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Things I didn't know I'd love about the iPhone

I'm that guy. The guy you saw and laughed at in the line growing outside the Apple or AT&T stores last Friday. I blew off work and wasted hours sitting on the sidewalk with other fans waiting for the next shiny thing to drop like an Apple from the Gadget Tree. But it was worth it and now I'm a proud new iPhone owner.

While I was waiting, I did see that quite a few stories had popped up here and there around the Internet about the iPhone - just a few. And I don't intend to add to the noise by rehashing praise for the same mainstream features that made this device an icon even before it hit the shelves. Instead, I wanted to talk about the features that I found that really make this an even more compelling gadget for me, features that might be passed over in the typical iPhone review.

These are listed in no particular order.

1. Most iPod accessories still work with iPhone

This first discovery was what started me thinking that an article like this would be useful to those of you on the fence. I have accumulated more than 8 iPods over the years and have invested in quite a few accessories along the way. I hadn't really thought about trying the iPhone with these until I swapped it in for a old iPod Mini I had hooked up to a pair of standalone speakers. At first, the I got a message on the screen complaining that the device was "not made to work with the iPhone" and that it suggested turning off the phone while it was docked to reduce interference (i.e. its cell radio interfering with device's own electronics including speakers, FM transmitters, etc.).

Using the convenient button provided, I turned off the cellphone feature and the iPhone became a bonafide, dockable iPod. What's more, instead of the tiny black and white display I had grown accustomed to with the Mini, I now had the relatively large album cover artwork showing on the screen that I could see clearly from across the room. So without any additional investment, this iPhone made that old pair of speakers even more enjoyable. Given that I would certainly be syncing the iPhone more frequently, there was even a better chance that I would use these speakers to listen to a more current songlist.

After that positive experience, I immediately went to all the other accessories including the Apple Universal iPod dock, two FM transmiters for my car, an iLuv iPod video display, and more. I wish i could say that it worked seamlessly with all of them, but it doesn't. There is no complete backward compatability of course but for some, like the speakers, it is more than passable and many of the others will certainly function as spare iPhone chargers, which is nice.

2. External speaker lets you share content with other people

I had recently purchased a Sansa Connect (which I love) and was really jazzed about its external speaker, not because the sound was particularly impressive but because I didn't always have to wear headphones to enjoy my music. Well, the iPhone has support for a true speakerphone so of course you can "blast" your tunes in the same way. This is actually less useful for enjoying music but is incredibly handy for sharing videos with your friends, whether through the iPod interface or directly from YouTube. It may not sound like much, but this is the first iPod to have a speaker at all and it seems so obvious now that I've used it.

3. Great built-in ringtones

I am not a ringtone guy but was pretty bored with what was offered out of the box on my other phones. Kudos to Apple for delivering some great options here. I know they are getting flack for not letting you dip into your iTunes library but I'm not crazy about having people broadcasting their favorite hit song everytime they get a call. These will keep me entertained for a good while and I'm confident there is additional support coming for 3rd party ringtones.

4. Seamless WiFi switchover (from EDGE)

I've had mobile phones with WiFi support before but never used that feature for several reasons. First, wifi radios suck battery life if left on (this one may too of course, but I haven't seen any indication or reports yet). Second, it was always too painful to find & connect to wireless networks - and this is where Apple hit a home run. Whenever you are in range of a known or friendly (i.e. open) WiFi signal, the phone can switch over from the slower EDGE cell network so that you can continue your online activities at much more familiar speeds. This works really well in my house and office especially and I already find myself using the Net on my phone more than I thought I would.

5. Magnifying glass for cursor placement

I had seen this feature in the Apple demo videos and was curious how much I would actually use it. It turns out that it comes in quite handy for editing text in almost any scenario. And once you figure out how it works, it almost becomes a natural action, like hitting ALT-Tab or CTRL-C on your PC's keyboard. I know Apple hasn't implemented copy-and-paste yet but I don't think it would be hard to extend the magnifying glass tool to include that additional functionality.

6. Controlling music from headphones

Its cool enough that the supplied headphones provide a way to accept calls while listening to music and to resume after the call ends - but this is a feature that has appeared previously with other phones. I do have to say that using two earbuds for phone calls is actually preferable than a single ear solution, even with the wires. But the killer feature is having the same control on the headphone wire also integrate with the onboard iPod. For example, squeezing the control once pauses or resume the current song and pressing twice will advance to the next song. Very handy. Makes me wonder if I should give it up in favor of a new Bluetooth headset or opt for a better set of iPhone-compatible buds.

Goodbye Geek, Hello Stud

Perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected upside to owning an iPhone, though, is the immediate accumulation of additional cool points (actually included in the box). I have to say that the transformation from loser, line-waiting geek to sweet, phone-blinging stud has never been so quick and so complete. I was able to drop the ever-present bulky belt clip that I wore with my previous two phones for over 4 years and the response has been overwhelming. Just today, for example, I got a free bagel with my lunch and I'm convinced it was the iPhone in my back pocket that was responsible for that score.

