I was there, the first day, buying the iPhone, after months of reading all the speculation and argument about it. I was actually on the fence on it. When I walked into the Apple store on June 29th, I wasn’t even certain that I’d be buying the iPhone. I had some serious concerns. But I made the plunge. I bought it, and I’ve been using it heavily ever since. With one month clocked with the iPhone, here’s my road test report.
So I wasn’t sold on the iPhone when I walked into the Apple store. There was the laundry list of deficiencies that had been circulated pre-release: slow network, no third party apps, no expandable memory, no replaceable battery, no GPS, and no real keyboard. The keyboard was actually my greatest concern, because I figured that some of the items on the laundry list could be addressed with software and/or policy updates from Apple, some could be addressed with hacks, others might turn out to be not that big of a deal. But that keyboard was there to stay.
After enjoying the initial euphoria of the iPhone interface and included apps, I settled down to the keyboard. I really liked it. Though my fingers often hit the wrong keys, the iPhone’s magic compensated for my errors, and gave me rather fast, relatively error free typing. I’m a decent touch typist on a full keyboard, maybe 80wpm. I have never used a Blackberry or Treo for an extended period, so I didn’t have any muscle memory for a small thumb keyboard to overcome. On the handheld side, I’ve been a long-time proponent of handwriting recognition. Back in the day I was a devoted fan of my Newton MP2100. And once I mourned its demise for several years, I became quite the graffiti artist on a succession of Palm devices.
To be perfectly honest, any handheld input method is going to fall short of a full-size keyboard, so we’re dealing with degrees of suckiness here. But the iPod’s on-screen adaptive keyboard is good enough as to be almost not sucky. I sometime mangle words, and they’re not fixed, and I have to backspace and peck it out slowly. Overall, though, a good experience. The keyboard is pretty good. And I had that figured out within fifteen minutes, so I got out the credit card and I bought the iPhone.
On a side note, here’s a handy tip: I find it annoying to have to shift to another screen to use a period, comma, or apostrophe. But I discovered a cool feature that’s not immediately obvious. When using the punctuation keyboard overlay, you can hold your finger down after hitting the “.?123” button, slide your finger over to the punctuation mark you want, then let go, and the keyboard springs back to the default letter overlay. Still not as fast as using a more complete keyboard layout, but I love both proper punctuation and small gadgets, and this will have to do. So score one for the iPhone.
One of the biggest problems some people have had with the iPhone has been Apple’s deal with AT&T, but that one was a no-brainer for me. I’m actually getting ready to move into a new house, and the only carrier with decent service at that location is AT&T, so I had already decided to make the switch, and was just waiting for my Sprint contract to expire. So I know AT&T is evil and has sold out its customers to the NSA, and opposes net neutrality. But all the carriers suck, and this carrier lets me take phone calls at my house. Also, as for their “fewer dropped calls” claim, I have found that it stands up, at least compared to my experience with Sprint.
What do I love about the iPhone? It’s just the right size, allowing for a big bright screen but small enough so I don’t feel like I’m Maxwell Smart talking into a shoe phone. The screen is awesome. It has wi-fi. The iPod software is very well-designed. It’s great for watching videos. Visual voicemail is the best thing to happen to voicemail since you stopped needing a cassette tape in the machine. I tend to hoard messages, and I hated having to listen to a bunch of saved messages to get to the one I wanted. The widgets like Weather, Google Maps, Calendar, etc, are cool. The email app is very usable, as is the web browser. And pretty much everything about how the iPhone works as a phone, from the address book, to the on/off switch for the ringer, to the virtual keypad is refined and user-friendly and place it at the pinnacle of mobile phone design.
But I’m a gadget freak, long-time mobile computing junkie, and a professional software guy and user interface designer. There have got to be some things about the iPhone that really could be better, right? Oh yes.
How The iPhone Could Be Better
I’ll divide the deficiencies into three categories: 1) Things that will be changed in software updates by Apple, 2) Things that should be changed by Apple, but will be instead be changed by way of hacks, (and many of these will eventually be embraced by Apple), and 3) things that can’t be changed because they’re not fixable in software, but will probably be changed in later hardware revisions, much to the annoyance of we early adopters. The fourth category is things that Apple won’t change, or will resist changing for far too long (two-button mouse, anyone?)
