Early thoughts about that phone (but mostly about AT&T)

When I went to stand in line for the iPhone Friday at 11 AM I plopped my chair down and promptly went inside for real service. The nerd queue looked at me like I had some inside track.

My AT&T 3G card had stopped working two weeks ago. Scratch that, my 3G card — compatible with the AT&T network, which they were not yet selling three months ago but which I could not wait for so I bought unlocked — was not working. It worked splendidly for three months and then suddenly nothing. The first rep, though a nice guy, immediately called tech support, put me on the line, and walked away. The exact same thing I would have done from home. Ugh. Long story short: “We don’t know your card and the fact that you are working on a Mac means we can’t follow our script so, despite the fact that the card was working for months, we recommend a) that you buy one of our cards (for $300) and b) that you call Apple.”

That you call Apple. The irony was rich. Everyone in the store was gearing up for the biggest day in AT&T/Cingular retail history because Apple found them to be the least despicable carrier to partner with and they were blaming the malfunction on Apple.* I hung up with the absolutely derailed tech support guy (remember I’m in the AT&T store) and thought this iPhone partnership ain’t gonna last long. Indeed, if not for the special features that Jobs forced upon AT&T (visual voicemail, at-home activation) I see no reason to keep this going.

Luckily one of the clerks was tenacious. He just sat at his terminal googling stuff and asking me to change settings as he came across them. Again, something I clearly could have done from home if I didn’t have a seat waiting for me outside of the store. Eventually he came across a random authentication string that work. All from in-store googling.

Is this really what tech support has come to? True, most of the first-day adopters of the iPhone are technically savvy and can get by without ever setting foot in an AT&T store, but if Apple wants to reach their goal of 10 million phones sold by the end of 2008 they are going to have to figure out how to deal with AT&T customer service. It is as abominable as the phone itself is glorious. Methinks the partnership will not last.

The best thing about the iPhone is how it feels so integrated and seamless, but here are some of the specific things I am really impressed with.

The flick-and-scroll and pinch-to-zoom interaction is unbelievably right. Forehead-slappingly so. In particular the pinching is extremely precise. One immediately wishes the multitouch trackpad on the MacBook allowed the same thing. And one wonders about how the iPhone UI will influence future Mac development.

Visual voicemail. I’ve had this at work for a few years and it is by far the right way to deal with voicemail. Being able to see who called and to choose which message you want non-serially (e-mail-like) is exactly how it should be done. The message itself resides on your phone. No dialing up to get it.

The iPod functionality is truly the best there is. I thought I’d miss the scroll wheel, but I don’t. CoverFlow was formerly eye candy, now it is actually useful. Videos (and of course photos) look great.

EDGE is faster than I expected (but still way below the 3G that Cingular supports).

A few gripes too of course.

No LEAP authentication support for wireless. So no hopping on the corporate network, for now.

There’s no dedicated contacts app, which is odd because the contacts are superbly handled. Just that they are handled inside other apps (phone, e-mail, etc).

Driving a car and operating the iPhone is tricky, nay, dangerous. Some of the features absolutely require two hands.

The recessed headphone jack — which does not work with most connectors — is baffling. Why do this?

On web pages that auto-reload (like a sports scoreboard) the currently selected zoom level is forgotten. So you have to pinch and flick it back. Just seems like an oversight.

I miss having the ability to take a voicenote.

No synching of notes from the iPhone to the desktop, which makes them a lot less useful.

More as I play with, erm, use it more.

[*] Unsurprisingly the problem had nothing whatsoever to do with Apple. It was a missing access string from AT&T. But that’s the end-of-the-line recommendation from all tech support: “call the manufacturer” (because we give up).