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Verizon iPhone 101: What new owners need to know to get started

You hung in there. For four long years, you hung in there. And now, finally, you've made it to the promised land. For many of you, an iPhone is even now arriving on a FedEx truck. Soon, you'll be able to set up your new baby and start entering the strange and wonderful world of Verizon iPhone use. TUAW is here to help you.

Many of you already own iPods or iPads, and know the ins and outs of iOS use. For others, the Verizon iPhone may represent your first ever iOS device. Let's take a few minutes to go over the basics, point out a few key steps for new users, and recommend some apps to supercharge your new superphone.

What's iOS? It's the mobile operating system that Apple developed for its portable devices including the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad (also the current-generation black Apple TV). For your new iPhone, it's a touch-based OS. The screens of iPhones use the small electrical charges in your fingers to detect the position where you have touched; you drive your phone with fingertips instead of four-way buttons, scroll balls or a physical keyboard.

To connect your phone to your computer, your music, your videos and your apps, you're going to be using Apple's media and device management tool: iTunes. When Apple releases new versions of iOS, you can install those updates on your phone through iTunes -- unlike Android phones on Verizon, there are no over-the-air OS updates for the iPhone. iTunes is a not just a central hub for managing music libraries, it's the home manager for your new iPhone.


Activate your phone

You need to activate your phone before you can start placing calls. Connect it to your computer, making sure you've downloaded and installed the most recent release of iTunes beforehand, and follow the on-screen instructions to set up your unit for calling. iTunes also provides a number of device settings screens, which is where you'll choose which media and playlists to copy over to your phone, as well as what accounts and web bookmarks you want synchronized with your phone.

Get in the habit of connecting your iPhone to iTunes every day. It will charge, synchronize media with your home library and (importantly!) back up your personal data. If you should ever lose your iPhone, or have to restore your current unit to a factory-fresh state, those backups will allow you to return to where you last left off -- all the game progress on your apps, the bookmarks in your web browser and so forth.

AppleCare

Your iPhone is covered under Apple's Limited Warranty for one year. You can add one extra year of iPhone AppleCare for US$69 -- highly recommended. AppleCare extends your hardware repair coverage to two years in total. If interested, you can purchase this option online at the Apple Store, at Amazon or even (although it's a little riskier) on eBay. Once the warranty has expired, your best bet is to have any repairs done at an authorized Apple repair center.

Although there are hundreds of iPhone accessories available for your consideration (from Apple Bumpers to Zagg), you'll probably want to buy a case right away, if not to deal with the iPhone 4's signal attenuation issues (which are apparently lessened/imperceptible on the Verizon iPhone) then to protect your shiny new investment. The iPhone 4 Bumper costs $29, but the old-style AT&T bumper will not fit the Verizon unit, as the buttons have been moved slightly; however, new universal Bumpers are already showing up in Apple Stores -- just make sure you get one of the new ones if you go for it.

As an alternative to a high-priced case, TUAW recommends that you plonk down a few dollars for one of the many soft TPU iPhone 4 cases available on eBay. These generally run all of $1-$2 (including shipping) and will keep your iPhone in good shape until you decide on exactly which case you truly want on a day-to-day basis.

Getting Started

As you kick off your iPhone experience, keep in mind that you didn't just buy a new phone, you picked up an entirely new computer (even if it is small and adorable) -- and there's a lot more to your new iPhone than you might initially think. You can download an exhaustive user manual (PDF) from Apple. Or if you prefer, you might also want to pick up a book. There are many terrific offerings out there including one that I and co-blogger Steve Sande wrote for Apress.

In addition to its touchscreen, the iPhone provides a number of buttons, including the big round Home button at the bottom of the screen, a sleep/wake button at the top-right of the unit and volume controls/mute switch on the left side. Use the Home button to hop out of applications, and the sleep-wake button to lock your phone and switch off its screen.

The iPhone has a wide vocabulary of touch interaction styles including tapping, double-tapping, swiping, flicking and more. Getting used to the on-screen keyboard can take time, so be patient with yourself until you become comfortable with it and the phone's style of predictive correction. Often as not, the best way to get rolling is just to type as you normally would on a phone with a physical keyboard and let the auto-correct work with you.

TUAW offers regular iPhone 101 features that introduce tips and tricks for the beginning user, including ones about using the iPhone keyboard. Note that you can access numbers and punctuation using the small '123' button at the bottom left of the keyboard -- handy for passwords and such.

For most setup tasks (email, Wi-Fi, brightness, volume, ringtones, etc.), your first stop will be the Settings application on your home screen. It's the one that looks like a boxful of steel gears -- once you tap it, it's easy to adjust your phone's personalization to your liking. One thing you probably should do right away in the Settings app: set a passcode for your phone to protect your personal data, so it locks when you aren't using it. In Settings, scroll down to General, tap, then scroll to Passcode Lock. You can set a numeric PIN or a text code and adjust how long the phone will wait before requiring you to unlock it.

