Two months ago, I wrote an entry on the ABA TechShow blog explaining why I think the iPhone is the best mobile phone for attorneys. The original post is still available here, and what follows is a slightly updated version of what I originally posted in September. I thought it would be a good first post for this blog.
When the original iPhone was released in 2007, it was a breakthrough product because it was both one of the most advanced smartphones ever created and also the easiest to use. But it had some limitations that were critical for many lawyers. Most importantly, it lacked integration with Microsoft Exchange, a feature that lawyers with Blackberries, Windows Mobile and Treos running Goodlink have depended upon for years. When a lawyer doesn’t have full access to his or her law firm e-mail, a smartphone just isn’t that smart. The original iPhone also lacked 3G, which made web browsing slow when you were away from WiFi, and lacked the ability to add third party software (unless you hacked it). The original iPhone was still a marvel of design and amazingly stable for a 1.0 release, but the missing features caused many lawyers -- like me -- to wait on the sidelines.
On July 11, 2008, Apple released the new 3G iPhone and updated the software to version 2.0. This hardware and software update added what lawyers need: excellent integration with Microsoft Exchange, the speedy 3G AT&T network, and the ability to easily download third party software using Apple’s App Store. But unfortunately, there were some shortcomings with the 2.0 software that took away from the iPhone experience. Battery life was limited (a problem that, to be fair, exists on all 3G phones), syncing to a computer was sometimes painfully slow, callers in some areas of the country had problems with dropped calls, etc. And unlike the very solid first generation iPhone, the 3G iPhone with the 2.0 software had many bugs and would often crash. The crashes were very graceful -- there were no “blue screens of death;” you simply return to the home screen -- but bugs are always annoying, no matter how small or well handled. So as a result, the iPhone 3G gave lawyers the features that they wanted, but the bugs, battery life issues and other problems detracted from the experience.
On September 12th, Apple released a software update for all iPhones, bringing the software to version 2.1. This was a major update. As Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs said a few days before the update was released: “The 2.1 software update is a big update. It fixes lots of bugs. You’ll get fewer call drops. You will get significantly improved battery life for most customers. We have fixed a lot of bugs where if you have a lot of apps on the phone, you’re not going to get some of the crashes and other things that we’ve seen. Backing up to iTunes is dramatically faster … and there’s some great new performance enhancements as well. So 2.1 software update is a big one for the iPhone.” As he spoke, you could almost see the thought bubble over Steve Jobs’ head with the words “…and this is the version that I wish we had shipped on July 11th.” (You can watch a video of Steve Jobs describing version 2.1 here, starting at the 48 minute mark.)
I have been using the update for two months now, and the update delivered what Steve Jobs promised. For me, syncing has been dramatically faster (before the update it sometimes took over an hour; now it takes a very reasonable minute or two and sometimes just a few seconds), the phone is far more stable, and battery life is much better. With version 2.1 of the software, I now believe that the iPhone 3G is the very best smartphone for lawyers.
Much has been written about the unique advantages of the iPhone and I won’t try to capture it all here. For example, there is an excellent and comprehensive series of articles on AppleInsider written by Daniel Eran Dilger of RoughlyDrafted magazine (here are links to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6) and also good are the reviews by the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and iLounge. But here are a few of my favorite things on the iPhone 3G.
- First, the iPhone gives me great access to my Exchange e-mails. The large display with excellent use of graphics and fonts makes e-mail far easier to read and manage than on any other smartphone.
- Second, the web access is stellar. Between the 3G speed (or better yet, WiFi when it is available) and the capable Safari web browser, it is easy and quick to access information on the Internet when you are away from your computer. Safari is not perfect -- it still crashes on me from time to time -- but it is far better than anything else I have seen on another mobile phone.
- Third, the third-party applications are great. The iPhone App Store has only been open for a few months, and there are already thousands of applications. For just about any need you have, there is an application to address it (or there will be soon).
