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 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!