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iPhone 3G initial experiences

Sunday, July 13th, 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.

First in the iLine

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.

An iBrick 3G waiting for activation

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.

Final thoughts
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.

iWorthy or iNsane?

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

So here I sit, 1st in line at the Alderwood Mall Apple Store waiting for iDay to come around so that I can walk away triumphantly with my iPhone 3G. Is driving 15 miles to sit in line for 11 hours really necessary – of course not. Is it fun – perhaps. Does it make me certifiably insane – that remains to be seen as well. Keep an eye on my Twitter for up to the nanosecond updates on my iPhone 3G purchasing journey.

A special thanks to Brian and Brien for indulging my geeky little psychosis and watching Skype for the night.

V-Moda: worst customer service ever

Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

When they work I love my Vibe Duos, but unfortunately they are not working so well right now. I raved about them as the best iPhone headset on the market in my review on Gear Live and my follow up post about the 2nd generation Vibe Duos with an answer/hangup button. Unfortunately I can no longer say I recommend either the Vibe Duos or any product made by the V-Moda company.

While their earbuds are amazingly comfortable and sound great they have severe build quality issues which results in frequent failure. After repairing the headphone sheath as described in the review and then replacing them entirely when they stopped working I have had to replace them two more times directly through the V-Moda warranty program for a total of three replacements in under 9 months.

The first time I replaced them through RMA I was a little irked that the process took almost two weeks. This time around V-Moda has gone silent once I shipped the defective earbuds back to them. UPS has proof that they were delivered and signed for, however V-Moda initially couldn’t find them (and wanted the tracking number again), and now refuses to even respond to emails regarding the warranty program.

It’s sad really – the Vibe Duo’s are the most comfortable, and among the best sounding headphones I’ve ever used. When they work I sing praises to my fellow man about the glory that is the Vibe Duo, but since in the last 9 months since I bought my first pair I’ve been through 3 pairs, and without their delicious sound for more than 6 weeks I can’t honestly recommend anyone purchase them if they in the slightest value reliability or customer service.

I’ve filed an official complaint with the Better Business Bureau to see if that might get me traction on getting my promised replacement pair. The full text of the complaint is below for public record.

Complainant Information
About 3 weeks ago my Vibe Duo earbuds stopped working and I contacted the company asking for a replacement pair. They sent a form letter with a ticket number (Ticket ID: ZWL-207849) and asked that I mail the broken earbuds to their mailing address. (V-Moda, 6464 sunset blvd. suite 500, hollywood ca 90028)

I sent the earbuds back via UPS (tracking number: -tracking number redacted-) and then didn’t hear anything back for 2 weeks. UPS confirms that the package was delivered 2 weeks prior, 2 days after shipment.

I re-contacted them asking for status and they took 3 days to respond and their response was that they needed the tracking number. I sent an email providing the tracking number and have not heard back from them. I have sent them two additional emails asking for status updates and to complete the RMA with no response. Each of my last 3 emails has included all of my contact information as well as the tracking number.

Resolution Sought: I would like the RMA to be completed and to receive the replacement earbuds for the ones sent their way (at their instruction).
Date Problem Started: 05/28/2008
Date of Transaction: 05/28/2008
Amount in Dispute: $110.00
Invoice Number: ZWL-207849
Complaint Type: Refund Promised
Product or Service: V-Moda offers “high end” earbuds.

Update: Mere hours after the posting of this article V-Moda got back to me with status on the warranty replacement and the happy news that they would be shipping the replacement Duos right away. The communication did not mention if the Better Business Bureau or this article had any influence on their response but the timing certainly is suspicious. The note included an apology stating that they had moved offices which had caused delays. While finally getting contact is nice V-Moda’s inability to properly set expectations was inexcusable.

Good customer service does not always mean instant resolution on an issue, but it always means rapidly responding to contact and setting expectations properly. After 9 days of sending mails to V-Moda with no response any customer is going to be frustrated – a frustration which could have simply been avoided with a quick email on day one stating that they had received the communication and would have an official response within two weeks.

