By Sparky | July 13, 2008
Now that I’ve officially had my iPhone 3G for 2 days I thought I would write up some of my experiences and impressions on it. As with any consumer product the retail purchasing experience is an integral part of the device. As previously posted I went a little gonzo and showed up 12 hours before the Apple store opened and managed to snag myself the 1st spot in line. In true Apple style every single one of the employees in the Apple store at the Alderwood Mall in Lynwood was ecstatic to see me, and seemed genuinely thrilled that their line had started. They even came out to pose for a picture with the head of their soon to be lengthy line.
Shortly after taking that photo the Apple store closed to transform it into an iPhone 3G store. The first step was the erection of a large black velour curtain of mystery to shroud the store and prevent prying eyes from glimpsing the goodness being assembled inside. Other than the occasionally Apple employee emerging from the curtain to go home and sleep (lucky them) the velour curtain of mystery was the only thing to be seen until 8am graced the Pacific time zone.
Waiting in line
The 12 hours in line actually wasn’t so bad. Much to the horror of the Apple Store the Alderwood Mall Security and Administration announced that folding chairs, sleeping bags, tents, and in general having fun were forbidden on property. They seemed to think that even allowing us to be on the property after the malls 10pm closing time was a special treat and yes, could we ask for another cup of porridge sir?
Aside from having to choose between sitting on the cold outdoor concrete and standing all evening we had a blast. The Gear Live crew came out in force to film the event and do some product giveaways for some iPhone cases and accessories. The night passed relatively quickly bringing us to 8am with a line of 250+ excited people iWaiting for the iPhone 3G.
The curtain drops
The velour curtain of mystery dropped and the doors flung open to an Apple store filled with excited Apple employees clapping and cheering us on. Being first in line provided a larger thrill than I expected – leaving my heart racing as I walked through their gauntlet of proffered high-5′s, cheering iAcolytes, and my own sleep-starved imaginations addition of a glowing visage of his holiness Jobs floating in the middle of the store looking down upon his dedicated flock.
The thrill was unfortunately short lived – the internet had indicated prior to opening that system problems had been making the launch difficult for those in time zones ahead of PST. Those problems had far from been worked out by the time us on the west coast were blessed with the coming of 8am. Due to the glitches it was roughly 45 minutes from the time I entered the store until I had been able to successfully purchased my 16GB white iPhone 3G. Even after the purchase the in store activation failed completely leaving me with a sleek and sexy hunk of plastic, plaintively begging to be plugged into iTunes for activation.
Time passes, the 30 minute drive home ensues…
The first several hours home were bittersweet. On the up side I was home and able to shower and sit on comfortable furniture. On the down side I was iPhone-less. Due to a glitch (which has been dubbed the iPocalypse by our beloved main stream media) everyone transitioning from a 1st generation iPhone to an iPhone 3G had their 1st generation iPhone deactivated during the process, so due to the unavailability of the Apple activation server neither the old nor new iPhone would work as a phone leaving me (and 100′s of thousands of others) phone-less and unable to make or receive calls.
While catching back up on work mail remotely I was forced to repeatedly plug my pearly white new toy into my iMac to wait several minutes for the dreaded timeout dialog to inform me that no, I couldn’t use my new toy, and no I couldn’t have a pony either.
After begging use of a neighbors condo and phone line for a few conference calls my precious toy suddenly popped to life upon one of my connection attempts to iTunes. The server-gerbils must have finally gotten their second wind as my iPhone 3G activated, and the sync process begun to restore all of my settings, applications, and media.
Lunch with a friend ensues during the <1 hour sync…
Finally home, and with a working iPhone 3G in hand the process of playing with my precious new toy could begin. Although a little rough around the edges (more on that in a minute) the experience is overall very positive. The 3G antenna provides fast data – combining the stunning software functionality of the iPhone with WiFi like internet access anywhere in a major city makes for a highly functional and productive experience. The two big new software features – Microsoft Exchange support and the iTunes App Store – add significant functionality and usability for both business and consumer users of the iPhone alike.
Although highly subjective I would venture to say that the iPhone 3G feels faster than the first generation iPhone. I’m unaware of if the processor it utilizes is any faster, or if this is merely a psychosomatic effect, but many tasks seem to execute faster. On the flip side a few of the new features seem to have regressed performance – the contacts application now takes several seconds to load as opposed to the nearly instant launch on my old iPhone. Also in the subjective category the iPhone’s virtual keyboard seems improved, although I would be hard pressed to put my finger on exactly how. The keyboard just seems more accurate and easier to use with the new phone.
