Archive for the 'iPhone' Category

iPhone 4 and iPad update

I’ve been using my iPhone 4 and iPad for several months now, so I thought I would give a hard real use experience report.

iPhone 4
I love the phone. I do see the much written about antenna attenuation problem, but day to day it doesn’t affect me as much as AT&T’s network does. One of the prime times for me to use my phone is while standing in line waiting for the ferry. The worst time is during the afternoon, because there are several hundred people all packed into the ferry terminal, all trying to pull data on their iPhones. The antenna has nothing to do with this.

In every other way, the phone is fantastic. My iPhone 3G would frequently hit the red line on the battery indicator by the time I hit the afternoon ferry, and that was after I had carefully managed my use of the device during the day. With the iPhone 4, I don’t have to worry about managing the battery. That alone has made the upgrade worth it for me.

The upgraded camera has been a huge success for me. I attribute this to a single factor – startup time. I was always reluctant to pull out my iPhone 3G for use as a camera, because quite frequently I would miss the moment by the time the camera came up. I’ve been using Tap Tap’s excellent Camera+ and I like it quite a bit. Unfortunately, you can’t get it on the app store right now, because the developer inserted an easter egg that would allow you to use one of the volume buttons to trigger the shutter. Apple then pulled the app from the store. This is the first time that App Store policy has affected an app that I care about, and I’m obviously not happy about it. It seems to me that Camera+ could have a preference that controlled this feature, and that users would have to turn it on. Since the user would have turned on that feature, they would’t be confused about the takeover of the volume button. It seems simple to me. I really like Camera+’s light table feature, but I really hate the way that it starts up trying to imitate the look of a DSLR rangefinder. The other area where Camera+ could use improvement is in the processing / filters area. It has lots of options, but most of them don’t work for me. I have better luck with Chase Jarvis’ Best Camera on this front. In any case, I’m very happy with the camera as ” the camera that is always always with me”. The resolution is also very good, and I’ve been using it to photograph whiteboards into Evernote quite successfully.

iPad

I’ve been carrying my iPad on a daily basis. I’m using it enough that when I forgot it one day, it made a difference. One thing that I’ve learned is that the iPad really needs a case. I got much more relaxed about carrying mine once it was inside a case. Originally, I thought that I would wait for one of the third party cases, but all of the ones that looked like a fit for me were out of stock, so I broke down and ordered the Apple case. It does the job, but I am not crazy about the material, and I wish that it had one or two small pockets for a pen, a little bit of paper, and perhaps some business cards.

I am pretty much using the iPad as my “away from my desk device” when I am in the office. Our office spans 5 floors in a skyscraper, and I have meetings on several floors during the course of a day. The iPad’s form factor and long battery life, make it well suited as a meeting device. I have access to my e-mail and calendar, and I’m using the iPad version of OmniFocus to keep my tasks and projects in sync with my laptop. I’ve written some py-appscript code that looks at the day’s calendar in Entourage and then kicks out a series of preformatted Evernote notes so that I can pull those notes on my iPad and have notes for the various events of the day. This kind of Mac GUI to UNIX to Mac GUI scripting is something that I’ve commented on before. Thanks to multi-device application families like Evernote, I expect to be doing some more of this hacking to extend my workflow onto the iOS devices. I don’t have a huge need for sharing files between the iPad and the laptop, but Dropbox has done a great job of filling in the gap when I’ve needed to share files.

Several people have asked me about OmniFocus on the iPad, and whether or not it is worth it. I have a large number of both work and personal projects, so being able to use the extra screen real estate on the iPad definitely does help. I have come to rely on several features in OmniFocus for iPad which are not in the desktop version. There is a great UI for bumping the dates for actions by 1 day or 1 week, which I use a lot. I am also very fond of the forecast view, which lets you look at the actions for a give day, with a very quick glance at the number of actions for each day of a week. Both of these features are smart adaptations to the iPad touch interface, and are examples of iPad apps coming into a class of their own.

Another application that I’ve been enjoying is Flipboard. Flipboard got a bunch of hype when it launched back in July, and things have died down because they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Conceptually, Flipboard is very appealing, but the actual implementation still has some problems as far as I am concerned. I can use Flipboard to read my Facebook feed, because Facebook’s timeline is just highly variable in terms of including stuff from my friends. I don’t feel that I can read Twitter via Flipboard, because it can’t keep up with the volume, so I end up missing stuff, and I hate that. Some of the provided curated content is reasonable, but not quite up to what I’d like. Flipboard is falling down because there’s not a good way for me to get the content that I want. I want Flipboard to be my daily newspaper or magazine app. But I can’t get the right content feed(s) to put into it.   

