Mac Musings

Four Weeks an iPhone User

Dan Knight - 2011.07.15 - Tip Jar

Four weeks ago, my wife and I left Verizon for AT&T. And after several months of weighing our options as we awaited the end of our Verizon contract, Waverly and I chose to get iPhones.

This has been our first real experience with iOS. Sure, we've played with iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads at the nearby Apple Store, and we've fiddled around a bit with the iPhones other family members had, but we hadn't used them in depth.

First off, we chose the iPhone 3GS, which will probably be discontinued in September or so, instead of the iPhone 4. As much as I love the Retina Display and appreciate the additional power of Apple's A4 CPU, the $150 difference in purchase price per phone was the reason. $49 is a heck of a price for a good smartphone. $199 is another story altogether.

Think Different

As Mac users, we're used to doing things differently than Windows users. I'll never get used to the way Windows quits an app just because you closed a window. I've been a Mac user since 1986, and Macs have never worked that way. Waverly, on the other hand, cut her teeth on Windows and will never get used to the idea that closing a document window on a Mac doesn't quit the app, so Word and Excel and iPhoto and iTunes and Safari and who knows what else are often taking up valuable system memory and some CPU cycles even though she's not using them.

Macs are different from Windows PCs, and iPhones are different from both. Very different. They can take some getting used to. For instance, apps remain in memory until you specifically quit them. And if you try to get around that by powering down your iPhone and restarting, it doesn't matter. It will restore all your open apps to memory. You have to know the trick of clicking the Home button twice, which will display active apps at the bottom of the screen in groups of four. That gets you to the app switcher.

Here comes the unintuitive part: You have to hold your finger on an app icon until it starts to jiggle and show a minus sign in a red circle. Only then can you quit an app. Just touch the minus sign. That's not something you'd figure out on your own, and being able to experiment and figure things out on your own was always one of the Mac's strong points.

Another thing that's different is that for most apps, the preferences aren't accessible within the app. You have to use the Settings app to set a lot of preferences. Again, unintuitive. With over 30 years of computing under my belt, I never would have expected to have to use a separate app to set an app's preferences.

And here's another weird one - you can't delete any of the apps that came with the iPhone. If you have no use for Stocks, Game Center, or Notes, you can't get rid of them. You can move them to another screen or into a folder, but you can't make them go away.

Finally, there's the built-in spell check and correct feature, which is frustratingly unintuitive. As you type a word, the iPhone guesses at what it might be. If you keep adding letters, that guess may be replaced by another one, but if it isn't and you use the space key or enter punctuation, it will change your word to its guess without warning. Kind of weird what it does to names if you're not paying attention. You have to research and learn that to make your iPhone not use the guess word, you have to touch it to make it go away - anywhere on the word, not just the "x" behind it. It's not hard to get used to, but the initial behavior is completely unexpected.

Apps R Us

As a mobile phone, the iPhone is fine. Sound quality is descent, the mic built into the earbuds is a great way to have crystal clear conversations, and there's almost nothing to complain about. Except, that is, the complete lack of indication that you missed a phone call or have a voicemail waiting for you when the screen is dark. There's no beep every few minutes. There's no flashing LED. If you're not using your iPhone for something, it could be hours before you find you've missed an important call. That is a bit frustrating.

For me, the biggest improvement Apple has made to the mobile phone experience is Recents and Voicemail. These features make it easy to see your call log and access your voicemail without having to push 5 to repeat, 7 to delete, or 1 to mark it as new. Visual voicemail is perhaps the most important thing Apple has given the mobile world.

The centerpiece of the iPhone isn't the phone; it's the apps. However you want to label it, in reality the iPhone is a real computer to can do real computer tasks, although often in a very uncomputerlike way. It has a powerful CPU, system memory, and storage memory just like a Mac or PC. And it run software, which Apple calls apps, to let it do thousands of things it couldn't do without them.

Included Apps

Maps

One of the first apps most people use is Maps. It's cool to see it pinpoint your location, zoom in and out, and move around the city. But then you zoom in, and you discover that your iPhone thinks you're a block east of yourself or a half-block to the north, both of which I've seen from home. Also interesting that the street map and satellite views are slightly offset, so your location pin may be very close with one an 50 yards off with the other. And now it just moved across the street while I was typing this! Curious indeed.

