iPhone, iPad Games, Apps, Reviews, News Thu, 30 Jul 2015 08:09:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 iPhone 4: Best Accessories and Apps (Impressions Part 4) Sat, 03 Jul 2010 19:59:35 +0000 Read More]]> In Part 1 of my iPhone 4 Initial Impressions article I discussed my view of Multitasking, The Retina Display, The iPhone 4’s Cameras, and finally Signal Issues with Apple’s new iPhone.

In Part 2 we looked at iMovie for iPhone, Location Awareness, The iPhone 4’s Gyroscope, and The Glass Case of the iPhone 4.

Yesterday we took a look at the iPhone 4’s overall look and feel, it’s Speed (and battery life) when compared to earlier iPhones, and a few bits and pieces that didn’t really fit into any particular category.

Today I want to round this series out with some cool stuff I have found this week while enjoying my iPhone.

Cases and Covers for Your iPhone 4:

UPDATE : Touch Reviews now has a new category where you can track all the new accessory reviews and deals. Our ‘Accessories’ category will be updated  continually so make sure you bookmark it.

I spent a lot of time chatting with people in various Apple forums, comparing notes, and tracking down what I think are some of the best accessories for the iPhone 4. First on the list, and on most people’s I am guessing, is obviously a case to protect your iPhone 4.

The first case to consider is Apple’s own Bumper. It’s not cheap, but if you can find it in an Apple store, or if it’s available online, then it’s just one click, or a couple of steps away from where you are buying your iPhone 4 anyway.

Whilst Apple’s Bumper has become somewhat infamous this week, because it is seen as an overpriced accessory that some consider we are having forced on us. To be fair it is a quality case. The Apple Bumper is not simply a band, as many have assumed. It has felt backed secondary buttons which rest over the iPhone 4’s existing buttons, for example. And is constructed from a mix of hard and soft materials to make the surround rigid where it needs to be, and soft to the touch, and on it’s rim where you put it down.

But there are alternatives…

MarWare have a marginally cheaper, and slightly different colour range of Bumpers in a similar design.

iPhone 4 Leather Case

If you prefer leather cases then Gaia Mobile Pouch is certainly worth checking out. It is a snug fitting leather pouch which hugs the iPhone both with and without a small case on the iPhone 4. The pouch comes in a range of colors and retails for under $20 and is a great option if you want to keep your phone ‘nude’ while in use, yet protected while on the move.

However, by far my favourite iPhone 4 covering to date is from GelaSkin.

GelaSkin offer something unique for every iPhone 4 user. Whilst not really a physical case for your iPhone that will protect it from drops and knocks. It is rather a screen protector for your entire device which can have either their wonderful designs printed on it, or your own. A GelaSkin is something I have chosen for my iPhone 4.

Short of having your device stripped down, and the case professionally airbrushed, this is as close as you can get to a truly beautifully customised device. And they are not just for iPhone 4s, or even just Apple gear. GelaSkin do iPads, the entire rage of iPhones, and many Nokia, Android and other devices.

Some of the artists they work with produce some stunning imagery. And they have tie ups with Marvel comic designs, and other pop culture imagery. Designing your own is devilishly simple with a web interface that even your granny could use to produce a custom iPhone cover from a few high quality image files.

If you are totally crazy about iPhone 4 cases then you could even consider something like this as a case…

I have to admit to being tempted by this high tech iPhone Bumper, which is machined from a block of aircraft grade aluminium, and weighs only 25 grams. Just like Apple’s Bumper it has buttons engineered into it that sit over your iPhone 4’s controls, making it an extension of your device. The Element Case is certainly a more reasonable purchase than the ancient wood back for the iPhone 4… Made from African Blackwood and with an 18 carat gold Apple logo it’s not cheap.

If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it!

There are also some more sensible options than those last two which come from the usual suspects… Belkin have quite a large range of iPhone 4 cases and covers.

And this rather bizarre armband for your iPhone.

It’s a great concept but I am not sure I’d want to be seen out wearing it.

Using an iPhone 4 (or any iOS 4 iPhone) with a Bluetooth keyboard.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time using my iPhone 4 with a Bluetooth keyboard this week. For part of that time I used it in the dock. But what I really wanted to do was use it in landscape mode. Especially now that iOS 4 allows a lot more apps to run in landscape. Unfortunately that entails propping your iPhone up against something. Unless you get a cheap little thing called a Movie Peg.

Watching movies or typing in landscape are too things that this super cheap and cool accessory make possible..

I have one on order.

iLuv offer some fairly funky designs of iPhone 4 cases. One of which has a stand which pops out to allow you to prop your phone up in a similar way to the Movie Peg. So you could kill two birds with one accessory there.

Screen Protectors

I am not sure if I am going to bother with a screen protector for my iPhone 4. I don’t see the glass getting scratched from normal use. But if you are desperate, both GelaSkins and iLuv are offering them. GelaSkins are not on sale yet. But iLuv’s are.

Neither are cheap!

iLuv even have “privacy” screen protectors which reduce the viewing angle at which your iPhone 4 screen can be seen from. So that nosey parkers peering over your shoulder or sat next to you on the plane cannot easily see what you are doing on your device.

Bluetooth Headset

Jawbone Icon Colors
The first thing that impressed me with the Jawbone Icon bluetooth headset was it’s great packaging, just like Apple, Jawbone have pushed out all the stops in ensuring that not only does the bluetooth headset look great on display in it’s plastic case atop the packaging but that all the accessories including multiple ear pieces, charger, sync cable and manuals are all beautifully encased.

The apps that you get to install via online synchronization include the simple choice of the voice used that talks to you, to the more complex apps that will read sms, email and other app information to you as you use Jawbone Icon. These more complex apps usually cost you although most come with free trials.