Any article about Apple is bound to contain prognostications about not only what Apple will do in the future, but why they’ve done what they’ve done in the past, and what is likely to influence future decisions. Apple is like your favorite sports team’s head coach, or maybe like your chosen deity in this regard, and the journalists and bloggers are like local news sportscasters and theologians. This article will be no different. And like sportscasters and theologians, I am utterly certain that my hunches and prescriptions are absolutely correct and infallible.
Things that will be changed by software updates (and/or policy changes) from Apple:
These will be changed because I believe that the demands of the marketplace will override any reasonable objection to their change. Let me start this by telling a story from recent history. Apple released new Macs not too long ago with Intel chips. That was big news; shocking to some, exciting to others. Many people were eager to install Windows on their Intel Macbooks. Apple was mum on the subject. They had specifically designed the hardware, it seemed, to prevent it. Bounties were raised. Hackers set to work. Initial hurtles were overcome. Just as the hackers were solving the problem, Apple announces BootCamp, everyone can install Windows on their Macs, and Apple makes like it was always so, and the whole matter is quickly forgotten. Remember when you needed Firewire to use an iPod? Now it’s all USB, and iPods no longer even support Firewire as an option. Apple often releases products with restrictive features, seeming sometimes like they’re almost suicidally insular and proprietary, then they come to their senses later on, and pretend like their earlier stance never existed. Airbrushed out of the picture like a former Stalin ally that’s been sent to Siberia.
I believe that this third-party-apps-only-through-Safari nonsense falls squarely into this category. The iPhone is in a very critical time of its life right now, as Apple is trying to take a very, very geeky segment of the computing industry (PDAs/Smart Phones) and take it mainstream in a big way. The truth is that people will not put up with the kind of bullshit in an everyday technology device that we’ve somehow become conditioned to accept in our personal computers. If toaster ovens, TVs, or even automobiles were as maddeningly unreliable and finicky as computers, our civilization would cease instantly. And why are our computers unreliable? As any Windows apologist can tell you, it’s because, though they may work great on a clean install with top-quality hardware, we eventually install a bunch of shoddy crap hardware and software, and muck it up. And the less technically savvy you are, the more likely you are to install the aforementioned crap. Go into any office and see whether the dumbest person in there has installed some silly app that makes their cursor looks like unicorn and some animated monkey that spies on them for the Russian mafia. What kind of ringtone does the dumbest person on the subway have on his or her cellphone? I bet it’s some no-talent top 40 band’s latest hit! Non-tech-savvy people lack neither the desire nor ability to encumber their devices with insidious customizations. They only lack discernment.
Right or wrong, I think that Apple, who’s never afraid to be insufferably paternalistic, decided that, at least for this fragile early period, it would be better to lock down the platform. They’ve given us some really bogus justifications, and some glimmers at the real reason. But I think it boils down to this: geeks (who will buy it anyway) bellyaching about no-outside-apps will affect their stock price much less than average people, and especially journalists, mucking up their iPhones during the honeymoon and going all spastic about it. Why don’t they just admit that they’ll soon be opening things up? Probably the same reason they didn’t say that within a few months you’d be able to run Windows on your Macbook. Just to be jerks. Or perhaps so we’ll all be so very happy when they do announce it rather than all impatient and pissy in the meantime.
This is something that may well come in stages. There will be new, official-but-optional apps from Google, Yahoo, or other partners, then a developer program, possibly with a high barrier to entry, then a free for all much later.
We should be seeing some refinements to the iPhone OS shortly. The one I’d like to see first: some form of copy and paste. It’s sorely lacking. This is the first handheld computing device I’ve ever owned that comes close to really letting me do my work when I’m away from home. I can keep up on my email, and browse the web on a real-ish browser. But if I want to grab a URL from an attached document and send it in an email? Better have a pen and paper handy and don’t leave out any slashes or ampersands.
Lack of search is also a big problem. I like to put people in my address book, and sometimes they’re people that I do business with, but I don’t know very well. Sometimes I’ll put notes in (and this is possible on the iPhone) about them so I can remember who they are and why they’re in my contacts. So I’m trying to remember the name of the guy who services my vacuum cleaner. No problem, I’ll just search for vacuum. Or not. The iPhone has no search.
