I'm in a cafe in Los Angeles right now with Sean Bonner, kicking the tires on the iPhone we just brought back from the Apple store at the Grove. In two words: totally sweet.
It lives up to the hype. All the rules just changed.
Both of us were skeptical about the lack of a conventional keyboard, but so far, it's awesome. Sean's tapping out a bunch of Twitters and emails, single-fingeredly, and sailing through. iPhone does a remarkable job of sniffing out what you meant to type if you goof a little -- more so than any other mobile interface I've used. It'll take some getting used to, and it's not the same as a conventional keyboard. But it does not suck at all. I can imagine typing two-thumbed pretty soon.
This cafe where we are right now has an open WiFi network, so data speed as we're testing this for the first time is fantastically fast. Automatically connects if the network is open.
When you connect to internet using AT&T's 300 kbps EDGE network, it does feel pretty poky. More like sub-dial-up, particularly in places where the signal is weak. Still -- faster than what you may be used to on any number of lamer US smartphones. Faster than I was used to on several models of Treos, and some Windows Mobile smartphones. Wherever there's WiFi you can connect to (and this is instant, and works wonderfully), there's a lot more speed. Presumably, the provided speed from AT&T will be faster as services evolve. (Why'd they go with EDGE? See this NYT article by John Markoff: Link).
Some of the first things that make us go "ajskdfgjhdfhakjomg":
(2) The pinch (Xeni: it's super intuitive. I wish I could do this on every electronic device I own. I wish Apple would release a tablet with this on it.")
(3) Thumb typing (Sean: "Dude I can't believe it actually works." Xeni: "And functions fine even with wet or greasy fingertips.")
(4) It syncs beautifully with the Mac (Xeni: "All my personal data synced from the Macbook to the iPhone in a minute or two -- more than 6,000 contacts, several gigs of songs, podcasts, audiobooks, and video, and a dense calendar.")
(5) Activation went fine, even in the epic crunch time, proving naysayer reports wrong. (Xeni: "worked without a hitch, wait for server response at end of process was only a couple minutes, all very easy." / Update: all the iPhone-buying friends I spoke with had similarly breezy experiences this weekend, but apparently some folks who were existing AT&T customers had a bad time.)
(6) Orientation awareness (Sean: "It's so fucking sexy. It works THREE ways.")
(7) It just works, with no "stupid" getting in your way. It's simple and elegant. When have you ever used the word elegant to describe a phone UI, for chrissakes? (our pal Michael Baffico just arrived here at the cafe to check out the iPhone: "I've had it 7 minutes and I've already figured out how to play music, check stocks, browse the web, make calls, and a bunch of other stuff, with nobody showing me anything -- all in the time it would normally take me to load one shitty page on my Treo." Then he left to go buy one before all the stores closed).
(8) Holy crap, the Google Maps with real-time traffic data? OK, no GPS in this first-gen iPhone, but this feature is incredible. Not just local US data, either: I'm zooming off to satellite views of Africa, Europe, or Asia with the flick of an index finger.
(9) Navigating media is like slicing buttah. The iPod interface, with the flippy album cover Jedi hand gesture response -- oh man.
(10) Multiple web browser windows are a nice touch.
(11) The little camera in this thing is terrific, takes great, crisp, vivid shots.
(12) Oh, right, and the, uh, phone! Visual voicemail features were really nice, and voice quality was fine when we tested it in a few locations around LA, in a few different kinds of noise environments.
We're IMming with my pal Wayne in NYC, a former Apple employee from ages of yore. He says,
Apple now has a DUTY to export this interface to their entire product line. Today's iPhone naysayers probably don't appreciate the significance of the UI shift that happened today. The computer industry may once again -- at the hands of apple -- never be the same again. The interface reminds me of the scene in the film Minority Report where the pre-crimes unit staff were manipulating and viewing multimedia data using direct gestures. I feel like we're getting a taste of that kind of direct interface control today with the iPhone.Agreed. The crush at the Grove was incredible, lines for four blocks or more, but the process was very smooth when the countdown to 6pm ended. Apple employees lined up on either side like it was a military procession or catwalk, and applauded as each line-waiter entered.
Also, I've never been in and out of an Apple Store so quickly before, the queue time aside (only 1 hour wait -- totally reasonable considering) the time spent in the store was organized despite the excitement and the transaction itself may have been faster than any other visit.
