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Justifying an iPhone


:P
On this page:

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 iPhoneImage[1]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:

  1. Phone has to be easy to use as a phone
  2. Easy email access and synching
  3. A usable Web Browser
  4. 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.

Ringtone Nazis

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.

Love/Hate

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.

Posted in Personal  iPhone  

The Voices of Reason


 

Steve from Pleasant Hell
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

It's amazing that all the smart and able companies out there once again allowed Apple to kick their butts, and hopefully a better alternative is on the horizon. As much as I dislike Apple, they do do some things very well.

Congrats on your new phone, even though it's an iPhone, just please try harder not to use the phrase "in that space"... :-)

Dean Poulin
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

I've had an iPhone since it was released, I was one of those early adopter folks, and to be 100% honest, it's been perhaps the best new product that I've ever purchased. They're continually releasing new firmware revisions that give more functionality, The user experience is amazing, and being a web developer, it's just cool.

I'm planning some web development projects that specifically target the iPhone. It's been great so far.

Now for a serious question, there's a lot of people that are so standoffish about Apple, but has anyone been using Vista since it was released? With all the cool eye candy it has, I feel like the user experience, performance, and reliability has been seriously compromised! I'm considering buying a mac book pro as my development machine, cause it actually runs Vista faster than any PC!

If I get another Windows Explorer has crashed error again, I'm gonna throw my Dell out the window. hehe.

T. Leslie
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

First of all, I am a owner of a 24 inch 2.8 GHZ iMac and I can tell you that all of this can be done on a mac faster and for free! All of these things, such as iTunes running slow, and having to pay for ringtones are eliminated with a mac versus owning a windows p.c., which i was using all of two weeks ago. After less than a month with my mac, I have used Garage Band, to shorten my iTunes purchased music to ringtone length, for free and as much as I wanted, I might add. This being iTunes ringtones for my iPhone which are exported in seconds from iLife 08 to iTunes. Believe me on this one, iTunes runs 10 times as fast. If you have the money to purchase any Mac unit, it is so worth every penny! Hey, previous Macbooks, which my brother owns runs as fast as the new Pennryn units, and are under $1000. Go ahead shell out for one and you will surely be satisfied.

T. Leslie
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Dean Poulin,

If you are reading this, go to www.macmall.com and purchase a later model MacBook Pro new for dirt cheap! They are quite fast, amazing units, used to have one, and the multi touch on the new ones is not that useful, so I recommend buying the older models, which were replaced just a few weeks ago! It is an amazing investment I have never regretted!

Rick Strahl
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Dean - Personally I don't dislike Vista. Certainly i would not consider going back to XP by comparison. But there's no doubt Microsoft made some serious missteps in the final packaging of Vista, but with a little tweaking and adequeate hardware Vista runs as well as XP does and provides many enhancements.

As to the Windows Explorer - that's probably the root of all evil of Vista UI. I've ditched Explorer for a third party tool - Explorer 2 - and I haven't looked back. I haven't seen a crash or Explorer lockup since.

Apple machines too are dialed for the latest hardware. Running a newer version of Apple OS on older hardware also gives you a dismal experience.

Running on a mac is not really an option for me as a developer with all my tools running on Windows only. But even if I could it'd be the last thing I'd do. As I said in the post I don't buy into Apple's philosophy of milking their customers for all its worth under the guise of being a progressive company that does no evil.

Chris Miller
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

I have always wondered how Apple could get the hardware and user interface right, but lock everything down with restrictive DRM and 3rd party application support. The 3rd generation iPod Nano is a great piece of hardware but it has iTunes chained to it like a dead albatross.

It's hard to imagine any other company operating in this space that gets away with treating the consumers with disdain the way Apple does. Apple burned the early adopters with the a price drop that came out after the initial demand was satisfied. Taking 30% from anyone who sells components written with the iPhone SDK is pretty harsh.

Having to buy a song twice to use as a ringtone is just greedy. "T. Leslie" mentioned that you can do it for free using iLife '08, but that requires a Mac. That sounds like an expensive dongle just to send ringtones to a phone.

Brett J
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Are you sure the iPhone doesn't support Windows Authentication? I would have sworn someone told me they logged into our extranet app with their iPhone successfully (they might have lied!); although we are NTLM only, Kerberos is disabled. You might try it that way.

Rick Strahl
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Brett, no not 100% sure, but every link that is protected with Windows Auth (no Kerebos) just hangs for me... I get a password dialog, but once the password is entered the iPhone just keeps 'loading' endlessly...

I thought this was a problem also for Safari on Windows, but it turns out that it can load those pages fine.

