iPhone 3G: First Thoughts

July 12th, 2008

As some of you know, I bought the original iPhone when it launched last year, and sold it days before WWDC 2008 in anticipation for iPhone 3G. In the last month, I used an old Motorola V557, and the experience has made me appreciate just how good of a phone the iPhone is. It was a long month, but I bought a black, 16GB iPhone 3G yesterday.

I arrived at 6:45 AM at the Brea, California Apple store. I did not expect much of a line; the media was not covering this launch near as much as they did the last one, and I figured the mandatory contract and in-store activation would turn people away. I thought I would be on my way home with iPhone in pocket by 9 AM.

I was also wrong.

I passed a small AT&T store on the way, and saw something discouraging: there was a relatively long line, with a few tents toward the front. Bad sign.

When I arrived, there were at least 150-200 people already in line at the Apple store. I got in line with a friend and waited. Apple employees, all smiles, walked the lines handing out pamphlets on AT&T’s service plans, and brought out Smart water — of course.

At exactly 8 AM, a cheer toward the front of the line rang out as the store opened. Or at least that is what I assume they were cheering about; since I could not actually see the store from so far back, people may have been cheering simply because the coffee cart was making another round.

The line moved forward a great amount, and my departure estimate, despite misjudging the line, seemed accurate.

But then an hour went by without any movement. Rumors spread down the line that the activation servers were down, which turned out to be true.

The line moved every hour or so, and a new wave of rumors came at about the same rate. Some were saying that Apple was sending people home with inactivated phones, and others said that they were still attempting to activate them. It turns out both were true; this Apple store was trying to activate each iPhone sold, and if after 10 minutes it would not activate, they would tell the customer to activate at home.

At 12 PM, the line started moving more quickly, and by 1 PM I was the next person to enter. After waiting a few minutes, an Apple employee came and took me in. She grabbed a black 16GB model and began taking my information. Selecting a plan was relatively painless; we BSed a little about the app store, and she made fun of my last name.1 After signing AT&T’s agreement and charging my credit card, she handed me off to another employee who tethered my new phone up to a Mac to make sure it activated. It did without any trouble — Apple apparently had fixed whatever problem they had before then.

A Bunch

I was not only surprised by how many people showed up, but also by the age diversity. There were equal amounts of 18-27 year olds as there were 35-50 year olds; even the 60+ year old age group was well-represented. Even more interesting, I did not see a single person leave.

Which is quite incredible, because I waited for more than 6 hours. The demand for the iPhone 3G is not only strong, but cuts across all demographics. The “young, well-off, male geek” stereotype no longer applies to iPhone owners.

Apple is going to sell a ton of these. There is no doubt that they will sell more than 10 million iPhones by the end of the year; the real question is how many. I would not be surprised to see them sell 15 million.


I was skeptical about Apple’s decision to use a plastic, high-gloss back on the iPhone 3G. I have too many bad memories of scratched iPods to not question it.

My fears appear to be wrong. The plastic Apple is using, while it displays fingerprints as well as the iPhone’s front does, seems very scratch resistant. It does not feel like it is going to scratch at all.

The plastic case has another benefit, too. The rear feels slightly “grippy,” whereas the original iPhone was very slick. It feels much less likely to slip out of your hand like the original was prone to do.

The iPhone 3G, with its all-black rear case and front, is beautiful. The original’s aluminum and plastic back looks outdated and, oddly, ugly, in comparison.

The solidness of the original was one of my favorite things about it, and I can happily say that the move to plastic, which on other phones is weak and cheap feeling, did not change this. In fact, the phone feels more solid than the original, mostly due to the bottom plastic piece being ditched, which was flimsy.

One odd thing is that the home button seems like it takes more effort to push than my original iPhone did. I am not sure if this is because it loosens with time.


My biggest complaint with the original iPhone was the speakerphone was all but useless because it was so quiet. This created other problems, too: the ringtone was so quiet that even when in relatively-quiet areas, I would never hear my iPhone ring.

The iPhone 3G is much louder. It still is not loud, but it is loud enough; it may even be a feature that it is not as ear-piercingly loud as other phones. Ringtones are now useful, and Super Monkey Ball sounds great with the speaker.

Even better, though, the speaker sounds much better. The original’s speaker distorted at high volumes, and sounded tinny. The iPhone 3G does not distort at full volume, and sounds excellent for a mono speaker. I may actually use speakerphone during calls now.

I know a better speaker is not the sexiest feature, but it is one of the few that I am really excited about. A good, loud speaker is necessary for usability, and the iPhone 3G provides it.


It is fast. I am averaging between 300-430 kbps, which is great for a mobile network. Safari, Mail, Twitterific and NetNewsWire are much quicker and more enjoyable on 3G than EDGE — the difference, at least in my area, between 3G and WiFi on the iPhone is negligible.

My home town is covered in 3G service, but if I drive even five miles north, I am back on EDGE. I expect that AT&T will move quite rapidly to expand 3G coverage.