The Jawbone Icon comes in a range of 6 designs and is available in the Touch Reviews Accessories Store for $79.95 which is $20 cheaper than Apple’s own online store and if you are on the lookout for your first, or a new bluetooth device you can’t go wrong with the Jawbone Icon for iPhone.

iPhone 4 Applications

The first app I bought for the iPhone 4 was iMovie for iPhone. If you are going to buy any piece of software for this device it should be iMovie. It’s a very simple to use because it is a feature light movie editing suite. But nonetheless it is more than worth the $4.99 that Apple charge for it. Anytime you find yourself on the beach, or at a family gathering and want to just add that extra bit of pizazz to a quick video you have shot, then this is where the iPhone 4 and iMovie will really come into it’s own. You may even want to consider chucking Apple another few dollars for their Apple Component AV Cable, and then with some music added to your movie, some titles, and nice transitions you can wow your family on your home entertainment system with a movie you knocked up sat on the sofa… without ever having touched a video camera or computer! Just a thought. It’s certainly a plan I have for the very near future.

Apple have also pushed out a slew of free apps for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. And its worth making sure you are up to date on these.

For me personally one of the Apps I am most excited about right now is the Formula 1 Live Timing App “Timing ’10 CP”, which gives Google Earth like views of racing action live from Formula 1 events around the globe. I’ll be brining you a full review of that in the coming weeks.

On the subject of Google Earth. Why not pull down that app for the iPhone. It’s super fast, and looks great on the Retina Display, and is of course free!

“iBooks” comes on the iPhone as part of iOS 4. But do remember you are not limited to Apple’s iBookStore. Amazon offer their “Kindle” app. And Barnes & Noble also offer a “BookStore” app, and a “B&N eReader” app. Be sure to check out Apple’s competition. They have free books too.

Finally, another cool app to stick on your iPhone 4 is the “PayPal” app. It’s really handy for sending money to people online, or even billing them. I use it among my friends right now for small transactions. And it is the first step towards your iPhone becoming your wallet. Watch PayPal closely in coming months as I think we are going to see some interesting developments there.

Well that is it on the iPhone 4 for now. Thanks for sticking with me through the last few days. I hope these last few recommendations help you out in your quest for making your iPhone 4 experience as fun as mine has been.

And really do have a go at designing a GelaSkin. Even if you don’t buy one. It’s great fun using their online tool to mock one up. And the art on their website is a joy to look through.

Do be sure to let me know your thoughts on what I have said in the comments…

]]> 10 iPhone 4: Initial Impressions Part 3 – Look & Feel, Speed, Final Thoughts Fri, 02 Jul 2010 19:08:58 +0000 Read More]]> In Part 1 of my iPhone 4 Initial Impressions article I discussed my view of Multitasking, The Retina Display, The iPhone 4’s Cameras, and finally Signal Issues with Apple’s new iPhone.

Yesterday in Part 2 we looked at iMovie for iPhone, Location Awareness, The iPhone 4’s Gyro, and The Glass Case of the iPhone 4.

Today we’ll look a little bit more at the iPhone 4’s overall look and feel, it’s Speed (and battery life) when compared to earlier iPhones, and a few bits and pieces that don’t really fit into any particular category.

The Overall Look & Feel:

Everything about this iPhone screams quality. I’ve already remarked on the heft of the device, and how its glass and steel construction feels cool to touch. But there is another subtle feature to its overall form factor. It really feels incredibly thin. The original iPhone comes closest to the iPhone 4 in this department. The 3G and 3GS feel like they have a beer gut by comparison to both.

But the iPhone 4 feels almost credit card like in its thinness by comparison to all earlier models of iPhone. It is too heavy to comfortably put in your shirt top pocket, but its just about right to put in a jacket pocket.

And, as has been oft repeated by many – including myself, the Stainless Steel frame, and it being slightly proud of the iPhone4’s glass front and back make it feel exactly right in your hands when you hold it to use it as a camera, or to play games which involve motion controls. In some respects this extra grip has gone some way towards making me less fearful of dropping it and breaking the glass, than I am with the current iPod Touch and the 3GS.

The buttons and switches are all solid, and give great feedback when pushed or switched. And the screen is like hard smooth marble to touch, but with just the right amount of friction to make touch activities feel tactile to exactly the correct degree.

Discounting any qualms people may have about the iPhone 4’s performance in any technical department for a moment, the case design, and manufacture quality, as well as the materials used in the iPhone 4’s construction are about as good as it gets in the tech and industrial design industry today.

If the iPhone 4 was a car body it would be a top of the line Porsche, Mercedes or Jaguar – inside and out.

Speed & Battery Life:

The iPhone 4 sports a slightly revised Apple A4 SoC (System on a Chip). Embedded in that device is an ARM Cortex A8, very similar to the one inside the iPad. The iPad is known to run at 1 GHz. It is very clear that for battery life reasons Apple has down clocked the processor in the iPhone 4. But not by a huge margin. Most benchmarks have it coming in at around 800 Mhz. So a cut of 20% in raw horsepower.

Memory wise Apple have done with the iPhone 4 what they should have done with the iPad. They have upped its memory to 512MB. This not only gives a lot more space for multitasking, or suspended apps to hang around in memory. It also gives us a lot more room for tabs to be open in Safari, games to use, and for the system to run smoothly overall.

iOS 4 is noticeably able to handle the kind of tasks that we expect from the iPhone 4, and with far less stuttering than on the 3GS.

Overall the iPhone 4 is around 20% faster at most tasks than the 3GS, and around 35% slower then the iPad. This is across the board on most processor intensive tasks.

When it comes to rendering web pages with lots of graphics the iPhone 4 is on a par with the 3GS. My reasoning for this is because the GPU in the iPhone 4 is working hard to push those 4 pixels for every one that then 3GS and other earlier iDevices are pushing. And this comes back to my caveats in my first iPhone 4 Impressions piece, where I said that we are not going to see a huge leap in graphics performance on the iPhone 4 over the most recent generation of iPhones and iPods.

It is certainly not the end of the world. But it would have been nice if Apple had done something to beef up the GPU in the iPhone 4. But without going to an entirely new GPU they didn’t have much choice. As iOS 4 is refined I expect we may see some improvements to the quite complex rendering pipeline in the iPhone Operating System. Just as we did in revisions of iPhone OS 2.x and OS 3.x on earlier devices. Apple may even decide to turn up the wick a little bit on the iPhone’s SoC, and that may or may not give the graphics a bit of a boost later in its product life cycle.

Having said all that the iPhone 4 is still a very fast beast when compared to all of its immediate rivals. I just always want more!

For more mundane web pages, and general text processing the iPhone 4 is not quite as fast as the Android Nexus One running Froyo, but it’s not far behind, and it sits quite comfortable in the middle of the iPad and the iPhone 3GS in terms of performance.

