First Look: Apple's iPhone Truly Is a Revelation

A day after Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPhone during his Macworld Expo keynote on Tuesday morning, I actually got my hands on one. For all of 10 minutes.

Ten minutes isn't much, but I can safely say that the iPhone is even more impressive than it appeared during the Jobs keynote. And that's saying something.

On Wednesday afternoon, I had a brief meeting scheduled with Apple executives, and as I walked in, I expected no more than a quick Q&A session.

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I would ask a few pointed questions — and get a few vague answers. But, much to my surprise, as I sat down, they actually handed me a working iPhone and let me use it.

For the most, it was an absolute revelation. Seeing the device in action is one thing — but actually using it is another.

Each application is impressive in its own right, from photo-management software to the Safari Web browser, but it's the overall touch-screen interface that takes the breath away.

The only thing I had trouble using was the onscreen keyboard — it's obviously the sort of thing that takes some practice — but it was impressive nonetheless.

As Jobs showed off the iPhone on Tuesday morning, there was a collective gasp from the hundreds of Mac heads crammed into San Francisco's Moscone West convention hall. And then another. And then another.

Yes, the Mac faithful are inclined to this sort of reverential behavior, but if you were in the room, you could tell how many people were genuinely amazed.

They were most amazed by the device's MultiTouch technology, which lets the user navigate the on-screen controls with nothing more than bare fingers.

As Jobs demonstrated, it lets the user launch applications with a soft touch, scroll through Web pages, resize photos, even type via an onscreen keyboard.

It's the sort thing that, once you've see it in action, you can't wait to try for yourself.

Unfortunately, the iPhone won't ship until June, and even if you're on the floor at Macworld, you can't actually handle the device. The best you can do is stare at one through glass case while a surly security guard looks on.

Well, that's the best you can do unless you can swing a private meeting with Apple.

Though I only used the device for 10 minutes, it was obvious that MultiTouch works pretty much as Jobs said it would.

With a tap of the finger, I opened the photo management tool. With another, I opened a photo. With a swipe of the finger, I moved the photo back and forth.

And by placing two fingers on the screen and moving them back and forth, I could zoom in and out.

It was just as easily to scroll through a full-sized Web page — and zoom in or out. In much the same way, I could instantly browse and access songs, videos, contacts and more (photos and videos looked good, but I didn't have ear phones, so I couldn't actually listen to songs).

I could also switch the screen from portrait to landscape mode simply by turning the device on its side (though this only works if you swivel it the right way, and on the first try, I went the wrong way).

To test the on-screen keyboard, I tried typing an e-mail.

At first, I typed with two hands — gripping the device on each side and tapping a thumb on each end of the keyboard — but I was only about 50 percent accurate.

Then I switched to hunting and pecking with a single index finger, and though this was (slightly) more accurate, it was much slower.

My guess is that after some practice, you could get pretty efficient with two thumbs.

But the keyboard is obviously something that takes some time to get used to. The rest of the interface requires no practice whatsoever.

With the last minute or so of my allotted time, I actually made a call. I phoned my editor, Sean Carroll, in our New York office.

The sound quality was poor — "kinda fuzzy," Sean said, "not as good as a normal cell phone" — but it should be said that I was in an area of the Moscone Center when reception is less than ideal. The iPhone's exclusive wireless carrier is Cingular.

And then they took it away from me. I didn't have a chance to try Google Maps or the Apple Widgets or the visual voice mail.

But it's the new interface that really caught the attention this week — and it's everything Jobs says it is.

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