TechSectors: Mobile/Wireless: iPhone 3G, the First 30 Days

MDNG Hospital MedicineSeptember 2008
Volume 2
Issue 2

Last year, I promised myself not to accept waiting in line for the iPhone "classic" and was fortunate enough to sneak into an Apple store late one night to purchase one without any hassles.

I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t like waiting in line. I can also admit that I love my gadgets and am quite addicted to having the coolest tech around (or at least the coolest in the office). These fundamental principles of my persona certainly came into confl ict last month when the iPhone 3G was released.

Last year, I promised myself not to accept waiting in line for the iPhone “classic” and was fortunate enough to sneak into an Apple store late one night to purchase one without any hassles. This year, I was not so lucky, and found myself in a half-day quest for the best and brightest, an adventure I had to repeat two weeks later when my wife decided she wanted the 3G also. However, now that it’s been out for awhile, you should be able to walk into an Apple or AT&T store and pick up this wünder-phone without issue. In fact, blogs are reporting that Best Buy will soon be carrying the gadget, and if you want to play it safe, several websites, including Apple’s, provide info on product availability.

Now that you are aware of my tale of woe and glory, let me tell you about some of my experiences. As I mentioned, I did jump on the iPhone bandwagon last year, but soon after, I jumped off because of some of the limitations of the device as an eff ective business-oriented smartphone, including proper e-mail support. The iPhone 3G has brought me back, but to be honest, I still use a BlackBerry (blasphemy!).

Outward appearances

The first thing you’ll probably notice about the iPhone 3G is that the back casing is now plastic (either black or white) instead of aluminum. I’ve read this was done to reduce interference for the onboard radio. From what I’ve seen, it just increases fi ngerprints and smudges on the case. However, if you use some sort of housing for your iPhone, this is a non-issue.

The iPhone 3G basically has the same footprint as the iPhone classic, though it now has a curved backside to fit better in the hand. This slight alteration also makes using the iPhone 3G with some older docks and cases diffi cult or impossible. One change that has been welcomed by all is that the headphone jack is now fl ush with the casing. This means that any headset (with or without a microphone) with a standard mini-RCA plug will feel right a home.

Aside from these changes, the exterior of the iPhone 3G is no diff erent; it still has a crisp 3.5-in multi-touch display, volume button on the left side, and power button on top.

It’s what’s inside that counts

The iPhone 3G sports two signifi cant hardware changes over the classic, the fi rst of which is a 3G chipset; hence it’s name. This chipset represents the “3rd generation” of cellular radio technology and enables data transfer speeds much higher than those of the classic model, which are quite noticeable during day-to-day use (think seconds vs. minutes). The second new piece of hardware is a GPS (global positioning system) radio that has added new functionality to the Maps application and other iPhone software (more about that shortly). Wi-fi is still a built-in feature of the iPhone 3G that enables Internet surfi ng and downloading at even greater speeds than “3G” when linked to a wireless network.

The battery for the iPhone 3G is still integrated and drains noticeably quicker than what I’ve experienced with the classic model. This is due in part to the 3G radio, and also due to the fact I have a hard time putting the darn thing down, as using it has become so much more addictive and enjoyable.

Better living through software

Aside from improved data speeds in the iPhone 3G, the big news for this handset is found within the latest operating system (OS), 2.0 (which is now version 2.02). This version of the OS allows third-party applications to be loaded.

The ability to legitimately run additional applications on the iPhone platform is what hooked me and keeps me tied to this device. A variety of software, including references, tools, newsfeeds, and of course games, are now available for purchase through iTunes (and subsequent syncing) or over the air, directly from the device. Many of these software packages are free, and most cost less than $10. Such diversity has opened up opportunities to more fully demonstrate the amazing hardware capabilities of the iPhone 3G, including the improved data speeds, GPS, and motion-sensors.

The e-mail system now includes support for Microsoft Exchange and for Apple’s MobileMe service (as they say, “Exchange for the rest of us”). For mobile professionals, support for Exchange has been sorely needed; and for the rest of us, there are still some bugs for Apple to work out with MobileMe, so your mileage may vary there; however, a free trial is available.

Implications for the healthcare professional I am a pharmacist by trade, and though much of my work is non-traditional and spent behind a desk, I do also spend some time dispensing prescriptions and counseling patients. In part, that aspect of practice is very rewarding, but it also helps me keep track of new drugs on the market and a general feel for what’s going on in the real world. To that end, there are currently only a few serious applications available for the healthcare professional, as most are geared toward personal health issues. But one application in particular, ePocrates Rx (which is currently free), has been very useful, as it contains a database of prescription drug information, including brand/generic names, dosing, interactions, physical description, and cost.

I’m sure more healthcare-specifi c applications will be made available to take advantage of the iPhone’s strengths in connectivity, data storage, multi-touch interface, and audio/visual playback; but for now, the “App Store” is designed more for the general public. Nonetheless, there are certainly some nuggets and gems available for any mobile professional.

Putting it all together

The iPhone has come a long way in this latest incarnation. Many of the limitations and criticisms from the classic model have been addressed, though there are several issues and bugs that need to be worked out; as with the classic, there have been two software updates in the first month after launch, with more scheduled to come shortly. On the flipside, of any cell phone or smartphone I have owned (which takes more than two hands to count), Apple is supporting their product more intensely than any other manufacturer in this area.

Is the iPhone 3G right for you? Be sure to keep in mind that this smartphone brings together the functionality of many gadgets in one small package. That said, it does some things superbly (the best iPod, ever), but also lacks features that are standard in less sophisticated devices, such as native audio and video recording (iPhone only does snapshots).

The potential for the iPhone 3G (and its heirs) is incredible. As Apple and other third-party developers continue to demonstrate ways that this device can integrate into the lifestyle of a wide variety of consumers, its value will skyrocket. However, competition is fi erce in this arena, and other manufacturers will continue stepping up to the plate.

Costs for the iPhone 3G are an aff ordable $199 for an 8GB model (black only) and $299 for a 16GB model (black and white). In the United States, AT&T is the exclusive service provider; individual voice and data plans start at about $70 per month. Also note that when purchasing an iPhone 3G you must do it in person, and activate (or update) your account at the point of sale. For more information, visit the Apple or AT&T wireless websites.

Dr. Prescott is the founder of

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