Though Apple controls developer access to the App Store (a negative in my book), the range of available programs should greatly open the iPhone’s capabilities.
I've only spent limited time using the App Store, but this looks to be a gigantic expansion of the phone's capabilities that may vault Apple ahead of the pack. The App Store is a snap to use and is chock-full of great programs, including Remote, which turns the iPhone 3G into a remote control for iTunes or the AppleTV. If a steady supply of good programs continues ( there's no reason to think it won't), the iPhone could become just as versatile as any desktop or mobile computer.
Given the iPhone’s motion sensitivity, third-party developers could make the iPhone a hit gaming platform combining the best aspects of mobile gaming with motion sensitivity found in things like the Nintendo Wii remote.
Third-party programs will also likely build further on the case for the iPhone as a business tool. If that’s to happen, though, a few other developments will be needed, including:
- Other input options. The iPhone’s onscreen keyboard is OK for quick messages, but for real writing a collapsible keyboard and a word processing program would make a true mobile workplace
- Support through Safari for Google Docs or a similar online office suite
- Access to the dock connector for third party developers, something Apple hasn’t allowed yet, since that could open up a whole suite of interesting applications
Now that developers can take officially sanctioned cracks at the device, these developments seem more likely than ever.
GPS on Your iPhone
Another major addition to the iPhone 3G is the inclusion of A-GPS (Assisted GPS). While the first-generation iPhone had rough location-awareness features through cell phone triangulation, the new version sports full GPS.
While this opens up an array of options for new, location-aware programs, the place most users will initially experience it is as part of the phone’s Maps program, which provides driving directions.
This is not the same thing as an in-car navigation system, though. That functionality, or turn-by-turn directions spoken by the system, is not yet available on the iPhone 3G. It could come later via third-party programs, but for now, your iPhone won’t replace your car navigation system, making this GPS implementation neat, but not revolutionary – until developers start creating awesome location-aware applications, that is.
An Unchanged Camera
One of the most common complaints about the first-generation iPhone was its camera: just 2 megapixels in an era when many phones offer 5 megapixels or more (it also doesn't record video, another feature I'd like to see). For those of you hoping for an improvement on that front, I have bad news: the iPhone 3G has the same 2MP camera as its predecessor.
That limitation, especially for those most interested in taking photos with their phones, will likely continue to frustrate, as will the lack of built-in zoom. Though some counter the conventional wisdom that more megapixels are always better, here’s hoping Apple can improve the camera on future versions of the phone.
Shape and Weight
One place where the iPhone 3G doesn’t deviate much at all from the original model is its size and weight. This incarnation of the phone is 0.1 ounces lighter than the original, though it’s slightly thicker.
Despite hardly featuring changes in this department, though, the iPhone 3G feels much better in your hands. This is because Apple has tapered the edges of the phone, while leaving the middle fat. This not only makes the phone easier to grip, it also makes it feel much thinner in your hand, even though it's not. It's a neat trick and one that really improves the phone's ergonomics.
The iPhone 3G also has a glossy black plastic back that reportedly shows finger smudges more than the original. Though not a performance issue, it would be nice if Apple could design a case that didn’t highlight finger grease so much.
Perhaps the most serious Achilles heel of the first-generation iPhone was its less-than-stellar battery life. Though there were techniques to squeeze out more capacity, it still didn’t wow you with its stamina. On this front, the iPhone 3G faces an even steeper challenge - the 3G connection drains battery life even faster.
Apple rates the iPhone 3G’s battery as offering as much audio playback as the first model (24 hours) and nearly the same video and web use time (7 and 5 hours respectively). 3G talk time, however, loses 3 hours when compared to the original model, dropping to just 5 hours.
These rating seems about right. In early use, I only get about a day's worth of use from the phone before needing to recharge it. This is perhaps the phone's greatest shortcoming.
With the drive to keep the phone thin, small, and light, it seems unlikely that Apple’s will squeeze much more battery capacity out of this design, and that may be a real problem - five hours of talk time isn’t much. While this opens a space for accessory makers to offer extended-life batteries, weak battery life is certainly a failing of the iPhone 3G.
iPhone 3G: The Bottom Line
All in all, the iPhone 3G is a solid upgrade over the original model. Just how much of an upgrade it is, though, depends on where you’re coming from.
If you don’t have an iPhone right now, the new features and lower price make it an excellent value and worth serious consideration.
If you do have an iPhone, the upgrade will likely make the most sense if you’ve got the disposable cash, are willing to be tied to AT&T for another two years, or are straining for a faster Internet connection.
If not, though, and despite how good the iPhone 3G is, you may want to wait another 6 months or so – after all, remember that the first iPhone got a price cut and a capacity bump part-way through its lifecycle. Sometimes good things come to those who wait.