March 29th, 2009 by Mike Fulton
Posted in Apple, iPhone, Tech

I’ve had my new iPhone for a bit over 5 days now.  Combined with my earlier iPod Touch experience, that’s long enough to start forming some thoughts about what I like and what I don’t like.

Battery Life

Youza!  If you use the data connection a fair amount, you certainly do have to keep a charger nearby.  I set up the phone with the login info for my email and set it to check for new mail every 15 minutes.  I’m not really that impatient about getting my email when I’m away from my desktop, but I knew from past experience with the AT&T Tilt that accessing email that often would give the battery a good workout, and I wanted to see how the iPhone did.  I had plans to attend the Game Developer’s Conference show on Thursday and Friday, so it was a good opportunity to test out the phone in the field.

My previous phone was the AT&T Tilt, a 3G-based Windows-Mobile also known as the HTC 8925.  In fact, last year’s GDC show happened shortly after I had started using the data plan for that phone.   I didn’t really think about it until after the fact, but for all intents and purposes I gave the Tilt very much the same test drive last year as I did with the iPhone this week. 

At the show, I was checking my email every so often and occasionally looking up something on the web.  I tweeted a few times as well, which I didn’t do last year with the Tilt.  (I dunno if Twitter was around yet back then, but I didn’t know about it if so.)  I made a few calls, but mostly I used the phone as a web & email device. 

At the end of the evening, I was down to perhaps 30% battery remaining.  That’s really not terrible, but I now see why there’s a booming market for add-on batteries for this thing.  Someone who used the phone more could easily have run out of juice.  

If I remember correctly, I also used up roughly the same amount of battery life on the Tilt last year.  However, the iPhone is significantly thinner and lighter, and has a much smaller battery. And I could probably have saved some battery life by changing my email check to every 30 or even every 60 minutes, or by just doing it manually when I was actually looking at the phone.

Ultimately, I don’t think the battery life will be a problem any time for me soon… I am usually close enough to my car or home, or somewhere else I can plug-in to charge.  But it is something I’ll need to pay more attention to.

MMS

Multimedia Messaging Service.  Basically it’s an instant message with embedded video or an embedded still image.  It’s been around for years and years… quite literally since the 20th century.  It’s been around almost as long as Short Messaging Service (SMS), otherwise known as the basic text message.  There’s nothing particularily special about the format.  A device that’s otherwise capable of handling video and still images should have no problems with the requirements of MMS.   And yet… the iPhone doesn’t support it.

It’s supposed to be included in v3.0 of the iPhone software, coming this summer.  But that is then, and this is now.  I’ve searched the web for any sort of explanation from Apple about why MMS support wasn’t included in earlier versions of the iPhone’s software, but haven’t found anything but end-user speculation.  Frankly, I suspect Steve Jobs must have been frightened by a rogue MMS message as a young child, and it scared him for life. 

I was on my 3rd or 4th call with the new phone when I realized I wanted to take a picture of something and send it to the person I was talking to. I really hadn’t thought too much about the iPhone’s lack of MMS support before that.  On the last few phones I’ve used, it wasn’t terribly easy to step from the “Phone” screen to the “camera” screen to take a picture, so I didn’t really do MMS much.  But it was so easy to get to the iPhone’s camera while in the middle of a call, that I didn’t even think twice about it.  It wasn’t until after taking the picture that I got somewhat annoyed when I remembered I couldn’t just send it to my friend’s phone.

It’s true that a lot of modern phones support EMAIL, and you can do pretty much the same thing with an EMAIL message that you might do with an MMS message.  However, email support isn’t quite universal. In particular, my friend’s phone doesn’t support EMAIL, so when I ended up emailing the picture instead, it meant he had to wait until he got home to see the picture, instead of just getting it on his phone while we were talking.

There are a couple of apps out there that do what amounts to a workaround for MMS.  Generally, to send a message, the information is uploaded to an intermediary web server, which then formats and sends a REAL MMS message.  From the iPhone user’s viewpoint, it’s fairly seamless.  The downside is that you’re at the mercy of the intermediary website, which may not be operational 24/7.

Receiving messages is a bit more problematic…  because the iPhone can’t directly receive MMS messages, when one comes your way, AT&T sends you a regular SMS text message that has a link to a web page where the original MMS message can be viewed.  The better MMS receiver apps seem to work by grabbing the link from the SMS message and downloading the information  from the AT&T website.  I’m not sure how much easier this is than just viewing the message in Safari, but I haven’t tried it yet.

This is something I need to play around with a little bit… as an iPhone developer, I could simply install the beta 3.0 software now, but I’m not sure if that’s what I want to do just yet.

Video

I can say with some confidence that I didn’t record video on my Tilt more than a handful of times.  There were many reasons for that, like the camera’s poor performance in low-light situations (i.e. anything but broad daylight).  The unwieldy controls were another factor.  However, it always seemed to be a feature that I sort of wished I could use more often. 

I knew the iPhone didn’t “officially” support video recording when I bought it, but I also knew that if one was willing, you could “jailbreak” the device in order to install unsanctioned applications such as video recording.

Apple recently made some statement that one of the reasons video recording wasn’t supported was that the iPhone’s internal flash memory was subject to increased error rates when you do video.  On the surface, that sounds reasonable, but interestingly, when I search online for reports of problems from people who have been “unofficially” using their phone to record video, I don’t find any mention at all of any problems caused by failures with the flash memory. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough, but if it was really that big a problem it wouldn’t be that hard to find news about it.

Rumors about the next version of the iPhone hardware have included whispers about video recording capability.  I honestly can’t imagine that the current hardware uses some sort of flash memory that’s different from what everybody else uses, so if there’s really anything to Apple’s claims, the only way around it that I can see would be for Apple to include some sort of slot for removable memory.  I’d welcome the addition of a Micro SD slot to the phone, especially if it meant extra storage for video and music playback as well as video recording.  I really don’t want to have to buy a new phone just to get video recording, since it will be another two years before I’m again eligible for an equipment discount, but if the new phone included a memory card slot it’d be worth considering.

Coming In Part 2

In  part 2, I’ll talk about about some of the apps that I’ve tried so far.  Also, a word or three about iPhone accessories.

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