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5/29/2008
12:01 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Will Apple's 3G iPhone Still Fall Short?

In April, shortly after I bought my very own iPhone, I blogged about the device's design flaws, pointing out the 5 Areas Where Apple's iPhone Falls Short. With the new 3G iPhone on the way, the question to ask now is whether all the lingering annoyances are being fixed. Here's my blow-by-blow assessment.

In April, shortly after I bought my very own iPhone, I blogged about the device's design flaws, pointing out the 5 Areas Where Apple's iPhone Falls Short. With the new 3G iPhone on the way, the question to ask now is whether all the lingering annoyances are being fixed. Here's my blow-by-blow assessment.The answer would seem to be mostly "yes." My two biggest complaints about the current, EDGE-based iPhone, are the slowness of its over-the-air Web surfing, and the lack of corporate "push" e-mail. The latter problem involves software, not hardware, and anyway Apple plans to upgrade all iPhone users to its 2.0 software, complete with enterprise e-mail support, in June. This means that existing (aka "old") iPhone users like me will be able to access their work e-mails, without forwarding tricks which leave you exposed when you reply. Of course, that's assuming one's company supports the feature, which could take some time.

The more vexing iPhone complaint is the slow over-the-air surfing. In point of fact, the iPhone's Safari browser does a much better (faster) job of loading than does the browser on my beloved BlackBerry. So the difficulty isn't one of reality, but of perception, because Steve Jobs and the early iPhone ads made it appear as if the iPhone could surf at desktop-like speeds. Not true.

What is true is that the 3G iPhone will by definition be getting a speed surge, since 3G mobile networks support faster data speeds than EDGE. How much faster is what we need to parse. This depends, both because the 3G spec defines a variety of data speeds, and because implementations vary by service provider. For real-world purposes, the spec is meaningless; what's relevant in our case is what AT&T Wireless is doing.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find hard data about the speed of AT&T's 3G network, which uses HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access). AT&T has publicly stated that HSDPA will deliver 7-Mbps to 10-Mbps data speeds within two years. I'm guessing that it's safe to say that, today, the expectation that you'll get anywhere near this is patently ludicrous. We're probably talking more in the low single-digit Mbps range. (For comparison purposes, that 3G spec I told you to ignore says that 3G supports a minimum 2-Mbps for "stationary" -- not in a fast-moving car -- users.)

Probably the most interesting collateral data comes from a recent comparison, on Pocketables.com, which pitted a couple of 3G AT&T phones against the EDGE-based iPhone. The test found that browsing loading under 3G was from two to four times faster than on the EDGE network. The test used Opera Mobile and Internet Explorer Mobile; the former delivered the best performance. Since Apple's mobile Safari browser is in the Opera class, speed-wise, this bodes well for Web surfing on the 3G iPhone. Verdict: Problem solved.

Of course, that's neglecting the question of just how widely built-out AT&T Wireless's 3G network currently is. AT&T says it has deployed 3G throughout the country, but questions linger as to whether dwellers of major metropolitan areas will have better access to 3G than will their country cousins.

Back to my old iPhone list of complaints. No. 3 was "long battery life." This one is still valid, and it still stinks that Apple locks users into a device which has to be physically mailed Westward (or taken to a retail store) within two years of purchase, after the battery craps out.

No. 4 was "a better soft keyboard." Here we're pretty much stuck. Anyway who claims they can type on the iPhone's slippery virtual glass keypad at anything approaching the speeds routinely achievable on a BlackBerry is deluding him/herself. Yet bolting big ugly keys onto the iPhone would sully its Apple-like beauty. What to do? I know, I'll carry both an iPhone and a BlackBerry!

No. 5, where I complained about the scratch resistance, or lack thereof, of the iPhone's screen, was stupidly titled. Now that I've owned an iPhone for two months, I see that the screen is not the issue; it's perfectly fine. The recessed headphone connector is the problem. It won't accept non-Apple earbuds, unless you buy a $10 extender which has the added bother of adding a couple of inches of none-too-pliable rubber sticking out of the phone. I really hope Apple fixes this on the 3G iPhone, but somehow I doubt that it will.

So what's your take on the iPhone's lingering problems -- bad keyboard or no bad keyboard? Leave a comment below, or if the comments system is down, shoot me an e-mail directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

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