Another highly subjective trait of the iPhone 3G is it’s sleekness. While the iPhone 3G is actually a millimeter thicker than it’s 1st generation predecessor it feels significantly slimmer and more comfortable in the hand. Much like it’s big brother the Macbook Air the use of organically curving sides hides it’s true heft and girth from the users perception.
Microsoft Exchange support
Exchange support is baked in to the iPhone 2.0 firmware. This feature is available to first generation iPhones and the iPhone 3G alike. After entering your email address, domain account, and password directly into your iPhone and accepting any domain policies (such as a PIN lock) from the Exchange Server you are set to go. Email, contacts, and calendar updates push to the iPhone from your Exchange Server as advertised keeping any business user in touch with their work. Full Microsoft Office support has also been added allowing the reading and review of all Microsoft Office formats including Word, Excel, and Powerpoint documents.
The iTunes App store
The App Store provides the other killer feature – or is that features. While many have decried the iPhone previously for missing various functions those naysayers have been silenced through the ad-hoc addition of functionality. The App Store allows for the browsing, downloading, and updating of applications over WiFi or the cellular network and brings a host of more than 500 new applications to the iPhone. While many of these applications lack the polish of the Apple built applications a few do have that level of sophistication and as time goes on and the iPhone platform gains momentum the signal to noise ratio will surely get better and a plentitude of stunning and functional applications filling any hole left by the Cupertino designers.
Several of the highly polished apps that have impressed me are Twitterrific, Loopt, and Remote. I also downloaded a few games and was impressed by the general level of polish, however as a general rule I don’t engage in mobile gaming so I’m mostly ignoring them for now. I have a few loaded onto my iPhone should I ever find myself with a few spare moments to burn and no productive tasks I can accomplish (unlikely with an iPhone in hand).
Location based services
While the built in A-GPS service was far from my most anticipated feature of the iPhone 3G it’s instantly grown on me. I had thought of the GPS capabilities primarily in turns of mapping and turn by turn directions, however the iPhone 2.0 firmware and the iTunes App Store have proved me wrong: location based services can be so much more.
A rash of location based applications have sprung up, and to my surprise they are all amazingly useful. Loopt provides a service similar to Dodgeball or BrightKite allowing users to check in with their friends and see what’s up but it improves upon it’s predecessors by being entirely automatic. Users can set up contacts and determine what level of location awareness they want to grant to each of these contacts and then view the location of their friends on a Microsoft Virtual Earth powered map. By updating your location without having to search for a location or manually enter one in the use of Loopt can be quick and simple – open the app, check what’s up, and get on with your day.
Other less flashy uses of the location services on the iPhone 3G don’t fail to impress. Even something as simple as a weather location can be improved by automatically knowing where you are. After getting used to weather applications, restaurant review sites, and other miscellaneous applications starting up defaulted to showing me information contextually relevant to my current location I’m struck by how “dumb” the non-location aware web is. Somehow it now seems downright primitive to have to enter my zip code into a web form to view movie times.
The downside to the iPhone 3G
While the App Store, Exchange Support, and location based services are impressive the new iPhone 3G and iPhone 2.0 firmware still have their less rosy facets. The 2.0 firmware lacks the rock solid stability of the 1.1.4 firmware I had been using previously. My iPhone has randomly rebooted 4 times in the last two days – usually in association with one of the App store downloaded applications. Luckily this is likely just some growing pains with the new 2.0 firmware and hopefully a patch will be delivered soon which resolves the stability issues I’m seeing.
In addition to the crashes the iPhone 3G has a fraction of the battery life that the 1st generation iPhone had. This is undoubtedly the fault of the addition of 3G and GPS. I’ll have a more complete idea of how big the impact is after a few more days of usage, but I certainly have seen a reduction. Yesterday while out and about I was torturing my iPhone with 3G data and GPS usage tacking our groups progress through downtown and Greenlake using the Google Maps application. In less than 2 hours I had lost 60% of my battery life.
I’ll be the first to admit that using both the 3G and GPS radios simultaneously is likely the worst case scenario but it’s frustrating to see the battery drop so quickly given the stellar battery of the 1st generation iPhone. Luckily if it gets to be more of a problem than 3G is worth I can turn off the 3G radio and push mail to theoretically get the same or better battery life that I’m used to in exchange for losing out on the increased speed.
While Apple and AT&T faltered with a very rough launch with activation server failures the iPhone 3G hardware combined with the iPhone 2.0 software make for a very big change to the mobile market as a whole. Apples vision of the iPhone being the personal computer of tomorrow is starting to show through the smoke and mirrors. The iTunes App Store will allow developers freedom to create amazing new experiences, and the well implemented support for Microsoft Exchange will help the iPhone venture into the enterprise and tap the booming market for business-oriented smartphones.
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