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Wednesday 20 August 2008

iPhone 2.01 Firmware Update

So just as I get ready to recap on my iPhone 2.0 firmware review with some comments on whether the 2.01 release was any good, Apple comes out with version 2.02. Anyway I’ve decided to hack away with my impressions of 2.01 and I’ll come back in a week or so with a more comprehensive look at 2.02. Basically I noticed some improvements in 9 of the 15 areas I’d tagged as buggy in 2.0 which isn’t a bad hit rate for a 0.01 point release. I still have some problems though and 2.02 hasn’t fixed the worst of them for me at any rate.

The Good:

EDGE Performance. This might just be due to O2 improving their network but EDGE download speeds have definitely improved. Overall latency\responsiveness of web pages doesn’t appear to be improved but I just downloaded a 1.6Meg Excel Spreadsheet and it only took about 60 seconds (say 200kbps, possibly helped by being nicely compressible) which is way better than I’d expected. I can’t say when exactly this happened but four weeks ago I was seeing 50-100kbps when I checked. Latency still sits in the 100’s of milliseconds range so most web pages take an age to handshake through all the ads no matter how fast the download rate is but 200kbps is a respectable rate for EDGE.

SMS\E-Mail Typing Speed. Fixed ! Yay! Well mostly fixed at any rate, I’ve seen it happen again but I suspect that was due to the  app installer problem detailed below.

Sluggish Contacts. Mostly fixed – there is still a 2-3 second start up delay if you have Exchange Contacts enabled but the general bowl of jelly effect is fixed.

Network Roaming – haven’t been able to test international roaming but my iPhone has been much better at handling cell-cell handovers since V2.01. That might be O2 improving their network but I think it might be the iPhone. Either way I’m happy.

General System Speed. I think this has been improved a bit but it’s a subjective thing and I can’t be certain.

General System Lock ups. Definitely rarer but not eliminated. At a guess we’re back to V1.14 firmware levels of stability which is a step in the right direction.

Safari Crashes. Full crashes don’t appear to be as common. Basic Safari page Amnesia behavior is unchanged.

App Crashes. Rarer but that may be the updated versions of the apps and not 2.01. The crashes may well have been entirely due to the app developers to be fair.

Push Mail Battery Life. I haven’t exhaustively tested this but it does seem to be better – getting more than a full working day from the iPhone now.

The Bad:

2.01 was only a bug fix release so it’s no surprise that the major features that were missing as far as I was concerned, are still missing: Cut and Paste, Contact Groups, Password\Credential Management, SIM Card Contact Export, Background apps, landscape view for built in messaging apps.

WiFi Hotspot Compatibility. No real change but the release of a helper app for Eircom WiFi Hotspots might go some way to resolving this for me and others in Ireland.

Time Zone Detection: No change, but this is a minor problem.


The Ugly:

App Store – Installation is now significantly worse. Apps lock up during the “installing” phase and can take anything up to 5 minutes to transition from “Downloading” to Installed. I’ve seen a handful of resets happen during installs too which is very poor. Overall the iPhone Application Installer has to be the worst example of a platform software management service that I’ve ever come across – Windows 1.0 did a better job of it. God help you if you need to make or receive an urgent call while an app is installing. Note – just checked this with 2.02 and it looks like I still have an issue - Bejeweled 2 (8.6Meg) took 30 seconds to download over Wifi and has now been “Installing” for 20 minutes with no sign of any genuine progress, I suspect I will have to “reboot” the poor beastie yet again.

General App Store\App Management issues remain.

Sync Speed – No change, total pants.

iTunes 7.7. Well that hasn’t changed and it’s still a pig. That said when combined with the TuneUp plugin I was able to clean up and polish my entire music library so that everything is now sorted, correctly named, displays with the appropriate art work, fully tagged with accurate metadata in mp3-tags and all the dupes have been removed. So while it is a pig, and an unforgivably slow pig at that it’s got some good points.


