So last week I broke down and bought an iPhone. I know, I know I've talked trash about the hype around the iPhone some time ago and to be honest I still feel this way after buying the phone. But I also feel that after having used the phone for the last week that I made the right choice.
My general feeling is that Apple is a pretentious company with their locked in tools and operating systems, but mostly their two-faced, hipster dufus business practices. I find it ironic that Mac people give Windows users shit for the Borg and lock in mentality, when Apple is by far the worst contender for creating proprietary and locked applications and components. And now owning an iPhone doesn't dispell that notion either (more on that in a minute). I disdain most things Apple and everything they stand for. So it took me a while (and not-so-subtle prodding from several friends) to get used to the idea that I might - once again - break my dislike for anything Apple go over to the dark side and get an iPhone.
My reason for getting a new phone is that my old Cingular 2127 Windows Mobile 5 phone was starting to break down and I defintely needed a new phone. You can't miss anybody who has an iPhone (as a number of people I know do) and how excited they are about the phone. And I have to admit - yeah I was swayed by what I saw.
I did a bit of research looking at other phones (another Windows Mobile phone and Blackberry), plans and features and plans, and the reality is that for what I want out of the phone the iPhone feature set simply has no competitor at the moment. There's nothing that I looked at that came even close.
My criteria that I care about are fairly simple:
- Phone has to be easy to use as a phone
- Easy email access and synching
- A usable Web Browser
- Decent music player and capacity to hold a fair bit of music
#1 is covered by most phones although the 2127 actually was clumsy even in that department. The iPhone's screen is easy to work with and getting to the phone features and dialing and answering is easy and just works. I was afraid that the fancy UI would get in the way rather than help, but it works well. I also like Visual Voicemail as I get quite a few messages I need to throw out most days.I also like the way the phone locks and unlocks, which has always been a pain on my old phone where you couldn't easily tell the phone was locked <g>...
#2 Email access on the road is highly useful to me but with the 2127 I rarely used it because the experience was just so horrible. The Windows Mobile Email application is an abysmal piece of code, burying options many levels down and an email reader that is ugly and mangles most messages that aren't text. The iPhone really does well here with a highly readable message reader that easily displays message headers. you can tell messages that are new and the email reader can display HTML messages so rich content can be displayed. It's amazing how much of a difference a decent screen resolution and clear message display format has. I've seen various other WM interfaces on bigger screen phones than my 2127 was and it was no better only a bigger version of the same crap. The other contender in this space was a Blackberry and its text based email interface which is very nice too although certainly not as pretty or readable as the iPhones. For efficiency nothing beats the Blackberry email interface, but the iPhone makes it easy to see what's happening and most important the reading experience is nice. Litmus test: I actually use email on my phone now <g>.
#3 The main reason I decided to buy the iPhone in the end, is because of its Web browser. Having Web access on the go - even if it is slow - and a relatively easy way to type information into the phone is something I've wanted to have forever, but never have really been able to do well. I had Internet Access with my 2127 but it was so painfully slow it was just about useless - you could look up a movie showtime quicker by going into a store and buying a paper and looking it up <g>. Add to that the lack of a full keyboard and it got to the point that other than a few wind update sites and a few custom created Mobile formatted pages I'd created on my Web apps I never wanted to use the browser.
The iPhone Browser is a joy to use to browse with its zoomable interface. I've been blown away with what types of pages I can actually access, including some pretty intense AJAX layouts that use effects and shadowing. Not that I expect to use much of that, but the fact that it works is useful given that many sites are using more and more AJAX style interface enhancements. In the end the browser is the one kick ass feature and it tipped the scales for me.
#4 I have several music players actually so I really shouldn't need another, but the fact that I could get a 16gig version of the phone and get my whole music library onto the phone is pretty cool. For me this means I can leave the music player at home and just take the phone when I travel and have everything in one place. I've often wondered what took vendors so long to put a decent combination of phone and audio player together. I don't care about pictures or movies, but I do listen to music a lot when I travel and this the iPhone media UI works well.
