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Monday, July 14, 2008, 03:15 pm PT (06:15 pm ET)

iPhone 3G clarifications: battery life, GPS, office apps

Apple itself is setting the record straight and says that iPhone 3G's GPS mapping unit is as powerful as in dedicated devices. Also, cut-and-paste is still a possibility, and outside testers have found the iPhone's battery life the best in its class.

Contradicting claims by the New York Times' David Pogue, who was told by Apple that iPhone 3G's GPS chip is too small to work for turn-by-turn navigation, Apple product chief Greg Woswiak tells ExtremeTech that the hardware is just as capable as in other GPS-aware phones, many of which provide live driving directions.

Instead, the lack of an existing program from Apple or someone else to handle real-time road navigation is due to "complicated issues," according to the executive. He expects full navigation functionality to be expanded once developers are given more time.

"It will evolve," Joswiak says. "I think our developers will amaze us."

At least two veteran companies of the GPS industry, TeleNav and TomTom, have already said they are developing fuller navigation software than what's offered with the iPhone edition of Google Maps.

As for other features on the iPhone wish list, many of these are limited more by time and current implementation, according to Joswiak. A long-requested ability to cut and paste, among other features, is said to be absent only because Apple had to prioritize which features it added to the iPhone 2.0 firmware and iPhone 3G before launch. The official doesn't say if or when the feature would be implemented.

Office suites are possible on iPhones but are limited as "there's no cross-application file structure," he says, creating a fenced-off environment where the resulting content can't be shared between other iPhone apps.

Separately, PC World argues that claims of short battery life are also misleading. The publication agrees that Apple's call time on 3G is much shorter than the 10 hours promised on normal GSM phone networks but has run tests it says show iPhone 3G to be the longest-lived of the 3G cellphones in its class, which includes both smartphones and high-end media phones.

In a calling test, the Apple device exceeded Apple's own estimates and lasted for five hours and 38 minutes and just edges out the Samsung Instinct by five minutes — a statistic which doesn't factor in the need for legacy voice support on the Instinct and other phones for CDMA-based cellular networks.

The next-closest device with comparable 3G technology to iPhone was HTC's Touch DUAL slider, which lasted 20 minutes less. In return, Palm's smartphones typically performed the worst, with the Treo 750 lasting just three hours and 53 minutes on AT&T's network.

Critics also frequently overlook some of the technical limits of these devices, says the magazine's Yardena Arar. Aside from the call quality difference, the HSDPA (High Speed Packet Download Access) technology used for 3G on AT&T's network allows iPhone 3Gs or similar devices to access the Internet while taking calls, a feat which is still impossible with CDMA-based 3G phones for networks such as Sprint and Verizon. Still, Arar says, that may be cold comfort for those expecting their earlier battery life.

"The good news for 3G iPhone owners is that they're probably better off than other 3G handset owners in terms of battery life," he says. "But that won't help when your 3G iPhone stops running at the end of a long and busy day."