My review of the iPhone 3GS

Disclaimer: This post is entirely my personal opinion. I also own an HTC T-Mobile G1, which runs Google’s Android operating system.

I picked up the new iPhone 3G S this Friday and I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts:

The Good:
– The iPhone 3GS is considerably faster than the iPhone 3G. Especially in the browser, you’ll notice pages render faster. JavaScript-heavy pages (such as the mobile web version of Gmail) execute much more smoothly. The iPhone 3GS feels less like an underpowered mobile phone and more like a powerful pocket computer that can keep up with its owner.
– The built-in video camera is very cool. I expect a corresponding spike in home videos. For example, here’s my cat Ozzie playing with a toy:

More seriously, within about five years, for any group of 10 or more people, at least a few will have a video camera built into their phone. That’s a very powerful trend in a lot of ways.
– I tend to agree with Michael Arrington that no one with an iPhone 3GS needs a Flip video camera now. Cisco bought Pure Digital Technologies, the makers of the Flip, for almost $600 million dollars about three months ago. That might prove to be good timing on Pure Digital’s part.
– Lots of small changes in OS 3.0 are quite nice, such as showing outgoing vs. incoming calls in the “Recents” list.

The Bad:
– Apple’s iPhone philosophy has always seemed to me to be about simplicity. The single button forced a constrained elegance on the iPhone’s interface. In providing some newer features, the iPhone 3G S feels less like an iPhone and more like someone shoveled in a lot of features. I didn’t really need copy/paste, and it seems to pop up at random inconvenient times: double-tap a word if you’re not in the browser; in the browser, hold your finger on some text. Except the copy handles don’t seem to show up on the web pages I want, and sometimes unwanted copy handles appear when I’m just scrolling with my finger.
– The iPhone 3GS is not the huge leap that the iPhone or the iPhone->iPhone 3G was. I do think that leaves some opportunities for Android, Palm, and other competitors.
– Battery life has been worse so far for me. I’ve been using the phone more and it’s only been a few days, so I’m not going to jump to conclusions on this yet. Apple also recommends that you let the phone run down completely at least once a month, and I haven’t done that yet. I expect that battery life will be better for most people.
– Not a great name; the “GS” part makes me think of Ghostscript. A few days ago, I would have said that the “iPhone Video” is a much better name, but it’s true that the speed bump is more noticeable than the video. I still think Apple could have come up with a better name than “iPhone 3G S” though. I’m sure someone who knows about Mercedes Benz cars knows the difference between the E class, the SLK class, or the GL 420 CDI, but most normal people don’t know what a bunch of letters and numbers mean.

The Ugly:
– On my previous iPhone (the 3G), the metal band around the front matched smoothly with the black plastic back. On the new iPhone 3GS, I can feel the seam where the band meets the plastic. On the front of the phone, when I flick my finger off the glass, I can feel the seam of the metal band there too.
– In my personal opinion, someone miscalculated in charging iPhone 3G owners $200 extra to upgrade. New iPhone 3G S customers pay $199 (16GB) or $299 (32GB); many early adopters would have to pay $399 (16GB) or $499 (32GB) to upgrade. The CPU speed bump and video abilities aren’t enough to counteract what many early adopters will perceive as a bit of a slap in the face. Last year, the line for the iPhone 3G at Valley Fair stretched outside the building most of the day. When I went to get my iPhone 3G S on the release day at Valley Fair this year, there was no line at all.

And remember that early adopters often give their previous phones to family members. In my case, two other relatives are taking our older iPhone 3G phones and moving from a different carrier to AT&T. By charging early adopters more, AT&T ensures that more people will hang on to their old phones instead giving them to other people, many of whom would then become AT&T/iPhone customers. By limiting the “trickle down” effect as older iPhones go to family members, AT&T is missing a chance to gain more marketshare by acquiring additional new customers.

I’ll be interested to see how Apple and AT&T react. AT&T has already allowed some (but not all) iPhone 3G owners to upgrade without paying an “early adopter penalty.” And Apple can move quickly and decisively when needed–remember the $200 iPhone price drop in 2007 just a short time after the iPhone was released? Of course, it’s possible that penalizing early adopters is all part of some four-dimensional chess game that Apple is playing. If Apple decides to terminate its exclusive U.S. deal with AT&T in a year or so, maybe it didn’t want a bunch of people signing up for two-year contracts this time around? Right now I’m puzzled by what appears to me to be a misstep, but the folks at Apple are smart, so I’d be willing to believe that Apple has good reasons for what they’re doing.

Should you upgrade? That’s something only you can answer. If you still have a non-smartphone or an original iPhone, it’s probably worth it. If you have an iPhone 3G (especially if you’re not eligible for the discounted upgrade yet), you might try OS 3.0 and see if that’s enough. I decided to get the 3G S and I’m glad that I did. I fill all sorts of idle moments with surfing, tweeting, and checking my mail. The iPhone 3G S makes all those activities much faster and more pleasurable. Overall I’m quite happy with my iPhone 3G S.

