iPhone 3G S not fantastic, but good enough for us
June 10, 2009
Shortly after the iPhone 3G S was announced on Monday, the opinions of the masses leaked onto the blogosphere, and never were they more fierce than when it was revealed that most iPhone 3G owners would not be subject to the subsidized 3G S price should they want to upgrade. But do they even want to upgrade? Some, like Steve Gillmore, see the 3G S as appropriately innovative.
Apple’s rigorous march forward and its deep understanding of what the market will want next is not only keeping them ahead of the competition but building the markets they will own tomorrow.
We happen to disagree. Apple hasn’t identified what the market will want next, they’ve seen what the market already offered, then delivered it better than the competition. Much like Blizzard’s foray into MMOGs, Apple succeeded with the iPhone because of polish, not pure innovation. That’s why we were underwhelmed with the iPhone at launch. To reiterate, the only “killer features” the iPhone offered at launch was a branded iPod app and a web browser which properly rendered web sites. Even with the evolution of the iPhone’s firmware, upon the release of the iPhone 3G and “2.0”, Apple wasn’t really offering a revolutionary product, but again simply polished the features that other companies previously failed to deliver.
What’s amusing is that this round of iPhone revisions is little different from the evolution we saw last year, so it’s no wonder that folks like Chad Garrett won’t be upgrading from the iPhone 3G.
Beyond aesthetics, the iPhone simply does not do much beyond it’s little brother the iPhone 3G (after the 3.0 software update). What are we getting other then [sic] a little extra speed?
What Garrett seems to overlook is the fact that this minor speed boost is exactly what the 3G offered over the original iPhone. After all, original iPhone owners still got the 2.0 firmware upgrade, so all 3G buyers were getting was GPS and a “a little extra speed”. The GPS, in fact, was arguably negligible: no turn-by-turn directions, and somewhat redundant given the accuracy of cell-tower triangulation in densely-populated areas. Now, we’re getting enhanced GPS features (via the digital compass), voice commands, and a better camera.
Any of this sound similar? Yeah, all these features already exist on other phones. Apple is simply polishing them up once again and packaging them up in the iPhone format.
So why are we getting the 3G S?
Quite simply, because it’s time. We held out against the 3G because we didn’t find it to be a good upgrade, particularly when we saved money by keeping the original iPhone unlocked and on T-Mobile’s network. The initial draw of the GPS was because of the possibility of turn-by-turn directions, and now that this will be possible, we can finally replace our aging Garmin 60CS with a newer iPhone. With the option to get either either the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3G S (both of which require a 2-year contract for the subsidized price), we’re opting for the unit with more features, and the 3G S’ integrated digital compass duplicates the functionality of our Garmin unit, and will work great as a Geocaching device (particularly with the available geocaching app available in the AppStore).
The camera upgrades arguably match the specs of our digital camera (Pentax Optio S), which means that we can once again replace an aging device, thereby reducing our electronics clutter. Finally, better battery life and performance are nice additions, and for a $100 extra over the “new” $99 iPhone 3G, the 3G S makes perfect sense for us. That said, for current 3G owners, the upgrade to the 3G S may not be the smartest use of $200.
What we would have liked to see.
Why no video recording as a basic option under firmware 3.0? Jailbroken application CyCorder already runs on the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G, and offers up to 15 frames per second (FpS). While the 3G S offers 30 FpS, there’s no reason that previous iPhone revisions couldn’t offer video recording, albeit at lower frame rates. Why not give that option to existing iPhone owners? And for the 3G S, no HD video? Apple could have seriously attacked the mini HD camera market with this kind of feature, but instead we have a rather small 640x480 resolution. (Remember when that was normal?)
Why no better still camera? Three megapixels is nice, but with Sony Ericsson phones soon to offer 12 megapixels, the iPhone’s camera functionality is pathetic. There’s also no zoom (optical or otherwise), and no flash. Not even a micro-photography mode, despite the auto-focus. Who would deny that a flash disguised as the Apple logo would be pure awesome?
Why no bigger screen? The iPhone should be able to properly display video at the 16:9 aspect ratio. Making the screen slightly bigger would have no effect on existing iPhone applications, since applications could remain restricted to the existing size.
In the end, we expect to see even more refinement in the iPhone platform next year, to include a better camera. But in the meantime, as owners of the original iPhone, the 3G S fits the bill as a reasonable upgrade. If you’re already a 3G owner, however, you’re much better off jailbreaking the phone and loading on the unsigned apps rather than picking up the 3G S. And that’s one thing we’ll definitely miss: Cydia and its contents. Here’s hoping that the iPhone Dev Team will come up with a solution.