iPhone 2.0 and iPhone 3G

by Michael Alderete on 7/14/2008 · 8 comments

I upgraded my original iPhone to the 2.0 firmware release on Thursday night (before all the activation problems started), and have been using it for a couple days now. As others have written at length elsewhere, the 2.0 software release has a ton of improvements. While those are nice, I barely notice them. The real breakthrough (for me) is in the App Store, and having third-party applications on my phone.

Although individual applications are mostly $10 or less, buying a bunch of them adds up. Since everything is so new, there’s not a lot of reviews, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on some of the applications I like.

I’ve downloaded and tested the following applications:

Games

  • Bejeweled 2 — What a terrific game. Stands head-and-shoulders above the (free) web-based version I’ve been playing for the last year, in game play, sound effects, graphics quality. Well worth the $10. My only complaint: it takes over sound output, so I can’t play when listening to my own audio. So I still play the web-based version when I’m listening to audiobooks. I’d love a mute option, so I could stick with the native version at all times.
  • Morocco — Reversi / Othello, and free. Nicely done, and you can’t beat the price.
  • Muddled — This is a neat word game, and for $2 a great deal. You can think of it as speed training for Scrabble or Boggle, but it’s a good game in and of itself. A few interface quirks, where moving the letter tiles can be awkward or get stuck, but this is minor, and probably easily fixed in an update.
  • Quordy — Kind of a Boggle clone, but it makes outstanding use of the touchscreen, to make selecting a word incredibly simple. Great use of the iPhone’s features, and $3 is a nice price.
  • Scrabble — I consider Scrabble an all-time classic game, and having it in my pocket was a no-brainer, especially for only $10. I managed to beat the computer my first game, but just barely. Nicely implemented on the small touch screen. I look forward to testing multi-person play.
  • Solebon Solitaire — Smallware has been making challenging solitaire games for the Mac and Palm for many years, and their attention to detail is spectacular. This is not a flashy game, with lot of custom card designs, flashy animations, etc. The focus is on highly readable cards, interesting games, and graceful game play. If you want a mindless card game, this is not it. The solitaire variations available are “hard,” which means that you don’t have to get lucky with the shuffle of the cards; with thought you can win most games. Challenging, interesting, deep. I chose this game because I love one of Smallware’s other solitaire games, Solavant for Mac. There are a lot of solitaire options in the App Store; I don’t know about the others, but this one is worth the $10.
  • Texas Hold’em — For the production value, this may be the best deal in a game in the App Store. Apple has clearly set the price low ($5) with the expectation that they’ll make their money on volume. It’s a very well made game, with great graphics, video of opponents with lots of variations, and thoughtful interface touches for the iPhone touchscreen, like double-tapping to check, flicking your cards to the dealer to fold, and flicking your chips to go all in.

There seem to be a couple of games with lots of competing versions on the App Store. As noted, solitaire is one of them, and since there are no trial versions available, I’ve only tried Solebon. That was an easy decision, since I knew I could count on Smallware’s quality and game play.

There are a bunch of casino-style games, like blackjack and video poker, in which I have no interest. Lots of Sudoku, again no interest. And there are a bunch of Mahjong versions, in which I am interested; I’m looking forward to a review of the options, since trying them all would be a bit pricey.

Other

  • EvernoteEvernote is an interesting service that I am still trying to figure out how to integrate into my information collection and management practices. But one thing about it leapt out at me: the application is free, and takes voice recordings. Most of the other recorder applications cost money. That makes ought to make Evernote a no-brainer. Update: Other reports of Evernote are less kind, and it does seem problematic at the moment. Hopefully updates will fix the issues.
  • Mobile News Network — Their web-based version was a great example of how to make a great iPhone web application. This native version, also free, is even better. Currently the best general news reading application for the iPhone, IMHO.
  • Things — An early version of a promising tasks manager. The developer is offering a steep discount (50% or so) right now, in recognition that some critical features, like desktop syncing, are not yet there. Those will come in a free update, when they are completed. If you have faith in the vendor and don’t mind waiting for missing features, $10 is probably the lowest price this app will ever see.
  • Twitterific — I’m currently using the free version, since I have yet to really “get” Twitter. I think it will evolve into something really interesting, but right now it interrupts me more than it helps or entertains me.

iPhone 3G Thoughts

While the vast majority of the improvements in the iPhone come through the software, and thus work on my original iPhone, I’m planning on getting an iPhone 3G for a couple reasons. One, I have definitely found the speed of data access on the EDGE (2G) network to be limiting, especially with Maps. And looking up who-starred-in-what-movie to settle drinking discussions takes way too long. The faster data rate of 3G will get used.

Two, I want the location services of GPS. The simulated GPS in the original iPhone works pretty well, but adding true GPS makes it better, more accurate and in more places. A lot of the third-party iPhone applications already take advantage of knowing your location, but this is only getting started. Location-based services are going to be huge.

Finally, I learned today that phone calls go directly to voicemail if you’re using the EDGE data network, i.e., surfing the web, checking email, etc. This would explain a lot of the voicemails that appear on my phone, when the phone never rang. The 3G network does away with this limitation.

