Apple iPhone

iPhoneMobile devices thus far have been primarily a phone, an mp3 player or a mobile Internet tool — often a combination thereof but seldom with all three front and centre.

The much-anticipated iPhone brings all three services together more successfully than most. With a pedigree as the predominant music player, the iPhone takes music as seriously as the phone and mobile Internet components, so convergence is one thing the device gets right.

Like everything Apple produces, it’s an undeniably pretty device in sleek black and silver, measuring 6 x 1 centimetres. Its four main functions are those mentioned above — mobile Internet comprises email and web browsing. It’s not clear why Apple waited until now to release the iPhone in Australia, but local mobile broadband capability might have been one reason.

Mobile broadband is one of the iPhone’s big selling points, but it will have more impact in places with much better mobile broadband coverage than we have in Perth. The West tested a Vodafone unit and measured download speeds of only 32Kbps 20 minutes from the CBD, 250Kbps in Leederville and 600kbps in the CBD, far short of the 2-3Mbps you should expect from a mature 3G network in real-world conditions.

The reason might be all the early iPhone users jamming the network following the July 11 release, and of course other factors come into play. But nothing we saw offered the sort of online mobile living the iPhone promises.

Vodafone’s speeds will undoubtedly improve when they upgrade to 14.4Mbps later this year. The Telstra iPhone also enjoys a 14.4Mbps network, to be 21Mbps before the end of 2008.

True to Apple’s reputation as a premium device vendor, the iPhone won’t let you off cheap. Vodafone’s cheapest plan for the 8GB iPhone starts with a $189 one off payment and $69 a month for two years. That includes 250Mb of data a month — not much for a heavy business user. The maximum is $169 a month for 1GB of data. Telstra’s cheapest plan has no up front fee but a monthly plan of $109 that includes only 107Mb of data a month, and their 3G network has several free wifi hotspots. If you do want to unlock your iPhone for any carrier, Vodafone offer the option for $80.

Something to keep in mind is that little of the multimedia content offered by each carrier is iPhone compatible, so don’t assume you’ll have access to the same content sticking with Telstra, Optus or Vodafone. iPhone owners are more than compensated however, with countless applications available for download through the iTunes store with your existing log in.

The iPod component is as reliable and user friendly as ever, but if you’re a hardcore music collector the 8 or 16GB disk space will be a big step backwards from your 60 or 80GB standalone iPod.

Emails are straightforward to set up and use on the iPhone, but the typing interface is quite hit and miss, so it’s hard to imagine using it for anything apart from one or two urgent emails that can’t wait until you get back to your desk. There’s also the annoying feature of the iPhone automatically downloading your email as soon as you select the mail icon from the home screen. Disabling the feature is either impossible or not obvious enough, and it will only eat up your data allowance up faster.

The phone takes advantage of the attractive, picture-based interface of the whole unit, and assigning photos to contacts gives phone calls a unique new dimension. Web browsing is similarly novel — the inbuilt gyroscope re-orients the screen to the angle you’re holding it on, and using your fingers to scroll, zoom in and zoom out is satisfyingly tactile. One again however the typing interface lets the experience down, and the network speeds will be excruciating if you’re used to a desk-bound ADSL2+ connection.

The iPhone works with your Mac or PC in a similar way to an iPod, showing up as a device in iTunes to which you sync contacts, music, photos and more. The disadvantage of this system is that the iPhone is effectively locked to an existing library of music or photos. If you want to isolate a single photo from the iPhone without synching it with your entire iPhoto collection, your only option is to email it to yourself.

The camera is no better in quality than that of most phone cameras and there’s also no flash, so the results are passable. Similarly to the iPod, you can’t access the internal battery, so we might one day soon see similar bad press about the battery’s longevity. Unlike the iPod — and every smartphone you’ve used over the last three years — the charge life on the iPhone is atrocious. If you’re a heavy user you’ll be lucky to get 36 hours of use before needing a recharge.

Like most Apple products, the iPhone is certainly the future and will undoubtedly drive technology to try and catch up. It’s no fault of the device that some aspects of the technology are too far behind — it’s up to Australian carriers and the broadband infrastructure to let it realise its full potential.

The iPhone is for you if you’re an early adopter after a glimpse of the future, you want to be the envy of all your friends or you can afford the leap in your mobile bill. To get everything the device promises, it’ll be a better proposition in about 12 months. 3/5