The lack of search would be especially acute if I were to keep a bunch of documents on my iPhone that I needed to search through. But, what? The iPhone has no method whatsoever of uploading, categorizing, managing, reading, or editing documents at all, other than as email attachments? (and the iPhone can already display various types of documents, like word, excel, PDF, and images) You have to be kidding! With all that potential disk space? Alas, it’s true.
The calendar is nice, but lacks functionality. It needs a nice to-do list function, if only a mimic of the Mac’s calendar app to-do list. It should also allow for over-the network shared calendaring, like the Mac’s.
Finally, there are some small tweaks that could be made while using the phone features to make it a bit harder to accidentally start calling someone when you’re using the address book. Some of the routine navigation requires you to alternate between pushing things on the top and bottom of the screen. But aside from copy and paste, the OS is very refined for a 1.0.
Several of the included apps should see a bit of refinement and some additional features. I really miss the ability to open a link on a web site into another tab. Especially when using EDGE, it’s really no fun to leave the site you’re on when clicking a hyperlink, twiddle your thumbs for thirty seconds while it loads, then go back and reload the page you were reading before. I use my iPhone for heavy web page reading. I browse the web while waiting in line, while eating, while my kids play at the park, even while on the toilet, just like a newspaper. And Flash would be nice.
The iPhone does a bit of caching, with Google Maps and Safari, but, especially because of slow EDGE performance, it should do much more. Currently, if you leave Safari for more than a few seconds, it forces you to re-load your pages, even in the active tab. I can think of no reason why the data in all your tabs shouldn’t be cached indefinitely. The same goes for the last active Google map, and various surrounding maps and zooms as well. Often when accessing an email with attachments or images, the iPhone seems to want to re-download this content before I can view it. If I have gone out of network range, I’m out of luck. This should not happen.
Last but not least, the iPhone lacks MMS. Its SMS app is very nice, but sends only text. This will be rectified in an upcoming software update, I’m sure.
In Conclusion, things we’ll be seeing very soon in iPhone software updates: some expansion of available apps, copy and paste, search, document editing, file management, Safari, Calendar and Mail enhancements, Flash, MMS, and better caching.
Things that should be changed by Apple, but will be instead be changed by way of hacks, (and many of these will eventually be embraced by Apple)
The most famous early iPhone hack was the ability to activate the iPhone and use it as an iPod and wi-fi device without activating the AT&T service. As Steve Jobs says, the iPhone is still by far the best iPod they’ve ever made, and with wi-fi around, it’s very useful as a web and email device and PDA. Since AT&T isn’t allowed to discount the iPhone in exchange for a two year contract, it’s not cheating anyone to use the iPhone without the phone functionality, so Apple really should come around and let you use it sans-phone, but I think it will be a while. In the meantime, there’s the hack. We’ll see how much effort Apple puts into shutting down the hack with future upgrades.
Probably the most sought-after hack that people are working on is the ability to “unlock” the iPhone or allow it to be used on another GSM network. Since the iPhone can’t be used at all in any country not served by AT&T, there are a lot of gadget freaks that would love to buy it on eBay and put their own SIM in. Eventually, Apple will be supporting other carriers in other countries, and after its contract with AT&T runs out in a few years, it may offer an unlocked device, but until then, an illicit hack is high on the priority list.
Tethering, or using your mobile phone as a “modem” for your computer, is a very useful feature, especially as networks become faster. Though the iPhone’s EDGE network is not fast, sometimes you’re on the road, and you just need to connect your laptop to the internet. In this case, the ability to tether the iPhone would be great. Future versions of the iPhone will undoubtedly support faster, “3G” networks, and hopefully tethering through Bluetooth would be supported. Until then, this hack allows for tethering with EDGE (over wi-fi).
