My friends and family members have but one question of me these days: "Are you upgrading to an iPhone 3G? " And a follow-up: "Can I have...
My friends and family members have but one question of me these days: “Are you upgrading to an iPhone 3G?” And a follow-up: “Can I have your old one?”
The new model, due out on July 11 in 21 countries, including ours, may be spiffier, but I’m still on the fence.
My dad is particularly interested in my choice; he’d like a hand-me-down, and his birthday is coming up.
I was ambivalent about the 2G (second-generation) iPhone because I thought its high cost and low-speed cellular-data connection might not be worthwhile, as I travel so little and demand so much from my browser.
Most Read Business Stories
- Boeing made an entire fake neighborhood to hide its bombers from potential WWII airstrikes
- 1 house, 45 offers: Homebuyers in Western Washington hard-pressed as supply remains scarce
- Seattle artists worry potential sale of historic INS building could spell the end for their studios
- Frontier cancels flight, citing maskless passengers
- Fired after organizing, Starbucks baristas turned down a payout and took their bosses to court
I was entirely wrong. Low-speed data (as fast as 200 kilobits per second) is actually fine for nearly everything I do when I’m not in an office.
The iPhone supports almost no multimedia in the built-in Safari browser. This might seem like a negative, but over a 2G network, not having to wait for Flash components to load and play makes some sites faster and avoids distracting advertisements.
On a recent trip with my older son to Port Townsend, I was able to leave a laptop behind. The iPhone gave me nearly everything I needed. Its 2G connection worked just fine on the peninsula in places where 3G (third generation) was likely not available. (The iPhone 3G will drop down to 2G or even slower speeds outside greater metropolitan areas.)
As a Seattleite, I am constantly consulting the iPhone for live traffic, traffic cameras and the location of Metro buses. I can even indirectly use the iPhone over 3G on some buses, which have Wi-Fi onboard and a 3G Internet connection.
What would the iPhone 3G buy me, then? While it can operate at the fastest rates offered by AT&T and other carriers worldwide — from three to eight times faster than the 2G network — Apple and AT&T are promising just twice the speed. With Wi-Fi available often at no cost wherever I’m sitting down, I can already get that speed.
This has something to do with the absolute speed at which the iPhone’s processor drives the built-in browser to turn Web code into graphical pages, but it’s a bit disappointing if that’s all the speed bump they’re promising. I expect they’ll overdeliver.
The iPhone 3G features more precise location finding, too. It has a GPS radio built in to determine location by reading information from satellites fixed in orbit.
The first iPhone can pull approximate information by combining cellphone triangulation and a clever method of using the names and signal strength of nearby Wi-Fi networks to gain a fix on latitude and longitude in most cities.
This works reasonably well most of the times I’ve tested it, but the Maps program sometimes suggests I’m somewhere in the Puget Sound area, rather than, say, in downtown Tacoma. A GPS would provide fairly exact information using the Wi-Fi and cell-tower information for even finer matching.
Neither Apple nor AT&T has mentioned offering a key service that a GPS chip could take advantage of: turn-by-turn navigation. Many phones now offer this as a relatively cheap add-on option.
Then there’s style: The iPhone 3G is definitely sleeker and designed to be more nick- and scratch-resistant than its predecessor. The new model also no longer has a recessed headphone jack. Apple CEO Steve Jobs received resounding applause when he mentioned this at the iPhone 3G’s introduction.
However, all the software updates — including the ability to buy software via the iPhone from companies other than Apple — will be rolled out at no cost to all current iPhone users. The 3G speed and GPS chip require new hardware, but everything else will be included.
None of this has yet triggered my early-adopter credit-card-disgorging reflex.
For new buyers, the iPhone 3G will be the only phone available for purchase, although I can guarantee a hefty secondary market in 2G iPhones. AT&T is allowing customers with accounts in good standing to swap from their existing contract to a new two-year contract, and retain their first iPhone.
This means that there will be plenty of these deactivated phones for sale, or you can beg a relative. (Right, dad?)
AT&T said anyone who obtains a 2G phone will be able to sign up for current 2G iPhone plans. It currently charges $20 per month with a two-year contract for unlimited EDGE data, Visual Voicemail and 200 text messages (combined incoming and outgoing).
A new iPhone 3G will cost $199 for an 8G model and $299 for a 16 GB phone with a two-year plan. Data plans with Visual Voicemail add $30 on top of most AT&T call offerings; individual lines start at $70 per month, including voice and data, and a family plan with two lines starts at $130 per month.
Text messages (SMS) are not included in this service, as they were with the original iPhone. AT&T now charges the ridiculous 20 cents per message for a la carte pricing; it cost them a fraction of a cent to deliver SMS.
For $5 per month, you can get 200 messages; $15 for 1,500; and $20 for unlimited ($30 total for up to five lines in a family plan).
AT&T said customers who don’t qualify for a new plan can purchase the 8 GB and 16 GB models for $399 and $499, while “in the future” they’ll sell iPhones with no contract for $599 and $699.
Because of the higher service-plan pricing, an iPhone 3G will cost slightly more over a two-year contract than the earlier model after the first model’s price reduction, with AT&T recouping the extra expense through fees rather than the initial outlay.
I suppose, in the end, I’ll wind up owning an iPhone 3G because it’s tough writing about the fastest-selling smartphone without owning one. And my dad will get a nifty gift that keeps on taking: He’ll be responsible for the monthly fees.
Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists