BrendanLoy.com: Homepage | Photoblog | Weatherblog | Photos | Old blog archives

« Previous post | Next post »
iPhone’s Knoxville debut, in words, pictures and video
Posted by on Friday, June 29, 2007 at 11:00 pm

Here are my photos of the iPhone’s debut at the Knoxville Apple Store in West Town Mall.

My thoughts on the wee gadget? Overall, I agree with Dane: “It’s really rather addictively fun to play with. The touch screen thing is fantastic, beyond any other touch sensitive device I’ve ever used. Flicking around stuff is fun, and really fast and feels very natural.”

That opinion seemed to be shared by most everyone at the store; the atmosphere was really electric at the table where people were playing with the iPhones. One person after another expressed a mixture of delight, glee, stunned amazement, etc. at how awesome the little gizmo is. I must have heard some variation on the sentiment, “I really wish I could afford one of these,” a half-dozen times. (Clearly, I wasn’t the only person who showed up just to play with the iPhones even though I had no intention of buying one.)

Alas, the biggest sticking point for me all along — well, aside from the price, the fact that I’m under contract with Sprint (though I guess it’s possible to sell your contact), and the inability to use it as a modem — remains a sticking point: as good as the touch-sensitive keyboard is, and as quickly as you get better at using it after even a few minutes, I still don’t think it would ever become possible to type as fast as I can on a regular cell-phone keypad in T9w mode. Moreover, without tactile feedback, it almost certainly wouldn’t ever become possible to type without looking, which I do all the time on my current phone. If you’re accustomed to sending short text messages and writing brief e-mails from your phone while not doing anything else that you need to look at, this is not a big problem. If you’re accustomed to composing and publishing a dozen 256-character blog posts on your phone during the course of a football game you’re attending, it’s a somewhat more serious concern. :)

That said, the phone is so cool that it might very well, at some point, be worth the small sacrifice of dealing with the limitations imposed by the non-tactile virtual keyboard.

However, I don’t think I’ll ever get an iPhone unless and until it can be used as a modem. The slowness of typing with the virtual keyboard — this short post took a good 10 minutes to type (though I’m sure I’d get somewhat faster with time) — only reinforces the importance of being able to still use my laptop for blogging, e-mail, etc., while I’m on the go and it’s convenient to do so. No way does the iPhone’s own web access, while excellent for a phone, totally replace that. In other words, at least for a power user, the iPhone does notremove the need to carry around your whole computer” in all circumstances. In some circumstances, yes, but not all. Phone-as-modem must be added at some point, or the iPhone will not be a viable option for me. And I’m not alone. A very quick search found tons of bloggers complaining about the same issue. See, for example, this post: “Because the iPhone currently can’t be used as a USB modem, it is useless for me. Sure, the video and audio features are cool. Sure, the user interface makes me drool with envy. But all that can’t hold a candle to letting me work when I’m out in the boonies. Staying connected means more than just accessing the Internet from my phone. I need a phone that can get my laptop online as well.” This is not a trivial issue, and no rationalization regarding the “target audience” can mask the fact that a non-negligible segment of potential users will be unable to seriously consider buying an iPhone until this feature is added. Its absence is, simply put, a total deal-breaker for many people. Are you listening, Apple?

I had a few other pet peeves as I played with the phone, which I’ll talk about after the jump. (Don’t get me wrong — I really like the thing, and most of these gripes are admittedly nitpicky. But you already know the good stuff, as it’s been widely publicized, so I’m trying to add something new to the discussion by mentioning these pet peeves.)

First, though, here’s a rather lengthy video of me playing with an iPhone. To be honest, I’m not sure if it will be of much interest, but for those who want to get a feel for what it’s like… well, I’d suggest you just go to an Apple Store and see for yourself :), but if you don’t want to do that, you can watch my video. Around 9 minutes and 15 seconds in, you can see me log into the WordPress interface (I excluded the part where I enter my password, obviously) and type up a post, so any potential WP-using iPhone bloggers can get a sense of what it would be like to blog via iPhone. Enjoy!


source file

NOTE: My typing speed in this video is a bit slower than my typing speed when using the iPhone normally. I was slowed down by the unnatural angle at which I had to stand and hold the thing in order to keep it on camera.

Speaking of video clips, in the post below, you can view my footage of the Apple Store opening the doors at 6:00 PM.

Anyway, like I said, after the jump, my pet peeves. :)

I already mentioned the most glaring problem I noticed: the lack of basic punctuation marks (i.e., period, comma and apostrophe) on the main virtual keyboard for text-messaging and filling out Web forms (e.g., blogging in WordPress). That’s a real pain in the butt, and something Apple should fix in a software update ASAP. I don’t mind switching over to the (the one with numbers and symbols) to type a hyphen or semicolon, or even a question or exclamation mark, but basic marks like periods should be easily accessible at all times.


Where’s the period key?

Another minor gripe: when typing a password that becomes hidden text once entered, the iPhone doesn’t — as my Sprint phone does — briefly display each character before it becomes hidden. This makes it impossible to get visual confirmation that you’ve correctly typed everything, including capital and lower-case letters. The first time I tried to log into my blog’s WP interface, I made a typo because of this.

I was going to complain about the annoyance that can follow when the iPhone incorrectly guesses what you’re trying to type: for example, in one case it wrongly replaced “texting” with “testing,” and I didn’t realize it had done so until I after I’d sent the message I was composing. However, this gripe was severely curtailed (in a good way!) when I noticed how smart the iPhone is about correcting such mistakes. If you type something and it makes an incorrect guess, and you immediately delete that guess and type the same word again, it learns from its mistake and doesn’t correct you the second time! This happens without any specific directive from the user (e.g., “add to dictionary”). So that’s pretty cool.

Oh, but here’s something else: Safari for the iPhone doesn’t deal with WordPress’s category box very well. You can’t scroll down in the box (at least, I couldn’t figure out a way to do so), so you can only choose one of the categories at the top of your list. A very minor point, admittedly. But, along with the lack of Flash, it points to an inability to handle slightly-more-complex Web interfaces. Not a huge flaw, but it would be nice to see Apple work on this sort of thing as the iPhone evolves.

Also, I imagine that it would be rather difficult for someone with fat fingers to use Safari for the iPhone — though the ability to “zoom in” obviously helps. But still, clicking on the correct link can be tricky when links are close together. I’m pretty dexterous, but even I clicked on the wrong link a couple of times. For example, on my own website, while trying to hit the “Comments” link at the top of the page, I went first to the “Webcam” page by accident, and then to the “Archives & Links” page, before finally reaching my intended destination. The problem is that, unlike with the virtual keyboard (where the key you’re pressing “rises up” to meet your finger), there is no advance visual feedback to tell you whether you’re pressing the right link on an HTML page. You just click, and if your finger is positioned wrong, it takes you to the wrong URL. That can be a wee bit annoying, though probably inevitable, and as I said, the simple solution is to zoom in closer using the ingenious two-finger zoom function.

That’s about it, in terms of complaints. Most everything worked pretty damn well, indeed rather awesomely, during my test-driving of the phones. It’s a very, very fun little toy.

P.S. Oh, I forgot another, reasonably-medium-sized gripe. As this photo demonstrates, the iPhone’s built-in camera seems to do a rather terrible job of taking pictures of nearby objects. I tried several times to get a good photo, to no avail. Compare that to a photo of basically the same thing, taken with my Sprint phone, which is — by the specs — less sophisticated than the iPhone’s.


At left, a photo taken by an iPhone; at right, a photo taken by my Sanyo MM-8300.

The iPhone’s camera takes better pictures, when the object you’re photographing is in focus. But as the above left photo demonstrates, it seemed unable to focus on an object a few feet away. This might have had something to do with the lighting at the Apple Store, or some other aspect of the conditions in which I took the photo, but until I see evidence to the contrary, I consider this a flaw.




29 Comments on “iPhone’s Knoxville debut, in words, pictures and video”

  1. David K. Says:

    I had heard that among its auto-corrects was the ability to add a period and capitalize new sentences, but i could have misunderstood.

  2. Jay Johnson Says:

    This, much like all other consumer electronics is not going to be for everyone. I think it’s probably designed not for everyone, but for Everyman.

    To me, it seems to be a nice, cleanly put together package of features that most folks would probably want. It doesn’t have every possible tech capability that’s presently available, nor does it have to have that. I think, probably wisely so, that Apple is selling this as the smartphone for the masses.

    It has easy to use and understand features, makes calls, stores music and movies, has a camera, and can access the internet. It has a calendar and contacts, plus the other stuff. Not everyone would use everything on the iPhone, but it has enough of a volume of features that everyone can find something they like about it enough to buy it.

    Thanks for the review, and wish I could’ve been there with you today.

  3. Nadine Says:

    The local San Francisco Bay Area ABC station has video of the Walnut Creek store opening for the iPhone. http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=business&id=5436868
    Alas, I’m not in the video (too far back in the line).

  4. kcatnd Says:

    Looks cool. The typing does look a little tedious for long entries.

    btw, David K., I replied to your post on the other thread.

