A couple years ago, I wrote about my experience with my first smartphone (an HTC 8925, or the AT&T Tilt), which ran the Windows Mobile operating system. As it was my first smartphone, I was more-or-less happy with it, but it became more and more frustrating to use as that operating system was hopelessly out of date. I bought an iPhone 3GS about a year ago. In closing that note from 2008 I said something that is still true today:
Overall, the smartphone has to fit into my life, not my life fit to the phone. It needs to enable me to get things done beyond the standard phone calls of any mobile phone. If it gets in my way, then it becomes a burden to use, instead of a useful device.
Of course, there are new things that I discover with a device that works well and fits into the way I want to do things.
So now that I have an iPhone, what are the important uses for me?
- Reading: I have found the iPhone much easier to use in terms of the reading experience that my previous phone. The screen is larger and the user interface makes it easy to switch orientation or change the font size. I find that most of my reading, though, is of Twitter and Facebook and sometimes of linked articles through the web browser. I have a feed reader app on the phone (new one from Feedly, which is what I use on the computer), but I still am not accustomed to longer-form reading on the phone. I have only read a book or two to see how the Kindle app works. Maybe it is the screen size, maybe it's my attention span, maybe it's my concern that there will be things I want to respnod to, but the phone isn't the right platform for that. I would need a good save-for-later capability that works across multiple apps (Safari, Twitter, Facebook, Feedly, ...).
- Writing: Beyond short notes on Twitter and Facebook or very brief email replies, the iPhone is not meant for writing anything lengthy. This may also be a reason I don't read much long-form material on the phone: I find it difficult to respond to things from the phone.
- Podcasts & Music: I listen to a lot of podcasts and some music as I putter around, and the iPhone has been awesome for that task. With my previous smartphone, I had to carry a separate iPod because the phone's audio capabilities were severely limited. That and it had a terrible battery.
- PIM: The phone should work with my other personal information management components, and it does so for the most part. My contacts and calendar sync with the the phone, so I only need to update in one place. I love that the calendar is happy to let me sync with business and family calendars. I am not thrilled with the ability to search through contacts to find them on the phone. The tags/labels I use in Google Contacts don't seem to come through. For notes, I have been using Evernote, and their iPhone app lets me easily see/search my notes. I find that I don't use it frequently, but it is much easier to use than when I was syncing Outlook's notes with my phone. I also use DropBox to store files that I might need on the go, and GoodReader to access them as the DropBox app seemed kind of clumsy.
- Camera: The iPhone camera is merely okay. I like being able to share photos to Flickr right off the phone. I find that the pictures it takes are grainy and frequently blurry (compared to our simple Cannon point-and-shoot digital camera), and it is slow and clumsy to use. I am often frustrated by this because I know there are some people doing interesting things with their phone camera, and I can't imagine how. I also don't have vast interest in learning how to do a better job.
- Apps: Along with some of the apps mentioned above, there are tons and tons of great apps out there. I am not going to begin listing them, other than to say that having good UI plus easy access to the web has made for a lot of fun. And some actual utility.
- Games: Of course, with a better set of apps to choose from, there are too many games to list. But they are fun and make great use of the user interface, whether the touch screen or the motion sensor.
- Battery life: I find that the device generally lasts all day, unless I am doing things that require significant amount of time on the phone or time with the screen actually lit (games). These activities burn the battery quickly.
- Phone: This seems to be one of the least-used elements of my iPhone, as much recent research has suggested. I have been happy talking on the phone either with the headset or with a BlueAnt Q1 bluetooth device. I find the phone to be fine, except for when it isn't - there are far too many dead zones even in a metropolitan area like Boston. I wish it were easier to find contacts from the contact list, as I mention above.
What are your important uses for your smartphone? What is missing from capabilities today? How much of this changes when you add some kind of connected tablet to the mix of devices that go with you nearly everywhere?
[Photo: My photo of Tim Burton's "Balloon Boy" at MOMA last spring. I use it as the background on my iPhone.]