On pure GeekBench style raw CPU based processing tasks the iPhone 4 comes out a good 20 – 25% faster than the 3GS overall.

All of this performance balancing, and Apple’s decisions on the iPhone 4 lead to one thing. A compromise to give us the best performance possible and still maintain battery life. Just as with iOS 4 “multitasking” Apple have made decisions to ensure that we can surf the web, listen to music, and make calls all day long without trailing a power cord around behind us.

Battery Life:

I’ve done some tests of my own, and also compared my results with other tech experts that I respect to come up with these average results for battery performance on the iPhone 4:

Web browsing over 3G yields around 6.5 hours on the iPhone 4, even with its better performance. That is around an hour and a half longer than on the 3GS.

WiFi browsing tops out at just under 10 hours. An hour or so longer than the 3GS will go. Talk Time is far better than any other mobile phone in its class. At around 7.5 hours it is almost twice the time the 3GS could manage, and the Nexus One is about half of that.

For a quick test on multitasking I had my iPhone 4 run iTunes today while browsing web pages alternately over 3G and Wifi, and checking the odd app from time to time in a repeating pattern throughout the day. My battery ran out after 6 hours. For all of that time my screen was on, and music was playing. That is pretty impressive.

I feel very confident taking my iPhone 4 with me all day and using it as much as I need, and not worrying about charging again until I get home. At a pinch I think I could survive two days without a power point if I was frugal during the second day. Considering how much more is going on on the iPhone 4 when compared to the original iPhone (which has always been great on battery life) that is very impressive – and streets ahead of the iPhone 3GS and 3G.

Final Thoughts:

A lot of differing opinions have been expressed in the press this week about the iPhone 4. At first it launched in an explosion of positive reviews and consumer excitement. Even today stores across the world are either selling out, or sold out already.

And then this reception issue reared its ugly head. It is very clear that some iPhone 4s exhibit a characteristic that can mean that signals get dropped. It is a very well defined and isolated to one small area of the iPhone’s case. And if you have the issue easy to replicate. You can, and should then either take that up with Apple, or simply ignore it by using a carry case. Something that all iPhone users I know have anyway. It also bears repeating that all mobile phones will exhibit this same issue if you hold them in some particular way.

Apple have issued a Press Release today where they explain that the issue with the iPhone 4 is simply the algorithm they use for displaying signal bars on the iPhone 4. In some ways this is true. All cell phones will lose signal if they are insulated by the hand holding them. And Apple argue that their algorithm is misleading people by showing too many bars of signal when in a weak signal area, and that then people are further confused by the signal suddenly dropping away when they touch or squeeze the iPhone 4 case in a particular way.

I am more or less on Apple’s side in this case. But not because I accept their explanation as being the only cause of this problem, or Steve Jobs’ comments that people are “holding the iPhone incorrectly” as being acceptable. I am on Apple’s side because I think that the problem is getting blown out of all proportion by a media scenting blood.

I have used quite a few iPhone 4s this week, and none of them exhibit this problem at all. This makes me very sure that Apple have a manufacturing problem with a small number of iPhones, and not a design problem. A problem which can be fixed for consumers by exchanging faulty iPhone 4s. They also have another problem, which is not actually a signal issue, but the issue they describe with the cell signal strength meter software. I think some people are being misled by Apple’s own cell bar indicator on the iPhone 4, and consequently think they have a faulty iPhone 4, when they don’t. I hope that made sense!

Unfortunately Apple are not dealing with it very well. Their explanation in their Press Release is like something out of a Monty Python script :

Upon investigation, we were stunned to find that the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display is totally wrong.

Our formula, in many instances, mistakenly displays 2 more bars than it should for a given signal strength. For example, we sometimes display 4 bars when we should be displaying as few as 2 bars. Users observing a drop of several bars when they grip their iPhone in a certain way are most likely in an area with very weak signal strength, but they don’t know it because we are erroneously displaying 4 or 5 bars. Their big drop in bars is because their high bars were never real in the first place.

We are also making bars 1, 2 and 3 a bit taller so they will be easier to see.

We will issue a free software update within a few weeks that incorporates the corrected formula. Since this mistake has been present since the original iPhone, this software update will also be available for the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 3G.

None of this will convince those with problems that they don’t have one. But it also won’t put off those that want an iPhone 4, and look at the problem from the perspective that I think we all should. Some iPhone 4s are not made as well as others.

If you get a bad one, return it. Ask for a new one. Or go buy another brand of phone. Apple do actually suggest this themselves.

As a reminder, if you are not fully satisfied, you can return your undamaged iPhone to any Apple Retail Store or the online Apple Store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund.

This article is purely about my subjective impressions of the iPhone 4 after having bought one for myself. If you’ll take a leap of faith with me and ignore the reception issue for a minute then I can say that quite honestly this is the mobile phone I dreamed of when I first went into an electronics store in the UK in the late 80’s / early 90’s and paid a small fortune for a Motorola Brick the size of a shoe box. The iPhone 4 is the culmination of all the dreams I had of a Star Trek Communicator when I was a kid, and my own copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when I was in my teens, and what I hoped The Apple Newton Message Pad would be.

Quite simply it has the best camera, both for video and stills, that I have ever used on a mobile phone.

The operating system still destroys any other mobile operating system out there for usability and elegance of use.

The GPS is better than some in car GPS systems.

FaceTime is just “sick”. And I mean that in the way it is defined in the urban dictionary vernacular.

And web browsing, emailing and making calls all work fine. More than fine in fact. In my week of use they outstrip anything I have seen on the iPhone 2G, 3G and 3GS by far.

Should You Buy One?

Quite simply.. Yes!

I can’t see a reason not to. If you are still using an original iPhone then the upgrade is a no-brainer. Likewise if you are on an iPhone 3G.

If you are still using a fairly new iPhone 3GS you might want to perhaps wait. You have a fully functional version of iOS 4. And apart from the slight improvements to the GPS unit and the addition of the Gyro in the iPhone 4, you have comparable hardware in your iPhone.

