Hands On With Apple's IPhone 3.0 Software Update

Save the date

While the Calendar application doesn't look very different under iPhone 3.0--excluding the addition of a new search bar--there are a few under-the-hood changes that give you more flexibility in which calendars you can use. Apple in particular touts two new features: the ability to add subscription calendars and support for CalDAV servers.

Calendar adds supports for CalDAV, such as Google Calendar, as well as Subscription Calendars.

If you're not looking closely, though, you might be hard-pressed to figure out how to use these features. They're hidden under Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars; tap Add Account and then choose Other: you'll be prompted with options for adding either a CalDAV Account or a Subscribed Calendar (this is also where Apple has hidden 3.0's LDAP support for contacts).

Adding a CalDAV account requires that you know your server, user name, and password; adding a Subscribed Calendar requires that you know the URL for the calendar (that's one place that 3.0's new copy-and-paste features really help). Once you've entered the appropriate information, the calendar in question will download its events. If you've got multiple calendars on a CalDAV account, such as Google Calendar, you'll have to add a separate "account" for each of them.

Support for these online calendars is great, but there are some issues: for one thing, I noticed that all the additional information can lead to somewhat sluggish performance in the Calendar application. In addition, both Subscribed Calendars and CalDAV accounts are read-only, and meeting invitations are still only supported for Exchange users. Those using MobileMe subscriptions still can't sync with certain calendars on your Mac, such as Address Book's automatically-generated Birthday calendar--however, there is now an alternative for dealing with that (see "Kitchen Sync" below).

Kitchen sync

In iPhone 2.0, Apple introduced the ability to sync your iPhone over the air, assuming you're using a MobileMe account. Unfortunately, doing so meant that you could no longer sync data from your computer--it was an either/or proposition. With iPhone 3.0 and iTunes 8.2, however, that's no longer the case: you can now mix and match data over the air and via iTunes, which is great for those calendar subscriptions that you can't get via MobileMe, such as the Birthdays calendar. You'll still need to sync with iTunes if those calendars change, though.

iPhone 3.0 also finally brings the much-demanded Notes syncing, letting you exchange those little yellow-ruled tidbits between the iPhone's Notes app and Mail. That's right: notes go into Mail on the Mac. This didn't work great in my tests, due mainly to some weirdness in the way that Mail was set up on my computer, but my colleagues reported it working fine in other cases.

Coming soon

MMS, the ability to send pictures, videos and more via text message, is on its way from AT&T later this summer.
Back in March, when Apple first announced iPhone 3.0, it mentioned two high-profile features that would be supported by the software update. The first was support for the Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), allowing users to send and receive text messages that also contain pictures, location information, contact information, voice recordings, and video messages. But though the software functionality is included within iPhone 3.0, AT&T has said it doesn't plan to roll out support until later this summer.

The case for tethering--using your phone's cellular connection to share Internet access with your desktop computer--is even murkier. Again, the capability is supported in iPhone 3.0, but AT&T's public statement on the matter said only that the company would offer the feature at some point, and it didn't specify a timeline or pricing information.

In addition, there are a ton of new under-the-hood features supported by the iPhone 3.0 update that we won't really get to see until developers start to build them into their applications, such as seamless peer-to-peer networking, support for hardware accessories, embedded Google Maps, and turn-by-turn directions.

Don't bug me

The "S" in the new iPhone 3G S stands for speed, but you'll notice there's no "S" in iPhone 3.0. Sure, sometimes the device will zip along its merry way, but other times it will slow to a crawl. I found myself more surprised when the pop-up keys on the keyboard actually did keep pace with what I was typing. Even the iPhone's limited multi-tasking is starting to wear thin, as I and some of my colleagues occasionally encountered stuttering music while trying to perform other tasks, like finding directions in Maps or simply entering text in another app. And you may notice a couple of other small bugs here and there, though many of them are purely cosmetic.

Of course, any major update has its fair share of bugs, and it's likely Apple will iron out many of these in subsequent releases. The promise of iPhone 2.0, for example, wasn't really delivered upon until iPhone 2.1 finally made it usable roughly two months later. For those who consider performance paramount, waiting for a 3.1 update might be reasonable, if you can continue to do without 3.0's features for the time being.

Macworld's buying advice

For most iPhone users, iPhone 3.0 is a no-brainer update. The addition of cut, copy, and paste alone makes this a must-have, and as exhaustive as we've tried to make this review, there are plenty of other small tweaks and enhancements not covered here. On the downside, original iPhone users won't be able to reap all of the benefits of the update, since their devices won't support MMS or stereo Bluetooth.

iPod touch users, on the other hand, will have to lay out $10 before they can get 3.0, and they won't be able to use all of the features either, although Apple did confirm that the second-generation iPod touch includes Bluetooth support. It's a more expensive proposition, but again, for $10, you get a whole host of new features, as well as--perhaps more importantly--all those technologies that developers will soon be using in their applications. In the end, $10 seems like a small price to pay for the number of new features included.

Overall, iPhone 3.0 offers useful new features and refinements of existing features. It doesn't necessarily tick every checkbox on our iPhone feature wishlist, but it's a solid step in the right direction. And, after all, Apple has to leave something for iPhone 4.0.

[Dan Moren is an associate editor at Macworld.]

Dan Frakes contributed to this review.

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

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