As far as the iOS goes, my usage of the iPad is making me horribly impatient for iOS 4. I would use task switching all the time. Of course, then I would be unhappy because the iPad doesn’t have enough RAM to keep my working set of applications resident. Text editing on iOS is very painful on the iPad. I’m not sure what a good solution would be here, but it definitely is a problem that I am running into on a daily basis – perhaps I need to work on my typing. There is also the issue of better syncing/sharing. My phone and iPad are personal devices, so they sync to my iTunes at home. I use both devices at work, where I have a different computer. This is definitely an area that Apple needs to improve significantly. At the moment, though, the fact that I am using my iPad hard enough to really be running into the problem means that the iPad has succeeded in legitimizing the tablet category – at least for me.

iPhone.next?

Apple’s WWDC is next week, and I’ll be attending for the first time. There’s a lot of speculation swirling around the next iPhone, especially given the prototype obtained by Gizmodo. As I wrote previously, having an iPad has definitely cut into my iPhone use, and at the same time has raised the bar on my expectations for my next phone, iPhone or otherwise.

iPhone

I am using a 3G iPhone now, and I’m not having the best user experience at the moment. There are lots of lags and stutters at inopportune moments, both in the user interface and in the performance of AT&T’s 3G network. I’ve grown used to the briskness of the iPad, and I expect that on my phone now. Apple has set their own bar here. So getting me to iPad level responsiveness is job one. Job two is to get me decent battery life. My iPad lasts way longer than my iPhone. I understand why, but I don’t like it. I really, really want to be able to use my phone without redlining it every day. The last of the big items has to do with AT&T or a rumored second carrier. I want to be able to rely on the phone for accessing data. Right now it’s not as reliable as it needs to be, and I think that everyone knows that. It’s not at all clear to me that a second carrier will do any better, because I doubt that they are prepared for the level of traffic that is coming their way once they get the iPhone. Sprint and Verizon crumbled at Google IO, so let’s not kid ourselves that the other carriers are going to magically fix things. But maybe if a bunch of people jump ship to another carrier, things will get better on AT&T.

There are some secondary issues:    16GB has turned out to be less space than I anticipated, but since the 3GS already comes in a 32GB size, I expect the next generation to come in at 64GB, although I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t. I expect there to be camera upgrades, and I am pretty sure that I’ll be happy with what happens there. The real trick in cameras is the lenses not the megapixels, and all camera phones are on the same footing there.

This time around, there’s a “but”.

Android

After the Android 2.2 (Froyo) announcements, I am considering an Android phone as my next phone. There’s no question that today, the iPhone user interface is more highly developed, polished and intuitive than Android. At the moment fragmentation of the Android platform is a reality, despite Google’s assurances that this will get cleaned up in the future. There are numerous good apps in the Android Marketplace, but some of the applications that I use the most are not there, because they are the iPhone counterparts of Mac desktop applications. That’s a fairly large problem. These are all good reasons to stick with the iPhone.

There are two big reasons that I am looking more closely at Android. The first is that Android has much much better “integration with the cloud”. One of the biggest annoyances that I have with my iPad is the hassle of moving PDF ebook files from my Macintosh to the iPad. I shouldn’t have to use a cord, and I shouldn’t have to use iTunes. 1Password can implement wireless syncing to the iPad and iPhone, why won’t Apple? The second and more important reason is that I like what I see in some of the directions that Google is taking the user interface. Specifically, I’m talking about use use of voice and (possibly) the use of computer vision as demonstrated in Google Goggles. The iPhone, and more recently, the iPad have done something very interesting with multitouch/gestural interfaces. If you subscribe to the theory that science fiction influence science fact, then we could look at Iron Man 2 for some examples of future interfaces. Tony Stark interacts with his computer via a combination of gestures and voice commands, and from the content of the voice commands, it is clear that the computer is employing something like vision in order to resolve references in Stark’s words. As great as Apple’s advances in multitouch have been, they have done very little in terms of voice. Perhaps their acquisition of Siri is a step in that direction, but Apple’s famed secrecy makes it hard to know. The same is true in vision, except that Apple has made no such acquisition. There’s quite some distance to go before Android’s speech and vision could bring about a multimodal interface like the one in Iron Man, but at least I can see the signs that Google is going that direction. Of course, I could just wait it out on a few more generations of iPhone while Google engineers work all these issues out, but I see signs of Google acting like a leader instead of a catch up player, and I like that.