Astonishingly, the iPhone has no way of accepting a custom ringtone, either over the network or through a PC sync. Surely Apple is hard at work developing a buy-ringtones-on-iTunes application. Because this is a potential moneymaker, as it is for many carriers, Apple may try to weasel out of letting you upload your own ringtones. But too late for them! (there’s a hack
The iPhone’s SMS tool is very elegant and useful, and looks like the Mac’s iChat. Unlike iChat, it doesn’t do instant messaging. The iPhone has no instant messaging capability. For now, we’ll have to make do with one of the several web-based IM tools. Developers were quick to create iPhone-formatted IM tools, and they work great, but lack the utility that an integrated IM tool could have. I suspect that very soon, the SMS tool will be replaced with an iChat tool that supports SMS, MMS, and IM. Will the IM support “push” instant messaging? In other words, will people be able to IM you when the IM app isn’t active, like how you will be notified of an incoming text message if your phone is on? I should hope so, though I’d certainly like to be able to turn it off or only let certain buddies cold-call me via IM.
If we’re going to count web-based IM as a “hack,” we’ll have to mention all of the many web-based apps out there that make up for fundamental iPhone shortcomings. Unfortunately, though there are more and more web-based apps out there, most of them are just customized skins for displaying web data, such as weather, Digg stories, movie times, local events, etc. Some of them are very handy, but they’re just glorified web sites. There are a bunch of good games, though, which addresses a genuine shortcoming. There are a couple of web-based document editing apps out there, like iZoho and Google Docs, but their usefulness on the iPhone is still hampered by a combination of iPhone shortcomings and their lack of customization for the iPhone.
One feature that many people would love to have in the iPhone (and iPod) is the ability to quickly rip a DVD to iPhone format and upload it, just like you can with a CD. If the only way to add music to an iPhone were to download it from iTunes, I would not own an iPhone. Though I appreciate the fact that Apple has made an easy-to-use way to find and legally buy music, I prefer to rip music from CDs or find new music online on my own. I would never re-buy an iPhone formatted video that I already owned on DVD. The entertainment industry already suckered me once when I had to re-buy all the music I owned on cassette on CD, and that was somewhat reasonable because it was a big step up in quality. I’m not going to pay again for a smaller, more-compressed version of a movie I already own, regardless of what the DCMA says. Lucklily, there are many apps that make it easy to rip your DVDs and convert them to iPod format. I suppose this qualifies as a “hack,” since Apple is legally bound from making this easy officially.
I tried out one app that both rips the DVD and converts it in one session, called DVD to iPhone Converter ($35), that was simple and elegant. However, it took a long time to convert a DVD. Even with a new Intel Macbook, it took a couple hours. I also tried using two separate tools, MacTheRipper (Free, OSS) and VisualHub ($23). Even though it required two steps and a lot of disk space (MacTheRipper rips the DVD only to its full DVD-quality size, then the other app actually pares it down to iPhone size) it was much faster, taking as little as 30 minutes for both steps. Both MacTheRipper and VisualHub suffer from geek overload, though. They are so powerful and customizable, that a regular guy like me, who just wants to rip a DVD to iPhone, has a hard time deciding which of the fiddly buttons and menus will give the best results. This is one case where, unless there’s a sea-change in US law, Apple won’t be able to embrace the hack, and you’ll always need a third-party workaround for DVD ripping.
Other notable hacks:
Telekinesis: Remotely access your Mac through a collection of mini web apps on your phone
WebVNC: Remote Desktop/VNC on your iPhone.
Things that can’t be changed because they’re not fixable in software, but will probably be changed in later hardware revisions, much to the annoyance of we early adopters.
The iPhone’s EDGE network capability has passable performance, and, with a little better caching, could feel snappier than it currently does. EDGE has the advantage of being widely deployed, and being efficient with battery power. But AT&T already has a much faster network, HSPDA, rolled out in many locations. My wife’s phone, a Nokia N75, supports it, and it would be great if the iPhone had the option of supporting it. Supporting another network would add another component to the iPhone’s jammed innards, possibly making it larger. It’s 100% certain that future versions of the iPhone will support newer, faster networks. If the second generation iPhone supports HSPDA, many owners of 1G iPhones will be angry.