The fact that this device requires a two-year lockdown with one specific carrier, AT&T, is the biggest concern I have. As Cory has blogged here previously, they're under fire for "their stand on net neutrality, their warrantless wiretapping, and their handing over of customer records to the NSA" (EFF lawsuit details here, interview with whistleblower here). AT&T also recently announced plans to police traffic on their data network to see if customers are infringing copyrights, and the details of that plan have digital rights advocates worried.
Some lesser gotchas I will resent in varying degrees when the newlywed buzz wears off: The battery's not removable, no way to carry around a spare to pop in when you can't get to power. No IM, GPS, or video capture. No expandable storage (8 gigs sure fills up quick). No third-party apps, no Java or Flash inside the Safari browser. No copy/paste. Most non-iPhone-issued headphones won't fit without adapters or hacks. The terrific iChat-like SMS interface is coupled with wack pricing from AT&T for which there's no alternative (web-based apps to the rescue?). No "period" on the main qwerty keyboard (sounds like a small thing, but all those extra taps add up when you're txting), and that keyboard is the one thing which isn't directionally adjustable (except in Safari) -- would be nice to have it go sideways so it can be a little larger, particularly for users with bigger fingers than mine (which fit fine on the keyboard as is). Also, you can read but not edit Word or Excel files -- still, cmon, look me in the monitor and tell me you've ever actually edited a Word or Excel file on your phone?
This is a first-generation product with room to grow. But man, what a 1.0.
Many of the quibbles I listed above can (and no doubt will) be fixed by simple software updates, and Christ, all the pluses are overwhelming.
The interface makes all the other mobile devices I have around the office look dumpy and half-functional; the sleek form factor makes my other smartphones look morbidly obese. I want to pick them up and gaze upon them pityingly, then throw them all in a blender and hit "puree."
I may be high on launch fumes right now, but this feels like just about the coolest device I've ever owned. I just don't want to go back to any other phone now.
It isn't hype if the product lives up to it.
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Previously on BoingBoing:
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Reader comments: # Ville T from "hellsinki, finland, europe, earth" says:
hello from hellsinki finland, xeni! thanks for the illustrative post about the iphone. here's a question i've seen no-one covering in this massive iphone extravaganza:# [Xeni] Right, good question. In the few short hours I've played around with this, it's been two-handed. But now that you mention it -- sure, simple functions are fine one-handed.
can the iphone be used with only one hand? and if not, can anything be done using one hand? for example, answering/making a call or taking a photo?
in all the photos in the coverage, everybody is always supporting the thing with another hand. an easy, but obvious thing for mobile stuff, but i've seen no-one cover yet. maybe bb could do it? ;)
Sitting here now, cradling iPhone in my right hand, I can navigate and bang out a simple text with that same thumb. I can skim through music and video libraries pretty easily, the same way. I can dial a call easily with one hand. Other more complex tasks are definitely two hands. Maybe that will change as I grow used to the device.
On the drive back from the Grove, Sean and I were talking about this -- texting while driving (not that this is safe or responsible in the first place) is pretty much out of the question with this. You probably couldn't sneak-text, blind, with one hand under the table, during a boring meeting, like you might with a Blackberry or Sidekick or Helio or Treo.
The fact that the interface doesn't hate me like all other phones do makes up for that. I can imagine much of this feeling more natural with less effort (and one less hand) in a few weeks.
[Update: 48 hours later, my type speed has increased a lot, and I'm one-handing a lot of basic tasks. There's no usability pain here.]
# zyzz says,
The iPhone can also be used as a video iPod without connecting to AT&T's network. You do have to activate it, but if you remove the sim card after activation, you have all the functionality that does not require voice or data. It's a bitchin video ipod.
# Paul Jones says:
Testing out the YouTube app on the new iPhone and I was super-impressed by the quality and speed of the download on the WIFI network.# BB reader Church has an answer for that:
But this morning I tried to search for some of the videos that amused me most. Less Okay-Go and more 60s concerts. Searching for "Byrds" did't give me any Byrds concerts when searching on the iPhone's YouTube utility. It gave me Paris Hilton getting out of jail and someone named Byrd shouting at her. Names of Bryds members gave me no videos found!
But back on the web at YouTube.com, I got lots and lots of Byrds. No problem.
YIKES! Is the iPhoneTube only licensed material? Is the great old stuff and the new crazy homebrew stuff cut out?
try comparing "chumbawamba" on both platforms. plenty of our fav anarchist band in the web. one funky domino vid on iphone with 'tubtumping' in the background.
