iPhone – a Revolution?

by MaxPower

Full disclosure: I do not use an Apple computer. The last time I used an Apple computer was in the mid-1980’s when I graduated from elementary school. We had a computer lab with about nine Apple II’s. I fully understand that some people really really really like Macs. I also understand that some people who work in specific industries use a Mac at work. However, I don’t get the die hard Apple loyalty bordering on cultism. I just don’t. I have an iPod. It broke after 4 weeks and never really worked correctly after. I have iTunes. I got a $20 giftcard for iTunes when I got the iPod. I still have $11 remaining on the balance. I have, on occasion, showered both the iPod and iTunes with disdain, but being rational, I understand that the iPod was a revolutionary product with respect to MP3 players and portable music devices generally (making them better looking and easier to use). After seeing the great coverage on R4NT’s blog by So-CoAddict at MacWorld 2007 here (Day 1) and here (Day 2) and specifically the iPhone pictures, I figure being detached from the vaunted MacWorld “reality distortion field” I could provide some semblance of a critique of the iPhone. Is it a revolution in telecommunications? Apple sure wants you to think so, the word revolutionary appears a number of times on the iPhone website. Here are some points for and against the iPhone as a telco-revo.

1. Sex appeal. It’s sexy. Bottom line. Big screen, thin body, smooth and sexy. No dispute. The oohs and ahhs of the press corps at MacWorld made the world ok for Steve Jobs, who may be under investigation by the SEC sooner rather than later. But the iPhone is sexy. We’ve all seen what a sexy phone can do – the Razr from Motorola basically turned that company’s mobile device line around and spawned the next generation of “thin” rather than simply “small” phones. Is sexy revolutionary? Perhaps, but not in and of itself.

2. Functionality. It appears the iPhone is aimed at the ‘prosumer’ market which is the same market as the Blackberry Pearl device. Basically those are people who willing to shell out top drawer bucks for a device which is a phone, email device, MP3 player etc etc. At the reported $499/$599 with 2 year contract price point it is not for your everyday customer. I find it hard to believe Apple will sell ten million devices by 2008 (as Steve Jobs says they will) when it is launching mid/late 2007. RIM, by comparison has 7 million Blackberry subscribers and everyone in business now has a freaking Blackberry. Cingular (now going to be AT&T) will need to convert 20% of its user base to the iPhone which is in a different price stratosphere or Apple will need to sign up other carriers. I have no reason to doubt the iPhone’s functionality, except for that Apple’s iPod devices have historically had “mixed” reliability. Is it a revolution? The iPhone is a convergence device – it allows a user to do a number of things on one device. However, the definition of revolutionary is “markedly new or introducing radical change”. Not so much.

iPhone UpcloseiPhone Upclose

3. Interface. Ok here we go. This actually could be revolutionary. Apple made the iPod’s scroll wheel and on first glance people weren’t impressed. Only after people used it did it feel revolutionary. Apple is trying to do it again by allowing you to make a call by pointing your finger at a name on the screen. Everything is done by touching the screen. Full disclosure once again: I have seen some clips of how it works, but not actually seeing/using the device hurts a bit when trying to determine whether it is revolutionary. I’m going to believe Steve-o and say that this is a big shift change in how people use phones/mobile devices. What I am not convinced about is using a non-raised keyboard to tap out short text or email messages. I have read a number of reports which raise questions as to the functionality of the actual “keyboard” device. However, I’m going to go with revolutionary on this point.

4. Competitors. Apple’s competitors aren’t going to stop moving over the next six months, which is almost a full product cycle in the hyper-competitive mobile phone industry. Within days of the iPhone announcement, RIM announced a ‘white’ Blackberry Pearl, taking it further away from the staid business oriented culture and closer to the prosumers market space. The Pearl has email, a 1.3 megapixel camera, MP3 player, HTML browser, and 240×260 colour display. Where it lacks is memory. I think RIM will have a big memory edition out within months. The iPhone also has email, a 320×480 screen display which is touch sensitive, 4 or 8 GB of storage and a 2 megapixel camera among other high end features. Essentially I see the iPhone as a defensive rather than offensive gesture by Apple. Why? Phone manufacturers have been rapidly adding MP3 playing capability to handsets over the past year, Apple didn’t want the iPod co-opted.