  5. Nadine Says:

    In a celebration of Steve Jobs I’m going to take my iPhone to the movie Ratatouille this weekend and then have dinner at the French Laundry. Sometimes it’s just plain wonderful living in the San Francisco Bay Area!

    Oh, and yes I’m riding by Bianchi bike to all of the above (and back home!).

  6. dcl Says:

    Umm, brendan, you really suck at typing on the iPhone. I was going twice that speed in less than a minute messing with the thing. The secret really is, trust the software. Seriously, I was typing something, forgot what, and I don’t think I hit a correct letter out of the seven that I typed and the thing still guessed correctly for what I wanted. Seriously, just whale away at the thing with two thumbs and it works pretty darn well. Also, I think the single thumb technique is probably the least efficient way to use it… Single pointer finger was pretty darn quick too-with way fewer miss typed letters.

  7. Jessica Cowans Says:

    I’m not doubting you, Brendan, about not being able to type a period from the main keyboard - not doubting as much as just in disbelief. SURELY there is a shortcut or something that will type a period. My blackberry, for example, will type a period and capitalize the next word if I hit space bar twice. It gets intuitive to use it that way, and even now on my laptop I sometime type space space at the end of the sentence. If I didn’t know that tip, I would have to hit alt and then the key that has the period on it, which would be VERY tedious. I just can’t imagine that apple missed that - and if they did, yes that should be fixed ASAP.

    Did you search the help menus? I’m SURE you did.

  8. Below The Beltway » Blog Archive » The iPhone Debuts Says:

    […] Brendan Loy stood in line in Tennessee and posted a review after playing with the iPhones at the Apple Store. […]

  9. The iPhone: Virtual Texting And Unlocking » Big Brother Celebrity News & Gossip : Anorak Says:

    […] Jun YOU love texting. And you want an iPhone: Moreover, without tactile feedback, it almost certainly wouldn’t ever become possible to type […]

  10. Peter Evans Says:

    Oh! So that’s what they are!

    You know, I hadn’t really heard about them until yesterday. For some reason, the hype machine entirely missed me, as if I was one of those building’s that the giant tornado inexplicably left untouched. Sounds like a cool device anyway.

  11. Brendan Loy Says:

    The secret really is, trust the software. Seriously, I was typing something, forgot what, and I don’t think I hit a correct letter out of the seven that I typed and the thing still guessed correctly for what I wanted.

    Yeah, well, I found that when I just trusted the software, it would correctly guess the word I was trying to type maybe 70% of the time. The other 30%, I would mess up 2 or 3 letters and it wouldn’t be able to figure it out.

    But I’m sure I’d get better at it if I bought one.

    Still, even if I got to be 2 or 3 times faster at it (and my typing in the video is a bit slower than my typing at other times, because of the unnatural angle I was holding the thing in order to make it possible for the camera to see what I was doing), that still wouldn’t be as fast as I can type in T9w mode on my current phone with tactile feedback.

  12. Wind Rider Says:

    Concur completely with the observation of no modem capability being a deal breaker. being tied to AT&T, while it chafes due to the imposed choice of carrier, is livable. Speed isn’t as much a factor as the mere ability to connect in the first place, although, faster is better - however, it is understandable, insofar as it was probably a necessity to pick a protocol for the initial baseline of the product, to facilitate development.

    I’m most disappointed with the “locked down” aspect of the software (which, I believe, is the probable cause of no modem capability - the physical connectivity pieces exist, they just aren’t activated/strung together via the software). This is one that Apple COULD jump on rather quickly with a software fix, and they should. But no modem is just a smaller aspect of my overall disappointment - which may be one simply of perception - in that when I look at the product, I don’t see a phone that does other cool stuff, but a handheld computer that also happens to do phone calls. Viewed from that perspective, the device is severely handicapped, imho.

    Talking with folks about that aspect, I suspect that we will see something along the lines of the following - someone will figure out how to “crack” the iPhone, and third parties will begin writing apps to improve its functionality. After an initial shocked, SHOCKED and indignant period on the part of Apple, they will quite probably embrace the free development efforts, and eventually start pointing out the better/more functional items on the Apple site, as they do for many third party apps today.

    Forget simply giving us modem capability - give us access to the OS. It’s a COMPUTER, not just another phone that plays mp3’s and takes happy snaps….

