The iPhone: a computer that also makes calls

The secret of the iPhone’s success is not that it makes cellular phone calls, but that it is also a handheld computer with an absolutely astounding number of third-party applications.

Nov 1st, 2008
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By Jeff Bairstow

The secret of the iPhone’s success is not that it makes cellular phone calls, but that it is also a handheld computer with an absolutely astounding number of third-party applications.

I am not an early adopter of advanced technology for my own use despite my many years of writing about new developments in personal computing and communications. Thus, when the Apple iPhone was first introduced with much hype and fanfare, I did not rush to the nearest Apple store and put my name on the waiting list (Yes, there was an annoying waiting list in those early days!).

Nor did I feel the urge to reach for my credit cards when the second-generation iPhone was released in July. But, then, a few weeks ago I found myself talking with an old friend about a movie we had missed. My rather geekish pal whipped out his brand-new iPhone 3G and within seconds showed me a trailer of the movie (viewed in the proper aspect ratio by rotating the iPhone through 90 degrees), found a couple of nearby theaters with GPS-based driving directions plus a selection of restaurants for dinner after the show. Needless to say, I was hooked and subsequently acquired an iPhone as rapidly as my local AT&T store could find one.

I soon discovered that the secret of the iPhone’s success is not that it makes cellular phone calls, but that it is also a handheld computer with an absolutely astounding number of third-party applications (called “Apps”) that run the gamut from the absurd, such as a free program that keeps track of the number of beers you have consumed, to the outstanding, such as a program that offers interaction with FileMaker relational databases from anywhere in the world ($69). Last time I looked, there were more than a thousand Apps in the library of Apple’s iTunes media store.

At $200 for the 8-gigabyte version, the Apple iPhone 3G is remarkably good value as a cell phone/handheld computer. But the Apps make it an even better value. The catch (there is no free lunch, remember) is that you can only buy an iPhone with an exorbitant AT&T cellular phone plan that costs a minimum of $70/month (data and voice plans) for two years plus an array of taxes. You can count on forking over about $100 a month. Requirements in Europe are less onerous, I believe.

My ten favorite Apps for the iPhone follow (free, unless otherwise noted):

Google Mobile. I have no idea how I used to manage my life without Google on my desktop and laptop computers. The Google Mobile App works flawlessly with the fixed versions-and it’s free.

Yelp. This is still a work-in-progress but absolutely essential for travelers and, indeed, for getting the skinny on local businesses, too. Yelp just keeps on getting better and better although it is often idiosyncratic.

Jott for iPhone. An amazing voice-to-text transcriber that also pops your notes into the correct files and allows you to cross them off with a swift wipe of the finger.

Remote. Another piece of programming prestidigitation by the folks at Apple that gives you total control over your iTunes files on your home network.

Weatherbug. If you, like my wife, are paranoid about the upcoming weather or are merely obsessed about it (like me!), then Weatherbug is for you.

Movies. This App is a free service that lists movies and show times at theaters near you. The App uses the “Location” GPS facility of iPhone when you are away from home.

Pandora. Pandora is a free personalized radio stream that modifies its content as it is played and the App begins to learn your preferences. Magical! Works with Wi-Fi.

FileMagnet ($4.99). This is a very clever App that lets you transfer most types of files to and from your desktop or portable.

TruPhone. Low-cost VoIP phone calls using your iPhone- great for cheap international calls without roaming charges. Support often erratic.

Dante Alighieri. I could not believe this one was free-the complete text (in Italian) of Dante’s classic, The Divine Comedy (all three parts). Now, could someone please put up an English translation?

So what is next from Apple? Windows Mobile on the iPhone? Not in my view.

Click here to enlarge image

Jeffrey Bairstow
Contributing Editor
inmyview@yahoo.com

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