Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

iPhone 3G: One Year Later

July 2009

By Mike Gould

Long-time readers of this column may recall that last July I sat in the sun for several hours, lined up to buy the new Apple iPhone 3G. Flash forward one year: how is it working out? Quite well, thank you very much.

A Life-changing Gadget
I think it is pretty safe to say that the iPhone has had an even greater impact on society than the Macintosh computer did when it first came out. Apple hit the market just when the smart phone era took off, and has been playing a big role ever since. Smart phones, remember, are Swiss Army Knife devices: they send and receive email, surf the web, enable texting and twittering, check the weather, show you your address book, tell you where you are on the map, manage your calendar, host a host of games, and are a growing segment of the software industry thanks to the Apple App store and other sources. Oh yeah, they also make and receive phone calls.

The iPhone 3G was my first smart phone. Previously, I got along with a dopey Verizon jobbie that had miserable connectivity with my Mac (for phone number management) and had problems connecting at all in my basement. And as that is where my office is located, this posed a serious problem.

In Use
Here are some examples of ways this little guy has helped me out recently. Needing some parts from Radio Shack, I went trucking off to the store on Washtenaw near Ypsilanti. I arrived and found that it had closed. OK, fine. There must be another store around so I don't have to drive all the way back to Ann Arbor and visit the one on Stadium. I fired up the Web browser Safari on my iPhone, and searched on "Radio Shack Ypsilanti". Bingo, there's one on Ellsworth Road; another click and I have a map to it from my current location, and I'm on my way.

On a recent trip to Indianapolis, I used an application called Trapster to note the location of known speed traps en route. The iPhone has a sophisticated GPS system called Location Services which it uses to show you where you are, superimposed over road maps (and satellite photos, which, while not being all that useful, are fun to show off at parties). Other apps can tap into this, showing you, in this case, the overpasses where the smokies lurk. Travelling with a number of women, I planned ahead and downloaded SitOrSquat, which figures out where you are, and tells you where the nearest restroom is.

I use the built-in calculator to figure out invoices for the clients I visit, the level to straighten out our camp stove when in the woods, and the dictionary to resolve disputes in Scrabble games.

The coolest feature for me, though, is the photo gallery. Being a professional photographer, I am often called upon to show examples of my work in an impromptu fashion. I can whip out my iPhone, tap on the "Photos" button, and have access to 5627 photos (currently). And this puppy isn't half full, which means I can load it up with 10,000 pix if want to. And I will.

The screen is bright, sharp, and rotates the photos to the proper orientation if I tilt the unit. The synching software allows me to put all the photos into separate folders, separated by topic, and I can load it with movies. I took it to a family reunion and plugged it into my sister's big TV set. I was able to put on a slideshow of family photos that was very popular. The onboard 2MPx camera is pretty wimpy, but it has come in handy from time to time.

Downsides
The main issue with all smart phones is cost, but I did not find it all that excessive. My Verizon dumb phone was around $50 a month, and this unit, with an infinite amount of added capabilities is around $67 a month. You do have to sign up with AT&T, which is an issue for a lot of people, but they are the only ones currently offering the phone system used in Europe and Asia - as Apple was looking for a provider that would work world-wide, that is who they went with.

My phone is the 16G model, and cost $300; I could have gone with the 8G one for $200, but I wanted as much room as possible for photos. Yes , there are cheaper smart phones out there, but none with the feature set and the easy software download mechanism via the Apple App Store.

The other downside is battery life. This phone has more antennas than an ant farm, as the joke goes, and they all contribute to pulling down the battery. The good news is that you can turn off the ones you are not using and prolong the battery that way. I can't say that I have ever run out of mojo when I needed it. An overnight charge once or twice a week and I have been good to go.

What's New
Apple hasn't been sitting on its stem this last year. On June 8 of this year it announced the next generation, the iPhone 3G S, available June 19. The good news on price is that the current 3G model now starts at $99 ("while they last"), and the 3G S starts at the same $199 as the previous model. The new model sports faster access (the S in the name stands for "Speed"), a digital compass, video recording and editing, voice control, and a higher capacity - 32G.

The software for the entire line also gets updated to 3.0 on that date. Improvements include the ability to copy and paste, landscape keyboard, voice memos, and a bunch of other features and improvements.

The only downside to the new units is that there is no hardware upgrade path for early adopters like me. I signed a 2-year agreement to get my phone, and am stuck until next year, when there will likely be something even better in place.

It should be pointed out that other smart phone manufacturers aren't sitting still either. By the time you read this, Palm will have released the "iPhone killer" Palm Pre, which is getting good early reviews. And the RIM Blackberry is still #1 in sales, though that is very much up for grabs as the year progresses.

More info: http://www.apple.com/iphone/

Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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