Saying only new (-ish) things about the iPhone

We’ve all read about how cool flicking is and how lame EDGE is. Enough on that. Below are some things I haven’t already read a thousand times about the iPhone. Full disclosure: I’ve owned one Newton, two Blackberrys, three Palms, and three Treos (geeeeeeek!), and I’m switching from a Treo 650 to an 8GB iPhone.

  • The iPhone kicks the Treo’s butt in a lot of ways, but between the two devices, the most useful win on the iPhone, believe it or not, is threads. PalmOS is single-threaded, so if you set your mail application to check mail every 15 minutes, at some point every day you’ll take your phone out of your pocket and either have to wait for mail download to complete before you can make a call, or cancel the download (which takes forever). As a result I always left my Treo on “manual” download, which means you have to press a button to initiate getting mail, then wait for it to happen. The iPhone either hides the download process a lot better, or is actually doing two network operations at the same time — I suspect the former, but I don’t care. I don’t have to worry about it. I set the iPhone to automatically download mail every 15 minutes and haven’t caught it in the act once. The mail is just there when I turn on the phone. Such a huge improvement.
  • The iPhone keyboard blows. Let’s not mince words, here: text input was better on a Newton. The keys are way too close together, full stop. The auto-suggestion works okay if you’re typing dictionary words (and not, say, street names, as in the Google Maps app) and if you’re in a context where typing space to accept is useful (in URLs, for instance, there is no space bar). The amazing thing to watch is everyone blogging about how they “need to get better at typing” — that’s the drugs talking. The iPhone needs to get better at typing, not you. Jason Santa Maria nailed this one in January in his post, A Plea for the Fat-Fingered, in which he argued that the keyboard should be available in landscape orientation, not just portrait. Fortunately Apple took his advice — see picture here — but unfortunately, landscape keyboarding only works in Safari. The first iPhone software update really, really, really needs to enable landscape keyboarding for all apps. That one, over-the-wire, software-only update would by itself vastly improve the experience overall.
  • Taking those two notes together, the Treo still wins over the iPhone in placing calls (you know, the “phone” in “iPhone”). The Treo phone application lets you just start typing the first or last name of the person you’re calling, and it shows you a list of matches to what you’ve typed. So fast, so easy. It doesn’t matter if I know you as “Mr. Jones” or “Tom” — either way, I can get your number and make a call very quickly. The iPhone’s flicking interface is great and all, but scrolling through over a hundred contacts in the same letter of the alphabet is tiring.
  • This weekend’s sales numbers — bigger than Razr’s first month, maybe 700,000 units sold, etc. — are very impressive. But, I think it will be getting a lot bigger from here (assuming Apple can make the things fast enough). The reason? What our dorky industry likes to call “viral growth.” In the iPhone’s case, media carpet-bombing of the topic means that everyone knows what the thing is, and then any experience of the phone is such a rich, immediate, visual attraction that five minutes playing with one will sell you on it. I’ve seen stock brokers demoing to barristas, bike messengers showing it off to grandmas. Everyone wants to see, and when they see, everyone wants to buy. I demo it by giving it to people, off, and letting them figure out what to do with no help from me at all. That they can, and that the experience is so good, can only mean a lot more good news coming for Apple.
  • Apple may be letting AT&T be AT&T, but I’ve gotta say, they sure seem on it to me. I transferred a phone number over from Sprint (apparently the biggest loser in this weekend’s deluge), whose web site was down all day Monday, and which had just converted everyone’s account numbers (interesting timing!), so my number transfer failed. I called AT&T, and while the whole process involved more than an hour on the phone, they called Sprint for me, bitched them out for me while I was on the line, basically hung right up on them once the transfer was complete (which is what I would have done, so thanks), and then called me back later to say, “Oh, we found our that your data plan wasn’t set up correctly, so we fixed it for you and you’ll see a refund tomorrow.” (Attention AT&T: Colleen Boyd in Halifax Center deserves a raise.) When I finally got off the phone, I found two messages waiting from someone else at AT&T who had called me as soon as the transfer failed. Um, are you guys really a phone company? You seem, uh, competent.
  • Calling it the best iPod ever is an insult to the experience. I would never want just an iPod again — the video playback and the browsing interface both feel entirely new, not like a revision of the iPod. Likewise, the iPhone’s Safari is unbelievably good. I can’t really imagine wanting to use anyone else’s browser again. I’d go so far as to call it the first real web browser on a phone.
  • I come back again to third-party apps (not a new topic). Apple has released some helpful materials for web developers working on iPhone-specific sites, and all the promised capabilities are there. But, this UI deserves more of a workout than Stocks and Weather. Were it not for the quality of the browser, I’d already feel like I’d hit all four walls of the iPhone experience. The development community around the iPhone is already amazing. Let them have an icon on the home screen for their work and let them at the full capabilities of the device, and I don’t see any limits on the utility they’ll create for you. Let them go to work.

It’s got some warts and some rough edges, but I think it’s only fair to call this the best 1.0 evar. Congratulations to everyone at Apple, and thanks. (Ratatouille was great, too!)

Update: After a week, suddenly everyone linked to this post. In the time since, Artur has pointed out to me that the standard Treo mail app does some weird CPU scheduling to simulate threading — SnapperMail, the Treo mail client I used, doesn’t. Visual voicemail is now a serious contender for my favorite novel feature on the iPhone (beating out threads); again, another feature that I can’t really imagine leaving behind now that I have it. The 3rd party app scene is cheering up, thanks primarily to the heroic efforts of Joe Hewitt to make a great app framework. The keyboard still blows.

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