Review: iPhone A Nightmarish Upgrade For Decent Features

By now, you've probably gotten the bad news. Apple's infrastructure suffered a colossal letdown Friday when it attempted to launch new iPhone hardware, new iPhone software and its new cloud-based lifehacking service, MobileMe, all at once. Apple executives will be left to explain how they were so absolutely overwhelmed despite so much time to plan and get ready for their biggest launch in a year.

We were among the lucky: Upgrading to the official iPhone 2.0 firmware only took three hours, with a poorly explained pause in the middle, during which the phone needed to sync with data at the iTunes Store online but couldn't. The iTunes Store had limited availability during a wide swath of the day, when the 2.0 software went live and when Apple and ATandT stores across the country began selling and trying to activate the new 3G iPhones.

The upgrade did eventually finish up when it was able to sync with iTunes, and the 218 MB file was put to work.

Among the newer features on the new software is a "Fetch New Data" function that allows the user to call for email, calendaring and contact information to be "pushed" or "fetched" to the iPhone at 15-, 30-, or 60-minute intervals, or manaully. The Safari Web browser can now be customized to accept JavaScript, Plug-Ins, accept or clear cookies, clear history and clear cache. Developers also have a debugging option in iPhone's Safari.

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One problem emerged when we tried to sync contacts on the iPhone from an existing service with the new MobileMe service, but couldn't since MobileMe appeared to have availability issues, as well. The result: We lost our contacts list on the iPhone itself. The problem was resolved by shutting off the sync with MobileMe and returning to our original contact list on another service. (We'll write about MobileMe later.)

Email itself received a nice facelift in iPhone 2.0, with Apple providing the ability to mass-delete emails or move them en masse to different folders.

Buying, downloading and importing new software applications from the iTunes App Store was incredibly simple. Several that we tried -- AOL Instant Messaging, AOL Radio, an application to deliver news from the Associated Press, and the Evernote application -- all worked fine. In fact, Evernote is a standout as is -- kid you not -- Weatherbug. Weatherbug and other apps, like the Twitter client Twitterific, take advantage of the Gen 1 iPhone's triangulation location-finder to provide promising geographic functionality even without full-blown GPS that is available the 3G iPhone.

The original iPhone doesn't run any slower as a result of all the new firmware and software, it doesn't run any warmer and, at first glance, battery life does appear to be impacted even on the first-generation iPhone - - although it does seem to be only a minor impact.

The iPhone was a killer device yesterday and it will be even more of a killer device tomorrow.

The bottom line: It will take several days, at least, for the upgrade hangover to fade. The lousy job Apple did preparing for this day will overshadow the great-and-improving technology that is available on the iPhone platform. It's still not a channel-friendly product, even considering the new Exchange integration, since it's only sold via Apple Stores and ATandT. But it's still the top piece of technology in its class -- if it's not still in a class by itself, outright -- and not even this historic screwup on Apple's part can take that away.