What about Apple’s recent behavior with regard to languages other than Objective-C? Yes, I am bothered by it, but it’s not as big an issue to me as working well in an internet centric world, or working towards a much more multimodal user interface. Nobody is leaving the web platform because they are unable to write in-browser applications in their favorite language, and lots of people are delivering all kinds of interesting stuff in that space. More choice would definitely be nice, but if choice or freedom are your high order bit, that’s what Android is for.

If nothing else, I think it’s a good sign that there are two mobile platforms good enough to put me in this conundrum.

Lifestreaming clients round N

I guess two posts on lifestreaming clients isn’t enough?.

Yesterday MacHeist started offering pre public beta access to Tweetie 2 for Mac.   That caught my eye because Syrinx, my primary Twitter client has been a little slow at keeping up with Twitter features.   I didn’t really want to get the MacHeist bundle (don’t want to hassle with packages that I don’t want) just to get the private beta, but I mentioned on Twitter that I was thinking about it.   Several folks suggested that I try Echofon.   I gave it a whirl, found some things that I like and other that I didn’t.   I started keeping notes about Syrinx vs Echofon, and now it’s turned into a blog post.

My usage style / requirements

I follow a bunch of people, including many people who live in Europe who tweet while I am asleep.   I need a client that can remember unread tweets from overnight.    I’ve found very few clients that are able to do this.     My reading style tends to be bursty as well, so I want the client to do a good job of keeping track of what I’ve read and what I have not.    These two requirements are what has kept me on Syrinx – it can hold days worth of tweets without a problem.   Syrinx’s bookmark also gives me definite way of marking what has been read and what has not, and puts control of that mark directly in my hands.

The other major requirement is that I spend some time (probably too much) on airplanes, without net access.   I want a client (mostly on my iPhone) that can go back in fill in the gaps left by being in the air.   Tweetie 2 for the iPhone can do this, but the experience of switch back and forth between reading the stream on desktop Syrinx and iPhone Tweetie 2 is annoying.

A minor requirement is to be able to monitor a number of Twitter searches at once – that means opening a window for each search, something that Syrinx also does.

Now, let’s have a look at how Syrinx and Echofon stack up for me.

Syrinx

The obvious things that I like about Syrinx are that it can hold as many tweets as I want, as well as the bookmark.    I’ve also grown accustomed to the way that it displays time in absolute format, something which Tweetie 2 / iPhone also does.   One other nicety in Syrinx is that it can display real names in addition to Twitter handles, because sometimes handles and people are hard to match up.   When you have tons of tweets lying around in the? client, sometimes you want to go back to one, and Syrinx obliges with the ability to search all the tweets that it currently has in memory.

So what are the problems with Syrinx? It’s been occasionally unstable, but not in a show stopping fashion. It doesn’t have good support for lists, but I still haven’t made much use of lists. Syrinx does great on opening windows for searches, but it doesn’t remember what searches you have open, so you have to keep track of that yourself. Probably the biggest drawback of Syrinx is that its development is going slowly because its author has a day job.

Echofon

When I compare Echofon and Syrinx, I realize that a lot of the things that I prefer in Echofon are niceties. I like that it can open browser links in the background. I like the way that the drawer is used for dealing with Twitter users and profiles and for displaying conversations.   I just wish it could display more than one conversation at once – but that’s hard in the drawer model. The ability to colorize tweets matching keywords makes it easier to pick out tweets on high priority topics.    As a photographer, I appreciate the ability to display pictures without going all the way to the browser.    I do wish there was a way to get some kind of preview of those pictures right in the tweet stream.   Echofon does this clever thing where it combines “rapid-fire” tweets from the same person.   This seems to work really well, and the visual cue is definitely helpful.  

Looking at the tweet authoring side,  I love the “retweet with comment” option.   One reason that I stopped commenting on retweets was that it was annoying to do it.  No more.   Echofon can tab complete Twitter id’s when @replying or direct messaging.    I still wish for a direct message “rolodex” – there are some people who have hard to remember Twitter id’s.   bit.ly is my preferred URL shortener because of the analytics, but you have to be logged in to bit.ly in order for that to work well.   Fortunately Echofon is able to log into bit.ly accounts so that your analytics work.

In theory, I like the idea of an Echofon ecosystem that syncs the desktop and mobile clients.   I haven’t tried this yet because I have iPhone Twitter client fatigue, and because as much as I like Echofon, there are some issues that make it hard for me to switch over.

