Hands On With Apple's IPhone 3.0 Software Update

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Unfortunately, the iPhone 3.0 Software doesn't provide support for Bluetooth's Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP), which allows a Bluetooth accessory to control media playback. This means that if you connect Bluetooth wireless headphones that include playback buttons, only the Play/Pause button will work; you won't be able to skip or scan tracks or otherwise browse media content.

Hide and seek

MobileMe's new Find My iPhone feature can help you locate your iPhone, send it a message, and even remotely wipe it.
iPhone 3.0 may actually help prevent that heart-stopping moment when you pat your pockets and realize you've misplaced your phone. The new Find My iPhone feature--available only to subscribers of Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service--allows you to log in to your MobileMe account from a Web browser and view your phone's current location on a Google Map.

In order to enable the feature, you'll need to go to the MobileMe account preferences under Settings -> Mail, Contacts, Calendars, and switch on "Find My iPhone." The Location Services slider under Settings -> General will also need to be on, and the phone will have to have some sort of Internet connection as well as being powered on. You can send a customizable message to the phone instantaneously, alerting potential good Samaritans of the device's provenance. If you've just lost the phone around the house, you can also make it continuously play back a sound for two minutes to help track it down.

And should the worst happen, you can remotely instruct the phone to wipe its contents: that will clear out all data, including contacts, media, and accounts. If you retrieve the phone at a later date, you can always sync it back to your computer.

Shake, rattle, and scrub

The iPod functionality of the iPhone hasn't changed much in version 3.0. In addition to the new search functionality, Apple's added the "Shake to Shuffle" feature found in its fourth-generation iPod nano. Nifty though it is, it may be a little too sensitive: one Macworld contributor said that he noticed the feature triggering on an especially turbulent plane ride and I ran into the same problem while jogging across a street. Fortunately, Shake to Shuffle can quite easily be deactivated under Settings -> iPod.

A new variable-precision scrubber makes it easier to find a particular spot.
Podcast fans will see a few nice improvements. Video podcasts can now be played in portrait or landscape modes, and the podcast player now features buttons that let you jump back exactly 30 seconds and adjust the playback speed to either double- or half-speed. Those new controls take the place of the shuffle and repeat controls for podcast playback (those features are still available in music playback).

There's also a new handy variable-precision scrubbing feature that works for pretty much any media in the iPod library. Just tap and hold the scrub bar and drag your finger up or down the screen to adjust the precision. The farther down you drag your finger, the more precise the scrubbing gets, starting at "hi-speed," followed by half speed, quarter speed, and "fine." The more precise the scrubbing gets, the slower you scrub through the track, making it easier to jump back a second or two if you missed what was said.

Shop 'til your connection drops

Downloading videos over Wi-Fi works, but it can be on the slow side.
The iTunes Store application has received some updates as well, chief among them the ability to download videos, both for purchase and for rental, over the network. Since it's subject to the same 10MB cell network size cap as music and podcasts, you'll pretty much always be restricted to using the Wi-Fi. And it's not especially speedy over Wi-Fi either: in one of my tests, it took several hours to download a two-hour movie. In another test, it took less than 40 minutes, so your mileage may well vary. Either way, it's not quite to the point of being able to download a movie while waiting for your plane, but it will only get closer.

While you can't download HD movies directly onto your iPhone--which would be kind of pointless given the iPhone's small display--you can purchase HD movies by scrolling to the bottom of the details screen for any movie that offers it. The iPhone will start downloading the standard definition file, and the HD version will start downloading to your computer the next time you sync your iPhone.

The iTunes application now also lets you post comments to the Store, which is aided by support for multiple accounts in iTunes. Previously, your account was usually dictated by the iTunes account on the last computer you'd synced with. Now you can sign in, sign out, and view your account details by visiting Settings -> Store and you can also create an iTunes account if you like.

Parental Restrictions have been beefed up in iPhone 3.0 and now allow control over different types of content.

Apple has also integrated more fine-grained Parental Restrictions in iPhone 3.0, which are accessible at Settings -> General -> Restrictions. In addition to a new restriction for disabling the phone's location features, a new section provides the ability to independently filter different kinds of content, such as music and podcasts, TV shows, videos, and iPhone apps. You can prevent children from downloading content at certain rating levels or higher (such as PG-13 or greater movies) or, in the case of music and podcasts, banning Explicit material. Users can choose a rating system from one of nine different countries, including the U.S., U.K., and Japan.

Apple is now requiring iPhone apps to feature age ratings similar to those it has long enforced for iPod and iPhone games. Parental Restrictions also allows you to disable iPhone 3.0's In-App Purchase feature, preventing kids from downloading additional content through installed applications.

Push up

Notifications can be disabled on either a global or individual application basis.
Apple's push notifications system was supposed to debut last September, but it's finally arrived in iPhone 3.0. The usefulness of the system--and whether or not it will hold up under the sudden barrage of millions of phones running thousands of applications--will have to wait until the release of apps that support it.

However, those fearing that their phone may soon become nothing more than a deluge of notification after notification can rest easy. The iPhone's new Setting -> Notifications panel (which only appears once you run an app that includes notification features) allows you to disable notifications either en masse or on an individual basis of notification type per application; for example, you could disable the pop-up alerts for an application while leaving the badge alerts. There is, however, no easy way to turn off just one type of notification, such as alert sounds, for all apps.

Now hear this

The new Voice Memos application lets you record, edit, and share audio clips.
One new application joins Apple's default set in 3.0: Voice Memos. It's a relatively straightforward program that does just what it says on the tin: you can record using the iPhone's built-in microphone or the mic on the iPhone's headphones. Voice Memos can even record in the background; a red bar appears at the top of the screen to let you know that you're still recording along with the elapsed time. You cannot, however, record phone calls--launching the Phone application ends your recording.

Once you've recorded a clip, you can use Voice Memos to play it back and label it, either with one of the handful of built-in labels (Interview, Class, etc.) or by adding your own. You can also trim a clip from inside the application, dragging endpoints on a timeline to select just the section you want (careful, though; there's no undo) and then share it via e-mail or (someday) MMS. Voice Memos also sync back to iTunes under a Voice Memos playlist, though you can prevent them from syncing by unchecking the option in the Music sync pane of iTunes when the iPhone is connected to your computer. Voice Memos are stored as 16-bit mono Apple Lossless files.

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