So, after resolutely deciding the iPhone wasn't going to sway me, then getting to play with one a few times in the US, I finally convinced myself that it was worth playing with in more depth. Just for research purposes, you understand. Just so I could give it a righteous slagging, and prove that Mr. Jobs doesn't know jack about mobile. You can tell which way this is going to go, can't you?

I've been using it for about 4 days now, and so far I've been quietly impressed. It's not the be-all and end-all, and there's a lot of stuff in it that is weak, but the complete package feels nice. As a 1.0 product I can see how it might get the rest of the mobile industry a bit shaken up; and it's interesting to see how a business that doesn't have to pay as much strategy tax has approached building a handset.

Bear in mind when reading this that I have a track record of spending my first few days with a new device thinking "ooh shiny" before reality kicks in. I'll follow up this post with some more thoughts in a week or so. But first, the good:

  1. The screen is beautiful, and has survived 4 days scratchless. It doesn't appear to have gotten greasy from next-to-ear action either;
  2. As you might expect, syncing with the mac works very well; all my contacts, calendars, bits of music and photos, have gone across without difficulty;
  3. After some amusingly bad initial problems with the on-screen keypad, I'm now finding it faster for taking notes than a traditional phone 10-key pad. Predictivity in the text input really helps here, it tends to correct most of my spelling mistakes and learns words without sending you through a "teach me a new word please" flow which seems to be the standard for most T9 devices;
  4. The chrome of the UI, all the useless but pretty zooming, flipping and fading, works really nicely; it's a bit showy but makes the whole experience of using the thing feel completely different to a mobile, or indeed any PDA I've used so far;
  5. It's reasonably fast; I don't find myself waiting for things (beyond network connections) or being frustrated with speed;
  6. It's a very nice little web tablet; Safari is slightly annoying on a small screen, but mainly because most of the content I'm accessing has been designed for large-screen use. Zooming in and out makes reading this stuff possible, though still a bit annoying. I've yet to use any "optimised for iPhone" services (like TypePad, say);

The bad?

  1. The camera is inadequate. Mr Jobs talked up the optics in it as opposed to resolution, and to an extent I could go for that argument: the K800i doesn't take massively between photos than the K750i despite its increased resolution. But the iPhone camera doesn't really stack up - no flash, no auto-focus, bad for any action shots. It's a camera, and perhaps for a market that finds cameras in phones has some novelty value it's sufficient, but it's not a good one - which surprised me;
  2. Related to the camera: no MMS and no video recording. MMS is annoying - I tend to send a few picture messages a week, but the only way to do this via the iPhone is email. Again, this feels a little US-centric. Video I'm surprised about as there's plenty of storage on the device - perhaps a software ugrade will bring it in future;
  3. Networking is a tad annoying; I have an unlocked iPhone I'm using my Orange SIM in, so I can't access the web when I'm away from wi-fi coverage. I'm not sure how EDGE compares to 3G yet either, I'm going to try things with an O2 SIM when I get back and see;
  4. Battery life isn't exactly impressive, but I'd half-expect to be charging this thing overnight every night anyway, so that's not such a problem;
  5. There's not much capability for customising the phone - reordering menu icons, deciding which applications are most important, etc. Surprising given how popular this stuff is;
  6. Lock-down: yeah, I know I've broken the rules by buying an unlocked iPhone and running it on an unauthorised network, but the raw iPhones inability to load third-party apps is annoying, and I'm - for the moment - unable to do software upgrades and keep the device working. Maybe this is just a taste of how things will be, but I can't help feeling this is (and I gag at using the phrase, so forgive me) "stifling innovation". See below;

And the interesting:

  1. The iPhone does lots of things in a slightly different way to other handsets I've used, and this is quite refreshing - even when it's a bit different. So the act of making a call involves choosing to do so from the home screen (instead of just starting to dial); or choosing which number to dial from a selection within a contact with multiple numbers;
  2. The unlocked iPhone I bought had an "installer" app on it, which presented a menu of apps (categorised) from various sources, all of which I could click on to download and install over the air. I think this is the best experience I've ever had of downloading and installing new apps - it worked so well it was breathtaking, so much better than the "text in and click a link", or "go to the portal and run through 8 WAP pages before downloading" experience we have here in Europe. Every phone should make it this simple (even for paid apps). It's doubly annoying that Apple choose to disable this feature - something like this should be in every iPhone, even if it only offers a selection of Apple or operator-approved extras;
  3. The gestural UI is nice; most touch-sensitive devices I've used do the worst thing possible with a touch screen, which is violating Fitt's law and having you stab at small areas on the screen with a stylus or finger. The iPhone uses dragging motions a lot - even in some standard UI components (on-screen switches which can be flicked left or right), which works really well;
  4. Top-menu links to content providers (weather info - Yahoo?, Youtube, stocks and shares), highlighted really nicely. Cocoon did this with Kizoom's train timetables WAP site promoted at a top level, but few operators seem to take this simple step so far;

Having said all this, so far I find the overall package really quite compelling; and I'm annoyed with myself for this, given the list of problems I have with the little beast.

Going back to what I said previously: "I don't see this as meaningfully impacting on the mass market (other than giving a slight kicking to other handset vendors)"... I stand by this. I don't think this iPhone will be out there in enough numbers to justify much in the way of content specifically designed for it. What I do think it'll do (which I mentioned at the Mobile Web 2.0 panel I was on a couple of weeks back) is get a whole load of folks who were previously sceptical about mobility taking it seriously - which can only be a good thing for the mobile ecosystem as a whole.