The first of these issues is that Echofon won’t hold all of the tweets that happen overnight.  It looks like Echofon will hold about 5 hours of tweets before it starts to drop them on the floor.  There go some of those European tweets.

The next big issue is that marking read/unread doesn’t work for me.  If I am scrolling up through my home tweets and I hit the top, everything gets marked read.   It’s easy to do that by accident.   Switching to the @, DM, or search tabs also marks my home tweets as all read, and that doesn’t work for me at all.

Compared to those two issues, everything else is just nits, but here goes, just to be complete.   Echofon doesn’t display absolute time or real names.    Also, Echofon doesn’t let you search your home tweets.

Wild and crazy wishes

Certain URL shortening services (su.pr and ow.ly come to mind) wrap the page in a header bar, which is annoying.  I’d love if my client would route through those services so that the URL that I got in the browser was the actual content.

Sometimes there are links that are retweeted a bunch.   I would love it if a client could compress all those retweets into a single entry which showed how many / which people I follow retweeted a link, along with an indication of whether or not I had already “read” an earlier retweeter (which would mean I had already read the link).

I guess I’ll have to do another version of this post when Tweetie 2 for Mac finally ships.   Or maybe it’s still early enough for some of these ideas to make the cut.

 

A Few Thoughts on the iPad

Here is a jumble of thoughts about the iPad, after finally getting a chance to watch the Stevenote last night. If you haven’t watched it, I think that there are some parts of it that are worth watching, particularly the app developer parts. When I first saw the online coverage of the iPad announcement, I wasn’t that impressed. On the surface, the iPad is pretty unsurprising. It’s a tablet and it’s based on the iPhone OS (or may be we should really be calling it OS X Touch).   

User Interface

One the one hand, the iPad is the same iPhone OS that is familiar to 70 million iPhone users. On the other hand, some of the keynote demos show that the larger form factor is going to have some interesting UI potential.

I usually try to pay careful attention to presentations by game developers. It’s not because I am a big gamer myself, but it’s because the people doing games are usually doing some of the most insane, crazy, and interesting things in the business, and it’s worth paying attention to the things that they say are important. Both of the game demos for the iPad had some pretty interesting UI and commentary on the experience of the machine as a whole.

The other really interesting part of the keynote was the iWork demo. I am very impressed with the way that iWork has been adapted to the touch screen. There are a number of really cool multitouch gestures that were demonstrated. This is going to be the beginning of some very interesting user interface stuff.

Integration

I spent most of yesterday watching the Oracle/Sun strategy webcast, and a major theme was the way that Oracle plans to tightly integrate Sun’s hardware, and to optimize the entire hardware and software stack. The Oracle Exadata database machine was repeatedly touted as an example of this kind of integration. If the benchmarks and early customer experiences are indicative, this integration has paid off handsomely, as it has also with the Sun Storage 7000.

The new A4 processor powering the iPad received only brief mention during the keynote, but here too is the same kind of integration. Details on the A4 are very scarce, but speculation is that it was done by the team that Apple acquired from PA semiconductor. It appears to be an ARM compatible (iPhone apps do run) system on a chip design, and I would bet that it is contributing to the (relatively) low price, long battery life, and high performance (according to Gruber) of the device.

I think that it’s worth noting that companies like Google are also doing this kind of vertical integration, building their own custom PC designs, having custom Linux kernels and other software. Many of us in the “open” world decry vertical integration because it is almost inevitably closed, but the kind of engineering virtuosity that is on display does impress.

Wireless

Apple appears to have gotten iPad users a deal on 3G pricing from AT&T. I am not really sure that this is a step in the right direction. If Apple is to believed, we are entering a world where a person could have no less that 3 devices (phone, pad, laptop) in need of wireless data (and voice) connectivity. A contract/plan for each device might be great for the carriers, but it is horrible for the users. Since even Apple has backed down in the face of the carriers, it doesn’t look like this is going to change much, but it ought to.

Me

Will I buy one? I’ve been toying with the idea of buying Kindle for some time now. I wanted the size of the Kindle DX, since I wanted to read PDFs of books and research papers, but I felt that $499 for the DX was too much to pay for a book reader. The iPad is obviously a much more capable device than a Kindle, and I’d expect Amazon to upgrade their Kindle iPhone app to run on the iPad.   

