Ditch the Laptop, Bring the iPhone 3G

By Victoria L. Herring

There are plenty of articles these days about the iPhone and the pros and cons of having and using one. As a rabid Apple product purchaser and user—which I excuse by thinking that it helps my stock price to rise—I really wanted to get one, but held off. For about a week. (I can’t always be the very first in line.)

Fortunately, my Verizon plan had completed its term, and I could transfer my number to my husband and get my own AT&T plan and the iPhone. So I did. I have now used the original version of the iPhone since mid-July and just purchased the new iPhone 3G, and I have some thoughts I’d like to share about its use for lawyers in their work.

I really enjoyed my original iPhone. The AT&T plan was actually cheaper than my Treo service on my family’s old Verizon plan. I would sync my iPhone with my main computer, the office MacPro, and keep the calendars and address book up to date. I did not “jailbreak” the phone (i.e., “unlock” it or open it to unlicensed software or mobile networks) because that might cause problems, and I didn’t see any reason to do so given my limited needs.

I found that almost all of the programs for my original iPhone were useful (remember, this was before the expansion through the App Store): SMS (short message service) text messaging if I wanted to reach my son, for instance; the Calendar to keep track of events and appointments; the Camera, which is not great, but will do in a pinch; Maps; Weather; Clock, with its great, easy-to-set alarm function that soon replaced my travel alarm clock; Notes to record things so I wouldn’t forget them; and of course the main programs—Phone, Mail, Safari, and iPod.

I did find that I had some issues with phoning, mainly because of the signal strength of AT&T’s service; oddly enough, I get only two or three bars at my home in Des Moines, Iowa, but when I traveled to Anchorage, Alaska, I was routinely getting a full five bars. The signal strength caused a little slowness getting Mail and using Safari, but I didn’t mind because I’d often use these services when I was in a WiFi-enabled location. And if I couldn’t be there, then the Edge network actually worked quite well. The fun thing was to use the iPod to play music at dinner, using the speakers built right into the iPhone.

I also found that I could use my iPhone at conferences and out of the country just fine. When attending conventions in Chicago and Puerto Rico, I left my laptop at my lodging and used my iPhone to do everything I needed during each day. On a trip to Buenos Aires, the iPhone was my chosen method of getting on the Internet; I found WiFi coverage on virtually every corner in ice cream and coffee shops.

So, why did I graduate to the 3G—especially because Des Moines doesn’t (yet) have AT&T’s faster 3G service? I knew I was going to keep using the iPhone, so the new monthly service plan wasn’t a huge leap for me. Plus, I had a trip come up to Denver, which has 3G coverage. I went to the Apple Store, got the 16 G black model (with a refund for the portion of the AppleCare plan I had), and went home to set it up. The 3G is almost identical to the original iPhone, but it has more features that make it an even better replacement for a laptop when you don’t want to carry one around. If you are looking primarily for a nifty laptop replacement and don’t need or want the phone service, check out the iPod touch, which has the same features as the 3G but without the phone and its hefty AT&T contract. (For more on whether the iPod touch is a better bargain for lawyers, see Dennis Kennedy’s four-part series on his blog, Below are my initial impressions of the 3G iPhone, after having used it for a week or so.

I did use the 3G service in Denver and Boulder but didn’t really notice an improvement in speed. It could have been the nature of the connection or that I simply wasn’t paying attention. But, like my original iPhone, if the 3G (or WiFi) isn’t there, it drops back to good ol’ Edge and gets mail and allows the use of Safari, etc., just fine. I was just in Rochester, Minnesota, and used 3G there; I had five bars most of the time.

Maps is much neater because you really can use it as a GPS system. In fact, as I was driving to Rochester, I used Maps as a GPS and delightedly watched the point of my location move on down the highway; it also was a great help when I got lost a couple of times. Apparently, when you take pictures with the 3G, the location you are in is also made part of the metadata of the image, but I have not checked or tried that yet.

There have been some problems with MobileMe, Apple’s ”cloud” server in the sky that allows you to sync your desktop information across machines (e.g., other desktops, laptops, your iPhone) for access anywhere. I haven’t had problems myself, though.

By far the best part of having the 3G is the ability to download and install a plethora of applications to extend the use of the iPhone (or the iPod touch, if you’re using that). There are all sorts of great applications out there for a lawyer to use, and others as well. I started with the free applications, but I’ve bought a few, too. The apps listed below are mostly free, although others range from 99 cents to about $6.

• Recorder allows you to record memos and notes to yourself and play them back later. Jott does this as well, apparently, although it also uploads and transcribes them.

• Twitter, TypePad, Facebook, etc., are social networking applications that allow you to reach out and blog or otherwise share your thoughts. I am now blogging and interacting via such programs much more than I did before I had the 3G.

• AOL Radio plays a number of radio stations.

• AIM lets you instant message. There are other programs for this purpose, too; I haven’t had time to try them all.

• Dial Zero helps you to find a live, human being at corporations that hide behind their answering system.

• I use NetNewsWire and NYTimes to check current affairs and postings on RSS feeds and blogs I subscribe to. I use TypePad to update my blogs.

• 1Password pairs with your desktop program to save and generate passwords for the multiplicity of sites you visit.

• Midomi and Shazam can be used to identify a song playing on the radio that you just can’t quite remember.

• myLite turns the iPhone into a flat flashlight. It uses a lot of battery power and doesn’t give you a lot of light (or even a beam, properly speaking), but it’s good if you’re in a dark place and need some assistance.

• There are lots of games (SudokuFree, Sudoku, Moonlight Mahjong Lite, Othello, and a host of others) to while away the time.

• There are quite a number of applications for productivity purposes, such as creating “to do” lists, there’s a Wikipedia application so you can find things fast there, and a number of scribbling or drawing applications.

• Urbanspoon helps you find restaurants. WeightTrack does what its name says it will do. Ambiance gives you white noise or night noises so you can fall asleep. Earth3D is neat, but I’m not sure of its utility. I have Shakespeare, all the plays in full text, on the iPhone.

• I did buy DataCase for about $6, and it was the best money I’ve spent at the App Store so far. It allows you to click and drag to the iPhone all sorts of documents, basically making the iPhone into an easy-access hard drive. On my recent trip to Denver, I saved onto the iPhone’s DataCase my trip itinerary and other information and could access it easily.

There are thousands of other applications—reading applications, messaging applications, record-keeping application, etc.—but I’m still so far behind in getting to know the ones I already have that I dare not add more.

The iPhone is really a new and compact computer using a variant of Apple’s OS X as its operating system. With the original applications plus the new ones now available on the App Store, you can use it to replace your laptop when you’re traveling and don’t want to haul along the laptop, or when you need to do something immediately without getting out your laptop. It’s a great addition to a lawyer’s toolkit. If you want the functionality without the phone, then the iPod touch is the way to go. But, if you want to put everything in one place, the iPhone 3G is great.

Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She may be reached at .

Copyright 2008

Back to Top