The iPhone is now here, and I was one of the people to get one on launch day. Standing in a queue for just over an hour at our local Car Phone Warehouse in Essex I was lucky enough to be the 8th in line. They had stock of 2 16Gb and 10 8Gb iPhones. It is no surprise then that I only managed to get an 8Gb one, they were allowing only one per customer, and promising next day delivery for the unlucky 13th and beyond.
Having an iPod Touch with the latest software I was already used to the interface and the installation of data and app via iTunes. By 10am I was back home and had activated my iPhone. I was not affected by the hundreds of thousands of current and new users who had flooded to the Apple, O2, CPW, AT&T stores and then found that the iTunes site couldn't handle the volume of requests for activation or upgrades. Mine activated first time.
In fact the only problem I had was trying to work out where to put the SIM card. I read the 2 leaflets supplied and then looked all over the iPhone but still couldn't see where it went. Eventually I went back to the box and found that Apple in their wisdom had put a graphic instruction in the packaging for the documentation. When opening the package the leaflets had fallen out so I just put aside the packaging and read the instructions... I wonder how many others did that too? It was only today that I realised on the other side of the packaging Apple had supplied a Sim removal tool... And that was only because I read it on another website... I used a paperclip.
With my new iPhone activated the first thing I did was to visit the Apple iTunes App Store and see what GPS applications I could get for free... Unfortunately there were only 2 available: Where and Local Picks both in the Navigation section. I then looked around a bit more and found SmugShot and Mobile Flikr in the photography section, and Facebook in the Social Networking. There were a few other applications for imaging but it wasn't obvious if they used the GPS capabilities of the iPhone.
I was a little disappointed to discover that there was no MSN or SKYPE clients available yet. I assume that in the near future there will be a MSN one as this had been available on the original Jailbroken iPhone.
I downloaded and installed these apps. Apple really have made it easy with iTunes. Coming from a technical background I am always expecting things to be difficult. Not so with iTunes. Apple have made it easy, possibly too easy...
SmugShot was the first I tried as it claimed to support geotagged iMages from the camera. I guess I was not the only person trying it as the SmugMug servers seemed to be a little stressed. After I had created my free 14 day trial account the server would not let me log in on the iPhone (and sometimes my Mac) then the pages wouldn't display etc. SmugMug are another company who didn't expect so much activity on the first day. Anyway now that the initial surge has diminished I can now access everything. I am disappointed that the test images I took did not have the GPS data transferred to the SmugMug archives (it was in the EXIF data of the images, I checked). I did have to ask myself what's the point if the GPS data is not sent with the picture??? So SmugMug gets a cross on my list. I will wait until a decent Picasa one is developed.
Next application to try was "Where" this is a GPS enabled application that shows you where the nearest xxx is. I suppose that the images of Starbucks attracted me to it in the first place. I tried this one, but it took so long to get a fix that the iPhone went into standby. The user interface isn't displayed until the GPS has a fix. Anyway going outside and waving my iPhone at the rain clouds I eventually got my first fix and managed to find my nearest Starbucks, only it wasn't the nearest one... There are 2 closer although these are not included in other POI searches so I probably shouldn't complain too loudly. Today when I tried to use it it spent ages trying to load and find things, and the map never loaded. Everything I asked for in the Local Search was not found and the application experienced a number of crashes. Another cross here I am afraid.
I next tried Facebook. This was just as disappointing. They have implemented a very cut down version of Facebook functionality and don't seem to have incorporated any of the iPhone's unique features into the interface. Ironically on my BlackBerry 8800 with no camera the Facebook app can upload images, but on the iPhone with a camera no image support can be found. In fact the only input capabilities seem to be to change your status message, comment on photos, chat to friends (does anyone ever use this) or to send Facebook mail. Oh dear another disappointment...
All of the location aware applications had to wait for the GPS to get a fix. The best indication that this was happening was a spinning icon. The most obvious missing GPS application is just a simple Satellite strength and position status display. Assuming of course that the API provides this sort of raw data, if not it should!!!
Fortunately I went back to using the included mapping application that came with the iPhone and realised that the mature applications were by far the best quality ones. I suppose this will have a lot to do with the length of time these applications have been tested in real life situations. It would surprise if the iTune App Store ones have been on a real iPhone before the launch day. I am sure these applications will improve both in functionality and stability over time.
The biggest disappointment for me though is that despite a number of whispers and rumors there is no voice guided, turn by turn navigation application available yet. Time will tell who will be the first one to launch, assuming that they can come to terms with Apple and agree to have the distribution and maintenance of the software handled by Apple.
Now standing in a queue for just over an hour on the day of the release of something is not my normal behavior, in fact quite the opposite, but the guys from ifixit.com not only waited in line for hours, they also flew from the USA to New Zealand where the very first iPhone 3Gs were sold. By the time the Apple and AT&T stores opened in California not only had they bought one they had also taken it to pieces and published the process on the internet. Click here to see the ifixit iPhone 3G disassembly.
The iPhone 3G is probably the most anticipated launch of a technology product in recent history. The launch has had so much publicity and the logistics, organisation and management to co-ordinate a worldwide release on a single day is most impressive. There were some hiccups, mainly with the volume of users trying to access the servers all at the same time, but in general the launch was smooth. As usual of course there was not enough devices to fulfil requirements, but it is very difficult to ramp up production and distribution for the single day. I would be very interested to find out how many were actually sold on iDay.
The iPhone and its bundled applications are great. Microsoft should be afraid, very afraid... My only reservation is the openness of the development platform. Apple are very restrictive and controlling in the Network, Development and Distribution of applications. This is not conducive to a free and innovative development community, but I suspect that iPhone will have enough fans to produce a wide range of applications.
As far as the GPS applications are concerned I was disappointed that the Loopt application (Geo aware Social Networking) was not on the UK version of the iPhone. The quality of the applications in the iTunes App Store needs to improve dramatically both in terms of functionality and stability. The "big" SatNav companies need to get some applications out to leverage the unique hardware features and capabilities of the iPhone. Yesterday was a good start, but there is huge scope for improvement and innovation.
Location Based Services are the way forward. Apple with the iPhone GPS has given us the platform. Lets see what the future holds for the applications.