Road Trip: Miami to New York with the Apple iPhone

Talk about dedication. Within 12 hours of the release of the iPhone, I conducted a road test (literally) of the iPhone. Before dawn the test vehicle was launched up I-95 and the test commenced.

OK, it was the family vacation and pure chance that it coincided with the iPhone launch, but it did provide the opportunity not only to spend some quality time with the iPhone but to gauge the coverage along more than 1,200 miles of the East Coast's major roadway from just north of Miami to just south of New York City.

The phone device met or exceeded expectations in every aspect. If there is something else out there like it, I haven't seen it. To my mind the breakthrough feature is the touch screen -- and the related decision to implement an "on screen" keyboard rather than a physical keyboard. Saving space is the obvious benefit -- but not the biggest benefit. Implementing soft keys allows each of the dozen utility applications -- mail, weather, Google maps, calculator and so on -- to have completely custom and appropriate buttons. This would not be possible using a hard keys approach.

When it is time to type, the soft keyboard appears. It is a standard QWERTY layout so letters are easy to find. As I have never been a BlackBerry user -- or even much a text message sender on a regular phone -- it is hard for me make comparisons. According to Apple, within two weeks most users will be able type away dual-thumbs style at a good clip.

Maybe I'll agree a few weeks hence but day one I had a hard time with even the recommended beginner's approach of using one finger. Even though my fingers are of average size, I found myself frequently missing the desired letter and having to backspace and retry. This became a nuisance typing in passwords where the data entered is hidden. As you touch a key, the letter or symbol is magnified briefly so you can tell what you are typing in, but it is easy to miss. That said, even two days later I find my precision increasing significantly.

The built-in applications were useful for us as travelers. We were able to get live weather updates for the cities along the way. What was more valuable was the Google mapping function. Not only did we get live traffic updates but we were able to search for places of interest along the way and get maps and driving instructions to them.

At various points along the way in the Carolinas, though, the phone was not able to access the AT&T data network for periods of several minutes. In other instances, the network was accessible but painfully slow, taking several minutes just to load the CNN home page, for example. As a generic Web browser, our experience was mixed though that could have been the nature of the network on remote stretches of highway.

But what about the corporate angle? As most readers likely know, there is no Outlook or BlackBerry client support available or announced -- though some rumblings I've heard make me believe that is going to change soon. While I was able to get my personal e-mail through the built-in mail client, my attempts to use Outlook Web Access ended poorly. While I was prompted for my login information, the in-box never appeared.

As others have noted, the phone lacks important corporate features such as encryption and removable storage -- and is controlled 100% by Apple. Still, the gadget is going to attract so many corporate executives that IT had better figure out how to deal with them.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.