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iPhone 3.0 update impressions

Is three pleasant company or riotous crowd?
Product: Apple iPhone 3.0 software | Publisher: Apple | Format: iPhone
Apple iPhone 3.0 software iPhone, thumbnail 1
Just as Apple said it would, 6pm rolled around on June 17th and there it was waiting for us - the 3.0 software update we've been holding our breath for all year long. Okay, perhaps not all year, but it feels like it's been ages.

So was it worth the wait? I must admit to having been quite excited, hitting the "check for updates" button obsessively since one minute past midnight. Now it's downloaded and installed, I'm given cause to pause for a second and ponder what it was that I was actually expecting.

Don't get me wrong - there is something intangibly sweet about the update. Perhaps it's my imagination - perhaps - but the iPhone now feels somehow smoother, as if a few extra drops of oil are coating its gears. But there's nothing major about the operating system update leaping off the screen, though it seems pretty evident that there's something quite different going on behind the touchscreen.

The landscape keyboard in mail, messages and notes isn't something that I'd particularly class as a new addition. This is a glaring oversight, finally put right, and it was my first stop when taking a look around 3.0.

We've already seen the full-size, landscape oriented keyboard, so there's nothing particularly amazing about seeing it begin in the mail application, though it's obviously very welcome. There is one slight difference to the newly introduced full width keyboard (though it doesn't seem to be implemented in Safari). Orientation detection remains fully active even while the keyboard is currently displayed on-screen.

Flipping the handset over in the web browser doesn't trigger the accelerometer if the keyboard is already displayed - Safari requires you to put the keyboard away, turn the handset, and then bring it back out again. It's not a big deal, but just like the bigger keyboard itself, it's nice to have it there.

Cut, copy, and paste
Once again we are not particularly looking at a great new feature, so much as a missing feature finally implemented.

Cut, copy and paste is now available anywhere you can enter text on the iPhone. Highlighting the text works in a very similar manner to moving the cursor around within a sentence.

Holding your finger down on the text brings up the magnifier, allowing you to place the cursor where you wish to begin. Pressing the 'select' button brings up the beginning and end markers (if you're a video editor you'll recognise this as being very similar to "mark in" and "mark out" symbols), which can then be dragged to highlight the text you wish to cut, copy or paste.

Repeating this procedure (holding your finger where wish to paste the text) brings up the same sub menu - allowing you to paste in the text you just copied. The good news is that clipboard follows you around the iPhone, making it easy to shift text between different applications.

This is going to get a lot of use.

Multimedia messaging is the Marmite of modern communications. Some people can find absolutely no use for it, while others can’t live without being able to send grainy photos and distorted audio clips to their techno-friends.

Well, regardless of your opinion of the virtues of MMS messaging, it’s finally here on the iPhone. The system is built quite seamlessly into the existing SMS app, with your message magically turning into an MMS when you select a photo from camera roll, take a new picture or drop in an audio clip (more on that in a moment) that you wish to send.

It should be noted that the landscape keyboard is present in MMS messaging too, but I wanted you to be able to see there was a photo attached in the screen capture.

Shortly after the 3.0 software has been installed on iPhone, the carrier should automatically setup MMS messaging for you. A couple of automatic messages will be sent to keep you informed of the progress, though it should be sorted in a matter of minutes.

As a note, US iPhone users are unable to use MMS. While AT&T insists that lack of support for MMS today is not a result of their 3G network being unable to handle it, they are actively working to make changes to the network for a late summer launch of MMS in the US.

Spotlight search
As you know iPhone's home screen is on the far left, with all your additional applications stored on pages to the right. Well, in 3.0 this is no longer the case. To the left of your first screen full of applications is a search box.

I can't resist pointing out, before we go any further, but the new, amazing, wonderful Spotlight search doesn't have the landscape keyboard. It's only got the mini, portrait one. [Insert your own anti-Apple sentiment here].

Anyway, other than it being a little bit difficult to type on, this is likely to be pretty useful new function. This search box hunts through everything on the iPhone for the search string you've entered.

Contacts, applications, notes, e-mails (including deleted ones, it seems - not sure how useful that is though), text messages and everywhere else the text is likely to appear. Nice.

Voice memos
You see, the notes application was kind of irksome, being as it was so difficult to type on, but now we've got the full-size keyboard it's likely to get more use. But there's no harm in the fact that it's now backed up by the option to record voice memos.

The iPhone's microphone is pretty good, and benefits the new voice memo application extremely well. I'm not saying you won't have to listen carefully at times, but in this relatively quiet office the iPhone recorded a clear and audible voice memo with the handset a good two feet away. This means you can at least leave the handset on the desk, or on the dashboard (I'm not sure how you'd initiated voice memo while driving (legally)) and still record those vital sound bites.

The application also makes it very easy to share your record voice memos either by MMS or by e-mail. Another very welcome addition that should probably have been here all along.

Parental controls
On the surface this isn't a particularly important feature, though it's likely to become so as 3.0 settles in. Located in the 'restrictions' section of the 'general settings', the parental controls require a four digit pin number, after which you're given access to some quite specific controls.

Movies, TV shows and applications each have their own settings, allowing you to care the maximum age rating of each type of content. Given that the handset now has access to movies, TV shows and audio books through the on-device iTunes application, this is probably something parents will want to set pretty soon after 3.0 software has been installed.

Now we've finally got his parental controls, hopefully it'll open up the app store to more mature gaming - something seasoned and hard-core gamers are crying out for. Huzzah!

Stocks? Yuppies shouldn't be allowed to own iPhones.

According to the official blurb, the Bluetooth stack is now compatible with stereo headphones, car kits and other accessories, though unfortunately I don't have any of those to test it out. I'm sure it's fine though (and my interest will only pick up when this officially happens).

We also have the internet tethering that US iPhone users won't be enjoying any time soon. However, the joke isn't entirely on our transatlantic cousins, as the first thing the application does is take you to the O2 website where you can sign up to buy (yes buy) rather expensive bolt on data packages.

I guess, to be fair, O2 never specifically said that tethering would be included in the iPhone's unlimited data package, which is just as well. Because apparently it isn't.

Safari apparently enjoys faster performance, and although I now have no reference to test this claim against, I will admit that it does indeed feel a little slicker. It also now has autofill for usernames and passwords, which will be very useful to the web surfer on the go.

Shuffling music on the iPod application is now done quite literally - with a quick shake the handset skipping to a difference in your music library. It takes a moderately vigorous wobbling to jump to the next track, so hopefully it won't be skipping around like a portable CD player when you're on the bus.

You also now given the option of entering promo codes into the app store through the iPhone client. Exactly how much used this will be depends entirely on the user, the day comes in handy you'll undoubtedly be glad it's there (I should point out that developer promo codes for games and applications still don't appear to be working).

In summary
Undoubtedly our opinion of the 3.0 software will change as the new generation of iPhone games begin to come online, but from a purely operational point of view, 3.0 feels not unlike having your living room redecorated.

The whole thing remains very familiar, but feels slightly tidier, cleaner and fresher. It was a lot of work putting the new wallpaper and paint on, and if you had to start again you probably wouldn't bother, but now it's there it looks really nice.

Reviewer photo
Spanner Spencer 17 June 2009
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