Developer. Gamer. Yo-Yo Thrower.

My Week as an iPhoney

This year seems to have a common theme for me: trying things out that I’ve previously proclaimed to hate. The contract I’m on is working with a Java backend, they gave me a MacBook Pro to develop on and now I’ve been given the opportunity to try out a bunch of new phones — including the iPhone 4S. Java, Macbooks, iPhones — things I’ve never been a big fan of, not because I had used them before and didn’t like them, all because of personal philosophical hangups. So this year I’ve been trying them all out while being as unbiased as I possibly can be. Thus far almost all of the things I’ve tried confirmed my previous assumptions (my work Macbook Pro now runs Linux Mint 12, and Java is still as cumbersome as ever).

This week I’m going to try and use the iPhone 4S as my “daily driver” – that is to say I’ll be taking the SIM card out of my Galaxy S II X and putting it in the iPhone to take it for a test drive as if it was my only phone. I’ll be updating this blog post through out the week with my thoughts.

Initial impressions

As with everything Apple makes – the hardware of this phone is beautiful. The screen feels tiny compared to my Galaxy SIIX, yet bulkier at the same time because it’s heavier too. Right off the bat I wanted to install some apps that I knew were popular on iPhone – fortunately having done development for iOS devices in the past I already have an Apple ID. The app store prompted me to install iBooks – so I did. What struck me as odd was that it asked for my Apple ID password again when I went to install the Twitter app… and than again when I installed Instagroanram. It asks you for your password every time you install an app?! Annoying.
I have a small amount of music I keep on my phone – only about 500MB (mostly mixes and a few albums). I plugged my iPhone in to transfer music I got this message: “Unhandled Lockdown Error (-15)“. I pretty much knew iOS devices were incompatible with Linux, but I at least had to try. So, time to boot up my WinXP VM and install iTunes (no Wine support either). I guess I’ll be testing out iTunes while I test out the iPhone this week too, having developed for iOS, I suppose it was naive of me to think I could do this without iTunes (*Ninja edit!* I was wrong. It works perfect in Mint 12 (Ubuntu 11.10 based), doesn’t work in Mint 11 (Ubuntu 11.04), more info and a screen shot below). 40 minutes of copying, praying, importing and configuring later… I have music on my phone and in my iTunes library – importing my existing music library was nothing short of painful. Of course adding music to my library from the iTunes store is super simple (I haven’t bought any music yet, but I plan to before my iPhoney trial is over). I am sure both the pain of existing music import and ease of buying from the iTunes store is very intentional.

I had a couple issues with the on-screen keyboard, specifically, why is it always in upper case? On Android the keyboard is all lower case, then when you press SHIFT or Caps Lock they all change to upper case – it’s a very great visual indication of what letters and case you’ll be typing. I was also dissapointed to see I couldn’t tap and hold a letter to get an alternate character (punctuation, numbers, etc). I also seem to make more mistakes on the iPhone keyboard – I am far too used to both the large screen size of my Galaxy SIIX and the sloppy ease of text entry using Swype.

Day 3
It’s been an interesting few days as an iPhoney. I’m having a hard time finding a decent Twitter app because I use 4 or 5 private Twitter lists almost exclusively… all the apps I’ve tried are very cumbersome to navigate around lists (*Edit* – I ended up using “TweetList!” – it works well. However between the top menu, ads, and bottom menu I could only see 2 or 3 tweets at once). Speaking of awkward UI, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to “pull to refresh” (Twitter ‘owns’ that anti-pattern anyways). It’s also hard to get used to the “back” button being in the top-left as opposed to it being a dedicated button… but I’m getting used to it.
I’ve downloaded some popular games and they’re really quite fun, I don’t do much gaming on my Android… but the level of detail and fanciness of the 3D on each platform are comparable.
When I’m reading things I find that I hold the phone way closer to my face than I do with Android; however this is a bit of a trade off since the clarity of the display while holding it closer to your face is much more noticeable.
Multi-tasking works better than I expected it would, but I’d really like the ability to remove apps from the “running” tab (double tapping the home button) – it seems more like a list of recently run apps rather than a true task-switcher.
Typing is hands down more difficult than on Android. I don’t think I’m even capable of ‘getting used’ to it. Errors are more frequent, the auto-complete is half-assed, and forget about trying to quickly use punctuation. I really wish I could at least install Swype.
Dropping calls is another real issue. I can’t be sure if it’s the Bell network or the iPhone itself. When I start a call I can see “full bars” – however sometimes those full bars drop down to one and a few times to nothing at all – resulting in a dropped call and a little “Searching…” notice where it usually says “Bell”. I live in the heart of the Entertainment District downtown Toronto – coverage here has to be better than anywhere else in Canada – yet I still get dropped calls. It’s worth noting I’ve never experienced a dropped call on my Galaxy S II X.