The lack of GPS capability in the iPhone is, in my opinion, its most serious flaw that’s not fixable with a software update. The Google Maps feature is quite handy, and even supports traffic updates. When I was traveling from Rockville, MD to Annapolis a couple weeks ago, I was able to use Google Maps to see that the Capital Beltway was choked with standstill traffic. (though the only reason I was looking at Google Maps was because I was already stuck in standstill traffic. But it was still cool.) But as I was trying to navigate around Washington DC later on, I was constantly annoyed that, though I had the maps, I always had to spend several minutes first finding out where I was. Why oh why didn’t Apple include a GPS chip, so the map would load up with my location in the middle? The next revision of the iPhone will almost certainly be equipped with GPS. There’s just no good reason
So does this leave us out in the cold, with our non-GPS iPhones? That depends on Apple. There are two ways that our 1G iPhones could be modified to enable Google Maps to show us where we are. The first one is all software. If the iPhone is on the carrier’s mobile phone network, triangulation between towers can provide a relatively accurate estimate of the device’s location. It would be sufficient to make the Maps feature much more useful. It wouldn’t be any good out in the wilderness, and wouldn’t give you an exact location, or be able to calculate your speed or altitude like a real GPS can, but it would be a welcome feature that Apple could add if it wanted to.
The other way to provide GPS, which would be perfectly convenient in the car, would be to support an external GPS antenna over Bluetooth. In the car, this would actually be superior, because the antenna could be positioned for maximum signal strength. Less useful for walking around, though.
Apple could even provide an aftermarket built-in GPS capability if it wanted to. There’s a company that makes a GSM SIM card with a GPS chip built-in. Apple, in coordination with the carrier) could sell (or give away) a replacement GPS-enabled SIM and a software update, and enable GPS use. This could be a revenue source, as there could be a one-time or monthly fee. I would definitely grumble if it were only available as a subscription, but I’d probably pay up to $50 one-time.
What Apple really needs to do, though, is not only enable GPS for maps, but integrate GPS location into many new and existing features: Localized business directories, localized movie listings, notification when you’re nearby another iPhone user who’s specified that they’d like to chat (including, perhaps, a dating-service-like profile that could revolutionize the singles bar scene), ability to location-stamp emails, blog postings, or microblogging services like Twitter or MySpace.
Things that Apple won’t change, or will resist changing for far too long
One of the most tantalizing potential features of the iPhone is using its built-in wi-fi to make and receive calls using Voice-over-IP. This could be done in concert with the carrier such as with the new VoIP crossover service that T-Mobile recently launched in the US. Or it could be designed to totally bypass the carrier, using VoIP over wi-fi as a primary, and failing over to cellular if wi-fi isn’t available. Current VoIP services like Vonage and ViaTalk already allow a VoIP call to be forwarded to a cell phone if the network is down. Apple could set up a VoIP service, hand out phone numbers, allow iPhone and home phones to be used interchangeably, and provide a forwarding service to an AT&T cell phone number that’s only used for forwarding.
If and when the iPhone platform becomes more open to custom applications, a system like this could easily be created without Apple’s involvement, and Vonage and other VoIP providers could set up iPhone plans that integrate with their current offerings. Apple, of course, could (and probably will) try to keep this from happening. If they were really smart (and if they could do it without getting sued by AT&T, who would certainly be furious), they would set up their own service, and relegate the carrier to fail-over status, and eventually with Wi-Max or a similar new technology, bump out the carriers altogether and build out their own network (or partner with Google, who already has plans to do something like this).
Apple will resist offering an officially unlocked phone for far too long. How do I know this? Because Apple has an exclusive contract with AT&T for five years. It will not be able to offer an unlocked phone in any part of the world for at least that long. And that’s too long. I suspect that Apple will be using the iPhone’s cachet to negotiate extremely favorable deals with carriers that give a kickback of usage fees to Apple, so they’ll be loath to allow anyone with a prepaid SIM to use the iPhone. It’s possible that the only thing that would get Apple to unlock the iPhone would be government legislation. Keeping phones locked will probably always be legal in the US, but other countries already explicitly allow phone unlocking, and even mandate it.
