iPhone 3G update
What's new, what's improved, and who
The most visible difference
between the original iPhone and the new iPhone 3G is its
back - more rounded, made out of plastic rather than
aluminum, and available in black or white on the 16GB model.
Part of a series on the Apple iPhone - please
also visit the other articles listed on the right.
The original iPhone, released
in June 2007, was a much acclaimed and truly innovative phone
with some wonderful features.
But it also had some strange
omissions and weaknesses that could perhaps be explained in part
by the iPhone being the first ever phone released by Apple.
Much attention has been focused on the new iPhone 3G, in the
hope that the inadequacies of the original iPhone might be
Is that the case? Is the
new iPhone 3G the phone the original iPhone should have been?
The new iPhone 3G - again, lots
Apple's new iPhone 3G went
on sale on Friday morning, 11 July. Like last year's
release of the original iPhone, the company did an excellent job
of rousing excitement among the general public, and many cities
had enthusiasts camped outside Apple stores to be the first in
their area to buy a new iPhone 3G.
By the end of the weekend,
Apple had sold over 1 million units of the new phone. In
comparison, it took 74 days to sell a million units of the
earlier model when it went on sale, almost exactly a year
earlier. But the comparison wasn't completely fair,
because the earlier iPhone went on sale initially in the US
only, while the new iPhone 3G (the 3G means it works on third
generation wireless data networks, not that it is a third
generation model phone) was initially released in 21 countries.
We haven't found a comparison of US sales for the two models,
which would be a more interesting number.
Disappointingly, many of the
problems last year were repeated identically this year, with
Apple's and AT&T's servers overloading with all the new phones
being registered and new software being downloaded, but these
problems improved after the first day.
Amazingly, one week later,
lines still exist at many Apple stores, and the iPhone is seldom
in stock, with all units being sold as fast as they can arrive
into stores. One has to wonder how many lost sales Apple
(and AT&T) are suffering by their strange inability to supply
the market with the phones it so desperately seeks.
Price - is it Cheaper or More
There's been a huge amount
of hype about this new iPhone, with the most commonly offered
comment being that it is being sold for half the price of the
earlier model phone. An iPhone 3G sells for $199 or $299,
compared to the most recent price of $399 for the earlier model
iPhone they now replace.
So, on the face of it, it
does seem the newer iPhones are remarkably less expensive. Well, yes, but this
some clarification. The earlier model phone had cheaper
calling plans associated with it, and because you can only buy a
phone in conjunction with signing up for a two year contract
with AT&T, the extra cost of the new phone plans pretty much
balances out the lower purchase price of the phone.
The cheapest iPhone plan
costs $70/month, including a miserly 450 anytime minutes and no
free texting; a premium of $30/month over their basic phone
plans, with the extra cost primarily buying you access to the
iPhone's data capabilities. So - and ignoring all the
taxes and fees and surcharges that get added to the $70/month,
and assuming you don't send a single text message during the
entire two year contract, the cheapest all-up cost for an iPhone
is not the $199 being widely talked up in the press, it is
actually $1915. Add taxes, fees, and everything else, and
you're looking at a cost of between $2000 and $2500 for the two
Increase the plan from the
$70/month with 450 minutes to a more realistic 900 minutes at a
cost of $90, and add the minimum $5/month for 200 text messages
and your cost just increased by something over $600 - you're
probably now looking at $3000 or more for the two year contract.
By comparison, get an entry
level phone for free (or even with some cash back) and sign up for the $40/month rate and
you're looking at $996 or less for the two years (plus taxes, etc), and
if you choose a different carrier with a lower minimum rate (eg
T-mobile with a $30/month plan) and you could be committing to
as little as $755 or less for a two year plan.
For people who
only want a cell phone as an emergency device that is almost
never used, a pre-paid phone costing less than $250 gives you
two years of service and 2000 minutes of talk time to be used
during the two years (about 83 minutes a month), marking the low
end of solutions available.
The bottom line, any way you
calculate it, is that an iPhone represents at least a $1000
extra cost compared to a regular phone, in terms of the two year
contract you must sign. Some people will feel good at
paying this much, and some people will see value in the data
services offered by the iPhone as part of the associated extra
cost. But if you don't see a
clear value to the extras associated with the iPhone, don't be
blinded by the so-called $199 cost of an iPhone. The true
cost of ownership of an iPhone is vastly more.
Oh - one more thing.
The cost of an iPhone - $199 - is even in itself an
understatement. The iPhone is now available in two models,
with either 8GB or 16GB of storage, and if you get the larger
capacity 16GB unit (which most people will probably choose to
do), you're paying $299 rather than $199.
