hype?

Before I write down a few thoughts, I have to say that my wife got me the iPhone as an anniversary present.  My Treo 650 has become increasingly frustrating, freezing up silently and making it impossible to get in touch with me.  I’ve also been informed that this counts as Christmas 2007 as well, which is fine by me.

My first experience with the iPhone was a bit frustrating.  My main desktop is still on Windows 2000.  Unfortunately, even though I had the latest version of iTunes, I needed Windows XP, Vista, or OSX to sync with the iPhone.  I had to activate the phone using my wife’s iBook.  Activation was very quick and painless – as a current AT&T customer who already has a data plan and iTunes account I would imagine I’m the ideal case.

The iPhone does a lot of things very well.  Safari is a great web browser, with one caveat I’ll talk more about below.  The large, high resolution screen makes web surfing a much better experience than my Treo.  The screen is amazingly bright – I have it set at the default, halfway setting and could still read everything easily in the bright sun.  I love the way it picks up nearby wifi networks and then remembers once you’ve okayed a particular one – at home, web surfing is very fast.  Surfing on the AT&T network is noticeably slower but usable.  At least once or twice it seemed to stall completely.

I put a few mp3s and photos on it and the process is pretty painless.  So far iTunes seems a lot easier to use than the Palm Desktop software for my Treo which always seemed a little odd to me.

How does it work as a phone?  Very well.  The speakerphone is loud and clear and everyone on the other end has told me I sound great.  I even took a work call on a Sunday night, and it seemed everyone else on the bridge had background noise problems but me.

The biggest frustration for me so far (other than the incompatibility issues) has been that Safari is so much like a real browser that it tricked me into thinking it was a real browser.  I’ll explain.  I have some photos up on Flickr and my wife was using her iBook so I thought I would just grab photos online instead of syncing them.  No dice.  There’s no way to actually save pictures, or anything for that matter, from the web.  Now I know Safari can save things, that’s how web browsers work, they download and cache files to display them to you.  So why is it impossible to save a photo to my photos?  I wonder if this is Apple trying to make it simpler for novice users or AT&T trying to keep people from skipping services somehow.

Either way it’s disappointing.  It shows you why so many people are rushing to hack the iPhone – there’s a lot of untapped potential there.

I mentioned that iTunes was easy to use, but the syncing process does have one fatal flaw: I can’t seem to figure out how to do a real backup, other than syncing again to a recent version of Outlook.  I really just want a file system I can copy to a CD (or better yet, let Mozy automatically back up).

Anyone else have an iPhone?  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Here come the iPhone killers…

DSCN1935-1Nokia has announced a new phone, the N81, which looks suspiciously similar to a certain Apple phone.  What’s more, Nokia is launching a music download service which will allow people to download songs directly to the phone, instead of going through iTunes on their Mac or PC as iPhone users must.

Is this a bad sign for Apple?  Does it mean Apple had merely a fleeting lead over the competition?

I wouldn’t worry too much.  Nokia is a successful company that makes some great phones, but  Apple is playing a completely different game, the game that Motorola played with the Razr.  When it first came out, people heard about the Razr, they knew what it was, and they knew it was very thin and stylish.  After the success of the Razr other manufacturers came out with thin phones, but apparently copying the form factor and giving the device a serialnumberesque name is not enough.

My guess is it will be the same with the iPhone – every time Nokia tells the press and customers “The N81 is just as great as the iPhone” people will hear “Mumble mumble great mumble iPhone.”  I’m not a marketing expert, but it seems like a branding mistake to me.

The real way to steal the iPhone’s thunder is to figure out what people would like to do with a mobile device and an internet connection and better support that user experience.  From the review on Gigaom, I’m not sure that’s the case here.

The iPhone, Google Maps for Mobile, and e911 – where is the disconnect?

DSCN0592Google Maps for Mobile will soon include a GPS-like ability to find your current location.  A little while ago Gizmondo wrote about an iPhone hack that allows almost, but not quite GPS functionality.  The hack itself sounds a lot like the way phase II of the wireless E911 service works, and my guess is that Google Maps is fairly similar.

If you take a look at this map, you can see than many states have > 80% deployment.  On the FCC site you can find reports of the e911 deployments completed by cell phone companies.  Any company that doesn’t have over 95% of their customers with E911 capable handsets is currently getting fined.  So it’s a shame that Google and random iPhone hackers have to reimplement all this.

I’ve never worked on E911 support (or anything cellular, for that matter), but it seems to me there is an incredible opportunity here.  One of the great things about the iPhone is that it drives adoption of data plans.  How about including psuedo-GPS capability in nearly every phone as soon as you sign up for a data plan?  That would be a huge incentive.

Here’s an even more radical idea:  why not come up with a standard way to communicate presence and location data so users can do things like local search?  It might take use years and millions of dollars to develop proprietary systems to do this, but if we use an open standard perhaps this could be adopted as quickly as things like the web and email.

Even better, operating under an open standard will allow geeks in garages all over the world to develop new social software systems we can’t even dream of.