Bookselling with Apple's iPhone 3G

Taking It to the Next Level?

by Craig Stark

#131, 5 January 2009

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Apple's hot, hot, hot iPhone 3G has been out for some months now, but because of an existing Sprint contract, it wasn't until recently that I had the opportunity to add this to my bookselling toolbox. Now that I have it, my Sprint Pocket PC looks like a dinosaur - and acts like one. (And it's for sale!)

Some basic information on the iPhone 3G is here.

And just about anywhere else you turn, for that matter. I'm not going to go over ground that's been competently plowed by many others. The purpose of this article is to evaluate this amazing phone for bookselling purposes. Did I say amazing? I did - and for good reason.

The iPhone is actually three devices in one - a phone, an iPod and an Internet browser, but my focus here is necessarily on its Internet capabilities.

First, if you've used Windows Mobile, the operating system found on many non-Apple phones, you know that it presents significant limitations to web browsing (though not so long ago it was much better than what preceded it). It frequently alters the format of web pages, transforming many of them into distorted, often abbreviated versions of their former selves. Worse, many of the functions available on desktop or laptop versions of Windows, like logging into and managing accounts, are inaccessible or so difficult to access on Windows Mobile that it makes no sense to bother with them.

Speed is another factor. When I first purchased my Pocket PC, I wasn't expecting broadband speed, but I was relatively pleased with what I encountered. I could search, say, Abebooks for something I came across at a sale, and from start to finish, typing included, it would typically deliver results in less than a minute. Not bad, and certainly better than nothing.

So, my Pocket PC was a reasonably valuable tool for several years, but I'm here to tell you that the iPhone 3G doesn't just simulate your desktop browsing experience; it all but duplicates it. Web pages come up as original web pages - and fast. Of course, since you're looking at a 3.5" (3" x 2") display, though large by cell phone standards, many pages are initially difficult to read. This is readily solved, however, by placing the tips of two fingers on an area of interest and swiping them out. Instant zoom. Even if you typically wear reading glasses to read, the zoom function allows you to see what you're doing without them.

Typing could hardly be easier. Say you want to login to your eBay account. You simply touch the login box with a finger and two things happen: The box is automatically zoomed into, and a large virtual keyboard pops up that consumes approximately half of the display. Unlike my Pocket PC, which required typing via a stylus (or typing on the pull-out keyboard) and had a much smaller display, the iPhone keyboard responds to the heat in your fingers, not pressure. For me, the typing experience is both more accurate and significantly faster. Also, if you misspell a word, a suggested correction pops up, which you can accept or not. Moreover, once logged into your account, you can actually do things besides searching.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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