Sunday, September 23, 2007


I've had an iPhone for over a month now. It is such a slick device! I greatly enjoy being able to get information from anywhere, anytime. The screen is beautiful for whatever I'm viewing; the multitouch interface is a wonderful step in intelligent design. It is smaller than my old (3G) and recently-deceased iPod, and replaces my run-of-the-mill clamshell cellphone, which I always found a pain in the ass and unreliable.

One example of its coolness and utility occurred shortly after I got it. I was coming out from a haircut, and feeling a bit peckish, and felt like getting some takeout. So, I look up the listing of a chinese/thai/combodian place I know in google maps, which leads me to their website, which leads me to their online menu. Go back to the google maps listing, tap the button with their phonenumber, and place my order.

I have started to get into ripping movies to put on the device. To stay on the less-shady side of fair use, I am restricting it to movies (and TV series) that I actually own. It is a simple enough process, although much more time consuming than ripping CDs. The iPhone's preferred video format is called H.264 which, although it compresses things down nicely, is very computer intensive. My laptop (see below) can crawl along at about 3 fps while encoding - 1/10th realtime. My work computer manages to encode at just-about realtime, so two hours for a feature-length film. A brand new desktop, I am told, could probably pull off 2x-4x. It results in about 500 MB/hour of video. So, while I could conceivably fit the entire extended edition Lord of the Rings trilogy onto my 8 GB phone, it probably won't happen soon.

The ease-of-use and beauty of this device is difficult to describe short of a hands-on demonstration. Gripes, on the other hand, I can put into words:

* The first is that, although my company has a wonderfully ever-present WiFi network, I am unable to access it. The wireless network, like the wired one, requires authentication (a username and password) before it'll allow a device to access it. For my company's wireless network, this is accomplished using something called LEAP, which sort-of acts in parallel with encryption technologies like WPA. While LEAP is supported by my Apple laptop, it is not supported by the iPhone. This may be because of past wrangling between Apple and Cisco - LEAP's owner - over the trademark of the name "iPhone." It is my hope that support will eventually be added through a firmware upgrade. In the meantime, my company does have a parallel, less fast, guest wireless network that I can access. Unfortunately, however, it requires me to go through a sign-on page in Safari (with ridiculously verbose terms of use) before assigning me an IP number. This can become a pain in the arse pretty quickly, because I need to do it just about every time I use the network.

* A related difficulty is that, even when using my home WiFi network or the slower-than-moles'-asses-in-january EDGE network, I cannot access my company email or intranet. This is hardly surprising - my company has taken great pains to keep that all behind a strong firewall. I could access through that firewall using a VPN client, which I sometimes do on my laptop. The iPhone even comes with a built-in VPN client. Unfortunately, my company's VPN system uses IPSec, which is not supported by the iPhone. Again, I am hoping that an eventual firmware upgrade will fix this, but it is only a hope.

* Syncing. My computer is a four-year old 12" Powerbook G4. It has always been a very capable machine for me. Unfortunately, however, its USB ports are only v1.1, not the more widespread and higher speed USB 2.0. As a result, I have been having increasing difficulties getting my computer and iPhone to talk to one another. I suppose getting a new computer would help fix that, but it's hardly a sensible solution, even if my computer is starting to show its age. I'll post back when I've had a chat with Apple's support.

* Ringtones. I am not one to go crazy looking for that one perfect ringtone - the one that not only announces an incoming call, but announces something very special about you to everyone within earshot. Even if I was into it, I would never actually pay for a ringtone. I know there are various utilities out there that would, in the past, have allowed me to bypass the $3.99/tone racket the phone companies and RIAA cartel have put out there, but honestly I never cared enough to bother. Now, with the advent of iTunes 7.4, I am able to put ringtones on my iPhone, but only after paying an additional 99 cents for the privelege of using a 99-cent song I've already purchased. Never mind using music I have ripped from CDs I own, or music I have (hypothetically) recorded in a jam band. Sites like engadget and slashdot have posted a number of articles, and very lengthy discussions, about these issues, so I won't bother to get into it further. I was pleased that Ambrosia software came out with a helpful utility for using any AAC-encoded track as a ringtone, but it appears that itunes 7.4.2 has killed that backdoor. We'll see how it pans out.

* Price. Everyone now knows about the dramatic price drop in the iPhone. It bugged me a bit at first, because it happened one months after my purchase, and barely two months since its release. One expects price cuts in technology, but a 1/3 reduction so soon after release did seem like a kick to the face of early adopters. Ah well - I am not complaining much. It was worth it to me to spend $600 at the time (although, had I known this was coming, I certainly could have waited). It was a gift from a very generous person, too, who was quite happy to bestow it. The $100 Apple credit is nice, though, and I'll find a use for it before too long.

In the meantime, I am having a blast with this-here amazing piece of work. I imagine a demo at the upcoming family reunion will be fun.

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