Hands On With Apple's IPhone 3.0 Software Update

When Apple first announced the iPhone in 2007, the company said that it planned to continually update the phone with new features and functionality. In 2008, Apple released iPhone 2.0 ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ), which opened up a whole new world of third-party applications, finally converting the iPhone from the latest hot gizmo to a viable platform. With predecessors like that, 2009's iPhone 3.0 has some Wilt Chamberlain-sized shoes to fill.

Whereas iPhone 2.0 focused on expanding the platform outwards, iPhone 3.0 is about looking inwards, polishing up features that already existed and adding those that were notably lacking. And while it may not be the flashiest of updates, the new version brings several welcome enhancements and refinements to the iconic device.

Cut once, paste as many times as you want

Cut, copy, and paste options appear in a floating menu once you've selected text.

It's telling that the most anticipated new feature of iPhone 3.0 is one that goes back to the earliest days of the graphical user interface. Apple says that it had to take its time and make sure that it got cut, copy, and paste right, and it seems to have done just that. While cut, copy and paste aren't available in every application, Apple's implemented it at a low-lying level, so it's available pretty much anywhere you deal with text.

There are a couple of ways to use copy and paste. Double-tapping a word will automatically select that word, highlighting it in blue and popping up a floating menu of options. What you're offered depens on whether the text is read-only--if so, you'll only be able to copy. If you're composing text, on the other hand, you can cut, copy, or paste. Alternatively, if you tap and hold a word to bring up the loupe and then release it, you'll also be provided with select and select all options.

Once you've selected text, you have the option to alter your selection by dragging handles on either end of the selection (or, in some apps, such as Safari, you'll get a block with handles on all four sides). Dragging the handles brings up a magnified view that's similar to the loupe, but rectangular. The selection algorithm is smart, too; if you tap and flick one of the handles, it automatically detects spaces and makes sure that it never cuts off in the middle of a word: should you want to select just part of a word, though, you can tap and drag the handles with more precision.

The Undo dialog box pops up when you shake your iPhone in a text-entry field.

If at any point you make a mistake--say pasting some text you didn't mean to--it's easy enough to fix. Just give the iPhone a quick shake, and it brings up dialog box with an Undo button. There are multiple levels of undo, in case you need to correct several mistakes, and you can redo actions as well, just in case you think better of it.

Cut, copy, and paste handles plain text, rich text (including styling and hyperlinks), and images, which you can copy from the Photos app, Mail, or Safari. While it's pretty good, there are some issues: for example, I copied some text and images from a Web page that was too wide for the Mail message I was pasting into, and I was unable to zoom in and out or pan around to see all the content.

Apple has said that third-party developers will be able to extend the pasteboard to accept more types of content, but most applications should be able to take advantage of at least basic text cut, copy, and paste out of the box.

Reading, writing, and right-to-left

iPhone 3.0 at long last brings support for right-to-left languages like Arabic.
iPhone 2.0 added support for a number of different languages and input methods; iPhone 3.0 continues that trend, boosting the number to 30 different languages and more than 40 input methods, including long-awaited support for right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic. Apple has also added a handful of new special characters that you can access by tapping and holding on certain keys, such as the em-dash (the hyphen key), ellipsis (period), degree symbol (the zero key), and more.

Even better, every input method features both portrait and landscape versions of the keyboard. That landscape keyboard is also a feature in and of itself. Previously restricted to use in Safari, the landscape keyboard is now available in all text-heavy applications such as Mail, Notes, and Messages, which should help assuage the many users who prefer its wider-spaced keys.

Unfortunately, the landscape orientation can sometimes be more annoying than helpful if you end up switching the orientation when you don't mean to. It would be nice if Apple offered some way to lock the current orientation to prevent this.

Search party

Spotlight returns results from several different applications, as well as matching app names.

Apple substantially beefed up the iPhone's search capability in 3.0. Those improvements manifest in two ways. One is in individual applications like Mail, Calendar, and Notes, where you can now summon a search field by scrolling the screen downards (as you could previously in Contacts). Typing in a search term instantly shows you the items that match your results.

In addition, you can now search throughout the phone with the new Spotlight feature, which is accessible by swiping left from the first Home screen or by pressing the Home button when on the first Home screen. Results are returned from the phone's built-in apps, like Calendar, Mail, iPod, Contacts, and more--you can set which types of data are searched and what order they show up in Settings -> General -> Home -> Search Results. Tapping on any of them will open the corresponding record in that application, whether it be a Mail message, Calendar appointment, music file, contact, and so on.

But as nice as search is, it's half-hearted at best. Mail, for example, can search the To, From, or Subject headers (or all three at once) and even extend the search to messages that aren't downloaded to the phone yet, but it can't search the body of messages. There's no still no way to search for text on a Web page or in Mail attachments, and Contacts are still limited to searching the first name, last name, and company fields. It's unknown whether or not third-party developers will be able to make their apps' information searchable by Spotlight as well.

Spotlight also returns the names of applications as results, which may help those with dozens of apps, but that just highlights the need for a better way to organize most peoples' growing number of Home screen icons--the only other concession in that realm is that you can now have 11 screens of apps instead of nine.

Look ma, no wires

Support for A2DP means you can now stream your music to wireless headphones via Bluetooth.
One of the new audio-related features of the 3.0 update is support for Bluetooth's Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP). This lets you stream stereo audio over Bluetooth to other devices, such as wireless headphones, a speaker system, or a car stereo. Pairing an iPhone 3G with an A2DP speaker system and a set of A2DP headphones is simple, and the devices stay paired even when the phone goes in and out of range. However, you have to control volume on the audio device; the iPhone's volume buttons are disabled when streaming audio over Bluetooth.

When a phone call comes in, A2DP streaming works just like the iPhone's headphones or built-in speakers: If media is playing, the media audio fades out and the media pauses so you can take the call. After hanging up, playback resumes.

However, there are some issues. For example, to switch audio output to and from the Bluetooth accessory, you have to use the iPod app, even if you're not playing music, and if you turn off the stereo Bluetooth accessory before switching the audio output back to the iPhone itself, sometimes you can't restore audio on the phone. Also, Wi-Fi signal strength sometimes drops while streaming audio over Bluetooth on an iPhone 3G.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments