iPhone 3G iOS 4 Upgrade Aftermath

Yesterday, like a good lemming I updated my iPhone 3G to the newly released and re-named iOS 4. For whatever odd reason it seems that you people are interested in my opinion on such things—-which frankly is more than a little disturbing—-so here are my random thoughts on the update process itself, as well as running a nearly 2 year old phone with Apple’s newest operating system. Note that this will not be anything approximating a full review of iOS 4. If you want something like that I highly suggest that you read the excellent review from Ars Technica.

The Update Process

First some notes on the update process itself. I’m happy to report that, unlike many who were upgrading an iPhone 3G, my upgrade went relatively quickly. All told it was probably an hour start-to-finish, but that doesn’t count time spent sitting idle waiting for my input while I buggered off for dinner. That said, the iPhone upgrade process as managed though iTunes is fucking interminable. I’m not yet one of those people who call for the splitting of iTunes into multiple seperate applications, but I’m getting there.

During the entire process, which consists of numerous distinct steps such as downloading the update, backing up the iPhone, installing the update and restoring the iPhone the user is presented with a seemingly endless string of modal dialog boxes that prevent iTunes from being used for anything else. Additionally annoying is the stream of alert beeps that are triggered whenever you attempt to switch to iTunes to monitor its progress then switch away to get something done.

I do understand the reason for locking iTunes during the upgrade process. When you are screwing around with things like a cell phone’s firmware and baseband software, interruptions can be catastrophic. With that in mind, a much better solution would be for iTunes to spawn a separate application devoted to the update itself. This is how the Mac OS already handles it’s Software Update mechanism, and it’s a much better model.

iOS 4

So, what’s new in iOS 4? Well, if you’re using an iPhone 3G, precious little and quite a bit depending on what you were looking for. It has to be understood that the iPhone 3G is the absolute oldest iPhone that iOS 4 is supported on, and thus can utilize the least amount of new feature. The interesting part is which features the 3G can leverage, and which it cannot.

What doesn’t work

It should come as no surprise that some of the most talked about features of iOS 4 such as multitasking and bluetooth keyboard support are not supported. What honestly surprised me is that setting a desktop picture is also not supported. Apparently a Jizzmodo reader emailed Steve Jobs about this (I’m following my no links to Jizzmodo policy here) and was informed that the feature was no included because it adversely impacted performance. It would appear that the speculation by Dennis in a comment to my bitching about this yesterday might well be correct.

What works

Again, I’m not going to do a full review of the OS here; these are just some of my observations on what I’ve seen in a day of playing around.

The first new feature that interested me is Folders. You can get a better description of how folders work in the Ars review, but my verdict is: “where have you been all my life.” After a few minutes of pokery-jiggery I’ve consolidated my home screen from eight badly maintained screens to three screens. There would be only one screen, but I want to keep games and the apps I don’t use in their own ghettos.

The next feature that jumped out at me is the unified Inbox in Mobile Mail. To be honest, I don’t like it. I have three accounts set up in Mobile Mail: Mobile Me, my domain emails and my work Exchange server. While I’m quite happy to co-mingle my personal and domain emails, I have no desire to see my work email unless I specifically choose to. For me, a system of smart folders such as exist in the MacOS Mail application would be a better fit. For now I’ll be sticking with separate inboxes. What I do like about the new Mobile Mail is message threading. The bulk of my email is mailing lists, so this will come in very handy.

The Calendar app now allows you to pick and choose multiple calendars for display, which is a welcome addition. I have several calendars on my desktop Mac that, while Mobile Me insists on syncing them, I have no desire to see on my iPhone.

The Photos app now supports Places and Faces imported from iPhoto. Huzzah, I guess. I’ve never seen the utility of the iPhone as a picture viewer. Additionally, the Camera app supports digital zoom. Yay.

The last feature that I wanted to comment on isn’t actually a feature of iOS 4, it’s an application that requires the update, namely iBooks. I used to use my iPhone as my primary eReader via the Kindle and Barnes and Noble applications. Since embracing the iPad lifestyle I can’t see using the iPhone as my primary reader again, but it is great for situations where I can’t bring the iPad (work crapper, I’m looking at you). The fact that iBooks on both devices can sync bookmarks is gravy.

Performance and Overall Impression

There have been many complaints on the intartubes that iOS 4 on the iPhone 3G performs badly. To be honest, I’m not seeing a huge degradation in performance, but my iPhone has been dragging for some time. For a user who intends to continue using an iPhone 3G for some time, I would seriously consider whether any performance loss is worth the limited new features. On the other hand, if you are only using the iPhone until you can upgrade your hardware (LET ME ORDER MY WHITE iPHONE YOU PRICKS!) then I say upgrade away.