The iPhone at two months: It's all about the interface

Rivals all too often deliver clumsy hardware, lousy software

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What can't be fixed (yet)

There are some shortcomings that can't be fixed in software, though, which may be a deal breaker for some. I'm referring to the lack of Global Positioning System (GPS) and 3G networking support. Since I don't live in a 3G area and most places I end up at have wireless anyway, I've not run into many issues.

Generally, AT&T Inc.'s EDGE (enhanced data rates for GSM evolution) network is acceptable for Maps, e-mail and, surprisingly enough, YouTube. It's with Web browsing that EDGE falls a bit short in terms of speed. But it's still good enough for light surfing.

The lack of GPS is offset by the functionally handy turn-by-turn feature in Maps. For some, this might not be enough, but for me, it does the job of getting me from Point A to Point B. Though lack of GPS hasn't stopped me from finding Maps enormously useful, I'd be one of the first in line if Apple ever released a separate GPS add-on, perhaps not unlike the Nike+ sports kit.

Another thing that can't be fixed in software is AT&T. While I haven't had as many dropped calls as I did with the Razr, there have been some dropped call issues. It's not to the point that it's annoying, but it does happen on occasion. Here's hoping that AT&T takes the cash it's receiving from the new members that have come on because of the iPhone and uses that money to upgrade and expand its networks.

The multifunction nature of the phone, along with the use of the touch screen, means there are some functions that actually require more steps than other phones. For instance, with my Razr, I'd flip open the phone and dial the number I wanted. If I was feeling brave, I'd even use the built-in contact manager, which was only a shortcut key away. In other words, making phone calls from the Razr didn't involve putting it into a "phone mode" as its primary function by default was making phone calls. (It was all of the other "features" that made me miserable.)

The iPhone requires a couple of extra steps. To make a call from the iPhone's default sleep mode, you have to first press the top button or the Home button to wake it up. Then, a swipe of your finger lets the iPhone know that you woke it intentionally, therefore unlocking the phone for use. From there, you have to click on the Phone icon before you can access your favorites, contacts, visual voice mail, recent phone calls or the keypad.

This might be an issue for some, but, personally, I've never really noticed. The extra steps -- a click, swipe and a tap before you're in phone app -- just give you more reasons to touch the screen.

And what about that screen? Mine looks as good and works as well as it did the day I brought the iPhone home. Even after two months of constant use, it looks new -- no dings, scratches or worn areas have shown up yet, a testament to the overall hardware design. Yes, the glass screen gets smudged from your fingers, and from your face when you hold it up to talk. But it's as easy to clean as any other glass surface, especially with the cleaning cloth supplied by Apple.

Convergence with thoughtfulness

In the end, Apple's latest device continues the company's tradition of rocking industry complacency, with the brilliance of the iPhone shining brighter the more you use it. The iPhone is physical proof that convergence with thoughtfulness really does work, actually making me -- after all of these years -- optimistic about the future of computing devices.

Watching others with the phone, you can see how its design seems to rekindle the joy people had for gadgets when technology first moved into the mainstream. Apple's efforts promise a future where technology works intuitively, making manuals -- and frustration -- a thing of the past.

Michael DeAgonia is a computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macintoshes for a decade and working on them professionally since 1996. His tech support background includes tenures at Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry and Apple. Currently, he is working as an independent consultant at YourMacTek specializing in all things Macintosh.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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