Alex Payne is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

since 2001, al3x.net has served as his online home.

iKvetch

My friends and coworkers have endured my unending complaints about the iPhone ever since the App Store-enabled 2.0 firmware landed. Now, you can too. Hooray for blogs.

Background

The 1.0 iPhone was the best phone I’ve ever owned. It was simple but powerful and utterly reliable. It worked so well that it was difficult to have much of a conversation about it when it was still a conversation piece. “Yup, love it, works great, buy one.”

The 2.0 iPhone, conversely, is not the best phone I’ve ever owned. It’s maybe third- or fourth-best; doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I don’t trust the thing anymore. Once you lose trust, all the beauty falls away. (That’s a life lesson, kids; it applies to more than phones.)

Before the iPhone launched, I thought I wanted native third-party applications. I thought that web applications weren’t enough. Now that I have native third-party applications on the iPhone, I regret ever wanting them. For some web applications like Instapaper that have put out iPhone apps, I’ve actually gone back to the web versions because I like things that, y’know, work.

The Suck

I’m gonna put ’em on the table. There hasn’t been an app released yet that improves my iPhone experience. Sure, there are a bunch that would improve my iPhone experience if they worked reliably, but they don’t. With one baffling exception.

Games. Enigmo looks beautiful and works flawlessly on the iPhone. It’s doing all sorts of 3D and physics simulations and environmental audio and I think maybe my taxes in the background. So what the shit is going on with applications that display a few rows of text and LET’S NOT GET CRAZY HERE an image or two?

The answer, as I understand it, is that the text view class that Apple provides to developers is feature-crippled. This necessitates hacks and abuses of WebKit views, which in turn results in the molasses-slow user experience that most iPhone applications inflict. Couple that with whatever bugs and leaks abound in firmware 2.0 and my iPhone feels like I’m operating it through a tub of vaseline most of the time. The only thing it does quickly anymore is crash.

A couple of longtime Apple developers have more informed commentary on this topic than I do. Mike Ash has some user-side horror stories, and thinks Apple is setting a gloomy standard with its treatment of iPhone developers and the roadmap one can extrapolate from there. Michael Tsai gets the importance of trust, and enumerates Apple’s, uh, miscommunications about the iPhone as a platform.

Competition

I feel the same dismay about the iPhone as I did about my Mac last October. At that time, the main thing that kept me from moving away from Apple was hardware alternatives (there still aren’t any I’m aware of). In the mobile space, there aren’t good alternatives to the iPhone hardware- or software-wise.

I’ve boned up Android. It’s a nice platform. The primary selling point to developers is through-and-through openness. You can swap out anything on that bad boy. There’s no centralized App Store, but I’m willing to bet that the App Store will be a market efficiency bottleneck, long-term. Point is, Android is neat (in a vacuum, under glass). Might even ship this year.

Unfortunately, Android doesn’t seem to be going so well. Third-party developers are pissed that Google is cherry-picking who gets platform updates, which makes the openness story more of a fairy tale. Rumor around the Bay Area tech community is that key Android team members have split over Google’s mishandling of the project.

Best I can tell, Android is the stand-out contender for the iPhone’s future-of-mobile title. Is there an emoticon that expresses nervous tugging at one’s collar?

Conclusion

Like Ash says, “I’m going to keep using this thing. Despite all the flaws, it’s still a useful device to have[.]” There isn’t an alternative, and I don’t particularly want to go back to a phone that would provide less functionality and require me to carry other devices (music player, navigation system).

The more I work with technology, the more love/hate my relationship with technology becomes. I’m to the point that I don’t want to look at a computer come the weekend. If my mobile works the way it should, I shouldn’t need to. I should be able to trust the device I carry with me all the time. But I don’t trust iPhone 2.0. It takes me farther away from how I want technology to fit into my life.

And that’s why I complain about it so goddamn much.

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