June 17th, 2009 by Mike Fulton
Posted in Apple, iPhone

The much-anticipated version 3.0 of the iPhone software was finally released this morning.  I was up early and online so I started checking at about 6am (PST) but nothing was available yet.  At about 7pm it occurred to me to check the Twittersphere for information and so I loaded up TweetDeck and did a quick search for “#iphone 3.0 update“.

The people tweeting about the update mostly fell into the category of “It’s the 17th so where is it?”  However, then I saw a tweet that showed a link to a page on Apple’s website where it apparently said that the update had been moved to the 18th.  When I checked out the page, it did indeed say the update would be coming out on the 18th, but it didn’t say anything about this being a change from the previous announcement.  Navigating the site from the front page soon revealed that there was another very similar page that indicated the 17 th. I couldn’t find any links to the page that said the 18th, so I’m thinking someone discovered an outdated page and posted direct links to it.

Awhile later, a few people posted links to a couple of news websites which had stories indicating that the update would be released at 10am PST.  So I went back to what I was doing.

Doing The Deed

 At a few minutes after 10am, I launched iTunes and got a message that there was a new version of the iPhone software available, and did I want to download it?  I thought about that for a couple of picoseconds and then hit the button for Download and Install.

I was expecting the update to take forever to download, since everybody and his brother would be trying to update at once, but to my surprise the 200mb+ download took just a few minutes.  Either Apple must have a bunch of servers hosting the update, or I just got lucky.  When I checked the system again a few minutes after starting the process, I was surprised to discover it was actually just about done.  I sat and watched the progress bar for the last few minutes, and when the phone finally came back up and running, I’d say the total elapsed time was probably not more than 10 minutes or so.  Maybe 12 minutes tops.  It happened so quick I wished I’d actually timed it so I could see how quick it really was.

First Look

The first thing I noticed was that a new icon for Voice Memos had been added to the 1st page.  The new voice memo feature wasn’t really something that was at the top of my list of things I wanted, mainly because a few months ago I’d gotten tired of waiting for something like this and had bought QuickVoice from the App Store.  However, I was never completely happy with QuickVoice, and after trying out the new Voice Memos applet, I really like it and I think I’m going to switch.  I especially like that it creates more or less standard MPEG-4 audio files, and also that it sends files via EMAIL wherever you want.  QuickVoice had some wacky feature for emailing voice memos, but it required sending stuff through their own server and frankly it just didn’t work in my experience.

The next thing I noticed was that the SMS Messages applet had been renamed to just “Messages“, no doubt to accommodate the idea that MMS messages are now supported as well.  However, upon opening the new version of the applet, I couldn’t immediately see any difference.  And the reason for that turns out to be that the MMS feature is not enabled quite yet.  Apparently we’re waiting for AT&T to flip the switch.

Seriously?  WTF?  Every other damn phone that AT&T sells supports MMS, so what is the freakin’ deal with enabling it on the frakkin’ iPhone?  Why is it that every time we turn around, there’s some goofy limitation on this device that ultimately tracks back to AT&T?

Search

Another thing I noticed was the addition of a teeny tiny little magnifying glass icon at the left end of the row of dots that indicates what page of icons you’re currently viewing.  Click that and the new Spotlight Search function appears on screen.  From there, as you type in a search phrase, it will show you everything on the phone that matches.  Video files, song files, applets… I mean everything.  If you’re familiar with the Spotlight function on the Mac, you’ll find that the new iPhone version of this feature works in much the same way.

At first, I thought that the little magnifying glass icon was going to be really hard to click, but in operation it turns out to work reasonably well.  There’s enough room between the row of icons above and the row below that even users with fairly big fingers should have no problem.

Cut, Copy, & Paste

I said it before and I’ll say it again… big frakkin’ deal.  I’m glad they finally got this basic feature into the dang phone.