There is the possibility that Apple will move to a dual core ARM Cortex A9 with a vastly improved GPU for the next gen iPhone (iPhone 5 or iPhone 4GS?). In what I believe will be the Apple A5 SoC in an iPhone 5. But it’s going to be a long year for you. And you are going to miss out on some cool stuff.

But I have done that by sticking with my 2G for a long time. And there is no reason you shouldn’t be as happy with your 3GS as I have been with my 2G since the iPhone was first made available to an expectant public.

Game wise I think you are going to see the same quality of entertainment on the iPhone 3GS as you are on the iPhone 4 for some time. And app-wise with the exception of some cool Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality type apps and games you are going to be able to do anything on your 3GS that I can do on my iPhone 4.

But don’t be put off by these reception problems. If it is an issue then Apple will fix it.

If you are unhappy, Apple will exchange it, or refund you.

Well that’s about it for Part 3.

Part 4 will be the end of this series tomorrow. It will be a little shorter, but packed with some cool stuff. I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far.

Do be sure to let me know your thoughts on what I have said in the comments.

]]> 12 iPhone 4: Initial Impressions Part 2 (iMovie, Gyroscope, Location Awareness, Glass Case) Thu, 01 Jul 2010 19:31:39 +0000 Read More]]> Yesterday we took a look at some of the more headline making aspects of the iPhone 4. Today I am digging into the iPhone 4’s killer app (iMovie for iPhone), and some of the subjects that interest me more personally about the iPhone 4.

I’ll be covering FaceTime a bit more in my final piece on first impressions of the iPhone 4 on Saturday. But for now here is a little bit on some of the initial experimentation I have done with FaceTime and some friends today.

FaceTime is great! But it also takes some getting used to. It is initially very weird chatting face to face with someone on the other end of a mobile connection. More weird than I expected, to be honest! You almost want to put the iPhone 4 down, as it feels awkward holding it in-front of you. But if you put it down you seem to be looming over your chat buddy – which is also weird. The dock angle is not quite right for FaceTime either. But I am sure I’ll get used to it… eventually!

I found it a little bit easier to get into FaceTime as my experimentation progressed, as I was doing it with long standing friends. I am not sure if I would want to, or be able to handle FaceTime effectively on a day to day basis with anyone. And certainly not for the first time I ever spoke to someone on the phone.

But I can see myself occasionally sharing brief moments of my life, or work related snippets over a quick video chat from the office, or out and about – before retreating back to a voice only call, or the more normal Twitter / Text stream that we all seem to communicate with today anyway. Having a video phone in your pocket is probably one of those things that you will use to show off, and once or twice a year when it will pay for itself that one time alone in comedy value, or by solving a communication problem you could not have solved any other way.

There are also some great personal opportunities to exploit the technology. One of my calls today was to a friend who was in a supermarket which sells specialist food. I was able to have my buddy locate some items for me, and then verify that they were indeed the correct products by switching between front and back cameras and showing me what he was picking up. Much hilarity ensued with the staff of the shop also. If we’d had him dressed up in a Star Trek outfit that would have made the experiment perfect!

At peak traffic times, if you have a low bandwidth connection on either end the signal will drop out from time to time as FaceTime requires a fairly high up-speed for video. And that up speed can be close to what some internet providers provide – over here in Thailand anyway. But audio keeps going, and then things pick up again. We experienced these sorts of problems today when stealing WiFi connections in busy locations downtown. Sometimes the image got pixelated. And it is not really good enough for showing small text from magazines and the like. But great for packets of food!

More on Face Time in a later piece.

iMovie for iPhone:

It is incredibly easy to capture video on the iPhone 4. You simply fire up the video recorder and start shooting. If you are in low light conditions you can even switch on the Camera Flash and have it act as a permanent light. If you are happy with the video you have shot you can simply upload that directly to YouTube, or send it to someone.

If you want to trim a little bit off the end of your clip at either end you can also do that using the iPhone 4’s in built functionality, right out of the box.

It is worth noting that sending videos by email requires that they are less than a minute. None of that requires iMovie though.

But when iMovie for iPhone is around the cost of a good cup of coffee, well.. why shouldn’t we have that too.

iMovie is either something you will love or hate for its simplicity. It is just like a mini version of iMovie on the Mac, and very Apple in the way that it controls your workflow. Constrains it even.

You must choose a Project Template when you first fire up the app. And it must be one of the five that comes with the app. I am sure Apple will improve on this in the future with updates. But for now, a lot of people are going to be producing very similar iPhone iMovie end products. Having said that, the balance of minimalist to more complex templates is good. So there is something for everyone.

Once you are into editing your movie it is a very focussed environment. You can import your existing video clips, photos and music. There is also an option to make a quick video recording on the fly, to insert into your ongoing timeline. That is handy.

Much like iMovie on the desktop you have a timeline of thumbnails representing your clips, and transition makers in-between them. Everything is manipulated through touch actions, as you would expect, and by scrolling through the timeline, and dragging stuff about.

One thing I found frustrating was the inability to fade individual clips in or out at the end. So, when you shoot your beginning and end portions of your epic it’s a good idea to make sure you contrive some kind of beginning or end at that time. Similarly you can’t change the duration of a lot of the intro portions of Apple’s templates. So there is room for improvement in any update Apple provide.

Overall, and it is worth remembering I have only had an afternoon to play with iMovie, it is competent, snappy, and it does “just work”. But there is not a lot of room for individual flare outside of the actual shooting of your clips.

Location Awareness:

The iPhone 4 really has a great idea of where it is!

I am not sure if it’s the new antenna setup, or simply software and hardware upgrades. But this iteration of the iPhone 4 seems significantly more self aware than the 3GS I have sitting on my desk to compare it to.

Using the CoreLocation APIs in iOS, developers can make use of GPS (both assisted via cell towers and WiFI location triangulation – and from an inbuilt GPS receiver), along with the Compass in the iPhone 4 to get your location and which way you are facing. This is not new. The 3GS could do all this of course.

I live in a condo block just outside Bangkok, and the walls are made from something akin to nuclear bunker material. I have to get a guy with a special drill in to help me put up hooks for picture frames!

