September 2008 Archives

September 29, 2008



Kit·blog, this bazar of a personal web site, entered yesterday its 6th year of (virtual? virtual?—does anybody still use that word?) existence. I have no clue how come it didn't die since September 2003, although I'm lucid enough to question its purpose and value once in a while.

In time, I found there's no ultimate purpose nor absolute value. I feed things that I like in (be that notes, photos or links), and those things may prove valuable to some of you and rubbish to the others.

And I think I kinda figured my job here: just keep bringing those things in.

Five years. And now the sixth. That's a fucking long journey actually, isn't it? Thank you for coming along.

September 20, 2008

iPhone: the first month

Back in July 2007 I reviewed here one of the first iPhone units (of its first incarnation) coming to Romania.

In July 2008, the iPhone 3G successfully launched in 21 countries around the world. On the 22nd of August 2008, at zero o'clock, it was launched in 20 additional countries1, including mine.


iPhone 3G launch in Romania: 22nd of August, 0 AM (picture: Monica Popescu, Orange).

I bought it the first day. Here is a subjective account of its pros and cons noticed during the month I've been using it.

The good

· Buying Experience. Painless2. I bought it right on the 22nd at noon, after one hour of waiting on queue (spent in a restaurant across the street). The Orange sales guy even found me a phone number containing six digits of my Vodafone number. Nice.

· 3G coverage. I didn't travel this month, so I have no clue about national coverage, but in Bucharest 3G is present in most places I go.

· App Store. I didn't envision this happening! I actually placed bet against iPhone availability in Romania because I knew that iTunes integration is part of the business model and implementing iTunes Music Store in Romania just doesn't make business sense, mainly because messy copyright laws and a small, piracy-ridden market.

But Apple knew better than that. So they split iTunes Music Store and iTunes App Store apart: while the first is not available, the former is. And it works perfectly.


iTunes Music Store not available, while iTunes App Store is.

I downloaded almost 40 free and commercial applications, adding up to about €50—and that's only in the first month.

· Push mail. Push mail work so great it can be used instead SMS.

First I synced my old .Mac account with the iPhone and the push mail speed was not so great—an e-mail would take up to 5 minutes to reach me. Then I deleted the .Mac e-mail account and rebuilt a MobileMe account from the scratch. Another league.

With a median time of about 15 seconds3, it's good. A local SMS takes about 3 seconds, but international SMS and MMS are slower than Apple push mail.

· Autocorrection. The iPhone keyboard input relies heavily on auto-correction because of its inherent lack of tactile feed-back. And, for English, it works like magic. Typing in an unsupported language is a different story altogether though.

During the 2.0 firmware days, typing in an unsupported language was really, really awful: the aggressive auto-correction engine was continuously taking control over the spelling and it had to be dismissed while typing almost every word.


New Romanian keyboard in iPhone OS 2.1, no language nor auto-correction dictionary though.

The new iPhone firmware 2.1 ads a Romanian keyboard with diacritics and, although auto-correction cannot be disabled4, there is a visible improvement: the iPhone stopped suggesting English spelling when typing Romanian words. Instead, it started suggesting stuff—and that's freakin' weird—in Romanian! And not all of it comes from the address book—don't tell me this thing data-mines previous messages and learns!


Switching to Romanian keyboard (by tapping the globe key) disables English auto-correction.


Some auto-correction suggestions come from the address book (CFR) but where the hell did the second one come from?!?

I am puzzled. Happy, but puzzled—I moved this bullet from "the ugly" to "the bad" and now to "the good" in a couple of days.

A switch for disabling auto-correction altogether would be a plus, though.

The bad

· Keyboard. Yes, it takes about a month to get used to it enough to forget it's not real.

· Camera. God, I don't even know what to begin with!

