iPhone 2.1: More credit to Apple

Rob Griffiths
2 October, 2008
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Recently, my colleague Chris Breen offered up some kind words for Apple regarding some of the company’s contributions to his multimedia life. In his piece, Chris noted that he’s never at a loss for words when Apple does something stupid, but also believes that the company should be recognised for the things it does right.

Like Chris, I’m also usually never at a loss for words when Apple’s done something that doesn’t seem quite right—such as with the original iPhone 2.0 software release. Also like Chris, though, I feel that Apple deserves kudos when it does something right. In this case, that something right is the recently-released iPhone 2.1 software update.

As noted in our first look, iPhone 2.1 brought a number of new features (mostly relative to the iPod portion of the iPhone), as well as fixes for bugs that “caused hangs and crashes on systems that use lots of third-party applications…”

It was this claim that most interested me—my original rant about the iPhone 2.0 software was based on the number of times my iPhone had been left in an unusable state after doing something as simple as installing or updating an App Store program. (I discussed this problem in our Troubleshooting iPhone and iPod touch issues article.) Like other users, I also had problems with programs quitting repeatedly, and certain programs not even launching.

In short, the sum of these experiences turned using my iPhone into a most-unpleasant experience—so much so that I recommended people hold off on buying a new iPhone until the software issues were sorted out.

So when 2.1 was released, I installed it as soon as possible on my iPhone—at the time, that was on a first generation iPhone, which has since been replaced with a new iPhone 3G. At first glance, things seemed much better than before—backing up, which used to take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, now took less than a minute. Installing applications directly on the iPhone didn’t cause the phone to lock up, nor did updating applications cause any problems. However, I wanted to spend some serious time with the 2.1 release before reaching any conclusions about how well it worked in the “real world.”

Well, it’s now been more than two weeks since the release, and I’ve been putting my iPhone 2.1 through some pretty strenuous testing. Since upgrading to 2.1, I’ve reviewed X-Plane 9 for iPhone and Frotz, and completed a profile of automotive performance apps for the iPhone—a task that required installing and testing 12 different programs on my iPhone. In addition to these completed projects, I have three additional round-ups in the works, with a total of 32 programs installed just for those three round-ups.

Overall, my iPhone now has 79 installed programs (beyond those provided by Apple), out of the 126 that I have downloaded and are listed in iTunes. (I don’t sync every program I’ve downloaded, as many were used just for a review or round-up.)

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Seventy-nine installed programs and counting, and no issues yet with iPhone 2.1!

During these past two weeks, I’ve also been intentionally doing things that would cause me grief with the iPhone 2.0 software—installing a program directly on the iPhone, then putting the iPhone to sleep while the program was still being installed, for instance. Or deleting a program on the iPhone, then syncing back with my Mac. Or just syncing the iPhone to my Mac, which would kick off the previously-troublesome backup process.

Through all these trials, my iPhone 3G with the 2.1 software has run flawlessly—every major issue I had with 2.0 has been resolved, it seems. Backups now take maybe a minute or two at the most, though typically less than that. Programs installed or updated directly on the iPhone no longer cause the machine to get locked at the boot screen. I have complete confidence now that, whether I’m installing via iTunes or via the App Store on the iPhone itself, the end result will be a usable program and a not-dead iPhone. Installing programs is also much faster than before—at times, I haven’t even noticed it happening when I sync to iTunes, so I’d sync again, thinking the program didn’t install.

Since 2.1 came out, I’ve increased the application count on my iPhone dramatically—something I was unwilling to do with iPhone 2.0. With the stability I’ve seen in 2.1, I now have a high degree of confidence that I’m not going to spend a few hours wiping the phone clean every few days and starting from scratch, and that’s a very good thing. Sure, I’ve had a couple of applications crash back to the home screen, but those have been isolated incidents—I haven’t had a program get stuck so badly it wouldn’t even launch, which is something that happened too often with iPhone 2.0.

So iPhone 2.1 is faster (backups, app installs), more stable (in every way), no longer locks at the boot screen for no reason, and is actually acting like the rock-solid iPhone 1.1 I grew to admire over my year with the device. By those measures, Apple has done a great job with iPhone 2.1, and for that, the company deserves some kudos. Sure, you can argue (easily) that iPhone 2.1 is everything iPhone 2.0 should have been. However, given what iPhone 2.0 actually was, iPhone 2.1 is a great improvement and solves the key issues that plagued the 2.0 release.

So thanks Apple—and if you were sitting on the sidelines waiting for the right time to buy an iPhone, the time now looks right to me. I no longer have any qualms about recommending the iPhone to anyone, based on the improvements in iPhone 2.1. Now, if we could just get copy and paste and voice dialing in iPhone 2.2, we’d really have nothing left to complain about!

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