When I activate the compass it instantly spins to correctly give me my orientation. Tapping on the button to go to a Google Maps view it locates where I am to within about 5 or 10 meters within a couple of seconds. Then progressively over the next 20 – 30 seconds the iPhone hones my position down to what I would estimate to be within a few meters. I can also walk around my condo and see both the direction I am facing, and my location moving around on the map being updated instantly. Even with the fairly low grade satellite images of Thailand that we get from Google I can see my location dot on the balcony of my condo when I step outside. It’s very easy to sink a portion of your day into simply walking around with the iPhone 4 confirming where you are. OK, I am a geek!

On the Retina Display the maps look better, and the Compass really seems to gleam. And the way that everything updates simply seems silky smooth. The Compass particularly looks like a physical thing spinning just under the iPhone’s glass front. Very nice indeed.

Outside, away from our building, the initial pinpointing of your location is slightly quicker. But at the end of the day it will always take a while for GPS to kick in. I would say that the initial position information the iPhone 4 gets from our fairly sparse cellular and WiFi infrastructure in Thailand is incredibly impressive. And that overall the GPS performance in the iPhone 4 outstrips that of my dedicated in-car GPS Navigation unit from a few years ago.

If there is ever a navigation app for this part of the world, specifically for the iPhone, I’ll be buying it.

The iPhone 4 Gyroscope:

The Gyroscope is kind of the last piece in the puzzle of the iPhone 4’s location awareness and motion tracking arsenal. I am extremely excited about it.

On the iPhone 3GS we have GPS, an accelerometer (which is gravity sensitive), and a compass. With those three functionalities it is possible to tell where the iPhone is, which way it is facing, and roughly what orientation the device is at. All iPhones up until the iPhone 4 have a fatal flaw though. Because the accelerometer is gravity driven it can not measure any rotations around the vertical axis. This means that you can use the iPhone 2G thru to the 3GS as a steering wheel, or to tilt marbles around on a simulated flat surface, but you can never accurately tell the way the device is facing in all planes

Enter the Gyro…

iPhone 4 Gyroscope

Many of you may have had a gyroscope as a kid (Picture above). If you did you’ll remember that when you spun up the fly wheel it seemed able to defy gravity by standing upright on a single thin spindle. If you then picked it up and tried to rotate it you would be able to feel strong resistance to your movements as it tried to stay upright. This resistance to movement away from it’s spin axis is what a gyro uses to measure you turning your iPhone. Now, there isn’t actually a spinning thing inside your iPhone 4. Even though it’s nice to imagine one there. The gyro magic is all done electronically. But it relies on similar physics. And the truly amazing thing is that it is incredibly accurate, and works in all directions of rotation. i.e. It is not dependant on gravity like accelerometers are.

So what? Well by itself the gyro can tell us exactly how far the iPhone has been turned from an arbitrary position at any time. But that is not that useful unless we know where the iPhone was when we started. By combining GPS, the Compass and the accelerometer, already in the iPhone 4 (and previously in the 3G/3GS), with the gyro’s incredibly accurate sensing of motion in all directions, we can tell exactly where the iPhone 4 is, and which way it is facing at all times.

The gyroscope in the iPhone 4 can distinguish movement with an accuracy of up to 2,000 degrees per second – over 600 times more detailed than the movement of the second hand on a clock.

Using the CoreMotion APIs in iOS, developers can make use of the gyroscope to measure true roll, pitch, and yaw, making the iPhone sensitive to motion on six total axes.

I can’t say too much about an app that I am working on exclusively for the iPhone 4 right now. But what I am working on has not been possible before now on a mobile phone. And from my own initial testing with the gyro, it is just as accurate as the specs. boast.

At the moment if you want to experience the Gyro in action on the iPhone 4, and feel just how accurate it is for yourself, there is a game from ngmoco called “Eilminate:GunRange” in the iTunes App Store. That app is only for the iPhone 4, and uses the Gyro for aiming at targets in a shooting range. Strangely ngmoco are charging for it. But I guess they are trying to cash in on the iPhone 4 launch and have decided to forgo their normal Freemium model for now on that one!

But believe me, that is nothing compared to what you are going to see in coming months from myself, and other developers…

The Glass Case:

One of the reasons I kept my original iPhone as my day to day iPhone for so long was that I really don’t like the curved, plastic design of the 3G and 3GS. It was pretty inevitable that I would upgrade around this time anyway, as there are just too many features that I lacked on my 2G. Luckily the new iPhone 4 design is exactly where I think Apple should have gone with the iPhone’s look and feel after the original.

The iPhone 4 is 0.37 inches thick, compared to the 0.48 inches of the iPhone 3G/3GS. Because it is not curved it actually feels considerably thinner. It is also not quite as wide.

When I first saw shots of it the iPhone 4 I did have my doubts though. The way that the Stainless Steel frame of the iPhone 4 juts out from the front and back looks odd until you hold the device in your hands. When you do it makes perfect sense. It gives you some purchase on the device with your fingers, especially when you hold it in landscape mode to use as a video, or stills camera.

The combination of glass and steel also gives the iPhone 4 a solid, and physically cool feel in your hands. I mean cool as in colder than room temperature. Those two sensations when coupled with the iPhone 4’s smaller, slightly heavier and more solid form factor all combine to make this thing feel great in your hand.

And the glass display doesn’t seem to attract grease as much as previous iPhone screens. It also feels silky smooth when you make gestures on it, and solid when you tap it. It’s so good I didn’t even notice how natural it feels until I used a previous iPhone model later today and then spotted the difference.

Apple have used Gorilla Glass for the front and the back of the iPhone 4, and this is not without its controversy. If dropped at the wrong angle it is a lot easier to crack either the front or back cover of the iPhone 4 than on previous versions. And I have to admit to being a little nervous at breaking my run of good luck over the last few years. I have not yet dropped or broken any iDevice.

Some people have noticed that the iPhone 4’s glass back can get slight scratches in it in day to day use. And others have found that if you put it down on a flat, slightly damp surface then it can literally suck itself onto the surface because its glass back is so smooth and flat. Necessitating sliding it off that surface, which will then increase the risk of scratching.

But all these things are fairly esoteric quibbles in my opinion.

Ultimately this makes me all the more convinced that I will be wrapping an Apple Bumper around my iPhone 4 as soon as I can get hold of one. So far this week my iPhone 4 has spent most of its idle time in my original iPhone 2 dock on my desk. But it has also been out with me, in my pocket, flat on my desk, and moved around a fair bit on my notebooks as I try things out. I am not about to drop test it, or scratch test it. But it still looks brand new after almost a week of use!

