iCrash: Buggy apps tarnish iPhone 2.0 appeal

Installation problems, buggy applications, lack of trial versions, and a mediocre selection have dampened initial enthusiasm for Apple's brand new iPhone App Store.Not counting punishing server load when the store debuted last week, some users (like me) have encountered a series of obstacles to get apps to work at all.

Installation problems, buggy applications, lack of trial versions, and a mediocre selection have dampened initial enthusiasm for Apple's brand new iPhone App Store.

Not counting punishing server load when the store debuted last week, some users (like me) have encountered a series of obstacles to get apps to work at all. The first time I tried to install an application on my 8GB iPhone model after upgrading the firmware to 2.0 I got this error:

itunes-not-authorized.png

To fix this, you have to select Store > Authorize Computer... in iTunes, enter your Apple ID and password, and follow the instructions on the screen. If you don't have an Apple account you have to create one, entering your credit card on the off chance that you may want to use a non-free application.

Once I had the authorization straight I got a bit further. Some apps installed OK, but on others I got odd errors like this:

unknown-error.png

Using the time-honored technique of "try, try again", I was able to get several apps downloaded onto the phone. Whew, glad that was over with. Only one little problem: none of them worked. Not a single one, not even the copy of Super Monkey Ball that I paid $9.95 for.

I would tap on the program icon, and it looked like it was thinking about the possibility of beginning to start up, but then it would dump me unceremoniously back to the home screen. Sometimes I'd see a glimpse of the opening screen, sometimes not. All the built-in applications like Mail worked, but none of the downloaded ones did. There was no error message or anything.

A search through the community forums turned up a troubleshooting article from Apple that suggested uninstalling the apps from the iPhone and then re-installing them by doing a sync. That worked. So now I could run my programs, hurray! After trying out a few, I rush down the hall to show a friend, proudly tap on the program icon, and... nothing happens. The screen flashes and it goes back to the home screen. I try another one, same thing. Even apps that worked just 10 minutes ago refuse to start.

I discovered that a hard reboot (pressing and holding the top and front buttons for several seconds until the screen goes black) fixes the problem, at least temporarily. So far I haven't lost any data, and iTunes does keep a backup just in case, but the situation doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Some apps freeze in the middle, or poof back to the home screen for no apparent reason. When that happens, sometimes all downloaded apps stop working again. Does Apple expect me to re-install my apps every day when I want to use them? There is nothing weird about my iPhone: it was never Jailbroken, and it has plenty of free space. Built-in apps work fine. The only explanation is that the apps themselves are buggy, and that the iPhone operating system provides insufficient insulation between programs so that when one goes bad it can keep others from working too.

On the plus side, when I can get them to work many of the native iPhone 2.0 apps are quite impressive. Super Monkey Ball, for example, makes excellent use of the built-in tilt sensor, though it seems harder than the Playstation 2 version I'm used to. The 3d graphics are reasonably smooth with an apparent 20-30fps except during a few busy scenes. Sound effects and music are top notch in the programs that use them, and the touch screen is vibrant and responsive.

However that bright screen and fast clock speed does come with a down side. iPhone apps will suck the life right out of your battery, especially on the original iPhone model. If you're looking for Nintendo DS-like battery life, forget it. It fades quicker than my notoriously power hungry but gorgeous Sony PSP. Even with minimal use I can't charge the iPhone in the office on Friday and have it last through the weekend. Heck, it doesn't even last until Sunday. Unfortunately, the battery isn't easily replaceable, so I may have to break down and buy an extra charger or two.

My worn and battered Blackberry may not be as sexy, and it may not have the cool games and the iconic earbuds, but it has all the enterprise features I need for a fraction of the monthly cost, and I only have to charge it once a week. Sometimes function does trump form.

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