Apple's iPhone: More Initial Hands-On Impressions
Brian Dipert - July 12, 2007
Continued from ‘Apple’s iPhone: Initial Hands-On Impressions‘….
- The position sensor is one iPhone feature that for some baffling reason hasn’t yet gotten much coverage. It’s one of the coolest aspects of the system design, in my mind, although it’s a work-in-progress and (at least in its current implementation) has one frustrating shortcoming. Apple isn’t saying whose accelerometer is inside the iPhone (or, for that matter, who makes any of the device’s building blocks); from past Nintendo Wii experiences, however, I’d suspected either Analog Devices or STMicroelectronics was the MEMs supplier. A Portelligent teardown report that I had occasion to peruse fingers ST as the accelerometer vendor (I’ll confirm this when I do my own Prying Eyes analysis in a few weeks). The sensor’s purpose is to rotate the iPhone’s display based on the device’s currently-being-held orientation, but right now the function is only enabled for web browsing, photo viewing and iPod audio-and-video playback. Early fruits of developer projects such as Tilt, along with the extrapolation of content already cultivated for other accelerometer-equipped devices such as the Wii, allude to greatly expanded and more compelling usage of the iPhone’s positional sensor by both Apple and third parties in the future. However, the accelerometer only detects portrait-vs-landscape orientation when the iPhone is held at (or near) a 90 degree orientation to the ground. I naturally tend to cradle the iPhone cupped in my hand at waist-level, near-parallel to the ground, among other reasons because it requires less effort than holding the unit vertical in front of my face. In my preferred viewing position, the sensor is ineffective. I haven’t been able to get a comment on whether this is a fundamental sensor hardware limitation or only a constraint of the currently-shipping software.
- Speaking of sensors, the proximity sensor is also pretty cool. It disables the touchscreen and turns off the backlight when you bring the iPhone up to your ear. A nice touch, very much in line with Apple’s historical strong focus on ‘human factors’ interface usability (a interesting field of study which, ironically, my friend Jamie just obtained a degree in).
- The camera works pretty well; I like the ’shutter effect’ that appears on the display when you take a picture. However, there’s no built-in flash, so low-light performance is sub-par. And, I suspect to keep both power consumption and bill-of-materials cost down (and profits up), there’s no video capture capability.
- Although EDGE bandwidth is only so-so, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to smoothly stream YouTube video (after an initial buffering delay) via a cellular data connection. My testbed was the popular Evolution of Dance clip, which has a decent amount of motion and contrast. Comparing it over EDGE to its counterpart over Wi-Fi, I wasn’t surprised to discover a degraded presentation in the former case; YouTube’s servers are obviously interrogating the iPhone (or perhaps it’s the other way around), interpreting what dependable bandwidth is available, and subsequently sending down an optimized stream. The EDGE version has a lower frame rate, is more aggressively compressed (judging from the increased presence of lossy artifacts, and the decreased facial and other detail), and has diminished audio quality, all in comparison to the Wi-Fi-delivered version. On that note, I was amused to see that, instead of being forced to wait for YouTube support until the iPhone’s rumoured future Flash capabilities are ready, Apple convinced Google to re-encode a chunk of the YouTube video library in the iPhone- and AppleTV-compliant MPEG-4 format. That’s what I call throwing around corporate weight!
And that’s all I’ve got for you at the moment. I haven’t yet loaded up the iPhone with any music or videos. Since I only have iTunes installed on my Macs, and therefore will only be mating the iPhone with my Macs, this project will also give me the opportunity to test various means of translating my Outlook 2000 database into Microsoft’s Mac equivalent, Entourage, as well as into Apple’s comparable applications: Address Book, iCal and Mail.
I’m off to another music festival tomorrow through Sunday and, although I’ve promised my wife that I’m going to take the extremely rare measure of leaving my laptop behind, I didn’t say anything about dispensing with all tech toys….so maybe I’ll sneak in some more time with the iPhone this weekend. Until my next report, content yourself with reviews from folks such as Ars Technica, Engadget, and Gizmodo.