Basically, don’t drop it. Don’t shoot it. And don’t put it into your pocket with your keys, and I think you’ll be very happy.

Well that’s the end of part 2.

Tomorrow I’ll be covering more on the overall look and feel of the iPhone 4, its Speed, some more on FaceTime and some Final Thoughts. I’ll leave the final part on Saturday as a surprise.

Do let me know your thoughts too in the comments.

]]> 2 iPhone 4 Initial Impressions: Multitasking, Retina Display, Camera and Signal Issues (Part 1) Wed, 30 Jun 2010 18:09:07 +0000 Read More]]> iPhone 4

Apple’s latest iPhone, the iPhone 4, has been out in the wild for just about a week now. And in that week it has been the centre of tech news for so many diverse reasons that it is hard to know whether the iPhone 4’s launch has been the kind of success that Apple expected, and of course wanted for their new flagship iDevice.

It is also a hard device to review, for many reasons. Luckily most of them are good reasons, and related primarily to just how much stuff there is to explore and play with on the new iPhone.

For example, I spent 2 hours walking around my apartment the other night just playing with the Compass, Gyroscope, GPS and Google Maps. It is really amazing to have a device in your hand that so decisively tells you where you are and which way you are facing! More on that later. But I really do expect us to see a lot of Augmented Reality apps in the iPhone 4’s future.

I will be upfront about my views on the iPhone 4 now. I absolutely love it. There you have it!

It’s actually my first personal iPhone upgrade since the original iPhone 2G. So there is a lot to take in for me personally. Although I have used both the 3G and 3GS models extensively for work, there is a big difference between having them on your desk for work, and carrying one around with you day to day as your life helper! I am however, happy to point out the iPhone 4′ s flaws, and will do so. So don’t expect this set of articles to simply be a gushing endorsement of Apple’s PR message. But overall the iPhone 4 is an amazing piece of kit, in my opinion. With that out of the way we can move on with my first impressions.

I’ve split this “First Impressions” piece into four parts. In the first part I will be covering Multitasking, The Retina Display, The iPhone 4’s Cameras, and finally Signal Issues with the device.

In the next three pieces I will start to look at iMovie, some of the iPhone 4’s Location Awareness Features, as well as the Gyros capabilities for other applications, the iPhone 4’s Glass Case and Stainless Steel Frame, and along the way pick out some points on all of this from a developer’s perspective.

Finally, on Saturday, I’ll get to some final thoughts on the iPhone 4’s look, feel and effectiveness in day to day use. Including how well the battery holds up under a few full days work. Most of this tail end stuff has to come closer to the end, because by then I’ll have had it a few days!

I’ll also report on Face Time experiences once I’ve made a few more calls with people who have iPhone 4’s both in Thailand and abroad, and the iPhone 4’s speed when compared to other phones, and finally wrap up with conclusions and whether you should buy one or not.

Spoiler Alert : If you haven’t bought one already, then do so! The iPhone 4 is a winner, despite some of its problems being discussed very publicly around the web at the moment.

So without further ado…


For those that don’t already know, it is worth repeating that multitasking in iOS 4 is not what we expect when we “multitask” on a modern desktop machine. It has a lot more in common with multitasking on older desktop computers. And that is because resources are constrained in a somewhat similar way on mobile phones to how they were a few years ago on our desktop machines.

Although the iPhone 4 sports a very spacious, and welcome, 512MB of RAM, twice that of the iPad, its processor is still only a single core affair and even 512MB of RAM is small when dealing with the kind of files and media that we use day to day on mobile devices today.

If you were uncharitable you might call iOS 4 multitasking, simply “Fast Task Switching”. The reason for this is that with the exception of a few core background tasks, applications don’t really run in parallel with each other on the iPhone 4.

You can’t have two windows open at once doing different things, for example. What happens is when you switch from one app to another the current program is suspended in memory, as if it is frozen in time. Unless it is a special case. Special cases are things like music, email, messaging services or tasks given special permission by the OS to run slowly, or periodically in the background. In that case, the main portion of the app that has been put into the background is still frozen in time, but some core functionality of the app stays awake, and is allowed to keep working with the iPhone in a limited fashion; to play music, periodically check for data, or receive messages.. and so on.

In reality though, we don’t need, nor do we want multiple windows open on the iPhone 4’s screen. What we do want is to be able to have mail checked constantly, play music, keep connections open to messaging services, and pause apps and games to take, or make, calls and then go back to what we were doing as painlessly as possible. Or perhaps switch away from a FaceTime video call, but have it keep going as a voice only call while we check a spreadsheet or word document, and then switch back to full video when we have done that.

Multitasking on iOS 4 does all of this with aplomb. So although some people may argue over the semantics of what multitasking really is in iOS, it is exactly what a mobile device needs it to be. And what’s more it means that our all important battery life is preserved.

From a developers perspective I have been able to experiment with how well the iPhone 4 handles task switching, and it’s quite impressive. Even frustratingly so at times.

When you publish an app to the App Store, Apple check to see if you have implemented all the hooks for multitasking, and exiting your app cleanly in iOS4. Depending on your app’s scope they may or may not reject it if it behaves in certain ways. And I will of course make sure any app I publish is compliant… Do be aware though, that until developers update apps to run under iOS 4, and use the multitasking functionality things may not always run as you expect. Although having just said that I can say that the iPhone 4, with its extra memory, really does do its best to Fast Switch older apps that are not really multitasking compliant yet.

When developing quick test apps for myself I sometimes skip some of the functions which handle shutting an app down nicely, or saving its active state. Even when I did this the iPhone 4 still backgrounded my development apps, and caused me quite some confusion initially. When I would subsequently try to re-launch them, thinking I was running a fresh copy of the app, it would actually simply un-pause the existing version. Impressive, but confusing initially!
At the end of a day of coding I realised, as others have found, that when you think you have quit an app the iPhone has actually backgrounded it. I actually had around 20 apps sitting in my task tray at days end. Once you have filled up the iPhone 4’s memory this way, it will start to cull apps. And this is when developers like me earn our pay. If we’ve done our job properly, our suspended app will then save its state to the iPhone’s Flash Memory, and the next time you use it it will still resume, but just not quite as quickly as a backgrounded app.

