What Is an iPhone? How Does the iPhone Work?

What Is an iPhone? How Does the iPhone Work?

Apple’s iPhone is a mega popular Internet and multimedia capable cell phone — sometimes called “smartphones”, devices like the iPhone are a hybrid of a handheld computer or PDA computers and a cell phone. The iPhone was designed and marketed by Apple Inc. — a little tech company you may have heard of. The first iPhones hit the market in early January of 2007, which begs an obvious question: why didn’t Apple release the iPhone in time for Christmas? They couldn’t have pumped a few million units out two or three weeks ahead of schedule?

Apple’s iPhone works like a combination of many different items. Take a camera phone, with standard text messaging and voicemail capabilities, add a portable music and video player, an Internet browser with all the usual e-mail and web browsing abilities, and do it all on a Wi-Fi connection. Throw in a massive library of “apps” (applications designed specifically for the iPhone and other handheld devices) and you’ve got an idea of what the iPhone can do.

iPhone BasicsWhat is an iPhone?

Like most new Apple products, the iPhone uses a “multi-touch screen” input system. This means a virtual keyboard (as opposed to the physical keyboard in front of a laptop) that you use with your fingers instead of an unreliable and difficult-to-get-used-to stylus.

The visual interface of the iPhone uses a “home screen” to list available functions. Think of the home screen as your laptop’s desktop — the home screen is essentially a graphic list of your various apps. iPhone users can perform multiple tasks at once, like using apps while making a phone call or watching a movie. There’s a built-in “home” button on the iPhone itself, so you can get to your home screen quickly. When you unpack your iPhone, the following apps will be available — Messages (text messaging), Calendar, Photos, Camera, YouTube, Stocks, Maps (through Google Maps), Weather, Voice Memos, Notes, Clock, Calculator, Settings, iTunes (this is the iTunes store), App Store, and in some models an app called Compass.

The purpose of the iPhone is to take phones to the next level. The ideal iPhone user will access email and social networking sites, make phone calls, watch videos, listen to music, and play a few app games along the way. That means the iPhone is not meant to be a computing powerhouse, but a convenience tool.

Where do apps come from?

To disseminate new apps, Apple depends on something called the “App Store”, launched a year and a half after the first iPhones. The App Store is stocked with more than 200,000 applications designed for the iPhone and approved for use by Apple. There’s no easy way to describe apps — some are games, some are for information or reference, some use GPS navigation to provide directions or maps, social networking tools like Facebook, and special apps designed as tie-ins with TV, movies, and celebrities. Apps can be whatever their designer wants them to be, as long as they meet Apple’s standards. That means no porn, etc.

What versions of the iPhone are available?

There are currently four models (generations) of iPhones, each accompanied by a release of a new operating system. Formerly called iPhone OS, the name was eventually changed to iOS so it could be used in other products like the iPad and iPod Touch.

The original iPhone line set the iPhone standard in terms of the seize of the screen, the hardware, etc. The release of the iPhone 3G married iPhone function to the powerful 3G cell network, and thew in something called A-GPS as well, used to locate the phone and help with features like mapping and shopping. The next version, iPhone 3GS, added the compass feature, pumped up the processor, provided a better (higher resolution) camera, and gave users the options of taking video as well as photo stills. The newest model, iPhone 4, uses a two camera setup to incorporate something called FaceTime video dialing, and to provide a higher-resolution display screen. That means it looks prettier. The iPhone 4 came out on June 24th, 2010.

How’s the phone quality of iPhones?

Like any quality cell phone, the iPhone lets you use audio conferencing, call holding, call waiting, merging, caller ID, etc.

The major complaints about the iPhone’s actual phone abilities revolve around two issues — side noise and call dropping. “Side noise” is what phone geeks call the thing that happens when you can hear your own voice on your phone, and it can be really annoying but doesn’t really interfere with calls. The issue of dropped calls is another thing altogether.

Call signals and quality (for many users) are sub-par using the iPhone. Yes, Apple released some firmware updates to improve call quality, but the problem seems to be with the AT&T phone service the iPhone uses, not the phone itself. Customers complained at launch that their reception was awful and they had lots of dropped calls. Depending on where you’re using your iPhone, you could have great quality or terrible. The best way to make sure you aren’t stuck with a very expensive phone with terrible call quality is to check out AT&T reception in your area before you buy.

iPhone Pros and Cons

Apple did a few things really well with the iPhone:

Multitasking – Being able to perform more than one application at once, like the iPhone 4 can do, is a big plus for Apple’s iPhone.

Apps – Everyone loves Apps. Whether you’ve a penchant for iPhone games, use Apps for reference purposes, or you depend on Pandora on your iPhone to keep you distracted at work, the App system pretty well has you covered.

Handheld Functions – The iPhone’s ability to put itself in energy saving mode when you hold it near your face (i.e. make a phone call) shows that they thought long and hard about how the iPhone will be used by real customers.

But as usual, Apple has really missed the mark on a few points as well:

No Flash — Sure, HTML5 is the new Flash, I read tech magazines too. But not allowing Flash functionality (even on the latest iPhone model) means shutting off a large portion of the Internet for iPhone users, and that’s a real drag.

App Store Management -- The fact that Apple is decidedly against opening up Apps not approved by Apple (also called “unsigned Apps) shows that they’re more concerned with following some strange moral code than in providing their users a better service. You don’t want porn on the iPhone? Too bad. Leave the policing up to parents.

Phone Issues — Even though many changes have been made to the iPhone software and hardware, many customers hate the AT&T service. I’ve seen plenty of iPhone users frustrated from dropped calls and poor reception. This has to change for the iPhone to grab hold of a larger market share.

This post is part of a series on gizmos and gadgets. Other posts in this series include:

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