A mystery purchase?

Today was dominated by my attempt to get winter tyres put on my little frost bug. I dropped my car off at the dealership at about 8:30 this morning; they said they’d be done by 2:30 in the afternoon. Their courtesy shuttle brought me back home, where I potted around for a while. At 2 pm, I received a phonecall saying that my car wouldn’t be ready; they’d call me when it was. Come 4:45 pm, I still hadn’t heard from them, and so I called them back. They said that the they were just finishing off the paperwork now, and I should call the courtesy shuttle driver to see if I could get picked up. Five minutes later, they called back, having just found out that the courtesy shuttle had stopped running for the day; did I have another way to get down to the dealership? It was 6 pm by the time I finally got my little frost bug back (they found a sales associate who had an idea of the roads around where I live to drive up and get me). Annoying.

In the evening, I went to the space sciences game night. Of course, there weren’t many people around – only four of us, and two were leaving just as I arrived (game night apparently started at about 4 pm… something about Christmas?). The remaining two of us played a game of Le Havre (where I did spectacularly well), followed by a game of Dungeon Lords (where I did spectacularly badly. My best score to date in one game, and worst in a second. I guess that makes it an average night? ;-)

And so, onto my mystery purchase from yesterday. I’ve been thinking of purchasing a smartphone for a while now; one of my housemates has been telling me to get an iPhone ever since we moved in. Yesterday I finally decided what the heck, and decided to give them a try. I went to one of the AT&T stores in town and asked them about their smartphones. The sales associate was very keen on a Samsung galaxy model and a Blackberry model, saying that they were just “better” than the iPhone. How they were “better” wasn’t particularly easily quantified/qualified; indeed on some metrics I asked about, they were worse. Overall, he didn’t sell anything to me, and I walked away.

I then tried the other AT&T store in town, where I directly said “I’m interested in an iPhone”. The sales assistant there was quite happy to sell me an iPhone. Given that I’ve never had a smartphone before, I’m happy to start with an Apple product (and indeed, this is my first Apple product ever) and see how it goes, see what I like and don’t like about it. Honestly, I didn’t have much to compare between the different models, and my housemate has seemed very happy with his purchase, so I figured it’s a start.

So, I spent a fair amount of time today figuring out how to use the thing. So far, it seems fairly straightforward, and I have to say it is rather pretty. In the past, I’ve almost exclusively used my phone for straight phonecalls and SMS messages, and so anything else that the iPhone has to offer is something new. The biggest draw for me is having emails delivered directly to my pocket, I think. I’ve had the thing buzzing all day whenever an email has arrived, and I’ve rather enjoyed having that direct access. The rest of what’s on offer is mostly candy, although some of it is rather cute too. The GPS and Google Maps overlay is rather nice, and I can see the use of having the internet at your fingertips. Having the thing function as an iPod too is just gravy.

From what I can gather, the rest of the power of an iPhone lies in the applications that you put on it. So far, I’ve loaded up the following:

  • Facebook. Even though I don’t plan to post updates every five minutes, it’s kinda nice to feel in touch ;-)
  • Skype. For those international calls!
  • Amazon. Because being able to look stuff up is useful.
  • Bank of America. I’ve read that this app is buggy if you actually want to do banking on it; it hasn’t been updated in two years. Myself, I just like the “Where is the nearest ATM?” feature.
  • Macquarie Dictionary. Because I need to be able to prove my Australian slang, apparently. Of course, the free version that I installed has a rather small vocabulary for the more esoteric Australianisms…
  • Dictionary.com. Dictionary and Thesaurus at your fingertips. For those Scrabble/Boggle games, no? ;-) Ok, I’m a nerd. Deal with it.
  • Google.com. Google Goggles is really quite impressive. Take a photo of something, and it will try to match it to an image database. It read my Wegmans bag fine, as well as a few barcodes I tried it on.
  • Theodolite. Ok, now I’m just showing that I’m really a nerd. I really have no use for a theodolite, but it’s cool. And I’m sure that my father would appreciate it.
  • SoundHound. This application listens to music that’s playing, and attempts to figure out what’s playing based on a ~5 second sample. So far, it’s been spot on with modern stuff. It can get the well known classical pieces too, but it struggles with the lesser known ones. I’m rather impressed!
  • Wolfram Alpha. Mathematica on a phone. Enough said.

I’m sure there are others that I’ll find/have recommended to me as time goes on, but I’ve been quite content to play with those for the moment. A fair amount of that is just moving what I do on a computer onto my phone, which is far more portable. A few other applications that I thought might be useful were the MSN (Windows Live) Messenger one, but the reviews on it were terrible, and one for WordPress (which I use to write this blog), but it too was terrible. Maybe if they get updated :-)

Ok, that’s enough iPhone rambling. I’ll let you know if it’s all it’s hyped up to be once I get used to the thing.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with a couple of links. The first is to an article describing a scientific paper written by 8-year-olds, published in Biology Letter. That’s impressive. Take a look.

Secondly, here’s an interview with the innkeeper of the nativity. I found it amusing. I hope you do too.

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