Saturday, July 12, 2008

iPhone 2.0!


While yesterday marked the release of the new iPhone 3G -- adding GPS and faster network access when away from WiFi -- the more important news was the new software that came on this new model. It it was freely downloadable for all owners of the the original iPhone. I was one of the people who dared to install the software a day early, and I've got to say that I love it.

New Features from Apple

The most important new features from Apple are not important to me. For example, with Apple has positioned
the iPhone to compete better with RIM's Blackberry by giving it full compatibility with Microsoft's Exchange right out of the box. But I don't have an have an Exchange account. So, this is a big deal, but not for me. Multiple language support is great for Apple, as it allows them to ship the same model around the world. It is great for other developers (see below), too, as they also can make just one version of their software available around the world. 

Other new features from Apple are relatively minor. The calculator, now doubles as a scientific calculator. Occasionally useful for some; frequently useful for few. The new stand alone contact application -- it had been embedded in the phone application -- is more useful for me, but the old one usually met my needs. Improvement support for viewing attachments is good, but rarely do I need to read them anywhere other than my computer. As the iPhone still lacks the ability to edit even the simplest Word and Excel documents, something that Palm devices have supported for nearly a decade. 

Probably the most significant new feature from Apple for people like me is that it can now automatically sync email, contacts and calendar data without needing to be plugged in to a computer, or even being anywhere near it. Subscribers to Apple's MobileMe (nee .Mac) service -- approximately $100/year -- can take advantage of this feature, which ends up acting much like the Exchange support that I cannot use. 

New Features from Others

The most important thing that Apple has done with its this new software is to open up all iPhones to third party software. Apple has made it easy to distribute their applications by making them available through the iTunes store -- both from a computer and directly from an iPhone. Apparently, the development tools are incredible, which makes it easier and fasted for developers with good ideas to get the software to me and  consumers.

Even before the new iPhone 2.0 software was easily available to most users, the App Store in iTunes was up and running with over 500 applications available. I grabbed a few of them quite quickly.

Lightsabers for Everyone The first application I downloaded was the free Phone Saber. A couple of years ago, someone write an application that would make a MacBook Pro or a MacBook sound like a lightsaber when you swing it around. There's something cool about about that, but it pales before awkwardness and geekiness of swinging around a laptop computer. Now, however, there's a similar application for the iPhone. Much less awkward, of course. More portable, surely. Even more secretive, if the user is wearing headphone. So, the iPhone is absolutely no doubt a better platform for this entire class of applications. Last night I showed this to a 4 year old who was not as impressed as I thought he should be. I mean, this kid is already really into Star Wars and known the entire Skywalker family genealogy. He grabbed his own lightsaber -- whose black is only about 12" long -- which I had to admit might even have been better than mine. The blade, little more than a plastic tube, lit up in many colors and made all the sounds that my Phone Saber did. So, until Phone Saber can project a blade, it's not necessarily the best platform for lightsabery.

Recording, at Last The one feature from my iPods that I have missed in my iPhone -- even needed from time to time -- is the ability the record audio. There are no less than six (!!) different audio recording applications available for iPhones. They vary quite a bit in price ($0, $.99, $.99, $4.99, $9.99, $9.99), but they all do the generally same thing, as best I can tell. The best of the bunch might be the $4.99 SpeakEasy Voice Recorder. But none of them can transfer their recordings to my computer, which is incredibly important to me. Given the power of the iPhone platform, I would also like the to record to an compressed format, rather than uncompressed (wav?) files. But even without those features, I am glad at least one of them exists. 

Let There Be... There are a few flashlight applications available, some free, some not. The all turn on the screen so that it can be used as a weak flashlight. myLite is one of the free ones, and it can also act as a strobe light and the user can change the color of the screen. 

Reading Without Network Access I grabbed two applications that would allow me to read online articles while on the subway. NYTimes is an application from the New York Times that grabs a whole bunch of articles from the day's paper, and stores them so they can be read later. I do not know exactly which articles it grabs, but it certainly includes the OpEd pages and at least the top stories in every other section. It has a an iPhone appropriate interface, and an ad appears under each article as your read it. I would have paid for this application, but it is free. 

A friend of mine told me weeks ago that NetNewsWire would save webpages to read offline, so I grabbed that one, too. I've not used a dedicated RSS reader in the past, but I've already been so impressed with this implementation on the iPhone that I am going to start use the full version for my MacBook Pro.

Fidgeting I needed something to play with while I listened to podcasts if I wasn't doing something else (e.g. walking, cooking, etc.). I decided to buy ($9.99) Cro-Mag Rally, a little racing game. It is as fun and as mindless as I wanted it to be. But critically, even if you turn off all of Cro-Mag's sounds, it stops whatever the iPod is playing. So I downloaded the free, and far inferior, Cube Runner.  It's graphics are slightly inferior to Tron, but the game is appropriately mindless. 

Other Applications I also grabbed a few other applications. Twitterific, Apple's Remote for iTunes, MLB's at Bat are the headliners.

But...

I am incredibly pleased with the new software because it makes these third party applications possible. Once again, the iPhone is unlike virtually all other technology products because it is meeting the expectations that its developer and the press have set. Cro-Mag is a great game. NYTimes, Twitterific, and NetNewsWire are great apps, without having to make any apologies for being run a phone. These are, as best I can tell, no compromise applications. The iPhone truly is a mobile computing platform. 

But there are a few limitations. Because third party applications cannot run in the background, NetNewsWire and NYTimes cannot update their data unless they are launched and allowed to run. Even when push for third party apps is supported in the fall, NetNewsWire cannot get data that way because the application grabs data from multiple third party (fourth party?) web sites. NYTimes could use push to update data, but I cannot forecast whether or not they'll take advantage of it. 

Last, during my first full day using the new software, it looked like my battery was running down very quickly. Most of the day, the phone was just sitting on a table without being used. Perhaps I had left a network application running during this time and did not realize it because the screen had turned off. But the battery should be brand new, as Apple replaced by old iPhone just two or three weeks ago. If the original iPhone's battery  cannot make it through a whole day, even though it does not use the higher power 3G network, this is a huge problem that Apple must fix. If it is simply the result of a poorly written third party app, Apple should pull that app from the App Store until the problem is fixed. 

1 comment:

reppep said...

Alex,

NetNewsWire actually does get all the articles from NewsGator's caching servers. They collect "attention data", which is part of the reason the software and m.newsgator.com are free.

I thought it would do background updates like NNW/Mac, but no such luck. I'm not sure if it caches the feeds yet.