Camera

The camera built into the iPhone 3GS is okay in bright light but pretty grainy with typical household lighting in the evening, and there's no flash to brighten things up and prevent blur. All of my other cell phones with cameras have done a better job taking pictures, especially my Palm Centro.

The worst feature of the Camera app is that you don't have a button to push. It has a virtual button, and it just doesn't respond the way a shutter button should. I think this is one feature that's going to be fixed in iOS 5, and I look forward to it.

Notes

I first used this one at work the other night. I had to replenish inventory of towels and sheets, so I thought it might be easier to make notes on the iPhone than use pen and paper. Wrong! Notes kept trying to change brand names like Sonoma and Vera Wang into something different, although it eventually learned the new words.

Entering text in portrait mode is a challenge. I think my finger is hitting O, but P shows up. No wonder Apple put so much time into autocorrect!

It's also frustrating that there's not a single punctuation key on the main keyboard - not even a period. Other apps have at least a period. How about some consistency, Apple?

Notes did sort of work for me, and it's the reason I learned how spell check and autocorrect work, which I shared with Waverly the next day. I don't think it's an app I'll use often.

This is a good time to mention how frustrating text entry and editing can be on the iPhone. There are no cursor keys. There is no way to pick just a few words out of a paragraph. If you hold down the Delete key, it will go from deleting individual characters to whole words with no warning - and there's no undo. This is worse than using the original Mac with its arrow-free keyboard, because at least you could use the mouse to move the cursor and select text.

This is a glaring weakness that I hope Apple will fix. Select, cut, copy, paste, and undo are important functions.

Photos

It is wonderful having much of my iPhoto library on my iPhone - and that Apple reduces file size so my pictures don't use up the entire 8 GB of storage my iPhone has. The way Faces is implemented is especially nice.

iTunes

As a longtime iTunes user, I can only say the iTunes on the iPhone is completely misleading. It's the iTunes Store, not an iTunes program for managing and using your music and video collection. That's a whole 'nother app.

iPod

No, if you want the functionality of iTunes, you use the iPod app, which is only marginally iTunes-like. It seems to be just a music and video player. All the organization is done on your Mac or PC iTunes. With iOS 5 going PC free, I hope that's going to change. (The iPod app will be renamed Music in iOS 5.)

Messages

Apple has created a pretty nice, pretty useful texting app with Messages. I looks nice and works nicely but could make better use of screen space. I really like the texting app on my Palm Centro, which didn't waste space drawing pretty speech balloons. A for appearance, D for good use of screen real estate.

Contacts

This is pretty much the same thing as the Address Book in OS X. Waverly and I are very grateful to the gentleman at the local AT&T Store who helped get us started by copying the contacts from our old mobile phones to our new iPhones. That said, if you want to do much editing after you import, it's far easier to sync with your Address Book, make the changes on your Mac, and then re-sync.

Safari

Safari works. It's an adequate browser, but nothing to write home about. You will really notice the lack of Flash support as you use the real Internet. Safari is much nicer on an iPhone 4's Retina Display or on an iPad. As nice as the iPhone 3GS screen is, this is where you really see its limited resolution.

Other Included Apps

I have not used Mail and don't expect to. I have plenty of email on my Mac; I don't need more in my pocket. I also have not used Game Center or Stocks.

Weather is a nice simple app, much like the Weather widget that comes with the OS X Dashboard. I prefer one from the local TV station, as it provides nice weather maps.

YouTube just kind of sits there. I think I've used it once.

The App Store

Technically App Store is an included app, but it's also the gateway to thousands upon thousands of apps written for the iPhone. The application is quite functional, and it's fun to look at the Top 25 lists, see its Genius recommendations, and search, but search can also be its Achilles' heel if you don't know exactly the right word to use.

I'd rather research on my Mac, thank you very much.

While all the included iOS apps seem to support rotating your device, not all third-party apps do. Many are vertical only, and some do switch orientation - but only for some functions such a using landscape mode to view videos. Since this is a big feature for iOS devices, I will not which apps do and do not support rotation.