On top of all that is also the usability of the phone. I'm not often swayed by eye candy, but damn it, if the iPhone UI isn't so damn nice looking and usable with its touch screen and tactile responsive navigation. It's by no means perfect, but the touch interface with its scrolling lists that use tactile feedback are so much more productive than key operation it seems crazy that nobody has done this before.
One final reason for my decision was, looking at data plans for just about all other phones was way more expensive than the iPhone plan. Yeah, AT&T wireless network is relatively slow, but even over the slow connection I get here on Maui the connection speed (on the phone network rather than wireless) is acceptable. And there's wireless to make up for the rest. I'm looking forward when I'm back in Hood River, where just about every place has open wireless connections these days.
The dark side
I'm no fan of Apple. I've owned early versions of iPods and hated everything but the hardware. Apples hardware and even the core OSs tend to be very easy on the eyes and very usable in a practical way. For consumer components like a phone or music player this is important and there's no doubt Apple gets this right most of the time.
However, the big problem I have with Apple is in its software - namely iTunes and the whole business model that surrounds it. First off iTunes is a horrid piece of software at least on windows. It's uncharacteristically ugly for one (tyring to immitate the Mac ui on Windows just doesn't work - it looks so 90's) but more importantly it's an incredible pig. Running iTunes consumes nearly a 150 megs on my machine which is insane for a media player. It sucks pretty heavily on the CPU too while playing music. The UI to find music in a library of a few thousand songs also is abysmal and the visual interface for displaying albums and songs in a visual way is nearly non-existent. It's a little hard to understand that a company that can create a very stylish and highly usable UI like the iPhone, can so badly design another application like iTunes, which supposedly is their flagship money making application. I mean even Media Player in Vista is vastly better than iTunes and building a decent media player is hardly rocket science. Just using the playlist editor in iTunes is enough to drive me insane.
The other big issue is that Apple is really one big capitalist pig tying everything to iTunes and purchasing. I would NEVER EVER buy anything from iTunes given the lock in model that and Apple only media format that Apple uses. Thankfully you can use plain MP3 files which is what most of my music is in and I can get that from other sources like Amazon without DRM locking.
To add injury to insult I tried to install a custom ringtone to my phone - using some music I'd home-recorded myself - and found out: Can't do it (at least not in the long term). Nope in order to use a custom ringtone you have to: Purchase a song in iTunes and then pay another fee ($1) to convert it into a ring tone. Ok I would actually break down and do that, but I can't do it with my own music since it doesn't exist on iTunes. So, I started scanning some of the music on iTunes for a few songs that would also fit only to find out they can't even be converted to ringtones. This is crazy... you get to pay twice for music to get 10 second ringtone? And Apple of course provides only really gaudy ring tones natively so that just about everybody probably pays 2 bucks to customize their ring tones.
Apple is getting greedy. Everything is tied to iTunes, no other options. The same appears to be happening with the new Apples SDK coming out with Apple taking a 30% chunk of any custom components. No other way to distribute. Talk about monopoly.
No Windows Authentication
There's one other problem I ran into with the Web Browser on the phone: No support for Windows Authentication. I have a number of admin areas on my sites that for a number of reasons are protected with Windows Authentication, but the iPhone can't access them. Now that's going to be a problem and since some vital areas are protected by it. Not really sure how to get around that in an effective way as using a different authentication method is not really an option.
So you can see it's somewhat of a love/hate relationship with Apple for me. Truth is that the love part at least at the moment outweighs the hate portion, but at least I knew the bad parts going in and I'm making my peace with it. Overall though there's no doubt in my mind that I'll be getting way more out of my phone now than I ever did before and that is enough to make me swallow my pride...
I can only hope that other companies will follow along this early path of rich phone uis so that there may be more choice in the future.
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