Two Weeks with the Apple iPhone 4S

I’m just going to focus on a couple of things here, because you know what this phone is and what it can do.

Siri Speaks Kiwi

Yes she does, and pretty well at that. Siri is the best voice recognition system I’ve used on a phone. Apart from the occasional weird word (“egg” comes to mind), accuracy was incredibly good, even with background music and talking. It struggled a bit when I was driving, but then who wouldn’t in the wall of sound that is my Nissan Sunny. Hey, it’s economical.

But let’s get this straight: Siri is so much more than voice recognition. It’s the lack of “commands” that really does the job. Everything else I’ve used requires you to speak a command: “dial x”, “message y”. Some allow you to use variations like “call/ring/dial”. But you have to remember those commands. Get them wrong, and the phone complains pleasantly.

Siri is different. She gets the general idea of what you’re asking. It doesn’t matter if you say “set a reminder for …” or “remind me to….tomorow” or “tomorrow, remind me to …”, or even “don’t let me forget to …”. The genius in Siri is her ability to find meaning in your statement and build a result around it. Whichever way you put it, 9 times out of 10 Siri will do the right thing.

Combine Siri with the addition of location based reminders, and “remind me to get milk on the way home” becomes something seamless and wonderful. It’s genuinely futuristic.

The big gap for Siri in New Zealand is not the accent. It’s the lack of location services. Ask Siri to “find me a Korean restaurant”, and she’ll politely decline. “Sorry Ben, I can only look for businesses in the United States”. Let’s hope this gap is being closed.

It’s The Ecosystem, Stupid

Chances are – in New Zealand especially – at least a couple of your friends have iPhones. You might have an iPad yourself. Perhaps like me you grabbed an Apple TV just because they’re so damn cheap? The new version of iOS really ties this ecosystem together. Sure there’s been synergy before, but iOS 5 takes it further.

Find my Friends, which I considered creepy, is properly useful and even a bit fun. While camping on Waiheke, friends offered to bring fish & chips for dinner. I invited them to a temporary Find my Friends share (24 hours by default) earlier in the day. Around dinner time, I picked up my phone, expecting to make the normal “What time are you coming? Here’s the address”, call. Instead I fired up Find my Friends and saw them already halfway across the island, homing in on my position. Fun and useful.

iMessage likewise. If you have friends with iOS5 devices, your messages just became free-as-in-data. Certainly much cheaper than SMS messages assuming you have any sort of data plan on your device.

iCloud helps make sense of multiple devices.

  • Sync your mail, contacts and calendar between all your devices. Useful if you don’t have a corporate email account, or if you like to keep your personal stuff separate.
  • Photo Stream automatically syncs your last few photos (actually up to 1000, stored for 30 days), to all your devices. Snap a shot on your iPhone, and it’s automatically available on other devices, including as a slideshow on Apple TV.
  • The iWork integration with iCloud is excellent. Edit a document or presentation (or other iWork doc) on any device, and changes are synced to other devices automatically. You can even download a PDF copy from a browser – probably the simplest PDF conversion I’ve ever seen.
  • iCloud Backup does the backup that iTunes did previously, but stores it safely in The Cloud. In fact, combine iCloud Backup with the new WiFi sync, and you barely need to connect the phone to a computer anymore.

Airplay is great – view a video or song on your iPhone and stream it instantly to Apple TV. Airplay Mirroring (4S only) is a vision into the future of gaming: use your iPhone as a control and dashboard, while the big screen (via Apple TV) is your gameplay screen. Mirroring was flakey for me, and for others I’ve talked. Once it is nailed down it will be a great function.

And we haven’t yet touched on the huge hardware ecosystem, which is arguably more reason to go with the iPhone than anything above. Just check out, for example, this awesome add-on that my boss pointed out. Just one of about three billion different docks, dongles and doo-dads that plug into an iPhone’s dock connector.

Should I Buy One?

The $1,049 to $1,349 question. I’ve broken this one down before. Unless you have a particular need for open devices or crazy large screen sizes, the iPhone 4S is (still) the best phone out there. iOS has matured to the extent that rough edges are really hard to come by. Everything just works.

It pains me to say it, but moving back to iOS after a year with Windows Phone, it’s brutally obvious where Windows Phone needs to catch up: polish and ecosystem. XBox has been around for a lot longer than Apple TV. Why, quite frankly, the HELL does WP7 not integrate with XBox (the device, not the XBox Live back-end) the way iPhone and Apple TV work together? And infrequent but hugely annoying bugs like the “disappearing keyboard” in Mango are just downright frustrating. So close, but just not there yet. Bring on the Nokias.

And then there’s Android. Again, so close but just not there. Unless you have a pressing desire to have an “open” device or giant screen sizes, the iPhone is probably a better choice.

