I've waited a little while before posting my personal review of the iPhone. While the phone was released more than six months ago, it still garners a great deal of attention and hype. The iPhone seems to have a following that is nearly as polarized as American politics. People seem to either think it a wonderful device that at the very least changes the face of mobile telephony for ever or that it's just a phone that while pretty is missing key features. While detractors are correct in that some features other phones have the iPhone is missing; they miss the simple fact that the iPhone has the features most people want and does them very well. Best of all, the key function "phone calls" work terrifically; and it is after all a PHONE.
Until someone has actually used the IPhone it's very hard to describe how different the experience is from other so called "Smart" phones, or any mobile phone. I can say this after using both Blackberries and Windows Mobile devices as well as many other phones. Most phones have lots of features, yet do few of them well and most poorly. These features seem added by the marketing department first and then rushed through the engineering department to meet a long decided release date. In stark contrast, the features of the iPhone seem to have been thoroughly thought out by both marketers and engineers then compromises made with the end user in mind. Some features were seemingly left out, while others were added with missing components; both of which Apple new could be added later and since the phones release Apple has done 3 updates, two bringing feature enhancements.
That brings me to one of the iPhones greatest strengths, upgradability. The iPhone was designed by a computer company, and it shows. As much care went into the design of the shell as the operating system, or "OS", housed in the shell. In fact, the minimalist design of the phone seems to have been an outgrowth of a decision to put nearly all controls in the OS instead of on the physical phone. The phone's unique touchscreen gives Apple an amazing edge offering end users a phone that can remain feature rich. If not for this paradigm shift, the iPhone would be just another Smart Phone with lots of buttons and buried menus.
That "edge" will be immediately visible to anyone that picks up the iPhone to make a call, all they do is touch the phone icon and the screen immediately changes to a list of contacts. Flip through your list and choose who you want to talk to.If they are in your computer's address book then they are in your iPhone. If not, you just press the "keypad" icon and you get a full screen phone keypad. Dial the number and the screen immediately changes again to a list of in-call features; including the ability to easily go back to your home screen or even pull up other contacts and call them. In fact you can add more than 5 people to a current call all as simple as pressing the contact button, choosing the person you want to call and once their phone is ringing you touch "merge" and everyone is chatting.
The configurability of the iPhone allows each of its three feature sets play incredibly well together. Those feature sets are: phone, iPod and wireless internet device. As you move from one to another the screen totally changes, getting out of the way when you don't want it and offering you all the choices you want when you need them. The phones touch screen means that one application doesn't have to fight for screen real estate or buttons on the phone with another application. Not only that, each application can undergo a total redesign if Apple feels the controls just don't work as intended, and while unlikely minor adjustments can be made just as easily with little worry of impacting other applications. With the announced SDK (Software Development Kit), software companies will be able to take full advantage of the configurable screen and create unique applications for the iPhone, that take full advantage of its strengths but again have no impact on other great applications. In the end it simply means that the end user doesn't have to make compromises between loved applications as is typically on most phone today.
One of those great applications is Safari, a web browser. Web browsing on the iPhone isn't like web browsing on your computer; but it does give you the ability to view the same web page on the iPhone. Want to read the latest news at www.nytimes.com? It's not a problem, just pull up the site, find the story you want to read and tap twice on the column. The screen will zoom to that story. Just flick your finger up or down to scroll, and tap on any link to view a related story or photo. For those that want more speed and less flash, many websites have built iPhone specific variations. These sites play off of the iPhone's strengths and are formatted for the iPhone's screen. Other companies have built Web Apps that expand the iPhones usability. For example there are several TIP Web Apps. These apps take the cost of your meal, the number of dinners and determines what each person should pay and what the TIP should be based upon the level of service. All done with quick taps on the iPhone's screen, no digging in menus.
Want to watch a movie, or listen to a song? It's easy and movies can be watched in widescreen, with or without headphones; something new for iPods. The screen again changes and once you are watching your movie, all visible traces of the menus and buttons disappear until you need them. Like other iPods the iPhone is a photo viewer, one of the best.
Using the now famous "tap" and "pinch" finger movements, you can zoom in and out as well as pan up, right, left and down. Because apps talk to each other, if you see a photo your mother would just love; pull up the photo options and chose E-Mail. A few seconds later you are on your phone telling your mom to check her e-mail to see a great new photo of her grandson. You can just as easily set that photo as your iPhone's wallpaper or send that very same photo to a web photo gallery.
All the features of the phone are just easy. It's not for everyone. The phone has to be synced to your computer on a regular basis. With only 8 and now 16 gigs of space, constant rotating of content is needed. iTunes is designed to handle this task easily, but that bring up another detractor for some; iTunes is required.
The good news is that this phone works just as well with PCs as it does with Macs. Currently nothing much is gained by having a Mac, short of making an easy experience even easier. The iPhone is also expensive. At $399 and $499 this phone won't be for everyone. That said, it's no more expensive than my last several "Smart Phones" and they were all discounted with a 2 year agreement. While the iPhone requires a contract, there is no discount; but your data plan is about $10 to $20 cheaper than similar plans for other phones. That brings me to the final major detractor, AT&T. While I've been using them for a while with no serious problems, others have had less pleasant experiences. It also means that if you are with Sprint, Verizon or another carrier the cost of switching could be much more than $400. Would I recommend this phone to everyone? Actually, I would recommend this phone to any individual willing to put down the cash to use it and willing to connect the phone to their computer using iTunes at least every few days. Full functionality requires regular syncing. Those two issues aside, this is one of the best phones on the market today. If you want to use this phone for business, check with your IT Dept. BlackBerries rule the IT world and honestly, BlackBerries do push e-mail better than anyone; including Apple. BlackBerries also talk to Exchange fully, while Apple doesn't yet. I currently use both, and while my BlackBerry 8830 serves me well and I'm happy to use it; the iPhone is a joy to use and I use it simply for the joy.