by Bryan Glynn
I may be the last person on the planet to ‘discover’ smartphones, but I assure you I had my reasons. Let me start out by telling you up front if you are an experienced smartphone/iPhone user you are surely not going to gleam a shred of helpful information out of this article. HOWEVER if you are like me, keep reading, it might save you some hassle!
What is this all about you ask? Simple. I just spent the better part of a day setting up, configuring, customizing, etc. my new iPhone 4, coming from a non-smartphone. Most of that could have been better spent had certain things been better explained or designed and this is an accounting of my experience with solutions, should anyone else happen upon it.
First a little background on me, lest you think I’m just some idiot rambling about how I couldn’t figure out how to install iTunes (kidding). I was an IT Manager for a decade, quit years ago to follow my dream of being a full time commercial and wedding photographer, owning BGPictures.com and CigarObsession.com. Our household consists of a desktop PC, an uber desktop PC, a PC laptop, a Macbook, a couple iPhones and a smattering of gadgets and gizmos like AppleTV,Wii, etc. I have some very custom goings on such as a home made kaleidescape system utilizing a 4TB Drobo and the AppleTV, my main editing rig with 9TB of mixed RAID storage, all watercooled, etc. I know my way around technology to say the least.
All that being said, the iPhone experience left me with some strange looks, a lot of Google searches and then some expletives directed at Apple. This is going to be in no particular order, just as things come to mind, so my aim is that someone somewhere will save some hassle in going through the same thing!
Battery life. I chose the iPhone over all the other choices based on a select few points that are very important to me, as a business owner. First and foremost battery life. I use the crap out of my phone. Notice I said – PHONE. Yes I realize that the phone is probably the last part of this handheld computer people are concerned with these days but to me, that’s what I need most. The iPhone has excellent battery life and has awesome call quality – not only on my end but on the client end as well. Especially the speakerphone! Using certain features of the phone has taught me what does and does not need to be used in certain situations to preserve that great battery life. I played around with navigation/GPS the first night. After a 1 hour drive, the battery had expired 25%! OK revelation #1 – to use the navigation/GPS for anything more than a spot check – the phone should be plugged in to a car charger.
Network speed. My previous phone had a browser, but alas no keyboard or touchscreen, making surfing a chore to say the least. It was a rarely used feature by me due to utter frustration. Now, obviously, I have at my disposal the entire world on a palm sized platter with my choice of connection options. On wi-fi here at home I get blazingly fast test numbers, instant surfing results, etc. – all the good stuff I’m used to on my normal devices. I thought for sure that wi-fi was the way to go here at home, due to the excellent nature of the connection speed. Also on the first day I played with those connections and quickly realized that having wi-fi on drained my battery at an eye opening rate, almost as much as GPS did! After switching back to 3G, which gives me 3-5 bars in the house nominally, I discovered that while the numbers were not surprisingly lower than wi-fi, the end results were almost indistinguishable. Still great surfing and usage speeds, with none of the battery hit. OK revelation #2 – wi-fi off when not absolutely needed – 3G is great!
Navigation requires money. Something truly lacking is a free in-car turn-by-turn navigation app for the iPhone. Everyone else has it especially Android devices. Google maps and the GPS give you 1/2 of what you need in an annoying and possibly dangerous combo when navigating in-route. Navigon, TomTom or the like is simply required to match the offerings of other companies. Disappointing for sure and surprising giving the maturity of the iOS platform and the device market share.
Apple still doesn’t play well with others. Especially Adobe and Google. How does the old saying go? You don’t know what you had until it’s gone? Alas poor Flash, I knew him, Apple. Yes I knew going in that iOS still doesn’t have Flash support. I didn’t realize just how much of the web still uses it. I made a decision last year to revamp my own sites to remove as much as possible, to make sure everyone with a iPhone/iPad could still view them. Most others can not say the same as I have found out. It will take some time to go through all my favorite sites and figure out which I can relegate to my PCs for viewing. Something I use frequently as a business tool are Google Apps. Some have nifty free apps for download to my iPhone, others require jumping through hoops such as getting Google Calendar working with your iPhone Calendar app. While the solution is not that difficult by any means – figuring out that solution was one of those times I wondered if a decision was made purposefully out of spite. How hard would it have been to have a button in the calendar app/setup/somewhere for major services like Google? After realizing that I wasn’t missing anything I found the instructions I needed on Google here.