Enhancement - High Speed Data
So, what extra do you get
with the new iPhone that you don't get with the original model
The most talked about enhancement is faster data
connectivity - if you are in an AT&T 3G service area (see
this map, which reportedly overstates the coverage area)
you'll get very much faster data service.
If you want to use your phone for internet browsing,
you'll definitely appreciate the faster speed compared to the
earlier iPhone's EDGE capability, but note that any time the new
iPhone goes out of 3G coverage, you'll be back to the EDGE (or
even slower GPRS) data service.
The new 3G high speed data
service is about 3 - 5 times faster than the EDGE data service
(it seems to operate in a range of about 300kbps - 500kbps),
which is in turn perhaps 2 - 3 times faster than GPRS.
EDGE based service is frustratingly slow, and while AT&T's 3G
service is slower than the fast DSL or cable connections most of
us have become used to, it is appreciably faster than EDGE and,
for people who need to browse the internet on their phone,
you'll definitely appreciate this added speed.
Note that the faster speed
doesn't really make itself apparent for anything other than web
browsing. The other main data service that most of us
would use - reading and sending email - is not so speed
dependant, because emails are generally much smaller in size
than web pages, and are usually downloaded automatically without
you having to wait for each one to be downloaded. And,
when sending an email, who cares, after you click on send, if it
takes one second or ten seconds to be sent?
AT&T sell 'unlimited' data
service as part of their calling plans for the iPhone, but while
the data offered is unlimited, they limit the uses you can put
the high speed data connectivity to. One very
disappointing restriction is in not allowing you to use your
iPhone as a data modem, and connect your laptop, through your
iPhone, to the internet. This would be enormously useful,
and certainly the technology is present for this to be done, but
the extra load on AT&T's 3G network could be considerable, so we
are guessing that reason is why the capability has not been
Another example of a
gratuitous crippling of the iPhone's potential high speed data
services is in not allowing iTunes songs and videos to be
downloaded to the iPhone via the 3G data. These can only
be downloaded through a Wi-Fi connection, which again seems an
unnecessary restriction designed primarily to keep the iPhone's
3G data usage as low as possible.
Enhancement - Extra Capacity
When the iPhone was first
released in 2007, it was available in two models, with either
4GB or 8GB of storage.
The 4GB unit proved
much less popular than the 8GB unit and was quickly
discontinued, leaving only the 8GB model available.
With the new iPhone 3G,
Apple is again offering two capacities - 8GB for $199 and 16GB
for $299. Although this is being written less than a week
after the unit was released, early reports suggest that the 16GB
unit is, as we expected, proving considerably more popular than
the 8GB unit.
How much capacity do you
need on your iPhone? Well, for simple telephone related
tasks, you don't really need any capacity at all. 1MB or
less is plenty to hold all your address book and call history
If you're adding email, then
the puny limit of 200 messages per email account also limits the
amount of storage space you need - it is hard to see how email
would require more than 1GB.
If you are using its camera
pictures, then you'll start to use up more space with images,
but again, an extra 1GB of space should hold all the pictures
you're likely to take during the course of many weeks of picture
taking, and you can (and should) of course archive the pictures off the
Your major need for extra
storage comes when you start to use the iPhone for storing and
playing music and video. If you're using the phone only to
hold music, then you'll find each GB of storage holds perhaps 18
hours of music (at 128kbps encoding), so if you allocate 5 or 6
GB to music, you can hold about 100 hours of music. If you
prefer, you could also consider this as 1500 four minute songs,
or perhaps 100 - 120 CDs of music. This is a lot of music, however
you measure it, but some of us have considerably more than that,
and/or some of us prefer to encode our music at a higher
sampling rate, which takes up more space for the same amount of
time. 8GB is barely adequate for holding a 'lot' of music,
and clearly 16GB is much better.
Now, if you think you might
want to keep some video on the unit as well, you'll really start to
increase your storage needs. Figure on each GB being able
to hold about 80 minutes of video (this varies widely depending
on the quality and resolution of video you're storing, of
course), and so you'll see that a typical 2 hour movie needs
2GB or more.
If you want to store any
video at all, you'll need to choose the 16GB capacity iPhone.
The iPod Touch - same as an
iPhone, but without the phone capability - comes in three sizes;
8GB, 16GB and, from Feb 08, 32 GB as well. The addition of
the 32GB model to the iPod Touch range tends to confirm our
belief that 'you can never have too much storage', especially if
you want to enjoy video on the unit, something that is barely
feasible with an iPhone or iPod Touch.