9 tips for the Google Mobile App for iPhone

Here are some tips to help you get the most out of Google’s new Mobile Application for the iPhone.

  1. To get Google Mobile App on your iPhone, go to the App Store and search for “Google Mobile App,” or click on this link to install from a computer. If you have an older version of Google Mobile App installed, you might want to uninstall the older version before installing the newer version.
  2. Voice recognition is turned off by default for non-U.S. users. To enable voice recognition, click on the “Settings” tab at the bottom of the screen and slide “Voice Search” to ON.
  3. If you hold the iPhone up to your ear and don’t hear the “baBUM” sound to start talking, swing the iPhone down and back up to your ear. Sometimes a little wrist flick helps to tell the iPhone you want to search.
  4. You can search things besides Google’s main web index. Do a regular query such as [daffodil pictures]:

    Daffodil pictures

    then press on the magnifying glass near the top left corner to bring up other options to search. By default you’re searching iPhone and Web, but you can also search Maps, Images, News, Shopping, or Wikipedia:

    Daffodil pictures

    Press an option like Images and the application will immediately redo the query:

    Daffodil pictures
  5. If you want to go straight to the onscreen keyboard, you can tap the “Search” tab at the bottom of the screen twice.
  6. Searching with the keyboard can be very handy. As you type, the application will suggest contacts, websites, previous searches, and related query suggestions:

    Outback Steakhouse

    and do you see those query suggestions in the middle of the screen? You can slide/flick them to get more suggestions:

    Outback Steakhouse
  7. The “Apps” tab at the bottom of the screen is a one-stop shop to get to all your Google services easily, including Google Apps versions of services:

    Apps tab
  8. You can use Google Mobile App with multiple Google Apps accounts. In the Settings tab, click on Domain. Then you can add multiple domains, separated by commas.
  9. Google has posted HTML documentation for Google Mobile App and also provides a Google Mobile Help discussion group.

Bonus tip #1: If the voice recognition is close, you can press on the green query in the search box to see other possible queries. For example, if you said [background gradients in css] and got this search query:

Refining query

Notice that the query was recognized as “gradient” instead of “gradients” with an ‘s’. So I pressed the green query and saw other possible queries:

Refining query

My desired query was the second choice. 🙂

Bonus tip #2: If you want to understand what your cat is trying to say to you, start the voice recognition and just hold it up to their mouth as they meow. Then Google will try to convert the meow into regular English text. Thanks to Sean Harding for this tip.

Idea for an Android/iPhone app: Call Me a Cab

I still like my last start-up idea about converting MP3 music collections to be legal and cleaning up mangled/ugly filenames. As Amazon and others start to sell MP3s, a startup could easily offer some interesting services. For example, I just saw that a new product called TuneUp will clean up your filenames, metadata, and cover art. That’s cool stuff that fixes a real problem a lot of people have.

Ready for another idea? This one is simple. Make an Android or iPhone app for people who need a taxi. Imagine: you’re in another city, and you just learned that from your hotel to dinner is not walkable. You’re standing on a street corner. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO!?

Answer: you fire up “Call me a Cab” on your app-enabled phone. Your phone automatically senses your location and (anywhere in the world) gives you 3-4 suggestions for local cab companies, with phone numbers. That’s the base functionality, but that’s still a huge step forward. When you’re standing on a street corner you don’t often have a page like this in front of you:

Example snippet of a directory of taxi cabs

Now how would you make the app even better? In some places (like, say, these cities) the app would show you where the closest cab is, call it, and get an “estimated time of arrival” as you watch the cab get closer on a map. Something like this page, but on your phone:

Ride finder

How would you make money? Maybe you sell a premium version of the app that does more (more features, or checks for buses or other public transit nearby). Or maybe taxi/cab companies would be willing to advertise in the app just like they advertise in the yellow pages. Maybe you’re a taxi company and you offer this app for free to make your cabs more efficient or to build a brand (most people think of taxis as a commodity right now). And it doesn’t always have to be about the money, you know. Maybe you do it to build awareness about your software startup and unlock future opportunities down the line.

Once you get GPS + cool sensors + the ability to run an application on a phone, there’s a ton of exciting apps you could write. Sure you could find nearby friends, but why not write a GPS-enabled celebrity spotter? Or an “Am I Speeding Right Now?” app that you can use in your car.

If you need other good ideas, I recommend reading through Paul Graham’s list of suggested start-up ideas. I’m a big fan of #3 (finding “New News”), #13 (online learning), and #28 (fixing email overload). Or for that matter, just think about things around your house or business that are messy or annoying and solve that problem.

What are the best iPhone applications?

Here are some of the applications that I’m trying out right now:

My iPhone 3G applications

What applications do you like on the iPhone 3G?

Two Cats One Laptop

The new iPhone 3G camera seems to work pretty well. Here’s a test shot with me, two cats, and a laptop:

Ozzie and Emmy at rest

The iPhone 3G still doesn’t work great for close-ups on very small stuff, but it seems to work well in the four to six foot range.