It's been impossible to avoid the iPhone media barrage in the wake of Apple's announcement at Macworld earlier this year. So does the iPhone live up to all the hype? Well, almost.
The iPhone comes in 4GB and 8GB varieties at $499 and $599, respectively, and its real estate is dominated by a 3.5-inch display. The device itself looks beautiful, and with a resolution of 320 x 480 x 160 pixels per inch, the videos and photos look great. It has a “smart” screen that shifts automatically to a landscape orientation when you start to play a video or view a wide Web page; or turn it on its side to read e-mail, look at photos, or browse the Web.
The iPhone is easy to use (it does away with the stylus and most buttons) and is an ergonomic delight to hold. Whereas other phones in this category are intended to be used mainly for business (eg, BlackBerry, Treo, and Windows Mobile devices), the iPhone is also built for fun and is therefore more entertaining than its predecessors. So what’s wrong? A lot or very little, depending on how you use your “smartphone.”
Let the Games Begin
To start, you must register using iTunes to sign up for a two-year wireless plan from AT&T, the exclusive carrier in the United States. If you are already an AT&T customer, you merely add the $20 iTunes plan, which provides you with unlimited data, but you cannot access the iTunes store from the phone. The phone interface is clean and simple, but takes more taps to reach than on many other smartphones, because there are no dedicated hardware phone buttons. You also cannot just start typing a name or number, but must scroll through a list of favorites, through your recent call list, or your entire contact list. However, the “visual voicemail” feature shows the names or at least the phone numbers of people who have left you voicemail, so you can quickly listen to those you want. Yet, the phone’s SIM card is non-removable.
Perhaps the most controversial of its features is the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual, on-screen one. It does take some getting used to, but the smart software corrects typing errors on the fly. One downside is that the keyboard only works in vertical mode and does not rotate when the device is horizontal. Instead of poking at icons with a plastic stylus, you use fingertips and intuitive gestures. For example, a flick of a finger sends you scrolling through your contacts list or your music library.
You can zoom in on a photo or Web page by spreading two fingers apart (a “reverse pinch,” as Apple has tagged this move), then zoom out by pinching them together. Its SafariTM browser first displays the entire page in miniature format (though without Flash graphics), and you can enlarge and pan as needed. When not using Wi-Fi, you’re stuck with AT&T's wireless Edge Network, which is just too slow to enjoy the lovely Safari interface.
What’s Up, Doc?
For doctors who own software from Unbound Medicine, Apple has customized its software for the iPhone interface to take full advantage of the built-in Web browser. No download is necessary, and if you already subscribe to Unbound, the website will automatically determine what device you are using. The iPhone can connect with most popular consumer e-mail services, including Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, and others. (I have also been told that BlackBerry e-mail services can’t be used on an iPhone, but Yahoo Mail supplies free BlackBerry-style “push” e-mail to iPhone users.)
The built-in iPod handles music and video perfectly, and has all the features of a regular iPod, but now, fi nger taps and flicking move you through your collection. There’s also a version of the “cover flow” interface, which allows you to select music by flipping through album covers and tapping on the song you want. There are widgets, or small programs, for accessing weather forecasts, stock prices, and Google Maps, which includes route directions, but no real-time navigation. Another widget allows you to stream videos from YouTube, and yet another serves as a notepad.
However, you cannot install programs unless they can be accessed through the browser. For example, you can use Unbound Medicine’s Web references, but you cannot download a text to your iPhone and carry it with you. You cannot download a text from SkyScape, and there are no built-in games.
It’s a Draw
For the gadget-loving physician who wants a whole new experience in a phone, the iPhone is a pleasure to use, shortcomings and all.