My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part One – Thoughts on the iPhone

Regular readers of this blog will know I’ve been a long-standing fan of the Windows Mobile Smartphone. I’ve always owned Windows Mobile devices, including my last phone – a HTC HD2. Unfortunately, with that device dying a death and Microsoft slowly killing off support for Windows Mobile, it’s now time for me to upgrade. But to which device? Android, iPhone or Windows Phone?

A few weeks ago I started an experiment. Grabbing a SIM Only Deal from mobile carrier, Three – I would, in turn, use an iPhone, an Android device and a Windows Phone device for a few weeks at a time each, and use them in anger as my sole device for day-to-day activities, both business and leisure.

You can read my original blog post on the “experiment” here (go on, have a read – I’ll wait here for you).

For clarification – and to head off the hundreds of e-mails I’ll get about using an iPhone 4 instead of an iPhone 3GS, and a HTC HD7 instead of a HTC Pro, and any one of a million Android devices instead of the one I choose… the idea of the experiment is to get a feel for how each of the mobile Operating Systems looks and feels in day-to-day use. It’s not a handset –vs- handset comparison, more an OS –vs- OS round-up.

With that in mind, for the past three weeks I’ve been using an iPhone 3GS. How did I find it?

***

iPhone 3GSOne of my main justifications for resisting the iPhone for so long is the “Apple Tax”. In terms of comparison with other Smartphones – you pay a lot for both the handset and network carrier tariff to own a new iPhone.

My way of avoiding the “Apple Tax” for this experiment was to procure an old iPhone 3GS. Yes, I know the iPhone 4 is faster, slimmer, sexier – but remember that I’m testing the O/S, not the handset.

Setup

Setting up the iPhone was simplicity itself. I was connected, making and receiving phone calls and text messages, hooked up to Wi-Fi, sending and receiving e-mail and installing Apps really quickly.

My only niggle here is the fact I could only do this once I’d hooked the iPhone up to my PC through the frustrating iTunes software. But for simply installing the ‘phone and syncing the odd update and Podcast, iTunes did it’s job.

I like the fact you can start the device without having a SIM card present (I’m still using the iPhone without a SIM as a glorified iPod Touch at the moment) but hot-insert a SIM and you’re on-line. I’d have preferred a more convenient mechanism for getting to the SIM holder than having to carry paperclips around with me to pull the SIM slot out with, but this is a niggle.

In-Car Use

The ability to hot swap SIM’s was very useful to me during the experiment when I needed to return to my HTC HD2 briefly for certain things – such as using a Sat Nav. I tried using Google Maps on the iPhone as a Sat Nav, but I found the 3GS screen too small to use in-car and so I yielded to temptation and used my HTC HD2 with Alk Co-Pilot for journeys, before swapping back to the iPhone when I had reached my destination.

In-Car use with the iPhone was also frustrating due to the fact the iPhone has no quick access to a Bluetooth Switch. If I wanted to use my In-Car Bluetooth Hands free kit with the iPhone, I needed to go into Settings > General > Bluetooth to do so. It was frustrating and could have been made easier by having an app that allows one touch on/off of Bluetooth – but apparently Apple forbid this in their Terms of Service, so no 3rd Party app is available to do this. So I was constantly forgetting to turn Bluetooth off and so it was draining my battery life.

Battery Life

Talking of Battery life. The plus side of the iPhone is that because it’s so versatile, with so many cool apps and features – I was using it a lot more than any Smartphone before it. In fact, I was using it a worrying amount. iPhone addiction? The downside is, as a result of this constant usage and without regularly hooking the iPhone up to an external power source, the battery depleted before a full days use.

Being the party animal that I am, from a full charge at 4pm, and with a night out on the town including taking photos of friends, checking in to Facebook places, updating Twitter, taking and receiving the odd phone call and sending the odd SMS – by 2am the iPhone had run out of juice. And it’s not like you can pop in a spare battery as the battery compartment is sealed.

I know there are ways around this, and I’ll give a nod to the iPhone 4’s increased battery life – so this goes down as handset failure rather than an O/S failure.

Apps

iPhone AppsTalking of cool apps – the iPhone has them. In spades. This is where I fell in love with the iPhone and started to find myself overlooking all of its niggling shortcomings. The ability to carry around all my passwords securely, check train times, search for flight prices, scan barcodes, do price comparisons, read the latest news, buy stuff on eBay, read Kindle e-books, sync files, make Skype calls and play cool casual games (I’m virtually addicted to Words with Friends now) all made the iPhone much more than a mobile phone. As I said, I felt almost addicted – trying out new ideas (I’m now using FourSquare and other Geo-Location apps, for instance) due to the vast amount of free and cheap (79p) apps on offer, and then using them a lot.

