Apple's iPhone: A 100-day Report Card


This weekend marks the first 100 days of the iPhone era and the world, as we know it, will never be the same.

OK, so maybe that's a little dramatic. But it certainly is changing the market, it's dominating many discussions and it's going to be here for a long time ahead. So what have we learned in the first 100 days? We've learned that Apple really does want to control every aspect of its technology, hardware and software, hackers be damned. We've learned that aggressive pricing tactics can bite back. And we've learned that Apple's competitors are more than three months behind -- and counting -- in coming to market with anything competitive to the iPhone.

Despite the feature-rich nature of the iPhone, with multi-touch technology, iPod integration, Web-anywhere features, it's been a lightning rod for criticism for everything from its lack of support for Adobe Flash to a recent software update that turned hacked iPhones into pretty paperweights. Forgetting for a moment the passionate debate over whether the iPhone should be an open device, whether the price cuts were too steep too fast, or whether AT&T is a lousy service provider, here's a 100-day report card that grades various aspects of the device itself after more than three months of use:

Call quality - It works! In three months, used mostly in the New York area but also up and down the East Coast, I experienced only one dropped call. Voices are clear. Visual voice mail works perfectly when the phone is shut off. A Nokia bluetooth headset was a nice addition, but the ear buds with the built-in microphone work well, too. Grade: A.

Web browsing - No Flash support is a drag, but you learn to live without it when you're on the go. Other than that, the iPhone-customized Safari browser is fast and compensates fairly well for a slow EDGE network. It is helped greatly by the multi-touch aspect of the screen -- which will be graded separately -- and bookmarking is easy and convenient. Grade: A minus.

Keyboard - The more you use it, the more you like it. Here is where Blackberry and Treo users generally turn their noses up at the iPhone, but the simple fact is, the pop-up, touch-screen keyboard is simple. And for those folks who don't know, or like to use, abbreviations for SMS text messaging, the keyboard is perfect for texting complete sentences very, very easily. Grade: A

Email - Very disappointing. Apple sets a very high bar for quality and usability, and in many other aspects of the iPhone it does great. But it slips when it comes to email. Sometimes the "push mail" feature will seem to go to sleep. Or just stop checking for new email. This is easily enough resolved by manually hitting the "Update" button, but if you're waiting for a stock or news alert, for example, sometimes you'll miss it or get it late. It doesn't happen all the time, but it's happened a half-dozen times in three months and that's too often for many people. It should do better. Grade: C+

Business Applications - Apple doesn't support most third-party business applications for the iPhone, at least not natively, so you've got to live with what it provides itself. The notepad application, Google maps, alarm clock and the calendar are fine. They work, and are useful. But it leaves you wanting more, like easier search functionality and voice recording. Grade: B

Entertainment Features Nobody else is even close to what Apple provides with its iPod functionality, both audio and video. But its camera only takes still photos, not video (although the still photos are decent quality and integrate well with Email.) The YouTube button is pretty neat, and works, but it would be nicer if Apple simply integrated Flash with its iPhone Safari browser so you could access it that way. Grade: A minus

Multi-touch If Apple ever decides to put multi-touch functionality into its Macintosh systems, it would have potential to destroy the competition. For now, though, we do get to use it on the iPhone and it's a tremendous feature. It simply changes your approach to accessing information. "Point, click and scroll" becomes just "scroll and touch." Expanding your view to the word, phrase or aspect on which you need to focus is a big help. Grade: A

Reliability and Battery Life It boots quickly and works reliably, so that's refreshing for anyone coming from a Windows world. But on battery life? Eh. The iPhone is capable of getting between eight and 10 hours of battery life, but if you use bluetooth or Wi-Fi a lot, or if you have to make lengthy phone calls, it can cut the battery life down to five or six hours. If you're on the go for an entire day, your schedule might outlast your battery life. That needs to be improved. Grade: B minus

Overall Should the iPhone be graded on a curve, measured against the rest of the smart phones in the market? Should it be graded on its own, since it really is a one-of-a-kind product? After 100 days, it's clear that there's really nothing else like it in the market. There will be knock-offs and copycats, (in some geographies, there already are.) Bottom line: It's a great product, it appears to be worth the hype, but there's certainly room for improvement. Overall Grade: B+

See you next marking period.