With only $100 difference in
price, we suggest most people will choose the higher
capacity 16GB unit, and we agree this is generally the better
choice. Indeed, the sooner a 32GB unit - and units with
removable storage - becomes available, the better that will be
too. With micro SD cards being no larger than your small
finger's thumbnail, and capable of holding up to 8GB of data
(and costing only $5/GB or less), they are an essential
extension of functionality and storage for personal music/video
Enhancement - GPS
The other really good thing
about the new iPhone 3G
is it now has a built in GPS receiver.
If you want to use your
phone as a portable GPS unit, this makes the iPhone with
its nice large clear screen, bigger and better than any other
phone's screen currently, a good choice.
The phone uses some
enhancements to GPS to enable it to quickly work out where it
is. It does this by combining the GPS location information
with triangulating its position from cell phone towers and known
Wi-Fi locations, which means your phone will very quickly
compute its position, sometimes even faster than a dedicated GPS
Third party GPS programs
from companies such as Tom-Tom, Telenav, and Google, are either
already available or are being released shortly to provide
features such as spoken turn by turn directions to help you get
where you're going.
Battery Life - Enhancement or
The earlier model iPhone was
rated as having a 250 hour standby battery life, or 'up to' 8
hours of talk time, and a lesser 6 hours of internet usage.
It could pay up to 7 hours of video or up to 24 hours of audio.
While these seem like good
numbers, most people found that in daily use, with perhaps an
hour or so of phone time, some internet use, and with the
phone's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities switched on, it was a
struggle for the battery to last through a single day.
This was an even bigger problem because you couldn't carry a
spare battery with you to swap over if needed, due to the non
user-replaceable battery design.
A year later, there's been a
slight increase in stated battery life, but if you're using
the new faster 3G data, that will use up battery power faster
than the earlier EDGE or GPRS data.
The new rating is for
up to 300 hrs of standby, up to 10 hours of talk on regular
networks and up to 5 hours of talk on the 3G network, up to 5 hours of
internet use on 3G or 6 hours on Wi-Fi, up to 7 hours of video
playback and up to 24 hours of audio playback.
It is interesting to see
that some numbers have increased by 20% (eg standby and regular
talk time) while others have stayed the same (audio and video
However, while the
theoretical battery life seems comparable or even better than
the earlier iPhone, initial reports are suggesting that real
world battery life is considerably poorer. It is hard to
know what to make of these reports, because battery life does
vary enormously based on how the phone is used, and quite
possibly the people reporting even shorter battery life have
been using their phones for intensive web surfing.
The key variable is how much
time the phone is connecting (either for voice or data) over the
3G network and how much time it is doing this over the older
EDGE or GPRS/GSM network. 3G connections burn through
battery life very much faster than do connections over the
slower speed network (simplistically this is because the phone's
CPU has to do more processing to manage the 3G connection).
Sadly, the iPhone 3G doesn't seem to have any internal smarts to
allow it to either automatically, or to conveniently and
manually at your command, switch between 3G and regular
connections as needed to conserve/minimize battery usage.
A 'battery saving' mode would be a great feature to add to the
At this early stage, all we
can say is that the new iPhone continues to be afflicted with a
battery life that is woefully inadequate. The bottom
line on battery life seems to be that it is comparable, and
still inadequate, and if you're planning on using the phone's
data capabilities much, you'll almost certainly need to be able to top
up the battery charge during a full day of usage.
There are some interesting
new programs now available on the iPhone 3G. But, for
those of you who already have an earlier iPhone, the good news
is that these new programs are also backwards compatible with
the original iPhone, and simply updating your firmware to
version 2.0 (and its doubtless future updated versions) will
give you the same capabilities as the iPhone 3G.
Two of the new software
capabilities are enhanced email management for corporate users (ie
support for Microsoft Exchange based email), and a fascinating
remote control program that allows you to control the music
playing through iTunes on your regular computer, via commands
entered on your phone.
This Remote program makes
for an exciting ability to have music piped through your house
from your media computer, with an ability to control what you
listen to, wherever you are in the house, from your phone.
There are dedicated products that provide this capability at
present (most notably the very expensive but very nice
system) and now your iPhone offers as a much less expensive way
of achieving a similar if not identical result.
The other bit of very good
news on the software front is that, subsequent to Apple making
public its operating system and programming environment, they
are now allowing third party programs to be installed onto the
iPhone, and already there are over 500 different programs
available to add extra capabilities to the iPhone. Some
are free, others range in price from a few dollars up to perhaps
$10 or $20. This greatly expands the range of usefulness
you can get from your phone.
