Is the iPhone the OS 9 of Phones?

by Hadley Stern Jul 29, 2008

Remember back in the day when you would tell all your friends and family how the Mac rocked? How it was the easiest-to-use and most powerful computer light years of anything before it? And then they bought it. And, a few weeks later you'd get a call about crashes. Oh, you'd say, that's simple, it must be an extension conflict. Or....don't run too many applications or it may crash!

This pattern would inevitably repeat itself a few times until, when recommending the Mac, if you were a good soul, you would get a slight lump in your throat.

OS X has thankfully obviated any concern for guilt. The occasional kernel panic aside the operating system is rock-solid.

Which brings us to the iPhone, and, more specifically, version 2 of the iPhone operating system. Since upgrading my original iPhone (I haven't yet splurged for the GPS, 3G, tacky-plastic back and different-gamma screen) I have had any number of instances of having to restart my iPhone. I haven't yet come up with a pattern, except to observe that it happens a lot with Applications, which may be Steve's unconscious way of saying, "See, you wanted Apps, have your damn Apps...but the iPhone will crash like I told you so!"

I recognized yesterday, as I needed to make a phone-call and had to reset my iPhone for the third time that day, that familiar feeling of dread. Waiting for my iPhone to reboot brought me back to those Classic OS days. It isn't quite as bad as running Extension Conflict and waiting for the computer to reboot 20 plus times to tell me which extensions are in conflict (It's utterly amazing to think such a product existed, isn't it?!). But a phone is different than a computer in how we need it.

Suddenly I'm imagining myself, flat-tire on a country road cursing my iPhone as it needs to be rebooted...using up the remaining battery power before the thing dies. I imagine myself missing that call from my kids school saying my child needs to be picked up. Folks, this is a phone! Sure computers are important, but while they are rebooting themselves you can do other things, ablutionary or otherwise. When you are out with a phone and you need it--when you really need it--it better work.

That is why, these days I'm starting to get worried about recommending an iPhone as a principal mobile phone (a lot of people have a work phone and a personal one, so at least the work one is there for backup). The worry is not to the point yet where I would categorically tell people to never get an iPhone. But still, I can't help thinking I'm lying to myself there a little.

This is why it is so important that Apple nail the releases of the iPhone software. Steve Jobs loves to say that it is all about the software. And on the iPhone it is. But if the software becomes like a sticky number 6 key on a regular phone, sometimes working, sometimes not, then Apple is in for trouble. In future releases Apple needs to be more cautious in ensuring that the key stability of the phone is there. Anything else could be disastrous for the longevity of the iPhone platform.

What do you think? Am I spot on? Or over-stating the issue?


  • I agree 100%. I am a big Apple advocate, and I have had my phone crash on me more times then I care to mention. The worst is when it restarts and does not advance beyond the Apple logo, and you must restore. I was without my phone for close to 4 hours on Saturday, and missed some important phone calls. Apple has to make the phone part of this solid as hell. I don’t care if my apps crash, I can deal with that, but where is this vaunted “sandbox” that was supposed to protect the rest of the phone from problematic apps?
    iPhone 2.0 - I concur, you are Mac OS 7.5.1 (not 9.x - 9.x was pretty good, 7.1.2-7.5.3 were CRAP)

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 15
  • Warning: Microsoft paid liars at work.

    zato3 had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 26
  • hahahah Zato3 - if you only knew me…
    However, thanks for giving me a laugh. This is the 1st time I have ever been called a shill for MSFT (usually i am called a Mac Zealot)

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 15
  • No, the Pocket PC was the OS 9 of phones.

    Seriously, all the things you’re saying about the iPhone were all the things I was saying about the T-Mobile PPC Phone Edition… except that the T-Mobile phone also had no way of backing up the entire contents and configuration of the phone via ActiveSync, and if you lost power you had to restore from backup… except it was incomplete. You had to back up to flash cards if you wanted to be able to reliably save your data. I gave up and went back to Palm which may crash (and it does) but at least you never had to go back to square one just because it crashed.

    But I gotta say, I’m sorry for your friends. I quit recommending Apple back in the OS 8 era: The classic Mac OS was just too embarrassingly bad.

    I’m genuinely shocked that the iPhone is sounding as bad as the Pocket PC, though. What happened to the protected multiuser operating system?

    Resuna had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 12
  • @Resuna
    Yeah - my question exactly….
    I back it up on a regular basis, and have figured out the things that cause it to crap out. But what bugs me is I am VERY wary of installing apps through the iPhone App store for fear of it failing and rebooting my iPhone to the endless Apple logo. I think I may have some idea as to this, but in the meantime I have resorted to ONLY installing apps through iTunes or when I am near the computer with the backup. As I said, phone 1st….
    Now get it fixed Apple, so as I can once again feel awesome about my iPhone!
    (Oh, and the worst was getting a call last week, the phone ringing and vibrating, the persons name showing up - and there was NO FREAKIN’ BUTTON VISIBLE to answer the damn thing. Fixed with a restart, but come on!)

