Thoughts on the iPhone 4

The iPhone 4. The folks at Apple who designed the iPhone 4 should be applauded for going beyond what has already been done and creating a simple and elegant smartphone. Stainless steel sandwiched between two layers of glass is beauty to behold.

You glide your fingers atop the multitouch LCD to work and play. There is no delay as the tightly integrated system responds instantly to your touch. The pixel density is high and it makes a difference when your eyes absorb text and graphics. Reading is delightful.

The glass back makes the iPhone 4 beautiful but more fragile. Personally I would have liked it more if a unibody stainless steal design also encompassed the back. We would have a white iPhone 4 if not for that glossy glass back. The iPhone 4 is near flawless in its form. But function… is another story.

I had ramen for lunch with an old friend today. While slurping sesame-based ramen soup my iPhone-toting buddy shared that he keeps the 3G turned off. Always. Just to get a decent connection. I too turn off 3G at home. WiFi is turned off too since there is nothing to connect to. We agreed that other phones don’t have this problem and came to an uncomfortable conclusion that the bad reception on the iPhone is really Apple’s fault. It was so easy to blame AT&T.

I am paying for 3G but only use it when I’m in an area where there is reliable coverage. That is ridiculous. I’m not sure I want to pay AT&T or Apple for a sub-par experience. But do I have a choice?

Yesterday, I almost pulled the trigger on a John’s Phone. It is billed as “The World’s Simplest Cell Phone.” It is a phone and that’s about it. The simplicity is what lured me. All I can do on John’s Phone is make and take calls. There is no address book, though there is a handy physical one made of paper along with an integrated pen. So quaint. You can assign numbers to the buttons for speed-dialing. A dot-matrix LCD sits on top and shows you the number that’s calling. I thought, “I just want to be able to make calls. Reliably. Without drops.” Unfortunately you can’t get it shipped directly to you if you’re ordering from the US. Aside from that inconvenience there were some other considerations.

Looking back at how I use my iPhone for the last several days, here’s what I do with my iPhone:

I text a bit. I don’t know exactly how many but just yesterday I think I texted about 15 messages. I also check my email when I’m out and about. Calvetica is my calendar, which I use daily, is synced to both my Calendar app and Google Calendar. Reeder is my RSS app that syncs with Google Reader; I look forward to using this app because it is simply a pleasure. I like it better than Google Reader on the desktop. I quickly go through non-display-related items by flicking it to the right, marking it read. PlainText is my text editor I use almost everyday that auto-syncs to DropBox. I also use the Bible app, which I try to read daily. I’ve been recently testing skobbler, a free GPS navigation app. And the app came in handy when I was hanging out with my son at Barnes & Noble the other day. He wanted to get some games so I promptly pulled out my iPhone and checked the prices on Amazon using the handy-dandy scanner. I explained to him that it was much cheaper on Amazon and that it would only take a few days. He reluctantly agreed to forgo instant gratification for a few bucks saved. What a wonderful kid! I also use the camera to take photos and videos quite a bit.

I don’t think there are equivalents to what I have on the iPhone. I really don’t want to spend the time and effort to find replacements for Calvetica, Reeder or PlainText, if that was even possible. If I went with John’s Phone I would need some type of daily planner for calendaring. A GPS. I don’t think it is possible to get a mobile RSS reader unless I get another smartphone, which I don’t want to do. I’ll be comparing it to the iPhone and be perpetually stuck in complain mode. I do use an actual notepad and pen to jot down my thoughts from time to time, so I could depend on that a bit more. I would need lots of stuff.

I concluded that the hassle of not having reliable calls on the iPhone 4 is offset by the incredible apps I make use of on a daily basis. 3G is turned off so I can make and take calls. WiFi is turned off to make the battery last. These are small prices to pay for the best designed smartphone on the market, a display that is second to none, and apps that cannot be found anywhere else.

Perfection? I initially wrote, “When the iPhone is offered on Verizon. Can’t come soon enough.” But that’s not true. If the reception problem is indeed Apple’s problem to solve then even a Verizon iPhone would exhibit similar problems. I don’t think a firmware update is the answer either. The only possibility to a better iPhone is to wait for the iPhone 5, regardless of the carrier. Steve Jobs should be announcing just that iPhone come January 2011. Can’t wait.