Here is my look at the latest iPhone software update, the Application Store, and other things iPhone.
I’ve found the iPhone 2.0 software update to be a profoundly mixed-bag. One of the reasons that lines were (and continue to be) so long for the 3G iPhone is how successful the first generation model was. There were some opening weekend issues a week ago, as well, but things quickly fell into place. The January software update solved some minor stability issues and added some fun and useful new features. So the folks that decided to wait a year seemed justified to bite the bullet and head out to get the second generation phone.*
As I’ve already written, 2.0 does not seem ready for prime time. My phone, which was rock-solid-stable under 1.4 (or whatever the last version was) is now slower when moving from application to application, crawls when loading new screens, and often has a delay of several seconds when I attempt to use the keyboard. Frustrating.
Worse are the crashes. I had one crash in six plus months with the previous software. I’ve had numerous application crashes under 2.0, and one full phone crash. People who use theirs more and have more third party apps than I do are reporting even more frequent crashes and freezes. I’m no programmer, but a lot of developers seem to think these issues are because of instability in the phone OS rather than in the applications (although to be fair, there are some shitty applications out there that are no doubt causing problems).
So, frustration because it seems like we got a beta release rather than a fully baked version, but tempered by the hope that 2.1 is coming soon and will solve these issues.**
What about the apps themselves? I’ve only tried a few, but there are my favorites so far.
Perhaps my favorite is MLB.com At Bat. While it would be great if it streamed games live, instead it gives you a running line score of games along with a snapshot of what’s going on at that moment: pitcher, batter, count, outs, men on base. The coolest feature is the link to highlights. Select a game, click on the video icon, and you can get highlights of each game, often just a couple minutes after the play occurred. It’s like having Baseball Tonight on your phone, but without John Kruk et. al. ruining your night with their nonsense. My only quibble is that live box scores aren’t included: it ships you out to the MLB.com’s mobile website for those. Otherwise a great little app, especially for $6. I hope they don’t try to charge $30 for the entire season next year. And I would love it if ESPN did something like this for college basketball, although that’s probably asking way too much.
Another new favorite is <a href=”http://www.pandora.com/”>Pandora Radio</a>. Pandora Radio is an off-shoot of the Genome Project, which attempts to categorize music through its core elements, then connect bands and songs via these elements. You plug in a band or song you like, give Pandora a few moments to assemble a station for you, and soon you have a running playlist of music based off your first selection. For example, I’ve put together a station based on three bands I’m listening to a lot: Silversun Pickups, Frightened Rabbit, and Andrew Bird. Right now, my Pandora Radio is playing a song by Eels and tells me it was selected because it features mellow rock instrumentalism, folk influences, repetitive melodic phrasing, major key tonality, and melodic songwriting. OK, maybe that description sucks some of the cool out of it, but it’s a fantastic way to discover new music. And thanks to the iPhone app, if I get tired of the music I’ve already loaded my iPhone up with, I can venture out and try some new stuff. Even if you don’t have an iPhone (or other AT&T and Sprint phones that are compatible), you can check out the web service.
The final app I’ll talk about is a game. Geeks were totally geeking out over the gaming possibilities on the iPhone. I’m not a big gamer, but after I heard some glowing reviews of Dizzy Bee, I thought I’d check it out. It’s a terrific little time waster. You control Dizzy Bee by tilting your iPhone different directions to direct him (her?) around the screen to free his friends who have been captured. Um, yeah, it’s cooler than it sounds. I promise. Think of a modified Pac-Man that involves tilting the screen rather than using a joystick. One of the promises of iPhone games is that they give you things to do in those small increments of time we all have while waiting on hold, in a lobby, on an elevator, or in line at the store. Dizzy Bee is perfect for wasting a few minutes in a way other than checking your e-mail for the 8000th time that day.
The bottom line is that the iPhone is still a game-changing device. 18 months ago, other cell phone manufacturers scoffed A) at the idea that Apple could create a decent phone and B) that anyone would want/use a touchscreen phone. Now they’re all scrambling to get a touchscreen phone to market and are marketing them as potential iPhone killers. Looks like the gamble paid off. As expected, most of the competitors are better at individual things than the iPhone. But none combines the complete experience of the iPhone. Whether Apple continues to lead the field is another story, but the iPhone is the first step in a fundamental change in how we access our online data. High speed access to information is no longer a luxury. It’s becoming something that we expect to have no matter where we are. Five years from now, the computer industry is going to look dramatically different because of what the iPhone started. Warts and all, it’s still on the cutting edge.
/* I know, it’s super confusing if you aren’t paying close attention. There’s the first generation phone, the second generation phone, and the 2.0 software. But the second generation phone is called the 3G iPhone because it operates on the 3G data network. Maybe we should just say old and new.
** Rumor has it the beta of 2.1 that’s been seeded to developers sucks, too. If it’s going to take two updates to get every software package to work correctly, those people who claim Apple is becoming Microsoft might be right after all.