Up close with the iPhone

Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of Macworld 2007 was that the iPhone was only available for viewing behind a glass case – show attendees were not allowed to touch it and try out its snazzy new interface.

However, members of the media were given a quick hands-on preview of the iPhone behind closed doors. This was where In.Tech was able to take it for a quick spin and ask some burning questions.

First of all, it should be noted that the iPhone isn't a finished a product – while the hardware may be final, its software components may change by the time it hits the market in June.

To recap, the iPhone sports a 3.5in widescreen LCD with a multi-touch interface; is a quad-band GSM phone with EDGE, Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity; runs on Mac OS X and weighs 135g.

It comes with either 4GB or 8GB of internal storage, costing US$499 (RM1,846) and US$599 (RM2,216) in the United States. Its Asian release is slated for 2008.

SMARTER PHONE: The iPhone features an interesting user interface that's intuitive and beautiful.
Slide it on

The iPhone feels fantastic in the hands. It's built like an iPod, which means that it feels like a solid chunk of metal. But unlike the iPod, its glossy fascia has a strong, hard coating which makes it more resistant to scratches.

The 3.5in LCD is razor sharp (320 x 480 pixels, 160 pixels-per-inch) and has really good colours, although I've seen LCD displays with better viewing angles. And unlike a PDA, the iPhone's screen seems to be made of hard glass, so the image doesn't have the strange running colours that you'd see if you were to press real hard on a regular PDA.

The iPhone's user interface works exactly as advertised – it's fast, responsive and intuitive.

Through simple gestures, users can flip through photographs, iPod song libraries and contact information with great ease.

The iPhone's video playback is impressive while the smooth, seamless scaling of video, photos and webpages is no doubt a result of the advanced graphics capabilities of the iPhone's Mac OS X underpinnings.

The patented multi-touch screen really does make it easier to scroll and zoom photos and webpages. And when you're typing in text on its virtual keyboard, it doesn't get confused if you have two fingers touching the screen at once.

Speaking of which, the biggest problem with the iPhone is probably its text-input mechanism: A tiny, on-screen virtual Qwerty keyboard.

However, it works better than most because a key press is only triggered when you lift your finger off the screen (as opposed to being triggered by initial touch). And as you press a key, a tab appears above with the enlarged character so you can see if you've got your finger on the correct one.

While the iPhone's virtual Qwerty keyboard is the best implementation I've ever seen on a portable device, I do hope that Apple includes a virtual alphanumeric keypad with T9 text input on the finished product.

What's missing

At the moment, some of the applications on the iPhone's home screen haven't been finished. Specifically, the calculator, notepad and calendar applications only exist as mockups.

Personally, I find it rather amusing that Apple had time to develop complex applications like the Safari web browser and rich HTML e-mail client, yet didn't have time to code a simple calculator.

And while the iPhone packs a 2.0-megapixel camera, it only takes still pictures at the moment (video recording hasn't been confirmed).

The other bit of bad news is that the iPhone is a completely closed system – that is, you will not be able to write or install your own software on it. Rather, all applications and updates will come solely from Apple – and you must synch the iPhone with iTunes to do all this.

When you consider that the iPhone runs on a version of Mac OS X, it's strange that Apple is locking out an entire group of users – independent software developers and open-source proponents who would be more than happy to port their favourite apps to the iPhone.

And if you're wondering, the iPhone doesn't even have support for J2ME either.

Apple claims that this is all in the name of security and reliability, though it seems more like the company wants complete control over the iPhone user experience.

In the end, third-party developers would probably have to deal directly with Apple to have their apps sold on the iTunes Store – much like how it is with downloadable games for the iPod.

Final thoughts (for now)

The iPhone is a fantastic feat of engineering. In spite of its high-tech guts, the fact that the iPhone still manages up to five hours of battery life for phone calls, watching video or web browsing is equally impressive (it'll play music for up to 16 hours per charge).

Behind all of the very impressive scrolling and scaling effects, the iPhone's interface is best described as very focused and refined – mostly because of the simplicity and integration that can only be provided by a company that controls both the hardware and software of its products.

By the time the iPhone reaches our shores in 2008, however, it'll probably be succeeded by a new generation of iPhones (Apple did reveal that a 3G version will surface in future).

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