January 10th, 2008

iPhone


By Robert Mohns

Introduction

The word “revolutionary” is thrown around a lot in the world of high technology. Once in a while, something comes along that actually deserves the label. In 1984, the Macintosh revolutionized personal computing and set the pattern for every computer user interface since then. Twenty three years later, Apple has started another revolution with the iPhone.

Despite the widespread adoption of mobile phones, owners don’t love their handsets. Some, such as the Motorola RAZR and Q and the Blackberry Curve, offer striking hardware design but a software personality that is complex, hard to use and confusing. And some cellular phone carriers, such as Verizon, inflict painfully slow, custom-branded interfaces on their subscribers. Most people simply accept the pain as part of the experience.

Apple decided that it doesn’t have to be that way and set out to design a better mousetrap. In doing so, the company is turning the cell phone industry on its head ? and aiming to get a slice of that $115 billion pie.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s greatest successes have come from the consumer market. The original Apple computer, created by Steve Wozniak and marketed by Steve Jobs, sold to hobbyists. The Apple II was marketed to families. The Macintosh was the computer “for the rest of us.” Pixar exists solely for consumer entertainment. The iMac? Consumer. iPod? Consumer. iTunes? Consumer. All huge successes for Apple.

With iPhone, Apple is taking its consumer market focus, sense of design and user interface expertise into a huge existing market. And that is the risk. With the Apple II, the Macintosh, the iPod and iTunes. Apple entered a small market and grew it into a huge market. But there are dozens of major companies already in the mobile phone handset and carrier space, and competition is cut-throat. (The same week that Apple introduced iPhone, LG and Prada introduced the equally stunning KE850 touchscreen smartphone, with similar design, screen and specifications – and a $700 price tag.)

Handset makers try to one-up each other in features to garner orders from carriers (who subsidize the handsets to win subscribers), while carriers ruthlessly play handset makers against each other to get the best price and control what features are available to their subscribers, and at what price.

Apple enters a market in a position traditionally considered one of weakness ? carriers have all the power, says convention wisdom. Yet Apple has crafted a deal with AT&T to sell iPhones and service, without the traditional handset subsidy, and is even rumored to get a cut of iPhone subscription revenue. And AT&T gets new customers, with a lower acquisition cost, and the opportunity to sell service upgrades (see Pricing, below). And did we mention that iPhone customers are locked into AT&T for two years?

Apple and AT&T are breaking all the rules. How well will it work? It all depends on how well iPhone delivers on its promises.

iPhone tackles the truly hard part of the puzzle ? the user experience. Companies such as Palm, Nokia and Motorola have attempted this before, but the results have never been particularly satisfying. Where existing handset makers have replaced menus with full-color animated icons and warning messages with Windows-style dialog boxes, Apple has reinvented the user interface from the ground up. And instead of the limited WAP mobile “web” and unreadably small email interfaces, Apple has fully integrated core Internet web and email functionality into the device.

Apple has turned using a mobile phone from a chore into a pleasure, and has beautifully and seamlessly integrated Internet tools into the package. Like the Apple II, the Macintosh and the iPod, iPhone is posed to win hearts and minds and leave competitors scrambling to catch up for years.

Starting up

The iPhone out-of-box experience is superb; it’s reminiscent of Apple’s first iPod. The beautiful black and chrome box has none of the fiddly “how do I get into this thing?” of the video iPod packaging; the top just lifts off. And there, resting on top and wrapped in protective plastic sheathing, is iPhone, nestled like a diamond ring in an elegant gift box, or a very expensive watch. The inside of the top box half has a resilient foam panel to help protect the iPhone in transit.

The iPhone turns on the moment you press the “Home” button at the bottom, or its on/off switch at the top. It tells you what to do: “Activate iPhone” in large, clear type, and underneath, “connect to iTunes”. The bottom of the screen says “slide for emergency” ? even before activation, it can be used for 911 emergency service.

iPhone rests in a sturdy acrylic tray (with a recycling symbol and type 7 designation). A tab from the next layer down protrudes through a circular opening in the tray. This lifts out to reveal a deep sub-tray containing a custom iPhone Dock, a tiny power brick, USB Dock cable and iPhone’s headphones. (The bottom tray is recyclable, if you can get it out; it appears to be glued in place.)


Design

iPhone is beautiful, an object of art. It’s sleek, and contrasts abound: black and silver, glossy and matte. The curved edges feel perfect in the hand. There are some subtle touches: the eye-catching chrome edging actually improves your grip, and the silver ring around the camera is grooved to catch the light. It’s very thin ? thinner than most mobile phones. (Some, like the Palm Treo, are positively portly next to iPhone.) It has a pleasant heft in the hand, and the buttons are easily accessible. It’s wide, but not too wide: to our surprise, we could use it one-handed.

The included Dock is custom fitted, barely wider than iPhone itself. The power brick is tiny; even the USB cable’s Dock connector is smaller than previous Apple Dock cables. Everything is compact, no larger than required. We found that experience continues into the phone’s interfaces ? everything does just enough, and nothing more.


Setup and Activation

Setup is simple, but if you haven’t yet downloaded iTunes 7.3 and the latest system updates, you’ll need to do that first. iTunes 7.3 is 33 MB for Mac, 47 MB for PC. The Mac OS X 10.4.10 update is 20 to 300 MB, depending on your CPU type and what version of 10.4 you currently have. iPhone includes no software CD, so you’d better have broadband or be prepared for a long wait.

The manual appeared to be missing, until we realized that the unmarked black cardboard beneath the acrylic tray wasn’t a spacer, but a carrier for the manual. It also enclosed support information, a microfiber cleaning cloth and two white Apple stickers.

Once we had downloaded and installed the required software updates and rebooted, setup and activation was fast and easy. iTunes guides you through the setup process. (See our Flickr iPhone Activation photo set.)

We already had an AT&T family plan, so we simply added iPhone service to one line. At one point, while awaiting activation, iTunes put up a notice that it could not complete an iTunes Store request, and try again later. We aren’t sure what this was, but it did not interfere with activation; it may have been unrelated background activity.

