Lost iPhone 3G makes the heart grow fonder

Tom Yager misplaces iphone, relies on Blackberry

Well, this is embarrassing, but I might as well blurt it out: The iPhone 3G that Apple loaned to me was stolen. I spent many days praying I'd let it slide under the fridge instead of having my bag pocket-picked. I worked hard to get iPhone 3G, worked harder to understand it, and just when I was getting to the good part — the part where I moved my mobile persona from BlackBerry to iPhone 3G — it was over. The irony is that while I saw iPhone 3G as a dandy business handset, I didn't see it replacing my BlackBerry. As I routinely do, I chose to challenge this untested assertion. Over the course of one long day and a longer road, I discovered that BlackBerry to iPhone 3G is a transition I'd enjoy making, one I might make by choice. That was the last time I saw iPhone 3G. I can't let my loss blind me to the good that preceded it. I opened myself to my iPhone 3G epiphany during a seven-hour road trip (it should have been five, but that's another story) to AMD's headquarters in Austin, Texas. I spent that trip with a BlackBerry 8800 and an iPhone 3G resting on my passenger seat, playing "anything you can do, I can do better" with them whole way. It was a delight. I was not a paragon of highway safety that night, but I learned more from that trip than I did from a solid week of lab testing. During the trip, the handsets' attention, and mine, were divided primarily among email, browser (news.yahoo.com and phone bandwidth tests on dslreports.com), and real-time navigation. Running Google Maps in its satellite view on BlackBerry (on T-Mobile's EDGE network) and AT&T's iPhone 3G side by side made for a self-running test of the handsets' GPS and cellular sensitivity, and the differences between AT&T 3G and T-Mobile EDGE cell data networks in speed and coverage. I had the BlackBerry 8800 and iPhone 3G zoomed to exactly the same level so that I could see at a glance how well each was managing to pull constant updates from the network and paint changes to the display. One goal here was to get to the bottom of 3G, and I did. Of the roughly 250 miles of Interstate 35 between Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin, only about 50 miles was covered by 3G. Whenever I hit the centre of a 3G coverage cone, I was blown away by bandwidth of 500Kbit/s to a peak of just over 1000Kbit/s per second. Speed dropped sharply with distance from city centres; I saw EDGE-class performance around 150Kbit/s just before iPhone's 3G indicator winked out and the radio re-acquired with EDGE. 3G, I've discovered, is not wi-fi lite. The aspect of 3G that doesn't come up in advertising is its killer latency, that being the delay between a client's request for data and the first bit of the server's response. On the 3G network, I measured packet delays server-to-phone of as long as 600 milliseconds, with 300 to 350 milliseconds being typical. By comparison, cable and DSL latency ranges from 30 to 70 milliseconds. Because web pages are made up of dozens of little files strung together, latency can overcome bandwidth such that a complex web page does not render markedly faster on 3G compared to EDGE. 3G is a blessing in email, a subject that I'll take up shortly. My decision to mix tasks on the devices revealed differences in their usability. On the BlackBerry, I switched periodically among email, Google Maps, BlackBerry's standard-issue browser, and TeleNav, the last of these being a native turn-by-turn navigation system upon which I've become hopelessly dependent. BlackBerry runs these apps simultaneously, and I have a button assigned to switch from app to app. On iPhone 3G, I mixed it up with Google Maps, Mail and Safari. Apple's iPhone SDK doesn't permit simultaneous running of applications, but programs usually save their state when they exit and recover it on launch, giving the appearance of task switching. BlackBerry's multitasking lets the voice guidance from TeleNav break through no matter which app is in the foreground. When you're reading mail or even taking a phone call, the BlackBerry TeleNav lady pops in with status and directions (the other party to your call doesn't hear them). That's not possible without background operation. Apple's official position is that iPhone apps may not run in the background, and turn-by-turn navigation is singled out as a mustn't-do for developers. Both BlackBerry and iPhone 3G (and iPhone as well) truly push email. I tested against my lab's Exchange Server 2007, running in a virtual machine under Leopard Server on Xserve as well as through Apple's MobileMe and BlackBerry Internet Services (BIS). In all cases, once a message was sucked into what Apple calls "the cloud", which is the BlackBerry- or Apple-hosted delivery or notification network, the handset picked it up. BlackBerry push is instantaneous and it can squeeze the initial fragment of message through one-bar coverage too weak to support a voice call. This is the legacy of the two-way pager model. iPhone 3G takes a few seconds to get a push message, but within a 3G coverage area the extra bandwidth makes it more likely that a message with attachments will be in your iPhone 3G inbox when you open the mail client. Even in EDGE coverage, iPhone 3G can pull in, unpack and display a message with rich (Office, PDF, iWork '08, HTML) document attachments far faster than BlackBerry because the document viewer is embedded in the framework, and iPhone 3G's UI is faster and friendlier than BlackBerry's for navigating in documents larger than the display. No one mobile device does everything you'd like it to, but I can tell you what makes me miss iPhone 3G. I could forward all of my email, attachments included, and instead of making myself crazy tuning filters to block it, I'd just let memory-wasting spam slip through. That's what iPhone 3G's 16GB of flash is for. Like most everyone else I know, my inbox is my database, reaching back for months if not years, and I really felt secure knowing that if my servers caught fire, if my house was knocked over by a tornado, all of the irreplaceable information that's archived as email and attachments would be safe in my pocket. I finally set up a new domain with a fresh Exchange Server 2007 setup (virtualised on an eight-core Xserve). This is taking a production validation beating as I write, and the point of setting that up is to skip from BlackBerry to iPhone 3G without an intermediate stop in the consumer-targeted MobileMe. I really want to see how device management is handled. I'm motivated to learn how well remote device locking and blanking work. I am humbled and more than a little embarrassed by the loss of iPhone 3G, but now that it's taking shape, my BlackBerry-free project is too good to shelve.

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Tags technologyBlackberryiphone 3g

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