3 steps 4-ward and back: iPhone’s iOS4.0
June 29, 2010 by Cynthia
That day has yet to arrive. When Apple’s new iOS 4.0 popped up last week, I eagerly grabbed Gigi-the-iPhone and went for it.
I’m glad I upgraded, but just barely. iOS4 offers some cool things I can mostly take or leave, and it solves a couple of irritating problems but adds others. It also isn’t quite the promised boon, since there’s a fine print problem: The upgrade doesn’t work on all previous iPhones–you need an iPhone 3G or later–and the most-needed feature of all doesn’t work unless you have an iPhone 3GS.
All in all, it’s not a great leap forward as much as a bone thrown to loyal old customers. We get just enough taste of new features to (hopefully) keep us from defecting to Google Droid, while still making us hunger for the sleek new iP4.
Making the upgrade
As with most Apple products, upgrading is simple. Just plug your iPhone into your computer, fire up iTunes and hit the “Check for updates” button. Voila! A brand new phone.
Well, sorta. I plugged Gigi into Freddie-the-MacBook Pro, started the iOS4 upgrade, and the installation began by backing up the entire content of the phone. Then it stripped out her software guts, zeroed her back to the beginning and laid down a whole new operating system. At that point it was supposed to put all the apps and music and data and stuff back. Except that it didn’t.
I’d gone to bed (I didn’t realize the installation would take more than an hour). Next morning, Freddie gave an ominous warning: Restoration had failed. I accepted her offer to try again and a half-hour later, finally got my phone back, mostly intact. Some of the passwords (notably mail and WiFi connections) were lost and my inboxes were bare, but at least everything worked and I could start exploring.
Here’s what I found:
No multitasking (for me, anyway)
The single best reason to upgrade, i.e., the ability to multitask apps, doesn’t work on an iPhone 3G. Drat. Multitasking would let me interrupt work in one app to do something else, without having to restart the app on my return. For example, my beloved Pandora (a do-it-yourself music radio station) does NOT multitask–doing anything else shuts off the music. It also only works with iOS4-updated apps.
If I want multitasking, I’ll have to buy a used iPhone 3GS or the scarce-as-hens-teeth-and-locks-me-into-AT&T-for-another-two-years iPhone 4. No WAY am I re-upping with AT&T, so I’ll still be restarting apps. Bummer.
Nor does the iPhone 3G support other fun iOS4 things, like an external Bluetooth keyboard, background photo on the homescreen or, as previously mentioned, tethering.
Hey–this is Apple we’re talking about, the company that frequently sacrifices usability to the gods of design. No way are they going to offer a major upgrade without a fashionista nod. So stuff now floats in an inky reflective pool, and Apple’s famous mirrored floors are all over the place. Icons gently swim into place when you return to the home screens, and have been subtly updated. Overall, it’s slightly shinier, slightly more sophisticated–but you might not notice unless you were looking.
There are a few organizational touches that will make actually using the thing easier on the noobs (iPhone’s interface is every bit as intuitive as Apple claims…once you learn how to use it*). Labels are a leeeeetle more explanatory, stuff has been moved around in the Settings page to make a bit more sense.
You get folders for your apps
I have seven PAGES of apps on Gigi, which makes finding the right app a bit of a hunt until you organize. (I put the most-used stuff on the homescreen, then the next-most-used apps on the second screen, etc., etc. The seventh screen has stuff I may not use for months.)
iOS4 lets me store less-used and related apps in folders to consolidate my screens. I no longer have to page through every screen to find what I want (which generally needs a tap for every screen between the home page and my objective unless I get lucky and touch just right). Instead, I simply move to screen 3, tap the right category folder, and tap again to launch an app. My homescreen is still stuff I use every day, screen 2 is mostly my favorite entertainment stuff and screen 3 is folders. Slick.
Of course, being Apple with it’s “cool people don’t need no stinkin’ manual” thing, there’s nothing to tell you HOW to create or use folders. And, interestingly, Apple’s support site (right) is no help at all. The download link on that screen gives you the iOS3.1 manual. Humphf–kinda thought Apple, of all people, would keep its website up to date.
