Tuesday, June 29, 2010

iPhone 4 - the review

Yes, I got one. On launch day. Fortunately, I have sufficient connections that I was able to avoid a lengthy wait, but it was still a launch day spectacular.

First of all, let me address the biggest question: Yes, there is a potential antenna issue. Here's, as far as I can determine thorough my non-scientific test methodology, the exact circumstances that will reproduce the issue for you:

- You need to be in an area with less than full-power service.
- You should be left-handed.
- Big hands are also a factor.
- The iPhone needs to be held by the bottom edges.
- You should be somewhat sweaty.
- Squeeze the iPhone with a very firm grip.
- Do not use a case or bumper on the phone.

If you do all these things, you will assuredly see a noticeable signal loss. Repeatable, too. However, break any one and your odds go way down of reproducing the issue, and if you use a case, bumper, or even a little bit of Scotch tape at the bottom gap, your odds drop to 0% of causing it. So it is real, there is a potential loss of signal, and it's incredibly easy to mitigate. I always use a case for my phone so it's a non-issue for me.

Now that that's settled, on about the phone. There are a handful of bullet points I'll make. First of all is the speed. Everything's faster on the iPhone 4 - from photo display and scrolling, to webpage rendering, to application launching and switching. Having had iOS 4 running for several weeks on my old iPhone 3Gs before this, I can say that the extra processing horsepower of the A4 plus the extra 256MB of RAM in the iPhone 4 make a significant performance difference. At the same time cellular performance is improved, particularly on network uploads (sending emails is now pretty much instant with the faster uplink) and I also have been able to hold calls through several spots that were formerly dead on the prior iPhones. Big improvement.

The next major feature is the build quality of the device. The iPhone 3 series felt solid in the hand and pretty comfortable to hold. The iPhone 4 feels like a brick - but lighter than the older one at the same time. I mean it's solid. It feels like I could drive nails with it. Remarkable.

As for the screen, it's as good as advertised. Possibly the single biggest improvement in the iPhone overall, and one of the biggest advances so far in any mobile phone I've used. To look at the "Retina Display" and compare it to the iPhone from last year is silly. To compare it to an older phone like a Treo isn't even fair. Type looks like paper. Photos look like film. It's that good.

The last major addition to the new phone is the camera. I haven't used the much-balyhooed FaceTime yet, but I've taken pictures with the new rear camera. The quality is comparable to a last-generation point&shoot camera - which sounds poor until you remember that digital cameras have been pretty darned good for a number of years now. 5MP, with a fast shutter speed and good dynamic range. I was able to take some photos at a grownups party last weekend during the evening in low light that I might not have gotten with my far smarter Canon G9. Video quality is good - roughly on par with low-end HD cameras like the Flip.

In short, the iPhone 4 on paper isn't a major change for the series, but in practice it improves in a lot of places (performance, build, and screen) and it's almost barely recognizable to people who still have an original iPhone. In 3.5 years since the original announcement they've come a real long ways. Unless you're a really big sweaty-palmed lefty with a hatred of cases the new iPhone 4 is full of Win.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

One WWDC addition

Oh yeah - Safari 5. Book it. All the goodies in the Webkit nightlies, wrapped up in a pretty bow.

More seriously, there won't be a MacOS release this year, so it's good timing for a standalone Safari release (after all, browsers are the computing experience to a lot of users). Plus Chrome is right now pretty much the canonical WebKit-based browser and has a lot of mind share. WebKit is Apple's baby, and there's no way that'll be allowed to stand. Apple is happy to see WebKit adopted by so many vendors (less chance of IE being required by websites that way and it also helps kill ActiveX), but there's a pride of origin there and Apple also wants to be the "reference implementation" of WebKit.

Hence Safari 5.

For more details, the usual rumor sites have a listing of what's expected to be included in the Safari 5 feature set.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

My WWDC prediction post

As you Apple fanbois know, WWDC is this coming week, and it's the only major public conference/event left that El Jobso performs a Stevenote at. No more Apple Expo, no more MacWorld, and all the other appearances he makes are special press events - like the iPad announcement and the OS 4.0 announcement. Real Stevenotes are rare. Apple is focusing tightly on the iPhone OS at this year's WWDC - no major MacOS stuff on tap, and no IT track, either. But, as usual, speculation runs wild. Here's my call on what we're going to see announced for new products and/or goodies:

- iPhone HD/iPhone 4: 100% certain. We know what it looks like, we know most of the technical details, and we know it has a front-facing camera. We can assume it has a variant of the iPad's CPU, and likely has a little more battery life. What we don't know is how much RAM it has and how much storage. I predict either 256MB or (more likely) 512MB, and it will have 32 and 64GB variants. Maybe a 16GB version (or they keep the 3GS and move it downmarket like they did last year with the 3G). It'll be in white and black, and is an incremental improvement with a new form factor after 2 years of the previous version.

