iPhone Offers a Mixed Experience

Review: Apple's iPhone is an outstanding media player and an above average phone but has spotty data service and limited applications.

The iPhone is finally here, complete with a fantastic industrial design that stands up well to the considerable hype thats been swirling for months around Apples first smart phone device. However, for all the iPhones groundbreaking design attributes, the units spotty data service and limited applications conspire to deliver an experience thats mixed at best. In my tests of the iPhone, I found it to be an outstanding media player and an above average phone, but a below par Internet and productivity device.

The iPhones ease of use and future potential make it a compelling and somewhat addictive device for consumers. However, considering the units severely limited application set and restrictive voice plans, corporate buyers have should not consider the iPhone for their mobile work force. Rather, IT departments should be pondering how much interaction IT will have in enabling iPhones for use with corporate assets when users inevitably show up with one of their own.

I tested the 4GB iPhone model, which sells for $499 (Apple also offers an 8GB model for $599). Exclusively for use with the AT&T network, the iPhones rate plans start at a reasonable $69.99 per month, which includes 450 minutes of talk time, unlimited data and 200 SMS messages. By comparison to other smart phone rate plans with unlimited data, the iPhones rate plans are relatively affordable.

However, the iPhone only works with Individual or Family Plan accounts. Phone numbers on corporate accounts will need to be migrated to an individual account before they can work with an iPhone. And AT&Ts migration processes have proved spotty in the iPhones early days.

The iPhones design is revolutionary. The device has a minimal number of physical buttons, just a sleep button on the top, volume and mute controls on the left side, and a single button on the face of the device that returns the user to the main menu. All other interactions are done via the glass touch screen that covers the iPhones bright, vibrant 3.5-inch, 480-by-320-pixel resolution display.

/zimages/1/28571.gifTo read about some of the early problems with the iPhone, click here.

The touch screen makes the iPhone quite simple to navigate. I could easily access the applications I wanted, scroll through pages simply by sliding my finger up or down the display, highlight an area with which I wished to interact by holding down a finger in the right place, and even zoom in and out to a specific location by pinching my fingers together (or apart) on the screen. /zimages/1/180227.jpg

Unlike Palm Treos and RIM BlackBerrys, there is no physical keyboard on the iPhone. Instead, a virtual keypad appears on screen when a data entry form is detected in the application being used. The keypad takes some time to get used to as the keys are rather small and offer no tactile feedback when "depressed." However, the iPhone will click when a key is triggered, briefly highlighting the letter or number selected. Thankfully, the predictive typing function is excellent—for instance, able to correctly decipher "quwsrion" as "question"— and the iPhone learns words that are frequently entered (like last names).

In certain applications, I could also change the screen orientation from the standard portrait to landscape simply by rotating the device 90 degrees. On the wider screen, the keypad grows accordingly larger, which makes typing even easier. Unfortunately, landscape mode is only available in the Safari Web browser (and in the iPod media application, for which there is no typing). I would have liked to see landscape support in the iPhones e-mail and calendaring applications, as well.

In truth, I found that with some practice I could type much faster on the iPhone than I have in the past using the cramped QWERTY keyboards on some other competing device, with the possible exception of some HTC devices with spacious slide-out keyboards. However, I expect this will boil down to personal preference for most users.


One of the biggest headaches for IT administrators will be the iPhones reliance on iTunes for synchronization with the desktop. The iPhone-enabled version of iTunes (7.3) is definitely a beefy application, including four running services that take up over 40MB of RAM in a resting state with the iTunes application closed. In the past, Ive seen the iTunes application itself take up as much as 150 more megabytes of RAM when open and active.

Users may want to synchronize their iPhones with their work contact lists and calendars, but IT administrators will have to think long and hard about whether to allow iTunes on their company networks. By default, the iPhone will marry a device to a single iTunes installation, so people will be syncing media and contacts/calendar to the same workstation.

Undoubtedly, IT will not want to consume vast amounts of business storage space with users copious music and video files. Also, storing these files could certainly open businesses up to litigation by housing illicitly obtained copyrighted materials. In addition, iTunes will cause additional network traffic by looking and offering to share music stores by default. How to efficiently allow users to synchronize work-related contacts and calendars without taking on all the multimedia overhead of iTunes remains, at this point, a mystery.

Next Page: The iPhone offers a combination of compelling and problematic features.