One other benefit that I am excited about is the ability to use data and still receive calls. Frequently while waiting when picking someone up, I would browse the web on my iPhone, and they would attempt to call me for whatever reason, and I would miss the call. 3G solves that problem nicely.

I am glad to have 3G. While EDGE was livable, if disappointing, the iPhone was meant for 3G.


I do not have much to say about this yet because up until 20 minutes ago, location services were not working at all on my iPhone 3G. Oddly, turning off 3G and using EDGE for a few minutes seemed to fix it.

I love how Weatherbug allows you to add your location using GPS. Apple’s own weather widget should do the same thing — whenever you open it, it should give you the weather for your current location without prompting it.

MobileMe Push

Push email works quite well. Right now, new emails are showing up on my phone within a minute or so after they are sent, which is excellent. As far as I can tell, though, push calendar and contacts are not anywhere near as quick. Changes on my Mac take quite a while to show up on the MobileMe website and on my iPhone. I have been making changes to my calendar for the last fifteen minutes, and they have not been reflected in MobileMe or on my phone. The reason, it seems, is because even if your Mac is set to synch automatically, it doesn’t. It is 5:05 PM right now, and my Mac last synched at 4:46 PM, despite the changes made.

I am sure this will improve soon. MobileMe has improved rapidly already in its short life, and I don’t expect anything less in the future.

Software Notes

  • The iPhone 3G does not feel as responsive as the original iPhone. There is a time delay between pressing a button and seeing its effect, tapping buttons sometimes requires a second, longer press, and transitions are not as fluid as I am used to. The iPhone 3G should be using the same processor and amount of RAM, so I am assuming this is because 2.0 is such a new and large update that Apple has not cleaned it up as much as 1.1.4 was. Until they release a point update, though, this is disappointing and distracting. I hope they address it soon.
  • I dig Mobile iCal’s ability to assign events to different calendars. This is something I have been hoping for with each 1.x update, and we finally got it.
  • I am glad to see Mail’s mass delete and move function. It is very simple to use, and will make using Mail a much more enjoyable experience.
  • Others have questioned why Apple included a standalone contacts application. There are two primary reasons: first, a contacts app on the homescreen gives you on-tap access to all of your contacts and, therefore, the ability to call them. One knock on the iPhone was that it required too many steps to access your contacts when calling someone, and this solves that. Second, as Shawn Blanc notes, this also lets you easily take down new contact information while on a call. Before, you had to try to remember it (which tended to end badly for me), or type it down in the Notes application. Problem solved.
  • I like the new GPRS icon, which is a rectangle with a circle in the center. The old icon, which was just an empty rectangle, made me think I was still on EDGE but the icon was broken, leading me to wonder why the Internet had slowed down even more than usual. There was not enough differentiation between the two icons before.

Apps and the Store

This, combined with the iPhone 3G’s price point and enterprise friendliness, is the reason Apple is going to dominate the market. The market they are competing in, though, may be a surprise: it is not the smart phone market. Apple has created the world’s first mainstream post-PC, mobile communications platform. The long lines and enthusiasm makes this quite clear.

The App Store is easy to browse and it is easy to buy applications, but the selection is a little on the rough side so far. There is a must-have class of applications, such as NNW, Super Monkey Ball and Twitterific, and then there is a precipitous drop-off in quality. I expect this to change in the next few months as new applications are developed, however.

I think people are still learning how to develop for the iPhone and what kind of applications it should have. Currently it seems like developers are focusing on porting existing applications or ideas to the iPhone, but I think within a few months we will develop some entirely new concepts for applications based entirely on the iPhone platform that can only exist on the iPhone rather than the desktop.

The next few months are going to be exciting with the iPhone community. Expect it to grow at an incredible rate, both in size and in the number of fresh ideas.


I woke up today at 8:30 AM. By 2:30 PM, with 2.25 hours of use on my iPhone 3G, my battery level had dwindled down to 25%. Use mostly included listening to music, using Twitterific, checking Mail, playing a few minutes of Super Monkey Ball, and using NetNewsWire.

Granted, I had bluetooth on (California’s handsfree law leaves little choice), but if it is going to drop that quickly in the course of a day, its battery life is unacceptable. My hope is that this is just because it needs a few charge cycles, but if it does not improve significantly within a week, I will be exchanging it.

If this is the normal battery life, it is an unusable device. The iPhone may focus on data, but it is still a phone, which I can’t have go dead in the middle of the day.

This problem is compounded more by the iPhone 3G’s inability to charge from certain devices the original would charge from, such as my Alpine car stereo receiver. The original iPhone, while supplying music to my car stereo, would charge at the same time. The iPhone 3G does not, which I am not at all happy about.

  1. She chuckled and said, “Baxter; that’s Will Ferrell’s dog’s name in Anchorman.” [Pause] “Oh, I didn’t mean to insult you…” []