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Hans-on with the iPhone

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New York Times

By David Pogue

Today, I had meetings with Steve Jobs and then Phil Schiller, Apple’s director of worldwide marketing. I basically played with the iPhone the entire hour.

Here are some of the things you can’t tell without actually handling and using the iPhone:

* It feels amazing in your hand. Not like an iPod, not like a Treo — but something new. It’s so thin, and the rounded stainless-steel edges are so smooth, you can excuse its larger-than-Treo façade. When you’re on a call, it’s so cool how the screen turns off to save power, thanks to its proximity sensor.

* You operate the iPhone with your fingertips. Apart from buttons that appear on the touch screen, the only physical buttons are volume up/down, ringer on/off, sleep/wake and a Home button.

Apple went through numerous iterations of the glass surface, trying to find one that’s not too slick or too rough, or that shows grease and fingerprints too much. You still get finger streaks, but they’re relatively subtle and a quick wipe on your sleeve takes care of them.

* During my one test call, the sound quality was loud and clear. Of course, your mileage (and your Cingular signal) will vary.

* Typing is difficult. The letter keys are just pictures on the glass screen, so of course there’s no tactile feedback.

Software helps a lot. You can afford to make a lot of typos as you muddle through a word, because the software analyzes which keys you *might* have meant and figures out the word you wanted. Its best guess appears just under what you’ve typed; if it’s correct, you tap the Space bar to accept it and continue. I typed a couple of e-mail messages with lots of typos but eventually 100 percent accuracy, thanks to this auto-correct feature. (My testing didn’t involve proper names, however.)

Bottom line: Heavy BlackBerry addicts may not want to jump ship just yet.

* The phone won’t be available until June, so some of its software isn’t finished yet. As I tapped my way into obscure corners of the phone, Mr. Jobs pointed out a couple of spots where only a placeholder graphic was available.

* Both in the onstage demo and during my hands-on hour, the Web speed was OK—not great, but OK. But all of this used the phone’s built-in Wi-Fi, not Cingular’s notoriously slow Edge network. I couldn’t help wondering how bad the speed will be when you’re connecting over the cellular airwaves. (Here again, though, I was playing with a prototype whose software will undergo a lot of fine-tuning between now and June.)

* I tried out the camera. It was really cool to frame a shot using the HUGE 3.5-inch screen; it’s rare to find that big a screen on any camera. The refresh rate felt typical of a camera-phone to me, but Mr. Jobs said that it would be much smoother by the time the phone is done.

* The Web browsing experience is incredible. You see the entire Web page on the iPhone’s screen. You double-tap any spot to zoom in. Or you use the two-fingered spread-apart gesture to “stretch” the image larger, or pinch your thumb and forefinger on the glass to zoom out again. The manipulation is seamless, smoothly animated—and useful. Using Google Maps to get you driving directions and maps, for example, is just light-years simpler and more powerful than on any other machine, thanks to this “rubber Web page” stretching technology.