  13. Ken Says:

    One of the big problems may end up being the battery. Just as with the iPod, the iPhone battery can not be replaced by the user. Since it is designed to last about 300-400 charges, for those who only charge it once every two days then it will probably last the lifetime of the 2-year contract…but for heavy users who charge every day it may be dead just after the one-year warranty runs out!! Not sure if the battery is even covered under the warranty by the way??? And even if it is, will Apple or AT&T stores be able to replace batteries? Or will you have to mail it in? What if there is no store near you when it goes….People aren’t going to be happy giving up their phone to get the battery replaced. And it is going to be the heavy users who have the most problems anyway. Ah Apple…another example of the consumer be damned…just make sure we get plenty of money for iPhone replacements….wouldn’t want to allow for easy and cheap battery replacements as that would not be good for the bottom line.

  14. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater Says:

    http://www.nokiausa.com/link?cid=EDITORIAL_185360

    The Nokia E70.. In EDGE or 3G flavors, has a relatively huge QWERTY keyboard, wifi, bluetooth, and Nokia sells it unlocked. To my mind it’s the ultimate blogphone?

  15. Brown Brown Leroy Brown Says:

    On the punctuation question, just hit the space bar twice like on a blackberry and it automaticall inserts a period and capitalizes the first letter of the new sentence. Can’t help you with commas, though. (And, as you can see, I love me some commas! And exclamation points!!!!)

  16. Mister Snitch! Says:

    “Phone-as-modem must be added at some point, or the iPhone will not be a viable option for me. And I’m not alone.”

    Uh, yeah. That’s gonna just BREAK the product. Let’s see a show of hands: How many would prefer NOT to lug a laptop around? OK, and how many would trade a small amount of functionaliy to be so unencumbered? OK, now: How many think Brendan has NO idea what most people want from a consumer product? Huh. Same folks, how about that.

    You’ll want to be seated for this, fella: Gadget geeks who feel undressed unless they are lugging around all kinds of electronic devices ARE NOT in the majority. Most people want compact, portable, and convenient, MOST of the time. This is proven in case after case. Hence the popularity of fast food, disposable cameras, Starbucks on every corner, etc.

    People also want elegance and beauty. That eliminates just about every other phone devise but this one. A “relatively large QWERTY keyboard” may be geek heaven, but hardly a subject of mass appeal. Stop people on the street and ask them to produce a QWERTY keyboard. Then ask them to produce an iPod. Which will you see more of?

    Prediction: This product will blow past its projected numbers. And this guy will NOT admit how wrong he was today. Neither will his commenters. Indeed, they’ll buy ‘em just so not to be left out.

  17. Rebecca Loy Says:

    Am I the only person who just doesn’t give flying shit about a ridiculous luxury gizmo I can’t afford? I don’t get it.

  18. Brendan Loy Says:

    Mister Snitch, you act like it’s an either-or proposition. Apple could easily create an iPhone with all the great, average-consumer-friendly features it has now, AND a phone-as-modem capability for power users. The latter need not compromise the former! Apple’s expertise in creating products that are simultaneously average-user-friendly and power-user-friendly is proven by OS X. I just wish they’d applied that expertise to this particular aspect of the iPhone.

    Anyway I don’t know why you’re being so combative. I simply said that the phone-as-modem feature is a deal-breaker for me, and for many others. I didn’t say it’s a deal-breaker for everyone, or for the average consumer, nor did I predict that Apple won’t sell lots of phones, etc. So if indeed this product “blow[s] past its projected numbers,” there will be no need to “admit how wrong [I] was today,” because I won’t have been wrong today! I haven’t said anything that would be contradicted by heavy iPhone sales. On the contrary, I said it was a great product. I just wish it had that one additional feature.

  19. C. Trotter Says:

    French Laundry = most overrated Restaurant in the Americas. Hope ya made reservations about tow months ago…or are you planning on getting lucky on Opentable?

  20. mcg Says:

    Walt Mossberg said it took him about 5 days to get accustomed to the keyboard—that after two days he hated it, but now he’s as fast as he is on his Treo. I think that your experience is consistent with his.

  21. Jay Johnson Says:

    I still stand by my comment that this is an “Everyman” device and not an “everyone” device.

  22. David K. Says:

    . Apple could easily create an iPhone with all the great, average-consumer-friendly features it has now, AND a phone-as-modem capability for power users.

    Said by someone with absolutely zero experience in software development :-) No offense Brendan but its not as simple as flipping a switch to get that kind of functionality. Adding new features to software ESPECIALLY at the OS/hardware level. Apple had to make some decisions on what to include now and what to include later or else we would still be waiting for the iPhone to be announced.