Now, when I'm on my Segway, I don't get nearly as many bottles thrown at me and I'm pretty sure all the teenagers are laughing with me as we look down on the squares with their RAZRs and Helios and Sidekicks.

I intentionally steered this discussion away from the obvious flaws and shortcomings but would be happy to engage anyone in the comments below. iPhone fans are always welcome, haters can take their best shot!

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

July 4, 2007 10:38 AM

Update on iPod accessories

I am happy to report that, after a bit more experimentation, I have found that my old ipod-in-the-car solution works perfectly with the iPhone. The DLO TransPod that deftly handled the larger video iPods as well as Minis and Nanos also accommodates the new iPhone. It works as a car charger and as an FM transmitter to push music through the car's radio/speakers.

I don't necessarily recommend FM transmitters as a good audio solution but if you don't have a direct link option to your car's in-dash radio or use the wacky cassette tape adapter, its not a terrible alternative.

So the big story here is that you are likely to be pleasantly surprised to find many of your legacy iPod accessories are compatible with your iPhone - and that is a huge relief if, like me, you were concerned about having to spend even more money to add the iPhone to your already complicated (and expensive) gadget world. 

Early Adopter Extraordinaire!

July 6, 2007 3:38 PM

Fanaticism for the iPrecious

There is one (only one!) downside to being an iSkeptic: I can't report on the iPhone from direct PERSONAL experience.

What I wrote in my blog a week ago is STILL true: "I haven't touched the iPhone yet. I haven't sniffed it, stroked it, slipped it in my pocket, or tried to download anything over its very slow Internet connection. I also haven't tried to thumb-type yet on its slippery little glass face."

Why? Because, unlike all the iPhone faddists, I haven't plunked down hundreds of dollars for an untested unproven iDevice. I'm not drinking spiked Koolaid either.

Luckily for us, all those who bought the iPhone, like my buddy Steve Jones, can now answer our questions.

Here are my Top Ten:

1) What about, uh, just making a simple phone call?

Is it true that the iPhone takes six steps to make a phone call?

How long will that take to get on your nerves? Two days? Three?

Is it true that the required AT&T partnership forces you to use one of the most notoriously bad networks in the country?

Do makeup and fingerprints smear all over the device screen?

2) How about typing in a phone number or a note-to-self?

Typing can be fun, but not without keys

Call me "so last century" – but I save ideas in text form.

Can you type at all on the non-tactile "keys"?

I hear that period and commas require a 2nd screen. Is that one of those deceptive "urban legends"?

And I also hear that you can't copy or paste anything while you type. Tell me it ain't so!

3) Is it true that iPhones can't handle instant messaging?

Not even a little bit?

4) Is it true that non-Apple headphones need a special adapter?

All because Apple deliberately recessed the jack? And what about stereo Bluetooth headsets – is it true they won't work with iPhones?

5) Is it true the iPhone can't be used as a modem for your laptop?

How many of us have been using our internet capable phones (and the expensive internet access we pay for) as a modem for laptop surfing – in airports, or cars or wherever we like? Is it true that this basic ability was left off the iPhone?

6) Is it true that iPhone can't handle Flash?

How can it be state-of-the-art web-browsing without flash web annimation? Has anyone made a list of how many valuable sites instantly became unavailable? I just wrote a revew of the Transformer movie on another blog -- but often you can't even see high graphic sites like the official movie page without flash!

7) Games... there just aren't any, right?

Doesn't Apple claim they are all about "fun"? Is there a date when games might appear for the iPhone?

How come current iTunes games aren't usable on iPhones? Why are users stuck with only web-based entertainment (using the battery eating web connection)?

8) Is it true that you can't download songs directly from iTunes to your iPhone

Why can't you hear and buy new music directly -- the way I can download from Yahoo Music Unlimited onto my Sansa Connect?

Isn't syncing music completely out-dated?

And what about the iPhone not having a removable storage card – isn't that standard on every device you already have?

9) Can you share with me the implications of not having a removable battery?

Dunce cap for wrong choicesWhat happens on a trip, or when you are in a hurry, or when you have a long day with lots of calling? Does it mean that your charger now comes standard, inside your briefcase? At least until you have charged the iPhone 300 or 400 times and that battery dies. What are you planning to do then – live without the phone while it makes a trip to the factory, or do what Apple expects…. Buy their next magic device?

And now for our final question:

10) First look at this equation: $500 or $600 + ($60/month) x 24 months + taxes = $2200.

Then tell me this: Is the iPhone really worth two grand for two years?!

On the basics of phoning and simple usefulness, is it even AS GOOD as what you are already using?

You think I'm techno-obsessed? You haven't seen my Daddy!

Discussion:    Add a Comment | Comments 1-2 of 2 | Latest Comment

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