Software updates are rarely the stuff of worldwide frenzy, but in Apple's Wonderland it is. Step through the looking glass with us as we run iPhone OS 3.0 through its paces. Is it worth a Cheshire cat grin? Or has the whole world gone barking mad?
Few products can boast of customers who actually get excited about a new firmware release. The release of Apple's iPhone OS 3.0 is testament to the company's ability to give you more features and a better product than the one you bought. At the same time, it shows Apple's weakness for stubbornly holding out on features they think you don't need (copy and paste) and a disturbing penchant for releasing a half-baked product and fixing it later.
Now that iPhone OS 3.0 is out, it feels more like a fix of the latter than a promise of the former. That's really too bad because the changes in 3.0 are deep and far-reaching. Unfortunately, these changes won't be fully realized until developers create apps and services for them. So if you're hoping OS 3.0 will amaze you, don't hold your breath. But don't fret, the update is well worth it.
Blame the iPhone-toting hordes for bringing downloads to a crawl on launch day. The commonly smooth experience of updating our iPhones was ruined by overburdened servers dropping connections in the middle of downloading the installation package. Roughly 24 hours later, service had improved.
Installation proved to be a much longer process than previous updates, which was disappointing since Apple prides itself in a silky smooth customer experience. After all the download problems, slow installation felt remarkably un-Apple-ish.
Cut, Copy and paste
Sadly, a feature that comes in virtually all products on launch day is one of the highlights of iPhone OS 3.0. But since we've been waiting a short eternity for this feature, it was the first thing we tried out. And eureka, it works.
Simply double tap anywhere on the screen to bring up the copy selection tool. Selecting text can be a trying experience, but no one ever said it would be easy on a touch screen. Once your text is selected, you can copy it, go to another app, then double tap again to bring up the menu and paste. Now that that's out of the way, bring on the word processor apps!
Shift the orientation of your iPhone to horizontal and the keyboard will now likewise shift to a wider, landscape format. Users have been asking for this feature since the iPhone first came out because it makes two thumb keyboard input possible. In practice, it's not all roses. Our clumsy thumbs mispressed keys more often than our index finger, which is, we're guessing, the reason behind Apple holding back on this feature. This input method takes some practice at best. Still, we're glad Apple decided to give users the option to use a landscape keyboard. Choice is a good thing, okay Apple engineers?
Located to the left of the iPhone Home Page is Spotlight, a powerful way to rummage through the contents of your iPhone. It's the same search used in OS X, and it will sniff through everything from music tracks to mail headers. Simply tap a search in and Spotlight will arrange your hits according to what it is, say, address book entries, calendar entries, email, or music. We all take search for granted nowadays - we almost can't live without it - and it's great to see it on the iPhone.
Another phone feature that's been neglected by Apple is MMS. It's now possible to send MMS from the Messages App, or the Photo Album. Upon sending our first MMS, Globe was quick to inform us that iPhone users get 15 free MMS/month, which really isn't bad at all.
Receiving MMS is likewise possible. You get a little thumbnail in Messages. Tap on the thumbnail to view (or listen to) the MMS clipping.
The Voice Recorder is a neat little app that lets you record little clippings of yourself. It's also good enough for taping interviews, a feature that is very much welcome to hack journalists such as ourselves. To give the feature a test, we used it to record our guitar playing, and the results were surprisingly good (the recording, not our playing).
Once a recording is done, it syncs to iTunes as an MP4 file.
The Notes App now syncs to your notes in Mail. We'd have preferred syncing notes to Stickies, but no such luck. It's good to see this feature though. Short of a real file manager, it completes things somehow.
As of publishing this article, few developers have apps that allow for purchases. In theory it will allow for downloadable content within games - a trend in gaming nowadays. You buy the basic game and shell out a few dollars for new levels, and new costumes. Alternately, you can download a trial version of a game and pay for an activation code that unlocks the full game. It's a tried and tested method of payment on the PC and gaming consoles.
One of the pioneers in this area is Tap Tap Revenge 2. It's free from the app store, but buying additional songs will cost you. Premium content - a collection of songs from an artist - will cost you $4.99, so buying more music is almost irresistible.
We're looking forward to more apps like Tap Tap Revenge 2. The possibilities of in-app purchases are pretty exciting.
Push notification for email has been around for a while now on the iPhone, but Apple did promise that it would also be available for other apps. With iPhone OS 3.0, Apple is making good on its promises, but like in-app purchases, there are few apps that take advance of push notification as of this moment.
We tried Push notification with AP Mobile, our news app of choice. Upon starting the updated version of AP Mobile, you get to choose whether or not to receive Push notifications. Push notifications appear just like SMS. Settings can also be tweaked from Settings/Notifications should you not want to receive news updates in the wee hours of the morning.
iTunes Video Store Purchases
As the iTunes store is not available in the Philippines, this feature doesn't work. Dear lawmakers, please update our intellectual property laws so Apple will be appeased and give us a Philippine iTunes store. Maraming salamat.
Many people have commented that the iPhone's camera now performs better in the dark. It certainly feels that way, but it's hard to tell for sure. Suffice it to say that the improvements aren't dramatic. We'll let you be the judge with these photos taken before and after the OS 3.0 update.
Finally, freedom for wires! Almost all smart phones are capable of the A2DP profile, which allows pairing with stereo headphones or external speakers, and now the iPhone is no exception. It's simple enough to operate. Simply head on over to settings and turn Bluetooth on. If an A2DP device is within range and discoverable, you'll be asked to input a security code. Once paired, you might want to watch your battery life though. Bluetooth goes through the iPhone's battery like mad. We also experienced problems syncing controls with the FoxL speakers we tested this feature on. Navigation worked fine, but volume had to be adjusted from the speakers themselves. Depending on the Bluetooth profile of your device, similar problems may crop up, so as always, try before you buy.
There are many more little changes and improvements in iPhone OS 3.0, but we leave them to you to discover. Mostly, the update makes the iPhone into a device that it should have been from day one. Naysayers will mostly be silenced now that features like MMS, copy and paste, and A2DP Bluetooth are present on the iPhone.
There are a few tricks that are still missing from the iPhone's repertoire. Multi-tasking is still absent; Apple claims the performance and battery life trade-offs aren't worth it. Video recording is also not possible - except in the 3GS. Given that video recording is possible with a jailbroken iPhone 3G, we're filing this under "unforgivable". Data tethering is likewise AWOL.
The big difference with OS 3.0 lies in Spotlight, Push Notification and In-App Purchases. These features really open up the iPhone to new possibilities. We get the distinct feeling that OS 3.0 is in preparation for bigger things. Cut, copy and paste for example makes word processing - even the whole Office suite - possible on the iPhone. We're itching for the big announcements to come.
It will take a while before we see apps that truly take advantage of these possibilities, but for now, we're glad they're there.