*MY* YouTube

One feature I was definitely  looking forward to seeing was the new version of the YouTube applet, with the ability to actually sign in to my account and view my favorites and subscriptions.  Frankly, I hadn’t used the old version of the applet all that much simply because I found it to be too much of a pain in the ass to have to type in searches to find everything.

One wacky thing I noticed that videos in my subscriptions did not appear to be sorted in any particular fashion I could figure out.  I would have expected the newest ones at the top, oldest at the bottom, but that did not appear to be the case.  It wasn’t alphabetical, or sorted by the number of views.  Finally I figured out that the list was sorted by rating.  An interesting choice, and not one I find especially useful.  I looked around the applet, and even checked the system’s Settings applet, to see if there was any way to change this, but didn’t find anything. 

Apple, this is a seriously goofy choice.  First of all, there should be a choice of sorting options.  But if you’re not going to provide such a choice, I’d much rather see the list sorted by date with the newest videos at the top.

The Rest Of It

There’s a whole bunch of other new stuff in the 3.0 software, but most of it is not invidually a big topic.  You can now buy movies, tv shows, and audio books in iTunes.  I didn’t realize you couldn’t already do that until they announced it as a new feature.

The calendar has been improved, including the ability to sync up with Exchange and other applications supporting the CalDEV protocol.

The new software also supports tethering via USB or Bluetooth.  That’s when you use your phone as a cellular modem to provide an Internet connection to another device such as a laptop.  However, apparently this whole thing caught AT&T by surprise because the feature won’t become active until later in the year when they finally get their act together.  They already offer tethering for other phones, and really it’s nothing more than charging a few bucks more for higher volumes of data transfer.  So what’s the big techno-mystery here, AT&T?  Get it together!

The iPhone 3G S

There’s a number of things in the 3.0 software that you won’t see unless you’re using the new iPhone 3G S, which hits stores this coming Friday.

You won’t get video.  I dunno why that is, since video recording applications have already been demonstrated on the older hardware.  Apple once made some noise about the reason being that video recording would put an extreme strain on the phone’s flash memory but the problem with that idea is that there really isn’t any difference between what the new phone uses and what the old phone has, other than capacity.  Plus, virtually every company that makes video cameras has been shifting from using tape to using, you guessed it, flash memory!

Chalk it up to Apple just being goofy until you hear a good reason otherwise.

You won’t get the new Compass applet.  I don’t know why that is, but I suppose there could be a hardware difference with the new phone’s GPS setup that makes the Compass possible.

You won’t get the Voice Control feature.  At first glance, one has to wonder why not, since there are a number of applets for the old hardware that do voice recognition.  But actually, you’ll find that those applets don’t actually do the voice processing on the iPhone itself.  They pretty much all upload the recorded sound to a server, which does the voice recognition and then sends back the result.  The new hardware has a faster processor, and I’m guessing that’s what makes the difference here.  Although, I honestly have to wonder, even if it took twice as long to do the processing on the old phone, wouldn’t that still ultimately be faster than uploading an audio file?  Even if it’s not faster, frankly I’d rather have slower native voice recognition than none at all.  Apple needs to rethink this.

The new phone also has an Accessibility applet that allows you to set things like a screen reader and zoom feature for those people who are visually impared.  This doesn’t seem to be hardware-specific, but it’s not available on the older hardware.

Upgrade Path?

As recently as last week’s big Apple WWDC developer conference, there had been no news about any sort of an upgrade path for current users.  Traditionally, the discounted prices for the iPhone have only applied to either new customers or customers eligible for an equipment upgrade discount. (i.e. people who haven’t gotten a discount in the last two years)  However, as of this morning, the Apple website indicates that there is an intermediate-level discount available for eligible users, with prices of $299, $399, and $499 for 8gb, 16gb, and 32gb models.  That’s not quite as cheap as what new customers get, but it’s $200 less than the regular price.

And apparently, even users who got their iPhone in the last few months are eligible.  I got mine in late March, but according to the Apple website I’m eligible for the medium-level upgrade.  I don’t think I’m going to jump right on that any time soon, but it’s nice to know the option is there.

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