iPhone and me

Well, OK, as someone who shall remain unnamed had been predicting for a long time, I eventually caved in and got myself one of these. I have owned mine for about a week now, and I thought I would post my own impressions so far. As some friends (bloggers and not) know, my reluctance to purchasing it had really nothing to do with any kind of reservations that I may have had about the iPhone itself, but rather with the hugely expensive plans available in Canada for those wishing to acquire one (for a more accurate description, click here).

I have gotten the latest model (3GS), sporting 32 gigabytes of memory — mine is black. It has several added features with respect to the previous models, the most conspicuous probably being the new integrated camera, which can now be used to take videos, besides pictures. I signed on for a 3-yr contract with Canada’s main communication company.
I am very happy with my iPhone. I find myself using it frequently, as this extraordinary piece of gadgetry can perform a variety of diverse tasks which until now would require me to sit in front of a computer, or carry with me several devices. While in principle other smart phones have been advertised as capable of doing the same, the iPhone actually delivers on the promises. I am organizing this mini-review into sections, where I discuss the various functions that the iPhone can perform that are important to me (I am leaving the music out, because that seems the same as on the iPod, which I have had for years).

Internet connectivity
To me, this is really what sets the iPhone apart from the competition. My one and only previous smart phone, an HP IPAQ Pocket PC, was supposed to provide in principle the same internet connectivity as the iPhone — chiefly e-mail and web browsing. However, when it actually came to doing even basic tasks such as reading an e-mail message (possibly with an attachment) and replying to it, everything was difficult, clumsy (and slow [0]). Loading a web page required an enormous amount of time and the rendering was rather poor (I shall say nothing of the so-called “operating system”, the notorious Windows Mobile).
There is simply no comparison between the web page rendering of the iPhone, and its mail application, and what is offered by all other comparable devices, such as the BlackBerry, much less with the ease of use of one and the awkwardness of the others. On the iPhone, setting up a mail account and checking mail is straightforward, and browsing the web is actually doable.
Unlike the simpler iPod Touch, the iPhone allows me to access the internet through the telephone network (I have a limit of 2 Gigabytes worth of data download per month, which I think I shall never reach) virtually everywhere. This can of course become quite expensive if I should incur into roaming charges, but is something that I may need (I invariably purchase expensive internet connections when I travel anyway). The presence of a wireless card makes it possible to use the iPhone to connect to the internet at any hotspot or wherever (hopefully free) wireless is available.
One of the things that I find most impressive is the on-screen keyboard, surprisingly precise despite the small size of the keys. Quite soon one finds oneself typing really fast.
For someone like me, who checks e-mail and a few web sites fairly often, the iPhone means not to have to carry my laptop with me all the time when I travel on short trips (or looking for places where I can access the internet). Now, if it only were possible to connect it to a projector…

Applications
Another thing that sets the iPhone apart from the competition is the sheer number of dazzling applications written specifically for it. I am not talking about the ones that come with the device itself, some of which are already quite good (e.g., the GPS or the Compass), but the ones developed by third parties. I have already found some that are quite useful, such as ArxivReader, which allows me to check Arxiv‘s new entries, in a way that is simpler and more efficient than accessing the web site. This is something I do every day (which qualifies as often, regularly and religiously) sitting at my desktop.
The SSH client allows me to connect to computing servers at work, allowing me to perform simple operations such as checking the status of “jobs” (i.e., large scale calculations performed on dedicated machines), restarting them if necessary, etc. These are examples of relatively quick tasks that I can perform during idle times (sitting at the station, waiting to board a plane, on the bus, at a departmental meeting…), in situations in which it is impossible or impractical to use my laptop.

Camera
Here, I am a bit disappointed. I must confess that I had hoped to be able to take with my iPhones pictures of quality comparable to that of my digital camera, and so far I have to say that that is not the case. Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations. While the iPhone still allows me to take reasonable spur-of-the-moment shots, I would still take my digital camera with me if I were to go some place expecting to take pictures. This new model also has video capabilities, but I myself am not much of a video shooter.

