Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Glory of the iPhone

As most of you know (from my incessant bragging), I have succumbed to the devil with white earbuds: a black iPhone 3GS 16GB. It’d be fair to say that life has been better for the week that I’ve had it. Is this how it feels to be one of those stoner hippie Mac users?

It would be hard to name one (or *just* one anyways) killer feature that makes the phone such a rewarding experience. More than anything, I think it’s just the polish of the entire experience. Solid performance, unwavering reliability, intuitive yet childishly simple UI, and a never-ending stream of “oh hey, that’s clever!” moments that make you really feel that a bunch of very smart people put a lot of thought into how people would use their creation.

First, it’s a 16GB iPod. That’ll hold my entire music collection easily. And unlike most phones, a real 3.5mm jack, so no crazy adapters. Special category and sync setup for podcasts makes listening to the BBC a breeze (a serious pet peeve of mine, if you recall). Plus, a sufficiently large screen to make video watching not just possible, but practical, be it Youtube clips, or a 2hr movie to entertain on a long car ride. If you want, you don’t even have to sync with a computer: you can access iTunes directly from the device.

It’s a full featured phone. Audio quality is great, if a bit quiet. Works perfectly with a bluetooth headset. Visual voicemail – no more touchtone prompt nonsense. Reception is top notch.

It’s a PDA. Exchange email and calendar sync, with push. The interface, while lacking some of the advanced features in Pocket Outlook, is arguably far more usable, and far less annoying (in particular, less fail from the notifications over WinMo). Notepad for the grocery lists. Facebook communications with an app. You can even become a Kindle, and read Amazon’s e-book titles.

It’s a gaming platform. Touch-enabled games, from the simple joys of cat-stacking to futuristic tower defense. Specialized apps for the Zynga Facebook games that are so popular right now.

It’s a camera. Not as good as a dedicated camera, but enough for clear pictures in all but the dimmest of light. Even video! Beats any other camera-phone I’ve seen to date.

It’s a navigation device. Google Maps built in, but that’s not the only way to use location. One of the most interesting GPS uses I saw was the AAA app, which can call for a tow at your current location with literally just the push of a button.

It’s even a web browser. Having seen the utter rendering failboat that is Pocket IE (even the newest one), and the 50lb slug that is Opera Mobile, I’ve been consistently impressed both with the speed and accuracy of webpage rendering from Safari. It’s the only mobile device I’ve seen where it’s actually practical to surf the web.

Even the common iPhone criticisms seem lacking. Soft keyboards are unpopular with many, but you’d be surprised how quickly one adapts. Many criticize that you can only run one downloaded app at a time. Yet this very limitation leads to a very consistent application design, where apps have to make the conscious choice of what state should be persisted. It doesn’t hurt that this keeps performance good as well. Finally, there’s a fundamental objection to the tight leash Apple keeps over its OS and the app store. While that does irk me from a philosophical standpoint, the reality is that Apple has served as exceptional gatekeepers for quality, keeping the worst of the cruft out of the app ecosystem, and to a similar extent preventing the worst crapware that the carriers love to add to otherwise working phones.

But more than anything else, the damned thing works. This may seem wild to those who haven’t suffered buggy phones before, but the fact that I don’t even know where the reset button is says volumes about the device’s reliability. Thus far, no hangs, no crashes, not even any slowdowns. I’ve never drained the battery past half-charge (though GeoDefense certainly does try). Not a single feature that did not work exactly as expected on the first try.

So yea, iPhone = win. Go get one!

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