Saturday, July 19, 2008

One Week With the iPhone 3G

One Week

So this is a collection of thoughts and reactions to my first week with the new iPhone 3G. Although there are a number of people here in New Zealand who managed to get the first version if the iPhone during the last year, I have not been one of those. This is my first iPhone.

Deciding to Buy It

The process of deciding to buy, was a real mixture of worry, suspense and even distaste. Here in New Zealand, there is only one Mobile network that currently will run the iPhone, that being Vodafone New Zealand. Also as Apple do not own their own retail chain - only selling direct through a Web site, they t themselves did not participate directly with selling the phone. This left it up to Vodafone themselves very much in charge of how the phone was going to be introduced.

The delay between Apple’s wordwide announcement of the iPhone’s International launch (including that New Zealand would be one of the 20 countries to get it first); and the announcement from Vodafone about prices and plans (only released 3 or so days before the actual release) probably led to a lot of the publicity that the plans and cost announcements finally garnered. There are plenty of online sources for comment about the actual plans including the online forums at Geekzone hosting a huge amount of discussion, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say, that it made a lot of news, not much of it particularly complementary for Vodafone itself.

For me, I had been waiting for quite a while for this sort of device. My old phone was failing and I really needed a newer phone with good capabilities. Given that I use Apple computers a lot, going for an iPhone made a lot of sense - both as I knew the functionality would work and integrate well with my computing environment, but also as I appreciate where Apple seem to be taking this type of device - somewhere which is really quite different in intent from a traditional smart phone. So, I had to reconcile this in some way with the costs associated with getting the phone on a plan that would work for me. Without going into details, I did not sign up for one of the special plans, choosing instead a plan that fitted best what I consider my usage on the phone to be.

Buying It

The phone went on sale here in New Zealand at 1 minute past midnight on the 11th of July - the first country in the world to sell it. Only three stores in the whole country opened at that time though. I was not going to go and queue outside at that time of the morning, preferring instead to get up early and get to a suburban Vodafone retail shop, for their 9am opening. This is what I did - queueing for around 1.5 hours waiting for the shop at the Northlands mall in Christchurch to open. As it happened I was 2nd in line at this particular store and having spent 15-20 minutes in signing up for the contract etc. came out holding my brand new gleaming phone.

The queueing was easy and enjoyable. There were around 10 or so others there by the time the shop opened. We all seemed to get on reasonably well and spent time discussing options, plans, the publicity and associated discussion. (If any of you were there, please drop me a comment).

Using It

The most obvious reaction to actually having an iPhone in your hands for the first time was how different from any other phone I had used, this actually is. The experience is one of understanding suddenly, that the rules have changed and that the possibilities are different from what you imagined. This is something I had not experienced with any gadget since the first Palm I owned, sometime over 10 years ago. I know that for a lot of people who started perhaps with the 1st generation iPhone last year, this may be old news. Indeed it is something I have read and heard a lot about, however understanding this isn’t quite the same until you have held and started using one.

The inbuilt functionality has been written about a lot. For me, the stand-out things are the fact that I can actually browse the web without the restrictions that other mobile devices have. The email client is better than I expected - it’s actually quite usable for the IMAP accounts that I want to use. (I’m rather fussy about email - it takes quite a lot for an email client to be acceptable to me.) The contacts and calendar apps are perfectly usable and offer well done and functional syncing to my computer - something that has been a problem in every other phone I have used. The Google Maps (including the GPS functionality) is extremely useful and functional. The handling of SMS (although managing conversations could be extended more) is still better than on any other phone I have used.

This is not to say that I think it’s perfect. In fact I would go as far to say, that the iPhone reminds me a lot of the early iPods - revolutionary in an interesting way that points towards the future, and for now does very well what it does - but doesn’t do everything. It seems as if Apple have decided to choose the features that they are going to do, they do them to their best capabilities, make them very functional and usable and then leave room for future features to be added. (This is exactly the same as with the iPod line of developments - for example it amazed me how long it took Apple to provide an iPod that would do gapless playback of audio.)

Obviously for now, the main thing with the iPhone 3G is of course the ability to extend the basic functionality via the download-able applications. The App store has been very busy. I don’t want to spend time reviewing it here and now, suffice it to say that to me the extendibility of the phone, because of it’s Internet platform capabilities, is probably the most exciting feature for me. Already I am able to use it with very simple (but nevertheless useful) little tools for interacting with others on the Internet. I’m looking forward to more.


Overall, for the first week - I’m pretty blown away and happy. The device is different from what I expected in detail, but providing all the interest and functionality I had hoped for in the wider sense. I’m looking forward to where the iPhone story goes from here.