It seems the iPhone 3GS is hitting a rough patch within its first month reminiscent of what the 3G went through last year.
Instead of the earlier model’s 3G network problems, though, some iPhone 3GS users are finding the phone too hot to handle — and hard to find in stores.
On the plus side, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has released a new software development kit (SDK) for the OS version 3.1, a quick update considering 3.0 only hit two weeks ago. The 3.1 update will include a number of tweaks and previously missing features.
Reports of the iPhone 3GS overheating first surfaced on a French blog, echoed soon after throughout the blogosphere.
According to Apple, the iPhone will display a warning if its internal temperature exceeds 113 degrees Fahrenheit, and will warn users to let the device cool down before they can use it. It will also bar the user from most other functions except emergency calls until the unit’s temperature falls. Apple has an advisory page on keeping the phone cool.
But regarding the reports of spontaneous heat, Apple has so far remained mum. The company did not return calls seeking comment.
Industry watchers think they have the culprit, however.
As it turns out, the heat may not be coming from the faster ARM processor used in the phone, despite the iPhone 3GS’s much-touted speedier components.
The “S” in the new phone’s name is meant to stand for “Speed,” and Apple has promised the phone to be as much as twice as fast as previous generations. Several sites have done “teardowns, in which they dismantle the phone to take a look at its internals, and found the processor is actually underclocked — or set to run slower than it could go.
As a result, the heating problem may not be due to the CPU. Instead, according to Allen Nogee, principal analyst for wireless technology at In-Stat, it may be the faster network performance.
The 3GS supports 7.2 megabit HSDPA
“ARM CPUs in the past haven’t been a problem, even getting up into the ARM 11 [the latest generation],” Nogee told InternetNews.com. “But there’s a base band and a lot of HSDPA processing going on, so it’s probably a little bit of everything. The iPhone being fairly thin and metal, it’s probably pretty easy to feel the heat.”
When the 3G came out last year, some critics took the device to task for its spotty 3G performance. A few firmware updates from Apple later, and 3G performance was notably improved.
Nogee doesn’t think that’s possible here.
“The only way they can reduce the heat is to throttle back the data rate, then you lose the benefit of the new model versus old model,” he said.
“S” means “shortage”?
Another common problem with launches is short supplies, and the iPhone 3GS doesn’t seem to be immune. In just three days of sales, Apple sold one million phones.
“Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning,” Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. “With over 50,000 applications available from Apple’s revolutionary App Store, iPhone momentum is stronger than ever.”
That popularity led to reports of shortages in some places if not totally unavailable in some places, like rural states such as Alabama and Kentucky.
Nogee said that especially considering the economy and so many existing 3G users, it remains a good problem to have.
“Apple likes to have these shortages — it makes the products more in demand,” he said. “Give them time. They’ll make more.”
OS update already in the works
Apple released OS 3.0 on June 17 but already it’s moving onto the 3.1 release, as a beta SDK and firmware is now out for developers to tear into. Some of the changes are minor tweaks, Others could be more convenient or even important.
They include support for hooks into the iPhone’s capabilities for Multimedia Message Service, or MMS
[cob:Special_Report]Other multimedia enhancements include APIs to allow third-party applications to access and edit videos, and non-destructive video editing, which means when you trim a video clip, it no longer saves over the original video — you get the option to “Save as copy…”
The iPhone 3.1 OS also adds support for voice control over Bluetooth, and improved OpenGL and Quartz graphics support. Additionally, it offers some interface tweaks, enabling the iPhone to vibrate when a user moves icons. The new version also updates the AT&T profile — the carrier settings file — to 4.2.
“It sounds like a pretty good load of improvements,” Nogee said. “It’s interesting what Apple’s philosophy is. Other companies put out a model and six months later it’s obsolete. Apple keeps the same shape, the same model and apps still run on it. So people know the phone won’t be obsolete in six months. It’s evolved, but they have one model.”
It seems the Chinese clone makers are getting better at ripping off the iPhone. Cult of Mac showed off a new 3GS knockoff that was a near-perfect duplication.
Earlier knockoffs were thicker, bulkier and often had extra buttons or keyboards. This new copy, found by a customer of MacMedics on an auction site, is a near-perfect clone. But it doesn’t always work, and when it does run, it’s very slow, MacMedics founder Dana Stibolt said in a blog post.
Shop wisely, bargain hunters.