iPhone 3.0 Software Review: Apple Catches Up (Mostly)

The free iPhone software update moves the handheld forward, but could have gone further.
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Two years ago Apple released the iPhone and brought something intuitive, innovative, and powerful to a stagnant cell phone world. It was so innovative – feeling more like a miniature computer than a cell phone – that Apple was hoping we wouldn't notice that it was missing some basic functionality.

We noticed.

Last year Apple introduced a vastly improved version of the iPhone and new software to go with it. Curiously, the developers left many of the same gaps in the operating system. What, the iPhone lacked picture messaging, video recording, and even cut-and-paste? The taunts of the BlackBerry owners were merciless.

Well, BlackBerry owners, you'll have to find something else to say, because the iPhone OS 3.0 software update now has those basics covered. (Or it soon will, when AT&T catches up.)

New Dog, Old Tricks

Yes, the iPhone can now cut-and-paste like any other smartphone. The method of doing so varies a bit depending on the app, but it's fairly easy.

In the Safari browser, tap and hold on the text you want. A blue highlighted field will appear with handles that let you select just the text you want.

In other apps, such as Mail and Notes, you can tap twice to select the current word and then expand the highlighted field as you like, or tap-and-hold to call up the on-screen magnifier, then lift your finger to see options for selecting the word or the whole block of text.

You paste by tapping-and-holding again, then selecting the paste option. It feels a little cumbersome at first, but at least it doesn't involve pull-down menus, as with other phones.

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Text copy in Safari

An incredibly useful universal search has been added in, and this feels a lot smoother in implementation. Tap the Home button when you're already on the Home screen, or scroll to the left from that screen, and you'll see the new search interface.

It's just as easy as the Spotlight search that's long been a part of the OS X interface, and it calls up results in all default apps, including Mail, Notes, Contacts, Calendar, and iPod.

Speaking of things that every other phone has, the iPhone also now has an audio recording tool. It's no bare-bones voice recorder, though. Use the new Voice Memos app to sync your recordings back to your desktop copy of iTunes, or use the easy controls to trim your recording. It can even run in the background, a handy feature reserved for Apple's own apps.

Unfortunately, you can't use it to record phone calls, which would have made it incredibly useful for journalists. Thanks anyway, Apple.

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Universal search on the iPhone

The Small Stuff

Give someone a tour of the new software and you'll quickly discover that it's almost all small stuff. Sure, it adds up to a greatly improved user experience, but we would have preferred a couple more big ticket items.

• This update supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile, better known as wireless stereo. Use it for improved sound on supported car stereos or, more likely, headphones.

• If you subscribe to Apple's MobileMe suite of online tools ($99 per year) you gain a new Find My iPhone feature, which shows you on an online map roughly where your iPhone is and even lets you make a pinging sound on the phone, so you can track it down.

If you've lost the phone you can send a contact message to the phone's screen. Finally, if you think it's been stolen, you can wipe all your personal info from it with just a click.

• It's now easier to scrub through long iTunes tracks with the ability to adjust the scroll speed. Tap and hold your position on the scrub bar, then drag your finger down for slower scrubbing.

It's okay, but still lacks the precision of the classic iPod. I’d love to see the ability to trace circular movements on the screen, as with the older iPod's dial, to advance quickly or slowly.

Next Page: A few complaints -- the iPhone could use better connectivity


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Tags: wireless, iPhone, iphone apps, voice


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