The new iPhone: to buy or or not to buy

hero-1-20090608.jpgEverybody has now caught wind of the excellent new iPhone software and hardware coming this month. All current iPhone owners will be able to download the new OS 3.0 for free on June 17. The question I'm getting asked now is whether one should buy the new phone, or will one be happy simply updating their existing hardware with the new system?

I won't delve into all the new features, some of which will be available to all iPhones, and some which will only come with the new iPhone 3GS. (Sidenote: I'm not going to type it "3G S", 'cos I think it looks stupid.) The Unofficial Apple Weblog has done a fine writeup of most of the new features, and of course you can see Apple's pages on the iPhone 3GS and on the iPhone OS 3.0 for full lists.

Out of everything announced for the iPhone, cut, copy, and paste is far and away the most important new feature, one that most of us feel we should have had from the get-go. I've finally gotten to play with it myself, and it works beautifully, and solidifies the iPhone's position as the must-have gadget of the moment. And it will be available on every iPhone in existence, and that makes us happy.

The features that are coming only to the new iPhone 3GS, the big ones at least, are faster phone operations, voice control, a digital compass (enabling turn-by-turn directions, among other things), a much improved camera, and shooting/editing/sharing video. (I just read they've added an "fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating" to the screen. So maybe we don't want to put film on this time, although I really like my anti-glare screen.)

Honestly, they had me at "speed." I've been increasingly dissatisfied with the time it takes to go from one app on the iPhone to another. Apple has optimized things a little in OS 3.0 — contacts searching is noticeably quicker — but my iPhone 3G still feels sluggish. So, with a better processor and more RAM, the new iPhone holds much promise for the more impatient among us.

So, could I be happy with my current iPhone? Yes. 3.0 makes it a much, much better device.

Am I going to buy a new iPhone? Yes. In fact, YES! I am looking forward to turn-by-turn directions and voice control... although I really want to be able to say "new email to bob smith," and start transcription, and it doesn't look like we're there yet.

Am I going to buy the iPhone 3GS when it comes out? Not... just... yet.

Here's the deal: The $199 & $299 prices announced for the 16GB and 32GB models, respectively, are the "subsidized" prices, i.e. the price that you pay if (a) you enter into a new 2-year contract with AT&T, or (b) if you are already under contract, and you bought your last subsidized phone more than a year ago.

The iPhone 3G hit the shelves July 11, 2008. Today is June 13, 2009 (6 days before the iPhone 3GS release). I have confirmed with AT&T that anyone who bought an iPhone 3G at the subsidized price won't qualify for the lower price on a 3GS for at least a month, July 13 at the earliest.

Some folks have been misled by going to Apple's "Buy an iPhone" page, because it doesn't give you the above information, and does give you the impression that you're gonna pay the full $400 or $500 price for a 3GS. Unfortunately, some news outlets fanned the flames of false information.

The nice part about that wait is that I'm forced to be patient and let everybody else experience the good and the bad of the new phone. I'm sure it'll be fine, but last year's iPhone Day 1 was quite a mess, with the new MobileMe service and everybody activating at once, and the very buggy 2.0 software.

A final note: I just sold my 1st-generation iPhone 2G for $220 on craigslist, and there are, right now, listings for 3G phones as high as $400. Tip: An older phone is more valuable if you unlock and jailbreak it. (Call us at 210.787.2709 for assistance.) So one can potentially turn a profit in getting a new phone.