Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting an Iphone

[This posting has nothing to do with data mining.]

Last week, a friend gave me an iPhone for my birthday. Before that, I had admired the iPhone at a distance as several of my friends and colleagues used theirs. I should also admit that I'm something of a Luddite. Technology for technology sake does not appeal to me; it often just means additional work. Having spent the weekend setting up and getting used to the phone, the fear is confirmed. However, the end result is worth it.

The first step in using the iPhone is getting service, which is as simple as downloading iTunes, hooking up the phone, and going through a few menus. Of course, there are a few complications. The most recent version of iTunes does not support the version of Windows I have on my laptop. Remember the Luddite in me, causing me to be resistant to a much needed laptop upgrade.

That issue was easily resolved by moving to another computer. The second fear was porting my number from T-Mobile to AT&T. This turned out to be a non-issue. Just click a box on one of the screens, put in my former number (and look up my account number) and the phone companies do the rest.

So once you have an iPhone in place, then expect to spend several hours learning how to operate it. After getting lost in the interface, perhaps somewhere in contacts, I painfully learned that there is only one way to get back to the home page. I'm pretty sure I tried all other combinations by hitting options on the screen. However, there is actually a little button on the bottom of the screen -- a real button -- that brings back the home page. Well, at least they got rid of all the keys with numbers on them.

The next step is sync'ing the iPhone to your life. This is simplest if your mail, calendar, and contacts are all handled in Outlook or Yahoo!. Somehow, Apple is not compatible with Google. Alas. So, bringing in my contacts from Google meant:

(1) Spending an hour or two cleaning up my contact list in Google, and adding telephone numbers from my old phone. Since the iPhone has email capabilities, I really wanted to bring in email addresses as well as phone numbers.

(2) Exporting the Google contacts into a text file.

(3) Very importantly: renaming the "Name" column in the first line to "First Name". Google has only one name field, but Yahoo (and the iPhone) want two fields.

(4) Uploading my contacts into my Yahoo account.

(5) Sync'ing the iPhone up with my Yahoo account.

Okay, I can accept that some global politics keeps the iPhone from talking directly to Google. But, why do I need to connect to the computer to do the sync? Why can't I do it over the web wirelessly?

Okay, that's the contacts, and we'll see how it works.

The calendar is more difficult. For that, I just use Safari -- the iPhone browser -- to go to Google calendar. This seems to work well enough. However, even this can be complicated because I have two Google accounts -- one for email (glinoff@gmail.com) and one for all my Data Miners related stuff (gordon@data-miners.com). The calendar is on the latter. I seem to have gotten a working version up in Safari, by going through the calendar page.

Note that I did not use Google's suggestion of pasting in the URL for my private calendar. I found that the functionality when I do this is not complete. It is hard to add in events.

And this brings up a subject about Safari. First, it is incredible what it can do on a small portable device. On the other hand, it is insane that I was unable to set up my AT&T account using Safari. Each time I went through the same routine. AT&T send me a temporary password. I went to the next screen, and filled in new passwords and answers to the security questions (somewhat painfully, one character at a time, but I was on a train at the time). After finishing, I would go to a validation screen, the validation would fail, and I would go back to the first page. The only thing that saed me was the training reaching Penn Station and the iPhone running out of battery power.

Once I got home, I did the same thing on my computer. And, it worked the first time.

I also noticed that certain forms do not work perfectly in Safari, such as the prompts for Google calendar. On the other hand, it was easy to go to web pages, add book marks, and put the pages on the home screen.

Fortunately, the email does not actually go through the Safari interface. This makes it easy to read email, because the application is customized. However, Safari would have some advantages. First, Safari rotates when the screen rotates, but the email doesn't (which is unfortunately because stubby fingers work better in horizontal mode). Also, only the most recent 50 emails are downloaded, so searching through history is not feasible. On the plus side, sending an email, still shows up in gmail.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the phone are the maps. There is a home key on the map which tells you where you are. Very handy. We were watching the movie "The Water Horse". Within a minute, I could produce a map and satellite pictures of Loch Ness in Scotland, with all the zoom-in and zoom-out features. Followed close by is the ability to surf the web. And both of these are faster on a wide-area network, which I have.

I still haven't used the music or video, so there is more to learn. But the adventure seems worth it so far.

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