The lack of any kind of file management in the iPhone is a serious headache for those of us trying to use it for serious work. Apple wants to win the business market, so some kind of file management and document editing will certainly be in the pipe. But I suspect that Apple will try to keep a pretty tight lid on the files you install on the iPhone. Why? iTunes. Apple wants to make money, and they know that they will be able to make money by selling stuff for the iPhone using the iTunes store. They’ll want to sell you music, of course, but also ringtones, applications, wallpapers, games, ebooks, etc (see the next section for more on this). So I think that while Apple will be forced to allow for some file management, they may try to make it difficult to easily transfer and manage any type of file, and will probably not make it easy to convert any mp3 into a ringtone, transfer free ringtones you downloaded online onto your iPhone, download mp3s directly on the iPhone from non-iTunes sites and load them into the iPhone’s iPod, and, of course, send songs, ringtones and videos from one iPhone to another over wi-fi. These are killer features that all iPhone users would want, but I fear that Apple will not implement them in order to protect potential revenue streams and placate the entertainment industry.
This fourth section of my article was the hardest one to write, because I’m blinded by my own hope. I want Apple to implement all of my ideas and suggestions. I don’t want to have anything in this section, because there are features in this section that I desperately want for my own iPhone. Our only hope of getting these features is either that Apple will reverse course and open up the iPhone’s platform as much as the Mac is open to outside development and third-party developers can deeply customize the device, or that the many hackers trying to pry the iPhone open will succeed, and Apple will be unable to put the genie back into the bottle with subsequent updates.
The last feature that I’m putting into section three is the one that I most desperately wanted to put into section one. It’s about Bluetooth. Like many mobile phones, Apple shipped the iPhone with a severely crippled Bluetooth spec. Bluetooth on the iPhone can be used only for connecting a headset. The iPhone’s Bluetooth can not be used to exchange files with another device, sync with a Mac wirelessly using iSync (like many other non-Apple phones can), allow for a wireless serial connection, such as tethering, or any of the other useful things that a complete Bluetooth implementation will allow.
The inability of the iPhone to use Apple’s own iSync is a total disgrace. It must be connected to your computer via USB, and all syncing is done through iTunes. Getting files onto the iPhone is very controlled, and the necessity of keeping everything managed through iTunes can make things very difficult when you want to connect your iPhone to multiple computers. The most nerve-wracking thing of all for me, though, is that since the battery can’t be replaced, and you only get about 400 charges out of the battery, you really shouldn’t be constantly plugging and un-plugging your iPhone from power, as it shortens your battery life. But if I want to put a file on the iPhone, I only have two choices: email it to myself (and have it live forever attached to the email and otherwise inaccessible) or plug in and sync with iTunes, which only works with a few types of files and affects my battery life each time unless I restrict file transfers to nightly charging sessions.
The iPhone’s lack of wireless sync also makes its calendar and address book that much less useful, and squanders an opportunity for the mail application to be much more useful. Wouldn’t it be so much more cool if the iPhone were constantly reconciling the emails you send and receive on your iPhone with those on your desktop computer, whenever your network allowed it?
The Mac also has a built-in utility called Bluetooth File Exchange. It doesn’t work with the iPhone. Of course, you also can’t use Bluetooth to exchange files between iPhones, or conduct private IM chats, receive notifications that your friends are within Bluetooth range, or all the other cool tricks that would be possible with a wide-open Bluetooth implementation.
One of the neatest Bluetooth tricks that you can do on the Mac is possible with an app called Salling Clicker. Salling Clicker makes your Mac aware of your presence when you’re within Bluetooth range. You can have it set up scripts to do certain things depending on your proximity and status. You could have it put your Mac to sleep when you walk away, mute iTunes on your Mac when you get a phone call, or display caller-ID on your Mac’s screen. It was originally developed merely as a remote control utility. You could use your cell phone as a “clicker” to control your Mac, like to advance slides in PowerPoint, or switch songs in iTunes or pause the movie from across the room. If you could develop a full-featured app on the iPhone that integrated with Salling Clicker on your Mac, you could do some really cool stuff. The kind of stuff that would merit its own Steve Jobs keynote.