In conclusion I can no longer heartily recommend the Vibe Duos to iPhone owners seeking headsets. Don’t get me wrong – I love my Vibe Duos, they sound great and are super comfortable but after 3 failures and such abysmal customer service I’m left with both a sour taste in my mouth and a sadness in my heart that if history is any indication my replacement Duos won’t last longer than 3-4 months .

Holy orange creamsicle!

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

If you want to win this:

Then go here to enter the latest Gear Live contest. It might only be a 1st gen iPhone on the eve of the 3G launch, but it’s at the right price: free! There are other prizes too, but who cares: orange creamsicle iPhone!

International mid-flight bloggery?!

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

First international trip ahoy! While watching a few DVD rips on the flight over I’ve decided to kill some time writing both this entry as well as the bulk of the first draft of my HP Mini-note 2133 review for Gear Live.

Getting on the flight was also an interesting experience. I’m not sure if this is normal for international flights but they had a long line of customs agents lining the hallway to the plane as I entered and were pulling every other passenger or so off to ask them conversational questions about their trip and duration. I suspect given the way the conversation happened that they were looking for nervousness or other signs of illicit activity.

While Northwest Airlines is no British Airways or Virgin it does manage to impress with a few amenities. Most notably is the inclusion of standard united states AC power outlets for each seat enabling laptop usage during the entire 12 hour flight without the use of additional batteries or proprietary charging adapters.

Aside from the availability of power (sweet, sweet power) the Airbus plane I’m on features a small screen embedded into the back of every seat. Coupled with a wired remote control in the armrest this screen is theoretically supposed to offer on-demand movies, in-flight information, games, and a variety of ways to part from one’s money. However the particular linux-powered system in my (rather the row of seats I am currently occupying) seems to have some problems as after three hard resets they still can’t get movies working. The attendant offered me 5,000 air miles for my trouble, but as I fly about once a year it wasn’t really worth the trouble of filling out the paperwork to claim them. Poor me.

*** time passes ****

I’m currently hurtling above the Atlantic ocean near Greenland at approximately 580MPH. As such the flight has been blessedly uneventful. The food service is average at best, but not so bad when I factor the fact that it’s being served to me 36,995 feet in the air while hurtling along at nearly the speed of sound.

I’ve been struck by how many male flight attendants there are on this flight. In my past experiences most flight crews have been predominately female – a stark departure from this 2:1 male to female ratio I’m seeing for this one. I wonder if that’s because this is an international flight, because this is a Northwest flight, or if I’m just lucky to get some decent eye candy on the 10 hour leg of my journey.

*** more time passes ***

While whisking along through the air I decided to flip through my download of Little Brother, Cory Doctorow’s latest book. It’s actually a fairly creepy book to read given how close it smacks to the truth. The subject of the book is a kid, barely 17, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is detailed and questioned for potential involvement in a terrorist act. Having just been questioned needlessly by customs while leaving the country I’m suddenly even more aware at how the United States government has become just a little too Orwellian of late, all in the name of protection.

*** even more time passes ***

Well, Little Brother is done, and an excellent book. Bravo to Cory for writing in a language that the up and coming generation can understand bringing light to an issue that often adults find confusing. I highly recommended reading it – wether from a free download from Cory’s website or by purchasing it from your local retailer (and thus supporting Cory).

On a less related note I’m very glad that this plane has AC outlets. I’m already more than 8 hours into this flight and think that without the digital comfort provided by my laptop in the form of books, movies, and music I would have gone stir crazy by now. As is I think I’m on the verge of stir crazy just based on the fact that I’ve essentially been sitting in the same cramped and uncomfortable seat for 8 hours straight without standing up now. I can’t wait for the flight to land (less than 2 hours now) so I can stretch my legs and get some circulation going again.

