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iPhone: The Perfect Asterisk Companion

So, you didn’t get one, huh? Well, we did. Just goes to show that some folks don’t have much to do other than stand in line for 8 hours to claim what my wife has labeled "another stupid toy." Yes, the ultimate iToy. Boys and their toys! Apple has had the better part of four years to perfect Mac OS X, and it shows in the iPhone. So here’s our software report card:

  • Synching, flawless
  • Bluetooth, flawless
  • Wi-Fi, flawless
  • POP3 and IMAP Email, flawless
  • iPod, flawless
  • Photos, flawless
  • Calendars, flawless
  • Address Book, flawless
  • Safari, flawless
  • Camera, flawless
  • The iPhone will take its place as one of the most revolutionary computers in the 21st century. And we think it may well be one of the best computers with one of the best computer interfaces ever delivered. But note that we said "best computers" not "best phones." It’s an incredibly good travelling Wi-Fi device, and that’s probably how it will be remembered ten years from now. And AT&T. Well, they’re still just as lousy as they were 10 years ago.

    Before turning to Asterisk®, we wanted to quickly review our iPhone chronology for those who are considering a purchase. Bottom line: buy it from Apple. We didn’t because they don’t yet have a store in the entire state of South Carolina. They still manage to charge sales tax for web purchases, however.

    Friday. Let’s start with AT&T. We arrive at a totally deserted store in the middle of a Mattress Factory strip mall at 10:30 a.m. on Friday. There are 12 people in line, the first six of whom are so-called iSitters, people paid a couple hundred bucks to wait in line for someone else. In our case, the #1 iSitter is standing in for Catherine Bell, the star of Lifetime TV’s Army Wives which is being filmed in Charleston. She arrives at 5 p.m. with her daughter in tow… in a brand new Porsche, of course. The TV crew promptly wets their pants. No one much complains that Catherine and her entourage assume their place at the front of the line. But, does the iSitter leave? Well, no. AT&T staff are totally clueless. They’ve been sitting in their (empty) air conditioned store all day doing absolutely nothing except turning down iPhone wanna-be’s asking to use the bathroom. "We don’t have one" is the stock reply. And the Store Manager’s one minute of fame consists of telling the ABC reporters that everyone in line will be taken care of "one way or another." Turns out, most folks get the "another" option. The store gets 15 phones delivered in a book bag by an AT&T delivery truck at about 4:30 p.m. They don’t trust their employees either! So, for most of the hundreds who have waited, their only option is to wait another "two to three days" to have one shipped to them. Heh, heh. Anyone want to take that bet?

    Then there was the moment of truth. Six p.m. and the doors swing open for the first five in line. They, of course, make an exception for the Army Wives entourage. By the time they’re finished, there is one 8-gig iPhone and six 4-gig iPhones left. We snag one of the 4-gig models after AT&T recovers thirty minutes later from their first nationwide network implosion. They can’t even process a credit card transaction without a meltdown. Just another day for the A&T repair crews. With our iPhone in hand, we head out the door and do a quick package unopening for the local news crew. They’re thrilled. Then we’re off to play.

    Any Windows XP machine with the latest version of iTunes works with the iPhone. But, if you’re a loyal Mac user, you have an extra hurdle. Only the very latest version of Tiger works and you need the latest version of iTunes as well. If any of this were operating system-dependent, we could understand the limitation. But this appears to be a way to sell more Mac OS X upgrades. Back in law school, they called it tying. We decide to use Windows XP and skip the Panther-to-Tiger upgrade hassle.

    You register the iPhone and sign up for service using iTunes. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes and is flawless… at least for us. Remember, it’s not yet 6 p.m. on the West Coast. So the second wave of registration meltdowns has not yet begun. We decide to start off lean and mean to see how far 4 gigabytes goes. We load 500 songs, a couple of music videos, and 50 photos plus a dozen or so contacts just to be sure we have a stable system. We then add an IMAP email account and a gMail POP3 account. We still have a gig and a half of storage which looks pretty reasonable to us. We call it a night at midnight after a couple of quick calls to our Asterisk PBX. Everything works swimmingly.