Telephone
While a big fan of gadgets and technology, I have never owned a cell phone. I did buy a smart phone in 2006, as I was going to spend my sabbatical year in Europe and thought I could use a smart phone as my regular phone, which I was going to use in the different countries that I visited by simply changing the sim card. I did not really carry it around with me regularly — indeed, most of the time I would just leave it at the apartment.
I hate cell phones. I still regard the cell phone as one of the most annoying inventions of our times. I hate to have to listen to the conversations of all my fellow bus and train passengers, I hate it when a cell phone goes off, with its obnoxiously loud tone, while I teach [1], or at a social gathering (and the person sees it fit to take the call and leave for half an hour), or at concerts, funerals, etc. I do not buy any of the arguments in favor of cell phone use having to do with increased productivity, safety, entertainment — I spent half of my life in a world where cell phones did not exist and I do not think that quality of life was significantly worse. I am also not used to sending text messages, it is a form of communication which I have never really
utilized.
So, this is one aspect of the iPhone that interests me the least. I am not planning to give my mobile telephone number out but to few close friends, and maybe a few colleagues. Since I am not an avid cell phone user, I cannot really comment on the performance of the iPhone as a cell phone, as I really have no baseline for comparison — it seems to be working just as well as any other.

Calendar
This is a tremendously useful application on a portable device of the size of the iPhone, far more than on a desktop computer. It is when I am out and about that I mostly need to be reminded of where I should be.

Why the iPhone and not the iPod Touch ?
Since I do not care for the cell phone part, and I do not believe that I shall be using the camera as much as I thought, why could I not just go for the iPod Touch, which has many of the same features [2] ? This is actually a good question, as if one need no phone nor any other voice-related application (i.e., Voice Memos), as well as no camera, the iPod Touch may be just fine. Indeed there are web sites where pros and cons of either are illustrated. For me, the extended internet connectivity offered by the iPhone made the difference.

Notes

[0] Granted, this was 2006 and that smart phone was not equipped with 3G technology, but rather with the considerably slower GPRS.

[1] Yes, I did once walk out of a class I was teaching, as cell phones kept ringing despite my repeated requests to turn them off.

[2] I have owned an iPod for many years, but not an iPod Touch. The music functionality of the iPod and the iPhone seems the same, and I think the Calendar is also the same. While I do not know whether all the (non-voice) applications that exist for the one can be found for the other, I have no reason not to assume that they are.

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7 Responses to “iPhone and me”

  1. Professor in Training Says:

    Hahaha – welcome to the Cool Kids Club, Moose!

  2. rob Says:

    yet another falls to the iborg collective…

    🙂

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    I mean, I’m glad you like it.

    It’s now my turn to be jealous of you, with your 32GB (I have 8) and improved (if still suboptimal) camera.

    You didn’t mention the ability to use the phone (can I actually type “iPhone” now without fear of censorship?) as a modem for your laptop, in order to get internet access via the 3G network when no Wi-Fi is available. It’s almost like magic!!! And how do you find the maps function?

    I like text messages. They’re great when you just want to convey a short snippet of information to someone without being sucked into a long coversation, or without disturbing your fellow bus passengers 😉 They’re also great to receive if you’re in a loud restaurant or on a loud bus, and your friends are letting you know where to meet them. I also just sent a text to a friend who just went into labour – she won’t want to talk right now, but if she gets a chance to catch her breath, she’ll know I’m thinking of her.

  4. arduous Says:

    Sigh. Jealous. I looked at second hand iPhones on eBay today. They’re pretty reasonably priced, but I’m pretty sure that the monthly service would make me pass out.

  5. transientreporter Says:

    If you buy a Mac, they’re giving away an iPod touch for free… Hope that extended internet connectivity is worth it!

    Now, if it only were possible to connect it to a projector…
    I thought this was already possible. No?

  6. Massimo Says:

    PiT — You keep calling me Moose, at some point I may have to call you Dick 😉

    Rob — I fall to anything collective 🙂

    Cath — Tethering is great but I think it would be really expensive if one were to do it on a regular basis. I optimistically think that in all those situations where I may want to do it, the iPhone itself will provide the functionality that I need, without having to connect a laptop to it.

    Arduous — cheap it is not, no question about it. I paid $300 for the phone and $90/month.

    Transient — You cannot connect an iPhone to a regular VGA projector of the type you find at conferences. There are specific projectors that are designed to work with the iPhone, but at that point you would have to carry with you the projector… Is the extended internet connectivity worth it ? Well, I can tell you one thing, in the course of one year I do spend a lot of money on internet connections purchased at the airport, hotels etc.

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