Apple hates your ringtones. OK this one made me scratch my head for a good 10 minutes, looking for buttons, features, instructions SOMEWHERE in this dang thing I HAD to be missing. HOW do I make my ringtone one of my songs? Every single other phone I’ve had/used/know about lets you simply pick one of your mp3’s and use it as your ringtone. Simple, easy, cool. iPhone? Nope, sorry,pick one of our lame built in tones and like it. OR search Google again and figure out how to make your own in a stupid multi-step process that WILL confuse plenty of people and piss off the rest like me. In an absolutely ridiculous series of steps you can, through iTunes, copy a shortened clip of one of your mp3s, save it as a new file type, manually rename it to yet another, then add it back in to iTunes and get it to your phone though a sync. Apple, you really suck at some really simple things that make people happy, this is a big one. There aren’t official instructions that I could find for doing this but if you search Google (again) for iPhone mp3 ringtone you will find plenty of up to date instructions detailing the steps.
The Retina display is GORGEOUS. This was the first thing I noticed when I started playing with the phone, and it is still making me smile and drool over photos! Not just the contrast and saturation, but most importantly the PPI of the screen – it’s truly game changing/mind-blowing/other cliche! Especially as a professional photographer, this is a feature that speaks to my heart. When I work on my photos during my editing process, I do so on a very good professional grade monitor with an impressive PPI of about 100, which is great as far as current monitor technology goes for large screens. For those that are asking themselves wtf is PPI – it’s pixels per inch – how dense the display is. The more dense, the more detail you see, to a point. Roughly 300 PPI is the human eye limit for discerning that detail, and the iPhone is OVER that point coming in at 326! That’s more than 3x professional monitors! The main reason photographers like myself LOVE seeing our work in print, is because hard copies are often around 300 DPI (dots per inch, same thing, new term when talking about printing) and for the first time we can actually SEE our work. We can IMAGINE what it really looks like, on our monitor – but we are still missing the big picture until we see it in full detail. Well, needless to say when I started moving some of my photos on to the iPhone it took my breath away, literally. Most of my work I have never seen printed, there is simply too much of it and most has no output purpose except for myself, so I don’t spend the money. Now I really do have a proof book in my hand at ALL times, it’s simply fabulous! One other thing – if there were monitors out there with this screen technology and at large 27+ sizes, they would sell in a HEARTBEAT. A 10k pricepoint would set them on fire flying off the shelf! Some reading this may think I’m kidding but I’m not. Good professional photo gear is far more expensive than that, with current digital backs alone selling for $45k, plus camera, lenses, etc. pushing investments to the 100k+ mark easily. I carry 20k in gear on my shoulder to every wedding alone.
Apple loves messy people. Or at least people that love keeping everything they ever run, open even if you don’t need it any more. I think this mentality started with the Apple OS, and the funky way of ‘closing’ programs. I admit, I still don’t get it whatsoever. Windows has it right, hands down in my book. Close. Minimize. Open. That’s IT. That’s all you need, that’s all there should be. Now, iOS let’s see. I run things. I go back to the home screen. Oh, everything is still running. But wait, not everything is running the same? I don’t get this at ALL. I want an easy way to CLOSE an application from IN the application or at the very least ONE button to do so. I don’t want the convoluted combinations of background tasks in conjunction with push/no-push, standby, full running etc. I still have not found a single definitive explanation for how things run or are supposed to run in the background. I installed and ran a police scanner app to test out. I switch out of it and it’s still running in the background, broadcasting through the speaker. I play a game and switch out, it stops. I still don’t know what happens when I leave Facebook – am I online, offline, away, etc.? I have no idea. All I know is, I want control and I want to have an easy way of exacting it. As it stands it’s a multi step process to get that control and it doesn’t need to be. Android has ‘App Killer’ apps. A single button to close open apps. iPhone? Oh no, sorry – you get to double tap the home button, hold down an app, then manually close each app, then tap the home button two more times to get back to the normal phone screen. Apple needs to better inform you of the app behavior and common/best practice for using/closing apps, it’s simply confusing from a common sense point. Perhaps it’s easy to those that have grown up with the various iOS versions, but from a new comer it makes little sense.
Speed is key. I said I had my reasons for not going to a smartphone in the past and this was my #1. I’m an impatient person. I like to be fast and efficient. Using other phones left me frustrated and dumbfounded why anyone would actually want to use such things. Finding information, doing work, whatever – was excruciatingly slow and cumbersome on past devices compared to a laptop/desktop/etc. This iPhone simply works. Even with the things mentioned above, they are just road bumps to an overall excellent platform and experience. The device is instantly responsive, more so than any Android device, it simply WORKS when needed. Browsing is easy fast and pleasant. Using apps, navigating the phone itself is common sensical, real time and never lets you lose focus of what you are doing, it passes the speed point of becoming an extension of your thoughts rather than making you play the click-wait game. That’s something I require in a device and it delivers, period. Is it the ‘best’? That’s a relative question, only each user can answer that for themselves. It is for me, at this point in time. It has everything I need and most of what I want, bottom line.
So I hope these ramblings can at least help some new user out there, maybe save you a little time and frustration as you transition to the iPhone. I know I’m going to enjoy it for years to come!