iPhone Annoyances, and Why I Plan to Buy an iPhone 4 Anyway
On June 7th, Steve Jobs introduced iPhone 4, the 4th hardware generation of the iPhone. It’s slightly less wide and 24% thinner than the previous version, but at the same time has better battery life and a faster processor. Its new "Retina Display" has 4x the resolution of the old hardware (960x640, up from 480x320), giving it a pixel density of 326 ppi, which is as good as or better than a lot of printed-paper text. It’s got a much-improved camera that shoots 5 megapixel photos (up from 2), has a built-in flash, and also records 720p HD video -- with a new in-phone version of iMovie for editing and publishing videos without needing a PC. There’s also now a front-facing camera to allow for video calls, although initially this will be limited to wifi; it won’t work over the cell phone network.
One of my favorite things about iPhone 4 is the physical design: I liked the original and the 3G, but this one is definitely nicer. The front and back are flat, with the corners only being rounded in 2D along the sides, as opposed to the old design where each corner was semi-spherical with its rounding including part of the back as well. And the back is now made of aluminosilicate glass, rather than metal or plastic as before; Apple says it’s the type of glass used in the windshields of helicopters and high-speed trains. Between the front and back glass panels is the thin stainless steel frame, the sides of which are part of a new antenna system that should improve signal quality, although the infamously bad AT&T cell service that some iPhone users complain about (mainly in NYC and SF) has never been a problem for me anyway.
The iPhone is Not Perfect
Lately I’ve been frustrated by my iPhone. And by lately, I mean for the past year or so. My original iPhone was great, and my iPhone 3G was great until I installed the version 3 software update on it, in 2009. Apple released the iOS3 software at the same time as the iPhone 3GS hardware, which was mostly just a "speed bump" upgrade from the 3G. I didn’t get a 3GS, for a few reasons: I would have had to pay the expensive, non-subsidized price of $499 or $599 instead of $199 or $299; it wasn’t a huge upgrade anyway, being physically identical and hardware-wise very similar to my 3G; and I really wanted a 64GB version, but the 3GS still only went up to 32GB of storage.
But when I installed iOS3 on my 3G, it got sluggish. Not terribly so, and not all the time, but enough that it started to really bother me. The iPod, iTunes, and Safari apps crash frequently -- usually several times per day. When this happens I just re-launch the app and then it works fine, but it’s really irritating nonetheless. And there’s usually no loss of data, but sometimes -- once or twice a week -- this causes the phone’s iTunes library to revert to an older state, forgetting the listened/watched status of my last few podcasts, and losing my place within the one I’m currently listening to. That’s super frustrating. Worst of all, once every couple months, a crash results in the iTunes library becoming totally corrupt, to the point that the iPod app says "No music found", even though I’ve got over 10 gigs of music on it, and syncing with my Mac fixes the problem quickly (without transferring any music; it just rebuilds the library).
The iPhone really should have a built-in "rebuild iTunes library" feature, because having this kind of corruption occur when you’re away from your Mac -- out of town, or across the country on vacation, etc -- makes me want to kill someone. And by someone I mean Apple. And not only for that reason; there’s also the fact that iTunes is a piece of absolute garbage, screwing up all my podcasts on every single sync: changing podcasts I’ve watched back to unwatched & vice-versa, and losing my place within podcasts. Because of this, I dread syncing, and only do it once a month or so.
The podcast section of the iPod app is extremely jerky when scrolling, despite the fact that there’s only 14 items in the list, whereas my album list with over 150 items scrolls smoothly. This combined with the shoddy podcast syncing, and the status/position memory bugs, lead me to believe that no one at Apple has ever watched or listened to a podcast.
I believe that the ol’ iPhone 3G is simply not powerful enough (in CPU and RAM) to run iOS3 well, and Apple should not have offered iOS3 for 3G users. That would have pissed off a lot of people, but I’d rather have a stable phone with fewer features than a more full-featured phone that crashes all the time.
All of that to say this: much of my frustration with my iPhone is due to my 3G becoming relatively less powerful as the iOS software has grown, so these frustrations don’t give me pause when I consider upgrading to iPhone 4. Its much more capable hardware will resolve most of these issues.
Smaller iPhone Gripes
There are other things that bug me about the iPhone that are more minor, though some are still quite aggravating. There’s no scale bar in the maps app. It’s been that way since day one and it defies all logic. PUT A FRIGGIN’ SCALE BAR ON THE MAPS APP ALREADY, Apple. It’s hard to believe I’m the only iPhone user who wants to know about distances while using a map.
There’s no in-page search in Safari. You can’t view the source-code of webpages nor emails. You can’t set per-email alerts, nor even per-email-account alerts; you can only enable an option to "alert me for every single email that arrives", which is entirely useless.
The iPod app’s playlist support is idiotic. When viewing my "2010" playlist for example, which contains all my albums from 2010, it’s impossible to choose an album and play it. The only option is to play every single song from every album in the playlist.
Some of these issues are geeky or esoteric, but others are just obvious and their absence ridiculous. I know that Apple doesn’t want to implement half-baked solutions, which is ostensibly the reason it took so long for them to add copy & paste -- which they did totally nail -- but at the same time, they are quite clearly allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good in many cases.
Crap That Apple Would Never Let a Third-Party App Get Away With
In the iPod app, at the bottom of each podcast’s episode list, there’s a "Get More Episodes..." item that you can tap. But instead of simply loading more episodes right there in the same view, like the Mail app does for getting more messages from the server, the iPod app launches the iTunes app for this. That’s stupid and annoying, especially on a resource-constrained 3G that’s prone to crashes.
But what’s inexcusable is what you see when you arrive in the iTunes app:
Those listings are worthless. You have no idea what any of those episodes are about, and no way to figure it out either. The listings within the iPod app, for the episodes you’ve already got, are just the same: it’s impossible to know what the topics are because of a) how stupidly short the names/titles are truncated, and b) the fact that nowhere on the device are the full names/titles displayed, not even while you’re playing them.
This kind of inattention to detail is uncharacteristically careless for Apple, and it’s the kind of thing that Gruber and all the rest would rightly criticize a third-party app for. But I haven’t heard a peep about this issue regarding Apple’s own built-in apps.
So Dump the Stupid iPhone Already
With all these iPhone issues, why don’t I switch to a different smartphone? Because the iPhone is an amazingly beautiful, useful, and fun device. It’s not perfect, but nothing is. And at this point I don’t consider any of the iPhone’s competitors to be quite as good as it is.
With the introduction of the Droid Incredible and the HTC EVO, the iPhone does finally have some reasonable competition. I’ve been using Linux on my desktop for 10 years and I love the idea of having it on my phone. I especially love the idea of ditching iTunes because, as mentioned, it is an abomination.
But I’ve been listening carefully to people who’ve been using these phones, and it’s clear that Android in general and these phones in particular are just not there yet, especially when compared to the iPhone. From poor battery life, to not-quite-accurate touch-screen response, to displays that you can’t see outdoors and whose colors aren’t quite correct, to widespread lack of polish and integration in the software stack, Android and the current crop of Android phones are at a level of (poor) usability that I’m not willing to put up with. But with a new flagship Android device coming out every couple months, I wouldn’t be surprised if a next-gen Android smartphone, a year or two from now, becomes my next phone.
In the meantime I’m psyched about iPhone 4, and I’ll continue to be a happy iPhone user, despite its imperfections.