Despite reports of activation problems, we had no trouble and were up and running in minutes. iPhone even had a nearly full charge already, so we could start using it right away.

iTunes synced our photos, movies, music and podcasts. (We selected a subset of our photo and music collection to fit within iPhone’s limited storage.) It also copied our contacts from Address Book and set up Mail accounts on iPhone, and synced over Safari bookmarks (no support for Firefox, b ut at least Windows users can sync Internet Explorer bookmarks).


Features

iPhone is every bit as impressive as Apple makes it out to be, and then some. It didn’t take long to become enthusiastic; iPhone really is a breakthrough device. Yet, with the possible exception of voicemail, there is no single thing that iPhone does that’s really new among the smartphones it aims to usurp. Like iPod, iPhone simply does it all better ? far, far better ? than any other device.


Phone

The phone may be the weakest link in iPhone’s offerings ? but it’s superb. Audio quality is excellent, the best of any GSM handset we’ve ever used. Both the sound coming out of it, as well as the quality of audio transmitted to recipients on landlines, are outstanding. The speakerphone is clear but very quiet (which is odd, because when playing music or video through the same speaker, the volume goes quite high).

Demonstrations of phone functionality are on Apple’s web site and accurately depict the experience. Large, easily readable and frankly friendly-looking buttons provide easy access to in-call tools. Setting up a conference call is trivial; gone are the days of “call me back if I lose you!” And, you can switch to speakerphone then use iPhone’s Internet features while on a call (that is, if you have WiFi service; voice calls and EDGE data use the same data stream and don’t share).

“Visual Voicemail” works as well as advertised; it even has a “Deleted” folder in case you change your mind. We could scrub back and forth in messages easily, perfect for making a note of an address, phone number or other information ? no need to start from the beginning over and over.

It’s all indescribably easy and well thought out. The experience is notably superior to smartphones including the Palm Treo and the Motorola Q. And traditional phones, such as the hugely popular Motorola RAZR, can’t even begin to compete. The glove has been thrown down.


Mail

iPhone provides basic email services. Like every other part of iPhone, it’s surprisingly easy to use; iPhone provides implicit guidance every step of the way. Composing, filing and deleting email is simple. The message list includes a two-line preview of each message’s content. (This can be changed from zero to five lines.)

iPhone’s “intelligent keyboard” is outstanding. It uses predictive techniques both to improve keystroke accuracy and to correct typos. Predictive text has gotten a bad rap in the past, but iPhone’s implementation is excellent. Our iPhone correctly interpreted words so badly mistyped that we doubt a human could have correctly guessed the intended word. It even learns new words you enter, and automatically adds your contact names to its dictionary.

There are a few omissions ? no BCC option, and you can’t create mail folders, even if you’re using IMAP mail. Nor can you delete multiple messages in one swoop. But it does support SSL and encrypted authentication, helping to ensure security.


Safari


Safari is where iPhone shines. Based on the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari for Mac and Windows, it rendered every web page we tried flawlessly. We were simply stunned at how good pages look, and how very readable they are. Even heavily designed sites such as Ars Technica and the Wall Street Journal work well. (It even worked fine with the Journal’s “rollover” menus.)

iPhone’s zoom gestures are the key to making the Web usable. Simply double-tap the area of the page you’re interested in, and Safari zooms in to that area, intelligently enlarging it to just the right size to read on iPhone’s screen. iPhone’s novel “pinch” and “stretch” gestures work smoothly, and flicking a web page around is remarkably easy. In a single weekend’s use, we’ve already come to prefer it to scrollbars. (In fact, when using a PowerBook, the author keeps trying to flick web pages and emails up and down!)

If you want more width for reading, just turn the phone on its side. Safari rotates and resizes the web page content to fit.

Safari is where you will most notice the speed of the network; we did some basic testing with DSLreport.com’s Mobile Speedtest. On WiFi networks, we got around 800-1000 Kbit/sec on a DSL line, and somewhat better on higher bandwidth cable modems. On the EDGE network, we usually got 140 to 160 Kbit/sec, though we sometimes saw lower speeds and sometimes saw as much as 190. That translates to 17 to 20 KByte/sec; the MacInTouch home page takes five to six seconds to load at this speed.

iPhone switches between WiFi and EDGE seamlessly, preferring WiFi where available. We even found we could turn off WiFi while loading a large web page, and iPhone switched to EDGE and kept loading.

Safari does not support Flash, Java, or even QuickTime plug-ins. Oddly, there is a setting to disable plug-ins, but we don’t know what those plug-ins might be! Safari is an excellent client for Ajax applications such as Gmail that pay careful attention to platform independence, but we couldn’t use Apple’s own .Mac webmail to compose messages. Admittedly, this particular application is unnecessary to iPhone, but it shows a limitation of iPhone Safari with Ajax applications that make too many assumptions about the web browser’s capabilities.


iPod

The iPod interface has remained basically unchanged since the first iPod was introduced in October 2001. iPhone breaks that tradition with a new iPod interface design.

A row of five buttons along the bottom of the screen provides quick access to menus that traditional iPods have nested down in the interface. However, there are more iPod options than there is space for buttons, so a “more” button graces the corner ? an unusual compromise in iPhone’s otherwise well-designed user interface. Think of the four other buttons as shortcuts; you can replace them with your preferred shortcuts (e.g. the “Genres” music list).

Things get interesting when you rotate iPhone 90 degrees to the left or right: iPhone displays an iTunes-style “Cover Flow” view. Flick the album covers along, tap on an album to turn it over and view its tracks. Tap a track to play. Tap it again to flip back to album art.

We always thought of iTunes’s Cover Flow as a neat visual trick but not very useful. (We discovered and enjoyed it when it was a beta project, before Apple acquired it and hired its developer.) But in iPhone’s direct manipulation interface, Cover Flow feels natural, a good way to browse music.

The usual iPod functions of scrubbing through songs and setting song ratings are available, but not via Cover Flow ? you’ll have to rotate back to vertical. Song lyrics are not available.

iPhone video support is more limited than the video iPod’s. Only certain formats of H.264-encoded video are allowed (see our FAQ for details).

