Thoughts on the iPhone

I bought my first iPhone yesterday! I have been lusting after the iPhone since the first models were announced at MacWorld San Francisco in January 2007. Despite the intense desire, I never bought one simply because my existing phone plan was so much more economical. That hasn't changed, but I have now decided it worthwhile.

Acquiring the iPhone

I bought my iPhone at the Apple Store at Rockingham Park. Knowing that the store was scheduled to open at 7am for the event, I arrived around 6:20. There were about 20 people ahead of me when I got there, and roughly another 20 behind me when the mall doors opened at 7am. The line then moved inside the mall to just outside the store itself. At that point, it divided into two lines: one for those like me who had reserved a phone, and another for those who had not. (Since the line of those who had not reserved a phone was much shorter and being processed in parallel, I would have been better to not reserve a phone, or to "forget" that I had.) We were individually allowed into the store as Apple employees became available to help us. Once I got to be first or second in line, I could go into the store to look around. I was even offered demo's while waiting to be assisted. We were got bottles of water and candy at the same time. I think I got into the store at around 8:10 and was being assisted with my purchase at around 8:15. My entire purchase took roughly a half hour. My purchase was a little longer than typical because AT&T picked me for a random identity check before accepting my credit card. Essentially, I had to answer a few multiple choice questions over the phone about things like where I was born, in order to prove I am who I said I was. (Oddly enough, the only other company that has ever made me do that is T-Mobile; it must be a phone company thing.) When I left the store, my phone was fully activated. I was told that it could take up to six hours for my phone number to switch from my old provider. That did happen as expected. My only disappointment was that the phone was not fully charged when I left the store. But the iPhone having a low battery was unquestionably a productivity aid for my work day, so I won't complain about that. I want to point out that all the Apple Store employees were very helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. They appeared every bit as excited about the new phones as those of us crazy enough to stand in line to buy them. I've made several large and small purchases at that store, and every experience has been very good. (Given my utter loathing of retail shopping in general, this is saying something.)

First Impressions: Keyboard

This is my first phone with a (hardware or software) keyboard, so I can't compare this to anything. Given the space constraints, I think the software keyboard works remarkably well. But make no mistake, I wouldn't attempt to type this blog entry on the iPhone. The frustrating parts of using this keyboard are:
  • Entering a good password that includes mixed-case characters, numbers, and punctuation.
  • Entering particularly long URL's. I suspect I will use bookmarks more on the iPhone than I do on desktop computers. Also, if I was choosing a personal domain name today it would be shorter than "" simply for the ease of typing on mobile devices. Oddly enough, I didn't foresee this use case when I chose it in 1999.
I work with a gentleman who has both a Blackberry with a physical keyboard and an iPhone. He tells me that, surprisingly, that the iPhone's software keyboard is easier to use. My conclusion: Keyboard use can be frustrating, but I'm not sure it could become less frustrating without significant tradeoffs in device size.

First Impressions: Safari for iPhone

Safari is great! Some pages read very easily, others require a little more pinching than others. Obviously sites optimized for the iPhone or other mobile devices are ideal. Page download speed obviously varies between sites, but overall I haven't found it frustratingly slow -- even over the AT&T network. In fact, last night I was home and using the phone for a few hours before it occurred to me that I should connect to my wireless network.