    Saturday. We’ve delayed heading out to the beach for a day because AT&T on Friday morning announces that their Georgetown store won’t be stocking the iPhone after all despite their day of training on Thursday and postings on the AT&T web site. Only because we called to see whether you could buy more than one phone are we spared from hating AT&T forever. "Oh, you didn’t hear the news. We’re not getting the iPhone after all. You’ll have to go to Charleston." So we stayed in Charleston Friday and headed out Saturday morning for the beach house. The trip is uneventful. My seven year old daughter masters every feature of the iPhone in less than an hour. Synching the iPhone to the Prius takes less than a minute. My daughter places several calls through the Prius Sound System searching for her beloved Webkinz. Some of the reviews have suggested that the sound quality isn’t all that great. We’ve found just the opposite. Calls are crystal clear. Even the Prius phonebook still works with the iPhone. Bye, bye Treo!

    We actually have an iMac running Tiger at the beach house so it’s time to try a partial sync to get our Address Book and Calendars onto the iPhone. The whole process takes about 10 minutes and demonstrates that partial syncs from both a Windows machine and a Mac work well together, just as they do with an iPod. So our iPhone is complete with photos and music from a Windows version of iTunes and calendar and address book data from iTunes on an iMac. Perfect! All of the cousins arrive after lunch, and they spend the rest of the day monopolizing the iPhone… especially YouTube. WiFi at the beach house kicks in automatically to replace AT&T’s Edge network so the performance and display of Web applications is nothing short of amazing. Only limitation thus far appears to be lack of support for Java and Flash technology. Battery life is pretty amazing. Using the phone for most of the day with WiFi and Bluetooth and numerous phone calls consumes about half the battery life. Not bad.

    Sunday. A friend of ours strolls into the Lenox Square Apple store in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon and walks out with an 8 gig iPhone in minutes.

    The Drawbacks. The lack of Flash and Java technology already have been mentioned. Safari also is missing animated GIF support. Darn. So much for that collection. Most of the other shortcomings have to do with typical, high end cell phone features which aren’t (yet) available on the iPhone. The major one is voice-activated dialing. AT&T probably discouraged this so that they could charge a monthly fee for the service just as Sprint now does. You can’t gain access to the phone to add your own applications… yet. And, there appears to be a memory leak if you use the iPhone for an extended period of time (such as all day). Apps start closing abruptly. It’s easy enough to reboot the iPhone by holding the Power and Home buttons down simultaneously for about eight seconds. Text messaging is currently limited to SMS and email. A lot of folks will want more than that. Tethering to a PC is not yet supported although with Edge that’s not a big loss. GPS functionality also is missing although the Google Maps are great. A software zoom feature on the 2 megapixel camera also would be a nice touch. The photos look pretty great actually. An external memory card also would be a welcome addition. And a Skype application would be terrific. AT&T would be thrilled. Lack of any iPhone insurance plan and no battery access also may be deal breakers for a lot of folks. All things considered, we’re delighted with the iPhone. Let the hacking begin!

    Using the iPhone with Asterisk. What remains is integration of the iPhone into our Asterisk system. Two minutes of dialplan changes and calls are automatically forwarded to the iPhone instead of the 3-year old Treo. AsteriDex pops up in the iPhone web browser perfectly with no modifications other than a new phone number for Admin access. If we decide to purchase a landline from AT&T, we then would be eligible for AT&T’s Unity plan. An extra $20 a month gets you unlimited calling to 100 million AT&T landlines and cellphones. Once on a Unity plan, free calls could be made to everywhere through the Asterisk system as we’ve explained in a previous article.

    Undocumented RSS Reader on iPhone. One bit of good news. The Safari browser on the iPhone does support the same, cool RSS feed reader that’s found in the Safari browser with the Tiger version of Mac OS X. The syntax to access RSS feeds is also the same. The RSS feed for Nerd Vittles is accessed by going to feed://nerdvittles.com/wp-rss2.php while the Best of Nerd Vittles feed is accessed by going to feed://bestof.nerdvittles.com/rssfeed.xml. Enjoy!