If you convert your own video for watching on portable devices or Apple TV, you may have to re-encode it for iPhone. While all of our iTunes Store purchases played, some video we encoded ourselves was rejected by iTunes even though it works on Apple TV. Still, the videos that did work (most of them) look great.

iPhone plays in fullscreen by default, but just double-tap the video to zoom out to widescreen, or back in to fullscreen. Tap once to bring up video playback controls.


Earphones

Included with iPhone is a special version of Apple’s iconic iPod earbuds. With the same smoothed-out style of the new generation earbuds introduced with the aluminum iPod Nano, iPhone’s earbuds include a microphone on the right side wire. These music-grade earphones far surpass mobile voice quality. They are so high fidelity that we can easily hear every audio compression artifact introduced by the GSM voice compressor! The mic is high quality as well; listeners on the other end reported clear, undistorted sound . We’ve never had good luck with hanging mics before, but this one does its job well.

(The mic is also a controller: squeeze it between your fingers to pause/unpause iPod playback; squeeze twice to skip to the next song. It works better than you’d think.)

Unfortunately, these earbuds offer the same reduced bass response as their conventional siblings; the original post-style iPod earbuds provide far louder and clearer bass to our ears.

If you ever use non-Apple headphones, you’ll probably need an adapter. The audio socket is deeply recessed, and most standard headphone plugs simply won’t fit. A Belkin adapter ($9.95 at the Apple Store Online, $14.95 at the Apple Retail store) makes the connection ? but it’s bulky, ugly, and thows off the balance of the iPhone. (Griffin Technology has announced a much nicer one on their web site, but it’s not yet available to purchase.) We’re not happy campers; there is no justifcation for requiring a $10-15 adapter just to use standard headphones.


Sync Strategies

iPhone is synced from one Mac or PC ? sort of. We’re used to floating our Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones among Macs and using iSync (along with .Mac sync) to keep all the Macs and phone in sync. A change made in any one location updates all the others. At first this did not seem to be possible with iPhone ? we thought we would have to pick a master Mac and stick with it. But we’ve since discovered that we can set iTunes on another computer to merge Calendars and Contacts with those already on iPhone.


Sync/Merge screen


But the process of merging calendars and contacts can be very slow, especially if you have thousands of calendar entries or contacts. And, iPhone forgets its sync settings at your previous Mac or PC, so you have to repeat the merge process every time you move from machine to machine. So while you can sync it among multiple machines, in practice it’s something of a hassle.

Music, Podcasts and Video likewise sync only from one Mac, but there is no merge feature ? each type of is completely replaced. But like other iPods, you can at least transfer purchased music and videos from iPhone to your other iTunes-authorized machines.

The upshot is that you can sync your contacts and/or calendars at one Mac or PC (perhaps a work location), and music at another (such as home), but there is not a true multi-device sync. This is an odd omission, since Apple’s iSync tool supports multi-device sync with other mobile phones.


Other Features

iPhone’s various applications (“widgets”) are mostly covered in our FAQ and on Apple’s web pages, but we do have a few notes on them:

The Weather and Stock widgets are simple, easy to use, and very like their Mac OS X Dashboard counterparts. They are ideal applications for low-bandwidth networks such as EDGE: they fetch conveniently small amounts of data, and display them with locally stored graphics and styles.

Calendar is basic. It doesn’t support to-do items, and although it can sync many calendars from iTunes, it doesn’t provide color coding or other differentiation. You can edit your own events, but not those of subscribed calendars. Unlike the iCal it is clearly modeled on, you cannot adjust events by dragging them in Day view; this view just doesn’t do much. Calendar’s List view is very handy, and more useful than the Day view. Traditional PDA users will not be impressed with Calendar; it appears to have been designed more as a quick reference tool than an organizer.

Camera is fun to use, with a visual shutter effect that fills in the time that iPhone spends processing and saving the picture as a JPEG. Image quality is surprisingly good, depending on lighting conditions (see our Flickr gallery of sample photos). When iPhone is docked, iTunes starts up iPhoto or Aperture for importing.

YouTube is another fun little application. Although YouTube’s library of content available to iPhone (and Apple TV) is limited at the moment, the whole catalog will be available by Autumn. You can bookmark favorite videos, but you can’t log in to YouTube to access your existing Favorites the way you can on Apple TV.

Integration is good; if you receive an email with a YouTube link, Mail passes it to the YouTube widget instead of Safari (which does not support embedded video, Flash or otherwise).

iPhone’s SMS capability provides text messaging with other mobile phones (text only, no photos, movies or sounds). It is styled similarly to iChat, but isn’t Internet-based like iChat. SMS messages are sent over mobile phone networks, and typically incur fees or require a paid service plan. The iPhone plan includes 200 messages. You pay for both sent and received messages; a single conversation can rapidly consume this quota. After that, AT&T charges $0.15 per text message (or sells add-ons to your service plan).

The Notes widget is the odd man out on iPhone. Every other application uses the classic Helvetica face for text, but Notes uses Marker Felt. Deleting a note is handled inside a note object, instead of in the list view like every other iPhone tool. There is no provision for syncing Notes with your Mac or PC, but you can turn a Note into an email message. It’s a nice enough little tool, but it doesn’t feel like it was designed to run on the same device as the other programs.


Missing Features

A variety of Apple-certified iPod accessories we tried had issues or simply didn’t work with the iPhone. It complained that Apple’s own iPod Hi-Fi wasn’t certified, although it did play sound through the system. Neither a Monster FM transmitter nor iTalk or XtremeMac voice recorders worked at all, and each triggered an iPhone error message. (iPhone’s operating system may be entirely different from an iPod’s and could be related to these problems.)

The lack of voice dialing has been widely mentioned, but Copy and paste are missing from iPhone’s vocabulary. While Mail does its level best to make links tappable and open in Safari, if it fails to recognize a link, you’ll just have to memorize it and enter it by hand.