Additional things about the iPhone that bug me, a lot.

Yet again I have to emphasize that I love my iPhone but you have to be open and honest with the ones you love and well the iPhone, it has some warts and I was reminded of a couple more since my last post

E-Mail Attachments. You can view a range of attachments (Word, PDF, Excel, Powerpoint (?), MP3, AAC, TXT, HTML …..) but you can’t do anything with them beyond look. I got sent an MP3 that I wanted to use as a ring tone and all I could do was play it within the e-mail client, I couldn’t even save it into my music library for later playback as part of a play list. You have no way of saving an attachment for later use, or for making any real use of any attachment apart from viewing it while it’s still in your inbox. That’s just basically ridiculous.

[Not] Running apps in the Background. Apple may have an argument against leaving apps run CPU or other resource intensive threads in the background but I’m getting really sick of having to completely re-launch apps just because I wanted to quickly check a new e-mail, answer a call or some other typical activity that I need to do quite often. Good old fashioned DOS used to handle this better. This behavior makes the Windows Mobile way of doing things (ie never really shut anything down) look inspired, and while I hated that approach when I had to work with it I have to say it is vastly superior to the iPhone’s policy of killing anything that loses focus. I’m certain that virtually all iPhone app developers are screaming with rage over this, I know that as a user I’ve begun to stop using some apps because they just take too long to restart after being unloaded due to my needing to attend to an incoming e-mail or call.

Ringer Volume. Can’t remember why I forgot this before – I often miss calls because I don’t hear the iPhone ringing even when it’s on max volume+vibrate. The 3G apparently fixes this and it’s probably a hardware issue.

Reboot Time. I did this a good few few times because the whole phone appeared to have died during application installs. As it turns out the phone wasn’t completely hung, it was just that the app installer takes forever to do its thing and it basically prevents you doing much else while it’s busy. Anyway a “reboot” AKA a soft reset takes anything up to 5 minutes on my iPhone and that is so bad it’s laughable. I’ve never seen any other personal computing device take anything near as long to boot when it was healthy. Hell, I can hard reset and fully rebuild most Windows Mobile devices with an array of applications from scratch in less time.

WiFi Security Defaults. The iPhone’s WiFi work very well and are so good that you tend to forget about them but they are awfully promiscuous if you are not careful. You can turn them off but frankly I think that its WiFi should be a lot less “open” to connecting to what it thinks are “friendly” WLAN’s. The recent DefCon conference had a special call out wall for iPhone users who’s credentials were stolen by the various “unfriendly” but entirely open WLAN’s that were specifically set up at the conference to snarf victims who were careless enough to leave WLAN enabled devices running in any sort of open mode, and the iPhone was top of that list this year. Now the iPhone’s WiFi stack is amazing for the most part – it’s the best WiFi client for usability that I’ve come across on any computing platform of any type and it’s superbly power efficient – but it needs to be a bit more cautious about its approach to open networks, especially since Safari’s handling of cached credentials is so poor.

Safari. Selecting links has one behavior and it’s stupid by default – your focus is stolen and a new “tab” is opened so you sit staring at an empty page for 30-60 seconds while it downloads. This needs to be controllable and it must be possible to select a link (or links) and have them spawn and populate in the background so that you don’t lose focus and can keep yourself entertained while the links download. That said the current version of iPhone Safari appears to be able to complete the download of tabbed content even when they don’t have the focus so this does appear to be halfway to where I’d like it to be.

Also I really like to be able to download and save arbitrary files to local storage. Seriously Steve, I don’t care if you don’t want to save CrispyFries.MXR on your iPhone but I’d like to be able to save a copy on mine if I choose to, thanks all the same.

World Clock. Why can I set a time zone for Cork  (population 200 thousand ) but I can’t set it to “Johannesburg” (population 10 million) ? Is it that hard to do an online lookup ?

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