*** time passes, but not much ***

Although walking about is discouraged I finally couldn’t take it any more. I managed to do a few laps around the plane (and hit the frighteningly small bathroom). It wasn’t much, but after 8 hours I’m not too picky when it comes to stretching my legs.

I’m now struck by the prevailing fact that I’m further from my home (or my birthplace) than I’ve ever been before. In the grand scheme of things it’s pretty trivial to be 4,037 miles away from Seattle (if the in-seat entertainment unit is to be trusted) given how man is on the verge of exploring the universe and expanding our horizons on a cosmic scale, but it’s still a big deal for me.

I’m very interested to see what my personal take on Europe is going to be. Somehow it now seems strange to only have a single viewpoint on life, to have only seen the American way. From what I’ve heard the rest of the world is a very different place – I’m eager to see how different (and how the same) it really is from the reality I’ve known my whole life.

*** 700 miles remaining to Amsterdam ***

As I’m sure my mother could attest I’m not so good at sitting still. I’m not so good at traveling either. I guess combining the two is one of those little personal tests one must go through to experience the world. Weird thing is that if my 101 goals are to be believed then I’ll be doing this all over to visit Japan, and then a miniature version of this to see the east coast of the United States.

Side note: I wonder what kind of coffee will greet me at the Amsterdam International Airport. Regardless of type, quality, or concentration I can assure you that immediately upon landing coffee will be consumed.

*** 48 minutes remaining to touchdown ***

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How about now? Now? Soon? Are we there yet?

Further side note: The iProduct is ubiquitous. Of the approximately 30 people I can see from my vantage here in the bowels of a giant plane I can count no less than 18 of them using the signature white earbuds. Sadly I myself am in this lot while I wait for my Vibe Duo’s to come back (yet again) from Vibe after their last failure.

*** the second leg ***

I’m currently on the second (and much shorter) leg of my journey. Nate and I made it to Amsterdam and got a chance to stretch our legs and wander about the Amsterdam airport for a few hours. Now that we have boarded our final leg we have less than one hour remaining until we land in Germany.

I’m busy cramming Learn German 101 podcasts trying to brush up my vocabulary to a meager minimum to allow me to get by. Yes – I realize that on the plane to Germany is likely not the best time to be learning German, but really when it comes right down to it I think this falls into the ‘better late than never’ category.

I’m quite looking forward to landing and getting checked in to our hotel. We will be landing at roughly 2pm local time and have the rest of the day free. After a quick shower I’m hoping to get out into Berlin with my camera and get in a little tourist time before the HP PSG event starts and I get sucked into work related stuff.

HP Mini-note 2133 joins the insanity

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Things are getting out of hand

HP has graciously loaned me one of their new HP Mini-Note 2133 ultra-portable PC’s for my trip to Berlin. Now that it has joined my Macbook Pro and EeePC 900 on the desk things are starting to get a little out of hand.

A few initial thoughts twittered on setup to be included in my upcoming HP 2133 vs. EeePC 900 Battle Royale:

The scream

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

A great iPhone background that didn’t quite fit into the iPhone wallpaper tutorial I just posted, but it was my favorite of todays creations – and the one currently set as my iPhone wallpaper. This is one of my all time favorite shots of my friend Ian, a primal scream taken years ago at an outdoor festival. The full sized original treatment without the iPhone-specific tweaks is here on Flickr.

 

Right click and ‘Save link as’ to get the full size originals suitable for use on your iPhone.

How to make great iPhone wallpaper

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Being an ADHD design nerd (or is that Apple fanboy) I’m frequently changing up the wallpaper on my iPhone. As a some of the wallpapers I published in an earlier post have crept up to some of my most frequently viewed Flickr photos I thought I would post a quick write up on how I select and make my oft-changed iPhone wallpapers.

I primarily use Photoshop for my image editing work and this process will be easy if you have Photoshop and are comfortable using it. It’s a very simple process and could be completed with virtually any image editor, although ones that can read Photoshop (PSD) files will make it easier to import the template discussed below. If you don’t want to spend money on a photo editing application GIMP is a free option that offers a decent interface and lots of tools to experiment with.