  23. Brendan Loy Says:

    I’m not saying it’s a travesty they don’t have it now. I’ve backed off that position. I’m simply saying I fully expect them to add it in a later version, and if they don’t, I’ll be pissed (because it’ll mean the iPhone remains essentially a non-option for me, and I really want one). Say all you want about the difficulties of software development (and I don’t deny that I’m ignorant in that area), but I know with my Sprint phone, all I have to do is plug it in, tell my Mac to dial #777, and voila! It works. There’s no special interface on the phone itself, no hoops to jump through on the user’s end. Are there hoops on the developer’s end? No doubt, but they’re hoops that tons of other cell-phone developers have seemingly jumped through without too much trouble, so I refuse to believe it’s beyond Apple’s capabilities. As has already been pointed out, this feature exists on virtually every other smartphone. Yes, yes, the iPhone is the “smartphone for the masses,” and yes, yes, they don’t want “feature bloat.” I know, I know. But I refuse to believe that Apple, with all its amazing expertise, can’t add this relatively simple and nearly universal feature — which won’t bother users who don’t want it — in a (not-too-distant) future upgrade. I’m not even demanding that the phone-as-modem feature be convenient, or cheap, or fast. I just want it to be possible. I don’t think that’s asking as much as you seem to think it is. I think this request is much more reasonable than demanding that the iPhone accomodate Exchange, or be able to edit Word & Excel documents, or have 18,000 hours of battery life and a T1-speed Internet connection. :) I’m not asking for a miracle here. I’m just asking for the ability to hook it up as a modem, like so many other cell phones can do.

  24. David K. Says:

    One of the big problems may end up being the battery. Just as with the iPod, the iPhone battery can not be replaced by the user. Since it is designed to last about 300-400 charges, for those who only charge it once every two days then it will probably last the lifetime of the 2-year contract…but for heavy users who charge every day it may be dead just after the one-year warranty runs out!! Not sure if the battery is even covered under the warranty by the way??? And even if it is, will Apple or AT&T stores be able to replace batteries? Or will you have to mail it in? What if there is no store near you when it goes….People aren’t going to be happy giving up their phone to get the battery replaced. And it is going to be the heavy users who have the most problems anyway. Ah Apple…another example of the consumer be damned…just make sure we get plenty of money for iPhone replacements….wouldn’t want to allow for easy and cheap battery replacements as that would not be good for the bottom line.

    And here we have an example of someone with zero experience in hardware design. Look engineering is all about trade offs. Consumers want a small durable phone. Adding a replaceable battery is going to increase the size of the phone and/or weaken the durability of its frame. If you’ve ever seen the inside of an iPod or especially the nano you’d understand just what they had to do to cram everything in such a small device.

    Battery is indeed covered in the warranty and you can extend the warranty with AppleCare for the iPhone. Should you need to send in your iPhone for replacement you can obtain a loaner phone for $29

    http://www.apple.com/support/iphone/service/faq/#faq11

  25. Brendan Loy Says:

    Hey, that’s pretty sweet. But, no fair, I want a loaner PowerBook (or MacBook) the next time I have to send mine in! ;)

  26. jose Says:

    I agree that this is the smart-phone of the masses. It has a large “target audience” because of its multiple uses. The people who would use it as a USB modem are clearly a minority.

  27. David K. Says:

    Brendan,

    Other companies have done it, but those companies have also been developing cellphone software/hardware for years now. Apple is on its first round. Can it be done? Absolutely. Will it be done? I don’t doubt it. Why wasn’t it done this time? Priorities. Apple wanted to release a product that was solid and provided the functionality that the vast majority of its users needed and so as is the case often they cut or didn’t include a feature, that to be honest I doubt alot of people will miss. I know you want an iPhone that does everything :) And its ok to want that, but i’m glad to see you backing of from your position about that being a big flaw ;-)

    I’d rather Apple spent their time making those major features as solid as possible that most people are going to use and save the edge (no pun intended) features for later additions. I mean thats really how its decided, you ask yourself as a software designer, is it worth it to work on feature X? Are there enough people who will use it or should i spend my time on feature Y which more people will use? Yeah ok feature Y.

  28. David K. Says:

    Oh and in case marty is still lurking:

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,133636-pg,1/article.html

    Turns out that whole scratchy screen thing you were complaining about? Yeah not so much…

  29. Kinzman Says:

    I thought it was cool you could type in wide screen. I remember little folding keyboards made for the Palm. At the keynote, they hooked up to the power point video. I could see this little device pumped up and accessorized as a laptop replacement using web 2.0 apps and the like. I drool.


This is an archived post. Comments are closed.

To leave a comment on a newer post, please visit the homepage.


[powered by WordPress.]