Wayne
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

One search on Google and I discovered that it's easy to get ring tones onto an iphone without paying anything. http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2007/09/how_to_8_ways_to_get_ringtones.html

John Walker
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Rick,

Your review is spot-on with my feelings. I've owned one since January and very much like it with certain exceptions that you've mentioned.

I think my biggest regret is that Windows Mobile pales in comparison. I had been a Windows Mobile device user for years and I've built some interesting apps using .NET CF. The fact that Apple came out a spanked MS (and in IMHO they did spank them) on the first try is pretty amazing.

And I, like you, hope this pushes greater competition in the device market. That way we all benefit.

Nate
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

I waited a long time before I jailbroke my iPhone. I was waiting for the SDK to come out because I thought I wouldn't have to jailbreak once it did. Now that it won't actually officially be rolled out with software until the summer--not to mention the fact that once it does come out it is handicapped (see <a href="http://www.zdziarski.com/">Jonathan Zdziarski's</a> March 8th blog post)--I thought it was a good time to take the plunge. I haven't regretted it. There is a lot of great unauthorized software still being developed and released almost every day and I haven't seen any bad side effects so far. Take, for instance, weDict. It's free dictionary software that is among the things I use daily. Highly recommended. So, once you're comfortable with the built-in iPhone apps, jailbreak. I think you'll feel the same way as me. It makes a great product even better.

FWIW
Nate

Rick Strahl
March 23, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@John - re: Windows Mobile missing the boat: My thoughts exactly. I was originally sold on the idea of Windows mobile, got excited about writing code for the platform. But the devices to date have been so hobbled that doing anything useful on the phone was futile. And running .NET code on a phone? Forget it - it's so incredibly slow unless you write in C++ using the low level SDKs. Unless you had applications that are 1 or 2 screens it sucks. THe worst part though - especially now in comparison - is the pitiful Web browser in WM. Even on bigger screens and even on the PDA versions the browser is awful.

It's indeed sad that Apple which is a newcomer so completely wiped Microsoft's ass both in terms of technology and adoptation is really disappointing. It's not like Microsoft doesn't have the resources to build - or buy as Apple did - the technology to make this happen. I sure wish it would have been Microsoft who could have produced this phone. Or heck - anybody but Apple <g>...

Paul Mrozowski
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

You actually used Pocket IE? Ew. I switched over to Opera a while ago and have been a lot happier with that browser. I'm pretty happy w/my WM 6 phone (Sprint Mogul w/data plan) but I agree, out of the box, WM is pretty horrible. Having said that, being able to have push e-mail via Windows Live is really nice and so is being able to install some useful third party apps (eg. eWallet and NewsBreak - I actually read most of my RSS feeds on my phone now).

I've taken crap for owning an iPod, so I can appreciate where you're coming from. At the time, it was just the best player available - the others were crap. I've been hopeful that the iPhone at least helps show MS where they really need to be. It should be interesting to see how things shake out with Android from Google as well.

(cool - math tests to see if I'm smart enough to leave a post)

Rick Strahl
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Paul - did this work for SmartPhones as well? I was under the impression that Opera only worked on Pocket PCs not the smaller SmartPhone editions of WM otherwise I would have tried it.

Bertrand Le Roy
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Rick, you're crazy: you'll attract all the Apple fanatics with such a post. I too like a lot of what the iPhone is doing, but there is no way I'm ever going to buy anything ever again that requires the installation of iTunes. Also, all your music fits in 16Gigs, really?

Rick Strahl
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Bertrand - he he... nothing like Apple fanatics foaming at the mouth <g>...

Yeah iTunes is really the downfall of all Apple products and I agree. I don't use iTunes for anything but synching so I can live with it but I refuse to use it as a media player. I've actually gotten quite fond of Media Player in Vista which is reasonably lean, looks nice and makes it fairly easy to organize and manage music.

16gig - barely. Actually it's closer to 20 now as I found out as the music won't all sync - I decided to just sync playlists for now.

Fannon
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Ha, so you broke down and got what my co-worker refers to as a "devil machine," eh?

In the end, I couldn't really justify the expense despite the wifi and everything else. Having clickable voicemail is convenient but since I have an advanced 1-800 through Gotvmail I get their "Play it on Mobile" feature anyway (my treo is its own private extension, too). So until the price goes down I will be iphone-less. But it sounds like you weren't thinking of it as a business expense, more personal? I tend to select phones based on their business functionality.

Almost 20 gb of music, eh? Gee, if only I could simplify like that. I got 140gb...and counting!

Atom
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Yeah... I have a Mac at home, mostly as something that looks elegant in the living room and easy for my wife to use. It seamlessly transfers between Japanese and English, so that's a huge selling point.

Macs are more like functional pieces of furniture for me... they look great in the open and serve their purpose as a general media centre well.