I think that the iPad would be vastly superior to my iPhone as a means of showing my photographic portfolio. I can also imagine using an iPad as a tethered shooting target, which would definitely be interesting. The tablet form factor could lead to some pretty interesting photography applications, and the iPad CPU appears to be reasonably capable.

I’ll say this much – I definitely want to play with one.

Lifestreaming, round 2

Macintosh

MRR Software has released a beta of Syrinx 2.0 just in time for PyCon this week (or ApacheCon EU or EclipseCon, if you are at one of those events). My biggest complaint with Syrinx 1.0 was that it was using up a lot of memory and CPU. That’s totally fixed in Syrinx 2.0. I’ve left Syrinx running for over a day with very little discernable growth in memory. I used to have to restart it several times a day. Scrolling and searching are both much faster as well. Retweet and URL shortening have been added, which pretty much takes care of me featurewise, although I’d like a retweet button in the button bar of a tweet, and I’d prefer bit.ly as the URL shortening service. Minor complaints to be sure. The last UI issue for me is that Syrinx 2.0 now expands the current tweet from it’s slightly compressed list element version. This is a problem for tweets that contain links (the best kind), because you have to click once to zoom the tweet, and then click again to open the link. I know that MRR is working on this one.

iPhone

Several week ago I also switch my iPhone client from Twitterific to Tweetie. I love everything about Tweetie except for 2 things:

1. Tweetie goes to the network all the time. This wouldn’t be a problem if iPhone latency was just a bit better.

2. I don’t like the way the Tweetie segments replies and direct messages. I like having tabs to see just those things, but I don’t like it that they no longer appear in the main view. Syrinx is doing it the way that I prefer.

My favorite features about Tweetie are:

1. Network lag aside, Tweetie is speedy.

2. The swipe actions, particularly favorites – I now favorite a lot more. This saves me from losing tweets with interesting links when I am in a hurry. I fave them on the phone and then read the faves from the desktop.

3. Instapaper support. I’m glad this is here, but I use it less than I thought I would, because of favorites

4. The landscape mode keyboard – This is taking some getting used to, but it’s good practice for iPhone 3.0

5. Ability to say how many tweets to load – good for making sure you don’t miss anything

6. Retweeting – too bad it doesn’t fit in the swipe bars.

There’s still no direct message rolodex, something that I am sure I will be wishing for this week at PyCon.   

At least I’ll be well armed for the next few months, where I’ll be at a number of conferences.

Lifestreaming clients

I have usernames on most of the major lifestreaming services (Twitter, FriendFeed, identi.ca, and so on). For a variety of reasons, I really only use Twitter, and the only way that Twitter is useful / manageable for me is the existence of rich client side applications.

Mac OS X

For some time, I’ve been using Craig Hockenberry’s excellent Twitterific. I liked the UI, and the feature set was good. From time to time, I would try the Adobe AIR based twhirl, which had the virtue of also being a FriendFeed and identi.ca client. Unfortunately, I could never keep twhirl because of a bug in AIR 1.1 that caused clicked URLs to open in a new Firefox window instead of a new tab. That bug was fixed in this weeks AIR 1.5 release, so I gave twhirl another try earlier this week. I liked having FriendFeed and identi.ca up (having identi.ca up meant that I saw Allison Randall’s messages about the Parrot Developer summit and their new release schedule). I didn’t like having a window for each service — I don’t care about keeping it separate, and I’m still having some trouble finding a theme that works for my aging eyes. Twhirl also doesn’t seem to remember window positions between runs, which makes the multiple windows even more of a pain. I also miss seeing people’s “real names” and the Growl notifications that I was getting from Twitterific. I put twhirl back on the shelf, but will probably come back to it again.

A week or two ago, I discovered Syrinx, which is a Twitter only client. There were a few things that persuaded me to try it out. The ability to set a bookmark at some point in the message stream and then go back to it. This seems to work better for my style of reading than individual read/unread markers on each Tweet. The keyboard shortcut means that I can jump right to where I left off, which is nice. Syrinx also lets you search the stream, which is useful. I follow enough people that searching is useful. I was also (incorrectly) under the impression that Syrinx would save a slice of the message stream locally, which would be a nicety. I can page backwards on the Twitter site, but that way lies pain. Syrinx has a way of tracking twitter “conversations” and finding the supposedly relevant tweets and presenting them. I like this idea, I just wish it wouldn’t take over the main message stream window in order to show it. The biggest problem with Syrinx is that there something awfully bloated in there, which means that after some time, the app is eating memory and slowing down. Which means you have to restart it, which means you have to catch up first. MRR, the author of Syrinx, knows that this is a problem and is working on a solution. I hope that won’t take a long time.

