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iPhone Two Years In

Published on Wed, 21 July 2010

Two years ago I wrote, ”iPhone 3G One Week In”. In that time I replaced the iPhone 3G with a 3GS, copy-paste and multitasking have been added to the newly renamed iOS, iPhone 4 has recently been released and Android has risen to be a viable competitor to iPhone — a lot has happened. So I thought I’d go through the original post and see where we stand now.

A friend asked the following today, the reply was big enough I decided to post it:

So Wes, you’ve had your iPhone for a week now - what are your initial comments?

Pros / Cons?

Has it changed your life? Has the battery life been crappy for you? Talk time OK?

Its definitely the best phone I’ve had. Part of that is due to the tight integration with Mac OS X, which obviously very few companies were going to pull off. As a device its brilliant to use and full of functionality. I’m loving the apps and decent browser. The WiFi is really nice at home. The iPod part obviously works as well and better than any prior iPod.

Excellent Mac OS X support remains high on my phone requirements, although I can see the phone becoming less dependent on a host Mac in the future. The iPod app has improved a bit over time but it still truncates song titles.

The on screen keyboard is pretty much as described. You have to give it time to get the hang of it and you have to trust it. If you’re typing a word that would be in the English dictionary you’re best to keep on typing even if the word is way off. By the time you get to pressing space its usually selected the right word, which is selected automatically upon space. Two irritations with typing though. Its less likely to get shorter word right, particularly when there’s multiple valid options. There’s no way that I’m aware of to get a list of possibilities and choose the one you want. Of course being a small word means its not hard to fix and if you type it correctly in the first place then it isn’t a problem at all. The other minor annoyance is when you get to the last word in a sentence that is mis-typed with a correct suggestion it appears the only way to accept it is to press space (and then delete the space) or grab a full stop.

So many words dedicated to the on screen keyboard. Nowadays the keyboard barely enters into a review. It works well and saves a heap of space.

I haven’t missed MMS at all, especially with a decent email client built in that can talk to Gmail via IMAP and send photos to flickr that way.

MMS was added in iPhone OS 3.0 but my stance towards it hasn’t really changed. I think I can count on one hand the number of MMS I’ve sent. Email remains far more useful to me.

I have missed Todo functionality. I have no idea why Apple have not got this syncing. The support is there in iSync and todos sync with my old phone (Nokia 6280) just fine. I’m hoping that its one of these things that will make it eventually. There’s two reasons I miss todo, one to track things to be done, the other is for reminders for things that don’t have a duration (which can be put in as calendar entries). There is no way to do reminders without a duration at the moment. Having said that the calendar functionality is comprehensive. It supports multiple calendars, full editing, meeting acceptance and basically anything you can do on the desktop.

Two years later and built-in Todo functionality is still missing and it still annoys me. Its part of the iCalendar standard and Mac OS X has full support in iCal and Mail. I continue to add 5 minute calendar entries with an alert to get around this limitation.

Another annoyance surrounds SMS. When on silent you only get a single vibration on new message, which is easily missed. My old phone did three, which was better. Also when you get an SMS my old phone would show an envelope on the black and white standby screen. With the iPhone you have to wake it up to see if you’ve got a message after the display goes back off.

The first of these problems has been addressed. iPhone will alert you of an unread SMS twice after the original alert, which certainly helps. However it seems this feature wasn’t universally loved as an option to turn it off was added in the iPhone OS 3.0 update.

The AppStore is great, some of the apps are very well done. I’m really liking Byline, Twinkle, Exposure and MoPhoTo. I’m not much of a Facebook user but the Facebook app is very well done. It just the core parts of Facebook without all the crap. Of those five, three are free, one is free by ad-supported (with a pay for version available) and the other AU$12.99. I think that’s a pretty good spread for some top quality apps. Some screenshots of these apps are scattered below.

