Taking a bite out of Apple’s iPhone v2.1 software

Canadians were eager when the iPhone 3G came out on July 11 – the first iPhone available in Canada also boasted many improvements, such as faster Internet speeds, improved voice quality, more storage space and an open platform for third-party applications.

The hype was certainly enough to draw out many Canadians to Rogers Wireless and Fido Solutions Inc. stores on the streets and in malls across the country, lining up before hours to get a chance to purchase the notorious smartphone. It was the same in the U.S. and in many places around the world, but it seems the honeymoon was short lived.

The iPhone 3G didn’t live up to the hype in many cases. Slower than expected 3G network speeds and poor connectivity has drawn three separate lawsuits seeking class action status south of the border. Irate users feel Apple, and U.S. carrier AT&T, mislead them.

Calls were being dropped, certain applications from the iTunes store refused to load, and the Wi-Fi store didn’t play some songs available on iTunes. So Apple was quick to react by releasing a patch, distributed through their iTunes 8 software. The iPhone v2.1 software promises to fix many of these litigation-inducing woes.

But does the user experience actually stand up to the claims? We put the new iPhone software through some tests to see how it would hold up on Rogers’ 3G network.

Claim: There will be fewer dropped calls

Complaints about the iPhone 3G’s ability to both make call connections and then maintain them have been cropping up since July 11. Some users say they’ll lose a connection even if they’re making a call while standing in one spot – let alone driving down a major highway. Although those complaining were from the U.S., and few Canadians seem to have experienced the dropped call phenomenon.

After a couple weeks of usage, the iPhone 3G seems to have solid connectivity on the Rogers network. In testing the update since its release just before the weekend, no calls have been dropped and reception has proven very good. All the people phoned could hear the call clearly and no one was ever cut off prematurely. All attempted phone calls were connected.

In fact, the iPhone’s reception even held up against the usual reception test here of moving around the building through hallways, elevators and stairwells. Nothing could bump even one-bar of reception from the phone’s display and all the calls made from these challenging spots were put through. The underground parking stairwell usually defeats any cell phone signal, but the iPhone even continued to work from this subterranean location.


Apple also claims they’ve improved the accuracy of the signal strength display bars with the new update. Although I’ve always been skeptical of any display bar accuracy on any phone, I can’t complain about these. When there was a full five bars, my calls went through unfailingly.

Claim: Better handling of third-party apps

Perhaps Apple wasn’t quite ready for the overwhelming response they got from developers looking to get an application on to the iPhone. But the open-door approach meant that a deluge of third party applications were soon available for download over iTunes, and many available for free.

Users could do everything from find the nearest cup of Tim Horton’s coffee to roll around a monkey in a ball with these apps. Some of them even did useful things, like help you remember where your car is parked. The problem some users experienced is that the applications wouldn’t always load on to the iPhone, or a lengthy amount of time was spent synchronizing application data. Users with the most applications were the most affected by hangs and crashes.

We downloaded and installed 52 applications over iTunes to see how the new 2.1 software could handle a barrage of installations and synch-ups. The results were quite good – it took less than 10 minutes for all of the apps to be installed on the iPhone.
Some iPhone users are enthusiastic about the number of apps available.

On following synch-ups to update other information like calendar and contacts, the applications didn’t affect the time spent hooked up to the USB cord. Also, having over 50 apps installed didn’t seem to affect usage of the iPhone. The core applications still responded just as quickly, and the new applications were smooth as well.

Using the old iPhone software, if an application was updated it was shafted to the end of the line, the back page of the iPhone’s display system. It was a constant annoyance for users with many applications who were constantly jostling around their icons to maintain a familiar and easy-to-navigate interface. But that problem is fixed with the new software – icons stay in place after being upgraded.

Claim: Faster contacts load and search

Users of the past iPhone version sometimes complained the contact application would lag when loading, or not respond to the search bar. Apple promises there are to be improved performance this time around.

Loading over 100 contacts onto the phone is a snap. The synchronization between iTunes and Microsoft Outlook works flawlessly and gives access to all contacts after a simple synch.

Pressing the contacts icon brings up the list quickly and I can zoom around with the iPhone’s characteristic finger navigation. A couple of searches are also very responsive and there are no problems with lag.

Apple’s added polish

Apple also claims several other fixes come part and parcel with the v2.1 software update. The company claims “significantly better battery life” and some other boosts to performance.

For example, it is now supposed to have reduced time to backup to iTunes. Though this remains the longest part of the synch process when performed with our 52 applications loaded onto the phone. Still, the backup process finishes in a little less than a minute via a USB cord.

Apple wants you to notice those text messages your friend is sending you, and says that the update will cause the iPhone to “repeat alert up to two additional times for incoming text.” But this feature seems to be missing in action. When the iPhone is left unaltered after receiving a message, it merely goes to a black screen. There is no follow-up reminder, let alone a second alert.

A new security feature will wipe the data clean from the iPhone after 10 failed pass code entries. This can be turned on as an option.

Overall, the iPhone update seems to deliver on its promised fixes and upgrades. But keeping an eye on the Apple support forums will tell the tale of a more prolonged user experience over the next few weeks.

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