- iPhone OS 4.0: Yep, it'll be shipping. I suspect GM is available at WWDC with the handful of surprise features that they were withholding from the betas and just playing with internally. Ship date will be approximately 2 days before the iPhone is available to minimize the hit on activation servers.

- Minor CPU announcements: I'd say about 75% likely. If there are any, it'll probably just be for the Mac Pro and/or Xserve at WWDC. Mac mini updates will be soon thereafter.

- Additional hardware announcements: 25% chance at best. I know folks keep talking about 27" Cinema Displays but that's really a minor thing and not Stevenote-worthy. I think a likelier thing would be a 30" Cinema Display that's been modernized to add an iSight, mini DisplayPort, and a MagSafe connector. But that won't be at WWDC either.

- iPhone OS 4.1: 90% chance. This is a given - they've already preannounced it as coming in the fall for both iPad and iPhone. Now they'll tell us what other bells and whistles are there besides Unity. My prediction: basic printing support and AFP server access. Outside chance of SMB server access.

- Improvements to MobileMe/cloud services in MacOS and iPhone OS: Yep, that's coming. I'm expecting that MobileMe basic (device sync and a few goodies) will be free, and serious storage will be an added cost like the whole service is now. I also think iWork.com gets rolled into it somehow.

- MacOS 10.6.4: Probably this week for release, but not an announcement. It will support a couple of the new things announced Monday.

- MacOS 10.7: 50% chance at best. I think they won't heavily discuss it but may mention it by name and show off something whizzy. But I think next years' WWDC will be all about 10.7 with iPhone bringing up the rear.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Why I don't hate AT&T like so many do

I sent this to Gruber at DF this morning, but I thought it was worthy of converting to a blog post as well. Hence the tone. But otherwise the points here are very useful, and also put into perspective just how much wireless voice and data costs nowadays (thank goodness it's cheaper!)

I own an IT company with 5 employees. Right now, just to take my own requirements, here's what I have today (not counting texting, which should be almost free everywhere but isn't):

- iPhone unlimited voice plan = $70 (they cut that price from $100 a few months back, remember?)
- iPhone data plan = $30
- Verizon data plan with a USB stick and a spare router in my bag = $60 (which I rarely use but I keep as an insurance policy in case I need to work on the road)
- iPad 200MB plan - $15

So right now I'm spending $175 on voice and data, just for what I carry in my bag. I just barely bumped into the limit on the iPad, and I only used 245MB of data on my iPhone in the heaviest month out of the last six. I only use a few hundred MB on Verizon at most per month. Under the new plans, here's what I'll do now:

- iPhone unlimited voice plan = $70
- iPhone 2GB data plan = $25
- Tethering for iPhone = $20
- iPad 250MB plan = $15

So that'll reduce my bill to $130, saving me $45 per month for starters. Plus I can ditch about a pound's worth of gear from my backpack (the Zoom mobile router, charger, and the USB stick), and I get an extra 50MB buffer for my iPad. Even if I need to go to the 2GB plan for my iPad, it's still a net savings of $35. This is so much a no-brainer that it's silly.

Now add to that my wife's iPhone which she mostly uses for email, Facebook updates, and checking weather. Putting her on the $15 data plan is an easy call - she doesn't even come close to consuming that much data outside the house. That saves me another $15 in our personal life.

And changing the plans for my iPhone-using employees? Again, a no-brainer. They haven't bought iPads yet, but I'll still save plenty of money on their accounts as well. All in all, this should save me a couple of thousand dollars per year. Would I like it if AT&T had made the "DataPro" plan 3GB instead of 2GB? Yep, it would be a little closer to what you supposedly get from Verizon and their 5GB cap, but on the other hand it's cheaper. I'm unlikely to blow past 2GB but I'm certain to not go past 3GB. Do I think tethering should be free or at most $10 additional, given how relatively rarely I'll use it? Yep.

But am I happy to have a big monolithic consumer-unfriendly phone company change their rule and plans in such a way that I'll save a lot of money every month? Hell yes I am. Not to mention that a few months ago that unlimited voice plan cost me $100 per month, not the $70 it costs me now. Altogether between just my plans and my wife's, as of next week I'll be saving $120 per month over what I was paying for the same services last fall.

And why again am I supposed to hate AT&T?