- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Amid the justifiable excitement of the July 11 launch of Apple’s iPhone 3G - 1 million units were sold the first weekend, after all - there’s a lot more than meets the eye. The phone’s new operating software, available applications and promise for the future are all quite something, in my opinion. In fact, these new developments might be as important as the new phone itself.

And, yes, darn it, the new iPhone is wonderful. I say that not because I dislike the iPhone - I’ve used one daily for much of the past year - but it’s hard to be a tech reviewer if products arrive pretty close to perfect. The phone performs very well, e-mail is a breeze, and as a music player, the iPhone-in-iPod mode has no equal. Don’t worry, I did find some reasons to comment, but more on that in a minute.

The new iPhone will set you back $199 or $299, depending on whether you choose the 8-gigabyte or 16-gigabyte model. Let me help you here: Peel off an extra Benjamin and get the 16-GB model. You’ll thank me later; I promise.

Not only will you have double the storage of the smaller model, but you’ll want that storage to handle photos, videos, music and - for the first time - applications. Until now, iPhone users have had to settle for “Web Apps,” programs hosted on the Internet and accessed via a cellular data call or by using Wi-Fi. That’s great when you have such access but pretty useless when you don’t, such as on an airplane or in an area out of cell range.

A few hundred applications are available now via Apple’s iTunes store, ranging in price from free to 99 cents to a little less than $40 for a couple of medically oriented flashcard programs. Some free programs, such as AOL Radio and the Music Genome Project front-end called Pandora (www.pandora.com) are quite good.

AOL Radio is especially nice: You get a good range of “custom” radio stations as well as many, many CBS Radio affiliates, including the all-news outlets in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. (WTOP, which once was a CBS affiliate, isn’t on the list.) This is a nice feature to have when you’re sitting in an airport or other waiting area. Pandora, which will be discussed in a future column, is well-implemented on the iPhone, providing good access to the “custom” music feeds it creates.

I have been less thrilled with two of the book-reading applications, eReader and BookShelf. The former seems an enticement to buy books from the eReader site, most at $10 a throw. The latter promises a way to load various texts onto the iPhone, but my attempts so far have been unavailing. I hope to find a good e-book reader for the device.

The applications can be loaded on older iPhone models once those devices are updated with the 2.0 version of the iPhone operating system. Although I have had only a day with the new iPhone, I have had about a week with the new system software, and it’s rather good.

The new calculator is more businesslike in its appearance but, in my view, somewhat less practical: Divide 64,300,000 by 3 on the old iPhone calculator and you would get 21,433,333.33 or thereabouts. In the new phone’s new math, you get “2.143333e+7,” which, by the way, is why I’m a reporter and not an accountant.

But that’s a quibble, and I’m guessing Apple will have a fix shortly. The new software, overall, is very nice and capable: It seems faster and, as mentioned, it enables you to load up and store applications on the phone.

On the new iPhone 3G, it’ll get your data faster - the AT&T third-generation (i.e., 3G) network is about twice the speed of the first-generation phone’s EDGE network, and it works quite nicely when Wi-Fi isn’t available. One big plus of the new iPhone operating system is its support for Microsoft Exchange, a corporate e-mail standard. It worked flawlessly for me on both the old and new iPhone models: What I deleted on the iPhone was gone from the server. Also, that same server would “push” e-mail to my device, making it easier to get quick updates. Sweet, indeed, especially for the Type A folks in your life.

Another plus, Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) software has been added to the map application. It works nicely, though I expect to put it through more stringent testing soon.

Some key factors: The new phone is a bit different in size from the old model. That means some cases and accessories for the original iPhone won’t support the new version, but it also yields a slicker, nicer package that feels better in the hand. The plastic case is also a bit nicer. (No, I haven’t done a drop test yet.)

There has been a big change in the 30-pin “dock” connector on the new model. Where the original iPhone supported recharging via either a Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection, or an IEEE 1394, or Firewire, the new phone charges only via USB. That’ll mean some accessories, such as my two-year-old Alpine car stereo with iPod dongle won’t charge the device. An adapter to bridge the gap is due this fall, Apple says.

The company is allowing me 60 days of testing, and you’ll read more about the new iPhone and accessories here in coming weeks. Off the bat, though, I’m very impressed. Apple seems hard-pressed to make a bad product, and these days, in this reviewer’s book, that’s a good thing.

Did Apple ring your chimes? E-mail me: [email protected]

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