The first step of the process lies ahead: selecting the image to use. Ideally images should fit into one of two categories. These images have either a uniform simplicity, or a design flow that works with the iPhones overlaid controls.

The first type of image that works well has a uniformity to it. Because of the user interface controls partially obscuring the locked iPhone wallpaper images that focus on color or texture will work very well for this as obscuring a part of this kind of image does not hide key aesthetic elements. This kind of image is great for capturing a favorite color or surface while not adding distraction to Apple’s clean and minimalistic design.

Contrail to God iPhone wallpaper
A simplistic background

The second type of image that works well are images with a central focal point that is well buffered by simplicity. As the top and bottom of the iPhone are obscured by the overlaid controls having an image which can appreciated from the lower than center portion of the viewport on the lock screen, and with a background or less important top and bottom that are not critical to the aesthetic appeal of the image.

When taking photos for use as an iPhone wallpaper consider using a very narrow depth of field to direct interest to the center area of a vertical shot. Alternatively for a bolder look consider incorporating strong design elements such as bright angular sections of color. Remember that although the top and bottom will be obscured the image will still bleed through the overlay and provide some visual impact.

Sunlit frond iPhone wallpaper
A more visually complicated sweet spot

Once an image is selected I use the iPhone template pictured below to help me compose it for the iPhone. I found this template on the Mac Rumors forum in this thread. Full credit goes to TheSpaz who created the awesome resource and shared it with the world.

The template is free to download and comes in the form of a PSD template with each element set up in a separate layer with the correct opacity. This template makes it easy to drop an image into the background layer and compose it to look its best on the iPhone.

As your source image is likely much larger than 320×480 pixels you will have to transform the image down to size. By using Photoshop’s free transform option on the layer you can adjust both the scaling of the image, as well as drag it around to ensure that the portion of the image you want visible is perfectly framed by the overlays.

The shot being used in this particular tutorial was taken with a Lensbaby, a lens that adds a significant amount of blur and vignetting away from the center of the screen. This effect helps draw the eye into a subject and simplify the background making it ideal for use in creating iPhone wallpapers. If you have an image you really like, but that does not work well with the overlays due to visual distractions consider vignetting the image in photoshop by gently blurring or darkening the top and bottom edges to draw the eye to the center of the composition.

Because the iPhone displays bright colors so well I usually find that bumping up the saturation of an image 4-8% adds a bit of pop to the wallpaper. A slight bit of sharpening with the unsharp mask filter often helps more detailed images retain clarity on the iPhone’s densely packed pixels. Both of these steps also help make the image look it’s best once it is saved out of the Photoshop format and into either a JPEG or PNG image.

Once you are happy with how your image looks within the preview offered by the template you are ready to save the image and put it on your iPhone. For this process you don’t want the templates overlays added so hide all of the overlay layers leaving your resized and cropped photo and any adjustment layers as your final image. From the file menu select ‘Save for Web & Devices’ to compress your final wallpaper down. I usually save my wallpapers as 32bit PNG images, however JPEG format backgrounds will work just as well.

Save the wallpaper with a recognizable name into the location where you have iTunes set to sync photos from. The next time you sync your iPhone the image will be synced into the iPhone’s library. From there you can view the image with the Photos application and then click the export scarab at the bottom of the screen to select that image for use as your wallpaper.

If you are interested in the image above the version saved without the overlays suitable for immediate iPhone use is here. You can also get the original PSD file here including all the layers, adjustments, and overlays used to create this.

For the record

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

I love my iPhone. I know it seems like such a trivial thing, but of all the gadgets in my life it has the biggest positive impact. Music, SMS, email, voice, or the full blown web – it’s all there in a pocketable little aluminum package. Having the world at your fingertips changes a lot about the way you live your life – keeping up with friends on the go or killing time in jury duty the iPhone scores a win.

That is all.

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