First Impressions: Mail

I use Google Apps for my personal email. My experience with the combination of Mail on the iPhone and GMail/Google Apps accounts has been, thus far, disappointing. I've seen timeouts connecting to the GMail IMAP server, and I've seen new messages not appear in the refreshed IMAP message list that do appear in the web interface. I honestly don't know what blame lies with the Mail application versus Google (or even AT&T). Its worth nothing that, for the past several years, I have preferred the GMail web interface to any desktop client offering. I understand that many would disagree with me on this. Its not that I don't appreciate the benefits of a native desktop app, its just that I believe Google has done an exceptionally good job of making a very good email client, and they've managed to do it within the constraints of the web browser. I expected this to be different on the iPhone, but it wasn't. It didn't take me long to bookmark the GMail web interface on the iPhone, and it didn't take me much longer to find a great GMail site-specific browser (GMate Mail) for the iPhone. The iPhone-optimized GMail webapp is great on the iPhone! Honestly, the only weaknesses are that I can't get notification of new messages using only the webapp, and that I haven't yet found a way to set the GMail webapp as my default mail application. (I would love to hear about apps or ways around these minor limitations.) The GMail web interface never ceases to impress me.
Off-topic note: I highly recommend Mailplane to Mac GMail users. Mailplane is a site-specific browser that adds dock and menu bar notifications of new messages, drag-and-drop attachments, and ease of switching between GMail accounts.

First Impressions: Syncing

I am not a MobileMe subscriber. But I used iTunes' ability to sync Google Contacts with both my Mac and my iPhone. My Google Contacts data had a bunch of duplicates and outdated info. That aside, the syncing process works very well. As a Mac user who, until now, has had low-end cell phones, I have never before had a cell phone address book that I could synchronize with my email address book. I am very, very pleased about finally having this.

First Impressions: App Store

As luck would have it, my credit card information changed since last time I purchased anything through the iTunes store, so I had to update that. Unfortunately, when I would enter my Discover card information iTunes would tell me that "credit card processing was temporarily unavailable". The error message made it sound like a site-wide problem with taking any credit card orders. I first encountered this last evening, and I encountered it again this morning. I'm sure the iTunes store is under unusually heavy load with the iPhone release, but I couldn't quite believe that credit card processing was universally unavailable for so long. So, I tried my Visa card and that worked. I have no idea if the problem is specific to Discover cards, or just my Discover card. But that was frustrating. It was particularly annoying that I couldn't download free apps until I figured out how to get around this. My impression of the App Store itself is that there are so many apps its impossible to find what I'm looking for unless I already knew what I wanted. I've heard this advice before, but I'll reiterate it: I don't think any iPhone app developer can expect to sell or give away an app without independently promoting it. If a developer just submits an app to the store, it will be nothing other than one app among many thousands. The process of downloading an app through iTunes and installing it on the phone was seamless (beyond the credit card processing issue). I have not tried to use the App Store directly from the phone.

Apps I Downloaded

I downloaded these iPhone apps: GMate Mail: GMate Mail is a GMail site-specific browser that allows you to easily switch between GMail accounts. It seems to work very well. I wish it could become the default mail application, and get notifications of new messages. But its nice and its well worth the price to get quick access to my auxiliary GMail accounts. In addition, I had occasion to send a support question and got a response very quickly; I was very impressed. FileMagnet: This is a great little desktop/iPhone app combination that lets you copy documents (in various common formats) from your Mac to your iPhone so that you can read them on your iPhone. Its very slick! Honestly, I'm a little surprised that Apple didn't build this functionality into the iPhone with iTunes. Google: This app provides voice-based Google searching. It also provides links to various Google applications. It provides one set of links for an "" account and another for a Google Apps account. But you are limited to one account for each account type. You can think of this aspect of the app as simply a pre-defined set of bookmarks to Google applications. Its useful and free. Tweetie: I haven't spent much time with this yet, but its a nice simple Twitter client. I'm fairly new to the Twitter fad, and I'm therefore a very light user of Twitter. But the app is useful. (I have tried the Mac version of Tweetie as well, but tend to just use the browser when on a desktop.) Rowmote Pro: An awesome remote control for FrontRow and Hulu Desktop. At Bat Lite: Gives you baseball schedules, scores, and team standings. Cool. UDID: Allows you to send the UDID of the phone to an email address. The UDID is a serial number-like string. If you have occasion to need an app from the App Store that is not yet available to the public, you need this. Where's my car?: I haven't yet had occasion to use this, but its goal is to help you remember where you park your car. I'm embarrassingly certain that I will find this useful.

Final Thoughts

Even including when I've purchased computers, I haven't been so excited by an electronics purchase in a long, long time.