Kamran July 21, 2008 at 2:36 pm

I wrote to you a long time ago (back in Dec 07) regarding comparing the capabilities of different audio book players such as the Cowon A2 and Creative Zen Vision (especially in regards to their superior bookmarking functionality).

I just got my iPhone 3g and was wondering whether you’ve discovered a third party audiobook application that might have a better bookmarking feature compared to what we have as default. The Cowon and Creative can do multiple bookmarks per audiobook (such as per chapter) and the ability to bookmark your place on the fly and pause after a couple of seconds. This way, when you start the book after a gap (say 1 or 2 days), you have a couple of seconds to re-orient yourself with the current situation before moving on.

I hope a third party app can address this issue.

Alderete July 21, 2008 at 8:50 pm

@Kamran: It’s very early days for the iPhone App Store. While there are several hundred applications available today, I suspect that’s a small percentage of the applications either submitted to Apple (and not yet published), or in development. So, while there’s no third-party audiobook playback applications available today, it’s far too early to tell what the final story here will be.

That said, it seems extremely unlikely that any third-party is going to try to compete with Apple’s already very good iPod software that runs on the iPhone. While there are many, many flaws with it, particularly for us audiobook aficionados, it’s still outstanding, and represents a huge amount of work. Even taking out the features for music playback, and concentrating exclusively on audiobook playback features, I would guess that a quality solution would still require a very serious (high five or low six figures) development effort. With the prospect of competing with Apple, the developer would have to be someone who did not expect or need to make back their investment in direct App Store sales.

That’s not as crazy as it sounds. For example, I could see Amazon.com doing something like this, through their Audible.com subsidiary. They would never make the investment back in application sales, but they could easily make it back in promotion, awareness, and thus increased audiobook sales. The more I sit here and think about it, the more I think it’s a great idea for Amazon.

This is kind of like how Apple (publicly) talks about iTunes music sales; they (say they) make their real money on iPods, not on music. The difference would be Apple makes money on the razors (iPods), while Amazon/Audible makes money on the blades (audiobooks).

Anyway, for now, we’re going to have to make due with the built-in iPod application which, while not perfect, does play back audiobooks quite well.

Sue July 31, 2008 at 12:37 pm

How are your long audiobooks with 2.0 software? Mine over 3 hours something will not play at all. They were fine on the old 1.4. There are a number of people raising this issue, but apple don’t seem to be listening.

Alderete July 31, 2008 at 5:09 pm

@Sue: I know of no problems playing back audiobooks on iPhones with the 2.0 software. I have an original iPhone, upgraded to the new software, and both Audible.com and Audiobook Builder audiobooks (with tracks as long as 12 hours) have played just fine. My wife has an iPhone 3G, and has likewise had no issues playing back audiobooks (she listens to more than I do).

Where are you encountering others who are having the problem? Do you have more specifics about any of the tracks that won’t play back? When you write “will not play at all,” what exactly happens when you select one of these tracks and press the play button?

And, uh, I assume you mean that the tracks played fine on the 1.1.4 release of the iPhone firmware? (There was no “1.4” version of the iPhone.)

pka August 2, 2008 at 7:17 am

I have the same trouble as Sue. Large audiobook files will no longer play after upgrading to the 2.0 software. When you select an audiobook from the menu, it appears to go to play mode, but in a second or so, the audiobook menu is displayed. It seems to have something to do with the length of the file.

Others are having the issue, too. See this link (although there seems to be some confusion over a separate DRM issue):

http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=7598255

Al August 13, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Yep, I am having the same problem. I am not sure if it depends on the size of the book. More discussion here: http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=7846114 Unfortunately, no response from Apple. More than that, I was not able to find a way to submit a request to their technical support!

Barry Ezell August 9, 2009 at 6:13 am

This comment is about a year late but I thought I’d post it anyway. With the OS 3.0 release, Apple added new functionality that lets developers access content on the iPod. Like Kamran, I am an audiobook enthusiast and have always wanted bookmarking and the ability to take notes while listening to audiobooks. Since I’m an iPhone developer, I set about making an app that would add those missing features.

The app I made is called Bookmark and it does most of what Kamran was looking for plus it adds better controls for moving forward and backward within a book using a control I call the Time Ribbon. Alderete speculated that creating an alternative audiobook player would cost in the high-five figures to develop. I think that would have been accurate under OS 2.0 (when this article was written) before Apple provided access to the iPod. As it is, the app has cost me $200 and about 120 hours of my time. I submitted it to Apple last week and do not expect an approval or rejection until the end of next week at the earliest.

I’ve posted screenshots and a video at “bookmarkapp.com”:http://bookmarkapp.com. If any of you are hardcore iPhone users and would like a preview copy, I could provide one. Just use the contact info on the site.

Alderete August 9, 2009 at 10:20 am

@Barry: Well, that’s very exciting news! I will definitely check out the application. And I stand corrected about the level of investment required — though I will point out that a quality software developer should value their time at at least $100/hour, so your 120 hours may only be time to you, but represents a $12,000 investment. So I’m at least right about the five figures. :-)

Congrats on the application, which looks very interesting. I’m crossing my figures for your app review!

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