I appreciate this will come as no surprise to anyone who’s used an iPhone, but I can tell you know that having come from the Windows Mobile platform where there are virtually no cool apps – this is a revelation.

(I can also give you a peek into the future of this experiment and tell you that a few days into using a Windows Phone, and I’m pining for my old apps which simply aren’t available on that platform)

E-Mail and Productivity

Using e-mail on the iPhone was enjoyable. E-Mails loaded quickly and were easy to read. I use Microsoft Exchange for business e-mails, and GoogleMail for personal e-mails. Both were very easy to setup, and I like the iPhones support for GoogleMail features – such as allowing me to Archive off old e-mails easily.

The ability to see both e-mail accounts in a single unified mailbox was a nice touch too. It made scanning e-mails simple.

Replying to e-mails (and SMS, for that matter) was easy, the iPhone on-screen keyboard simple to use and very good at correcting mistakes and predicting words.

I did miss the ability to “Send As” an e-mail address from the iPhone. I have a number of personal e-mail addresses in Googlemail, but the iPhone didn’t allow me to choose which mail to send messages from. I found workarounds for this, but they were clumsy and kludgey.

imageI also found the iPhone Calendar fairly slow and unintuitive, and the lack of support for Exchange Tasks and Notes was frustrating. Again, 3rd party apps exist to bridge the gap – but it’s really surprising that this isn’t natively supported by now. When out on the road, I found the iPhone an incredibly good device for consuming information – but for creating it? Not so much. I found myself e-mailing myself ideas, notes and appointments rather than using the familiar Tasks and Calendar – and then when I got back to my Desk I was putting them into Outlook “properly”.

I also found the iPhone Contacts navigation slow and clunky. With over 2,000 contacts in my Outlook address book, what I really wanted to do was tap the screen and start typing a name to be found – but the “All Contacts” screen didn’t have a dedicated search option unless I’m being dumb and overlooking something obvious – EDIT: Thanks Hilary and Bryony for pointing out that there is a search feature in Contacts, top right hand corner of the screen!  I’d still like to start typing a name and for it to appear, as this would feel more intuitive, but at least I’m able to search now!

Call Quality

Then there’s using the iPhone as an erm… phone! Compared to other handsets I’ve used, I found call quality a little poor at times and the ‘phone getting hot against my ear during long calls.

Conclusion

At this stage you may get the impression that I didn’t like the iPhone. I’ve acknowledged that it has many shortcomings, and doesn’t seem to be “Best of Breed” in any particularly category other than it’s 3rd party app support.

But the reality is – I loved using the iPhone. It is simplicity itself to start using and I like the way that it “just works”. It does have lots of niggles, and due to Apple’s locked down attitude – you can find it hard to work around those niggles. But you know what? None of those things are show-stoppers. I found nothing wrong with the iPhone (perhaps other than Battery life) that would stop me using it as my main phone on a day-to-day basis.

My thinking is that owning an iPhone is like falling in love. In most new relationships you start off deeply in love, often overlooking your new beau’s shortcomings because you like so much else about them. But then, over time – you get used to those new features, they become expected – and then you start to get irritated about the shortcomings.

Ok – so I’m not going to be writing for Mills and Boon anytime soon, but my gut feeling is that I’ll be this same way with the iPhone – overlooking its shortcomings for now, but as time grows on finding they become more than an irritation.

For now though, I’m in love. And I can secretly tell you that a few days in to using the second phone in my experiment, a HTC Pro handset running Windows Phone 7, all I can think about is the iPhone…

Thoughts on Windows Phone coming in a couple of weeks. Smile

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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14 Responses to “My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part One – Thoughts on the iPhone”


  1. 1 Jakob Thusgaard August 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Sharp comments on some of the drawbacks of iOS instead of an all-out praise of the OS. Well done!

    This series will only get really interesting when judging the other two OS’s.

    Can’t wait! 🙂

  2. 2 Tim Carr (@n7studios) August 9, 2011 at 11:13 am

    iOS5 (for 3GS upwards) is reported to bring over the air updates and the ability to setup your iDevice without the need for a connection to a PC.