Because of the AIR 1.5 release I also tried TweetDeck this week. I tried it, and there were some interesting features. I liked the ability to make my own groups of people – but Twitter should be supporting that. I also liked the way that replies and direct messages could be in their own column – I really liked that, actually. I liked the idea of TwitScoop, but what I’d really like would be a TwitScoop of my Twitter network – that would be cool. TweetDeck was great when I put it on my 30″ main display. You can see lots of stuff and quickly see if there is anything useful. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to dedicate that much screen real estate — whatever client I use has to live (and share) on the “outboard” main LCD of the MacBook Pro.

iPhone

When I got my iPhone, I started using Twinkle. There pretty much wasn’t anything else, and I sort of liked the idea of having some kind of location awareness of people using the service. Turns out that very few people that I know use the Twinkle location stuff, and I’ve pretty much switched to using Brightkite for that kind of thing, and even there, the jury is out. User interface wise, I like the fact that it colors replies and direct messages differently — it makes them much easier to pick out. I don’t like that I have to tap on a tweet containing a link in order to open the link.

I’ve since switched to using the iPhone version of Twitterific. I don’t have to tap on tweets to follow links, and Twitterific is pretty good about storing a decent number of tweets on the phone. I can usually take a 2 hour plane flight and not have missed much when I land on the other side. I’d love to not miss anything at all. One annoyance is that Twitterific for iPhone doesn’t remember the last tweet that I was looking at very well, so I end up doing a lot more scrolling than I should have to.

Wish List

Here’s a consolidation of the some of the things that I think are important in rich clients for Twitter and services like it.

  • Good management of windows – I don’t want a window for each service – I want one big stream.
  • Good visual design that easily lets you differentiate between different kinds of messages (tweets/replies/direct messages). Make links easy to see and follow.
  • Keep a local, searchable, history of messages.
  • Provide a good, low maintenance way for me to keep my place in a busy stream.
  • Give me a way to follow conversations (chains of replies). I would be happy to have a menu for this.
  • Integrate some of the third party services that are springing up, like TwitScoop.

On the mobile side, there is one feature that I would consider killer.

I want a “direct message” rolodex. There are people who I want to direct message on a frequent basis. I don’t remember everybody’s twitter user name – that’s what computers are for. I want a “picker” that contains a “speed direct message” list. That would be awesome.

This is one space where rich/desktop applications are by no means dead.

The iPhone under pressure

Having an iPhone in time for OSCON was the only reason that I bothered to stand in line for one. In general, I would say that it was worth it. I probably would have missed going to dinner with John Resig, which would have meant missing the Portland Python meetup, which turned out to be incredibly useful because I was able to spend a lot of quality time with some Django folks.

The Good

The iPhone basically did its job, which was to get my Twitter updates, web access, and e-mail. This was especially important because the quality of the OSCON wifi was worse than I remember. There were a bunch of times where the only network that I got came via AT&T’s EDGE network, which is a huge improvement over T-Mobile’s GPRS, which is what I had before. I was surprised to have 3G coverage for a sizable portion of the train ride down to Portland. The iPhone was also successful at helping me spend less time responding to tweets and text messages.

I didn’t run into any major power problems. I plugged my phone into my laptop whenever I could, so even though my evenings were going from 6pm to 2am, I still had enough battery to tweet, browse, and SMS with impunity.

The Bad

One thing that I discovered is that the iPhone’s Safari has tabs. The only problem is that if you put the phone to sleep, the contents of those tabs will be gone and when you switch to that tab, the browser will force itself to reload. Reduces the usefulness of tabs as far as I am concerned.

The iPhone is definitely a 2 handed phone. It was hard to operate the phone while dragging my roller bag. Even when I had no roller bag, I found it hard to type accurately enough to Twitter/SMS and walk at the same time. I expect my iPhone typing to improve with time, but I don’t see this problem going away. On the other hand, I really don’t want to give up screen space or thickness to a keyboard. I think I can deal with it.

The Weird

3G seems to degrade in a way that is different than I expect. Outside the convention center, or near the perimeter, you could get a 3G signal with 3-4 bars. Once you went further in, you would switch immediately to EDGE, and be getting a decent number of bars. Somehow I expected to get a very weak (1bar) 3G signal in preference to a very strong EDGE signal. I am not an antenna guy though, so I am sure there is something I am missing.

