A few notes on the new iPhone firmware

While Apple got a lot of things about Friday's launch of the 3G iPhone wrong, they also got a lot of things right with the version 2 firmware they released at the same time.

It might be argued, though, that releasing the firmware at the same time as all the new iPhones were accessing the validation servers was one of the wrong things. The firmware was release, by my reckoning, at about 8:10 am EST – pretty much the very moment at which the first US 3G iPhones would have been hitting the iTunes store servers for authentication. This was also many hours after 3G iPhones had been on sale around half the rest of the world, including after the UK Apple stores had been left unable to sell by the failure of O2's primary sales network. (Apparently O2 and Carphone Warehouse both switched over to use O2's back-up network, but no-one had thought to give Apple access to that).

As a result, the auth servers jammed solid for an hour or so, leaving any iPhone that had installed the firmware but not yet validated able only to make emergency calls.

So, yeah maximised failure by maximising peak/immediate load. Not smart, technically speaking. Same mistake O2 made earlier in the week that took their direct sales website offline.

So, net result for me; saved about £180, didn't get a 3G iPhone and got a firmware upgrade (I managed to download the v2 package just before they pulled it and had a brick for about an hour but it's working fine now).

Anyway, I was going to talk about what Apple did right. The first generation iPhone was a good start, but had some issues; no GPS, no third-party apps, and a very tricky onscreen keyboard that was a particular nightmare to type hidden passwords on.

GPS was addressed to some extent in the wireless location update a few months ago; network mapping is generally pretty good in cities although it's obviously not true GPS. Third-party apps are now allowed uniquely via the iTunes store, and seem to have no way of synching via the standard iPhone / iTunes sync (which is now much slower). However the fact that all apps and their updates can be found via a central location, and can be installed directly from the store to the phone, is a definite plus.

So far the most useful app I've found is probably the free “remote” one, which lets an iPhone or iPod Touch control (with due authorisation) any copy of iTunes on the network, including browsing the whole library. It's one of those “just works” things that Apple usually do so well.

On the flipside, the Shazam music-identifying app is pretty smart too. Plus, now that SplashID's ported to the iPhone, I can finally keep my passwords in it again. Most of the ther useful apps are links to Twitter, Pownce and so on, and look like a good step in making these microblogging / location-sensitive apps far more usable. As an aside, it's slightly bemusing how many little apps “want to use your location”, according to the dialogue box.

To address my final point above, the keyboard hasn't actually changed, but the hidden password fields now have the sensible feature of displaying the last typed character while active, which makes password entry far more reliable.

So yeah; the iPhone; it works, whether original or 3G. On this basis, I really can't recommend people pay to upgrade to the new one unless GPS, 3G or more storage is utterly critical. But I'm impressed so far with the firmware upgrade and very pleased that Apple made it available to older phones. I strongly suspect it'll change the way I use the phone.
Posted by parsingphase, 2008-07-13 22:16

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