iPhone – Initial Review

I bought an Apple iPhone last week. And after a few days of playing with it, here’s a brief initial review. In summary, the hardware lives up to Apple’s typical quality standard, but, unfortunately, so does the software.

For the longest time, I swore I wouldn’t buy one of these things. But like all good resolutions, ultimately, one gives in to the Apple shininess. I picked up an iPhone on Thursday, and started playing. I like the fact that surfing the web is pretty easy (there’s no flash, or Java, which might encourage people not to use these), that many third parties have mobile interfaces that work well (BoA, Facebook, etc.), and reading a standard IMAP account (with no modified settings whatsoever) works just fine. I also like the iPod, and a few of the other features.

Unfortunately (for Apple anyway), that’s where it ends. Here’s a growing list of things that I don’t like about the iPhone:

*). The software. Apple installed OSX on this device, but then crippled it. I haven’t “jailbroken” (guys, please stop inventing new terms for old tricks – it just makes it harder to Google for whatever silly word you’re using today) my device yet, solely because I wanted to try the regular firmware, and give Apple a chance to get the SDK released later this month (if they don’t, my iPhone will be fixed soon to work around them).

*). The VPN client. Apple use the same utterly broken VPN client that they ship on OSX. They only support L2TP and PPTP (and a draft broken Apple version of the former, even in the latest iPhone firmware – Apple, fix it, please), and the NAT-T detection doesn’t work properly either. Rather than expect Apple not to be crappy, I used the opportunity to upgrade my home infrastructure. So I bought a whole bunch of routers, returned some, bricked one, unbricked it, then picked up a Linksys N350, which just about runs the RC releases of dd-wrt (don’t install the 6.2 RC unless you want to spend *hours* fixing it), with a lot of effort. It also has a USB port, and enough RAM and Flash to do some useful stuff, and I found one someone else had returned, so I got it slightly cheaper than the silly price. My iPhone now connects to my home VPN, on occasion anyway. When I get some time, I’ll rebuild openwrt, or something not quite as annoying as dd-wrt, but for now, I have sufficient infrastructure to workaround Apple’s software.

*). The mail client. Broken. Just like the OSX one, doesn’t allow configuration of simple different ports, doesn’t do most of the things you would want. Does read email fairly well, when configured using absolute default configuration(s).

*). The Calendar. Broken. Doesn’t do half of the things you would want, not very full featured. It’s annoyed me several times already.

*). Web Apps. These “the web is the future” fanboys have got to *wake up* (see my comment below about AT&T’s network outages) and smell the copious quantity of coffee in Northern California. The future will be the web when we have constantly on subspace communication, and can do all of the things that native apps can do. Until then, saying we should use “web apps” is a silly way to avoid providing decent third party developer support. At least that’s getting fixed. Well, maybe, but I expect Apple to cripple that with some kind of broken DRM-will-save-you-all digital signing silliness.

*). The camera. Obviously can’t keep up with reading frames from the hardware (visually quite obvious), doesn’t do video, files aren’t written to the filesystem in a fashion that’s trivial to pull from elsewhere, need to “sync” in order to get at them.

*). I have a whole host of other annoyances with the software, and the UI.

And on a tangent, AT&T’s EDGE network is dying under the load. It’s failed completely several times this week (as in, no access to anyone coast-to-coast, not just iPhone users), they don’t publish this status online, and only admit to it after you discover others with the issue, call up, wait on hold, get transfered to technical support, /and/ ask them to stop BSing and tell you the truth. So all those annoying “Cannot’ activate EDGE”, and similar messages, are just the network. It’d be nice if iPhone also had a “conventional” modem exposed to software, but I understand why it did not. When it works, AT&T do a reasonable job. I just wish they wouldn’t also trash your active diverts every time you even think of touching the silly visual voicemail crap. My voicemail lives on my private voicemail server, where it will be staying, well away from any reliance upon the phone carrier (btw, they note discretely in the setup that migrating to “visual voicemail” will trash your existing voicemails, so this is obviously living on some entirely separate system within AT&T). Let’s see if active diverts stick this time.

The good news is that there’s a higher chance now that Apple will force me to buy another iPhone soon. Someone has simply got to fix their little wagon by porting Linux, or something sane, to this wonderful hardware. Those “designed in California” folks really know what they’re doing. It’s just a pity they crippled it beyond anything remotely sane. As usual, Apple doesn’t trust the consumer, but this happy little consumer isn’t actually going to accept their story this time. I can’t express how happy I am with Apple’s hardware engineering, and how unhappy I am with the iPhone firmware.

The bottom line: a shiny Apple product. I recommend not buying one unless you plan on breaking it, are an Apple fanboy, both of the former situations, or just want to waste some money feeding the gadget monster. Wait until Apple figure out people aren’t happy with their silliness and release less broken software.


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