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 15
  • Hi,

    I just bought an iPhone 3G, and the day after I bought it my phone started to freeze if I opened an app, go blank and unresponsive if I brought it to my face during calls, not allow me to answer calls, hang up calls on me, and that was just the beginning.  It got so bad that within a week, almost *every other time* I wanted to do something, some new or old problem would surface that meant I had to reset or reboot my phone.

    In searching the web for advice on *what* the problem was (and how to fix it), I found this interesting tidbit:  A 3G user having problems just like mine restored his iPhone, and everything was resolved.  The really interesting bit was that pre-restore, his software build number was 2.0 (5A345) (just like on my brand-new phone) - but after restoring, the build number became 5A347.  So I restored my phone, my build number updated, and I have had nary a problem since.  Hope that’s helpful.

    ps, Here’s a list of problems with my phone that were resolved by restoring it:

    -All those mentioned above (random blank - screens, app-freezing, inability to answer calls, call interruption, sensor malfunctions/inability to switch from at-ear position to regular position)

    -Inability to reset (phone unresponsive to anything but a reboot)
    -Echo/audio feedback on my end when making calls
    -Touchscreen unresponsiveness (home-screen freezing)
    -Problems accessing wi-fi

    Don’t know why the iPhone was shipped with such an unstable build, but I’m still thankful that it seems to be just a software problem, and very easily resolved.

    just2say had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 3
  • I remember once upon O time having my first computer. I loaded everything I could get my hands on for no particular reason, and I messed with all the settings, preferences and such. It crashed all the time too.

    So early since release I would do more testing before freaking out. There are a handful of people around me that are not experiencing any of these problems. I know mileage may vary, but come on, why the itchy trigger finger?

    Danimal had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 5
  • @just2say
    All the problems I have had are with 5A347. I restored it immediately, being aware of the update. I have since restored it multiple times. I think the key is for me to keep fewer applications ON the phone….

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 15
  • I agree it mainly has to do with the Apps.  I don’t think Apple really had a chance to work out the kinks due to apps because I would speculate that they were nearly all submitted near the deadline of the opening of the app store.  On top of that, Apple was under huge pressure to make good on the introduction when it did due to Wall Street and its stated date of committment.

    Anyhow, while none of that completely justifies the sometimes-mess we now live with, we are all part of this experiment in a mobile platform with a rush of new applications.  Just like the experiment with opening Mobile Me with a huge flood of people suddenly using it.

    I’ll bet you three things -
    (1) Apple’s human tech resources are straining around the clock, and
    (2) These same resources are also having crashes on their own phones and know exactly what work is cut out for them and
    (3) We will see regular software OS updates that nail the issues.

    And I agree - fewer apps on the phone would be a good idea for a while until the initial rush to market gets updated with more-bugfree versions of their software (in progress) unencumbered by issues beyond their workaround control due to OS issues - it is the synergy of rushed apps and rushed OS that will settle out hopefully soon.

    mtkoren had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 1
  • @eytan b.

    There’s an angle I hadn’t considered.  When I restored, I deleted all apps but 2 to make the process go as quickly as possible.  While I *meant* to re-install all of my apps after restoring, the fact is that before the restore, I had about 40 downloaded apps on my phone - now I have 2.  So I can’t really say the apps weren’t the problem.  Thanks for the heads-up!

    just2say had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 3
  • @just2say
    and the point I was making was where is the vaunted “sandbox” we were promised that would protect our phone from that? Why must I lose the functionality of my phone for 4 hours after trying to install an app?

    Eytan Bernet had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 15
  • They have a “sandbox”, but it’s leaky, it has to be leaky, because if it wasn’t they might as well just make it like all the other not-quite-smartphones and use Java. So you get the worst of both worlds. You get limited apps (no background processes, for example) and apps can still break anything.

    Resuna had this to say on Jul 29, 2008 Posts: 12
  • @Eytan, zato3 is a regular troll on the site.  Please do not feed.

    I have not heard of these problems and am a bit surprised actually.  I know a guy who has one so I’ll check with him to see if he’s experiencing the crashing.  I hope not.  I’d really like to get one as soon as I can afford it.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 30, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • We’ve had a few crashes but otherwise going well.
    Have just over one screen of apps installed, and pretty well only picked apps that had high ratings.

    Our biggest problems are
    1) we’re in a borderline 3G office, so we need to manually switch off 3G in the office to get clear (2G) phone calls
    2) the ring can be quite quiet… working on some different rings now.

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Jul 30, 2008 Posts: 228
  • easy solution: get an Pod touch and a real phone. smile

    BTW Good see the fanboi plugin, Zato (v3), is working H. I love the way it inserts random troll comments after each article. It always gives me a chuckle.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 01, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • Page 1 of 2 pages  1 2 >
You need log in, or register, in order to comment