iPhone 3G's first day: hardware reviews, app plans, and unlocking

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The first day of iPhone 3G's existence has seen a slew of real-world surprises — and real-world problems — as well as a much clearer picture of the expanding third-party app universe, and early successes in jailbreaking and unlocking iPhones.

iPhone 3G reviews: the good

While Apple trumpets the new iPhone's namesake 3G connection for its speed, perhaps the single most observable improvement to the handset with the new network support is call quality.

Using 3G for calls reduces battery life but is said to dramatically improve the clarity of calls going in and out. To Gizmodo, the greater amount of voice data sent during a 3G call (combined with the new mic and speaker) completely overhauls the experience: voice is "especially clear" and enough of an improvement that it sounds like "the difference between talking to someone with their hand over their mouth and with their hand taken away," according to the site.

The New York Times' David Pogue has already described the quality as some of the best of any phone.

Of course, the Internet access itself is demonstrably faster, with Apple's "twice as fast" claims largely coming true in practice. Gizmodo actually sees a larger gain than Apple of 2.6 times the extra speed on 3G versus EDGE; in more detailed throughput tests, Engadget has measured the iPhone at between 300Kbps to 500Kbps in the US, where AT&T's 3G network is relatively slow, while foreign networks with more advanced support often net 700Kbps to 800Kbps.

And while the GPS mapping on the iPhone isn't a replacement for the voiced navigation of a dedicated GPS unit, its speed in getting a position lock is unusually quick. Both Gizmodo and Engadget have seen the iPhone find its position in as little as one second and attribute it to the iPhone's relatively unique ability to narrow down its location through Wi-Fi triangulation.

The at times maligned plastic back may prove crucial to its strong performance. Gizmodo notices that Wi-Fi range grows by 20 percent on the newer device to 120 feet. Apple even takes advantage this for a new, improved Airplane Mode that optionally leaves Wi-Fi turned on for sensitive connections such as in-cabin networks.

iPhone 3G observations: the bad

One increasingly common trait seen on iPhone 3G, and one which may be a potential problem for the device, is the unnatural tint at least some users are finding on the display: the screen exhibits a yellowish tint that can be potentially distracting to some users: some of Gizmodo's readers have observed a bias towards the color in white areas that can be noticeable versus the bluish iPhone or the more color-neutral iPod touch.

It's unclear as to whether this is an unintentional flaw or an idiosyncrasy of the screen; the LCD on the iPhone 3G is described by iLounge as having narrower viewing angles that may induce color shifts.

Battery life is still in testing by most reviewers, though the data-rich signal has led Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg to warn that power runs down quickly compared to iPhones with the technology disabled. The performance isn't unusual among 3G phones but may be a disappointment to some customers.

The camera is also disappointing, but precisely because it hasn't changed. Engadget notes that the 2-megapixel camera is the same with only minor changes to image processing to improve the sharpness of images, while Gizmodo also sees reduced noise but few other changes.

Additionally, the plastic back that helps reception so much is also seen as a double-edged sword: in black, the rear casing shows smudges, lint, and other superficial dirt, even if anecdotal reports from users report the shell as unusually scratch-resistant (though not immune).

Apps set to explode in numbers, complexity

Apple is known to have exerted tight control over its initial choice of launch partners for the App Store, permitting an unusual mix of small and large developers and pushing developers to ask money for apps which would otherwise sell for free.

In the immediate wake of the official iPhone 3G and App Store launches, however, at least some of those restrictions appear to have been lifted. AppleInsider has received multiple reports of developers being readily accepted into the official iPhone Developer Program with little effort, suggesting that the Cupertino, Calif.-based iPhone maker is eager to grow well past the starting 500 apps that have come with the App Store's debut.

Signs also exist that developers are keen to push the boundaries of what Apple will allow for third-party apps. Although Apple's development guidelines currently bar turn-by-turn directions, well-known navigation app designer TeleNav has said it's developing a true GPS navigation tool for iPhones with GPS that would mimic a full-fledged GPS device, including spoken turn-by-turn directions. TomTom has also expressed interest in the same software, and both are believed to be counting on special exceptions from Apple to make this work.

Games are also proving to be much more popular for the iPhone, with most of the top ten App Store programs being dedicated to fun rather than work and many dedicated game developers releasing genuinely complex games. One of the industry's most well-established developers, id Software, may also be pointing to a future of much more serious development: the company's co-founder John Carmack on Friday told Shacknews that his company is strongly interested in iPhone game development and just "didn't have the manpower" to put forward an advanced 3D game that would represent the company for the App Store's grand opening.

iPhone 2.0 already successfully unlocked

In what comes as little surprise to those following the iPhone hacking community, Apple's iPhone 2.0 firmware has already been successfully unlocked and jailbroken to run with unsanctioned carriers and apps.

The longstanding iPhone Dev Team group has successfully developed a version of its Pwnage Tool that not only modifies iPhones and iPods using the 2.0 firmware to run bootleg code but is simple enough that nearly any user can run it, according to the hackers, who in the past few months have also cracked beta iPhone firmware included with the official Software Development Kit.

A more polished version for the public is coming soon.

Pwnage Tool 2.0 in action.

Other development teams are likely to join the effort to open up the Apple phone but haven't yet made their presence felt.

The move brings the prospect of unlocked iPhone 3G units closer, though breaking the locks on these devices is expected to take extra time: the new chipset that permits the faster speeds also bars programmers from simply translating their experience in unlocking the 2G phone over to a 3G device.


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