5. Cannibalism. The iPod is dead, long live the iPod (within the iPhone). Speculation around the high Apple price point (someone said to me they’d rather get a Playstation 3 for the same amount, to which I replied get an Xbox 360 and a Wii for the same price: Are Wii Experiencing A PS3 360) is that Apple wanted to price the device high enough that it wouldn’t kill iPod sales. But really, while I think the Nano has a future as a standalone device, the old-school bulky iPod is dead. Why get that for $249/$349? I don’t think people will. I see the iPod being phased out when the iPhone debuts. But will people substitute? Hard to say, but at the $499/$599 price, I’d say it’s unlikely. Part of Apple’s 10 million sold plan is apparently for approximately 1/3 of current iPod owners to upgrade. Optimistic? I think so. Do I like asking rhetorical questions? Yes.

6. Apple, as a company, doesn’t play well with others. Apple’s success with the iPod can almost be singularly pin-pointed to the fact that they were able to control the show with respect to iTunes and the device. Once they got agreements from the recording industry to put the songs up on iTunes, it was a one company show. When rolling out a phone, Apple will have to make nice with a bunch of different carriers who generally subsidize phone prices when people sign up for long-term contracts. A lack of co-operation globally or Apple being too paranoid about their own sandbox could lead to stunted take-up by the consumer. This is not a stretch of the imagination as Apple has already stated the iPhone is a completely closed device and no third party programs (or batteries!) will be allowed.

7. Lack of removable battery. I had this question posted in the R4NT blog – “what’s up with the non-detachable battery?” To which D4V replied “They’re copying their iPod technology there. Plus the batteries that are removable make the unit bulkier.” And he is right. But that means Apple is wrong. First, this isn’t an iPod. Picture a someone running out of the office/school to catch a plane/train/automobile. No time to charge the phone, with no backup battery. Dead phone = useless phone. Picture a battery which dies after 12 – 16 months (as in some iPods) with no way to change it. Picture a consumer who is going to be pretty pissed off if they can’t get a new battery.

8. Lingering questions on usability/reliability. I have read and seen a number of articles/blogs questioning the logic of having a touch screen on a device which most people routinely chuck in their bag/purse/briefcase/backpack. I heard one blogger say that you’ll likely have to cover it with a felt case and then take it off to use it. Then the aforementioned issue about a “feel-less” keyboard not being the best way to tap out messages. Remember the Nano screen-scratch debacle?

iPhone and a phoneiPhone being photographed by an antique?

9. The name. Yeah, yeah, heard it all before. Cisco owns the iPhone trademark in the U.S. (and there is already an iPhone product which was launched by Linksys – it is a VOIP phone). In Canada, Comwave Telecom owns it. Comwave’s CEO says that “There’s no confirmed reports that Apple will launch iPhone in Canada” and “There’s nobody infringing on our trademark in Canada at the present time. There’s announcements but no one has actually infringed yet.” Come on Apple, get your stuff together. That’s just sloppy. Also sloppy is the lack of FCC registration for the device. This from the bottom of www.apple.com/iphone: “This device has not been authorized as required by the rules of the Federal Communications Commission. This device is not, and may not be, offered for sale or lease, or sold or leased, until authorization is obtained.” I guess they’ll clean up these items in the next 6 months.

So where does this get us? I think the iPhone is the best thing that could happen to the mobile phone industry. The Nokia’s, Motorola’s and Sony/Ericsson’s of the world will be forced into more forward thinking cell phone design. Ultimately, they’ll see what is successful. I think the Apple iPhone is priced much too high to come close to general adoption. Remember, on top of the phone price you still need to pay for your contract to be able to do all these fancy things like surf the interwebs and text messaging. There is a reason why remote email has been confined (more or less) to Blackberries up until now. The cost! Apple, your screen looks revolutionary, however the questions around functionality, reliability and pricing lead me to believe the world will have to wait for a next-gen iPhone before the thing really takes off. I am not calling for an iPhone disaster, but I just think that general consumer acceptance of the iPhone product will not come with this version at those prices.

But then again what do I know, I haven’t even seen the thing in real life.

*Editors 2 cents (D4V’s for that matter): I believe that the single most revolutionary thing regarding the iPhone is the portable version of Safari (web browser). This will officially kill all micro formats for the portable web (ie: WEP, WEP2, etc). A potential paradigm shift in how the internet is used if this really takes off. They are already showing the power of API’s with google maps, but take the entire web an make it portable and accessible? Woah.

  • iPhone – a Revolution?
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on January 17th, 2007
So-CoAddict (Flickr)
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