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For six years, the Internet Nexus served as my technology blog, but I've since started blogging at the SuperSite Blog instead. If you're looking for the blog, please head there. --Paul

Saturday, June 30, 2007


A friend recently commented to me that the Apple TV was the ultimate "now what?" device: You get it home, you set it up, you run it through its paces, and then you reach... now what? Once you get over what it is that it's doing--which happens pretty quickly unless you're a credit card-happy iTunes Store sicko--then there's not much there there. So to speak.

The iPhone is a bit different. Once you get over its very obvious and easily identifiable high points--that gorgeous screen, the cool scrolling lists, cover flow, and so on--you start finding problems. In fact, the more you use it, the more problems you find. In my mind, the iPhone, so far at least, is a "but..." device. Because every time you want to point out something positive, you have to amend a "but..." onto the end of it.

Some examples.

The UI is simple. The UI is simple, but there's no Back button, so you have to just numbly click the only button ("Home") and go back to the Home screen. There's no sense that you've done a series of things because each action sits in isolation. Within ten seconds of picking it up, my friend Chris started turning it over, quizzically. "Where's the Back button?" he asked.

The screen rotates. The screen rotates, but sometimes it doesn't. Because oftentimes rotating just doesn't work, especially when there's a virtual keyboard on the screen.

The virtual keyboard works in both horizontal and vertical modes. The virtual keyboard works in both horizontal and vertical modes but it can't switch between these modes when the keyboard is onscreen. And sometimes, it actually doesn't work in both modes at all: It just depends on where you are and what you're doing. That's inconsistent and annoying.

The photo stuff is wonderful. The photo stuff is wonderful but it's like the Apple TV: You do it once and you're done. How often will you really squint down at this small screen and enjoy photos, really? Nobody takes more family pictures than I do, but even I'm tired of looking at them.

The iPod functionality works great. The iPod functionality works great, but 4 or 8 GB of storage isn't enough for a lot of movies and TV shows. Plus, iTunes treats the iPhone sort of like an iPod shuffle. You have to really pick exactly the content you want, and that content has to be prearranged in iPhone-friendly ways first. I'd like to see more granular control. And something that can choose photo folders more than one level deep under My Pictures. That's amateur hour.

The iPhone syncs with Outlook. The iPhone syncs with Outlook, but it doesn't work with some stuff that's really important to me, like anything other than the default calendar. Or with any PC-based calendar besides Outlook. Or with Google Calendar. You know, the stuff I actually use.

The iPhone works with Gmail. The iPhone works with Gmail, but it only works in POP mode, which I refuse to use. And it doesn't work at all with the Gmail Labels system. In other words, it's not "Gmail compatible." It's just a POP email client. Yawn. The only native Google software on the device is Google Maps, which isn't as revolutionary as advertised, and the Google search feature in Safari. Big deal.

The EDGE network is faster than predicted. The EDGE network is faster than predicted, but it's still as slow as dial-up, and a joke compared to EV-DO or Wi-Fi. And you can't use it as a high-speed modem for your PC or Mac notebook. That's ridiculous.

The iPhone includes cool ringtones. The iPhone includes cool ringtones, but you can't download more or use songs on the device, which seems like an obvious feature.

This could go on and on and on, but I'll save the hundreds of other obvious observations for a later review. Here's a prediction: While the people who just love Apple products because, well, they do, will just love the iPhone, more discriminating smart phone users will run into more and more of these "but..." moments over time--no, very quickly--and the iPhone will grow frustrating. The good news is that Apple has a history of fixing these sorts of things quickly and we can expect numerous iPhone and iTunes software updates in the days, weeks, and months ahead. I like it. But you have to be in a special kind of daze to not immediately find a lot of surprisingly disconcerting problems with this thing. Yes, the iPhone is the nicest looking and sleekest portable device I've ever used. But it's not perfect. It's not even close. And that's not going to be good enough for a lot of smart phone users.

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[ Posted at 6:06 PM | Permalink ]


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