Day 7 – Conclusion
It’s been an interesting week. One thing that has become crystal clear is the phrase “There’s an app for that” can be taken very literally. Any time I wanted to do something, or wanted to extend functionality of an app (editing a text file in my Dropbox for example) required simply installing another app. Things that would be configuration options in other OSes (like custom ringtones and wallpapers) require installation of an app. This isn’t a bad thing at all – it’s simple and easy to learn – whenever a user wants to see if their iPhone can do something for them they need only search the App Store – if it’s not there chances are either it’s physically impossible or big brother Apple won’t allow apps of those nature on it’s platform (there’s got to be an official list somewhere, but all I could find were links to blogs outlining what’s OK for the app store and what isn’t).
Everything worked with the iPhone as advertised, even niche things like wifi tethering, A2DP bluetooth, and RealVNC (a $10 app, but well worth it). MMS worked perfectly and I even signed up an Instagram user (I really don’t see what all the fuss is about). Battery life was good – smart phone average 24-36 hours. Call quality was OK as well (except the dropping of calls — all the test phones I’m using will be on the Bell network so I’ll be able to tell if it was the network or the device when I test the next phone).
All in all – if you ignore the privacy issues and overall big brother-ness of Apple – the iPhone is pretty good. However for me personally, it’s still lacking when compared to Android – most people will never want to replace their keyboard, launcher or text message app (despite obvious advantages, most people can’t be bothered to learn how) – I really love that about Android whereas the iPhone (indeed Apple as a company) has a completely different philosophy: “Our way or the highway” (and their way isn’t that bad if you don’t want to customize anything).

Things I liked

  • The music app – I really like how the iOS music app works. Only thing that would be better is controls on the lock screen. It’s better than any music app I’ve tried on Android
  • “Retina display” is actually really noticeably clearer
  • *Update* iTunes isn’t needed for music and documents management. It works flawlessly in Linux Mint 12 – check this screen shot out.
  • Games are fun and butter smooth

Things I didn’t like

  • Keyboard (mentioned above)
  • iTunes reliance – can’t install new apps from the web
  • Dropbox – Wow. Android users get WAY more functionality with Dropbox.
  • Gmail – I suppose it’s not surprising the Gmail app isn’t as good as the Android version. *Update* Why do I get push notifications for new email, but have to manually refresh Gmail to see it?
  • Lack of quality free apps. Seems like any app worth having is $2.99
  • Drops calls like crazy.

Development with iPhone
What a nightmare. I don’t own a Mac – making developing for iOS next to impossible. I installed an OSX VM and tried my hand at building a Cordova based iPhone app – while far from impossible – working inside a VM was a hassle and there was no way I was going to renew my “developer license” for the sole purpose of messing around. Since I wasn’t an “authorized Apple developer” I was unable to actually “provision” my demo app onto my iPhone. Bummer. On a “How hard is this to develop for” scale of 0 – 10, 0 being “Visual Basic 101 Tutorial” and 10 being “Pure X86 Assembly” I’d say doing an app for iOS rates around a 6 if you already own a Mac, and a 7 if you don’t.

New post coming soon: My Week as a BlackBerry’er

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