Help needed

This one is for the iPhone Twitter clients. I need a way to direct message people on Twitter by selecting from a list of favorite people or something. Don’t require there to be a recent tweet from someone in order to have an easy way to direct message. This is definitely a difference in the way that I use Twitter when mobile as opposed to sitting at my computer. The service becomes a way to SMS people that I don’t have phone numbers for.

All in all, not bad for having had the phone for less than a week going into the show.

My initial iPhone experience

Last Thursday, thanks to some tips from friends, I stood in line at the University Village Apple Store and came away with iPhones. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have waited in line for something like this, but I was tired of going to conferences with my 5 year old Nokia 6600. Conferences are about the connecting and talking and so forth, so improving my communications capability means improving my effectiveness while I’m at a conference. In any case, I spent a remarkably short two hours in line, bonding with my fellow crazies, and came away favorably impressed with the shopping experience.

I don’t go to the Apple Store that often, because it’s just too inconvenient, but the service from the folks at the University Village store has been so good, that they’ve pretty much assured themselves of being my first stop. Over the course of several transactions, they’ve given me customer service which way above any other merchant that I’ve dealt with (yeah, I don’t buy much stuff from Zappos). Like many Apple stores, employees handed out water, umbrellas (to keep the sun off), and repeatedly walked the line to make sure that people had as much straightened out as they could before they got inside the store. In my case, at least, all that pre-work paid off. I think I spent maybe 15 minutes with a human being in order to look at colors, purchase and activate the phones, port phone numbers, and look at cases (which I ended up not buying). By the time I walked out the front door of the store, I was using my phone with my ported phone number. I know it should just work like that, but cellphones have been so much trouble that I actually am impressed anytime something actually works the way it was supposed to. Yes, my expectations of the cellular industry are that low.

As for the phone itself, I couldn’t be happier. Well, if the thing tethered and had a 16 hour internet battery life, I would be happier. I really like the large display. The onscreen keyboard is workable, and I don’t think I’ve given it enough time. I hope that it will be more aggressive about suggesting completions, and that I will get the hang of it more. It still beats typing on a regular phone keypad though. I don’t know how Apple could get a real keyboard onto the device without reducing the screen size or increasing the form factor, neither of which I want. I don’t expect to be writing a lot of e-mail on this thing, although it will be nice to actually respond to message at all, something which was impractical on the Nokia.

The biggest issue for me is the battery life on wireless data. I am going to be pounding this thing on that front over the next week, and I am definitely worried about running out of juice halfway through the day. According to reviews, the iPhone is near the head of the class in this dimension, so it’s not like another choice would produce a better result. It seems like a long way from 3-4 hours to 16, that’s for sure.

Safari is getting new lease on life on my desktop machine, as I’ve been grabbing sites from my Firefox bookmarks and making Safari bookmarks that can then be synced to the iPhone. Takes some of the typing sting out. It also makes me glad for 1Passwd, and I think that it will be a good thing when the iPhone version of this app finally gets approved on the AppStore

I’ve installed some applications, and am reasonably happy with them, although I have had a few application induced phone restarts. I really want a good, easy way to read PDF’s on the phone, although I do think that the screen is too small for the kind of reading that I want to do. Another application that has gotten a new lease on life is Evernote. I’ve had a copy of this since the early beta, but never really used it much. I can see that this is going to change, especially since the iPhone’s Notes app doesn’t sync to anything on my desktop machine. I just discovered that you can’t edit Evernote notes on the iPhone. This seems like a glaring omission, and I hope that it is just a matter of time before this is corrected.

Now that I am traveling more, I am expecting to get a lot help from this phone. I already have TripIt on my home screen, along with the Yelp and Where apps. If people have more travel related suggestions, leave a comment. One thing that’s been kind of disappointing is the GPS. It eats batteries, so you have to be pretty careful if you are really pushing the phone hard. Also, in my home area in Kitsap county, we are predominantly an EDGE kind of place. It seems like the GPS is much less effective when you are on EDGE vs 3G – I’ll test that assumption a bit more this week in Portland.

I’m sure that I’ll have a lot more to say about this after a week of using the iPhone at OSCON.

What is iPhone?

So a very odd keynote at Macworld yesterday. There was nothing said about Macintosh related products at all, which surprised everyone, and probably annoyed a number of people. Clearly Steve Jobs wanted to send a very direct message about the future of Apple.

