Apple’s iPhone – Not Quite Insanely Great

Apple's new iPhone

If you hadn’t heard, Apple announced their long-awaited entry into the mobile phone market at their annual expo yesterday. Dubbed the iPhone, it immediately caused a downward correction in the stock price of Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Inc. and RIM, even though it won’t be available until June, and only then in the US and A — that’s how much of a big deal this handset is!

Anything that challenges the status quo in the nascent user interface of the mobile phone is a good thing, but how does the iPhone stack up against the competition? Since I know a thing or two about smartphones, I’ll tell you what I think…

THE GOOD:

The Touchscreen – in my hiptop days I was of the opinion that touchscreens were too delicate to withstand the rigors of daily use in the field. But since moving to the HTC TyTN I’ve realized just how much easier it is to get to what you want simply by tapping on the screen.

By eliminating the keypad and making almost the entire user interface a virtual one Apple has effectively future-proofed this handset. Should some groundbreaking mobile phone UI come along it can be added to the iPhone with a simple download.

The touchscreen also allows for either one or two-handed use with the screen switchable between landscape and portrait modes. The fact that the iPhone has built-in sensors to tell which way you’re looking at the screen is pretty damn cool.

Music and Video – if Apple had simply added a cellular radio and keypad to an iPod like we were all expecting they still would have had a hit on their hands, but with the big-ass screen and copious internal flash memory, plus the built-in support for iTunes the iPhone is instantly the best iPod that money can buy, and officially a Sony PSP-killer. No word yet on if the iPhone will support games, but who plays games on their PSP, anyway?

WiFi – anything that disrupts the stranglehold that wireless carriers have on mobile data can only be a good thing. ‘Nuff said.

THE NOT-SO GOOD:

No 3G – I’m not for a second proposing that every mobile phone user needs a handset that works in Japan and Korea, but you can’t deny that Japanese keitai have thus far set the standards for innovation in design and technology for the rest of the world. And Koreans, meanwhile, are enjoying full-screen, full-length video on their DMB-equipped mobiles and standalone players.

Are these really markets that Apple wants to lock itself out of?

3G, by the way, is also available in North America, even up here in Canada on the Rogers network — I know this to be a fact because I’ve got a 3G signal on my TyTN right now. A benefit to all 3G users is the faster transmission of data, and the sad fact of the matter is that if you have to take your iPhone into a Starbucks just to check your email on their free WiFi network you might as well go to an internet café and use a proper PC.

Yahoo Go! and Push Email – From the first time I started using the web companion to my hiptop I’ve never looked back. There’s no better comfort than knowing your appointments, contacts and email are safe and secure on a web server somewhere, and accessible from any computer connected to the internet.

Apple has interestingly chosen to integrate the iPhone with Yahoo!’s Go service, but without calendar or to-do list support it’s not nearly as useful as the hiptop’s web companion, the Microsoft Hosted Exchange server that I’m using with my TyTN or even Apple’s own .Mac service. In my opinion Apple has missed a huge opportunity to peddle .Mac to iPhone users by offering wireless over-the-air sync of their personal info between the two platforms.

The push email offered up by Yahoo! Go will certainly cure any Blackberry envy but honestly, unless you’ve got an unlimited data plan from your wireless carrier or citywide blanket WiFi coverage then in practice this feature would be too expensive to really be worth it. Me, I can wait the extra five seconds to manually check for messages when I choose to.

The good news is that these two shortcomings can be easily fixed, and as we’ve seen with the short history of the iPod Apple has proven itself to be quite adept at improving its first-generation products. So as announced the iPhone is maybe not quite insanely great, but it’s certainly a helluva start!

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About Andrew

Mobile phones, Linux and copyright reform. Those go together, right?
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19 Responses to Apple’s iPhone – Not Quite Insanely Great

  1. Jay says:

    “No 3G – I’m not for a second proposing that every mobile phone user needs a handset that works in Japan and Korea”

    The iPhone will become available in Asia in 2008 so wait till MWSF 2008 and see the new models of iPhones that are 3G.

    What where the chances of me buying a smart phone before the iPhone came out – ZERO
    What where the changes of me paying over $100 for a phone before the iPhone came out – ZERO

    But I started a special savings account yesterday at the bank, I figure if I put $20 a week in the account I will have the $599 in 30 weeks – my current cellular service contract expires in August – perfect timing :)))) BTW it is also helping me slow down and hopefully stop smoking – that is where most of the $20 a week will come from – money I use on cigarettes! SO the Apple iPhone is actually improving my health:))

    Goodbye Verizon Hello Cingular

  2. Narayanan says:

    The Apple’s I Phone is one of the top news these past few days and I have seen it reported in many blog sites. You have executed a good write up. Though my comment doesn’t count much as I am not too familiar I Phones, I felt I will at least put in a good word about your presentation on it.

  3. AC says:

    “My comment doesn’t count much”…?

    Don’t be so sure — it’s greatly appreciated! 🙂

  4. I’ll wait until August or Sept. for the Apple Phone v2, with 3G 🙂 (www.harddrivelife.com)

  5. Great rundown of the iPhone. I linked you in a news rundown. I still want one, but can curb my enthusiasm until december.

  6. Rick says:

    AC gotta say that is one of the best assesments of the iPhone in Canada and globally I’ve read (and I’ve been reading a lot!). Well done.

