August 21st, 2007


iComplain // iPhone

The problem with the iPhone is not that it fails to do certain things, every piece of technology has some gaps in its feature set. Rather, the problem is that it fails in ways so spectacular and glaring that they are matched in amplitude only by the spectacular ways in which it succeeds.

After having used mine for a week now, I've confirmed some of the shortcomings that I had expected, and ran into a few more that I hadn't anticipated.

First off, let's get one thing clear: it's not a camera phone. It is a phone, yes, and it happens to have some circuitry that can detect light of various wavelengths, yes, but it doesn't do a damn thing with that circuitry. The level of sophistication of the "camera" software is below even those paper box cameras you can't even change the film on, as those disposable cameras at least offer a flash! I haven't seen a digital camera this basic since they first came out and had resolutions around the 0.3mpx level. It can't adjust brightness, it can't crop, it can't alter colours in any way, it can't zoom (optical or digital), it doesn't have a flash, it can't alter the ISO sensitivity, it can't alter the resolution of the pictures it captures. Mind you, all these things could be done by my old phone, and I used them constantly for my mobloging (speaking of which, sorry for the lack of pictures last week -- now you know why). Most of those features were available on the few other simple cameraphones that I have looked at by way of comparison. The "camera" feature of the iPhone is sufficiently underdeveloped that I don't even count it as being there. Thankfully all this can be fixed in software so I'm hoping Apple releases some major updates to this area.

Now, for the areas where it does most things well but has a few odd gaps.

Mail: They added the option to BCC yourself on all mail sent, which is nice (even though I don't use it myself I can easily see the use for it) but for some reason you can't get to the BCC field manually when composing a message. What if I want to send an email to multiple people and I want them BCCed instead of CCed? I have to wait till I'm back at the laptop or send the message multiple times manually. Yeah, no fun.

Safari: AJAX is nice and all, but plugins would certainly be better. Sure, "the web" is not *technically* defined by flash and other plugins, but you gotta admit they have become part of what is considered the "modern web experiance". If Apple wants to claim they have a true modern web browser on the iPhone they would do well to support plugins from other companies. I don't expect them to write the flash plugin on their own, that's Adobe's job, but I do expect them to allow plugins and from what I've heard (and seen) it looks like they didn't. Sure, they can say they don't want plugins making Safari on the iPhone unstable, but guess what: it already is! My poor little iPhone Safari crashes roughly once a day on average (three times just the other night). It seems that some sites use javascript that is too complex for it and it just throws up its hands and gives up. The iPhone returns to the home screen and when I pick Safari it has to start all over, having lost anything I was working on (text input fields and whatnot) as well as any tabs I had recently opened (really annoying if I hadn't yet bookmarked them).

Speaking of crashing,
iPod: I don't know why, but sometimes when I'm listening to music while using the Safari at the same time, the music just stops. Middle of a song, end of the song, doesn't seem to matter. It simply stops playing music with no indicator that anything wrong happened. I switch back to the iPod app, and sometimes it will act like it is just starting up from doing nothing (displaying the artists) or sometimes it will act like pause had been pressed (middle of playing a song, but paused). Note, I didn't press pause -- it just stops playing music. Thankfully this has only happened about three times over the past week, so roughly once every other day or so. I like having music playing, and it really "throws off my groove" when it stops without my say-so. Best I can figure, my using the Safari app was taking too many CPU cycles and the iPod was forced to quit to give processing priority to Safari. Reasonable enough, since my music is all high-quality (256AAC or 256k+MP3(vbr)) and that takes more horsepower to decode. But that brings us to our next area:

iTunes integration: Probably one of the most important areas and also one of the most oddly botched. The iPod Shuffle has a few options that are downright necessarry given how little storage space is on it. Seeing as the iPhone has similarly little storage space, I was expecting the same options. They are not there. Specifically, I was hoping for the "convert to 128k" option so the songs on the iPhone, while lower quality and not sounding as great, would not take as much processing power for it to decode (helps save battery life and makes the iPod overall more responsive -- I noticed these with the shuffle). Also, I was hoping for the ability to manually sync songs on the iPhone like I can with the iPod (both shuffle and the 40GB that I have). This is kinda gotten around by having the iPhone sync with a specific playlist and editing that, but now I have to drag the songs to the playlist, go to the iPhone screen, and hit "sync" instead of the single-action manual sync of just dragging the songs to the dang iPhone to start. If this is supposed to be their "best iPod ever", then why is it lacking so many usability features that were so helpful?

Bah.. more later, have to head to a meeting now.

I should mention, though. I do like my iPhone. What it does, it does *very* well and I'm overall happy with it. I just wish it didn't fail so hard in so many little areas. Like the grains of sand in the ointment.