I tend to use the Mac within its scope and it works well for that. It DOESN'T like to be used outside of its scope and when it crashes it just freezes with NO error messages. Frustrating if you're trying to figure out what went wrong.

Although I don't mind iTunes, I despise Apple's recent move into media. There's NO reason to lock-in Phone Ring Tones to iTunes only. What's worse is the Apple give out an image of innocence, giving them a reputation that "The Record companies are forcing our hand" even though this has never been said by Apple... and you can be sure that Apple benefits from having this squeaky clean rep while offloading the evil DRM restrictions to the consumer's enemies such AT&T and Record Labels.

Rick Strahl
March 24, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Atom - well media companies and phone companies want and are on their way to a total lock on media although the recent moves by several large providers like Amazon to sell DRM free music is encouraging. Media companies are evil that's all there's too it. Greedy bastards all of 'em as are the phone companies who will nickel and dime you to death.

Couldn't agree more on Apple's image. Hypocrisy is the worst attribute for any company and Apple is very good at it. Microsoft is no angel but at least they're pretty straight about their intensions and you know where you stand in the grand theme of things.

Henk Boese
March 25, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

I hear you on the iPhone Rick. I looked at it last fall but didn't do it as I didn't want to change providers. I did get an HTC Mogul (P6800) which runs Windows mobile 6. A vast improvement over 5 but that isn't saying much. It runs a lite version of outlook and syncs well with my outlook 2003. I haven't had any problems with email on it. That works well. The web browser works ok but not as well as an Iphone. For me that's not a big need but if that is for you then the iPhone is certainly better.
It does support a 6gb micro sd flash which is nice. I can't get all my music on it but quite a bit. Supposedly there is an upcoming rom update that improves that but I'll believe it when I see it not create other problems.
My biggest complaint is I believe the Mogul is underpowered. It needs more memory and faster processor. I'd be willing to pay for it. It's a whole lot faster than the older devices running Windows mobile 5 however. It is usable. I like the calendar/contact/email/task/ect sync with outlook. That works well.
The phone is good with the exception of the default skin. They made the touch screen buttons too small. Why they used only half the screen I'll never know. Bigger buttons would be easier to hit. I hear there is other skins out there for it. I may have to go look. Still why should I have to do that.

All in all the HTC is working fine for me. Glad to hear the iPhone is working for you. I don't care for Apple necessarily either but frankly it's their model so if it works for them fine. I'm not married to any company or computer or operating system. They are what they are and if they are useful I'll use them.

Darrell
March 26, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

I still have a year left on my Verizon contract so I'll wait and see if Apple has a new iPhone then. I did break down and purchase the Ipod Touch which I do really like especially the browser.

Mike
March 26, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Rick,

Nice review, and I agree with your love/hate attitude of Apple (love their product designs/hate their business practices).

You stated that: "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."

Does the touch screen really have tactile feedback? Can you feel the the scrolling lists click by? Does it work on the keyboard interface? When I tried a friend's iPhone a few months ago it didn't provide any feedback. I am in the market to replace my Blackjack, but can't imagine typing email on a touch screen. Thanks.

Rick Strahl
March 27, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

@Mike - sorry I used the wrong term. THere's no tactile feedback on the device. What I meant is the touch and motion activated UI. Moving and sliding things around is much more effective than using buttons or joysticks.

The touch screen works reasonably well. I've been using it quite a bit with the Web browser - it's easy to hit the wrong key no doubt, but no worse than on a typical phone which has tiny keys. You can set up sounds and that gives some feedback about keys typed...

Mark Gibaud
March 31, 2008

# re: Justifying an iPhone

Congrats! I was an early adopter (UK version) and have loved my iPhone since I've got it. Sure it's not perfect, but it gets better and better without us having to do too much, and critically, like you say, nothing else out there provides anywhere near the good user experience.

By the way, be sure to use Winamp with the following plugin to manage your iPhone music, since iTunes is easily the least usable piece of software I have ever encountered:

http://mlipod.sourceforge.net/

It requires a present iTunes installation, but other than that, you never have to work with iTunes again!

Gambling Online
June 04, 2008

# Gambling Online

To master poker and make it profitable, you must first master patience and discipline, as a lack of either is a sure disaster regardless of all other talents, or lucky streaks.

Chris
April 16, 2009

# re: Justifying an iPhone

iPhone DOES support Windows Authentication. We have a working proof of concept site showing your login name once you authenticate.

Athadu
December 08, 2010

# re: Justifying an iPhone


With Windows Authenticatin set in IIS and accessing our web app over VPN/3G/Safari on iPad, we are running into a problem where the browser bring up the app but pops up the login prompt almost for every other request going to the app. So, we had to turn on the Basic Auth over HTTPS. VPN/WiFi/Safari on iPad/iPhone works fine, though.

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