The iPhone: so much more than simply a phone

Talk is not the apple of your iPhone, writes Alex Kidman. Music, video, GPS and the entertainment delights of the internet are all just a touch away.

Apple’s iPhone 3G ignited public interest in a way that no other mobile phone handset has done. As a phone it’s entirely functional, and its online capabilities are pretty well documented elsewhere. It doesn’t hurt that Apple’s thrown its savviest designers at the thing, either; this is undeniably a pretty looking smartphone, and when you consider that the Blackberry is usually held up as the archetypal smartphone, that’s somewhere where designers could really only go upwards. Still, beyond the basic telephony, there’s a lot that can be done with the iPhone 3G that both enhances its functionality and its appeal.

Not all iAccessories are equal…

There’s an issue with many mobile phones and external AV equipment; while it’s often possible to output to other devices (most notably speakers), this often requires the use of a custom connector. Said custom connector does have accessories, but inevitably they’re produced only by the phone vendor in question – so often, say, your Sony Ericsson phone will work only with the Sony Ericsson-supplied headphones, because they’re the only ones using that connector.

The iPhone is technically no different in this regard, except for the fact that it uses the standard iPod connector dock, and as you’re probably aware, there’s no shortage of iPod docking equipment out there. If you do need to refresh your memory, our guide to iPod speaker docks is a good start.

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So, you might think, the iPhone 3G comes with an army of accessories, right?

Well, sort of. The connector is standard, but there are a few catches.

First of all, the twitchy issue of power. The iPod dock connector has two pins dedicated to power delivery; one USB based, and one using the Firewire standard. Firewire was the connection method of choice for video for many years and, critically, the original connection method for the original iPods. For manufacturing/cost reasons, quite a number of recharging units/battery packs use the Firewire pin on the dock connector, even if they never connect with an actual Firewire interface. But the iPhone 3G lacks that Firewire pin, and won’t be able to charge from it.

We tested connecting up an older battery pack to the iPhone 3G, only to have a curt message pop up telling us it wasn’t a compatible charger. What makes this difficult is that there’s no easy way to tell if the dock connector uses Firewire or USB pins for charging until you plug it in. You can confidently expect that anything produced from now on with iPhone 3G compatibility should work – and certainly, if you purchased an item expecting this and making that expectation clear at the time of purchase, you’d be entitled to a refund.

In terms of speaker docks, we found everything that we chucked the iPhone into worked without a problem, but some reports online indicated otherwise. One thing the iPhone 3G will do when connected to many speaker outlets (including some incar FM transmitters, as we found during testing) is offer to switch the 2G/3G phone connectivity off in order to reduce interference with the speakers. If you’ve ever left your mobile on top of improperly shielded speakers and been assaulted by something that sounds all too much like Kraftwerk rather than the Mozart Piano Concerto you were expecting, you’re probably aware of why.

If you’re after new accessories in any case, we’d strongly advise you check for specific ‘iPhone 3G’ compatibility listings, as even the original 2G iPhone used the older Firewire power pins, and so something that just lists ‘iPhone’ compatibility might not work.

As for AV output, you’re currently stuck with a singular connection choice – Apple’s own $59 composite/component cables. Expect this to change very quickly indeed, though. With sales in excess of a million units in its first couple of days on sale, third-party AV vendors will be lining up around the block.