Another glaring software omission is to-do lists. This is a basic organizer feature, and a part of iCal. It’s bizarre that this is completely missing on iPhone. You could use the Notes widget to keep a list, but with no copy-and-paste or drag-and-drop, good luck re-ordering and prioritizing it. This alone may be a deal-breaker for users of existing PDA smartphones such as the Palm Treo.

Support for stereo music over Bluetooth would also be nice. It’s a common feature among high priced mobile phones. It borders on ludicrous that iPhone, with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR on its spec sheet, doesn’t support this. iPhone also doesn’t support voice dialing, making truly hands-free use functionally impossible. (Some cars provide the voice dialing feature independent of the phone handset; MacInTouch readers report success with Acura and Toyota Bluetooth systems.)

Bluetooth is limited to handsfree sets and links to car audio systems. iPhone does not support OBEX file exchange, which means it cannot wirelessly send or receive photos, movies, sounds or other files from mobile phones or Bluetooth-equipped computers.

Other missing features include custom ringtones, voice memos, video capture, picture text messaging (MMS), a true instant messaging client that doesn’t incur SMS texting fees, and more flexible QuickTime H.264 support. We’d also like to see Safari able to remember and autofill web forms.

Finally, iPhone is locked: it can only be used with AT&T. In some parts of the world, phones must be unlocked at customer request, but the U.S. is not among them. Until Apple agrees to unlock it, iPho ne cannot be used with other GSM providers in the U.S. or abroad.


Battery Life

In our first complete day of testing iPhone after a complete charge, we ran the battery down to 10% with just shy of nine hours of usage. (iPhone tracks “usage”, which is all the time it spends not in standby since its last complete charge.) A majority of that time was spent using Internet via WiFi, with some EDGE, occasional photo taking, and about an hour and a half of phone calls.

Apple claims up to 6 hours of Internet use, or up to 8 hours of talk time. We didn’t measure closely, but our first day appears to bear out these claims. It will take a few weeks of use to get a sense of how long the battery lasts with typical a day to day usage, but we guess that we’ll be charging it every two or three days as we drop to less frequent use.

(We also learned that iPhone warns you when just 15% charge is remaining, and again at 10%.)

iPhone’s battery is not removable. Apple offers an iPhone battery replacement service for about $85. (Apple also will rent you an iPhone for $29 for use during service.) Disassembling iPhone is not for the faint of heart; when the time comes to replace our battery, we’ll have Apple do it. Apple says the battery should be good for 300 to 400 complete charge/discharge cycles. If iPhone lasts two to three days between charges, the battery’s life expectancy at two to four years. (Actual results will depend heavily on usage patterns.)


Security

iPhone supports some basic security mechanisms, including SSL; mail authentication methods and VPN’s, as well as WPA and WPA2 for WiFi access.

iPhone has a passcode lock feature. When enabled, you must enter a four-digit code every time you wake iPhone from standby. It also prevents transferring photos to your PC or Mac; you must disable the passcode lock to transfer photos.

We don’t know how robust the passcode lock is, though, and it is generally not good practice to store very sensitive information on mobile phones, PDA’s or laptops without encryption. We recommend not storing anything sensitive on your iPhone for now, passcode or not.

Another open question is whether iPhone can be reset by iTunes to bypass the passcode lock, yet remain activated for service by AT&T. If so, this would enable anyone to crack an iPhone and use it as a phone and Internet device, though perhaps without retrieving your personal information.

iPhone supports L2TP and PPTP VPN’s (virtual private networks), but we didn’t have a VPN set up for testing, so we don’t know how well this works.


Pricing

iPhone is useless without carrier service, which raises the question of pricing.

Apple and AT&T have adopted a close variant of AT&T’s standard smartphone data plan, starting with 450 minutes, 200 SMS text messages, 5000 night/weekend minutes, rollover minutes and unlimited mobile-to-mobile for $59.99/mo.. Family plans start at $80/mo., raising minutes to 700 with unlimited night/weekend minutes.

Current AT&T customers can add iPhone service to their existing plan for $20/month; new customers essentially pay standard AT&T rates plus $20/month per iPhone.

Enthusiastic texters users can blow through iPhone’s 200 SMS message quota in a hurry. AT&T offers more expensive plans for these users; upgrading to 1500 texts adds another $10, and unlimited texting is available for $20. (We speculate that iPhone’s lack of internet chat is an intentional omissions designed to let AT&T sell service upgrades.)

Apple and AT&T state that all iPhone plans require a two-year service commitment. However, iPhone buyers have discovered two workarounds.

With a sufficiently poor credit record, an AT&T store can provide you with a special code to enter in iTunes activation that enables you to obtain a contract-free, month-to-month service plan at a higher price (about $86/month).

If you buy from Apple, which does not perform an in-store credit check, you can enter an invalid social security number during iTunes activation to force a credit check failure. iTunes will then let you buy a pay-as-you-go “GoPhone” plan. (We recommend against using a random number ? if it turns out to be in use, you’ve committed identity theft. 999-99-9999 seems to be a truly invalid number, but we have not tested this.)

Both of these methods have a higher monthly cost than the standard plans, though, so the benefit is marginal.

Customers who are currently under contract with other carriers may have to pay cancellation fees to the other carrier to terminate service early. (AT&T does not offer a fee reimbursement option.)


Total Cost of Ownership

There are two ways to calculate the cost of owning an iPhone over the two-year commitment period: total cost and marginal cost.

A basic $59.99 personal plan will cost $1,439.76 over 24 months (before taxes and FCC fees). This puts the cost of iPhone ownership at $1,938.76 for the 4GB model, or $2,038.76 for the 8 GB model.

(The 2-year cost of the no-contract option described above is about $2,075, for a total cost of ownership of $2,575 or $2,675 depending on iPhone model.)

However, with cell phone penetration now at 77% in the US, it’s realistic to assume that most if not all iPhone buyers are already mobile phone users. Thus, marginal cost may be a better way to assess iPhone’s price. The data portion of iPhone’s cost, which is what makes iPhone distinctive from a Internet-free mobile phone, is $480 over 24 months. This puts the marginal cost of upgrading to an iPhone $979 or $1,079, depending which model you choose.

