Apple iPhone hands-on: pros and cons

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Hi, I look after product development for CBS Interactive in Sydney - which lets me develop a range of websites including CNET Australia, TV.com and ZDNet Australia.

The Apple iPhone 3G has finally landed in Australia. Check out our iPhone Launch Centre for everything iPhone, including news, features, photos, downloads and videos.

During a Q&A with Apple's vice president of iPod products Greg Joswiak, I finally got to play briefly with one of the highly-anticipated iPhones.

Announced yesterday at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco, there are only two iPhones on public display at the convention, both of which are currently rotating on podiums in the main hall, sealed in plastic bubbles and displaying automated demonstrations of its capabilities to crowds of onlookers.

Unfortunately photography was not permitted in the hands-on demo, but I'll try to share my experience during the hasty test period.

An iPhone displaying Google Maps on show at Macworld

The iPhone is one of the most elegant and ravishing phones I've seen so far, due largely to its simple, sleek design and impeccable, intuitive user interface. While fashion phone fans used to teensy handsets might disagree, the iPhone doesn't feel too unwieldy and at just under 12mm thick, it is certainly pocketable. Gliding your finger from left to right on the lower half of the screen unlocks the iPhone and presents you with the Home screen widgets (mini-applications): Text, Calendar, Camera, Photos, Camera, Calculator, Stocks, Maps, Weather, Notes, Clock and Settings. At the bottom of the screen are the iPhone's four final functions (for now): Phone, Mail, Web and iPod.

Although the iPhone runs a version of Mac OS X "optimised for the handheld experience", Joswiak explains it's not an open platform and any updates to applications or software will come through Apple. This closed model, although secure, means you can't install additional custom or third-party apps -- does this mean it isn't defined as a smartphone? It's a model that Joswiak says will continue in the foreseeable future.

While the 8.9 cm screen takes up the vast majority of the front of the device, housed beneath it is the inward curving Home button, which for some reason I thought would be touch sensitive; however, it's clickable. While the room we were in was dimly lit and conducive to making displays look vibrant, the screen didn't fail to impress. It is bright, colourful and seems like a very high resolution for its size.

To get an idea of how to type messages on a buttonless phone, I ducked into SMS. The text message list is grouped by sender. Going into a thread shows a conversation history (both sent and received messages) in cute coloured speech bubbles. Using two thumbs to type a quick couple of words, the touch-sensitive QWERTY worked well -- my accuracy might have been better if I had longer than 3 minutes with the phone. However, I think the virtual keys and the lack of a tactile click feeling won't be everyone's preferred way of text entry.

Next up I wanted to test the pinch and stretch zooming using two fingers, so I went into the Web function where a US newspaper's Web site (New York Times, perhaps) loaded on the screen. In portrait orientation the headlines were barely legible, but with a quick stretch gesture the screen zoomed in and re-rendered the screen in around a second, making its pictures and headlines crisp.

With other journalists in the room still waiting to have their turn with the iPhone, I quickly went back to the Home screen -- the Home button gets you back here from anywhere almost instantly -- and into Maps. Google provides the mapping service widget. A map of the local San Francisco area swiftly appeared and a red push-pin marker dropped from the top of the screen to mark the location, although we're not sure if that was a bookmark or if the iPhone was approximating our location with triangulation from mobile phone towers -- something to check on the show floor later.

Orientation changes as expected when the iPhone is tipped on its side, allowing you to see Web sites, videos, maps and photos in landscape mode. Multi-touch is a fantastic feature for zooming in and out and panning. Apple isn't mentioning how much system memory is onboard, but we didn't notice much of a lag between menus or applications -- mind you we didn't push the iPhone's multi-tasking abilities to the extreme.

We were unable to demo the synching process with iTunes, and are disappointed that Wi-Fi can't be used for synching or for direct communication with other iPhones, the latter being one of the major selling points for Microsoft's Zune. Joswiak claimed an advantage of the wired connection is that it's faster and that it charges the device at the same time.

Will the iPhone be a success? Undoubtedly it will be in the US if comments by Macworld attendees are any measurement, but a lot could happen between now and the time it takes for the iPhone to launch in Australia, which representatives from Apple Australia could not narrow down from Steve Jobs' "2008 in Asia".