The AppStore continues to be a great success and also a source of controversy from time-to-time. Notably I’m no longer using any of apps linked above aside from occasional use of Facebook. Perhaps not surprisingly the free Facebook app appears to have remained in the top 10 free apps on the AppStore since day one. Another thing to note is the $12.99 price tag of Byline. On launch day the price of apps was generally higher then they are now. The “race to the bottom” has driven prices down. For example Byline now sells for $5.99.

As for apps I’m now using, Tweetie, now the official Twitter app replaced Twinkle some time ago. The official Flickr app replaced both Exposure and MoPhoTo. I now use Reeder instead of Byline for reading RSS. Some other apps I’m now using are:

Battery life is nothing brilliant as has been reported elsewhere. You’d probably want to change it every day. Today I watched a video podcast on the way to work, send a couple of SMSs during the day, added a calendar event, got a call from Steve, called the dentist, listened to music, read in Google Reader via the Byline app, read and updated Twitter via the Twinkle app and used the timer to cook dinner and its showing half battery. It was off the changer all last night too.

The battery life remains bad when compared to previous phones I’ve owned that could go the better part of the work week on one charge. However those phones saw a lot less use and were far less functional. For me the battery isn’t an issue as I’ve come up with a work flow that keeps it charged. I have an iPhone dock at work that the phone remains on all day. That means through the week its always well charged and I generally only have to remember to charge it once over the weekend at home.

A complaint of the old one was that the ringer and message volume was very low and easily missed. [Its] plenty loud enough and its only on about three quarters. Speaking on the phone the volume is good, although I haven’t tried extreme environments like a club.

With the speaker volume up fully I have been able to hold a conversation in a club although it certainly wasn’t easy. This is definitely better than some of my previous phone such as the Sony Ericsson K700i which just wasn’t worth answering a call with if in an even slightly noisy environment.

One of the best built-in apps on the whole phone is maps. Whenever you want to find something, or get the details for a business, get directions, just bring up Maps and it will sort it out. Its as good as, if not better than Google Maps on the desktop. It has the same three views too: Maps, Satellite and Hybrid. The location awareness is great and there’s some basic uses of it in the apps so far, hopefully more creative uses come out. One interesting one is an app called Exposure that is a flickr client with a ‘near me’ function. It shows photos near your current location. Doing so at home brings ups photos of St Kilda Rd, the fountain in the gardens out the front (Pictured above).

Maps remains one of the most handy apps on the phone. The printed map book is a thing of the past (when in mobile coverage areas). Turn-by-turn driving directions are sorely missing from the directions feature but this gap has been filled well by third party apps such as TomTom.

Maybe I’m easily sold on such things but the UI is truly beautiful and being solely finger driven is revolutionary (on a phone). I’m a happy customer.

The iOS UI continues to be good looking and functional but I can’t help feeling that its starting to show its age. In the same way that Aqua from Mac OS X has gradually been toned down, refined, and made more consistent and elegant I feel the iOS needs to start going the same way. The mix of colour and lack of consistency across even the built-in apps makes it feel a bit disorganised and toy like at times. For example Calculator and Notes apps vs. Mail and Safari. I believe this is called skeuomorphic design.

Touch driven phones are also now considered quite normal however with the exception of some Android phones I’m yet to see any other manufacturer provide anything more than a terrible experience. I mean an on-screen T9 keyboard, that’s just stupid.

In the last two years Android has risen to be a serious iOS competitor. There is also Palm (now HP) WebOS but it just isn’t getting the traction that Android is. Android has highlighted iOS’s dependency on a desktop computer. The iOS first run experience is a screen telling you to plug it in so iTunes can do its thing. The more Internet focussed Google has taken a different approach where nearly everything can be done and synchronised over-the-air. In comparison Apple’s approach seems dated. It will be interesting to see what comes of the now serious rivalry between Google and Apple. Personally I just can’t bring myself to use a phone whose primary runtime environment is Java. So it’ll be iOS for me for a while.

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