However you figure it, iPhone is not an inexpensive device.

Finally, it’s worth nothing that new customers can cancel their AT&T service within 30 days of activation. This makes iPhone a WiFi-only device. We think this removes much of iPhone’s value; products such as the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet offer more Internet functionality (though less elegance and ease of use) at a lower price. But the option is there.


International

iPhone is a quad-band GSM phone that will work in most parts of the world, but it is locked for use with AT&T only. You can roam internationally, paying AT&T’s international calling rates, but you cannot buy a pre-paid SIM from a local vendor for more affordable phone use.

Not all areas may support the EDGE data network. According to AT&T’s International Travel Guide, most of Europe has iPhone EDGE coverage, as well as Russia and China. Visit the web site to get details on coverage within each country; even supported countries may have areas of spotty coverage or no coverage.


Conclusions

iPhone is simply stunning. We acquired a single unit for this review, but having worked with it for a weekend, we’re already planning to get more. It’s the best cell phone we’ve ever used; it gives us usable remote access to our email; and it has a great Web client. Some improvements are needed ? to-do task list, voice dialing, custom ringtones, Bluetooth enhancements, a working headphone jack, etc. But even with these missing features, iPhone is a startlingly compelling product.

Apple wants to capture 1% of the global mobile phone market, and sell 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008. Depending on how many 4GB vs 8GB models are sold, that’s a potential $4 to $5 billion in new revenue, independent of Apple’s Mac and iPod businesses.

If iPhone makes its target, it could grow Apple’s 2008 revenue by 17-19%. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has repeatedly stated that iPhone will be the “third leg” of Apple’s business. Clearly, Apple expects iPhone to succeed.

And based on what we’ve seen in the past two days, iPhone will not only succeed, it will revolutionize the mobile phone market. In order to complete, carriers and handset makers will have to produce better products with far better user experiences. It is no longer acceptable to turn out phone after phone that users essentially dislike. Apple has raised the bar. Everyone else has to catch up.

In terms of technology and personal computing, the iPhone is a feature-rich handheld Internet tool. It’s a great mobile phone. It’s a darned nice iPod, although we can’t fit our whole digital music collection on it. But most significantly, it’s a revolution in user interfaces. The now-traditional mouse is a proxy manipulator: you use the mouse, and the mouse manipulates symbolic objects. On iPhone, there is no proxy. You touch and manipulate the objects with your own hands. There hasn’t been a user interface change this significant since 1984.

You stretch and squish photos like rubber, and flick through your music collection and emails as though they were physical objects. This makes iPhone more approachable and pleasurable to use than any other we’ve ever used. This well-conceived, direct-manipulation model of interaction is iPhone’s secret weapon. The screen interface is beautiful, but that’s merely the frosting on the cake. We believe that iPhone is just a taste of things to come. Proxy interaction is dead ? Windows and Mac just don’t know it yet.

iPhone is the sort of device that owners show off to their friends and strangers covet. Once you’ve used iPhone, you may find it hard to use anything else. And Apple’s betting on that.

January 10th, 2008
Reviewed by: Kent German and Donald Bell

From the moment Apple announced its iPhone at Macworld 2007, the tech world hasn’t stopped asking questions. Because Apple has kept many iPhone details under wraps until very recently, we’ve been forced to speculate. Until now. Is the iPhone pretty? Absolutely. Is it easy to use? Certainly. Does it live up to the stratospheric hype? Not so much. Don’t get us wrong, the iPhone is a lovely device with a sleek interface, top-notch music and video features, and innovative design touches. The touch screen is easier to use than we expected, and the multimedia performs well. But a host of missing features, a dependency on a sluggish EDGE network, and variable call quality–it is a phone after all–left us wanting more. For those reasons, the iPhone is noteworthy not for what it does, but how it does it. If you want an iPhone badly, you probably already have one. But if you’re on the fence, we suggest waiting for the second-generation handset. Even with the new $399 price for the 8GB model (down from an original price of $599), it’s still a lot to ask for a phone that lacks so many features and locks you into an iPhone-specific two-year contract with AT&T. We’ll be more excited once we see a version with–at the very least–multimedia messaging and 3G.

Design

On with the review: the iPhone boasts a brilliant display, trim profile, and clean lines (no external antenna of course), and its lack of buttons puts it in a design class that even the LG Prada and the HTC Touch can’t match. You’ll win envious looks on the street toting the iPhone, and we’re sure that would be true even if the phone hadn’t received as much media attention as it has. We knew that it measures 4.5 inches tall by 2.4 inches wide by 0.46 inch deep, but it still felt smaller than we expected when we finally held it. In comparison, it’s about as tall and as wide as a Palm Treo 755p, but it manages to be thinner than even the trend-setting Motorola Razr. It fits comfortably in the hand and when held to the ear, and its 4.8 ounces give it a solid, if perhaps weighty, feel. We also like that the display is glass rather than plastic.

Display

The iPhone’s display is the handset’s design showpiece and is noteworthy for not only what it shows, but also how you use it. We’ll start off with its design. At a generous 3.5 inches, the display takes full advantage of the phone’s size, while its 480×320 pixel resolution (160 dots per inch) translates into brilliant colors, sharp graphics, and fluid movements.

Menus

In true Apple style, the iPhone’s menu interface is attractive, intuitive, and easy to use. In the main menu, a series of colored icons call out the main functions. Icons for the phone menu, the mail folder, the Safari Web browser, and the iPod player sit at the bottom of the screen, while other features such as the camera, the calendar, and the settings are displayed above. It’s easy to find all features, and we like that essential features aren’t buried under random menus. Fluid animation takes you between different functions, and you can zip around rather quickly.

Much has been made of the iPhone’s touch screen, and rightfully so. Though the Apple handset is not the first cell phone to rely solely on a touch screen, it is the first phone to get so much attention and come with so many expectations. Depending on what you’re doing, the touch screen serves as your dialpad, your keyboard, your Safari browser, and your music and video player. Like many others, we were skeptical of how effectively the touch screen would handle all those functions.