I need to be able to take close-up pictures of price tags, labels, receipts and so forth. And I can't, because iPhone camera is focused at infinity, making close-ups out-of-focus. I need to be able to snap pictures in passing. And I can't, because iPhone camera is slow. Very slow. I'd like to engage the camera without looking at the phone. I can't, because the camera doesn't have a hardware button so I have to look at the screen and tap the following sequence: switch on, unlock, Camera app, shutter release—it feels like taking a picture with my laptop!

iPhone deserves a better camera.

· Background processes and push notification. We came to a point where there are no longer significant difference between feeds and e-mail. For instance, I want my feeds to be up-to-the-minute, just like push e-mail. For other people the same would apply to instant messaging or other types of content.

In OS 2.2, maybe?

· Notifications during sleep. While the mobile phones employing TFT-LCD screens are able to display informations during sleep, on "switched off" screens, iPhone's LCD screen is not capable to display anything. At a glance: black. In order to see whether there are active notifications for missed calls, new e-mail or SMS, iPhone needs to be switched on.

Takes a bit of getting used to.

The ugly

This is about missing features.

· Google Maps for Romania. Well, the lack of 'em, actually. The weird thing is, there are plenty of maps flying around, for every off-the-shelf GPS thingie out there—hey, even Yahoo has good maps (for Bucharest, at least)—but Google, nada!


Google Maps app vs. Yahoo Maps in browser. Googol, yur doin it rong!


· Bluetooth. iPhone's Bluetooth is simply neutered. Utterly useless except for pairing some headsets (ok, pun intended). The level of Bluetooth support Apple gives to other phones is vastly superior to the support they give to their own phone5.

If you do not own a headsets, iPhone's Bluetooth doesn't exist.

· MMS. Cumbersome and capricious as it is, MMS is present in most handsets, while push mail, although vastly superior, it's far from being ubiquitous. It's a weird option6 for Apple not to implement it.

Desktop iChat—that Text app closely mimics—is able to send/receive attachments (graciously), so why not allow attachment sending/receiving for Text app, too?

Bottom line

Don't let my criticism fool you. I only enlisted above "the good", "the bad" and "the ugly" — meaning all that I left out could deservingly be filed under a new section: "the miraculous". And that's the reason why its faults are tolerable.

The iPhone is a game changer. Not because what it does—as you can see above, it actually does less compared with the rest of the smart-phones—but because how it does.

Each time I switch on my old SonyEricsson I shudder with revulsion, despite its superior technical spec list: How the f#%& could I have used this? I could not go back to using this again!

The way Apple changes the game is so radical yet subtle that technical-minded analysts cannot get it: it renders the whole spec-for-spec comparison completely useless. How? By placing the experience on the first place on the feature list. The protocols and the megahertz and the megapixel come afterwards, the top feature being the miraculous design-driven experience.

Despite the fact that people buy clothes, cars, homes and just about everything in between mainly considering design—did you ever seen design (real design i.e. the way it works, not surface cosmetics) on a phone feature list before, let alone at its very top? Me neither.

It was about time!

1 Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Czech Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Latvia, Lithuania, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Uruguay.

2 On a side note I have to mention that in Romania the police state practices are still in place somehow—in order to get a new mobile phone subscription the ID and signature are not enough: you are considered as an infractor until proven otherwise and you must provide a copy after your house buying/renting contract, so they know where to find you. Just in case, you know.

3 Here are the 5 tests, in various usage conditions of the handset (minutes:seconds): 0:08, 0:24, 0:29, 0:11, 0:06. Median time: 0:15.

4 It can be disabled via Cyndia, i.e. by hacking into the phone ("jailbreaking" the phone involves replacing the iPhone's firmware with a slightly modified version that does not enforce the signature check) and installing an unsupported application.

5 Can't use the iPhone to dial numbers from desktop Address Book, can't use it to send SMS from desktop Address Book, can't use it to browse the device (to access the pictures folder, for instance), can't use it to access or backup the SMS conversations, call log etc.

6 On the other hand, it might be also a bit of a cultural mismatch—in North America MMS is not being used all that much, as seamless interoperability is challenged by the presence of multiple network technologies and varied business interests among major mobile network operators. Europe seems very different in this regard.