Walt Mossberg

Accessories for iPhone Are Hitting Market; Some Are Worthwhile

The hundreds of thousands of people who have bought the Apple iPhone since its debut Friday may soon start looking for add-on hardware and software for their shiny new devices.

At first glance, this should be easy. The iPhone uses the same hardware ports as the iPod, which has attracted thousands of accessories. And the iPhone uses a modified version of Apple’s Macintosh operating system, which runs numerous small programs called “widgets” that would be perfect for the iPhone.

But, in fact, using add-on hardware for the iPhone will, in many cases, require buying new gear, or at least adapters to make the old iPod gear work, because of subtle differences in the way its hardware ports work. And there is no way to load Mac software onto an iPhone — even widgets. So you have to access iPhone-specific software through the phone’s built-in Web browser.

I have been testing some of the very first crop of iPhone add-on hardware and software. Some work well, others not so much. I expect to return to this topic when the add-on market is more mature, but here is an early look.

Most of the first hardware accessories are cases and headsets, for both music and phone calls. I didn’t test any cases, though I liked the look of one from Belkin, called simply the Acrylic Case, because it has a kickstand on the back that makes it easy to watch videos on the iPhone without having to hold it upright. It costs $30.

A good guide to third-party iPhone cases, headsets and other accessories can be found at ilounge.com. Apple’s own limited selection of accessories can be viewed at apple.com/iphone/accessories.

Many headphones for the iPod won’t work on the iPhone, because its headphone jack is deeply recessed and the connectors on even expensive headphones just can’t reach in deep enough. Belkin sells an $11 adapter to solve this problem. I tested it with my expensive Shure iPod headphones and it worked.

The bigger problem is that even the costliest iPod headphones lack a microphone and a call-answering button, so they can’t handle the dual functionality of the iPhone — listening to music and conducting phone calls.

Apple includes such a combo headset with the iPhone. It looks like the standard white iPod earbuds, but includes a tiny controller, embedded in the right earbud cord, that incorporates a microphone and also acts as a button. Push it once and it answers calls or ends them. When playing music, a single push pauses a song and a rapid double push skips to the next song. I found these Apple earbuds worked very well and were much more comfortable than Apple’s old iPod earbuds.

If you want to use your existing third-party earbuds or headphones, Shure will begin selling in August a $40 adapter called the MPA-3c. It not only fits the phone’s recessed jack, but also includes a microphone and control button that works just like Apple’s. I tested it with several iPod earbuds, from Apple and others, and it worked fine, though the mic is very low on the cord and must be clipped higher up on your clothing to work optimally.

Altec Lansing has several iPhone-compatible wired headsets in the works. I tested one, the $90 UHS306, due in August, and liked it a lot. It doesn’t require any adapter and it has a combination microphone/control button mounted high up on one cord, plus a second cord-mounted controller for volume adjustment and muting.

Plantronics also plans several wireless Bluetooth headsets to work with the iPhone. Most existing Bluetooth headsets should also work, but only for phone functions. The iPhone doesn’t currently support playing stereo music through Bluetooth. I tested a new Plantronics Bluetooth headset, the $130 Discovery 665, and it worked well. It is available now. Apple will also be bringing out its own Bluetooth headset for phone calls for $129.

Many accessories, such as car audio kits and home speakers, that worked with the iPod’s bottom connector, will require a simple plastic adapter for the iPhone to fit into them. Apple sells these for $9 for a pack of three.

Other accessories that use the iPod connector won’t work right on the iPhone because they don’t reroute the sound from its speaker, a feature the iPod lacks; or because they aren’t properly shielded against interference from the iPhone’s transmitters. New versions are likely to be rolling out. These will display an Apple-endorsed label that says “Works with iPhone.”

I also tested about a dozen add-on iPhone software programs. Most were either rudimentary, pointless, or worked poorly.

There were two that I liked a lot. One is a Sudoku game, at sudoku.myiphone.pl. The second, at showtimes.optimalconnection.net, lets you look up movie show times in any zip code, and links to the phone’s Google Maps program and to the Fandango ticket-buying site.

Still, the whole system of running programs through the browser is more cumbersome and less satisfying than if you could directly install them on the phone.

You can find a growing list of iPhone software at iphoneapplicationlist.com.


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