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Hands on with the Apple iPhone

[intro]Having sneaked backstage at Macworld, I've managed to get my hands on the Best Thing Ever[/intro]Apple has just one iPhone on its stand at Macw

Apple has just one iPhone on its stand at Macworld Expo, and it’s behind glass on a podium, guarded by three Apple staff. Fortunately, I managed to get backstage and finally spend some quality hands-on time with the phone. I was expecting my initial fervour to be tempered by the glitches you often find on preproduction devices. But I was wrong. The iPhone is nothing short of genius. It’s smaller than it looks and so thin it hurts. It feels like science fiction: there doesn’t seem to be space within it for a battery and a display, let alone all the computing and wireless gubbins. But the 480x320pixel screen is incredibly clear and bright, with the graphic wizardry of OS X supplying amazing animations and zooms as you move between functions. The first thing I checked out was Safari, which loaded the Stuff website in a few seconds, displaying the homepage in its entirety. Zooming to a readable level really is as simple as prodding with your finger while pinching two fingers together zooms out. Hold the iPhone on its side and the browser immediate flips to landscape mode. It’s absolutely incredible. Safari will come with a number of web plugins for multimedia content, but it’s unclear whether it’ll have Flash – Apple is not opening the iPhone up to third-party applications, preferring to be in total control of the user experience. This makes sense on UI level, although it’s a little frustrating when we live in an era of great homebrew and shareware apps. According to Greg Josniak, Apple’s Vice-President of Product Marketing, the iPhone runs “full-strength Mac OS X”, although I’m not sure how that can be possible without it taking up the iPhone’s entire 4GB capacity. But it certainly feels like Mac OS, especially when you use the Widgets – small web apps that have specific functions. I checked the weather, flipping between cities with my forefinger like I was leafing through I book. I can’t express how cool this Minority Report-style Multi-touch UI is, and how revolutionary – we really are talking about something as momentous as the first mouse. I was concerned that the complexity of the technology could make it hard to use the device – but the opposite is true: the iPhone is beautifully intuitive, and more fun to use than a computer. The same cannot be said for rival phones. Google Maps works just like it does on a computer, except you can move around and zoom with your fingers. The music app works just like an iPod, except with more eye candy. I even took a photo with the 2megapixel camera, and despite the darkness of the room and the lack of a flash, the quality seemed pretty good. So what can’t it do? Well, despite featuring 802.11g, the iPhone can’t sync via Wi-Fi or stream to Apple TV – Josniak said that Apple wants to keep the computer as the hub for digital content. That’s why you can’t download music directly to the phone, either. But you can sync the iPhone with a Windows computer, and it’s likely to work with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Outlook (although that’s not yet confirmed). Also unconfirmed was whether the iPhone featured Bluetooth Stereo for music streaming, but it’s hard to think that it won’t. Other problems? Well, aside from the fact I won’t get one for another 9 months, I can’t see any problems. It’s possible that the iPhone will be expensive – the US price of $499 (4GB) and $599 (8GB) requires signing up to a 2-year Cingular contract, and it’s not clear how much that contract will cost. But I’ll pay, and so will you if you have any passion for gadgetry. Because the iPhone is more exciting than the original iPod. It is, put simply, the Best Thing Ever.

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