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    1. Two things here seem to have you thinking you need the solutions required by older (arguably poorer) designs.

      First, software zoom seems silly. Why permanently crop (that’s what software zoom does) when you can multi-touch to scale the photo (software zoom without permanently cropping)? If you want to crop, do it later, on a computer, where you can keep a copy of the original. If you use the photos on the iPhone (backgrounds, contact photos, etc.) you can ‘software zoom’ by scaling the photo however you want for each use. It’s much nicer to use the same photo, and say, zoom in on the face for contacts, zoom in on the person for a background, and leave the original scene untouched for use on a web site later.

      Second, the iPhone has a much better alternative to spending more money for a memory card… unlimited memory. Take a photo, view it and use the quick "send in an email" button to send it to yourself, then delete it if you need the space. Unlimited (unless you have a mail quota) photo storage, without the hassle or expense of memory cards.

    2. "without the hassle or expense of memory cards."

      Yes, twelve bucks for a two gig SD card is outrageous, isn’t it…

      There’s no reason whatsoever that any modern, portable device designed to play music or show pictures shouldn’t have a card slot. It not only allows for additional storage, but can allow for additional functionality, too.

      Nice review, ward. I’m stickin’ with my Treo, though. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I choose Windoze/Mac over Palm for a handheld device.

    3. "It’ll be a cold day in hell before I choose Windoze/Mac over Palm for a handheld device."

      Or until you play with an iPhone, then it’s all over.

      [WM: Ditto.]

    4. My Nokia E61 with built in SIP and Wifi Support had been emailing, browsing, showing videos, playing music, GPS directions, and playing happily with my asterisk installation for over 8 months. What’s the big deal?

      Great site Ward, keep it coming!

      [WM: Yeah, our trusty Treo 650 has been doing most of this for several years as well. But, you really need to try the iPhone. More than anything else, the user interface coupled with the virtually transparent Wi-Fi switchovers put this device in a league of its own.]

    5. I guess you chose the iphone over the new car. As #2 says, It’ll be a cold day before I chose a proprietary, service-locked device over anything else for an all-in-one hand held device. I’ll get a new car, keep my crackberry 8800 and call it good (next phone I get will be a crackberry with wifi, the only upgrade I’m really waiting for).

      There is just too much wrong with the iphone for me to even want it:
      5 years exclusive to at&t (I prefer t-mobile or sprint)
      REQUIRES activation through itunes
      tad bit on the expensive side
      no mms
      non-replacable battery
      no expansion slot (sd card or the like)
      no third party apps


    6. Ward – Great article as usual …and all you guys keep buying those phones!! I will wait 12 and give <$150.

      [WM: We’ll be on to the iWatch or the iGlasses by then.]

    7. You say: "Synching the iPhone to the Prius takes less than a minute. " Do instructions for setting up the iPhone to the Prius Bluetooth system come with the iPnone, or did you find them on-line. I’ve been seaching everywhere for details – no luck, yet! Still using my Razr.Thanks

      [WM: Here’s the step-by-step to synch your iPhone to your Prius. First, in the Prius, choose Info, Telephone, Settings, Bluetooth, Register. Now on your iPhone, choose Settings, General, Bluetooth. Be sure Bluetooth is ON and then follow the synching directions which will require entering 1111 as the Prius sync code. Enjoy!]

    8. Syncing my iphone to my 08 Prius was a snap. Just can’t figure out how to export the
      contacts to the Prius, There is no send on the iphone
      Any ideas?

    9. Intersting, I love my iPhone(s) with Asterisk and GoogleVoice ( I’m not in the US). Yes if you are ‘stock’ then your iPhone can’t accept data in the background, but really that’s kinda silly coming from people customizing everything! Jailbreak and enjoy the true power of the iPhone. ROFL

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