If you want to rearrange the apps on your home screen, hold down your finger on an app icon until the apps begin 'wiggling' (you'll know it when you see it). Drag the apps around until you like the way they're set, then press the round Home button to stop the dancing apps. You can drag one app atop another to create a folder of similar apps.

If you have to do a lot of typing, your new iPhone 4 supports connecting an external Bluetooth keyboard. You might also want to pick up an inexpensive business-card holder to keep your phone in a position where you can see the screen while typing. These same holders also help when you're watching movies on airplanes.

If you need accessibility features (text to speech, mono audio, TTY support, magnification or high-contrast display) be sure to review Apple's guide to accessibility on iPhone.

Networking

Your Verizon iPhone is designed to use Verizon's 3G cell phone network for data access while you're gallivanting about town; however, you'll get much faster speeds and save traffic on your data plan if you sign into Wi-Fi networks at your home, office or neighborhood café. Simply open the Settings app and tap Wi-Fi to select from available networks; if you need to enter a password for your wireless LAN the keyboard will appear automatically. Your iPhone will remember networks you use, so you won't need to enter your credentials over and over.

For email and calendar sync, check with your email provider for specific instructions (MobileMe, Google, Yahoo and Aol all have iPhone-specific support pages). You can set up your sync within the Settings app and be emailing, contacting and calendaring in a jiffy. Note that Exchange ActiveSync support for your corporate email account may require a specific data plan from Verizon, although it may work just fine without -- be sure to check with your IT folk if you're planning to use your iPhone with your business email and calendar/contacts, as they may have specific security requirements.

Your first apps

Buying apps extends your iPhone beyond the mere hardware and Apple-supplied apps into a way of life. You need to establish an Apple ID/iTunes account before you can purchase anything. This is easiest to do at your home computer, and takes just a few minutes to set up through iTunes.

Although you can create that iTunes account without providing a credit card, you'll be unable to download any paid items without one (or a gift card balance). As you'll soon find, having a fully established account with which to buy applications, download songs and rent movies enhances the experience of iPhone ownership.

Once your account is live, you can buy apps from the iTunes version of the App Store on your computer (simply click iTunes Store in the left-hand side of the iTunes window); just remember to sync your iPhone after purchasing. You can also find and buy apps directly on your phone using the App Store application (the white circle-'A' on blue).

We've thought long and hard about which apps you'd probably want to download first, and while the list is far from authoritative, here are several suggestions for you to consider.

  • Yelp: This free iPhone implementation of the popular restaurant/service guide website integrates with your iPhone's built-in GPS system to find dining and attractions near you.
  • Plants vs Zombies: For $2.99, this well-designed and highly enjoyable app has playability out the wazoo. If you want to buy just one game to see what all the iPhone fuss is about, this is the one to get. (Fans of first-person shooters or 3D games might think about Rage HD or Infinity Blade as alternatives.)
  • Star Walk: Showcasing the iPhone's camera system at its finest, the $2.99 Star Walk introduces the night sky in a way that simply wasn't possible before the smart phone. You hold up your iPhone and look through it to the sky to visualize exactly what constellations you're looking at. It's an app that really defines what an iPhone is and what it can do.
  • Red Laser: Offering "impossibly accurate barcode scanning," this free utility allows you to price-compare and shop around when you're at your favorite retailer. Think you might get a better deal elsewhere? Red Laser helps you find out for sure.
  • Pandora: If you haven't experienced Pandora, you haven't really explored music. This free application lets you seed a playlist with music you like and then automatically plays music of a similar style. You get to vote that music up and down, to customize the application to your tastes. Pandora does require a data connection for streaming, so you may not want to use it on 3G if your data plan is light -- stick to Wi-Fi.
  • Find my iPhone: Free for any iPhone 4 owners, (as well as for 4th gen iPod touch and iPad users), Find My iPhone allows you to track your device in the event you should lose it. Make sure you enable the Find my iPhone feature on any supported device, and then if it gets lost, use this application to track that phone down.
  • Twitter, FourSquare, Facebook: If you're a social media addict, the official apps from these three big services are an easy choice.
  • TUAW: Well, how could we not? We have an iPhone-optimized version of the site, but for maximum access try out our free and just-updated app.

Welcome to iPhone

The iPhone experience is a wide-ranging one, and it's kept us busy and writing for four years now here on TUAW. Welcome to our iPhone family -- we'll keep chugging out articles on many iPhone topics, so make sure to keep visiting us here at the blog to see what's new, innovative and evolving in the iPhone sphere. Bookmark our iPhone 101 page to keep track of the latest tips and tricks for new users.

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