Apple, iPhone
Paul Sakuma  /  AP file
Apple customers Jason Payne, right, and Loan Thach, left, try out the iPhone at an Apple store in Palo Alto, Calif. Enthusiasm for the hot gadget has waned a bit since the company updated its firmware last month.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/16/2007 3:04:18 PM ET 2007-10-16T19:04:18

My feeling toward my iPhone has gone from reasonably hopeful to hopeless regret.

When I purchased the iPhone the day they came out, I told myself that the long list of gripes was tolerable because Apple would very likely add so many of the missing features commonly found on every other smartphone. Simple things, like the ability to look up a contact by tapping in a few letters, or a way to copy and paste information from an e-mail or Web page into a contact or note card.

Sure, I felt stung by the so-soon-after-launch $200 price drop, and only mildly mollified by the $100 Apple Store credit the company offered in apology for so blatantly screwing early adopters like me. But I was willing to accept that, providing the most important iPhone must-have of all — the ability to run standalone third-party applications — was possible. And it was, thanks to a add-on called Installer.app that opened up the iPhone to a growing library of cool programs.

That is until Apple updated the iPhone’s firmware and, at best, merely disabled add-ons like Installer.app, or, at worst, “bricked” iPhones that had been hacked to work with networks other than AT&T to the point of uselessness. What’s more (or actually, less), those simple hoped-for wish-list items such as contact search or copy and paste were absent from the update.

So here we are, three months later, and this remarkably inventive device that’s so lacking as an actual phone but so promising as the be-all/end-all gadget is no better than at launch, and even less hopeful because of Apple’s action against iPhone customizations that enable it to do more than just what Apple says it can and should do.

When the iPhone was launched it was hyped for its desktop-strength operating system. It’s less a phone and more an all-in-one communicator that happens to make and receive phone calls. Thanks to Installer.app it could do more than the few things it could do at launch. The same way other smartphones running Palm or Microsoft or Nokia operating systems can do.

Coincidentally enough, I happened to install Installer.app the morning before Apple released the 1.1.1 firmware update. So for the hour or two before the update my feelings toward the iPhone had changed, and I was a believer again. I shut off the Treo 680 and Blackberry Curve phones I’d been switching between because I missed so many of the functions that the iPhone lacks. Things such as being able to set a size limit on e-mail attachments, reading an ebook while riding the subway or keeping a dozen or so sticky notes in sync between the handheld and my MacBook.

Then I received an alert in iTunes, informing me that the firmware update was available. I downloaded and installed it, and when it was done, Installer.app and all the cool applications I’d downloaded earlier that day were gone. History. Attempts to reinstall Installer.app were met with a crashed iPhone that insisted I restore it in iTunes. A little searching turned up the aforementioned revelation, that 1.1.1 locks out modifications or bricks the device.

I’m done with the iPhone for now. I’ll stick with the Palm Treo 680 and probably switch to Palm’s new Centro once Palm supports AT&T (currently the Centro works only with Sprint). Or I may give the BlackBerry Curve a longer trial to see if it’s a better solution.

Either phone does things I need to do, like sync with those sticky notes, and work with Word documents. Yes, the iPhone can open Word documents to view, but it doesn't allow the creation of a new document, or the ability to edit an existing one. A program called Documents to Go allows this ability on the Palm, and for the BlackBerry there's eOffice.

On another note, both phones also let me remove and replace their rechargeable batteries. What's more, a company named Seidio even makes longer-lasting ones than the standard battery that comes with the Treo, the BlackBerry and many other cell phones. No such luck on the iPhone's battery, which is sealed inside the device and must be sent to Apple for service when the battery needs repair or replacement.

And while my msnbc.com review of the iPhone ended with the revelation that I’d typed the entire first draft of the story as a long e-mail using the iPhone’s virtual keyboard, the reality is I prefer the real mini-keyboards found on the BlackBerry and Treo smartphones to Apple’s unreal-feeling on-screen keyboard.

Apple has stated the iPhone will eventually support third-party applications. To be fair, there’s no doubt that a great many iPhone users couldn't care less whether the iPhone syncs sticky notes or supports ebooks or can do things beyond the limited things it currently does. For those people, the iPhone is a snazzy iPod that also happens to be a so-so phone with an excellent Web browsers and light-duty e-mailer.

For the rest of us who believe the first half of the word smartphone is why we want to use one, the iPhone is just too dumb to be taken seriously. Smarten up, Apple, and open up the iPhone. Seriously.

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