Pogue on the iPhone 3G: A Product Manual You Won’t Be Able to Put Down

8/22/08Follow @wroush

The Apple iPhone is easily the most powerful, multitalented phone ever marketed. As I and many others have pointed out, it’s really a handheld multimedia computer, with camera and (in the iPhone 3G) GPS functions to boot. So it’s a little baffling that the only set of instructions you get when you buy an iPhone is a flimsy color pamphlet called “Finger Tips” that looks more like an extended magazine ad. This thin document is tucked into the box so cleverly that I didn’t even realize it was there until after I’d bought a 3G and was putting my first-generation iPhone back in its original container to sell it.

It’s true that Apple is famous for making hardware and software that’s so user-friendly you usually don’t have to read a manual to get started. But the iPhone doesn’t work like a Mac. For one thing, it doesn’t come with built-in help menus. And it doesn’t even behave like other mobile phones: its external buttons aren’t labeled, and simply making a phone call requires you to string together at least five non-obvious actions (pressing the Home or Sleep/Wake buttons, flicking the “unlock” slider, opening the phone application, opening the phone keypad or contact list, and entering a phone number or selecting a contact).

As a concession to those who need a bit of hand-holding while getting accustomed to the iPhone’s radically original interface, Apple has created a 14-megabyte PDF user guide, which you can download free from the Apple website. But even that document is rather terse, leaving you to discover many of the iPhone’s coolest details, tricks, and shortcuts on your own—which, I guarantee, you won’t.

iPhone: The Missing Manual, by David PogueFortunately, computer publisher O’Reilly Media and New York Times gadget columnist David Pogue came to the rescue last summer with iPhone: The Missing Manual. O’Reilly’s tag line for the Missing Manual series is “The book that should have been in the box,” and in the case of the iPhone, it’s absolutely accurate. Indeed, there are even more details to master now that the iPhone 3G is out, along with the 2.0 version of the device’s firmware, which has the added capability of running third-party software applications. Last week O’Reilly published a second edition of Pogue’s book containing everything you need to know about the iPhone 3G and the new App Store, where users can choose from more than 1,500 third-party programs.

O’Reilly sent me a review copy of the book a couple of weeks ago. As time was running out this week to write my World Wide Wade column, my first impulse was to merely skim the book. But the farther into it I got, the more I wanted to slow down to enjoy Pogue’s witty writing and ensure I didn’t miss any interesting details.

I wound up reading the book cover to cover—or at least, from the beginning of the file to the end of the file (I was using the PDF version). In the end, I would gladly have paid the $24.99 cover price ($16.49 at Amazon) just for the book’s excellent collection of time-saving tips for heavy iPhone users.

Maybe I’m just dense, but even after owning an iPhone for 13 months, the following tidbits were still revelations to me:

  • When using the device in iPod mode, you can skip ahead to the next song by pinching the clicker on the earbud cord.
  • You can fast-forward or rewind through a song by tapping, but not releasing, the onscreen “next” and “previous” buttons.
  • When using the on-screen keyboard, you can type a period by tapping the space bar twice, without having to open the secondary punctuation/numerical keyboard.
  • The iPhone’s camera doesn’t take a picture until you remove your finger from the onscreen shutter button. So to avoid bumping the device and blurring your photos, you should frame your photo while holding your finger on the shutter button, lifting it only when you’re ready to snap the picture.
  • In the Safari Web browser, the keyboard includes a very convenient “.com” key that makes it easy to type new URLs in the address bar. I knew that—but what I didn’t know was that if you hold down the “.com” key, a balloon will pop up allowing you to choose from “.net,” “.org,” or “.edu” as well.
  • In Safari, if you hold your finger on a link for a few seconds, the full URL will pop up in a balloon, giving you more information about where the link leads—similar to mousing over a link in a PC browser.
  • If you want to save a snapshot of whatever’s showing on the iPhone screen—say, a still from a video, or a Web page that you want to remember later—you can grab the image and save it to the phone’s photo album by holding down the Home button and pressing the Sleep/Wake button once.

The book contains a wealth of additional insights, tricks, and workarounds. And even though Pogue only had a few weeks to assemble the chapters on the iPhone’s newest features, like the App Store, he was able to compile some terrific recommendations about the most useful third-party applications. I’ve already had a good time using one of them: AirMe, which takes snapshots using the device’s camera and uploads them directly to my Flickr account without stripping out the geotagging data, as the iPhone inexplicably does if you simply e-mail your photos to Flickr using the phone’s built-in mail application.

If you’ve read Pogue’s Posts at the Times, then you know that his technology descriptions are thoroughly researched and crystal clear, and are enlivened by a pleasant combination of good-natured sarcasm and mildly corny jokes. The book reads the same way—even when Pogue is wading, for completeness’ sake, through such weighty matters as resolving calendar conflicts and syncing the iPhone with corporate Microsoft Exchange networks.

Amazon says it won’t have the print version of iPhone: The Missing Manual, 2nd Edition in stock until September 29. But you can buy a PDF version directly from O’Reilly right now—and if you want to get the most out of your iPhone, you really should.

Here’s one more tip: From the iPhone’s mail program, you can open attachments of all sorts, including PDFs. So if you download the electronic version of the book and e-mail it to yourself, you can read it on your iPhone.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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