In reality this is all quite impressive, and shows just how many small apps you can have in memory at the same time. But at the end of the day the difference between multitasking and app quitting and launching is simply a small amount of time.

What it does show is that the iPhone 4 is certainly backgrounding anything it can, whether or not that app is even supposed to “multitask”. Neat.

The iPhone 4 is certainly making good use of its 512MB of RAM to background tasks and make your life more convenient. Launch times for backgrounded apps is incredibly fast. Making the iPhone 4 feel incredibly snappy all day long. And with double the memory of the iPad you can have a lot more tabs open in Safari, as well as apps suspended in memory before things start to chug.

I have not got my iPhone 4 to chug yet by the way! But I am trying!

The Retina Display:

The iPhone’s new LCD display is probably almost as big news as its alleged ability to lose 3G signals. Some users have reported yellow spots on their displays, but this has been cleared up as simply a function of solvents used in the manufacture of the iPhone not having had time to dry before shipping. Normally it clears up in a day or two, apparently. On all the devices I have seen to date I can say that none exhibited this problem. Even on display models, and behind the counter models, which are showing up with the princely price tag of over $2000 in our local malls this week.

Overall though, everyone seems to be in agreement about one thing. The iPhone 4’s Retina Display is like something out of a science fiction movie when compared to all other mobile phone displays on the market. It has even made me quite picky about text on my super high resolution Apple Monitors and 17 ” Unibody MacBook Pro’s screen. They all now look slightly pixelated to me, by comparison to the iPhone 4’s display! Safari looks positively awful for me now, on anything other than an iPhone 4!

Four things strike me about the iPhone 4’s Retina Display:

Firstly, it is unbelievably high resolution. Even if I literally stick my eyeball on the screen of the iPhone 4 I cannot make out pixels. Text is smooth and crisp, almost like the characters are actually little plastic stickers, or rub-on transfers, just behind the touch panel. I’d go so far as to say that if it wasn’t so brightly backlit you could believe that the screen is actually a sticker on a fake display model iPhone in a store – until it scrolls, or reacts to your touch. Then it looks like a glossy magazine!

Secondly, it is very evenly lit. Some 3GS iPhones I have used have had a little imbalance to their backlight. This panel seems to be very constant in its illumination. Much like my iPhone 2G. Bless it.

Thirdly, the icons and text seem to be much closer to you than on previous iPhones. This is undoubtedly because of Apples new manufacturing process that bonds the LCD panel and the Touch Layer all into one. Further enhancing the illusion that the iPhone 4’s display is actually displaying glossy magazine content.

Finally, overall the iPhone 4 screen has a more yellow hue than previous iPhones. It’s something you notice when you put the iPhone 4 next to an older iPhone. It’s a little disconcerting at first, probably because I’ve become so accustomed to the earlier iPhone’s colour balance. But you barely notice it unless you are comparing screens side by side. In summary, older iPhones seem to have a blue hue to them, whereas the new iPhone has a more warm yellow hue.

From a developers perspective the one downside to this screen size is the amount of pixels it has. If you imagine pixels on a screen are like a bag of sand, and that the GPU in your iPhone or iPod Touch is an automated shovel that fills the screen with those pixels, then you can imagine quite easily that it has to work a lot harder when filling the iPhone 4’s screen. Four times harder. Four times more pixels to shovel around.

Apple have not upgraded the graphics chip in the new iPhone since the 3GS. Whilst at the moment, on a day to day basis most people won’t notice any slow down, it is worth noting that the GPU in the iPhone 4 is now working 4 times as hard as it is in the iPhone 3GS, simply to keep that screen going. I write games, and graphically intensive software, and I would have liked to have seen perhaps a small speed / performance bump in the graphics chip in the iPhone 4.

All this means is that the iPhone 4 is probably not going to blow us away visually in games any more than an iPhone 3GS or iPod Touch will. Its CPU is faster, about twice as fast as the 3GS overall. But its GPU is actually maxed out.
Technically the iPhone 4’s GPU is fill rate limited now (as opposed to having horsepower to spare on the smaller screens of the iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch), and in some ways it is more comparable to the iPhone 3G in terms of raw polygon drawing power. But iOS is very snappy, and this will really only affect people like me trying to get as much as they can out of visuals for games.

I have experienced this first hand in the last few days when comparing my own software on an iPod Touch 3G, against the iPhone 4. Overall the iPhone 4 is not quite as snappy when running flat out as an earlier iPhone 3GS or iPod Touch 3G. But only in very graphically intensive applications with a lot of visuals. The iPad is affected similarly with it’s even larger screen and identical GPU.

Just to be clear, this does not in any way affect day to day applications, videos, iMovie, or any aspect of iOS overall. So don’t worry about it too much. I am just passing on an observation from “dev. land”.

The iPhone 4’s Cameras:

Where to start here? We’ve already covered the technical specs of the iPhone 4’s cameras in previous pieces, and this article is about impressions of actually using the device. But I will briefly recap. The iPhone 4 has the following capabilities:

The 5 megapixel CMOS chip, with backlighting technology, and an improved lens, is about as good as it gets on mobile phones for taking pictures casually. Apple have maximised the technology to provide what I think is the best mobile phone camera setup I have used to date. Forget the 8MP pixel Androids. The overall package of the specialised 5MP backlit CMOS, and improved lens in the iPhone 4 is better for getting accurate data (more photons – to quote Steve Jobs) into the pictures you are taking.

The LED Flash is competent, and I’ve been able to snap shots in all lighting conditions with great results. In fact my Canon G5 stills camera (also 5MP) is now in my spares draw. My new iPhone is able to it’s job as well as it could on a day to day basis, and fits in my pocket. The iPhone 4 shutter speed, and startup time is noticeably faster than on previous iPhones. And unless I am setting up for some specialised sports shots (which require grown-up camera settings) I cannot see me bothering to throw my real camera in my bag, or on the back seat of my car very often these days.
The LED Flash also doubles as a constant light for use with the Video Camera, and works very well. That is such a cool feature. I am guessing it might be handy on a dark night if you drop your car keys too!