  7. AC says:

    Thanks, Rick! Apparently the LA Times agrees with me about the iPhone being a non-starter in Japan and Korea:

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/yerxax

    (Note: free registration required, or use a user/password combo from http://www.bugmenot.com)

  8. Diego says:

    I think the iPhone is not so much about technology as it is a test of a new user interface – a no-button, all touchscreen interface is radical and I’ve seen people predict it won’t fly.

    Apple is known for upgrading their products quickly, so I am sure they’ll “fix” the phone and have more features in the near future.

  9. Dan says:

    Nice take on all the hype on the net. I think another big thing that people are overlooking is the lack or removable battery. Power users will run into problems with the battery life that is being reported for phone use itself. I would think this would be an issue since having a spare will not be an option with this phone.

    Also the lack of PDF, Word, Excel etc readers at least. Business users will want to be able to read attachments at least and this has yet to be addressed with the iPhone.

    I have read that Apple is going to keep this a closed system for various reasons not the least of which is to make some money selling their own apps.

    Either way this is 6 months out for the U.S. I would have really hopes 3G would be on a phone coming out middle of 07 but I guess Apple feels differently.

  10. AC says:

    Thanks for the comment, Dan!

    Bit of a shame that only “business users” demand the type of functionality you write about, don’t you think?

    Most people I know aren’t even remotely aware of what the modern handset is capable of, and just get whatever bargain-basement POS their carrier gives them for free in exchange for a multi-year contract.

    In this regard the iPhone is a great bit of PR for the entire mobile industry…

  11. Aini says:

    Hi AC,

    Must’ve felt good to be back home. So when will the travel bug bite again? Is singapore on the list?^^ A good time to come would be in April bec of the Spore Film Festival. Lots of fringe events for all. (http://www.filmfest.org.sg)

    Anyway, Singapore’s pretty excited about the iphone. Actually I am excited to see what else apple can come up with using the “i” combination. Har har. the iphone has been on the news, tech progs here. Not sure how it’ll compete with the conventional phone. We’ll wait and see. But it’ll still be SAMSUNG for me. 대한민국!!!

    Anyway, Happy Homecoming!

  12. Dan says:

    Certainly is interesting what most people do not know phones can do.. but then again I have always been dissapointed with the standard handsets that the US carriers offer. If you really try to use all the features you will be dissapointed as most of the work in theory alone and do not really functions well in the real world. I am guessing this is ok as most would never use them or know they are there anyway.

    I have also found with lots of friends who do know what the potential is.. they end up still being too cheap to use or purchase a phone with the features they want. I think the iPhone may change this if it can get people to really see the potential of these high tech items.

    For now my TyTn and Blackjack will keep me happy.

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  14. AC says:

    “So when will the travel bug bite again? Is singapore on the list?”

    The Lion City actually holds a very special place in my heart — I’ve performed there on two separate occasions with The Second City:

    http://andrewcurrie.ca/golive/archives/2001/09.html
    http://andrewcurrie.ca/golive/archives/2002/11.html

    So will you be buying your iPhone at Funan or Sim Lim Square?

  15. Aini says:

    2001? Oh no….nonononononono…Singapore is SO different now. Funan centre used to be a”red light area- equivalent for computer shoppers. Sim Lim? I rest my case.

    But now, Funan centre is the place to go for your most competitive computer stuff. Bought my ipod there ^^ …my toes still laughing with glee….

    The zoo and night safari are so diff now too. I felt like a tourist everytime I visit these 2 places.

    Anyway, come again. Singapore is so beautiful now (a-hem..)

  16. Aini says:

    errr…i retract my remarks about the old Funan. Actually they weren’t that bad…ha ha……but they are so good now. I love going to Funan Center!!!!

  17. Ken says:

    There’s been a bit of slagging the iPhone versus what’s out in Japan recently (and I believe it was led off by an LA Times piece by a reporter who interviewed random kids on the street rather than anyone in the industry).

    The 2G/3G was one thing that kept coming up, though the reporter never cited 3G penetration rates for Japan (one would research that before writing up a newspaper article, right?) Yet, it’s somewhat of a moot point – number portability is going to ensure that 3G penetration will break 50% of the market in the next 18 months. Many new handset buyers will be opting for 3G, and with AU-KDDI being the winner, that’s almost assured.

    At any rate, Apple unveiled something that isn’t even version 1.0 of their product. There’s a buzz of interest amongst those who have heard of it in Japan, and very, very few have.

    Apple will have 3G ready when the time comes; technically it won’t be a challenge. When people keep talking about what the Japanese phones already do or what the Japanese consumer wants/is used to, it reminds me of the chatter before the iPod, or before the Prius, or before Yoga, or before Starbucks, or before McDonalds came in.

    The iPhone will be a refreshing change from a sea of identical keitais.

    Problem is: the pricetag is currently prohibitive and we’ll have to see if Apple tried to niche the product as an iPod replacement or what position they’ll take.

  18. AC says:

    “Anyway, come again. Singapore is so beautiful now (a-hem..)”
    No argument here… There’s actually a young lady there whom I’ve a bit of a crush on, but I’m sure she’s long since forgotten about me:
    http://preview.tinyurl.com/3xqlo6
    [sigh]

  19. AC says:

    “The iPhone will be a refreshing change from a sea of identical keitais.”

    Ken, I’ll let you in on a little secret… When I travel to Asia shopping for dummy display phones is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. The last time I was in Akihabara somebody had a shopping cart full of them on sale, and I pretty much cleaned him out!

    I think you would be shocked and dismayed at how hideously ugly 90% of North American handsets are… At least in Japan the kids hang stuff off of their keitai and make them their own. Of course, I do that too:

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/2yqph9

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