As I said before, I wasn’t really that excited about the idea of an iPhone, because I didn’t (and don’t) consider a cross between and iPod and a telephone to be very interesting. I think that how you react to iPhone depends on how you view it. Even though it is a converged device, I think that people still view it through a primary modality: widescreen/video iPod, telephone, or internet device.

As an iPod, there are cool features: the touch screen based interface, the quality and resolution of the display, CoverFlow, the ability to play video. But there also drawbacks, the biggest being the amount of storage being offered.

Most of the coverage that I have read emphasizes the telephone aspects of iPhone. The iPhone UI works the way that I would like a phone to work. The interface for call management, putting people on hold, the ability to use e-mail and the web browser while on a call, and the visual voicemail feature, are the kinds of features that any mobile telephone ought to have, and just about every other phone UI is clunky in comparison. I know that the Series 60 in my Nokia 6600 does. The ability to seamlessly switch between the Wifi network and the cellphone network is also a big plus, although we didn’t see that in action. Perhaps we’ll see this capability in a future Macintosh as well.

There are a lot of issues around the telephone features. Many people will be unhappy with iPhone being locked to Cingular, although the choice of GSM means that the only additional options in the US would be T-Mobile. Part of this is due to the collaboration between Apple and Cingular on visual voicemail, which is one of phone features that appeals to me the most, since I hate voice mail interfaces with a passion. There’s also a big question around the pricing of data plans, but more on that shortly. As a phone device, there are some scary features. Battery life is a short if you look at being able to fully use that converged device throughout the course of an 8-12 hour day. The battery is not replaceable, which seems to ignore the physics/chemistry of battery wear. As a phone, I think that there are some questions about single handed use, although I think the use case is more for texting than for one handed use while driving (scary). The durability of the screen is also an issue since the interface is completely dependent on the screen.

I personally view the iPhone as an Internet access device. This is the functionality that interests me the most, since it is the functionality that I wish for the most when I am untethered.

The promise of having Safari on a phone and being able to run AJAX apps on that form factor is very appealing, and I was very excited about this until I watched the keynote video. In the video, Google Maps is a separate application from Safari. It’s possible that this is a widget style application, which would be okay, but not great. So from what I’ve seen so far, the jury is out on whether we can really do AJAX on iPhone, which I think is important. Also, there doesn’t appear to be a GPS in the iPhone, which is curious given the promotion of Google Maps. I’m sure there must be some hardware related limitation here, but location information is pretty important to mobile applications.

I also liked what I saw of the mail client, especially support for IMAP, since I do a lot of e-mail. The touchscreen isn’t a real keyboard, but I think it’s a step up from a phone keypad.

Steve demo’ed an iChat like interface to SMS, which is definitely and improvement in my mind. It doesn’t look like iChat was present on the phone, and that’s something that I’d like to see. SMS is cool, but in the US, they charge for those messages, and if you want to have things like twitterbot, you’ll go broke inside of a week.

Many people have pointed out the 2G/3G issues and the uncertainty around Cingular’s data plan pricing. Lack of 3G is definitely disappointing. iPhone would be awesome at EVDO speeds, but it doesn’t look like we are going to get that. My 6600 is on GPRS, and the the speed is definitely an issue. You might have Safari, but if the pipe is slow, that’s not much help. You also want unlimited bandwidth usage, so Cingular’s data pricing is going to influence the success of the iPhone, and I can only hope that Steve Jobs managed to work some deal for iPhone subscribers.

The last and perhaps biggest problem is the third party applications issue. Right now it appears that 3rd party applications will not be allowed on iPhone. All the reports that I’ve read say that users won’t be able to install applications. I’ve had a few conversations in person that suggest that this may not be a permanent situation, but until it changes, this is a problem. Couple this with uncertainty about AJAX support in the iPhone Safari, and things start to look a bit less cool.

I was pretty excited about the iPhone. When I was at Apple and the disposition of the Newton division was uncertain, there was a cell handset company that was interested in acquiring Newton, but it didn’t work out. I was really disappointed when that didn’t work out. The concept of the iPhone that we saw yesterday is what Newton should have become, but I think that there are still a few things that will hold the initial iPhone back. I think that all those issues will get fixed in time, but it’s frustrating to see that they weren’t addressed in the initial product.

I’ll end with some good iPhone links:
Engadget’s keynote reportage
David Pogue’s hands on time
Time’s coverage
Some perspectives from Europe
Updated: I incorrectly attributed the Microsoft Watch post to Mary Jo Foley – my apologies!
Microsoft Watch’s view