Instructions ARE available, if you dig into the salespitch for iPhone 4 (gee, do you think they want us to buy a new phone?) Here’s how you make folders: Touch the app icon until you get the waggledance (iPhone’s rather disconcerting way of letting you know you can move icons around). Then grab the icon you want and carefully drag it over a related icon.
The destination icon will enlarge; let go, and it will change into a folder, labeled with whatever category the app lives in on iTunes. (You can change that). It’s extremely useful, although it requires additional hand-eye coordination to move icons around now if you want to avoid making inadvertent folders.
I’ve cut my desktop email use by about two-thirds with Gigi, which has surprised me–I do most of my memo-style emails on the iPhone. I was happy to see upgrades to iPhone’s email client that make mail management a bit easier.
iPhone now lets you consolidate all incoming mail into a single inbox, if you prefer, or you can access your inboxes separately as before. The new Inboxes feature (right) means that you no longer have to select a mail account, then select “inbox” before you can see your mail.
Of course, upgrading Gigi meant that all my POP3 mailboxes were blanked out. One had about 2,500 messages (shame on me), and until I could get up there and clear it out, Gigi faithfully downloaded old messages, 200 at a time. Deleting them simply brought in a new batch.
Which brings up my biggest bugaboo with iPhone mail: There still isn’t a good way to batch-read or batch-delete mail. The “unread mails” indicator is only useful if it truly does show new messages you haven’t seen, but the only way to mark a message as “read” is to open it, wait until it’s mostly downloaded, and close it again. Or delete it. You can check off messages to be deleted in the Edit screen–but it’s a tedious process when you have 200 of the bloody things.
And now for the problems
The phone seems to move faster and slower at the same time–it takes a bit longer for the apps to pop on, but they are a tad faster in operation. The accelerometer, which registers that you’ve changed the phone’s orientation and flips the screen between portrait and landscape mode, now takes several extra seconds to respond.
Some apps, predictably, don’t work well. For example, the NYTimes reader seems to give me one article (at most) before needing a restart. And some of the premium games (such as the ones by Hasbro) crash before you ever get to the game. Most companies are working on upgrades to their apps, but with mixed success.
Then there are weird app-interface issues, such as iPhone-to-Adobe Lightroom photo synch. It used to be a no-brainer, but now it doesn’t work. Often Lightroom can’t see Gigi at all, and when it does, it misses most of the new photos.
At the moment I’m reduced to mailing myself photos from Gigi, or uploading them individually to MobileMe, then going to MobileMe on the desktop, downloading them into iPhoto, exporting them to a folder and finally (whew) synchronizing that folder in Lightroom. That’s a workflow which sure as heck can’t last. I upgraded to Lightroom 3 right before my iOS4 upgrade, so it’s hard to tell which one is giving me the problem.
More seriously, my post-upgrade contacts list started giving birth to itself, duplicating some contacts up to 150 times. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why Gigi should give me 150 instances of Gaffer Glass USA but only one Bullseye and one Uroboros (maybe it really likes lead crystal). Whatever the reason, the duplication nonsense rendered a critical utility pretty much useless.
An Apple Store Genius told me the problem was that iOS4 changed the way the phone synchs some things and if–like me–you synch both wirelessly through MobileMe and via the USB cable it may start cloning addresses (“and things,” he said). The only remedy, it appeared, was to reset my synch preferences, completely blitz ALL my data from the phone, reinstall everything but my contacts list and calendar using iTunes on Freddie Mac, then use Mobile Me to rebuild contacts and calendar wirelessly.
He couldn’t do the wireless Mobile Me part in the store, turns out, because I picked the day the iPhone4s arrived and the wireless networks were so filled with happy new iPhone 4 registrants that he couldn’t get a byte in sideways. I did it at home, later, and discovered that Gigi is now curiously reluctant to synch with my wireless router. She’ll sign on successfully, then about five minutes later drop the connection. Whether that’s a problem with the phone or the router, I’m not sure…it’s on my troubleshooting list.
Interestingly, somewhere during this journey Gigi renamed herself “Amanda” and deleted her photo (which used to be my homescreen). Maybe she’s trying to tell me something?
*There was the time a very UNtech friend accidentally touched an iPhone icon too long and the icons started the waggledance jiggling. “EEEEEEK! HELP! CYNTHIA!!!” she shrieked, “I did something wrong and it’s mad at me! Look at it: It’s shaking with RAGE!”