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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 11, 2008 at 10:07 AM

iPhone quick take: The cool stuff’s on the inside this time

After spending the morning playing with an iPhone 3G, I can see why Apple enthusiasts lined up again for Steve Job’s latest wonderful device.

But the rest of the world’s really going to wonder what the big deal is, this time around.

(AT&T, the phone’s service provider, loaned me a pre-activated phone so I wasn’t caught in today’s activation nightmare caused by Apple’s server problems)
Most people won’t be able to tell whether you’re using version 1.0 or 2.0, although the new one feels more svelte with its rounded, plastic back.
The browser is a bit faster — it took about 25 seconds to load with three bars of 3G reception showing here in South Lake Union. Having GPS brings the device up to par with other high-end phones, but Apple’s interface is a step above.
But the really cool advances this time around are more subtle and they’ll be harder for other phone makers to copy. They’re in the software that you use to add applications and synchronize the phone with Exchange, Microsoft’s dominant corporate e-mail, calendar and contact-management system.
It’s an absolute breeze to install applications such as news feeds from the AP and New York Times, or the restaurant finder from Seattle’s You can load them from the phone, but it’s pretty slow even with the faster network speeds, or just click to add them in iTunes, just like a song.
Apple is heavyhanded with software developers writing iPhone applications, but it pays off for consumers who get a consistent experience downloading, finding and using the applications.
Even better is the process to synchronize the phone with Exchange, I think. I couldn’t complete this task because my employer hasn’t tweaked its servers to accept iPhones yet, so I was unable to finish the last step.
But the first four steps were impressive and super simple — so simple anyone familiar with Outlook Web Access should have no trouble syncing an iPhone to their office’s Exchange system. I’d be relieved if I were a corporate IT person dreading a bunch of support calls from iPhone users.
In the settings menu, you have the option to add a mail account. Exchange is the top of the list, above Apple’s MobileMe, Gmail, Yahoo mail and AOL.
When you tap the Exchange button, you’re asked to enter your e-mail, user name and password.
My tip of the day: Check with your IT department to be sure it has authorized iPhones, because otherwise you may get a message saying that it’s unable to verify a certificate and the sync won’t work.
If you get past that hurdle, when you sync the phone in iTunes, you’re given the option of also syncing your Outlook contacts, calendar and mail accounts.
Of course, Apple is making that software available to the first-generation iPhone as well.
A few little quirks: Just because the 3G phone uses a faster network, don’t expect blinding speed over the wireless network.
Maybe the applications I was using are slammed by all the new users today, but it took longer than expected to connect to the news feeds from the AP and the New York Times.
You also can’t connect to iTunes over the network — you must be on a Wi-Fi network to connect to the store.
So, is the iPhone 3G worth the $2,000 you’ll spend owning and operating one for the next two years?
I’d think carefully before making the plunge. Not because of any shortcomings with the phone. It’s lovely, and continues to define a well designed phone/mobile Web device.
Think about what’s going to happen over the next two years: The economy aside, it’s going to be a golden era for advanced phones and mobile Internet devices.
A range of amazing handheld computers will appear using new mobile chips from Intel and new software platforms from Google, Microsoft and Nokia. For instance, the first “Google phone” built on its Android platform should be available from T-Mobile USA by the end of the year.
The iPhone software will continue to get better and it may stay ahead of the competition, but the phone hardware may seem dated soon, especially the wimpy 2 megapixel camera that can’t take video.
In other words, before your two-year iPhone contract ends, your techie friends will probably be carrying phones with 5-plus megapixel video cameras and monthly rates subsidized by Google and Microsoft — if they haven’t already bought a 3G iPhone.
UPDATE: Spent a long lunch tinkering with Remote, a cool and free application from Apple that lets you use an iPhone or iPod Touch as a wireless remote control for iTunes. This is something I’ve been waiting for, ever since WiFi came to MP3 players.
When Remote worked, it was fantastic, but it dropped the connection a few times even though I was within five feet of my wireless router and iTunes host laptop. It was usually pretty responsive, but there were a few lags when choosing songs, especially if I tried to select a song with Remote after starting one at the laptop.
Maybe that’s why Microsoft didn’t offer a similar application with the Zune. I thought it was a bad call not to offer a home remote capability but maybe it was concerned that flaky performance could hurt the reputation of the devices. Apple’s got enough credibility that version 1.0 glitches in Remote won’t hurt, especially since the software’s optional and free.
If the kinks get worked out, though, the combination of Remote on a base-level iPod Touch ($299) will be a huge challenge to wireless music systems like the $700-and-up Sonos and $399 Logitech Duet.



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