With a day to go before Apple's iPhone makes its debut, there are still plenty of questions about the device.
Apple has trickled out information about the iPhone over the past few days, and will probably answer a few of these questions before 6 p.m. Eastern time Friday, when Apple and AT&T stores plan to begin selling the device. The early reviews of the phone have laid to rest some concerns, like the touch-screen interface, while raising others, namely the EDGE cellular network.
Here's a stab at answering some of the more frequently asked questions about everything and anything iPhone related. We'll cover technical specifications, how to use the iPhone's features, and where you can find one.
What is an iPhone?
It's a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phone that businesses can use to cut the costs of operating an old-school telephone system inside their offices.
No, I meant Apple's iPhone.
Oh, sorry. The iPhone that people have been hyperventilating over is a combination iPod, Internet browser and cellular phone unveiled by Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, at Macworld in January. It's scheduled to go on sale Friday. "Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone," Jobs said during that keynote address.
So what does it do?
Well, it's a wide-screen video iPod to start, capable of playing songs and videos and storing either 4GBs or 8GBs of either, depending on how much you want to spend. It runs Mac OS X, and can browse the Internet with the Safari browser over either a Wi-Fi network or AT&T's EDGE cellular network. And it can also make phone calls over AT&T's network just like any cell phone.
Let's talk about the iPod part first. What makes it different from other video iPods?
For starters, it has the largest screen Apple has introduced for a video-playing iPod, at 3.5 inches. It plays videos in landscape mode on a higher-resolution screen (480x320 pixels) compared with the current-generation iPods (320x240 pixels).
But the entire user interface is different. The familiar click-wheel is gone, replaced by a touch screen that you control with your fingers. Scrolling through your library of songs and videos is done by swiping your finger left or right across the screen, and selecting a particular video is done by double-tapping the screen.
Why did they get rid of the click-wheel?
Primarily to control the other functions of the iPhone, namely the Internet browsing and e-mailing. Jobs said Apple wanted to avoid copying other smart phones that have lots of buttons dedicated to certain functions. The iPhone only has one button on the face of the device, which brings you back to the home screen. Otherwise, every other "button" on the display is a touch-screen icon that can change depending on what application you're in at that moment.
So what can I do with the touch screen?
There's a button on the top of the iPhone that toggles between sleep mode and active mode. Once you press that button, you have to use your finger on a slider on the touch screen to actually unlock the phone, so you don't inadvertently make phone calls while the iPhone's in your purse or pocket. That brings you to the home page, where you can select one of the four main applications (Phone, Mail, Safari or iPod) or one of the other applications like Google Maps or YouTube by tapping on the screen.
How do I get on the Internet?
Go to the home screen, and then launch Safari. Apple says that the iPhone delivers "the full Internet," unlike other mobile devices that must surf to special Web pages optimized for mobile phones. Safari goes to any Web page the same way that you'd access it on a PC or Mac, and you can upload bookmarks from your desktop or notebook computer.
The touch-screen interface plays a big role in Web surfing. While Safari can access any Web page, you're not necessarily going to be able to fit the whole page in a 3.5-inch screen. Dragging your finger across the display scrolls left, right, up or down, and tapping on the display zooms in.
Can I watch Internet videos on the iPhone?
Maybe. The iPhone uses Safari, which in theory would mean it supports Apple's QuickTime player, but that hasn't been confirmed. You definitely won't be able to play Flash or Windows Media video files on the iPhone, but you will be able to play YouTube videos with a built-in link to that site.
How do I get my e-mail?
If you're using a Web e-mail service, such as Google's Gmail or Microsoft's Hotmail, you can just browse to it through Safari to check your mail. You can also access the mail accounts hosted by your ISP through the Mail application on the iPhone home screen through IMAP (Internet Mail Application Protocol) or POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) services.
Right now, it looks like you'll have to do quite a sales job on your IT department if you want to get your corporate e-mail on the iPhone. The iPhone can connect to the popular Microsoft Exchange e-mail server software, but only through the IMAP protocol using SSL (secure sockets layer) encryption, an Apple representative confirmed.
This isn't the same as if Apple had licensed the Microsoft ActiveSync protocol for Exchange, as has been rumored. The iPhone does not support the BlackBerry or Good Mobile Messaging software right now.
How do I type on the iPhone?
