No discussion of Nifty Tech could be complete without mentioning the iPhone. I know, I know, some of you wouldn’t take an iPhone if someone put a gun to your head and threatened to pull the trigger. Many people have a hatred of AT&T Mobile that makes your typical Holy War look like a children’s squabble. Others are sure that Apple Inc. is the source of all evil. Well, tough.
Let’s face it people. All cell phone carriers suck. They just don’t have any incentive to NOT suck. It is the worst kind of collusion, a conspiracy of mediocrity. AT&T is no worse than Sprint or Verizon or any other carrier. And for all of Apple’s faults and mistakes, they do turn out some pretty nifty products. So let’s just accept that and move on to look at the tech.
OK. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years, you pretty much know where you can get an iPhone and how much it will cost you. If you’re still not sure, your best bet is to look around at http://www.apple.com. I’m sure you’ll find something. In the states, a subsidized iPhone 3G can be had for $99 and an iPhone 3GS starts at $199. If you want almost all of the Apps, and none of the AT&T, you can get an iPod Touch starting at $199.
But back to the Tech. To be honest, there area a number of things about the iPhone hardware that really aren’t all that special. The camera is low resolution, it eats battery power, and the reception is fairly iffy. Two iPhones, side by side will show different signal strengths and may not have the same call quality. While the touch screen gives you intuitive control over the software, it isn’t very accurate and it may not register every touch. And it poses problems with use in cold weather. The iPhone isn’t perfect by a long shot. But it does have its fair share of good points.
The software is full of Nifty. The iPhone is a platform that opens up a world of very nifty tools. Some of these will be covered in future articles, so for now, we’ll just look at the ones that come with the iPhone out of the box.
Whether you’re using the Original iPhone, the iPhone 3G, the iPhone 3G S, or the iPod Touch, the iPhone OS now gives you previously unknown mobility when accessing e-mail, the web, calendars, and a wealth of other information. Mail and Safari aren’t the best of all possible applications, but they do seem to be head and shoulders over anything else on the mobile market. Part of this is no doubt due to the Unlimited Data packages that many carriers are requiring for iPhone customers. Since you’ve already paid for the all-you-can-consume data service, why not just consume data? Got a question? Look up the answer on Safari. Need to send a message? Pop off a quick e-mail with Mail or send an SMS with Messages. Need directions? Get them from Maps. On my last phone, I never used the browser because the data cost would have quickly broken the budget. With the iPhone, if you have signal, you’re connected.
Naturally, a small screen doesn’t make an ideal browsing experience. But we are talking about browsing on a phone. Safari on the iPhone does a fairly good job for a phone. If a screen renders with the font too small to read, just double-tap the section you want to read and Safari will zoom in on that section. Double-tap again and you’re looking at the whole page. Some people will cite the lack of Flash support as a fatal flaw in the iPhone. While this may be true for some, Flash isn’t perfect either. Not all sites require Flash, and many of those that do have found that they have to create Flash-free versions for mobile devices anyway. And even without Flash support, mobile Safari still does the job for quite a lot of the web.
Mail likewise works well for managing mobile e-mail, now that push mail has become available for those who need it. The only real drawback I’ve been able to find with Mail is that it only shows up to 200 mails in each account, and it sometimes doesn’t push off old mail to make room for new mail. It renders html based mail well, supports creating folders, composing, forwarding mail, even sending an attachment. And with some add-on apps, mail can even send multiple attachments in a single e-mail, although it only does one attachment per e-mail by default.
On top of all that, the iPhone allows each application to implement a user interface unique to it’s needs. The touch screen allows each application to place buttons anywhere on the screen, and to change the layout whenever the context changes. The motion sensors built into the iPhone give it a completely unique control interface. Not every application makes use of this, but those that do give the user a more natural control over the application.
The iPhone is one of those tech devices that is Nifty, not because of what it does, but because of what it makes possible. It makes computing a thing that can be done from anywhere and puts internet tools in your pocket. It can become the right tool for almost any job, providing a programmer can figure out the right way to use the tools at his disposal. It’s not perfect, but it is Nifty Tech.