Switching between the front facing, and back facing cameras is seamless, achieved by tapping very responsive on screen controls, and even accompanied by an animation that rotates the entire screen from one camera to the other live. The front facing camera is great for quick snaps for ID pictures, or quick head shots for web sites and more – and of course for FaceTime calls. More on FaceTime in a later one of these articles.

Tap to focus is fast and responsive, and the ability to manually turn the Flash, or Video Light on and off, or leave them on auto is all you really need from what is, after all, a phone!

One problem I did have with my upgrade process was that a few pictures seemed to go missing from my iPhone 2G’s library when moving my shots over to the iPhone 4. And that in the big scrolling view of all my photos the iPhone 4 does not have any thumbnails for those shots. I have no idea why this is. But it is disappointing as it looks bad when you open a couple of years worth of photos to see a mainly black screen. The photos are there to look through individually, but not as a scrollable tiled wall of thumbnails. Hopefully if I sync again in the future this might resolve itself.

Signal Issues:

I actually had four iPhone 4s brought into Thailand on the Sunday just gone. Apart from mine they have gone to friends based in and around Bangkok. Mine is with me just outside Bangkok. Some are in good areas with a full 3G service. Others are in areas which simply have 2G coverage. Make no mistake, Thailand’s mobile phone network is by no means a world leader. 3G has only just come here, and we are currently in the rainy season. If we are going to get signal problems it will be at this time of year, and in this part of the world.

For myself I am primarily in a 2G area, and I have had absolutely no problems making or receiving calls. On my iPhone 2G I often have to lean precariously off my balcony to make calls at certain times of the day, and in certain weather conditions. With my new iPhone 4 I can sit at my desk inside my office, surrounded by computers and WiFi and make and take crystal clear calls without issue. So for 2G voice calls the iPhone 4 is a significant improvement over my previous iPhone.

Two of my friends live right in the heart of 3G land in downtown Bangkok, and both have marvelled at the speed at which they can pull down videos and mail on the iPhone 4. (Just don’t ask how much their phone bill will be this month!)

I asked both of them to try and get their 3G signal to drop out by following the instructions on various web sites around the web. Neither they, or me when I visited 3G areas, have been able to get voice calls, FaceTime calls or data services to drop out on iPhone 4s when using either 3G or 2G. It is baffling to hear these reports from other people.

In fact I cannot even get the bars on my iPhone 4 to drop at all. And that is in places where both my iPhone 2G and iPhone 3GS have problems.

I totally believe that some people are having this problem on their iPhone 4s. If I was asked to make a judgement call on what it is exactly I would guess that it is related to manufacturing tolerances to do with the iPhone 4’s Stainless Steel surround. Something that Apple can hopefully address moving forward for future iPhone 4s, and also existing early adopters. I don’t expect to see a software fix solving this problem. And hope that Apple don’t try to mask it with a faux software upgrade.

In any case this signal issue is certainly not something that would stop me buying, or recommending the iPhone 4. I was aware of it before I had iPhones sent here from the UK. As were all my friends. And none of us were concerned. Rightly so, in our collective options. Especially when I cannot conceive of anyone not having a carry case, or Bumper on one of these phones. Which by all accounts clear up the problem 100% for those that have it.

It is also worth noting that the iPhone 3G, 3GS and most Android and Nokia phones all exhibit similar problems if held in similar ways that obstruct their antenna. This is simply a functions of having so many signals in such compact devices, and is not an “Apple issue” in my opinion.

That’s all for this part of my iPhone 4 Initial Impressions.

Please do feel free to comment on what I’ve said so far, and share your experiences with your iPhone 4, if you are lucky enough to have one.

Tomorrow expect to read about iMovie, Location Awareness, The Gyro and my views on the Glass Case and more…

To follow on from what I have been saying about my findings with the iPhone 4 so far. AnandTech have done an in depth review on the iPhone 4’s Performance and Signal Strength characteristics from a technical perspective. There follow some interesting conclusions from them so far…

Holding the iPhone 4 without a case, in your left hand, crossing the black strip can result in a worst case drop of 24 dBm in signal. […] The fact of the matter is that either the most sensitive region of the antenna should have an insulative coating, or everyone should use a case. For a company that uses style heavily as a selling point, the latter isn’t an option. And the former would require an unprecedented admission of fault on Apple’s part.

iPhone 4 performs much better than the 3GS in situations where signal is very low, at -113 dBm (1 bar). Previously, dropping this low all but guaranteed that calls would drop, fail to be placed, and data would no longer be transacted at all. I can honestly say that I’ve never held onto so many calls and data simultaneously on 1 bar at -113 dBm as I have with the iPhone 4, so it’s readily apparent that the new baseband hardware is much more sensitive compared to what was in the 3GS. The difference is that reception is massively better on the iPhone 4 in actual use.

]]> 6 iPhone 4 Hands-On Reviews and First Impressions Mon, 07 Jun 2010 22:29:24 +0000 Read More]]> iPhone 4 Photo Gallery_3

Apple is all set to change everything again with the latest iPhone. Today Steve Jobs unveiled the new iPhone which is officially called iPhone 4.

After the keynote event the WWDC attendees got an opportunity to check out the new iPhone 4 and various tech sites are now publishing their hands-on review and first impressions.

Engadget posted a video of FaceTime demo and wrote:

– As we said, it’s shockingly thin.
– The screen is truly outrageous — you basically cannot see pixels on it. We’re not being hyperbolic when we say it’s easily the best looking mobile phone screen we’ve ever laid eyes on.
– The build quality is really solid. The home button feels much snappier, and on the whole it just feel like a tightly-packed device, but it’s not heavy.
– The side buttons are really nice and clicky.
– iOS 4 is very familiar — there’s not a lot added to fit and finish.

ArsTechnica also posted their initial impressions and reported:

The phone definitely feels good in the hand—not slippery like the original iPhone, but the same squared-off hand-feel that you don’t get with the 3G or 3GS

iPhone 4 hands-on Image Gallery

iPhone 4 hands-on_1 iPhone 4 hands-on_2 iPhone 4 hands-on_3 iPhone 4 hands-on_4 iPhone 4 hands-on_5 iPhone 4 hands-on_6 iPhone 4 hands-on_7 [Engadget, ArsTechnica, MacRumors] ]]> 0