In theory, in order for
Apple to allow a program to be sold through its iTunes
storefront and be installed onto an iPhone, the software has
gone through a rigorous quality-control process and so will be
bug-free. In theory....
Other changes are minor
rather than major such as a slightly different rear cover, and
changing the headphone connector so that it is now compatible
with all normal 3.5mm plugs (the original iPhone socket was at
the end of a hole that required a special design of headphone
The rear cover is now made
of plastic, apparently to allow better radio signals to reach in
to (and travel out from) the many different radio antennas
inside. The phone has a multitude of different radio
transceivers now - it supports all four GSM voice frequencies,
an unknown number of 3G frequencies (perhaps three, maybe more),
plus Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The plastic back is available in
black, and white is also offered as an option for the 16GB
The phone seems to have good
sensitivity/reception, and tests as having slightly greater
range within a Wi-Fi network.
Reportedly sound quality on
phone calls has improved, particularly when using the 3G
network, although be aware that when you're on a 3G network,
you're using up your battery at twice the rate of the 'normal'
Warning - Traveling
Internationally with an iPhone
If you're taking your iPhone
out of the country, be very careful of the roaming charges
Most of us understand that
it is expensive to place and receive phone calls, but spare a
thought for the cost of data service, too. For example,
every time you use the GPS feature on the phone, it is
downloading large amounts of data to display a location map, and
keeps on downloading more and more as you zoom in and out and
AT&T have two international
data plans that apply in some but not all countries (currently
available in 65 countries). One plan gives you 20MB of
data per month, for a cost of $25, and the other plan gives you
50MB of data for $60.
That might sound like a lot
of data, but you can use up 20MB in less than an hour of web
browsing and GPS usage. Once you've used up your free
allowance, you'll probably be charged $5 for each extra MB of
This page on the AT&T site has helpful information on how to
limit your international data costs, but the whole thing is
rather counter-intuitive. What is the point of buying a
wonderful phone with high speed data access if you can't afford
to then take advantage of it? Data service fees are
outrageously high at present, and until they reduce to a more
moderate level, there's just no way you can sensibly use an
By contrast, a Blackberry
from T-mobile offers unlimited international data for only
iPhone 3G Limitations
The list of limitations
provided with the review of the original iPhone remains sadly
almost completely unchanged.
Things that were missing a
year ago are all the more inappropriate to still be missing a
year later on a supposedly higher-end phone. How
absolutely peculiar, for example, that there is no cut and paste
ability - one of the most fundamental elements of any program
that works with words and numbers. I guess being able to
cut and paste isn't as glamorous a feature as some of the things
the iPhone can do, but for people who seek a functional phone,
it is probably more important.
The following is far from a
complete list, but here are a few
of the things - in addition to those mentioned in the text -
that should be present on the iPhone :
There is no removable memory
(ie SD card or similar) option.
The camera doesn't support
video - a sad omission for a device that supports video
No video conferencing ability
Battery life is too short and
batteries can't be replaced other than by returning the unit
No onboard Help service.
It can't take an external
Email remains limited.
Can't use the iPhone as a
hard drive storage device.
iTunes based restrictions on
copying pictures and music to and from the phone.
Can't download iTunes music
and video through the 3G network, only through Wi-Fi
The ability to route voice
calls through Wi-Fi and VoIP, saving on airtime minutes
Doesn't synch with Outlook
Notes or Tasks.
Cut and paste text feature
Needs MMS message support.
Needs stereo Bluetooth for
playing audio through Bluetooth stereo headphones (A2DP
ability to use Bluetooth (or even a simple corded connector) to connect the phone to your laptop
(and use the phone as a wireless modem) - this is called
The ability to
transfer files via Bluetooth.
Which iPhone is Best
There are three differences
between the two models of the iPhone 3G :
Price (with new
2 yr contract)
Black or White
If the extra capacity, or the extra color (!) is important to
you, then clearly the extra cost associated with the 16GB unit
can be justified.
It seems the 16GB unit is
currently the more popular unit, and with the open ended nature
of current and future capabilities of the phone, many of which
may require storage capacity on the phone, we'd generally
recommend you choose the 16GB phone.
Should You Buy an iPhone 3G?
If you already have an
iPhone, should you upgrade? If you need the faster data,
GPS or the extra storage, perhaps yes. Otherwise,
If you don't yet have an
iPhone, should you buy one? That is a more difficult
question, and to give the fullest answer, you probably should
turn to the next article in this series which discusses
current and future competing
phones as alternatives to the iPhone.
Part of a series on the Apple
iPhone - please also visit the other articles listed at the top
on the right
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18 Jul 2008, last update
26 Aug 2018
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