Monday, January 21, 2008

An iPhone For A Day Experiment

On Friday I went to New York City for a National Science Foundation sponsored Ethics in Research Workshop held at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The workshop was excellent, with a focus on research integrity and institutional review boards (IRBs) at the community college level.

Over the past ten years I've got into the habit of carrying a notebook computer with me just about everywhere I go. Our campus uses GroupWise for email and I've got the client installed on my notebook. I can usually find wireless access and end up pulling email off locally. I can then answer, create, etc email without a network connection. The next time I get access to a web connection I can send out the email I have queued up and retrieve new email. It works but can get a little frustrating when I need to get to something and cannot fund a connection. I've considered buying a wireless broadband card from Sprint, Verizon or AT&T but have resisted.

Friday was just a day trip for me so I figured I'd try a little experiment and just take the iPhone. One of my biggest concerns was accessing my campus account. IMAP and POP access are turned off and I cannot access directly using the iPhone email app. This left me with a few options:

  1. Have all GroupWise email forwarded or delegated to my gmail account which I have setup on the iPhone. I would end up getting all my email this way but it is difficult to reply to messages because I have to retype addresses (the iPhone still does not copy and paste)
  2. Use the GroupWise web interface in Safari on the iPhone. In a pinch this works but it is time consuming and not very efficient.
  3. Setup an auto-reply in GroupWise saying something along the lines of "I will not have access to this account today - if you need to contact me immediately send me a message at"
I opted for #3 and it worked out well - I did actually get one person who had a time sensitive issue and ended up forwarding to my gmail account. It's a solution that works for me right now but I do wish our campus would turn IMAP on so I could start collecting all campus email on the iPhone.

Regarding the iPhone iteself, the biggest issue I had was battery life. I was careful to turn the WiFi radio off in areas where I did not have access to save power and I did not use my bluetooth headset (Bluetooth on the iPhone was turned off). Even so I only got a little over 4 hours of common use (voice, email and web browsing) before I had only 10% of the battery left. Mike Q was at the same conference and had just about identical results with his iPhone. The next time I travel with just the iPhone I'll be sure to bring my charger with me and plug in whenever I get a chance.

I was really impressed with the enhanced map application that came with the iPhone 1.1.3 firmware upgrade released last week. The map application now uses Google Maps at My Location, which finds where you are based on the cell antennas your phone is accessing. You don't have to have an iPhone to use Google Maps at My Locatiion - it is available for most web-enabled mobile phones. It's not as accurate as a GPS but is close with the added advantage of working indoors. With the number of antennas in Manhattan, the location finder was extremely accurate.

Overall my iPhone for a day experiment was a successful one. My biggest concern is the battery life - Apple claims we should be getting approximately 6 hours of battery life so both Mike Q and I are questioning our batteries and will be checking with Apple.

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