iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

In the days leading up to Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 3GS, we published a Report Card that would measure the actual device’s features against 20 different things that users were hoping that a new iPhone would contain. Following the announcement, we wanted to go back and take a look at how the iPhone 3GS actually compares with these potential features; here are the answers.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

1. Dramatically Better Battery Life. No. By Apple’s measures, the iPhone 3GS received no improvement in 3G talk time, and only modest boosts in other performance categories. Users should expect an extra two or so hours of use of non-phone features, but the same rapid power drain when making 3G telephone calls. Again, switching the phone from 3G to EDGE mode is recommended – ridiculously – as a means to improve run time.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

2. Superior Build Quality. Unclear. The screen is touted as possessing a “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating,” also described as “oil-resistant coating that keeps the iPhone screen clean.” It is uncertain whether this coating has been applied to the rest of the device’s body, and whether the plastic shell has been improved to reduce cracking.

3. More Reliable Calling and Data Speeds. No. While the iPhone 3GS supports 7.2Mb/s HSDPA data transmission, Apple made no promises about the actual availability of cellular service for this faster speed, and suggested that AT&T would be offering it “where available.” Given AT&T’s current coverage maps, it is unclear where it is available, and data speeds will most likely be unpredictable for months to come, or longer. One bright spot is that a faster processor in the iPhone 3GS will enable Safari and other applications to open up faster.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

4. No Bandwidth Capping. Yes. AT&T has not changed its 3G pricing plans for the worse in terms of bandwidth capping. But it has also not offered iPhone 3GS pricing details for the use of two new announced features, MMS and Internet Tethering, both of which will consume additional data.

5. 802.11n. No. The iPhone 3GS still works only on 802.11b and 802.11g wireless routers, slowing down 802.11n-capable networks as a consequence.

6. Turn-by-Turn Mapping. No. Despite the presence of Google Maps, a GPS chip, and now a digital compass in the iPhone 3GS, Apple is still passing the buck to third-party developers to actually create software for turn-by-turn directions. Moreover, it is actively promoting Tom Tom, which will offer a windshield-mounting hardware and new app software package for mapping for an undisclosed additional fee over the cost of the iPhone hardware.

7. No More Broken Accessories. Unclear. The iPhone 3GS does not appear to break compatibility with prior accessories to any greater degree than did the iPhone 3G, however, testing will be necessary to see how both past and new iPhone OS 3.0-ready accessories behave when connected to the device. Two accessory failures during the WWDC 2009 demonstration of the iPhone OS 3.0 software may or may not be related to the iPhone 3GS device itself, which was reportedly being used during the product demos.

8. Integrated or Accessory Keyboard Support. No; the iPhone 3GS does not include an integrated keyboard and, thus far, Apple has announced no support for keyboard accessories. However, developers may be capable of creating their own, standardless keyboards; it is unclear whether these accessories will work.

9. Joypad Support. No; neither a joypad nor support for joypad accessories has been announced for iPhone 3GS. However, developers may be capable of creating their own, standardless controllers to work with specific games; it is unclear whether such controllers will create a mess of incompatible solutions.

10. An Improved Main iPhone Menu. No. Users still need to scroll through pages of icons.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

11. An Improved Splash Screen. No. The main screen remains uncustomizable.

12. Improved Still Camera Performance. Yes. The iPhone 3GS received several camera-related upgrades, including a 3-Megapixel still camera capable of autofocus, manual focus, 10cm macro photography, and other features: rapid-shooting, auto white balance, and supposedly better low-light performance.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

13. Video Recording. Yes. The iPhone 3GS can now create 640×480, 30fps videos with audio, and edit them directly from within the phone, sending them to MobileMe, YouTube, E-mail, or MMS (where supported). Videos published to YouTube are capped at 10 minutes in length; Apple also says that “the limit to the file size of attachments is determined by your carrier.”

14. Video Conferencing. No. The iPhone 3GS has no front-facing video camera and is not capable of sending video across a Wi-Fi or cellular network in real time, at least directly out of the box.

15. Direct-to-iPhone Video Downloading. Yes. The iPhone 3GS, as well as older iPhones, have gained the ability to download standard-definition movies, TV shows, and music videos directly over the air.

16. Wireless Syncing. No. A wired connection is still required to transfer iPhone content to a Mac or PC, and vice-versa.

17. A Higher-Resolution Screen. No. The iPhone 3GS screen has not improved in resolution over its 2007 and 2008 predecessors.

18. HD Content Support. No. The iPhone 3GS is listed as supporting 640×480 videos in the same formats as its predecessors, and is not capable out of the box of playing higher-resolution videos.

19. More Storage Capacity. Yes. The iPhone 3GS saw its storage capacities doubled from the iPhone 3G, with a 16GB base version and a 32GB premium version.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

20. True Multitasking. No. Apple has announced no support for this feature, and will rely upon Push notifications as an alternative.

iPhone 3GS: How Did Reality Measure Up to Users’ Hopes?

For those keeping count, only 5 of the 20 aforementioned features actually appeared in the iPhone 3GS—a 25% figure that isn’t necessarily meaningful given the universe of possible additions, but does suggest the iterative nature of the actual iPhone 3GS product. A list of additional features Apple did add, including Voice Control, Nike+ support, and enhanced accessibility features, is available here.

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