The absence of external buttons means the iPhone is reliant on a touch-screen QWERTY keyboard. This is bound to throw off those who are familiar with the hard keyboards on other smart phones, but most of the early reviewers said they learned how to work the keyboard after some practice.
The keyboard is laid out in the same fashion as a regular keyboard. There are slightly different keyboards for composing e-mail, sending text messages or browsing the Web. Apple recommends typing with one finger for a while until you get used to the touch screen, after which you can jump in with two-thumbed typing well-known to BlackBerry addicts.
Can I really get the same Internet experience on my iPhone that I can on my PC or Mac?
That depends. If you're in range of a Wi-Fi hot spot, you'll access the Internet as quickly as the connection that services that hot spot. The display isn't the same, of course, but access speeds should be excellent as long as the access point isn't hooked up to the world's slowest Internet tube.
But outside of Wi-Fi range (about 120 yards for 802.11g), you'll feel like it's 1996 all over again. The iPhone uses AT&T's EDGE network, which reviewer David Pogue of The New York Times declared "excruciatingly slow." EDGE is akin to dial-up speeds, but it's more widespread in the U.S. than faster 3G cellular data networks.
I can still make calls with this thing, right?
Yes, hence the name. When you press the Phone button on the screen, the iPhone brings up your contact list. Touch a name to bring up the contact page, then touch their number to dial that person. If you need to use the keypad to dial a number that's not in your contacts list, there's a keypad button at the bottom of the screen.
You can do all the standard phone things, like three-way calling and putting people on hold. You can also access the iPhone's other applications while you're on a phone call by pressing the Home button underneath the screen.
One interesting feature on the iPhone is the visual voice mail, which displays your voice mail messages like an e-mail inbox, so you can see who called without having to listen to your messages in succession. And you can skip the message from your boss to listen to the message from your spouse (or vice versa).
What kind of battery life should I expect?
Apple has said the iPhone's good for up to 8 hours of talk time, 250 hours of standby time, 6 hours of Internet use, or 7 hours of video playback. Of course, you'll probably be doing all of those tasks in fits and spurts. The early reviews reported battery life pretty close to what Apple said to expect.
But just like the iPod, there's no removable battery on the iPhone. One day, it will start to lose its charging capacity just like any lithium-ion battery, and you'll have to return the device to Apple for a battery replacement.
How much will it cost?
Two models are available, one with 4GBs of storage for $499 and one with 8GBs of storage for $599. But that's just the beginning.
You'll need to sign a two-year contract with AT&T. There's a $36 activation fee. Three special iPhone data plans are available ranging from $59.99 a month to $99.99 a month, depending on how many minutes you need. All include unlimited data, though.
The iPhone comes with a stereo headset, a dock, a USB power adapter and a few other goodies. But while it uses the same 30-pin dock connector, The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg said in his review that not all iPod accessories will work with the iPhone, and that you might not be able to play music in your car equipped with an iPhone jack. Your existing iPod headphones also might not work because the headset jack on the iPhone is deeply recessed, Mossberg said.
Where can I get one?
Apple retail stores and company-owned AT&T stores will start selling iPhones at 6 p.m. local time in the U.S. on Friday. There are about 150 Apple stores in the country, and all of them will have unknown quantities of iPhones, along with a line of hopeful customers outside some of the larger stores. Get there early if you want one this weekend.
If you'd rather buy at an AT&T store, make sure you consult this store finder at AT&T's Web site. Not all stores marked with the AT&T logo are owned by the company; some are franchises.
Are there any iPhone exit strategies?
What, you're sick of it already?
You don't have to activate your iPhone in the store, you can actually take it home and do it from your home PC or Mac. So if you wait in line for three days, drop $600 on the iPhone, then get home and decide you don't like it, you could resell the thing on Craigslist or eBay (perhaps for a healthy profit) or return it within 14 days.
But if you wait until you activate it, you've got 14 days to make up your mind. Perhaps not coincidentally, that's exactly as long as the select group of early iPhone reviewers had to deliver their verdicts on the device. After 30 days, you'll have to pay AT&T's $175 termination fee to get out of your contract.
Unfortunately, this current iPhone is also not upgradeable. The SIM card found in other AT&T phones is locked on the iPhone, and you'll have to buy iPhone 2.0 or 3.0 if you want to connect to faster cellular data networks, once those become more prevalent.