WZZM app weather mapWZZM 13 WX 1.6 - 3 stars

WZZM 13 WXI think this was the first app I downloaded. WZZM is our local ABC station, and its "On Target" weather is the best (or at least our favorite) in western Michigan. Since downloading this, I haven't use the included Weather app. It does take a while for the radar weather map to load, but it's nice to have the big picture - and to be able to zoom right into our neighborhood. WZZM 13 WX is free, and it's one of only two third-party apps on my home screen. Odds are a local station will have a similar app for your area.

WZZM 13 WX rotates.

Facebook 3.4.3 - 2 stars

FacebookOnce upon a time it seemed everyone had AOL, then a Hotmail or Yahoo! account, then a MySpace page, then YouTube, then Facebook, and then Twitter. Although you can use Safari to view Facebook, the website is not optimized for mobile platforms. The Facebook app tries to address that, and it's okay for viewing your feed and messaging friends, but it feels incomplete. Still, it's a quick and easy way to stay in touch. Previous versions had higher ratings; let's hope they address concerns with the current version. Facebook is free and the other third-party app on my home page.

Facebook rotates.

Chase 2.11.3472 - 3.5 stars

ChaseOnline banking was a wonderful invention, and this app is designed for Chase customers. Although I installed it the first day, I really haven't used it beyond checking account balances. The Chase app is free, and if your bank has an app, it's probably free as well.

Chase does not seem to rotate.

Opera Mini 6.0.1 - 3 stars

Opera MiniOpera makes a great browser for computers, whether you run Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. Opera is also noted for having one of the best mobile browsers, and it's worth trying out even if you think you're happy with Safari. By using the horsepower of Opera's servers, Opera compresses pages before it sends them to you, using less precious bandwidth and loading more quickly. You can also turn off images, choose image quality, select a single-column view, enable text wrapping, and view fullscreen. It's not ideal for everything, but it may be the best for some sites you visit. Best of all, Opera is free.

Opera rotates.

Yahoo! Everything 1.1.3 - 3.5 stars

Yahoo! EverythingI've been using Yahoo! Mail just about forever, and this app makes it easier to access on the go. The best part is, I check my Yahoo! email a lot more frequently. This app also gives you access to Yahoo! News, your Yahoo! Address Book, Buzz, Calendar, Driving Directions, Delicious, Finance, Flickr, Local, Messenger (very rudimentary), Movies, New, omg!, oneSearch, Radio, Sports, Upcoming, and Weather. Jack of all trades, master of none. Yahoo! Everything is free.

Yahoo! Everything does not rotate.

Yahoo! Messenger 2.1.1 - 2.5 stars

Yahoo! MessengerI don't use this very often, but back in the day I used Yahoo! Messenger (and Adium) on my Mac, especially when I was into online euchre leagues on Yahoo! Games. Previous versions rated much higher, and almost half of ratings for the current version give it one star. Ouch. At least Yahoo! Messenger is free.

If I used messaging regularly, I'd give Trillian a try. The iOS app has a 4.5 star rating and has a long history on Windows, where it has been available since 2000 and improving over time. There are also OS X and Android versions. Trillian supports a host of instant messaging protocols so you can use one app for Yahoo!, AOL, ICQ, IRC, Windows Live Messenger, and several more.

Yahoo! Messenger does not rotate.

Craigslist Mobile 1.0.7 - 5 stars

Craigslist MobileWhat better place to find a local bargain or sell something than Craigslist? Best of all, you can take your photos and do your posting on your iPhone - no more need to hook up your digicam to your computer, browse and export images, etc. Craigslist Mobile is free but will keep asking you to upgrade to Craigslist Ultimate, which is $1.99 and has a five star rating.

Craigslist Mobile does not rotate.

Enough for Now

The list could go on, but I'll save Alarm Clock, Tris, Sol Free, myAT&T, Netflix, SeizeTheDay, Wikipedia, DIRECTV, and Shazam for another time - not to mention the apps Waverly has that I don't use.

The beauty of iOS and the iPhone is that, like a computer, you can make it do what you want it to. It's not a hardwired device that just makes phone calls. It can become almost anything you want it to be.

I've become accustomed to the way iOS works, and its a very different experience than using my Macs. It will be interesting to see how OS X 10.7 Lion fares when it attempts to integrate the Mac and iOS experiences on Macintosh hardware. I'm apprehensive, but then I'm still using OS X 10.4, 10.5, and 10.6 on a daily basis.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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