But I fear that it won’t happen. And the most frustrating thing about my decision to put the iPhone’s broken Bluetooth implementation into section four is that, unlike the other items in here, I just can’t wrap my head around Apple’s reasons for doing it this way. Typically, carriers want to cripple phones’ Bluetooth implementations because they want to force you to buy ringtones and apps through them, and Bluetooth makes it a little too easy to circumvent that, or they want to draw an artificial line between their cheaper, consumer-level phones and their more full-featured, professional phones (that cost more). Apple only has the one phone, and it’s expensive and targeted at the top of the market, so that second justification doesn’t apply. But I’ve already postulated that Apple’s setting the stage for a lucrative iTunes-based media and add-on market, but it just doesn’t make sense that Apple would forego so much cool capability for only that reason.
And it’s because I can’t figure out why Apple crippled Bluetooth, that I’m going to assume they have a totally insane reason that makes perfectly good sense to them, that they did it with total clarity of purpose, and that they won’t fix it any time soon.
There’s one last category that I didn’t mention before, and that’s stuff Apple will add to the iPhone in later updates that nobody wants. The iPhone is a good eBook reader. I read the first few chapters of the latest Harry Potter on it. It already supports PDFs, though its PDF reader could use a little more functionality. I’m sure that eventually Apple will include an ebook reader that supports DRM ebooks. The problem is, people don’t want to buy books that include the kinds of restrictions on copying that publishers seem to be demanding, and don’t want to pay the inflated prices that many ebooks cost. As I mentioned earlier, future iPhones will certainly have the ability to let you purchase a lot of crap from iTunes that you really want to be able to load on your iPhone yourself, like videos or ringtones. It will also include subscription or fee-based apps and services that should be free or should have been included in the first place. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that iPhone users will have to suffer the collateral damage of not having functionality they want, like unrestricted file management, to protect potential sources of revenue for Apple.
There was one important feature that I didn’t know how to categorize because I don’t fully understand its technical and legal ramifications: push email. The Blackberry’s big innovation is that unlike all other mobile email devices, including the iPhone, you don’t have to reach out and check for new email on the Blackberry; when new mail comes, it gets pushed out to the device, and can trigger an alert. That’s what makes the Blackberry so annoying to families of Blackberry users. But businesspeople love that feature, because it keeps them totally up-to-date. Providing this feature, however, requires a specific email service, that combines email with a messaging service for notification and push delivery of the message, which Apple would have to either create in-house or partner with somebody on (RIM, perhaps). I also don’t know whether this service could be offered without infringing on some Blackberry patent. Maybe Apple has something like this in the works, maybe not.
Push email is one of many functionality and security features that the iPhone would need to compete in the business market. I suspect that Apple is working on some features like in-device encryption, VPN and other security systems to keep confidential data private, and better integration with both common desktop apps like Outlook and Office, and with custom systems used by large companies. That’s a topic for another article.
The iPhone is a great device, that, despite the shortcomings I’ve cataloged here is a more elegant, usable, and arguably more useful tool than anything else on the market. Over the next year, Apple is likely to make many improvements via software updates, and the subsequent versions are sure to contain new features that make the early adopters quickly eBay their G1 iPhones. Apple has a huge opportunity here to totally dominate the largest and most important segment of the high tech industry, but they will fail to reach their full potential if they don’t pay close attention to their customers’ needs and put their users first. I hope someone at Apple is reading this, and that they steal all my ideas. If they’d like to hire me as a consultant, my fees are very reasonable.
I just hope they fix the headphone’s jack which is so receded that most 3.5mm headphones can’t be connected to the iPhone. My (and apparently many other people’s) ears are small, so I can’t use the included headphones and this either design bug or design decision makes the iPhone useless for me, at least as an iPod. I can’t use any of that kind of in-ear headphones, they just fall off and I have documented this issue on my blog last year. According to google searches that lead to my blog about this issue, it seems that a LOT of people with smaller ears can’t use these earphones that come with most mp3 players. I need over-the-head or around-the-head/ear headphones and while there will surely be some that are compatible with the iPhone, I am not interested in buying garbage headphones just to be compatible with the iphone, neither I want to use anything different than the three very good (and expensive) Sony headphones that I already own and usually use with my devices. So, if Apple never fixes the headphones problem (which I dare say it was a marketing design decision because they want people to use the “white headphones” which is a virtual trademark of the iPod), they won’t see a dime from me. Let alone the third party applications limitation.
Edited 2007-08-01 06:59