That's because the iPhone (and AppleTV) use h.264 instead of Flash for video, and youtube hasn't converted its entire libarary over. The linked story from AP estimates 10M vids by the iPhone's launch date.# Wayne points out an interesting battery-related note in this Apple advisory, and an awesome tip for creating inbox subfolders for iPhone Mail here.
# BB pal J points us to this hardware durability test at PC World: Link to "How Tough Is the iPhone?"
# Gitai R. Ben-Ammi says,
I understand that Apple loves to have a unified package for their design with minimal places where you could pull stuff apart, and that’s okay for the iPod. I can go a few days without my music while the battery gets replaced. I’m a small businessman though, and my cell phone is half of my business, with my laptop being the other half. I can’t go for one day without my phone, much less three to five. If they could do in store replacement in a couple hours, that would be fine, but otherwise, Apple needs to bite the bullet and have a battery which can be removed and replaced by the consumer. Until that happens, I ain’t buying.
[Update / Sunday July 1: Some of the battery-related criticisms floating around, including this one, are high on my list of gotchas, too. I'm still enthusiastically pleased with the device overall, but this is not an insignificant issue. On the plus side, I'm hearing rumors you'll be able to hang on to your SIM card and plug it into any other another compatible phone while your iPhone is in the shop -- I'll check into that.]
# Zach Brock writes,
I picked up an iPhone at the 3rd St Promenade store yesterday, and it was just like you described the Grove. A ton of people waiting, but more of a jubilant feeling in the air than anything. The apple employees wandering down the line assuring everyone that they had plenty in stock helped also. Anyway, I wrote up my first impressions of the phone. It might look like a lot of negatives, but really these are the only things I could find wrong with it. If I tried to type up everything RIGHT I wouldn't have had a chance to sleep last night. Here's the link.# Micah Arbisser says,
Why are all the reviews making such a big deal out of the Google Maps feature? I've had the Google Maps applet (with real time traffic data) on my Blackberry for a year now. And my Blackberry works on Verizon's EVDO network, so it should be a lot faster than the iPhone's EDGE network.Dude, seriously -- it's the touchscreen, the scrollable, expandable, pinchable, lovable touchscreen.
# Wired News managing editor Evan Hansen points to an interesting juxtaposition they ran today:
Surreal world we live in, with iPhone shoppers lining up in U.S. as Londoners shake off bomb terror threats. We ran a photo gallery today juxtaposing images from both scenes. Makes for an interesting media critique, given search results from Google News for the past day show stories about the iPhone outnumbering stories about London's bomb scare by a margin of three to one. Link to slideshow.# Sushi Suzuki says,
My friend and I just calculated how much time was wasted (and hence money) waiting for the iPhone today (and yesterday and ...). (150 Apple Stores x 100 People/Apple Store + 10,000 AT&T Stores x 20 People/AT&T Store) x 8 hr/person x $20/hr = $34,400,000. Link.# Tim Shey blogs:
Last night, as I looked at all the photos tagged “iphone” rolling in on Flickr, I wanted to capture all the iconic first photos people would inevitably take with their new iPhone once they got it. At the same time, I wondered, can an iPhone buy happiness*? So I started two competing groups at the same time: Photos of me with an iPhone, and Photos of me without an iPhone. Here are some of my favorite photos posted in the last 12 hours so far...Link.
# Snip from the Time review -- here, Lev Grossman starts with his a laundry list of quibbles:
For example: AT&T's data network is slow (though it seems to be improving). It's a bummer that the camera doesn't shoot video. The glass touchscreen keyboard is kinda freaky (though if there was ever a moment for an ad campaign to license Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Put 'Em on the Glass," this is it). GPS would be nice. So would instant messaging. YouTube videos – in the little YouTube client Apple has ginned up – sound great but look lousy. And yeah, there's that content management quirk mentioned above.# And finally, below: at 30 seconds before 6pm on Friday, June 29, 2007, the faithful masses raise offerings to the Apple gods.
Cold fusion would be great too, but you know what? Nobody cares. Steve Jobs has said, repeatedly, that this is the best iPod that Apple has ever made, and it is. It's also the best phone that anybody has ever made.
(...) For the iPhone, Apple has brought to market a revolutionarily smart, sensitive touchscreen and created an entirely new user interface to match it, all in one go, so seamlessly that my 3-year-old daughter – and I apologize for going to this place, but the fact is striking nonetheless – had no trouble unlocking the iPhone and dialing with it (even though she believed that she was playing a musical instrument).