Touch screen

Fortunately, we can report that on the whole, the touch screen and software interface are easier to use than expected. What’s more, we didn’t miss a stylus in the least. Despite a lack of tactile feedback on the keypad, we had no trouble tapping our fingers to activate functions and interact with the main menu. As with any touch screen, the display attracts its share of smudges, but they never distracted us from what we were viewing. The onscreen dialpad took little acclimation, and even the onscreen keyboard fared rather well. Tapping out messages was relatively quick, and we could tap the correct letter, even with big fingers. The integrated correction software helped minimize errors by suggesting words ahead of time. It was accurate for the most part.




The Apple iPhone features a virtual QWERTY keyboard.

Still, the interface and keyboard have a long way to go to achieve greatness. For starters, when typing an e-mail or text message the keyboard is displayed only when you hold the iPhone vertically. As a result, we could only type comfortably with one finger, which cut down on our typing speed. Using two hands is possible, but we found it pretty crowded to type with both thumbs while holding the iPhone at the same time. What’s more, basic punctuation such as periods or commas lives in a secondary keyboard–annoying. If you’re a frequent texter or an e-mail maven, we suggest a test-drive first.

We also found it somewhat tedious to scroll through long lists, such as the phone book or music playlists. Flicking your finger in an up or down motion will move you partway through a list, but you can’t move directly to the bottom or top by swiping and holding your finger. On the other hand, the letters of the alphabet are displayed on the right side of the screen. By pressing a letter you can go directly to any songs or contacts beginning with that letter. But the lack of buttons requires a lot of tapping to move about the interface. For example, the Talk and End buttons are only displayed when the phone is in call mode. And since there are no dedicated Talk and End buttons, you must use a few taps to find these features. That also means you cannot just start dialing a number; you must open the dialpad first, which adds clicks to the process. The same goes for the music player: since there are no external buttons, you must call up the player interface to control your tunes. For some people, the switching back and forth may be a nonissue. But for mutlitaskers, it can grow wearisome.

Criticisms aside, the iPhone display is remarkable for its multitouch technology, which allows you to move your finger in a variety of ways to manipulate what’s on the screen. When in a message, you can magnify the text by pressing and holding over a selected area. And as long as you don’t lift your finger, you can move your “magnifying glass” around the text. You can zoom in by pinching your fingers apart; to zoom out you just do the opposite. In the Web browser, you can move around the Web page by sliding your finger, or you can zoom in by a double tap. And when looking at your message list, you can delete items by swiping your finger from left to right across the messag e. At that point, a Delete button will appear.

Thanks to the handset’s accelerometer (a fancy word for motion sensor), the iPhone’s display orientation will adjust automatically when you flip the iPhone on its side while using the music and video players and the Internet browser. Also, a proximity sensor turns off the display automatically when you lift the iPhone to your ear for a conversation. All three are very cool.

Exterior features

The iPhone’s only hardware menu button is set directly below the display. It takes you instantly back to the home screen no matter what application you’re using. The single button is nice to have, since it saves you a series of menu taps if you’re buried in a secondary menu. On the top of the iPhone is a multifunction button for controlling calls and the phone’s power. If a call comes in at an inopportune time, just press the button once to silence the ringer, or press it twice to send the call to voice mail. Otherwise, you can use this top control to put the phone asleep and wake it up again. You can turn the iPhone off by pressing and holding the button.




The Apple iPhone speakers are located at the bottom of the phone.

Located on the left spine are a volume rocker and a nifty ringer mute switch, something all cell phones should have and which is a popular feature of Palm Treos. On the bottom end, you’ll find a pair of speakers and the jack for the syncing dock and the charger cord. Unfortunately, the headset jack on the top end is deeply recessed, which means you will need an adapter for any headphones with a chubby plug. Is this customer-friendly? No.

Unfortunately, the Phone does not have a battery that a user can replace. That means you have to send the iPhone to Apple to replace the battery after it’s spent (Apple is estimating one battery will keep its full strength for 400 charges–probably about three years’ worth of use). The cost of the replacement is $79 plus $6.95 shipping. No, you don’t really need a removable battery in a cell phone, but like many things missing on the iPhone, it would be nice to have, especially for such an expensive phone. And just what are you supposed to without a cell phone during the replacement period? Contrary to earlier reports, the SIM card is removable via a small drawer on the top of the iPhone, but other AT&T SIM cards will not work in the iPhone. That’s especially troubling, as it completely defeats the biggest advantage of using a GSM phone with a SIM card. Some people have multiple phones and like to change the SIM card between their different handsets. Also, you can’t use the SIM card to import contact information from another handset.

Features

The iPhone’s phone book is limited only by the phone’s available memory. Each contact holds eight phone numbers; e-mail, Web site, and street addresses; a job title and department; a nickname; a birthday; and notes. You can’t save callers to groups, but you can store your preferred friends to a favorites menu for easy access. You can assign contacts a photo for caller ID and assign them one of 25 polyphonic ringtones. We should note, however, that there’s no voice dialing and you can’t use MP3 files as ringtones. Other basic features include an alarm clock, a calculator, a world clock, a stopwatch, a timer and a notepad. There’s a vibrate mode but it’s a tad light.

The calendar offers day and month views, and you can use the calendar as an event reminder or a to-do list as well. The interface is clean and simple, though inputting new appointments involves a lot of tapping. There’s no Week view, however. We were able to sync our Outlook contacts and calendar and our Yahoo! e-mail address book with no problems.

Bluetooth and wireless

The iPhone offers a full range of wireless functionality with support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. The Wi-Fi compatibility is especially welcome, and a feature that’s absent on far too many smart phones. When you’re browsing the Web, the iPhone automatically searches for the nearest Internet hot spot. Bluetooth 2.0 is also on board, which delivers faster transmission and a longer range than Bluetooth 1.2. You can use Bluetooth for voice calls, but you don’t get an A2dP stereo Bluetooth profile–another item that’s not necessary but would be nice to have.

Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs has explained the iPhone’s lack of 3G support by saying the chipsets take up too much room and drain too much battery, we’d like the option anyway. Yes, the Wi-Fi network is great when you can get it, but AT&T’s EDGE network just doesn’t cut it for all other surfing. EDGE Web browsing is so slow, it almost ruins the pretty Web interface. More on this in the Performance section.

Messaging and e-mail

For your messaging needs, the iPhone offers text messaging and e-mail. As on many smart phones, a text message thread is displayed as one long conversation–a useful arrangement that allows you to pick which messages you’d like to answer. If you use another function while messaging, you can return to pick up that message where you left off. We just don’t understand, however, why Apple doesn’t include multimedia messaging. Sure, you can use e-mail to send photos, but without multimedia messaging you can’t send photos to other cell phones–pretty much the entire point of a camera phone.

The iPhone’s e-mail menu includes integrated support for Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, and Mac accounts. You can set up the phone to receive messages from other IMAP4 and POP3 systems, but you’ll need to sweet-talk your IT department into syncing with your corporate exchange server. It’s rumored that Apple will update the iPhone to support ActiveSync but Apple hasn’t confirmed that as of this writing. You can read–but not edit–PDF, JPEG, Word, and Excel documents. Worse: you can’t cut and paste text when composing messages.

iPhone’s iPod

Sandwiched between all the iPhone’s features lives Apple’s most amazing iPod yet. The display, interface, video quality, audio quality–all of it is meticulously refined and beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s trapped within a device that will cost you more than $1,000 a year just to own. CNET recently reviewed a Rolls-Royce that had a top-notch umbrella hidden inside its passenger door. Buying the iPhone for its iPod feature is a lot like buying that Rolls-Royce for its umbrella. Regardless, the iPhone is an exciting glimpse into what Apple hopefully has planned for its sixth-generation iPod. Apple has redeemed itself following the Motorola Rokr E1 debacle.



The Apple iPhone’s music player lets you view album art.

On paper, the iPhone’s iPod doesn’t offer any features not already on a fifth-generation iPod: podcasts, videos, music, and playlists are all here, and content management with iTunes is identical. The difference rests entirely in the iPhone’s interface. We’ve used other MP3 players that use touch interfaces, such as the Archos 704, iRiver Clix and Cowon D2, but the iPhone’s unique integration of multitouch technology and a graphic user interface put it in a category all its own.

From an iPod perspective, Apple’s biggest triumph with the iPhone is the fact that it has returned album artwork back into the music experience in a way that goes beyond a token thumbnail graphic. Physically flipping through your music collection in the iPhone’s Cover Flow mode really brings back the visceral feel of digging through a CD or record bin. It’s a tough feeling to quantify, but the real music lovers out there will appreciate how well the iPhone reconnects their digital music to a form that is both visually and physically more vivid. Even iTunes users who may already be jaded about using the Cover Flow mode on their personal computer will be surprised at how the experience is changed by using the iPhone’s intuitive touch screen.

Truth be told, there is one feature that is new to the iPhone’s iPod–the integrated speaker. While the iPhone’s speaker sounds thin and is prone to distortion, it works in a pinch for sharing a song with a friend. Apple was also smart enough to manage its speaker volume independent of the headphone volume, so if you’re listening to the speaker full-blast and then decide to plug in your headphones, you won’t be deafened.

The bad news is that the iPhone’s iPod leaves out the ability to manually manage the transfer of music and video content. Unlike any previous iPod, the iPhone does not allow an option for manually dragging and dropping content from an iTunes library directly to the iPhone device icon. Instead, the iPhone strictly uses defined library syncing options for collecting and syncing content from your iTunes library to the device. This should work out fine for most people, but for a device with limited memory the inability to manually manage content seems like a misstep. Our 8GB iPhone was already a quarter full after only a few hours of testing, giving us the impression that users will need to be vigilant at grooming their iPhone library. An external memory card slot is another one of those “nice to have” features.

The iPhone’s music sound quality seems right in line with our experience using the 5G iPod. All the same EQ presets are available, only now they are found on the iPhone’s main Settings tab. The included iPhone earbuds did a passable job for casual listening in a quiet environment. Unfortunately, the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack prevented us from using many of the test headphones we’re familiar with. We were just barely able to squeeze the plug of our Etymotic ER6i earphones into the jack to do the comparison.

Watching video on the iPhone is not quite as luxurious as a Creative Zen Vision: W or Archos 504, but its wide screen and bright contrast beat the fifth-generation iPod by a mile. As with previous iPods, video playback is automatically bookmarked so that playback resumes where you left off. And because the iPhone is a phone, it includes an airplane mode that will keep the music player activated while turning off the call transmitter.



The Apple iPhone’s video player really takes advantage of its wide screen.


Safari browser

The Safari browser really sets the iPhone apart from the cell phone crowd. Rather than trudging through stripped-down WAP pages with limited text and graphics, the browser displays Web pages in their true form. It’s a completely and surprisingly satisfying experience to see real Web pages on a screen of this size. Our only regret is that the browser does not support Flash or Java. To pan around a page, just swipe your finger across the display, and the page moves accordingly. Tap your finger on a link to open a new page and double-tap your finger to zoom in and zoom back out. You can use the arrows on the bottom of the display to move back and forth, while a multifunction button at the bottom of the display lets you open new pages and flick among them.




The Apple iPhone comes with the Safari Web browser.

Google search is the iPhone’s default search tool, but you can use Yahoo search as well. When searching for information or typing URLs, you use the onscreen keyboard. It’s just like typing an e-mail except that the spacebar is replaced with Web-appropriate language like “.com” and a slash. That’s a nice touch

Thanks to the accelerometer, you can tip the phone on its side for a more comfortable landscape view. It doesn’t matter which direction you rotate the phone, as it will work either way. It’s also nice that the onscreen keyboard appears in landscape mode when using the browser. Most Web pages looked great on the screen, but visually busy pages like CNN.com can be too crowded. And because you can zoom in only a set amount, some text can still be too small to read clearly. You can store bookmarks and sync your favorite pages from your PC, but it works only for Internet Explorer and not Firefox.

