“It Just Works”

This is going to be the last I’ll talk about the iPhone on here, at least until the next major software upgrade. Frankly, at this point, talking about it anymore would be just like, well, cuddling.

My buying advice, for what it’s worth: if you don’t already have one, don’t buy one. You’ve already survived the opening weekend hysteria, so you’ve got the willpower to wait until all the kinks are worked out. There will be a slew of point releases, followed by hardware releases, and version 2.0 will undoubtedly be better.

I still think the thing is plenty cool, and I don’t regret getting it at all. But I had the perfect storm of buyer incentive going on: the Apple monkey on my back, it came out a couple days after my birthday, the price worked out to be 7 shares of Apple stock, my contract on my old phone just ran out a couple of months ago, the battery had already run out, etc. If none of those apply for you, I suggest you wait.

This is definitely a version 1.0 device. “It just works” doesn’t ring true like it does with Macs; there’ve been plenty of occasions when it just doesn’t. The iPod and web browser and mail app crash pretty frequently — it doesn’t harm anything, it just stops playing music, or takes you back to the home screen. When you sync up again, iTunes presents your crash logs and the now-standard “would you like to send valuable feedback to Apple?” dialog box.

You can’t use it for more than a couple of hours without coming up with a list of improvements. It’s neat, but it would be even better if….

And have I mentioned that Apple doesn’t support third-party development for it? Because they don’t. One trivial app that is far from necessary but would be really convenient to have: an equivalent of Vince Lee’s LunchMaster, that could bring up a list of restaurants in a neighborhood, filter them by price and food type, and even choose a random one for you if you wanted. With the iPhone, it could even jump to the corresponding yelp.com entry if you wanted more info, let you call the restaurant, and get a map. But to do any of that, you’d have to have an internet connection, and it’s just not worth it.

On every single one of the ten billion blog posts, message board discussions, and articles written about the iPhone, there’s always, always has one of these comments:

My [existing cellphone type] didn’t cost that much, and it does everything the iPhone does! It’s not as pretty, but it’s functionally the same. There’s nothing revolutionary about this!

Which is completely missing the point. My RAZR phone had a web browser, camera, and media library. I never used them, because they were such a pain in the ass to deal with. A feature that never gets used is not a feature.

That’s why Apple keeps winning and gets away with charging so much for their stuff: because they’re one of the few companies that understands that. It’s not just translucent window borders, and it’s not a GNOME or KDE front-end on the UNIX filesystem, and it’s not Windows Mobile or, God forbid, the Motorola cell phone interface. It’s knowing how people use a device and then making that easier.

When you go to the settings menu on the iPhone, there’s a button that says “Phone.” Press it, and there’s a screen that says “AT&T Services”. And then there’s a screen that shows you all the different kinds of billing and usage information, as well as the corresponding dial code. Apparently I could find my used minutes at any point, even back when I had a RAZR, by dialing *646#. I never knew I could do this, so I never did it. That’s exactly where Apple wins.