In an alternate universe, Apple would build services like Airplay, Find my Friends, iMessage and iCloud on open protocols so that all devices could play equally. In this universe, that’s never going to happen. So if you want a part of that truly useful, seamless ecosystem, just put your koolaid drinks up and party in the iPhone club.

iPhone 4S Arrives in New Zealand on 11 November

And Guatemala! Press release follows:

iPhone 4S Arrives in New Zealand on 11 November

Pre-Orders Begin November 4

AUCKLAND, New Zealand – 2 November, 2011 – Apple® today announced that iPhone® 4S, the most amazing iPhone yet, will be available in New Zealand and 14 additional countries on Friday, 11 November. Customers will be able to pre-order iPhone 4S beginning on Friday, 4 November.*

iPhone 4S is packed with incredible new features including Apple’s dual-core A5 chip for blazing fast performance and stunning graphics; an all new camera with advanced optics; full 1080p HD resolution video recording; and Siri™, an intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking.

Beginning Friday, 11 November, iPhone 4S will be available in Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania and South Korea. iPhone 4S is available today in 29 countries around the world and will be available in more than 70 countries by the end of the year.

iPhone 4S comes in either black or white for a recommended retail price of NZD$1,049 inc GST for the 16GB model, NZD$1,199 inc GST for the 32GB model and NZD$1,349 inc GST for the new 64GB model. iPhone 4S is sold through the Apple Online Store and select Apple Authorised Resellers. iPhone 4 is available for just RRP NZD$899 inc GST and iPhone 3GS is available for RRP NZD$599 inc GST.

*Pre-orders not available in Albania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malta, Montenegro and Panama.

Vonage TimeToCall and a Huge iPad2 Giveaway

It appears that Voice over IP is making huge strides into the consumer space at the moment. What with my new Genius VoIP connection, and now this new TimeToCall app from Vonage, VoIP is truly become accessible to everyone’s granny.

TimeToCall takes a very different approach to VoIP billing: one charge for a 15 minute call, billed to your iTunes account. One price for landline or mobile calls up to 15 minutes in length. No bills at the end to month, no need to create an account, no need to visit a store or another web site to purchase calling cards. And your first call to overseas destinations is free!

If you’re someone that chats regularly with overseas colleagues, friends and family, TimeToCall looks like a pretty good option. You can place calls anywhere your iPhone or iPad can get a 3G connection in the US or Canada, or worldwide using WiFi.

Multiple Chances to Win an iPad 2

To get the word out, Vonage is partnering with a ton of blogs around the world to promote this app, and each blog will give away a 32GB iPad 2, using a competition of their own choice. And yes, ben.geek.nz is participating. You check out the full list of participating websites here. You’ll see at least two other kiwi options: Geekzone and iPhonewzealand. Keep an eye on the dates so you can enter the competitions. My competition will start next week, and Mauricio’s is running right now.

Check out how TimeToCall works in this video:

Apple’s Mac App Store to Open on 7 January

Remember the date. It’s either the beginning of a revolution in app deployment, or the first embrace of the python that will become Apple’s gripping control on which software you are permitted to sully any of their devices with.

[quote]AUCKLAND, New Zealand – 17 December 2010 – Apple® today announced that the Mac® App Store(SM) will open for business on Friday, 7 January. By bringing the revolutionary App Store experience to Mac OS® X, the Mac App Store makes discovering, installing and updating Mac apps easier than ever. The Mac App Store will be available in 90 countries at launch and will feature paid and free apps in categories like Education, Games, Graphics & Design, Lifestyle, Productivity and Utilities.

“The App Store revolutionised mobile apps,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “We hope to do the same for PC apps with the Mac App Store by making finding and buying PC apps easy and fun. We can’t wait to get started on 7 January.”

The Mac App Store lets you browse new and noteworthy apps, find out what’s hot, view staff favourites, search categories and read customer ratings and reviews. Like on iPhone®, iPod touch® and iPad™, you can purchase, download and install apps in just one click and start using them immediately. Purchased apps can run on all of your personal Macs and updates are delivered directly through the Mac App Store so it’s easy to keep all of your apps up to date. The Mac App Store is available to Mac OS X Snow Leopard® users as a free download through Software Update.

Mac developers set the price for their apps, keep 70 percent of the sales revenue, are not charged for free apps and do not have to pay hosting, marketing or credit card fees. To find out more about developing for the Mac App Store visit developer.apple.com/programs/mac.[/quote]

Apple iPhone Game Center Spam

Game Center BugTalk to any iPhone app developer and you’ll hear stories of app rejection over minor bugs and inconsistencies. I’m not even talking about the big-news app rejections like Google Voice – just minor bugs like notifications not working or intermittent obscure crashes.

So it’s more than a little ironic that Apple’s new Game Center on iOS 4.1 continues to trumpet new friend requests even with notifications turned off. Check the image at right for glaring evidence (Game Center notifications clearly say “off” in the background).

This isn’t a minor bug. I only have notifications turned on for things I consider quite important, and to have Game Center’s blaring trumpet fire twice in a meeting before I could hit the mute switch is just plain obnoxious. It’s spam. Apple would revoke any app that did this, and here I am having to either wait for an iOS update, or stop using Game Center to get rid of the notifications.

Poor form Apple. Very poor form.