Apple iPhone 4s

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 3 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's so pretty.

The Long Version: Somehow, over the years that I've been using a portable messaging device, smartphones have evolved into little multi-purpose computers that can do some pretty cool things. The spiritual and functional difference between my old Blackberry 9000 and the iPhone 4s is huge: the Apple has a feeling of vaguely portentous purposelessness. There's no consistent menu, no list of functions, no fixed interface. Switching from the buttoned-down Blackberry to the glass-fronted fluidity of the iPhone has been an interesting experience.

I'm trying to come to terms with the iPhone as a spectacularly capable device that combines tremendous abilities with poor functionality. I have an application that can recognize a song from the radio in the background, yet as a music player the iPhone has a bad control interface that falls down specifically because it can do so many other things. Conversely, I can set the iPhone's creepy older uncle – a click-wheel iPod – to use a music playlist for its alarm, but that simple task confounds the phenomenal cosmic powers of this elaborate MP3 player. Sure, "there's an app for that", but it has to be left running in the foreground when the phone's put away for the night. Great ability; poor functionality.

The Siri beta works well, but with some surprising limitations. I tried asking it what time it was, and it replied that it didn't know the time at a specific nearby address. I eventually asked it for the local time, and it looked it up on Wolfram Alpha, which returns its results as images that Siri can't speak aloud. The iPhone has an application named "Clock" and Siri can use it to set alarms, so this shouldn't be that difficult. But as a beta release it's enough that it shows great promise, and even its present form is a tremendous addition to the phone.

Looking at the current market, I really don't see any competitor to iOS and the iPhone. RIM needs to establish its new OS, while Android needs to establish its own personality. I'm reasonably technically literate – I follow The Register and ArsTechnica on Twitter – and there can't be many other iPhone owners who once overclocked a beige G3 desktop. But honestly, if I wanted to sort out the divergent flavours of Linux on assorted hardware, I would have done it back when it was still confined to the desktop. 'Apple Just Works,' and the iPhone, with its confounding mix of perfection and obstinacy, is perhaps Apple's purest essence.

I've never been particularly partisan about brands, and I know the difference between a corporation and a friend. Owning the iPhone is going to take a new perspective and a different skill-set, but I'm ready for the challenge. Who knows where it'll end up in a couple more years? All I can say is that I'm looking forward to it.

There will invariably be lots of follow-up reviews looking at different iPhone features and add-ons. This is a 'first impressions' report, and by no means is it the last word.

last updated 18 oct 2011


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