- Fourth, the built-in GPS is very handy when you want to find out where you are and (thanks to the built-in Google Maps program) what is nearby and how to get there. The rumor is that the next version of the software, 2.2, will add Google Street View, which will be even better.
- Fifth, the 3G phone audio quality is excellent. In fact, I find the quality better than my home or office phone, and when is the last time you could say that about a cell phone?
- Sixth, the iPhone is a lot of fun, between the built-in iPod to listen to songs and podcasts when I am driving or traveling, the ability to display my photographs and videos, and the amazing games for when I have a few minutes to spare. (I particularly love the addictive Wurdle, doing the New York Times crosswords on 2 Across, and Sudoku.)
- Seventh, I recently got an AppleTV, which is a great way to view my photographs and videos on my large screen TV. The free Remote application provided by Apple allows me to control my AppleTV using my iPhone. It is a turbo-charged remote control with a slick interface and even a keyboard that pops up automatically when you are entering text on the AppleTV.
- But perhaps most of all, what I love about the iPhone 3G is that it is the best designed gadget, both hardware and software, that I have ever used. Apple has always been known for its design excellence, and Apple poured all of that experience into the iPhone. The large screen is wonderful, the touch interface is intuitive and powerful, and every day I discover yet another example of attention to detail that makes the iPhone just a joy to use.
I don’t recommend an iPhone to all lawyers. Many don’t even need a smart phone -- just a simple flip phone will do. Others never use anything but e-mail and want a physical keyboard, and for them I say just get a Blackberry. But for any lawyer who wants an advanced smartphone to do more than just e-mail, the iPhone is now simply the best in class. And I can’t wait to see what updates Apple has planned in the future.
One thing that worried me about the iPhone before I bought it was the keyboard. Fortunately, the transition was pretty easy after a week or two. It made me remember that I used to be quite good at Graffiti on my old Palm. Then I became a fast thumb typist on a Treo and Blackberry. And now I'm used to the iPhone's on-screen keyboard. As Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal said last year: “The iPhone’s most controversial feature, the omission of a physical keyboard in favor of a virtual keyboard on the screen, turned out in our tests to be a nonissue, despite our deep initial skepticism. After five days of use, Walt — who did most of the testing for this review — was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly.” Can I type a little faster on a Treo or Blackberry style keyboard? Sometimes. But is it worth taking up all of that space on the front of my phone? Not at all. 95% of the time that I am using my phone, I am doing something other than typing.
One tip -- when you get an iPhone 3G, you will find yourself using it a lot, which can drain the battery. This is less of an issue with the 2.1 update than it used to be, but it is still an issue. Consider tossing a small external iPhone battery in your pocket, briefcase or purse if you are going to be out of the office all day long with heavy iPhone use just in case you need some extra power. I can recommend the tiny but powerful $50 Richard|Solo battery, which was essential when I evacuated New Orleans for Hurricane Gustav and was away from power for long periods of time and depended upon my iPhone to stay in touch. (I recently received a review unit of the $70, larger version of the battery, which I will review on this blog after I have had a chance to use it for a while.)
Another tip -- there is so much great software and so many useful accessories available for the iPhone, with more being released every day, that once you have an iPhone you may find yourself wanting to learn how to enhance it. Here are some websites you can follow to keep up with the latest in iPhone news: (1) Macworld and its affiliated website iPhone Central; (2) iLounge; (3) the prolific iPhone, Therefore, iBlog; (4) Touch Arcade for iPhone game reviews; (5) the iPhone blog; (6) iPhone Atlas; (7) iPodNN and (8) Art of the iPhone. Plus you can frequently find great iPhone coverage in Engadget, Ars Technica’s Apple News, AppleInsider, MacRumors, The Mac Lawyer, TidBITS, Daring Fireball, Roughly Drafted and The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW). A lot of great iPhone sites are also listed in the column on the right side of this blog.