I've been using the iPod part of my iPhone a lot to listen to music at work (instead of an actual iPod), partly because it's so much fun to glance over and see the big, bright album art while songs are playing. Yesterday, I needed to call two local newspapers. So, sitting in my office and listening to music, I used my laptop to look up the phone number of the first newspaper, then walked outside to make the call. I grabbed the iPhone and kept listening to music as I walked outside.
When I got outside, I navigated to the phone part of the iPhone. The music kept playing as I dialed the number. When I pressed the Call button, the music gently faded out, and the call went through. Soon I was talking to the first newspaper using the hidden mic in the iPhone ear buds. While I was talking, I was put on hold, and I realized I could use the phone to look up the other newspaper's number while I was waiting. I went to the Safari app and started searching for the second newspaper's number. When I did, a thin strip appeared at the top of the screen with the text "Touch to return to call". Neat.
After I finished my first call, the person at the other end hung up. The phone figured out the call was over, faded the music back in and started playing where it left off. Meanwhile, I was looking at the web page with the second phone number I needed to call. I noticed the phone number was underlined, like a hyperlink, so I touched it. A confirmation box appeared with Cancel and Call buttons. I touched call, the music faded out, and the second call happened.
This time, the iPhone didn't detect when the call ended, so I pressed the "Touch to return to call" strip, which took me back to the phone screen, where I touched End Call. Once again, the music faded back up and resumed where it left off.
I've never owned a smartphone before, and maybe your smartphone works this well, but I came away from this brief experience feeling satisfied about how well Apple had nailed lots of little details.
I'm really enjoying my iPhone. Apple obviously put a lot of care and love into this product, and it's a joy to use, especially when you consider it's a 1.0 product. (Mental exercise: compare the first iPod to the ones we have today. Now imagine what iPhones will look like in a few years.)
Rather than repeat what everybody else has written about the iPhone, I'm going to list some observations I haven't seen widely repeated.
The good stuff:
Apple nailed the on/off/silence experience. One physical switch sleeps and wakes the phone, so when you finish a call, you push the switch and put the phone in your pocket. When you take it out, push the switch, slide the touch screen arrow, and it's ready. Another physical switch silences the phone -- just slide this one when you go into a movie or a meeting.
The screen is made of magic glass that doesn't seem to scratch or get permanent smudges, in stark contrast to iPod screens. I think this is a function of Steve Jobs keeping the thing in his pocket all the time and disdaining a protective case. The back of the case also stays pristine, unlike my iPods, which get scratch marks on the back no matter how carefully I treat them.
The touch screen and UI react instantly in almost every case, preserving the necessary UI illusion that you're pressing actual buttons.
The phone app is terrific. Everything I might want to do (speaker, keypad, mute) is on the screen behind a big button.
The cinematic quality of the UI, along with the touch screen, make the iPhone so much fun to use. It's hard to compare the iPhone with other phones -- nobody ever talked about features like animation or multitouch in a phone before, and everybody just assumed a phone's UI was awful.
The less good:
The infamous headphone jack that doesn't fit most headphones or audio cables. This is annoying precisely because it's so petty. After paying $600 for the phone, it's lame to have to pay another $10 so I can connect it to the aux in in my car. And you don't have to redesign the phone to fix this: just put an adapter in the iPhone box.
The dock is kinda tight -- it takes 2 hands to remove the phone -- and holds the iPhone too vertically, at a more severe angle than iPod docks do.
In the iPod, manual mode is gone. This is the mode in which you can drag and drop items to the iPod, rather than using playlists to sync. Manual mode is especially useful for adding music from multiple computers to one iPod.
Most apps change the screen orientation when you rotate the iPhone a quarter turn. If this isn't working reliably for you, make sure you're holding the phone upright when you do it. The accelerometer that controls rotation is basically a gravity detector, and it doesn't work if the phone is flat to the ground.
If Safari gets crashy on you, try turning the phone off (hold down the sleep/wake switch) and on. Better.
I'm not sure I'm really getting better with the keyboard. I'm hoping more clever software will help me over time.
Phone snobs and other folks who complain about missing features will be surprised when some of those features start showing up in software upgrades. This is going to be the most software-upgraded phone ever made. (I have no inside information here.)
I'm not sure the iPod app is easier to use than a click wheel iPod (or maybe I'm just used to that UI), but the iPhone's iPod is way more fun.
Recently there have been a lot of rumors and speculation that Apple is about to introduce flash-based iPods. But wait -- earlier this year Steve Jobs said that Apple wasn't interested in that business because most flash players "end up in a drawer".
Is there any way to reconcile these two opposing points of view? Let's start by thinking about why those flash players are in those drawers: capacity. With only a few songs in your player, most people soon get tired of dealing with the frequent hassle of updating -- who needs one more thing to do in their life? -- and the drawer beckons.
A 512Mb player holds about 125 songs using Apple's calculations, or about 8 hours of music. A 1Gb player gets you 250 songs, or about 16 hours of tunes. Depending on how much music you listen to, you might want to update your flash iPod as often as every day. Apple is all about making things easy. So if Apple could make a flash-based player that is somehow super-easy to update, it might be an interesting product.
You could make iPod updating painless with a two-part solution: a new version of iTunes, and updating over WiFi. With WiFi in the iPod, you wouldn't have to remember to dock it, or even have it in the same room as the computer. With such a small capacity, updating over WiFi wouldn't take insanely long. A new version of iTunes could add features to smart playlists and the iPod interface, like a timer that says how often to update the iPod -- like "every day, replace the songs I've listened to with fresh ones" -- and an assistant-type interface that makes it easier to build smart playlists for small capacity players. And just to make it even more drop-dead simple, we might not even have playlists on our flash-based iPod, just a music library.
With the updating problem solved, Apple's industrial design could really go crazy with a flash-based iPod. It could be smaller than a mini (click wheel + 2 or 3 line display, a la iTunes), thinner, and with better battery life. And if you think the mini is tiny-sexy, imagine the appeal of this one -- the iPod pocket. Let's make them in six great colors. At $199, even people who already have iPods would try to figure out how to justify buying an iPod pocket.
UPDATE 1/14/05: I review my own predictions (how quaint) here.