    For Contacts, by default I see the contacts on my screen. Pressing the Groups button the top left corner then takes me to the various groups, which include Exchange’s Contacts and the Exchange Global Address List, both of which allow me to search with relative ease and speed.

    Whilst you’re comparing OS’s, I think you have to factor in the hardware here – I know the contact search, for example, is a lot quicker on the iPhone 4. The same would be said for other mobile OS’s which run slow in areas on older phones.

    • 3 tubblog August 9, 2011 at 11:25 am

      Tim – thanks for the update and pointers. Along with Bryony and Hilary, you helped me find the Contacts search facility. I still find it clunky, but it’s there!

      I agree with your point over faster speeds from newer devices, but the O/S “look and feel” is pretty much the same between iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4 – and it’s whether I can live with the O/S that I’m looking into here. If I end up with iOS, you can be sure I’ll be investigating the fastest handset available (iPhone 4, iPhone 5) for day to day use!

  3. 4 Michael Burke Jnr (@mickburkejnr) August 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    One issue I have with the iPhone is the ability to develop apps for it. I was determined to find a cheap mac to start developing apps for the iPhone until I spoke to a friend of mine who works for Ubuntu. He said “Why do you want to develop an app for the iPhone when Apple don’t want you to?”. Stunned me a bit, but he explained it saying that if Apple wanted you to develop apps for it they would make it a lot easier to do so. From then on I will never own an iPhone.

    But is it any more difficult to use than an Android or a Nokia 3310? It isn’t. It’s the brand that is selling the phone, the name that is selling the phone. There is nothing to choose from between an iPhone or Android (or BlackBerry to a lesser extent).

    • 5 tubblog August 9, 2011 at 6:19 pm

      Michael – thanks for the comment. I’m no developer, but if Apple are taking a 30% cut of every 3rd party app sold through the App Store, they’re probably more than happy for Developers to create those apps.

      I agree with your point about the brand selling the ‘phone – which is why I mentioned the “Apple Tax” at the start of the post. In a like for like comparison with other Smartphones, it’s my opinion that the iPhone is overpriced.

  4. 6 Jakob Thusgaard August 9, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Hum, hum… Did we just get a sneak peek of conclusions to come in a future round-up of the mobile OS showdown? 😉

    • 7 tubblog August 10, 2011 at 9:00 am

      Jakob – let’s just say I’m three days into my Windows Phone experiment and I really need the help of the Windows Phone community to help me get excited. It’s a very decent phone, I could live with it but… it ain’t no iPhone!

  5. 8 Julian Wilkinson August 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    Just as an IIRC… Activesync for WinMo6 IIRC didn’t sync Notes ?
    (I’ve just found my Samsung i780).

    So cant criticise the iPhone too much for the Notes thing… but sure Tasks is something – but not even sure how you would implement it.

    BTW – In terms of contacts – I never go in to it – I swipe to the left from the home screen and start typing the name there, and it searches *everything*.

    hehe – Good job Ian Watkins doesn’t comment on here LOL

    Cheers
    Jules

    • 9 tubblog August 10, 2011 at 9:01 am

      Julian – correct, ActiveSync for WinMo didn’t sync Notes over the air, but it did sync notes via USB cable. Good enough for me.

      There are 3rd party apps to enable Tasks support on the iPhone, but I’ve heard mixed reviews of them. This really needs to be included “out of the box” though.

      Great tip for the searching contacts – I never even considered the general search button. Thanks!

  6. 10 Dave Sobel August 10, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    Ric:

    Send as is available — when composing an email, you can expand the header, and there is a drop down for selecting which account to use. So the iPhone does that too…

    Dave

    • 11 tubblog August 10, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      Dave – thanks for this. I may be missing something, but it appears that whilst the iPhone does allow you to send from specific accounts – if a single account has more than one e-mail address assigned to it (for instance, my Googlemail account has a dozen “Send As” addresses) – then you aren’t given the option to use these. If I’m wrong, let me know – I’d find this feature very useful!


  1. 1 My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Two – Thoughts on Windows Phone 7 « TubbBlog Trackback on August 19, 2011 at 8:56 am
  2. 2 My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Three – Thoughts on Android « TubbBlog Trackback on October 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm
  3. 3 My Mobile Phone Experiment, Part Four – Thoughts on Windows Phone Mango « TubbBlog Trackback on October 31, 2011 at 11:07 am

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