iPhone Improvements

iPhone Improvements

Google Maps is now more useful, thanks to a pretty good, but not perfect, location positioning feature.

 

The Facts

 

You know those blank icon spaces on the iPhone’s home screen? They’re starting to fill out like we knew they would. Indeed, Apple has released new features and enhancements that partially answer the big “What now?” iPhone question.

 

The Google Maps app has two major new features that extend the iPhone’s functionality, making our ability to speed across town much more of a tenable possibility. First, Maps now uses Wi-Fi and cell tower triangulation to find your location. It’s not GPS, and in anecdotal testing we found it’s not as accurate as GPS, but it’s still a welcome addition. Once you know your location, you can get directions in familiar Google Maps style. Second, the new Drop Pin feature lets you mark landmarks on a map and save them as bookmarks, and you can use pinned locations to get directions.

 

The new Web Clips feature lets you save a webpage, or a specific portion of one, to the home screen for quick access. Find yourself saving more pages than you have empty slots on the home screen? No worries, because your home screen can now have multiple pages, and all you have to do is use your finger to flick between them. You can also rearrange all your icons, including the ones in the Dock.

 

Other new features include group SMS, iTunes movie rentals, song lyrics that display over the album art, chapter select during movie playback, IMAP Gmail support, support for gift codes at the iTunes Wi-Fi Store, a raise in text message storage from 1,000 to 75,000, and virtual keyboard enhancements. The iPod touch also has new apps: Mail, Maps, Weather, Notes, and Stocks, all of which are found on the iPhone. The new applications’ cost? $19.99.

 

History's Judgement

 

It’s not perfect, but the enhanced Maps app might be good enough for anyone who sat out last year’s iPhone mania because of the lack of GPS. The revamped interface, meanwhile, is a sign of better things to come: It readies your iPhone for third-party apps once the software development kit is available in February. That said, the most important features are the ones that weren’t announced: increased storage, 3G Internet access (see sidebar) and better battery life (though we doubt you’ll see a removable battery anytime soon, if ever).

 

The new features won’t compel fence sitters to buy an iPhone, but they do reignite some sparks for current iPhone users whose passion has subsided. And best of all, the additions are part of the free iPhone 1.1.3 update. Nonetheless, on the eve of Expo 2009, we suspect we’ll all be looking back at this wee 2008 update package as little more than a pacifying maneuver. Apple needs to announce iPhone Take Two, and there may be no better time than another midyear June surprise.

 

The G Thing

 

Sadly, the change that everyone wants for the iPhone—the switch from EDGE Internet access to the faster 3G technology—didn’t happen at Expo. Steve Jobs has said in interviews that he prefers 3G over EDGE, but 3G’s heavy power needs adversely affect battery life. We hate to break it to current iPhone owners, but don’t bet on a 3G upgrade available for the phone in your pocket, as the jump will require a hardware upgrade.

 

If you’re waiting to buy a 3G iPhone, you probably have to sit tight until this summer. Because the iPhone design has become a cultural icon, we doubt you’ll see a dramatic change in the 3G iPhone’s look—maybe a brushed metal bezel instead of a chrome one to set it apart, but that’s probably about it. Pricing will most likely be close to the original iPhone release, just with more storage offered: We’re guessing $499 for 8GB, $599 for 16GB. And we wouldn’t be surprised if Apple lowered the original iPhone’s price once again to prevent a sales slowdown.

 

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