Addressing the iPhone's lack of 3G connectivity at a time when HSDPA services are flourishing internationally and the impact of future WiMAX technology, Joswiak said that Apple "made some choices that make sense today". Reports of poor battery life could potentially have hurt Apple if it chose to go with 3G from the get-go. Certainly the iPhone is an amazing device and credit must go to Apple for its seamless integration of hardware and software. But what impact will the iPhone's Wi-Fi limitations, closed system, wide and long design, and lack of next-generation mobile technology have on sales?

I'd like to hear your thoughts on the iPhone and Apple's entry into mobile phone market. Please leave your comments below.

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Rita panchamiya posted a comment   

I own this rubbish device I am stuck with a piece of junk which lacks the basic functions like forwarding SMS ,camera recordind ect
After paying a bomb for this I have to pay for basic utilities or jailbreak,it's a coplete waste of time .
My advice to the whole world do not buy this crappy phone the cheapest phones have basic utilities

 

Jake :-) posted a comment   

I think all this hype is really for nothing. I mean, what makes this phone so special? It has a little apple symbol on the back?
I own an N73 and i got to play with an iPhone in a recent holiday to New York, the iPhone was really no different than my N73, which is $199 outright. Now, it does everything I want it to. I can install 3rd party apps, I can send files via Bluetooth, I can record video, and I can send MMS. All these features should be standard. I think the only reason its so big is because its made by apple, who are the most stubborn company in the world. If I want an iPhone on 3, why can't I have it? Apple knows we are just going to jail break it. And when they release new sys firmware, we will just jail break that as well. I think the iPhone is cool and everything, but im not going to swap my N73 for a phone that lacks so much and is only wanted because of its touchscreen.

 

sss posted a comment   

I like iPhone

 

Sami3 posted a comment   

I thought an IPhone was an Mp3 or Mp4
and a phone

 

Jimmy Z posted a comment   

I saw some videos on the use of the iphone and it has a great design. Unfortunately much like all of apples other products they are just remaking old technology. I've been using a motorolla E6 which has most of the same functions minus wifi and the motion sensor. I've had this for a few months already. By the time the video ipod came out most people have had MP4 players for years. Kudos to apple for recycling old technology and making it simple to use for the average Joe.

 

alex posted a comment   

i love the iphone im a big apple lover
have the ipod got the macbook im a
huge fan and i definitley will get the iphone even tho it cost 600 buks

 

sambo posted a comment   

It seems that Crazy Johns will be the only network provider to deliver the iphone (crazy johns is expected to form its own network soon). As crazy johns is the only telco that is a authorised apple reseller they already have their foot in the door.

 

anonymous posted a comment   

To me, it's amazing, and don't tell me that's the power of advertising at work. Keep in mind that although they probably had a whole board of professional designers on board, this is their first phone. They are obviously leaving themselves room to get better. As the saying goes: There is nowhere to go but up.
Personally, even before this was announced, I was wishing Apple would release a iPod/mobile phone. I loved Apple's characteristic design, as it is very aesthetically pleasing, and I was annoyed with having to carry a phone AND an iPod everywhere. I hope the memory allows for at least 2GB of music. Also, is black the only colour available?

 

volks posted a comment   

I am from australia and was at macworld, I did not get a nice press preview, but I was very aware of the US centric bias of the phone, when you are in san francisco everyone uses smart phones, everyone has access to wifi... it's the norm where as in australia we are screwed by the phone operators, I can see telstra picking this up and offering it to the business jerk who's company pays for all the bells and whistles, internet on your phone... whats the problem where the rest of the public hurt on the price of the phone, and then hurt more over the data charges... I can see apple have to get the operators to tweek their networks for some of the iphones features but I just have a feeling of dread that the winning australian operator will stuff the iphone for everyone here because they will see it as a cash cow and not a phone for everyone to experience...

I will find it interesting when someone in the mac hack community starts to open the phone up with some tweeks, then it maybe even more interesting.... ah yes we have a year to wait, or maybe a hack/unlocked iphone from the US earlier if we are lucky...

 

supersomething posted a comment   

the iPhone is definitely sexy. the huge screen, the crisp display, also the ingenious and definitely revolutionary interface... however its size is a BIG no-no for those who prefer single hand operation... yours truly included. well.. i'm in asia, so i have more than a year to read the reviews... maybe i would change my mind by then. ;)


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