YouTube

You can activate the iPhone’s integrated YouTube player straight from the main menu via a colored icon. Videos are organized using many of the same criteria as on the YouTube site, including Featured Clips, Most Viewed, Top Rated, and Most Recent. You can read the information attached to a video, such as the date posted and the poster’s name, but you can’t read comments. It doesn’t appear, however, that the YouTube connection updates in real time. We uploaded a video of our own, and it didn’t show up until a few hours later.




The Apple iPhone has a built-in Google Maps application.

Widgets

The iPhone doesn’t have integrated GPS, but it does have a widget for accessing Google Maps. You can get turn-by-turn directions between two points, with traffic information. We tried mapping routes from CNET’s offices to various places. The directions were accurate. But with no GPS, the iPhone can’t tell you where you are, so you’ll have to figure out that yourself. Also, the lack of audio instructions will limit its usability while driving. The map interacts well with the calling functions; you can find a point of interest and ring it in just a few taps. We also like that you can get the Google satellite view.

Additional widgets point to stock information and weather reports. You can program your own tickers and get information like a share gain or loss and see the chart of a share price over time. The weather function gives you a six-day forecast for your choice of cities. For more options, there is already a selection of third-party iPhone apps. No games are included on the handset

Visual voice mail

One of the most intriguing features on the iPhone is the much-touted visual voice mail. iPhone’s voice mail works much like a text-message folder in that it displays the caller’s name or phone number and the time. What’s even more fantastic, however, is that you can listen to the message instantly by pressing the individual message–you don’t have to call your voice mail first.




The Apple iPhone has a 2-megapixel camera on the back.

Camera

The iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera offers a spiffy interface with a graphic that resembles a camera shutter. You’re offered no camera editing options, which we didn’t expect. That means you can’t change the resolution, choose a color or quality setting, or select a night mode. There’s no flash either, and with no self-portrait mirror, those vanity shots are going to be tricky. The camera performed well in our tests, however. Photo quality was excellent with rich, bright colors and distinct object outlines. White looked a bit too soft, but we approve overall. On the downside, you can’t shoot your own video, which is disappointing on a phone at this price.

As we said earlier, the photo menu is attractive and easy to use, particularly due to the pinching motion. You can also flip between photos by swiping your finger across the display. When selecting a photo, you’re given the option of assigning it to a contact, using it as wallpaper, or e-mailing it to a friend.

Call quality

We tested the quadband (GSM 850/900/1800/1900) Apple iPhone in San Francisco using AT&T service. Call quality was good for the most part, but it wasn’t dependable. Though voices sounded natural, the volume was often too low, and the microphone has a sensitive sweet spot. When we moved the phone away from our ears ever so slightly, the volume diminished noticeably and we had to move the phone back to just the right place to hear clearly. The volume wasn’t so bad that we weren’t able to hear a friend who was in a crowded bar, but it just could be better. The speakerphone was also too quiet though conversations weren’t too muffled.

CNET users have also reported volume problems, and a few people we called said they heard a slight background hiss. We didn’t hear the hiss on our end, but more than one of our friends said they noticed it. Automated calling systems were able to understand us, but only if we were in a quiet room. On the whole, the call quality stayed the same in most environments.

Browser speed

Our first test with the Safari browser was over CNET’s internal Wi-Fi network. Web pages loaded in 5 to 10 seconds, though sites with heavy graphics took longer. It was a smooth experience overall, though it not quite as zippy as we had hoped. We thought that could be due to CNET’s network, but it seemed to be more or less the standard. Pages took about the same time to load on a home network and just a couple seconds longer in a cafe. When not using Wi-Fi, you’re stuck with AT&T’s EDGE network, which is just too slow to render the lovely Safari interface enjoyably. With speeds in the 50-to-90Kbps range, it reminded us of a dial-up browser. In other words, it’s pretty intolerable. CNET Labs tested the speed of the EDGE network against the Wi-Fi connection by comparing repeated results of the download time for a 9.4MB file. After two days of testing, EDGE resulted in an average download time of 15 minutes, 41 seconds for the file; Wi-Fi on average required a mere 1 minute, 11 seconds. In the end, our test results indicate that the iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection is 13 times faster than using EDGE, although results will vary depending on location. We can only hope Apple adds 3G soon, especially since AT&T has a robust UMTS/HSDPA network.

Activation

Activation was easy using iTunes 7.3. Our computer recognized the iPhone right away, and the activation system started automatically. After a few prompts, it asked us if we wanted to automatically sync contacts from Yahoo and Windows mail and contacts from Outlook. It also asked us to if we wanted to sync Internet bookmarks but, as we said earlier, it won’t import Firefox bookmarks. The integration with AT&T’s account service is also seamless. We were able to select a plan and indicate whether we were a current AT&T customer. It even asked us if we wanted to port a current cell phone number. In all, it’s much better experience than dealing with AT&T.

It’s important to note that the iPhone is little more than an expensive paperweight until it’s activated. You can make emergency calls, but you can’t use any other functions, including the iPod music player. What’s worse, if you cancel your AT&T contract, the iPhone becomes a paperweight again.

Battery life

The Apple iPhone has a rated battery life of 8 hours talk time, 24 hours of music playback, 7 hours of video playback, and 6 hours on Internet use. The promised standby time is 10.4 days. When we tested the iPhone with the Wi-Fi function turned off, we got about 7 hours, 45 minutes of talk time. When we tested it with the Wi-Fi activated, we came away with 4 hours less. Video time, however, clocked in at an impressive 7.3 hours. Music-only time was also satisfactory. We got 28.4 hours of music playback time on a single charge. Just keep in mind that it’s rare you’ll be using just one feature for hours on end. As such, your battery life will vary widely as you switch between functions. Large color screens such as the one on the iPhone tend to be battery drainers, so you’ll most likely need to charge your handset every couple of days. According to the FCC, the iPhone has a digital SAR rating of 0.974 watts per kilogram.


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