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The Apple iPhone: It's all in the touch

Apple's iPhone is considered to be the ultimate device ever made. It is already being called a game changer in the mobile phone space. Bibek Bhattacharya laid his hands on one and brings you this review.

By Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: October 7, 2007

When the boss says jump, I jump, always… well almost. But when the boss orders: “Review the iPhone”, arguably the most hyped tech toy in history, it gets a little more difficult to “jump”.

The main problem: how the hell was I supposed to get hold of one? It will be launched in India only next year and remains “locked” to AT&T’s (U.S.) system.

The bottom line: I didn’t know a single person who uses one; and given that anyone using one in India would have to pay the usurious international roaming charges that telecom companies charge meant that I was unlikely to find one in a hurry.

Then Lady Luck, or whoever writes my scripts, decided that this story should have a happy ending. A friend of a friend (a software developer from the Bay Area), who happened to be passing through, had one and was willing to let me “play” with it for a while. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands— and I must admit the experience was “wow”.

The phone will be launched in India only next year, but it has already attracted immense attention from gadgetistas the world over, including in India, and the competition alike. Rivals are now expected to launch me-too devices to stay in the game. Incidentally, Apple has cut the 8GB iPhone’s price by one-third from $599 (Rs 24,559) to $399 (Rs 16,359); it also decided to kill the 4GB model.

VIRTUAL KEYBOARD

Virtual keyboardThe aesthetically “wow” virtual QWERTY keyboard isn’t easy to use. Typing is difficult, and the dictionary is maddening, especially when you hit wrong keys and have to search for the delete button. But with practice, you could do it with your thumb, and quite rapidly at that. The iPhone uses a combination of dictionary prediction and keymap prediction to help out with typing.

iPOD FUNCTIONS

The phone is a powerful 8GB iPod as well, and the music display is like a virtual CD rack, which you literally flip through with a swipe of your fingers. The large screen renders album cover art vividly (picture above). You can make calls while you’re watching a video or listening to music; the media will fade off and pause for the duration of the call. Be warned: the music will crash if you multi-task too much.

PHONE FUNCTIONS

The address book is very comprehensive. Alongside Mr X and his picture, you have links to his mail ID, phone number and Google maps to help you find your way to his house—all at the wave of a finger.

You have to be careful though, as the screen is extremely sensitive. In-call functions are simple: there are the few common options—mute, keypad, speakerphone on/off, add call (which brings up the contact list), pause, and contacts. Incoming calls present obvious prompts: ignore, hold call and answer, and (a large red button) end.

BROWSER

The Safari browser is quite strong, though a bit disconcerting for IE or Firefox users. Even though we were surfing on a neighbour’s Wi-Fi, the pages loaded really fast, even those with lots of data like Amazon.

A lot has been said about how Apple has feminised the gadget with the iPhone’s minimalist design, and true to form, it has just one physical button on the display, which you press to return to the menu, at any given point.

iPOD UNLOCKED

There are some people who claim they can “unlock” the iPhone’s exclusivity on the AT&T network and lawyers are still debating the legality of this. But be warned: Apple can take action against those who break the “lock” for profit, and you’ll also void your warranty if you have an unlocked phone.

Since it isn’t yet clear if the India launch will be in exclusive tie-up with a particular service provider, one will have to wait and watch how this pans out in this country.

THE COMPETITION

The iPhone isn’t the only touchscreen player in town. Here are some of the others that use the same technology: Nokia has had the 6708 (Rs 17,000) out for a while and the HTC Touch (Rs 19,000) is being touted as a true touchscreen device.

However, both need a stylus to type. However, the HTC Touch is only one of several Windows Mobile devices— such as the O2 Flame (Rs 40,000)—that have touchscreen abilities. MotoROKR E6, a compact enterprise phone and music player rolled into one, is another phone in this gentre.

  • HTC Touch
  • O2 Flame
  • Nokia 6708
  • MotoROKR E6

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