Queues, stock shortages, activation woes; most of the coverage of the iPhone 3G launch hasn't been about the product itself, which is a shame because, on the evidence of my first 24 hours of usage, it represents a small but significant step forward which goes some way to delivering on the promise of the launch strapline: "The iPhone you've been waiting for" (a phrase which may be starting to assume an unintended poignancy for some frustrated would-be customers).
I purchased mine from one of the many O2 stores on Oxford Street (I'd never realised quite how many until yesterday) having spent a frustrating few hours trying to order one online on Monday. The first thing that struck me on unboxing was just how similar it is to iPhone v1. Sure, the metal back has been replaced with fingerprint-friendly plastic and is now more bevelled (no doubt to disguise the fact that it's actually 7mm thicker - a trick Apple learnt with the MacBook Air), but face-on it's not easy to tell them apart (the iPhone 3G is on the right in all of the below photos).
Once booted up and activated, I was struck by how crisp and bright the screen looked which was unexpected (although may have more to do with the protective film I have on my original iPhone). First port of call was the Maps application to try out the GPS which was every bit as cool as I'd hoped, marking my location with a pulsating blue dot which followed me down the road as I walked. Next stop was the Apps Store which was characteristically easy to use and had furnished me with a screenful of new apps within minutes (I'll write a more detailed post about some of the available apps at a later date - suffice to say that the quality is variable at this point :)
As for the main point of differentiation - the 3G - it's hard to comment just now; I had it in mind to do a speed test of both handsets but at the time of writing the UK O2 3G network appears to be down (doh!) Certainly the progressive download of YouTube clips was pretty nippy when I tried it earlier and web browsing is much less like the bad old days of dial up. Oh, hang on a minute - we're back up... a quick visit to iPhone speedtest puts the connection speed at a respectable 1632kbps.
Teething troubles aside, the addition of 3G and GPS addresses two of the major competitive deficiencies of the original iPhone and keep it at the front of the smartphone pack. All that's lacking now from my point of view is a decent camera, Flash support and some sort of clipboard functionality. I'm hoping the latter two will arrive as software updates over the coming weeks/months; the camera I guess will just have to wait for iPhone v3.
If you haven't already got an iPhone then I'd heartily recommend signing up for one (maybe once all of the nonsense has died down in a few weeks). Existing iPhone owners needn't rush to upgrade although I sense that the increased browsing speed could make all the difference when deciding whether to consult the web when out and about.