So I did the geeky thing to do and got online at the Apple Store in Marlton, NJ this morning around 7AM. I was about the 80th person in line when I arrived. At 8AM, the first group of 20 or so people went in to cheers and applause, and the first person emerged with his new iPhone 18 minutes later. Unlike the launch of the original iPhone, AT&T requires that all iPhones be activated at time of purchase - in the store, not at home. Through the next hour, customers trickled out and the next buyers let in, until about 9:30 or so. AT&T's activation servers were down, and sales stopped for nearly an hour.
I have to give a lot of credit to the Apple store retail staff - they did a great job. Staffers were walking up and down the line, answering questions, chatting with customers, and passing out bottled water. When activations turned south, managers kept everyone informed about what was going on - and made a run to Dunkin Donuts to get a unbelievable huge quantity of munchkins to keep everyone (relatively) happy during the extended wait.
When it was finally my turn, a rep came to the door and walked me back to a workstation setup along the side of the store where the demo iMacs are. Another rep was a runner and got the hardware to us for activation.
After that, everything was done on the handheld devices they normally use for checkout at the Apple store. He checked ID, got my existing iPhone number, scanned the SIM serial number off the box, and I was pretty much done. The second part of activation was getting the iPhone to talk to iTunes, which he walked me to the genius bar to take care of. This part was still down at the time but could be done from home.
It took a few hours before I was able to sync my new phone due to the widely reported problems Apple had today, but by later in the afternoon all was well and it activated just fine.
The 3G is physically similar to original iPhone. The backside is now plastic, the edges are thinner, but overall the device is a bit thicker, though not by much. The differing dimensions prevent it from fitting into the dock supplied with the original iPhone, but it does fit into a universal dock without much of a problem. iPhone 3G should fit into most cases that are made of flexible material for original iPhone. One other nice improvement is the headphone jack is flush with the case, so an adapter is no longer required to connect headphones.
The two big hardware changes are obviously the 3G radio and GPS. GPS worked great with Google maps, and a few of the apps I tried (more on this in a moment) took advantage of the location awareness of the device as well. 3G is nice - where it works. AT&T's website was recently updated with 3G coverage maps, but in just a few hours of use traveling around there seem to be a lot of coverage gaps where the phone falls back to EDGE.
Many of the cool changes are in the new iPhone 2.0 software, and are available to users of both the original and 3G iPhone. iPhone now supports Apple's new MobileMe service, which is a replacement for .Mac, that among other features, allows full wireless real-time sync of mail, calendars, and contacts. It works very well, and Apple has a great AJAX web interface to work with your data as well at Me.com.
The big addition is the new App Store, which adds 3rd party applications to iPhone. At launch, about 500 apps are available, many for free. A few of my favorites thus far are below:
- Remote - Displays a similar interface to the iPod interface on the iPhone, except it connects via WiFi to iTunes or Apple TV, functioning as an interactive remote for whatever you connect it to. It works very well and feels a functional gap that has existed for some time
- AIM - AT&T is now charging extra for SMS text messaging, so hopefully I won't have to use it as much any more now that there is an AOL Instant Messenger Client for iPhone
- Evernote - see my post on Evernote, this just adds a great iPhone interface to your Evernote database
- Jott - no more phone calls to Jott! Just record into the app, Jott transcribes it, and it can then be used as a to-do or reminder
Overall I'm pretty happy with the upgrades. The activation delays were annoying, so hopefully Apple and AT&T can agree to go back to self-activation in the future. I happened to be by the Apple store again this evening around 8:30PM and there was still a line of 30 or 40 people queued up to purchase - so a speedier checkout could only help things.